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    An idea for a thread stolen from Dan Locke.


    So how do you introduce characters? How do you let the reader know how they’re related to each other? Most difficult for me, how do you describe them without going into more detail than anyone wanted to know?

    • CommentTimeAug 31st 2009

    I’d love to give advice… except this is something I struggle with a lot. Seriously, how do you introduce characters without info-dumping about their fourth cousins?! Especially if their background is very, very important to the story? I read a lot, so I can spot a cleverly-disguised info-dump a mile away- hiding an info-dump isn’t really the answer for me. How do I put the important information in without dumping it?

    • CommentTimeAug 31st 2009

    You can always not introduce them. That works at times.


    You can always not introduce them.

    Em, not gonna work for me.

    Seriously, if anyone has any tips please impart the knowledge to the rest of us, because this is a pretty important question.

    • CommentTimeAug 31st 2009

    Heh. Don’t look at me. I went through a phase when I was 14 where I’d never call any character by name until a different charater called them by name in dialogue.

    It got confusing fast, I’ll tell you.

    I still have trouble, I usually have people jump in with dialogue in the middle of a different conversation, but it always feels too abrupt.

    • CommentTimeAug 31st 2009
    I try to have other characters create a framework if the character is expected, but if he/she just appears then I let things sort themselves out later on. Seems to work!

    The way my current thing is set up, I’ve got two characters traveling together throughout the majority, with the PoV alternating between them every few chapters or so. My general rule of thumb is to not include information the PoV character at the time of a new character’s appearance would not notice or have access to.

    I think I typed this in another thread at some point, but characters introduced during my female lead’s PoV segments tend to get a more detailed physical description, things like clothes, eye/hair color, that sort of thing. She also has no prior dealings with the vast majority of the characters the two interact with, so more often than not, her parts’ characters tend to be surrounded with her instinctive impressions about said characters and other such supposition.

    With my male lead PoV, I try and describe characters in terms he would think of them in, things like height, weight, any organizational affiliation markings, or any unusual physical assets or deficiencies. He is already familiar with most of the characters encountered, so I can get away with relaying some hard facts about the introduced character via internal monologue. This is a help and a hindrance, though, since he might be aware of something regarding the introduced character that I am not yet ready for the reader to know.

    In practice, it seems like the majority of new characters show up in the female lead’s segments, so I end up typically using the first method more than the second. The setup does allow her to ask questions to the male in order to fill in the blanks those blanks need filling without it feeling too infodumpish, as long as she asks questions that seem natural.

    I have to say though, all that aside, I don’t think you should try and put all the information about the new character on the page, even if you’ve got a setup that allows you to do so. I’ve found that it’s more effective to imply there’s more to any given character than the reader sees. The more info you dump about them, the smaller it can feel to the reader. It’s that old Hemingway bit about most of the iceberg being underwater.

    Restraint can go a long way towards making both your character and your world feel bigger to the reader, if you do it right.


    You write? I could’ve sworn that in your introduction thread you said something about not writing.


    You write? I could’ve sworn that in your introduction thread you said something about not writing.



    Yes, you. Then Jeni said that she was the official “not-writer,” but it doesn’t count since she wrote reviews—fine, those also don’t count.


    I think you’ve got me mixed up with somebody else. From my intro thread:

    Like many of you, I’m an aspiring writer, and may use the flimsiest pretexts possible in order to make opaque references to the novel I’m writing.


    I’m absolutely confused now. Ah well. I’m sorry for the mistake.


    You’d better be..!!

    Well I said I'm an aspiring writer who doesn't write much so maybe you are thinking of me...?

    There have been several people who’ve said they don’t write, so you could be thinking of anyone.



    I always just start in medias res.


    “Huntington always hated tracking down a relative.”


    One would be surprised what a stick of dynamite can do when one has both intention and determination, thought Candela”


    Well, that’s for starting off a story. What if you’re already into a story, and you’re introducing a new character?


    Yes! I start out with my male lead in the first chapter, but he won’t meet the female lead (and eventual love interest) until chapter five or so – and he has yet to meet her rival for his affections! How do you introduce someone like that?


    How do you introduce someone like that?

    Depends on the someone in question, doesn’t it?


    True, but there has to be a basic guideline, right? Right now, I have this old description where I infodumped on her clothes and hair, but considering that this is a guy thinking about a girl, I doubt that’d he be examining her embroidery and admiring the cloth-of-silver clouds.


    Not unless he was a bit of a fruitcup.

    But yeah, I think you are at least asking the right questions now and trying to view her how your character views her. If she’s a character with a lot of page-time(and I would guess she is by virtue of being the female lead) there’s no sense in getting in a rush and frontloading everything about her. That way, the reader can get to know her at the same rate the PoV character does.


    Of course, there are things that jump out about people when you first see them. Maybe you think they’ve got gorgeous eyes, or they’re wearing a t-shirt with your favorite band on it, or something…

    • CommentTimeSep 10th 2009 edited

    True… this is when I wish my brother was older so I could grill him on the male gaze… Thanks.


    Same here.

    Although my brother probably doesn’t even think about any of the other people in his class other than his friends and people who annoy him.

    • CommentTimeSep 10th 2009
    I could help.

    Oh, would you?

    • CommentTimeSep 10th 2009
    sure, right here?

    Let’s create another thread…?


    It depends on the viewpoint. If you’re writing first person or even third person limited, you ought to have them introduced to each other, though in the case of third person omniscient you could probably have more freedom.

    Most importantly, it’s a case of ‘show don’t tell’. Reveal information little by little, and remember that it’s just as much what you don’t say as it is what you do say. I was just now painting the picture of one of my character’s lives, so I’ll use what I’ve written as example.

    Taheen had a bad back from sleeping on the bare floor the last two days.
    This is the first sentence – I’ve given you his name, and we also know that he’s a) not used to sleeping on the bare floor and b) his residence is sparsely furnished (‘bare floor’ being the key).

    Mostly, he prayed and tended to the flow of time. As ever, nothing was unusual.
    Now we’ve got his daily routine. We can derive that he is religious, and that his life is not varied.

    Finally, he said to her in a strained voice that hadn’t been raised above a whisper in any recent memory,
    I haven’t explicitly said he’s a hermit, but you can tell from how little he has used his voice.

    She stared at him, still with curious eyes. He brought a hand up to his left ear, playing with the hard, rough skin with the intention of hiding it from view – as if that would somehow hide the obvious physical differences.
    Finally, we know there’s something peculiar about his physical appearance that he’s embarrassed of, though what it is exactly the reader has yet to know.

    I hope I’ve proved my here. Show us who the character is. Make your protagonist notice his vocal and physical ticks, maybe even point them out – how does the character react to the rude, personal inquisitions? Paint a picture of the character’s actions and reactions and the character will come to life.


    Thanks for the examples, Dr.A. They really helped me.





    You’re welcome.


    Cool. The main site’s been a bit inactive over the summer, so we should bring back the writing articles.