Last Saturday night at a banquet for DH’s work, I was told that I was intimidating to approach. I snorted water out my nose, slapped the table in front of me (with my head) and laughed until I couldn’t breathe.
Me, intimidating? In whose world?
Granted the young lady who said that is so teeny I could fold her up and put her in my back pocket. So, in the physical sense that might be the case. Yet her reasoning was, “You just have it all together.”
Repeat the first paragraph and add choking to the list of reactions. In case you’re new to my blog, I am a hot mess. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you are well aware that I am an entire-stick-of-butter-on-a-hot-frying-pan mess.
Petite&Adorable continued, “But once I met you, you’re the sweetest person ever.”
This entire conversation got me thinking about characters and how we introduce them in our writing. My MC’s come to me with attitude. Sometimes I like them. Sometimes I don’t. I would equate this to the initial perception that P&A had of me. First impressions are vital to character/reader connections. It’s the reason readers turn pages.
If I don’t like the character, I quit reading on page one and don’t buy the book. However, if said MC has a quality I like, I will continue reading as enthusiastically as our Geriatric Lab chases after pheasant scent.
In writing, our characters must be multi-dimensional. They need to have layers of personality that overlap and sometimes contradict, but always make sense. If they don’t, they will feel false and be unreadable. Yet we can’t put all this into the first page.
We can’t act as the go between and say, “Hey, have you met Miss MC? Even though she’s beautiful, smart and funny, she is insecure about herself. She likes dogs, hangs out with her friends and eats anchovies on her pizza. In the summer she water skis and swims in the lake, but won’t sit around the bonfire because she’s allergic to mosiquitoes to the point where she gets physically sick and swells up like a water balloon. Did I mention she’s the sweetest girl ever? You would love her. Oh yeah, and she has a really great story, so I hope you stick around.”
The question becomes: how do we introduce our characters to our readers?
Roz Morris explains how to make readers root for our MC from the get-go. Once you get started, Lynn Price sheds some light on keeping our characters in character.
And for more opinions on the subject at hand: how do you introduce your characters? What traits ensnare you and entice you to keep turning pages? What are introductory no-no’s that keep MC’s aloof, unapproachable and unreadable?
I like to call to mind some of the most likeable people I know and why they seem so endearing. Try to translate that to words and voila. I try to balance it all with some foibles and a few shortcomings (cause Lord knows, no ones perfect), and I hopefully have a likeable MC.
It can be a tough balancing act of not too quirky and not too much of a pushover at times. Great post and useful links too. Thanks!
Sounds like a great tactic. Take what you know and like and tweak it with some all-too-human characteristics to make your MC interesting. I agree the balancing act is hard. Especially with villians…
Thanks for the mention! Loved your story, and it set up the question well. Until we get to know people a bit, initial impressions are – well the whole impression.
So true. It’s hard to know how to put that MC on paper so they are instantly likable, interesting and yet not sugary-sweet. Because that’s a huge turn off for me too.
I’m guilty of reading the first page to see if I connect. If I don’t like the first impression, I never stick around for a second one.
This is one of the hardest parts of writing, I think. I love the writers who do it well–the ones who show us who the MC is through the character’s actions.
I would be interested to know how this translates on the first page. It is said so often that we must start our stories when circumstances change. Yet, I have heard complaints from agents/editors who say stories start out with too much bang. They feel that authors do not give them time to get invested in the MC and like them enough to care about the change they are going through.
One agent said I needed more description of my MC up front. What was interesting about that was the fact that this particular ms described my MC for an entire paragraph–something I never do. LOL! It leaves ya wondering how you resolve the issue of introduction.
Depends on the character and the story. Sometimes I like them doing something embarrassing or awkward – make them human right off the bat. Other times I like to catch them in an action that captures their personality.
Good point. Human nature dicatates that we like to see others suffer awkward moments as we do. Until that happens, everyone seems just a little out of our reach and makes them hard to connect with. Putting it up front is a great technique to help the reader/character connection.
You can show who the MC is through her actions, but also through her thoughts and internal reactions. She’s interrogating a prisoner on page one, and her words are all haughty/bad-ass, but her stomach is churning, and her fingers keep wanting to clench. She’s fighting those reactions and keeping her face carefully smooth. I like to see a character inside and out.
I’ve also been called intimidating, which I find funny. Maybe finding if funny is just part of the ol’ intimidating package. When I asked my accuser why she found me intimidating, though, she sputtered, “Well, well, you’re tall, for one.” As if I was 6’7″. When I told her I was just over 5’5″, she said, “Well, you come off tall.” Maybe we both have a very tall aura, Cat. Unless you are actually 6’7″.
My 5’6″ stature can hardly be considered tall. However, I get what your accuser meant. I have a cyber (NaNo buddy) whom I have never met, but have “known” for years. Her personality and inner strength seem so big to me. You can imagine how surprised I was to find out she was something like 5’2″. She had a big aura : )
I like your character introduction and your point about seeing the MC on the inside and out. I think that is the key to good character development and one that can be hard to do at times.
You are totally intimidating. Don’t lose that edge.
I used to describe my characters a lot but now I just show them doing what they do in their normal lives.
Usually it helps if they’re not in a good mood.
Yes, I’m intimidating to mosquitoes and head lice. I crush them ruthlessly! I am the undeniable master of the insect world.
I agree that bad moods are much easier to write. There are so many great verbs that carry anger. Happiness seems to be a bit more froofy and harder to pull off. I also believe that your characters’ normal lives are not mundane at all and therefore make it easier to show some pretty amazing character traits.
Good question. You’ve got me thinking about how I’ve introduced my MCs in my last two WIPs. And in both cases, I just realized I have them walking down a street! Doesn’t sound very interesting, does it? Hopefully something better will develop during revisions. 🙂
At least you’re consistent!
BTW, Cat, there’s a surprise for you on my blog.
Thanks, Roz. I will pop over there and check it out.