They say to never judge a book by its cover.
Unfortunately, we do it all the time, especially when making up our minds about characters. As soon as they walk onto the screen, we begin analyzing them, trying to decide whether we like them or not.
For writers, it’s important to nail how a character is introduced. After the first introduction, readers will have placed the character into a category, but it’s not always the right category. While it is possible to eventually break a character out of that category, it takes a long time.
So, how do you create memorable character introductions that portray characters the way you want?
- Introduce them through action. While that isn’t always possible, see if you can find something in-character for them to be doing. If they’re a joker maybe they’re pulling a prank. If they’re a general, maybe they’re giving orders. First impressions matter, so try to capitalize on them.
- Don’t give too many physical details. Nothing kills a character introduction quite like a long physical description. Choose a few details that stand out (ie. hair colour, tattoos, glasses, or noticeable clothing), and leave it at that. More will come later.
- Find a memorable trait or quirk. Maybe they stand with a ramrod straight back. Maybe they’re playing with a yo-yo or chewing gum. Perhaps they refuse to make eye contact. Just don’t overdo the quirks, and make sure they fit the character as a whole.
- Make the dialogue interesting. Never use bland dialogue when introducing a character. Readers will immediately forget them.
- Don’t introduce too many characters at once. At most, introduce two characters at the same time. More than that and readers will struggle to remember them.
And remember that sometimes you want readers to draw the wrong conclusions. It can certainly make for some unique twists later on. Just make sure that you’re intentional about how you misdirect readers.
What are some character introductions that have stuck with you?