Unwrapping Words

A glimpse into the world of a girl who enjoys reading, writing and video games.

How Not To Introduce Characters

on July 30, 2017

girl and tree.jpg

Readers and writers, I think, all have their own little pet peeves when it comes to something they read. For the most part, these all come down to personal taste. Some readers might dislike reading something involving the supernatural. Personally, I really don’t like ‘direct thoughts’ unless they are handled extremely well. Otherwise, they feel jarring and too much telling, rather than showing.

Another thing that tends to annoy me involves, more specifically, the introduction of characters.

Introducing characters can be hard. You want readers to feel a certain way towards them, but don’t want to drone on and on. There’s a point when it becomes boring to read lengthy descriptions about their clothes and the way they enter a room. Actually, when it comes to clothes, I don’t always think it’s necessary, unless it says something particular about a character. But it’s not clothes here I’m talking about. The thing that really, really gets me, is when a character waltzes into a story and we’re told, outright, every little detail about their personality.

So, in a third person narrative with a main character, say the girl in the photo above, we might have the following –

“Jenny, a beautiful girl, was sad. She wore a white dress, and a crown made of twigs. She sat under the tree. Jenny was usually a happy, kind girl, with hopes and dreams. She loved hard. Now, the sadness was so overwhelming she didn’t feel as if she could go on. Jenny had been due to get married, but her handsome, wonderful finance, Robert, had run off with a bridesmaid.”

Bit boring, isn’t it? We’re told a lot about her, but that’s the problem. We’re told. Every writer knows the old ‘show, don’t tell’ rule, and though there are instances where this can be broken, usually it’s still better to stick to it, for the most part. Plus, when we’re told something – especially positive things, like they’re gorgeous, or kind, or plain wonderful – it sometimes makes it harder to believe. We need to see things. Plus, being shown something means, if they act against that description later, we’re not rolling our eyes, wondering, well, we were told she was kind, so why is she now acting like that? Show us her kindness, because it then leaves room for her to be not-so-kind in another situation.

So, the above could be changed to –

“Jenny reached the tree where she’d shared her first kiss with Robert. The crown, formed of twigs, circled her dark hair, and dug into her skin. She sank to the ground, drew her knees to her chest, and rested her head on them, allowing the tears to fall. Everything she’d wanted from that day was now ruined. Her bridesmaid, who’d she’d babysat for, who she’d helped out when her own husband left her, had betrayed her. The thought brought a deep, aching pang to her chest. How could she possibly go on?”

Still not perfect, but it is just an example. It gives the same information as above, but, hopefully, in a much more engaging way. Showing, rather than telling.

Keep in mind, the words of a great man: “Any man who must say I am the king, is no true king.” Similarly, if you need to state your character’s traits, it makes the reader doubt if they actually have them. I’ve always taken that quote to mean that actions speak louder than words. You show people who you are by what you do, not by saying ‘I am…’. So give your characters the chance to do the same.

tywin king quote.jpg

What about you? As readers or writers, what are the things that particularly annoy you when reading?

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