Results 1 to 7 of 7

Thread: How to Introduce/Describe Characters

  1. #1
    The Chaotix's Ace Attorney Blaquaza's Avatar
    Moderator

    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    1,621

    How to Introduce/Describe Characters

    This is just a question I've been trying to answer myself for a while. When you introduce a new character in a book, how do you do it? For most people it's a matter of preference; I typically describe how they look and leave them unnamed until they introduce themselves or are spoken to, but recently I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it sometimes, because it can come across as a bit stilted or even boring. How would you introduce a character, and how much detail do you think it's okay to use when describing how a character looks? After all, a huge chunk of text on a character's eyes is hardly interesting when yo just want to return to the story, but at the same time learning what they look like helps you imagine the world an author is trying to create with much higher accuracy.

    It's even more awkward when you're writing a sequel to something you've done before and you want to introduce your characters, because people already know who they are and a full introduction again would be a bit redundant.

    Credits to Neo Emolga for the avatar and the banner!
    Spoiler:

  2. #2
    The Maddest Shaymin
    Noblejanobii's Avatar
    Site Editor

    Senior Moderator

    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    Location
    US
    Posts
    15,736
    Well you are correct but it really depends on personal preference, the story's perspective, and how you want to hook your audience. Without going into full detail (which I can if you wish) here's what I mean:

    Personal Preference:
    So most people that I know do describe the character anonymously until otherwise spoken to or introduced. If that's what you are most comfortable with then go for it. It can be a bit tricky with sequels so I would recommend for that to maybe have their appearance change "off screen". Like maybe they got a hair cut or something. But that's only if you want to keep that element of "surprise". In my experience with books I can sometimes actually forget what a character looks like *cough Jace from City of Bones cough* so having that description again at the beginning from book to book might help to remind readers what your character looks like while also possibly updating them on what may have changed.
    I do have a few friends that right off the bat will introduce their character by name. Like they'll have someone call their character's name in the first line and then open up the scene as the reader being dropped right into action. It's like one of those scenes in movies where the movie opens up in a busy diner or at the beginning of someone's day. You're just plopped right into their day and that can be effective too.
    There's also always the record scratch trick which is you open the story with the climax and then backtrack. You know one of these:

    That's always okay too if you can play it right.

    Story Perspective:
    So one major factor in the beginning of the story is whether or not you're doing the story in first, second (rarely), or third person because that factors in MAJORLY in some cases. The best examples I can give are Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, The Night Circus, and... well there's plenty of third person examples so you don't need me to list one. Starting with Magnus Chase, that book starts as a first person "freeze frame". He pretty much flatly tells you in the first line "This is the story of how I died." This little description following this line does well in displaying Magnus's personality rather than his appearance, which is just as effective because it hooks you and shows you very well how sarcastic Magnus is. You really can't pull this off in third person, or at least not as well, because if it was third person, it wouldn't be Magnus telling you the story, it would be some "narrator" so it wouldn't be as impactful. As for the Night Circus, it actually opens in the second person and uses it from time to time throughout the book. Now while I wouldn't recommend doing an entire story in second person unless it's a reader insert, this was kind of interesting because the book used the second person to show you the future of the circus before it happened, but at the same time instill into you some form of mystique because you were experiencing the circus for yourself whether or not you realized it. It draws the reader in without the reader actually realizing it, if that makes sense.

    Hook:
    Just as with essays, books require hooks. Even if the story starts slow, you need to draw your readers in otherwise the story can be lost on them. Freeze frame technique is the best hook wise, but others can be just as effective. Take a took at the Lego Movie (yes it's not a book but just stay with me). We are dropped right into the character's day. We see that pretty much every day is a routine for the main character. Through this most viewers know something is going to happen to disrupt the main character's routine otherwise there'd be no movie or it would be really boring. The same can be said for books that do the same. Readers know the routine will be disrupted so they continue reading to see the what, why, when, etc of the disruption. This is a more subtle hook. Nowadays more obvious hooks are probably the most effective because people don't have the attention spans they used to, but subtler hooks are definitely a good way to go if you are more comfortable with that.
    /// /
    Double Agents with Suicune's Fire

  3. This post has been liked by:


  4. #3
    Cheers and Good Times! Neo Emolga's Avatar
    Administrator

    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    New Jersey
    Posts
    15,064
    I tend to pair actions with descriptions so the story at least feels like it's moving along. I definitely find that this is WAY easier to do in first person than third person when it comes to making it sound interesting. Take this for example:

    And as luck would have it, Dave pulls up right behind me with his stupid white Prius that looked like it hadn't seen a car wash since the Dark Ages and was parked every day in a horse stall. As soon as he turns the ignition off and steps out, I just sighed when I saw he was wearing that same groan-inducing Minecraft t-shirt he seemed to wear all the time and the cheap blue jeans he must have gotten from the bargain bin at Wal-Mart.

    "That your car, Nathan?" Dave laughed as he shut the car door behind him before pointing at my red pickup. "I feel bad for the poor redneck you stole that from."

    Yeah, leave it to Captain Halfwit, his hay-colored flock-of-seagulls haircut, and his stupid habit of thinking he was the funniest guy on the planet when he was the only one laughing at his own excuses for jokes here. I didn't feel like dealing with this crap today and I was already running late, so if Dave could just hurry up and trip and bash all his teeth out, that would save me from having to deal with him for a while.


    I like doing this kind of introduction format because:

    • Keeps the story moving along without pausing to go over descriptions. In this example, things are still happening in the parking lot.
    • Character physical and personality traits can be done at the same time by showing, not telling. You get an idea of how Dave looks and behaves from his speech to how little he takes care of his car.
    • In a first person perspective, like in this case, the main viewpoint character can drop in their own colorful and interesting remarks along the way, which can be used in a lot of fun ways like this one. In this example, you know the viewpoint character, Nathan, knows Dave but hates his guts.

    Making it double with Caite-Chan!

  5. This post has been liked by:


  6. #4
    your turn to roll Suicune's Fire's Avatar
    Senior Administrator

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Posts
    13,428
    Pretty much all that I was going to say has already been said. I used to stick with the giant description walls of text, but I learned over time how terribly boring it can be. Not to mention it interrupts the flow of the story.

    These days I tend to introduce characters' appearances as I go and while things are happening. It's easy to throw in a detail during actions, and I also reckon it's the best way to go. I tend to not over-describe nowadays either, which does lead to lesser description, but also allows for the reader to keep their interest rather than be drive away by boring sentences of pure description. xD In these paragraphs a snorunt gets described from the third-person point of view of a swablu. (I already mentioned the triangular body shape but it was a few paragraphs before, so I left it out.)



    The pokémon was evidently drawing closer and the swablu, frozen with fear and the burden of indecision, had not a clue for what to do. She couldn’t move a limb, and her wings were hammering with pain from the attack and the fall. She tightly compressed her beak.

    The branches moved aside and the pokémon stuck the tip of her triangle through before her face came into view. The sight of it shocked Tarla and she felt a jolt of surprise zip through her bones. A charcoal face with a wide-set row of teeth and small eyes which bore no trace of hostility stared at her, cautiously analysing the unfamiliar pokémon. Instead of showing a potential intruder aggression, she was projecting something closer to frightened concern.

    The two pokémon stared at one another, both too frightened to do or say anything to one another, before the yellow pokémon finally raised a small, stubby arm and uttered, “...H...hello...”


    I had more time to describe this snorunt here because of the nature of the scene, as well. Tarla, the swablu, is watching and waiting from under a tree, so it's not in the middle of action. The following one is, which means I had less room for description:


    The real deal-sealer was the giant armour-plated bug-like beast which had already dealt blows to the rhyhorn and me in several places. The creature stood on two legs and possessed mighty strength which, as much as I hated to admit, was far superior to mine.

    I heard the rock and ground type trundle off while keeping my eye on the brute of a pokémon pacing back and forth, flexing his many limbs and stopping to stretch. He was as cocky as they came, which made me seethe. Not only was this pokémon obnoxious, but he was actually as good as he thought he was. That annoyed me more than the attitude itself.

    I glared at the presumed bug and water type beast sneering at me from a few paces away, taunting me with his stretching. The beast’s mandibles clicked together as sharp movements possessed his head. I still had no idea what either of the strangers were doing here, but this one seemed to be enjoying prolonging whatever his mission was.


    There's barely any description in there, but if you're familiar with what the species is, you'd know it's a golisopod. It also describes aspects of his personality and demeanour, which, as Noble said, is just as important (if not more) than the appearance. The narrator doesn't know what kind of pokemon it is, so she can only rely on what her eyes are telling her. She's also already been fighting this pokemon as he's introduced into the story, so when we see him for the first time, it's not the narrator's first time.

    Basically, I try to integrate description alongside action. :]

    Kinnie's GCEA Card
    Double agents with Noblejanobii

  7. This post has been liked by:


  8. #5
    The Chaotix's Ace Attorney Blaquaza's Avatar
    Moderator

    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    1,621
    This has all been really helpful, thanks guys! Your extracts were great, too. :D

    I suppose the key message here is that excessive description is a bit of a poor move. I'd certainly agree, but as you guys have said, throwing in a quick detail here or there as long as it's relevant is probably the best way to let the readers know what they look like. I've been working on that because sometimes I do way too much description, and sometimes I don't do enough. It's a balance I just never seem to get right.

    Naming's always the more awkward part for me, though. Half of the time I name a character it comes across as forced or weird, and there never seems to be any quick fix unless I rework the whole scene. I suppose that's just the type of thing I keep needing to work on until I get the knack of it, though.

    Credits to Neo Emolga for the avatar and the banner!
    Spoiler:

  9. This post has been liked by:


  10. #6
    Experienced Trainer Sanctus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Location
    In a post-modern world
    Posts
    456
    Quote Originally Posted by Blaquaza View Post
    After all, a huge chunk of text on a character's eyes is hardly interesting when yo just want to return to the story, but at the same time learning what they look like helps you imagine the world an author is trying to create with much higher accuracy.
    You can convey the general ethos of the world with broad descriptions and leave the rest of the details to the reader's imagination. Also, one may decide to spend more detail on eyes than on other aspects of a character's image depending on which features of the character are more important for highlighting their persona, even though a "huge block of text" is hardly conceivable. The character also doesn't have to be described exhaustively upfront, as has already been noted. Character introduction can occur subtly over time and through events as has already been stated.

  11. #7
    The Chaotix's Ace Attorney Blaquaza's Avatar
    Moderator

    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    1,621
    Quote Originally Posted by Sanctus View Post
    You can convey the general ethos of the world with broad descriptions and leave the rest of the details to the reader's imagination. Also, one may decide to spend more detail on eyes than on other aspects of a character's image depending on which features of the character are more important for highlighting their persona, even though a "huge block of text" is hardly conceivable. The character also doesn't have to be described exhaustively upfront, as has already been noted. Character introduction can occur subtly over time and through events as has already been stated.
    That's what I'm trying to move towards right now; only really defining a character's unique appearance traits, and perhaps mentioning things like clothes if they reveal a bit about a character's personality. Thanks for the help; this is the one thing about writing that I'm never confident with, so hearing how to alleviate that concern is helping me massively. :D

    Credits to Neo Emolga for the avatar and the banner!
    Spoiler:

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •