Oh, Hello There: How to Introduce a Character to Your Story
We talk a lot about character development and how to make those paper children of yours come to life so they leap off the page. It’s one of the fundamental aspects of a good story—without characters your reader can fall in love with, you don’t really have much of a story.
But a potentially less common question is, how the heck do you go about introducing those fascinating characters? Maybe this seems obvious, or maybe it doesn’t. After all, there are numerous ways you can introduce them into your story that not only tell the reader they exist but also show who your character is.
Sure, it can be as simple as walking on and saying “hello,” but it can also be a lot deeper than that.
In this article, we’ll go over some different techniques you can use to introduce your characters in compelling ways that include:
- Having them introduce themselves
- Using dialogue
- Using a visual image
- Using descriptive language
- Showing them on the brink of change
- Using another character’s POV
- Using their own actions
- Using backstory
Have them Introduce Themselves
Okay, so you really can just have them walk on stage (or the page) and say “hello.” There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s a common method, especially for stories told from first-person POV. They might offer their name and a little bit about who they are and what their role is in this story.
For example, in Alice In Wonderland, Alice begins by introducing herself as a girl from Kensington. It’s simple, to the point, and you definitely aren’t left wondering who your main character is.
Another example of this would be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. The movie starts with Dorothy singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She then introduces herself to the audience by saying, "My name is Dorothy. I'm from Kansas."
This is an effective way to establish the main character, her unique personality, and her background story all at once.
Introducing a character through dialogue is a great way for readers to become familiar with new characters. Dialogue can show us a character’s personality, interests, and opinions. It can reveal the nature of the relationship between different characters, as well as their backstory, goals, and motivations. It can also be used to create tension, conflict, and suspense, as well as to provide humor.
Introducing a character through dialogue can be a great way to set the scene and provide background information. It involves having other characters in the scene mention the new character in conversation, talk about them, and describe them in detail.
We can find an example of introducing a character through dialogue in Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.
In the first scene of Act One, the two servants, Sampson and Gregory, are discussing the Montagues and the Capulets, two rival families in the story. They talk about them in detail and mention Montague's son, Romeo. They then continue talking about the Capulets and Juliet and the feud between the two families. This brief exchange introduces Romeo, who makes his first appearance later in the scene.
Another example of this is when Bilbo Baggins is first introduced in J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit. Meriadoc Brandybuck, one of the Hobbits, says, "Good morning! What's all this, then?... Ah! it's Mr. Bilbo Baggins. I should have guessed. I beg your pardon. I hadn't noticed you before."
This dialogue works because it provides the reader with information about the character—that he is a respected Hobbit and well-known by the other characters —while still allowing the character to introduce himself.
Use a Visual Image
Creating a visual image when introducing a character is a powerful way to create a lasting impression. Make use of visual descriptions to create a vivid portrait of the character and give an idea of their physical presence in the world.
Visual descriptions can include the character’s physical traits, clothing, environment, and mannerisms. They can be used to create an atmosphere of mystery and anticipation, as well as reveal the character’s inner thoughts and feelings.
A classic example of this is the introduction of Darth Vader in the 1977 movie Star Wars. He is famously presented with a menacing silhouette, standing in contrast to the bright light of a distant star. This is an iconic image that has come to be synonymous with the character. There’s no mistaking who this bad boy is.
On the side of the light, another example is Superman, who is associated with the famous "S" in a shield on his chest, and the image of him flying in the sky with his cape streaming behind him.
Use Descriptive Language
Using descriptive language is a great way to give readers an idea of a character’s personality and traits. Use it to describe a character’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions, as well as their past experiences and background.
Descriptive language can be used to provide readers with information about the character’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the people who have influenced their life and the relationships they have with others.
A great example of this is the introduction of Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle talks about how he was a tall, thin man with piercing eyes and a hawk-like nose perched on an aquiline face, wearing a long grey dressing-gown and a scarf around his neck, and smoked his pipe continually. He also says he’s a master of observation with a brilliant mind for deduction and a relentless pursuit of the truth. This description does an excellent job of conveying not only the physical features of Sherlock Holmes, but also his intelligence and determination.
Another example of this is the description of Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s described as a six-year-old girl with a round face and direct gaze, who is almost unaware of the adult world, and is dressed like a tomboy in overalls and sneakers. This paints a vivid image of the character and provides enough information for the reader to identify with her.
Show Them on the Brink of Change
Introducing a character with a dilemma sets the stakes and creates a conflict for the character to overcome.
When introducing them, it's important to set up the dilemma in a way that shows both the potential positives and negatives of the decision. Give your reader a sense of how the character is feeling about the choice and their fear of the potential consequences.
When introducing a character with a dilemma, start by introducing them in a way that quickly conveys their personality and the stakes of their decision.
For example, you might say: "Jane was a brave young woman faced with a difficult choice. She could stay with her family and accept the insidious small-town life she knew so well or take a risk and move to the city to pursue her dreams."
One well-known example of introducing a character with a dilemma is in the classic film, The Godfather. We’re introduced to Michael Corleone, who has been living away from his family and their criminal business, trying to make a life for himself. He’s faced with the dilemma of embracing his family's criminal lifestyle, or continuing to build a life of peace and respect. This dilemma creates conflict and shows how Michael will be tested as a character.
Another example of this is the protagonist of The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby. He's a wealthy man living in the Jazz Age of New York, torn between his feelings of nostalgia for his past and the possibility of a new future. He faces a choice between staying in the past or embracing the future and risking it all.
Use Another Character’s POV
When introducing a character through another POV, it is important to create a vivid introduction that allows the reader to quickly connect with the character and understand their role in the story. It’s also important to ensure the introduction reveals not only the physical characteristics of the character but also provides an emotional or psychological insight into the character’s personality.
A well-known example of this technique is found in The Great Gatsby. The novel begins by introducing Gatsby through the eyes of narrator Nick Caraway: "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had."
Through Caraway’s perspective, we learn that Gatsby is a kind and thoughtful individual, even though he is from a different social class. This introduction allows readers to quickly connect and empathize with Gatsby.
Use the Character’s Actions
Introducing a character through their actions is an effective way to create something interesting and memorable and allows you to convey the character's motives, personality, and backstory. It’s a great way to give the reader a first impression and hint at their personality traits. This can be done through the use of dialogue, body language, and behavior.
For example, let’s look at the iconic introduction of Han Solo in A New Hope. While the audience doesn’t know who he is yet, his actions show exactly who he is as he comes roaring in, guns a-blazing. His attitude, intelligence, and resourcefulness help him gain the trust of the main characters and ultimately cements him as a beloved antihero.
Another example is in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when we’re first introduced to Frodo through his actions: he wakes up late in the morning, singing a cheerful song, barely scurrying to complete his chores before getting out to explore the world beyond the Shire. His singing and positive attitude show elements of his character and reflect his role as a (eventually) courageous hero.
Finally, you can use a character’s backstory to introduce characters by revealing their motivations, feelings, and inner struggles, as well as their life experiences and personal history. Use it to show readers what the character is capable of and how they arrived at this point in the story.
Revealing a character’s backstory can help create empathy and understanding between readers and the character, as well as to give readers an idea of the character’s development and growth throughout the story.
A good example of a character introduction using backstory can be found in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. It begins with a description of Mrs. Bennet’s reaction to hearing of her neighbor Mr. Bingley’s arrival in the area. In doing so, Austen gives a backstory for Mrs. Bennet, describing her as a woman desperate to marry off her five daughters, a character trait that forms the basis of the novel. Using this strategy, we learn a lot about Mrs. Bennet before she’s even introduced.
By now you should have some ideas on how to introduce your characters with a splash. It might not be as loud and obnoxious as the Kool-Aid man bursting into your living room, but I think everyone will thank you for that.
To keep track of all those character coming and goings, try out Dabble and the Plot Grid. Using this handy tool, you can plan out exactly how each characters makes their grand entrance into your story. Try it out free for fourteen days and organize everything with ease.
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