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  1. #1
    The Great Flying Bear choppy's Avatar
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    Introducing Characters

    So my current work in progress has a flashback in the second chapter. In the flashback it's important that I introduce about 6 characters (only one of whom is mentioned in the first chapter) in a very short space. I'm running into a bit of a problem in that I'm tending to bog down the flow of the story with a format like:

    Wagner was a man who did this, looked like such and had prolems with so and so.

    Brady was that boy that Kate liked.

    David was the boy that liked Kate.

    Terra was Kate's friend.

    Seamus liked Terra and got picked on by Cole.

    Adolph builds a bonfire and Sasha plays with it...


    For the sake of the story it's important that I introduce each character at this point. So my question is, how (if at all) do you deal with this kind of problem in your writing?

    I can see a few options at the present.

    1. I could twist things around so that l dump a bunch of names on the reader in the first page or so of the chapter and then gradually introduce the characters as their roles become more significant.

    2. Some authors tend to group characters together - referring to them in groups through the story. That way of the reader doesn't catch on to specifics, he or she will at least recognise the characters as part of a group with similar traits.

    3. Cut out characters all together. This unfortunately would severely affect the story I want to tell - as least as I see it at this point. I'd like to avoid this opition if I could.

    Any thoughts?

  2. #2
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    I can think of a few more options.

    1) Just name the characters normally in the flashback sequence as what's happening and don't specifically mention the inter-relations and slowly work those inter-relations into the rest of the work. That assumes that these other six characters are actually IN the rest of the work. If they are not, a faceless name in the crowd is fine.

    2) Expand the flashback sequence so that you can work in the the inter-relations in context of the flashback. (i.e. increase the time/space for introducing these characters) For example, if Kate like Brad, then you could have some emotional thing when she sees Brad. At the same time, you could have David hanging around Kate and Terra (who are friends and would hang around) and maybe have Terra make some offhand comment about it. This is only really necessary if the others are actually involved in the rest of the story. If they aren't, then there is no real need to separate then from the crowd.

  3. #3
    Well, I would have to ask why is it so critical to introduce every character at the same time? Why not draw them out over a couple of paragraphs? It shouldn't be that hard to do. Unless it adversely affects your story, I would try to spread out a little to character introductions.

    If I had to put them all together(I would assume that the character were all together), then I would try to do something like this:

    Wagner walked up to the group. (insert something about Wagner, hopefully relevant to the group). Brady and David stood apart from each other. Kate stood close to Brady talking with Terra, her friend, while David stole quick glances at her and glared at Brady. Brady and David had been close friends until Brady and Kate had started spending more time together. On the ground, Cole sat on Seamus's back holding his face in the mud. In the middle of the clearing, Adolf and Sasha tended to the bonfire.

    Now, please keep in mind that I made several assumptions about your characters and this is just a rough draft of what I would probably write as a final version. It is rough, not terribly smooth, but I think it gives a good intro to the characters without being too rough on a reader(I think and hope). But then, I am not a terribly experienced writer and have never really tried to introduce a group all at once.

  4. #4
    The Great Flying Bear choppy's Avatar
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    Well, I would have to ask why is it so critical to introduce every character at the same time? Why not draw them out over a couple of paragraphs? It shouldn't be that hard to do. Unless it adversely affects your story, I would try to spread out a little to character introductions.
    As they stand the introductions happen over several pages. The chapter is already too long in comparison to the rest of the book (~ 30 pages or 14000 words, whereas I prefer to keep my chapters under about 5000 words).

    The reason I need to introduce them all in this chapter is that they are basically all killed by the end of the chapter and come back as ghosts. I wanted the reader to be familiar with each of the characters before the whole ghost concept comes into play.

    You know, as I wrote this, another option presented itself. As each ghost pops up I could go back to a seemingly odd catastophe scene and tell a portion of the flashback bit by bit - each time focussing on a different character. I'll have to think about that one a little - see how it works.

    Thanks for the replies!

  5. #5

    Question

    Have you considered telling the flashback over a series of chapters instead of just the one? I mean you can break it up and still keep the flashback intact. I can understand a desire to keep the flashback seperated from the main story, but if you break it up into a few chapters, none of the chapters containing anything but the flashback, it will still be so seperated.

    It is really up to you since it is your story.

  6. #6
    Ataraxic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Honey, this isn't enough info. What viewpoint format are you using? If you're using an omniscient narrator in third person, how much omniscience do you want to have -- some, a lot, none? Are you using the internal thoughts/pov of a character? How many pov characters? What, besides logistical info, are you trying to do in the flashback? What's the proposed emotional tone of the flashback? What is the emotional state of the pov character(s)? Is it a scene or a scene fragment with expository chunks? If a scene, how much character pov, exposition, description, etc., are you planning to include? How much action will occur in the scene? Is there a lot of symbolism and metaphor in the scene, a dreamy focus to the scene or is it a straightforward, clear picture re-telling? And so on. All of these things go into character introductions.

    And all of which may be stuff you don't have to worry about right now if this is a first draft. If it's a first draft, you might just want to write down the character info in the clunky manner that it is coming out and then go back and revise the flashback and intros much later when you've worked out a lot more of the details in other parts of the story.

  7. #7
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Here I am preparing questions in my head and KatG beats me to it...

    Was wondering about similar stuff.

    In the flashback it's important that I introduce about 6 characters (only one of whom is mentioned in the first chapter) in a very short space.
    It all boils down to the "why", see?

  8. #8
    The Great Flying Bear choppy's Avatar
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    Sorry about the lack of info. I suppose I just wanted to generate some discussion on the general issue of how other writers deal with mass introductions, rather than specific help on my own piece. It's too early in the writing process on this piece of work for me to sweat the details.

    Introductions can be a problem sometimes. I want the reader to connect with my characters and I have a few good tools for doing that at this point. The problem is that those tools can get old fast.

    I think at this point I'll heed KatG's advice and just hammer the first draft out as is, then worry about whether things are confusing or not. I find sometimes in hindsight the problems aren't quite so big as they may seem at first.

  9. #9
    Registered User SubZero61992's Avatar
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    I would introduce it as like whoever the main character was, was thinking about the funny chain such as He loves her. She loves him. and so on with the names of course of your characters.

  10. #10
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    I think when you introduce many characters at once, you have to grant your readers the time to deal with all those new people as they would in a real world situation.

    Imagine you walk into a room full of people you never met before: your first day in a new office. I catch glimpses of a few women, a few men and hope to see at least one person smiling at me, but in general they are one huge scary group. I don't remember their names, I don't know whom to ask for help with the broken computer, and I'm not sure whether to believe my new co-workers when they gossip about the boss sleeping with every new intern.

    That's how I feel when an author throws a bunch of new characters at me. I dub them New Guys in my head and don't even try to distinguish individual personalities. So if you plan to have a chapter where you introduce six characters, I would suggest you

    -- treat them as a group first, and don't give them names at the beginning. Your readers will forget them anyway, and feel frustrated when they can't remember who the heck Brady was.

    -- establish how your POV character relates to the group as a whole. Are they known to him, and if yes, are they acquaintances or life-long friends? Are they family, enemies, or both? Your readers have to understand your POV's reaction to a group, because only then they can judge the interactions in between said group.

    For example: Brady was that boy that Kate liked + David was the boy that liked Kate.

    This would mean different group relationships, depending whether Brady, David, or Kate is your POV.

    Brady's POV: Kate and David are a laughable group, love-sick idiots.
    Kate's POV: Brady and David are no group at all; David is nonexistent because he's an annoying distraction from Brady.
    David's POV: Kate and Brady are an envied group, owners of a love that should belong to David himself.

    Or any other vile motivation you can invent for your characters. Maybe they are even nice people, then their groups might not fight all day as mine do.

    -- now, after clarifying how your POV feels about the group in general, I would suggest you give each member stage-time, their fifteen minutes of fame to make them memorable in the readers' heads. Take your time with each new character you are focusing on and repeat his or her name often. For example you could introduce each character with their own piece of typical dialog, preferable something that moves your POV emotionally. In my opinion this kind of introduction works best if less than four characters contribute to a conversation, including your POV. If more characters chime in, you'll get a cocktail-party effect, where nobody sticks to memory and the dialog becomes small-talk noise or worse, bickering.

  11. #11
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    Just speaking generally, I usually don't like to introduce more than about three new names at once. Any more I typically group them together to begin with, then sort them later when I'm ready to interject enough info about each so that I think the reader can remember them.

    Now, on to the real question: who the heck is this Sasha person and why is she playing with Hitler's bonfire?

  12. #12
    infomaniac Expendable's Avatar
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    Talking

    Sometimes its necessary to introduce a group, so you have to decide how you want to do it.

    An easy way is to start small. Have two characters meet, then gradually add one or two more until everyone's there.

    A variation on this is the around-the-room method where the characters to be introduced are positioned by the writer then the POV character makes the introductions, going around the room like a pulp PI in a library commenting (and introducing) the suspects.

    Or you can go head on and damn the consequences. One person in the group starts, confronting (or greeting) the POV character then the rest join in. Try to kept things short - name, something that leaps out about the character, attitude. You'll have the rest of the story to expand on them.

    Oh, and about Sacha and Adolf....
    Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
    Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again
    Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt
    Adolf builts a bonfire, Enrico plays with it


    80's pop-rock song. Games without Frontiers, Peter Gabriel.
    Last edited by Expendable; January 29th, 2005 at 11:25 AM.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Expendable
    Oh, and about Sacha and Adolf....
    Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
    Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again
    Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt
    Adolf builts a bonfire, Enrico plays with it


    80's pop-rock song. Games without Frontiers, Peter Gabriel.

    Oh I know, I know. Except for little Cailou (who apparently had better sense than to play with Hitler).

  14. #14
    The Great Flying Bear choppy's Avatar
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    What? You mean Sash was playing with Brit and Enrico was playing with Adolph's bonfire? That changes everything!

    Next someone's going to tell me that Maurice, the Space Cowboy, and the Gangster weren't speaking about a "bomb pet deuce of love."

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