Character Introductions in Novels: Tips and Examples

Character introductions are ‘Key’ to crafting dynamic manuscripts. Fail in this endeavor and your novel just won’t fly. Your characters, however great and engaging they might become later on, must already possess their most intriguing trait when you introduce them; their first scene should make readers sit up and take notice. Like the morning routine scene in American Psycho.

When you write an introductory scene, try to imagine how your readers will respond. Will they be perusing with mild interest and then suddenly realize they are fascinated by this new and original character? This delightful moment has happened to me; I’ll be reading along, Quasi-enjoying the prose, when of a sudden I realize I’m being introduced to a totally unexpected and engaging villain. Sometimes it’s so good I have to go back and reread the introduction from the beginning.

I’ve included a bulleted list of Awesome Character Introduction Ideas as provided by tips from Best-Sellers and from my own experiences as a professional reader and developing writer.

Remember, you want your character intro to be: (1) Memorable (2) Unique, and (3) Engaging. So don’t give a dry list of physical clichés, i.e. ‘he was a tall, thin man with a beaked nose and long fingers.’ Make it pop. Do something different. Show readers how your character stands out, from his very first appearance.

Awesome Character Introduction Ideas List

  • Go back and show this character as having been in a previous scene with your MC
  • Make sure we meet the character when she is on the verge of a life change (or a life-changing event)
  • If you simply must use physical description, make it stand out, preferably by giving her some sort of handicap—this way she must strive or struggle to overcome something, which is always interesting and inspirational and stuff
  • Show the dude performing a strange action, like burying a body, only not at a cemetery—ooh
  • Have an established character describe your new main squeeze. This technique allows you to employ the classic physical-trait-description-intro without being a total chestnut
  • If it’s a First Person kind of story, have the character introduce himself (like Patrick Bateman)
  • Show her going about her daily routine—if that routine includes oddball work or peccadilloes

Because I’ve harped on it, let’s show an example of a physical-trait-description-introduction done right. This is Tolkien introducing readers to Elrond:

The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. His hair was dark as the shadows of twilight, and upon it was set a circlet of silver; his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the stars.’

Now that is how you describe a character.

For a ‘show-him-performing-a-strange-action type of introduction, check out the first scene with the nameless ‘Sorcerer’ in W.A.N.D.

In it we are introduced to a villain in a woodland setting, not casting evil spells or pronouncing curses upon his enemies, but going about his daily routine—albeit, a very strange and suspiciously mean routine. My brother suggests playing The Rising Sun, by The Animals while you read this passage, so I have generously embedded it here for your convenience.

Despite the volumes of spells he could recite, the collection of rituals he could perform, and the astral realms he could travel, the sorcerer was still stuck dragging this stinking troll through the forest, using nothing but a titanium-reinforced net and his own brute strength.

Having lain in wait for hours, he’d finally spotted a lone troll—a rare phenomenon. This one, probably on some kind of solitary game hunt, had triggered the Bouncing Merlin, resulting in instant bombardment by dozens of talismans imbued personally by the sorcerer. Though it fought and snarled and though its flesh was dense as elephant hide, the troll had eventually succumbed and gone still.

Sweat beginning to bead all over his body, the sorcerer wondered if he shouldn’t enchant some dupes for these little hunting expeditions of his. His leprechaun servants were helpful, but they weren’t very strong—and they kept stealing his shoes. He removed the wraparound sunglasses to wipe sweat from around his radiant eyes. The nose pieces left impressions, so he rubbed the bridge of his nose as well. He hated the shades. But not once had he regretted Seeing the thing that had caused his eyes to shine.’

In addition to the odd, memorable action being performed by the new character in his introductory scene, we are also treated to a slice of back story, cleverly slipped into the narrative without slowing things down.

If the character you are introducing will be known especially for her oddball or loony nature, you might try the Luna Lovegood intro. Find it on page 185 of the hardcover edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Careful though, once you start reading that, you might not be able to stop.

You’re a writer, and so you get the point. No reason to belabor the point. You’ve soaked up plenty of tips and are ready to try them out yourself. Experiment. Enjoy. Express the unique in your own special way!