Character Entrance 2: Action

It is safe to say that stories are about actions. Often in telling a story, it might be inevitable to explore the motivations and consequences of your characters’ actions. While this exploration might be essential, they only create contexts for your readers to perceive your character’s actions.

Since stories anchor largely on character actions, one interesting way to introduce a character is to show the character engaged in some Actions. The Actions don’t necessarily have to be something pivotal to the general story idea. It only needs to show one or more aspects of the character’s personality.

Example:

The man kept grunting, powerful left arm gripping the slender waist of the naked lady perched atop him on the sofa. He bounced her hips gently on his crotch, cupping her mouth like an overpowered victim. The cushions of the sofa rose and fell rhythmically to their weight. Gradually, the white habit he peeled off her skin slid from the sofa to join his black shirt on the floor. A Roman collar stuck out of his shirt’s neckline with a screaming whiteness.

While introducing a character through Description creates a mental picture, introduction through Actions creates a mental video in your reader’s mind.

HOWEVER! HOWEVER!!

Just like introduction through Description, choosing to introduce a character into your story through Actions should depend on what you want to accomplish. Your motive should also determine how much Action you reveal or withhold.

Book Example: (TAINTED by Xyvah M. Okoye)

A branch snapped, and Regan sailed on a wind current as his sister cheered below him, dancing to an inaudible tune. He smiled, dark hair swaying as he floated upside down, then did a quick somersault and landed gracefully on the grass, arms akimbo.

How do you perceive Xyvah’s Regan, and how do the actions in the above paragraph determine that? We would love to hear your views in the comments. See you next Monday for the creative writing key on Character Entrance 3.

Character Entrance

It is often the case for storytellers to drop a character into the story without considering the significance of such an introduction. As long as the story moves ahead, they believe the character works. 

But the experience is not always the same for the reader. Much like real-life, first impressions matter about story characters. How the reader perceives your characters depends on your intentional choices on what to reveal or withhold about them at the point of their entry into the story. 

Beginning from this key, we will explore 5 ways you can employ to effectively introduce a character. 

Character Entrance 1: Description

A straightforward Description is the most logical way to introduce a character. It is logical because your reader does not know the new guy you call John. And since books are not videos, you may need to tell/show your reader at the point of John’s entrance that, unlike most humans, John has 8 limbs. Description goes beyond the name to show the reader a bit of your characters’ appearance or what it seems like. In our example of John, you may not say it, but your reader already knows that John is likely not human despite having a human name.

HOWEVER! HOWEVER!!

The amount of Description you do at a character’s point of entry into the story should depend on what you hope to achieve. For example, if your interest is to inspire curiosity about John, you can end the Description at the point you mentioned 8 limbs. The incomplete information will leave your reader wondering what kind of animal John must be. 

If you’re particularly a mischievous writer, you can tell your reader when next they meet John in the story that he is an accident patient who, for some weird reason, uses two pairs of crutches. And John is human again.

Book Example

You will find a good application of Character Entrance by Description in Dan Brown’s introduction of Rachel Sexton in his novel, Deception Point

The woman was attractive, in her mid-thirties, wearing gray, pleated flannel pants, conservative flats, and an ivory Laura Ashley blouse. Her posture was straight—chin raised ever so slightly—not arrogant, just strong. The woman’s hair was light brown and fashioned in Washington’s most popular style—the “anchorwoman”—a lush feathering, curled under at the shoulders… long enough to be sexy, but short enough to remind you she was probably smarter than you.

Note that while Description may be a logical way to introduce a character, it does not necessarily make it the best. The best way to introduce a character depends on how you want to present the character to your reader. Keep a date with us next Monday for the creative writing key on Character Entrance 2.

The “Beginning” Lie (Part II)

Now that you know what story beginnings are, and how to craft one for your story, let’s look into one more likely misunderstanding you could have about beginnings just by the very nature of the word.

In the last creative writing key, I told you that every story runs on the wheels of time. And that is exactly what stories are. A chronology of events powered by the idea of causality. A story is like falling dominoes that do not tip backwards, only forwards. A push causes a fall that causes a push and so it continues until there are no more dominoes left standing. That’s a story.

Looking deeper into this very nature of stories, you’ll find another lie, or another likely misunderstanding you could have about the five Ws (Who, What, When, Where and Why) of how to begin a story. A story is a chronology, and since chronologies by their very nature already have beginnings, you cannot begin a story.

You cannot begin what already has a beginning.

I bet you’re thoroughly confused right now. And confused is exactly what I need you to be because confusion is an essential necessity if clarity must dawn. So, stay with me a little longer to understand fully our five-week long conversation on how to begin storytelling.

To clear your confusion, we will need to explain the difference between story and plot. You already know that a story is a chronology of events powered by causality. You should hold the image of falling dominoes in your mind. Plot, on the other hand, is what you do when you tell a story. What does this mean?

It simply means with the fall of the first domino, even the simplest mind knows how the story is going to end. Plot on the other hand, introduces a mystery to story by cloaking the end, and sometimes, the beginning. Therefore, the art of storytelling in it’s essential core, is plotting.

Much like story and it’s image of falling dominoes, plot conjures the image of a rail line or a number line which progresses from left to right, or diminishes from right to left. But unlike falling dominoes, a train can go from left to right or from right to left. And when the train is particularly happy and wants to scare it’s passengers, it finds a track switch. Also, in a number line, you either count from zero towards your right or towards your left. And when you’re particularly feeling like Einstein, you can backtrack with a subtraction or shoot ahead with a multiplication.

My point with all of this is that when you think of how to begin your storytelling, think of it as a question of plot, not a chronology. Stories (chronology) already have beginnings. It is the telling (plot) of the story (chronology) that you need to figure out how to begin.

And the five Ws is simply saying you can begin anywhere. You can start from the end and backtrack to the beginning. You can start from the beginning, jump to the end and backtrack to the middle. Simply put, you are free to be Einstein.

In summary, as a storyteller, you don’t begin a story. Stories already have beginnings. You begin a plot, and frame it with structure.

P.S:

We will discuss the storytelling element of structure in details soon.

Study The Craft

There is a basic structure for every genre of creative writing. It is upon this basic structure that the writer’s individual uniqueness comes in as worthy appendages. Without a basic structure or frame, unique appendages are unworthy by default.

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On Beginning…

In this key, our aim is to help you find what kind of writing will best express whatever it is you want to write, especially as it relates to your why for writing.

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Where Should You Write?

Imagine a comfortable chair, a table of exactly the right height, a computer and a mug of hot coffee or a bottle of booze. Then imagine you cannot afford any of them.

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When Should You Write?

Your natural proclivity is to desire comfort. You don’t want to do anything until the stars have aligned and the booming voice of the universe says, “It’s time to write, my dear child.” But the question is, when was the last time you heard that voice? Have you even ever?

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The viewpoint character

Every story has an aim or reason driving its telling. The purpose of a story informs the perspective from which it is told. Point of view simply asks, from whose eyes shall your readers witness the events that make up your story?

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On Modelling…

All readers are drawn to stories about things they recognise: Dreams, Ambitions, Fears, Courage, Dilemma, Safety, Rejection, Hatred, Love, etc. Storytelling is a means of giving people a chance to experience all the things they fear and all the things they adore knowing that they are separated from the troubles or dangers that accompany such experience.

Readers want to read from writers who understand them. And it doesn’t matter if the story is set in Mars or if the characters are animated horse dungs talking about the need for personal hygiene. As long as these characters also live relatable dreams and express similar fears, the readers will always read. And this remains true even in stories with extraterrestrial settings.

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Stretch your creativity

Haven’t we all had our fair share of the crippling writing advice: Write What You Know? The givers of this advice come at you with hard buttocks rendered rigid from sitting so long in the writers’ comfort zone. They don’t ‘waste’ time imagining what is unfamiliar to them and they don’t attempt to tell stories not crafted about characters like them within settings like the ones in which they live.

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