Jul 05 2011
1. If at all possible, give the new character something interesting to do that ties into a plot element that has been major. For example, maybe the new character has some obvious connection to a major goal or obstacle for the main character. For example, maybe a wizard or superhero can only graduate from her academy if she passes telepathy, but there’s only one telepathic teacher’s assistant and he has a reputation for singing about himself in the third person while scrawling lewd graffiti in the cafeteria. (Sigh, telepaths). The more you connect the new characters to things we already care about, the easier it will be for us to care about them.
2. Please use only interesting visuals that help develop the character. Red flag: The story spends more time on the colors of the character’s eyes, hair, skin and sometimes clothes than on visual details that would help develop interesting and/or important information about the character and/or his role in the plot.
- UNACCEPTABLE: “Damon the necromancer was wearing black robes that clashed with his smoky blue eyes.”
- BETTER: “Good God, Damon, is that rabbit’s blood on you? You’re soaked in it!” Damon sipped his coffee. “It was him or me, ma’am.”
3. Please don’t introduce too many characters at once. If you introduce characters more gradually, it’ll give us more time to become attached to characters before the next ones come in. If there’s a flood of important characters, it may be overwhelming for readers. Unless it’s the first page, I’d generally be careful about introducing 3+ significant characters on the same page. If you do so, make sure that it’s easy for readers to keep track of who’s who. One major problem I see somewhat often is when a main character joins a team of 5+ superheroes and meets all of them at the same time, which pretty much guarantees that the new superheroes will have a hard time making individual impressions on the readers. In that case, it’d probably be more effective to have the main character meet with a few of the superheroes first (perhaps while they’re evaluating the main character for membership) and then introduce the rest later.
4. When you introduce an important character, please give him/her opportunities to show his/her personality. Try to put the character in a situation where he/she would act differently from most other characters. That will give the character more opportunities to stand out. In contrast, if he/she is just doing what pretty much anyone else would do in this situation, the character will probably be forgettable. Unusual behavior tends to be a lot more memorable.
5. Are the characters acting in-character? For example, if Damon’s first encounter with readers is talking about why he’s soaked in a rabbit’s blood (in self-defense, he claims), they’ll prudently conclude that he’s absolutely nuts. If it turns out that he’s actually an even-keeled pacifist that would never hurt a soul, readers will get really confused unless there’s a good reason for the discrepancy. For example, perhaps Damon actually got the blood on him while ineptly trying to brew a potion, but he’s too embarrassed to admit his incompetence. Or maybe Damon is afraid to admit he’s a softy because everybody expects necromancers to be stone-cold killers. Or maybe another character mentions the discrepancy between how he usually acts and how he’s acting now. (This will help cue the reader that something else is going on).
6. Do we get a pretty good feel for the character (or at least some aspect of the character)? If the reader cannot identify at least one personality trait of an important character after his/her first scene, please rewrite it so that the character comes across more clearly. If you feel like the character’s personality is not coming across clearly enough, double-check what you’re spending the space on. (Ineffective visuals? Actions and dialogue that are too generic to make the character stand out?)