Last post, I talked about picking a name - and how it can affect the way readers see your characters.
Today, let's visit the land of first impressions. So important in a job interview, on a date...and for your paper children.
There are two ways to introduce a character - directly, when you meet him or her face to face, as it were, or offstage, in which case other characters make the introduction to the reader. The important thing to remember is that the introduction launches that character on a trajectory that you, as the writer, have to control. If the first impression is too bland, or unpleasant (for a protagonist), you may have your work cut out to bring that character back to the arc you intended from the beginning.
Likewise, it's easy to build up a character too much at the first meeting - it becomes an analog of bragging. An example would be describing "chiseled good looks, and rippling muscles". Instant caricature.
Think of what you experience on meeting someone. You get an idea of overall physique - thin, fat, trim. You see the facial features, mainly eyes and mouth. You feel a handshake - firm, or spaghetti. And you hear a voice, and what's said. There may be some body language to read. That is the sum of the first impression. Rippling muscles don't normally enter into the picture just yet.
Here's an example:
"A dust devil swirled past, and I saw him, leaning against the fence, tall and thin, like one of the saguaro cacti that dotted the landscape. A stained hat shaded his eyes, and his thumbs were looped through his belt."
From the setting...lean cowboy, experienced in his work (stained hat), as patient as the land in which he lives (looks like a cactus, thumbs through the belt). Let's add some a bit:
I walked up to him. "You Luke?" I asked.
He turned his head fractionally and spat a stream of tobacco juice, not quite missing my Adidas.
We know more...he's either rude, or cares not a whit for city folk. His name is also a classic 'western' name. Luke the Cowboy is launched...but alas, he's launched into the netherworld of cliche cowpokes! let's try to make him a bit more interesting.
"A dust devil swirled past, and I saw him, leaning against the fence, tall and thin, like one of the saguaro cacti that dotted the landscape. A stained hat shaded his eyes, and his thumbs were looped through his belt.
I walked up to him. "You, uh, Vlad...uh, Vladimir?" I asked.
He turned his head fractionally and spat a stream of tobacco juice, not quite missing my Adidas."
One word changed, two words added, and the scene is totally different. A cowboy with a Russian name! Now he has a backstory. It may be totally innocuous...a mother who read Tolstoy. Or perhaps he's an out-of-work KGB agent?
He has potential. And that is exactly what your introduction should give your characters - a running start.
How do you introduce your characters? Do you have any 'favorite introductions from books you've read?