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8 Wrong Ways to Introduce Your Characters

By David Young · December 1, 2021

Of all the things that you think might hurt a first impression, a bad introduction is definitely one of them.

If your friend introduced you to someone very important only to misrepresent you, you’d probably be upset — especially if that someone was an agent, a fellow writer, or anyone you’d rather not have a poor impression of you. In the same way, as your character’s writer, you’re the friend introducing said character to an audience for the first time.

If you do it just right, you’ll win the audience over with a dastardly villain, a complicated antihero, or a lovable fool. If you do it incorrectly, though, you risk harming your character just as much as the story. So, it’s important to ensure that your readers/viewers have a really good idea of who your characters are right from the get-go.

Below are eight major things to avoid when introducing your characters.

You Forget To Communicate Their Importance Quickly

When a character is introduced, their relevance to the story is immediately brought into question. After all, there has to be a reason we spent time learning who Saul Goodman is — and while the first place and time he’s seen are auxiliary, he soon becomes a pivotal character in the plot. It’s demonstrated in dialogue as well as his actions: he’s the lawyer a criminal can trust.

If you don’t have an important role for a character soon after they first appear, it’s better that you wait to introduce them, if at all.

Better Call Saul

‘Better Call Saul’

You Don’t Get The Audience Excited About The Character

It’s imperative that your audience know why a character’s there, but it’s also necessary to get the viewer excited about a character. Whether it’s through their actions or imagination of what will come to fruition thanks to this character, there needs to be some measure of anticipation there.

That’s what often happens with the introduction of the Big Bad in a fantasy series: if you have given the audience a reason to expect much from the Big Bad character, then by the time they’re introduced, there’s a pregnant pause as viewers wait to see the world start ending.

You Don’t Explore The Character’s Needs, Flaws, POV, Etc.

There should always be a way for you to explore a major character’s point of view or needs early on — near the introduction even — if only to an extent. You see this with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the titular character is shown needing to live a normal life before eventually being forced to deal with supernatural threats.

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

You Don’t Relate The Character To A Central Struggle Or Theme

This is a dangerous one. The characters that have an effect on your narrative should relate to either your theme or your main conflict in some way. If they don’t, you risk forgetting about the main conflict and forcing your audience to do the same. 

In a horror story, even when we go off the main plot to see some red shirts (characters made solely to die in the story), the main conflict always catches up and we get to see why we were looking here in the first place. If your story doesn’t come around full circle like this, it’s possible that you will need to look at your characters’ utility and relation to the central theme and conflict therein.

You Make The Character Completely Uninteresting

A common misconception in writing is that characters need to be likable. They don’t — just look at The Dark Knight’s Joker. (Okay, he’s weirdly likable.) They just need to be interesting.  Even an almost irredeemably cruel character like Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad is fascinating to watch, because though he’s a cold and calculating drug kingpin, he’s also completely antithetical to what viewers typically think of when they think of such a person. What drug lord wears button-ups and runs the register at his pretty legitimate fast food restaurant? An interesting one.

When you write a character that isn’t interesting, or who never evolves enough to at least become more interesting throughout the story, that’s when you have to go back and try again.

Breaking Bad

‘Breaking Bad’

You Make The Character Too Perfect

Don’t make the mistake of creating or introducing characters with zero flaws, making them uninteresting and flat by default. When characters like this (most commonly called a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu, among other similar nicknames) appear unrealistically free of weaknesses, flaws, and believable depth, they must be nixed from the story or fixed to feel more real.

You Are Inconsistent With Your Character’s Representation

In a story, things have to change for it to be interesting and dramatically dynamic. However, while characters may change over time, your representation shouldn’t be inconsistent. Take for example Jane Villanueva from Jane the Virgin — possibly one of the most kind, wholesome, and hopelessly romantic characters on television. If she switched between doe-eyed ardor and steely logic between each episode without a narrative purpose, then the audience would never be able to get a read on who she actually is.

Consistent representation is something to look out for at all times, but especially within the introduction, where writers tend to forget who their characters were meant to be.

Jane the Virgin

‘Jane the Virgin’

You Simply Forget To Introduce Your Character

This may seem like a rookie mistake, but it does happen more often than it should. Bringing in a character without a real introduction makes the situation surrounding this introduction seem abrupt, out of nowhere, and generally unnerving in a way that doesn’t help the narrative. The drug dealer in The Room, Chris-R, is but one popular example of this, as he only exists within a small bubble of this infamous film’s story, and therefore adds to its disjointed nature.

Conclusion

It might go without saying, but rules are always made to be broken. Some of the above can be done intentionally if it has a secondary purpose. Pointing out a horribly perfect character, for instance, can have a purpose of its own. Similarly, taking a longer time to communicate the importance of the character might be a good choice for a suspense-based narrative, but even so, there needs to be something to indicate that communication is forthcoming.

There are always exceptions to every rule, even in writing, but the goal is to learn the rules first so that you can break them when appropriate. But hey, if you can break the rules, why are you still reading?

David Wayne YoungDavid Wayne Young is an independent film producer and screenwriter with years of experience in story analysis, even providing coverage for multiple international screenwriting competitions. David’s obsessions include weird fiction and cosmic horror, and he’s formally trained in the art of tasting and preparing gourmet coffee in various worldly traditions, from Turkish coffee to hand-tamped espresso — all enjoyed while writing, of course.

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