Story Excerpts

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Introduce Your Characters Properly

Have you ever read struggled through a book featuring characters you didn't care about or connect with?  Insert worst thing that could happen to them, and you shrug. Maybe the character has redeeming qualities, but they're obviously still stuck in the author's head and never made it to paper. He/she doesn't make a whip of sense to you. Perhaps you're even cheering for the villain. (Just kidding. Who does that??)

My theory is, you weren't properly introduced. True, not everyone will like a realistic, flawed character because not everyone will like a real person that rubs them the wrong way, but I'm sticking to my theory. Characters can be likeable with the right introduction.

How does an writer/author properly introduce a character?  While I don't claim to be an expert on character development, this question has been heavy on my mind as I work through second draft edits of TWOI. Louisa isn't exactly an easy character to sell. The following are a few ideas I have :-)

Wait. Before I start my list, make sure you like your character.  If he/she is your own flaws personified, everyone else is going to hate them too.

1) Give the reader a reason to pity, admire, or identify with your character.  If you can manage all three, more power to you.  Make their deepest fears and the desires that drive them clear from the beginning.

2) If their goal might seem stupid to the reader, answer the "why" question.  The sooner, the better.  And make sure the reason isn't stupid too.

3) If they have annoying flaws, show why they have them, and hold the backstory. For example, my character Louisa is a bit reckless and obsessive, but I'm making an effort to show the trauma and insecurities that sparked those traits.

4) Present them in their everyday world -- what they know, what they're used to.  If your book opens with action, try to show them in their element after the action dies down. Preferences, quirks, likes and dislikes come to life in this kind of setting.

14 comments:

Rissi said...

Sure, I've read books like that before. Honestly, I think the heroes or heroine just weren't likable enough. Most the time though, I could never root for the villain - they are too... un-likable. ;D

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Rissi, I just finished a book featuring a "rough around the edges" hero that needed more redeeming qualities. Balance can be so elusive, but then everyone's going to have different opinions of a character. :-)

Faye said...

I think you are so right! Because often if I don't at least like the character from the beginning there is almost no way I will love them by the end. Because I like to know what the character is about pretty much from the first page or at least the first chapter. Excellent post on how to cure it :)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Ah ha! I knew I wasn't alone in my theory. :-) Faye, that's it for me too -- if the hero/heroine doesn't intrigue me even a little by the 10% mark, it's unlikely I'll like them better later on.

Gabrielle Meyer said...

Great points, Gwen. I agree, getting into the heart and the mind of the main character needs to happen immediately. There may be a serious crisis she faces, but if I don't know where her heart is, then I don't know why I should care. I love your suggestions.

Loree Huebner said...

Perfect tips for introducing characters!

I agree, if you don't like your character, no one else will.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hey Gabrielle! I'm with you -- it drives me crazy when an author throws a character in a crisis before I've come to know them. (And sheepishly, I admit I've done this in a manuscript.) Better to introduce the character while leading up to a crisis. The anticipation can be more of a hook. :-)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Loree! I'm glad you like my tips. I've thought long and hard about them while redoing my beginning chapters of TWOI.

You'd think that a writer wouldn't spend so much time and effort with a character they didn't like, but oddly enough I've heard of it. Maybe they see it as theraputic?

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I love this idea! Working on a book in which the MC could easily be construed as unlikeable. Working in the WHYs of how she got this way would help readers understand her thinking more! Good post!

Jenn said...

I think characters are as important, or even more important than the plot. If the story is interesting but the characters are not, I have a much harder time getting through the book, or I've been known to give up on them altogether.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Heather! Yes, the "whys" are so important when introducing a character than can be hard to like. I'm in the same boat with my MC. Definately play up the sympathy if possible, or hardship.

This is so ironically funny -- right after I posted this blog, I read about introducing hard-to-like characters in "Plot and Structure" by James Scot Bell. I love this sentence from chapter four -- "Make the unlikable Lead fascinating in some way, or readers will be turned off."

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Jenn! So true! Characters drive the story and compel the readers to keep reading. A magnificent plot will not make up for boring or unlikeable characters. First impressions are so important. :-)

Jessica R. Patch said...

All good examples! Excellent line up. I like to love my characters ASAP! Or at least be intrigued even if I don't like them at first. :)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Jessica! Me too. I want to be either fascinated or attached to the MC by the end of chapter one. I'll even excuse a disinteresting heroine for an interesting hero. If the characters don't capture my attention by first quarter of the book, I may not finish it.