Learning to introduce characters in a novel.


When you are beginning to write a novel, there are two ways to introduce each character: give too much information about the character, or too little. It’s hard to learn to do it just right.

One thing that helped me was to take out a novel with a similar amount of characters to introduce that was in the same genre (science fiction) and written by a traditionally published author.

I took out my writing notebook an analyzed the first few scenes. I wrote down on what page each character was introduced, and what information was given about each character. I noted who was the viewpoint character in each scene. When I was done I wrote a short summary of the scene.

This helped me a lot. I noted that in the novel at hand, three characters were introduced in the first scene and two different characters in the second. All were important characters in the whole novel.

Earlier in the morning I had started a first scene for my ‘Starship Destine’ novel. After doing the analysis on the professionally written novel, I came to the conclusion that in the rewrite I have to introduce smaller groups of important characters at a time. I also noticed that my model novel mentioned more specifics about the futuristic starship technology in these early scenes.

I think the method I tried today is something I ought to continue with— using a real, professionally published novel as a model to be studied. When reading, I tend to skim in search of excitement. But if I am reading specifically to learn and I take notes, I see things I wouldn’t see otherwise.

It also helped to see what things were mentioned about the characters in each scene. The viewpoint characters in the two scenes— who were the two most significant characters in the novel— had more information given about them. The other characters remained more of a mystery, though I did learn whether each was human or alien. Slight mention of the past history of the two major characters was even given.

For my writing tomorrow, I’ve decided to do a new scene with a different character, starting a little earlier in the story. I’m going to keep the other characters at a minimum, and introduce the initial crisis— an attack on the Terran Fleet Academy’s home world by unknown forces.

Of course that means I’m going to start a whole new scene 1. I’ve done two others. But I think in my case that’s just part of the way I get started. A couple of false starts clarifies things for me.

So, fellow writers: what have you learned through your writing today? And if you were to use a model novel to help you study an aspect of writing, what novel might you pick and why?

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