We all know when we like something in a story, and when something doesn't sit right with us. But do we always know why? I'm taking a look at novels and looking specifically at how the writing techniques are applied. My goal is to learn from published authors in order to improve my own story writing. The technique of this post is character introduction.
Character introduction is critical to hooking readers...and it's something I struggle with. I've recently had a refresher lesson on character introductions, and I thought I could learn something from my look at The Path of the Fury. Specifically I looked at the methods used to introduce the Fury and Alicia, two main characters in this novel.
For the Fury, we have a prologue which largely uses habitat to introduce a nameless "she." It gets the idea across, but it's not reader friendly.
For starters, who is "she"? As a reader, without that all-important name tag, I have nothing to hang onto. I can barely see a murky black smokiness, but that's not really helpful. We could be in the emptiness of space, among the stars. We could be in a non-physical realm. She's clearly not human, so what kind of alien is she? She's the first character we meet, assuming we read the prologue, so is she the protagonist? What are we dealing with here? The blankness is too blank. Give me something to go on.
The prologue introduction shows we have a truly alien setting, but it's one that I personally cannot imagine well.
It is effective with the emotional reaction—the confusion of suddenly missing a group and the loneliness that follows. But even that is hard to grasp without knowing more about this group that "she" was a part of.
Alicia's introduction is actually similar to the Fury's, though it works better since it uses some characteristic entry action (an action that flows from a character's personality and reveals a trait [bold, quirky, fearful, etc.] about the character, used in this case to introduce the character to the story, but the action does not have to be limited to the introducing moment).
Once again, we have the nameless "she." Is this the same "she" as from the prologue? This she has hair, a face, and eyes and interacts with a physical world, so probably not, but it's not clarified (for all I knew the Fury was capable of that and just hadn't at the moment of her introduction).
Also I'd like to know what the "tick" is that pulses within Alicia. Without more details, that could mean too many different things to be helpful as a specific introduction tool this early on.
But Alicia's action takes off and we see some of her character. She is calculating, collected, and capable. It tends to suggest either she's something of a robot—though maybe not since she has a brother—or she's hardened by battle, training, or some sort of harsh times. This works better to whet my appetite to know more about her. But I still wish I knew her name at this point. I don't want to be surprised by the identity of the protagonist; I want to see the world through her eyes.
And there is a lot of reminding the reader about her eyes. They are green—jade to be specific. Why should that be emphasized over and over and over? It takes me out of her point-of-view and makes me see it as Dorathea outside of the story, watching a movie instead of allowing the closer connection to a protagonist that a novel should offer.
So, how do I compare? I practically open with a name, but instead of picking a main characteristic and using entry action to emphasize it, I tend to use physical description dumps, stopping my story without enough life to be memorable. I forget that, like a stage play, everything should be exaggerated in order to convey the idea clearly to the audience in the back of the auditorium (my readers).
Also, I'm not good with imagery and similies. I fear overemphasizing the wrong characteristic (I need to choose a strategy) or offering the wrong dominant impression because I described it in a strange way.
So, obviously I could use some work, and since looking at The Path of the Fury I've been more careful and deliberate in my introductions. To keep getting better I could use a list of metaphors and similies, familiar and new, sensible and off-the-wall. Maybe that would get the wheels in my head turning so I can capture the most appropriate entry action to introduce my characters with effective dominant impressions. Also, I can look at how characteristic entry action is used for protagonists in several books and compare them to get a better idea of what other writers have done.
What about you? Do you have tricks, tips, or troubles introducing your characters? Do certain methods employed by other writers confuse you? Or have you read vivid introductions? What have you seen that works, and what's not as strong as it could be?