The key to polite introductions

The first chapter described a woman, now alone, returning to a memory-loaded place. As I read I could easily absorb the environment and still have the mental capacity to consider her conflicted feelings. Would her journey bring healing or more heartache? She waivered as she viewed the wild landscape that held deep meaning for the person no longer there. In the second chapter I was tossed in the middle of six conspirators; their names and relationship were listed in one long sentence. As I read their argumentative dialog, my head spun. Was it really important to the plot that I recall who said what?  

The author who knows their own creations intimately will struggle to view them with the new eyes of a reader. This task is more than difficult. It is impossible. So, here are some techniques to consider with introducing new characters.

  1. Introduce each character by having an existing character observe them or talk with them. What is seen or heard should at least hint why the new character is important to the plot.
  2. If the new character is already known by the protagonist or antagonist, they can discuss the character before their appearance. This conversation should imply, if not outright state, how the new person fits into the conflict.
  3. Bring in new characters as a pair. It is not much harder to absorb two new, closely connected people than it is to remember one new character. This will also allow you to have dialog between the two instantly.
  4. Pace the introduction of characters. Give each one their own five hundred to a thousand words before dragging in another person that needs to be added to the reader’s memory. Use these words wisely and avoid describing a list of attributes and achievements. Instead stay in the present and show the character’s current actions and attitudes.

Does slowing the pace of the story so that the reader has time to become acquainted with each new character’s personality bother you as an author? Then, consider the possibility that some of your characters should be combined. It’s your best option if they are contributing to the same goal in the plot. Having one of your characters meld with another will take careful attention as you clean up the story to remove all traces of the deleted person.

If you find the need to combine characters in scenes that you have already written, their dialog and actions become truncated. If they are the only two in the scene, spoken words will be translated into internal thoughts. You may go through this procedure more than once, if you have really overloaded the story with characters. But, the other option is to have reader’s head spinning, which makes it hard to read–hard enough that they may simply close the book and never open it again.

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