It is the characters that engage the audience and keep them interested in the narrative. That is why it is not only so important to create compelling characters, but to introduce them in the right way. This is especially true for the main character. He/she is the engine that pushes the plot forward and, therefore, must be given an introduction that suits his/her personality at the start of the narrative*. But what is the best way to introduce your main character?
The Four Factors
When considering how to introduce a main character to the story, writers must appreciate that they have to grab the audience’s attention immediately*.
Thus, the best way to introduce your main character (so as to engage the audience straight away) involves four factors:
Giving the audience a flavour for the character (i.e. his/her status, personality and goals);
Hinting at his/her struggles and goals for the narrative (without divulging too much detail);
Adding parts in the dialogue that are key to the character, which will be extrapolated over the course of the narrative.
Showing the context of the world in which he/she lives in.
Example 1 – Shalitha from Crown of Conspiracy
Kara S Weaver’s brilliant fantasy novel, Crown of Conspiracy. I had the privilege of interviewing Kara recently and I thoroughly recommend her story.
Kara S Weaver’s fabulous debut fantasy novel, Crown of Conspiracy, opens up with Shalitha, the heiress to the Ilvannian Crown, sitting on the walls of the palace. Wistfully, she looks outward, at the townsfolk going about their daily chores, wishing she could walk about the streets freely like them. Subsequently, she defies her guards and climbs over the palace’s walls, rushing into the crowds to make her guards chase after her.
From this opening sequence (and the dialogue within it), we learn that Shalitha is a willful, spirited and sharp-tongued young lady. But she is also a prisoner in a gilded cage, forbidden from going outside the palace’s walls (at least without an escort of guards) due to the inherent dangers that come with her privileged position.
The beginning of the book hints that there are those who want to kidnap or kill Shalitha for political gain; hence, the conspiracy behind the crown that the book’s title eludes too. Thus, Kara S Weaver gives her readers just enough of an insight into Shalitha and her situation to make us want to read more.
Example 2 – Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson’s outstanding 2007 film begins with our main character (and anti-hero) Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, pictured in the header) digging for silver in America at the turn of the 20th-century. No words are said (unless you count grunts) and the audience is almost beginning to wonder what they are watching, when Daniel falls into his shaft and breaks a leg.
Rather than cry and pity his bad luck (he is after-all in the New Mexican desert, in the middle of nowhere), he climbs out of the shaft. Subsequently, he pushes himself along the ground for miles to an office to receive a silver and gold certificate claim, which will give the right to dig and trade.
From this opening scene, we get a sense for what Daniel is about; notably, that he is a man of few words and has a fierce drive to become a magnate. When he discovers an oil well in nearby California, this determination only increases.
*Disclaimer – When You Don’t Need To Introduce Your Main Character Straight Away
While the main character drives the narrative forwards, there is a rare (or maybe not so rare) exception to having to introduce the main character at the beginning of the story. This exception only applies for sequels.
To be on the safe side, writers should only adopt this exception when they have created an iconic character.
Example – Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight & The Dark Knight Rises
Bruce Wayne is the hero (or rather the anti-hero) of The Dark Knight Trilogy. Undoubtedly, the series revolves around him. Interestingly, though, the latter two films in the trilogy do not open up with him.
Rather, they begin by introducing the audience to the villains, the Joker and Bane, respectively. Bruce/Batman is relegated to being introduced in the second scene in The Dark Knight and the third scene in The Dark Knight Rises. Director Christopher Nolan could do this because he had already established Bruce/Batman in Batman Begins (which opens up with the titular character).
Moreover, Batman is an iconic character, possibly the most noteworthy in the DC Universe. Therefore, Nolan had some leeway with regards to when he could introduce his version of the character in the latter two films of his outstanding trilogy.
Bruce Wayne looking at his caped crusader alter-ego in The Dark Knight. Interestingly, the film does not open up with its titular character. This shows that there are rare exceptions where writers don’t need to start their stories with the main character.
Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post on the best way to introduce your main character. I really appreciate it.
Please, write in the comments a main character whose introduction impacted you and why. I’d love to hear it.
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