Writing a character sketch can be a great idea…as long as that’s not the way we introduce the character in the final story…
or: How I Met Their Father (and what it tells you about introducing characters)
After our first proper date, the boy who had taken me to the theater sat across from me in a smoky pub in Edinburgh and told me stories from his life.
We had somehow managed to claim the coveted armchairs near the fire (because pubs in Scotland have such things). As we talked, one or other of us would lean forward to pick up our pint glasses from the low table in front of us. Gradually, we started to do it in unison.
It would have been noisy and it must have grown dark while we talked, but I don’t remember any of that, because I was laughing, and listening, and piecing together a person from the stories he was telling me.
He told me about his boss at the university, the stupid games they played in the lab to pass the time while experiments ran, the (very) daft things he’d done after too many pints, and – and this is where I remember thinking ‘you should careful with this one’s heart’ – the story of an ex-girlfriend or two.
It wasn’t until much, much later that I learned about his hometown, the granny he loved, the games he invented alone in his room on rainy Saturday afternoons.
I learned about him backwards.
It’s how we meet most people, if you think about it.
And yet we tend to make a fuss when stories are deliberately written that way, as if the author is somehow breaking the rules.
How To Introduce Characters
When we make character sketches and biographies, it makes sense for us to start at the beginning (where were they born? Where did they grow up? What formative experiences did they have?)
But if we try to do that when we introduce them to readers it feel like an info-dump…because that’s not how we get to know people in real life.
It feels stilted. Awkward. Weird.
So don’t be afraid to introduce characters in the moment and gradually peel back the layers gradually, and only when it becomes important for us to know why they are the way they are.
How do you think about character development vs introducing characters on the page? Leave a comment: