Before speaking with my editor, I was pretty certain that my book was ready to be published.
Yeah… I was wrong.
I thought I knew who my protagonist was. To me, she is like a real person. I know everything about her, because I created her. However, after meeting with my editor, I realized that it doesn’t matter how well I know her. My audience needs to get to know her.
So that begs the question, how do you introduce your character to your audience without an information overload? I don’t want to drag my audience down by saying things like:
Sarah always felt responsible for her little brother, ever since their parents divorced.
Roseanne feels insecure around the other girls, because she is not as attractive as they are.
Those were pretty bad examples, but I see sentences like those in books sometimes. Bland sentences that flat out tell us facts about the protagonist.
There has to be a better way to reveal a protagonist’s personality to the reader.
So let’s take a look at an example.
— Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games
I’m picking Katniss because of her popularity. Sorry to those of you who don’t like the book, but I wanted to pick someone I thought mostly everyone would know. We get to know Katniss from the way she reacts to her surroundings. In the beginning of the book, she goes to the woods with Gale. From the easiness of their conversation, and the familiarity of the surrounding woods, the audience knows that Katniss is no stranger to breaking the law, and she knows how to feed herself. We found this out without Katniss explicitly stating, “I like the woods”. From the stories she tells about being in the woods with her dad, and meeting Gale there, we know that it is like a second home for her. Katniss shows us that through her anecdotes, rather than flat out telling us.
When her sister is chosen as tribute, Katniss doesn’t flat out tell us “I have the urge to protect my sister”. We get that impression from the way she feels the shock of the announcement, and from the way that she calls out that she will volunteer in her sister’s place.
Suzanne Collins crafted these scenes that not only drove the story along, but also showcased Katniss’s personality. We get to know what Katniss looks like as she dresses for the Choosing Ceremony, so it is relevant to the story. We get to know her feeling of debt to Peeta from the anecdote about bread, which also is central to the story.
So essentially, story elements + essence of character = good ways to introduce character to audience.
So while we may know our characters and everything about them, we need to make sure that we put them in situations that allows our readers to get to know them as well. Anecdotes, memories, and new conflicts are great ways to show off the personalities of our characters.