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Thread: character intros?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW emccabe's Avatar
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    character intros?

    So on my WIP my first chapter introduces three of my six characters with just enough background to carry it into chapter two.
    Chapter two delves deeply into only one character’s back story she drives three of the sub plots of the WIP and needed a longer intro.
    Chapter three again introduces just one character but gives only a little background on that person.
    By starting the WIP this way is it making it too confusing for the reader? The final character doesn’t show up until chapter sixteen.

  2. #2
    Feeling like an old timer rainsmom's Avatar
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    Spreading out intros is fine, and filling in info about characters after you introduce them is fine. Reveal backstory as needed and only as needed.
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    My character intros, when those characters are not the main characters, is very brief. For instance if my MC's mother were still alive in my current WIP, and she had an upcoming scene with him, I would only say she's his mother and how their relationship has been, usually one paragraph is more than enough. Even for my MC's, though, my intros don't take whole chapters, only like two or three paragraphs, and it's only with my male and my female MC's. My male MC's intro is very short on my current WIP, though, only one paragraph. Not the norm in my works, but I couldn't wait to get right into the action and the drama. When I write the last chapter of my WIP I'll broaden that character intro. I already have some of it written down as just random ideas in a separate document.

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    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    My character intros consist of that character DOING SOMETHING RELATED TO THE PLOT.

    That's it. You can show all you need to show about their character through their actions. No need for lengthy exposition of their childhood dreams or traumas, or how they got to the situation they now find themselves in. If it's important it'll be revealed eventually.

    The last thing I want to read is a succession of characters being paraded into the scene, introduced, then sent away again until they're needed.
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    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    My character intros consist of that character DOING SOMETHING RELATED TO THE PLOT.

    That's it. You can show all you need to show about their character through their actions. No need for lengthy exposition of their childhood dreams or traumas, or how they got to the situation they now find themselves in. If it's important it'll be revealed eventually.

    The last thing I want to read is a succession of characters being paraded into the scene, introduced, then sent away again until they're needed.
    Yes, exactly.

    Put them to work in the story when they need to be present, otherwise send them off to do something else.
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    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    My character intros consist of that character DOING SOMETHING RELATED TO THE PLOT.

    That's it. You can show all you need to show about their character through their actions. No need for lengthy exposition of their childhood dreams or traumas, or how they got to the situation they now find themselves in. If it's important it'll be revealed eventually.
    Exactly. My FMC is an assassin. First scene she's in, she's assassinating someone. And not just anyone. That assassination is important to the plot. My MMC is a healer. First scene he's in, he's healing someone. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way...but I try to show my characters doing the things they do, as it relates to the plot.



  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    As others have said, make sure your character intros serve a purpose in the plot. If you're just wandering out and introducing characters, that will get boring quickly.

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    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    My character intros consist of that character DOING SOMETHING RELATED TO THE PLOT.

    That's it. You can show all you need to show about their character through their actions. No need for lengthy exposition of their childhood dreams or traumas, or how they got to the situation they now find themselves in. If it's important it'll be revealed eventually.
    This. x1000

    I may be on the new end of writing, but I know what I like to read. Listening to a monologue with backstory just because the character appeared is not appealing. Unless it is made entertaining.

    For example if a group of people are nosing through files and someone reads out the history of a character from a government file, right before that character busts in.

    I only like to be laden with backstory if it feels right. I like mysterious characters.
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW Coco82's Avatar
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    It depends. For small characters it's very short, a few sentences giving their physical description and relation to another character/POV character. For MCs though whereas the inital description may be the same length I drop in background throughout the story so there is no big infodump at any one place.
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    If someone enters a room they don't carry their past history on a card round their neck.
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  11. #11
    Tyrant King jeffo20's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    If someone enters a room they don't carry their past history on a card round their neck.
    I'd better get rid of this thing....


    I can't remember where I saw this, probably somewhere on this very board, but it was about the notion of knowing your characters, and knowing what every character wanted, and what every character's backstory was, and so on. Just remember that the reader doesn't need to know everything you know, and that some of that super-interesting backstory may not be needed by anyone but you. I think the way you're looking to introduce your characters is fine, and isn't necessarily confusing, but I'd be worried about slowing the story down too much while you're giving us their backgrounds.
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  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW emccabe's Avatar
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    Thank you all I will use this advice while working through my rewrite. It was very helpful.

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    Mid-Leap asmira's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffo20 View Post
    Just remember that the reader doesn't need to know everything you know, and that some of that super-interesting backstory may not be needed by anyone but you.
    That one is a hard lesson to learn. It's not always obvious at first what data the reader needs, and what they can intuit and go on without. It can feel *so* frustrating to trust your reader to understand things without you holding their hands, but it definitely makes for better reading.

    But remember... You can always write it down now, and cut it out later. Many writers work that way, and end up with fantastic novels.
    Last edited by asmira; 12-27-2012 at 08:32 PM. Reason: thought of something else.

  14. #14
    Tyrant King jeffo20's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by asmira View Post
    It's not always obvious at first what data the reader needs, and what they can intuit and go on without....
    But remember... You can always write it down now, and cut it out later. Many writers work that way, and end up with fantastic novels.
    Very true. I've written many, many scenes that have ended up in the 'cuts' file, some of it damn good writing, if I do say so myself, and some of it bits and pieces that I *hated* cutting. But in the end, the story was better without it, and it wasn't wasted effort, in my view.
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  15. #15
    My name is PJ. P-Jay's Avatar
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    Cutting out details is always hard. Especially when you think it's so crucial for the reader to know, that you wrote it in in the first place.

    But like others have said, you want to give enough 'space' for the reader to fill in certain details on his/her own.

  16. #16
    steaming up the e-readers TheaBlowsKisses's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffo20 View Post
    Very true. I've written many, many scenes that have ended up in the 'cuts' file, some of it damn good writing, if I do say so myself, and some of it bits and pieces that I *hated* cutting. But in the end, the story was better without it, and it wasn't wasted effort, in my view.
    Agreed. If you have too many character details right up front, it becomes an info dump. Define your characters by what they do or how they react; while what's happened in their lives right up until the point of the story can certainly affect their actions/reactions, the readers don't necessarily need to know.

  17. #17
    I against I Jon M's Avatar
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    Find myself disagreeing with a lot of the advice here regarding backstory. As always, it all depends on how well something is written. I wouldn't mind reading about a character's past actions if it was well-drawn, just depends.

    And plot is not necessarily king for all stories, so holding it up as some sort of criteria for character introductions seems a bit misguided and arbitrary.
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  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW emccabe's Avatar
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    I am glad that this topic has given me so much to think about. I now understand why it is so important to just write and not edit until the end of the story. I never would have finished my first rough draft if I had to think of all of this.

    Thanks guys

  19. #19
    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    I don't love character intros anywhere in story. I like action and dialogue to tell me about a character, with a little requisite backstory to give it some context. I steer well away from the 'Anna was 30 and although she was born in Adelaide, she had moved to Melbourne with her parents as a teenager.' style of introduction.
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  20. #20
    I against I Jon M's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaspargoryan View Post
    I steer well away from the 'Anna was 30 and although she was born in Adelaide, she had moved to Melbourne with her parents as a teenager.' style of introduction.
    I would too -- crap writing. Thankfully not all exposition is so lifeless.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    My character intros consist of that character DOING SOMETHING RELATED TO THE PLOT.
    THIS. A thousand times THIS.

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  22. #22
    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon M View Post
    I would too -- crap writing. Thankfully not all exposition is so lifeless.
    Obviously!

    Leaving aside the (low) quality of the writing, I am not a fan of much expository character profiling. I like to find out about a character through plot, as Kallithrix said. How do they feel, react, move, eat, speak, cry? These all say more about a character than exposition.

    Edit: this is, at least in part, a question of taste.
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  23. #23
    I against I Jon M's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaspargoryan View Post
    Leaving aside the (low) quality of the writing, I am not a fan of much expository character profiling. I like to find out about a character through plot, as Kallithrix said. How do they feel, react, move, eat, speak, cry? These all say more about a character than exposition.
    Feel like this is potentially another 'Show, don't Tell' conversation marauding in different clothes. But yes, finding out about a character in the present moment is satisfying. There is a sense of profluence. But really the only difference between that and exposition is the time of occurrence, and past actions can be written about just as vividly. So, no, I don't think it is true plot reveals more about character than exposition. Character reveals itself, and it doesn't matter when.
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  24. #24
    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon M View Post
    Feel like this is potentially another 'Show, don't Tell' conversation marauding in different clothes. But yes, finding out about a character in the present moment is satisfying. There is a sense of profluence. But really the only difference between that and exposition is the time of occurrence, and past actions can be written about just as vividly. So, no, I don't think it is true plot reveals more about character than exposition. Character reveals itself, and it doesn't matter when.
    To my mind, past actions and exposition are not the same - all of what I mentioned in my post can be revealed through past action. I just personally prefer it that way than an info dump of character profile (say, the way you might find it in an obituary).
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