Writing introductory sections is hard. I struggle to write intros to my blog posts sometimes.
Okay, a lot of times.
But I’ve picked up on one key way to introduce characters to the reader in a new story: introduce your character in their element.
It has taken me a lot of writing time just to get through the first sections for each of my four primary characters in The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy. That has been due to a number of reasons.
Two of those characters were established in WoEM, but I wanted to make sure I gave them proper intros in Legacy. One character was seen only briefly in WoEM, so they deserved a great intro. And the fourth was totally new, so I obviously needed them to make a solid first impression.
I also wanted to ensure that I provided sufficient background for each character without overburdening the reader with exposition so early on.
So, how could I demonstrate who these characters were within the first few pages of their respective sections?
Show Them in their Element
Where are your characters at their best? Where do they thrive? What place or interaction or activity makes them lose track of the time and come out feeling invigorated or fulfilled or complete?
Where are your characters in their element?
This seems like such a simple concept, but it was eye-opening for me. Readers want to feel like they are engaging with a character who has a complex range of emotions, a distinct motivations for their behavior and personalities. Once I realized this, writing the intros for each of my characters was simple.
The soldier is in their element in battle. The diplomat, writing secretive notes and holding negotiations. The hunter just wants the solitude of the forest and the focus of the hunt. And the leader wants to… can you guess?
…lead their people.
And this doesn’t have to be strictly occupational. If the soldier prefers sitting with comrades to reminisce on old times, then show that. If the hunter enjoys the workmanship of repairing their weapons and supplies, then show that.
Showing vs. Telling Your Story’s World
When writing introductory sections in novels, I think it’s sometimes too easy to get bogged down in exposition. I was guilty of that in early versions of WoEM. (Some might say I’m still guilty of it in the final version.)
It makes sense at first glance, however. You’ve spent all this time and thought building a world that feels lived-in for your characters. Naturally, you want your readers to feel that world, right?
Not really. Or at least, not all at once.
Telling a reader what the world of your story is like is far less impactful than letting them experience it through your characters’ eyes.
Your characters have their own feelings, perceptions, and opinions about the world they inhabit. They have their own particular ways of interacting with it and surviving in it. Let them be the vessel through which you and your readers can explore the world.
The added benefit, of course, is that opening a novel this way sets up a solid foundation for your character(s). You want the reader to have a sense for the character, to understand just a little bit about who they are, so they can walk (or run) hand-in-hand on the character’s journey as it unfolds.
So, when beginning a new story, show your characters in their element.
Let them dance. Let them love. Let them race. Let them fight.
Wherever it is your characters feel the most alive, let them feel alive.