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5 Evocative Ways to Introduce a Character

A strong opening in storytelling requires you to present a character. Every character is created out of specific details and both writers and readers should be able to identify those details the first time they meet a character. And in introducing a character, you need to make a compelling first impression that keeps the reader exploring their story. To achieve this perfect introduction, you can present a character through a description, actions, a direct address to the reader, their affinity with other characters, and their location.

Through Compelling Description

This approach introduces a character by describing them. Here, we see characters as vivid and complete as possible, as they seem to come off the page to the reader with descriptions that make them as realistic as possible. It introduces characters in a nutshell, making the reader aware of the primary features that define them: appearance, status, style, and aura. This method is also economical with words. Rather than dwell on excess details, it proposes, conjectures and evokes a character's features with basic yet effective description. It engages the reader's imagination, showing a character's essence instead of telling it. 

Through the Character's Action

Action speaks louder than words in introducing fictional characters, as it does in every other sphere of life. A very evocative way of introducing characters in a story is through their actions. It makes them more interesting and arouses curiosity in the reader to learn more about who they are and why they would act the way they do. It is dynamic and captures the characters in motion as they perform a physical task. Here, there is not much emphasis on physical appearance. The focal point is more on how an activity is carried out and the active reasoning behind each step taken in performing it. A perfect contemporary example is an excerpt from the opening of The Car Thief:

Going into the bathroom, I take the sheets I stripped from the bed and put them under the bathtub spigot. The plan is to get out of here, and I’m careful not to spill any water on the floor. My grandfather wouldn’t like that. I have a split lip, a black eye, and a locked door to show that it’s not so good when he doesn’t like something. When the sheets are soaked, I wring them out, freezing my hands in the process. If I’d been smart, I’d have used warm water. Usually, I’m smart, but this is probably one of my less smart days. 

Here we witness the main character in action, and instantly, we learn that he is in a situation he wishes to escape from, considers himself smart, and is afraid of his grandfather. With a few hints about a bruised appearance and an escape plan in process, readers are drawn to the protagonist and curious to know how his plot turns out and who he is.

Through Direct Address to the Reader

This is done with a heroic first-person narrator, beginning the narration by saying something about himself. A contemporary example is the opening of The Epicure's Lament:

October 9, 2001—All the lonely people indeed. Whoever they are, I’ve never been one of them. The lack of other people is a balm. It’s the absence of strain and stress. I understand monks and hermits, anyone who takes a vow of silence or lives in a far-flung cave. And I thought — I hoped, rather — that I would live this way for the rest of my life, whatever time is left to me.

Here, readers are intrigued by the narrator's specific voice, knowing instantly that the character is literate and erudite, prefers solitude, and loathes the company of others. Also, he sounds like he doesn’t have much time left to live. This introduction doesn't let the readers in on physical appearance or action but captures their attention and interest with a character's unique voice. It has the same effect as having a phone conversation with a stranger that compels you to want to meet them.

Through their Affinity with Other Characters.

This introduction is done by an objective or close first-person character. Here, the narrator opens the narration with an intriguing exposition of the main character. This exposition can include physical description, social status and reputation, how the main characters relate with others, and why they are fascinating and crucial to the story. Consider the opening of A Rose for Emily:

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant—a combined gardener and cook—had seen in at least ten years.

Faulkner uses the narrator's voice to further deliver vivid details of Miss Emily. Her appearance is described in a trenchant way that foretells a lot about her characterization without being explicit. He acquaints us with the main character by her rapport with another character, the narrator, and we are intrigued to learn more about this narrator's opinion and view of her story.

Through their Location

This introduction tells a lot about characters by displaying them in a specific place and time. This technique relies heavily on the circumstances of a character than on their actions, physical description, or direct access to their thoughts. This is exemplified in the opening of A Flag for Sunrise:

Father Egan left off writing, rose from his chair and made his way—a little unsteadily—to the bottle of Flor de Cana which he had placed across the room from his desk. The study in which he worked was lit by a Coleman lamp; he had turned the mission generators off to save kerosene. The shutters were open to receive the sea breeze, and the room was cool and 35 pleasant. At Freddy’s Chicken Shack up the road, a wedding party was in progress and the revelers were singing along with the radio from Puerto Alvarado, marking the reggae beat with their own steel drums and crockery.

Here we get a glimpse of the character's situation with less action, appearance, or inner thoughts. From the description of Father Egan's study, we learn that he is a scholar who has been drinking. His surroundings tell us a lot about his personality and invite us to explore his story in full.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen