“If we like a character, then we want to see her do well and we’re willing to follow her around and invest our time and interest in rooting her on in her struggle. But it’s important we know some essentials about the character so we can get to like her. The trick is to avoid stand-alone description or exposition and to instead show your character in action.”
One of the most fascinating — and frustrating — aspects of writing a short story, play, or novel is orchestrating the first impression your main character makes on readers or viewers. How you introduce your character sets the stage for the tale you want to tell. I’ve wrestled with this in my novel, so I know how challenging it can be.
As Les Edgerton summed up the challenge, it involves revealing rather than describing, which can be tricky. The author of 15 books (including two writing guides, Hooked and Finding Your Voice), Les offered some helpful advice in a Writer’s Digest online article, “Write Better: 3 Ways To Introduce Your Main Character:”
1. Keep physical description minimal: “A character’s physical description—unless markedly different than the norm—does relatively little to draw the reader in. The character’s actions, or details such as his occupations and interests, are much more useful.” Leaving readers free to imagine your character is a simple but powerful way to draw them in.
2. Characterize through action: I think it was Emerson who once said (I’m paraphrasing here): show me what you do and I’ll tell you who you are. What your character does or chooses not to do, speaks volumes. When we learn that his or her behavior is either characteristic or a departure, we begin to understand who they are or think they are or want us to think they are. And it’s all fascinating!
3. Instill depth and complexity: A compelling way to draw readers into your story is to intrigue them by giving them a tantalizing glimpse into your main character’s inner life and the dangers ahead. When readers feel they’ve peered into emotional depths, they become attached and engaged. Write on!