Monday, August 27, 2012

Introducing Memorable Characters

At one point or another in your story, you have to let a few characters out of the bag. They don't all arrive at the starting line together, but are introduced one or a few at a time. It can especially be hard on the reader to keep track of things when he/she meets a roomful at a party or classroom. Let's keep some commonsense tips in mind:

1. Keep immediate introductions down to three or fewer. We typically don't need to know the whole boatload. If it becomes important to learn more about others in the area, do so after the reader has lingered on the first characters enough to get a picture of something about their personality or physical description. Let the first characters soak into the mind before moving on.
2. Give the characters different enough names/nicknames from one another. Don't have them all rhyme or start with the same letter. I'd rather not meet Amanda and Mandy at the same time.
3. Give something memorable about each character in a quick way so we can connect it to that person. The senses are good for this. Visual--The crooked way he wears his hat, walks with a cane or other prop. Sound--Maybe they speak with an accent or are unusually silent. Smell--Her delicate perfume reminded him of Aunt Martha. Touch--I wanted to reach out and smooth the boy's wiry hair that wouldn't stay in place.
4. Repeat a word from a previous used list of descriptions to later trigger more from the list. For example, I'm introducing Jimmy to you and say, "He's such a good kid. A real boy scout. I'll bet he never told a lie in his entire life." The next time you meet Jimmy in the story I might say, "You remember Jimmy--the boy scout?" It all comes to recall.
5. Do make it memorable, but don't info dump on each character as we meet them. Let us discover more about the important ones as the story evolves.
6. Minor characters like the waitress or bus driver can be given their 15 seconds of fame. One memorable thing about simple character roles can enrich the setting.

You're invited to leave a comment introducing yourself or to share a tip.


Liesel K Hill said...

Wow! This is a great post, Renae! I can really make use of this one. I'm doing storyboarding/world building/character sketches for an epic fantasy right now and there's going to be good few (between 5 and 10) main characters, so this is something I really have to take into account. I encounter this done wrong or badly so often in other books, but I don't think it's something we often think much about as writers. I may have to share this with a few of my colleagues! :D Happy Thursday! P.S. Did you say you'd be back in state for Roundup this year, or not so much?

Renae W. Mackley said...

Awesome, Liesel. I always hope these posts will help more than just to remind me of good writing skills. Glad it was timely for you.
Sadly, I won't be at Roundup this year. Too expensive to travel for the main reason. Hope you can share tips with me on your blog. Enjoy!

Stephanie Black said...

Great tips! Thanks, Renae. These will come in handy for my current WIP.

Renae W. Mackley said...

Thanks, Stephanie. So excited for your new book.

Hannah said...

LOL! The characters in your picture look familiar!

Renae W. Mackley said...

Indeed. Avoiding that copyright thing, ya know?