Sunday, May 27, 2012

Need Character Intro Advice

Question to Everyone: How many pages are you willing to read before the "plot" takes off?

Why haven't I been writing consistently lately? Because this current re-write has become less about writing and more about troubleshooting.

My story is a crossover or portal fantasy, which means characters are transported from our world into a fantasy world. (Yes, I know portal fantasy is a big no-no.) Basically, the first few chapters involve a) the crossover, and b) an introduction to the world and to most of the important characters.

My problem? I need to figure out how to do (b) in as few words as possible.

Let's start with the world:

There is a lot I could describe about Takira. The scenery and culture. The religion and history. The magic, and how it works. The relationship between the two worlds and the organization that mediates it. Obviously, I can't throw in a bunch of info-dumps during the first few chapters. And not all of this has to be explained at the beginning of the story. But I need to incorporate enough to give readers a feeling of the setting and maybe throw in some tension points.

Now characters, where the real problem lies:

I have thirteen characters who appear in the first five chapters. Three of them appear before the crossover, so no problems there. Instead, my problem is how to introduce the other ten characters. Since both of my protagonists come from our world, they haven't met most of the other characters, but there's only so much "Hi, my name is _______" that I can do before it starts to grate on everyone's nerves. I minimized this problem by writing one of the scenes through the eyes of someone who already knows most of the characters. But that's only a small part of the problem.

The other is how to introduce them all in a brief but meaningful way. The characters need to reveal some form of personality. I don't need to fully flesh them out right away, but I can at least allow my readers to identify some of their stock traits (ie, bitchy girl, butt monkey, etc.)  Humor and tension are essential here--otherwise you're just watching a bunch of characters walking down the road and having a conversation. (Which pretty much describes the current version of chapter 3.)

Between readers, there's often a disagreement between jumping right into the plot vs. introducing characters. "Jumping in" is more fun, but some people want to get to know the characters first so that they actually give a crap about what happens to them. When I read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, for instance, I appreciated how I got a good sense of the world and some of the characters before the plot started. But a lot of people won't keep reading unless there's enough action to hold their attention.

What's your take on early character introductions? Do you have any advice for a writer's-blocked amateur?

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