20 October 2009

Etiquette for Introducing the Character

Have you ever met someone for the first time who proceeds to tell you in the first ten minutes their entire life's story? The pain and suffering, unfair treatment and family drama told to you before you have a chance to remember their name? You may feel empathy for this unknown person, but you may also find yourself backing away, checking your watch, and finding excuses to escape. This is also true for readers and an audience meeting your main character for the first time.

Think about how you introduce yourself to others. Usually, if we're interested in possibly developing a relationship, we are on our best behavior when we first meet someone new. We show off our strengths and keep our weaknesses and flaws in the background, if we reveal them at all. This gives the other person time to get to know and like us before we reveal the darker side of ourselves. We do this because most of know that until we feel comfortable with another person, we are not often ready to learn about their flaws, fears, and prejudices.

Today's plot consultation again brought to mind the importance of how a writer introduces the protagonist.

The writer had pages and pages of backstory and was impatient to share the details with the reader. She was okay with letting go of the Prologue she had crafted -- 30 - 40 pages -- but throughout the plot consultation asked if now she could include the information. I continually cautioned her to wait as long as possible.

Yes, a writer can incorporate backstory into the Beginning (1/4) but it is best if it is done through setting, time frame, authentic details, imbedded in dialogue (without resorting to "information dumping") through word choices, actions, reactions, mood, tone, and thematic significance. Get the front story going first to hook readers and audiences.

Curiosity is one of the most powerful tools to pull the reader deeper into the story. Give away everything up front and you lose that. Plus, you risk overwhelming readers before they have a chance to truly connect with the character.