When writing character intros it is the prime opportunity to impress readers and hook them into your story. With a well-written character introduction you need to have a lot more going then it appears to be at first glance.
What’s in a character introduction?
Character introductions can be thought of in two different parts: character description and a character entrance.
Character Description: is the line or two that announces the character the first time we see them in the script. Examples:
10 things I hate about you: Kat Stratford, eighteen, pretty- but trying hard not to be- in a baggy granny dress and glasses, balances a cup of coffee and a backpack as she climbs out of her battered, baby blue ’75 Dodge Dart.
From Northeast Kingdom: A young female hunter hides in the foliage on the side of a pond. She’s small for her age, 19 going on 16, but wears the concentration of an adult.
Warm Bodies: R(21, undead). Blank face, sunken eyes. Blueish lips. If we didn’t know any better we’d think he was a junkie, a runaway from the set of My Own Private Idaho. Then we might notice a few thin gashes cutting across his cheeks. And then we might hear a soft groan humming from his frozen lips. And then we might start to wonder…
Character entrance: is the set up and/or circumstances surrounding the character the first time we meet them in the story.
Examples: It’s Jack Sparrow… Sorry. Captain Jack Sparrow sailing into port on a sinking ship.
Marge Gunderson: Being woken in the middle of the night, slipping her winter coat over her very=pregnant belly and leaving her loving husband, to go out and represent the side of good in Fargo.
The Character description and character entrance. The two parts of character introductions.
You never get a second chance for your impression:
Character introductions have the explicit purpose of introducing us, the reader or audience, to the characters. When done right you can create several significant effects:
- Focus reader’s attention on what’s important
- Hook readers into the character
- Establish a character’s emotional starting point.
Focus Reader’s attention on what’s important:
Clarity is maybe the most important aspect of character writing and one of the toughest to master. We all have amazing stories in our heads- that we keep replaying in our heads on a daily basis. The challenge is figuring out how to convey them and imagination onto the page. When someone else reads it, what they imagine in their head is something close to what you imagined– this is the end goal of everyone who is a writer.
Skillfully directing a reader’s attention:
Is a necessary part of creating a clear, intended effect. You’re the conductor. You don’t just let everyone do their own thing and play whatever they like. You need to take control and focus their attention. It is the same thing with your characters, you need to create a specific effect by controlling how each character is represented, heard, and when they are heard.
A good character intro gives weight to characters. Major characters are given full introductions. Minor characters are given just enough to help orient us to their place n the story, but their very lack of elaborate introductions tells us not to invest our mental energy unnecessarily.
Hook readers into the characters:
Characters are our ways of telling stories. We are compelled to watch characters whom we admire, fear or even fall in love with, care about, and are intrigued by. A good character is created with a good hook– the admiration or fear or intrigue, enticing the reader follow this character into the story.
The idea of what hooks a reader in, what connects a reader to the character in that first moment, and it will link the next function of a character introduction.
How to Write an Amazing Character Introduction:
If your character description needs to be short enough so as not to disrupt the flow of the scene, then each word needs to be as impactful as possible. Specificity in word choices will do that. It’s a challenge, packing succinct line or two with a description that comes alive in a reader’s mind- but it can be done.
Use the scene to reveal what’s compelling about your character:
What are they chasing, what are they doing, how they’re reacting and interacting, what choices are they making, what made them choose those decisions? These are all ways to show us who the character is and to set up how we can expect them to behave in the story.
A purposeful character introduction can make the reader fall in love with both the character and the writer. We’re eager to follow the character into the story, and just as eager to follow that storyteller wherever they take us because we’re confident it will be a good ride.