How To Make The First Time We Meet A Character Epic

How To Make The First Time We Meet A Character Epic


Do you want the first time you meet a character to be epic? In this post, we tell you how to do it – with examples.

In the last few posts, I’ve been discussing all the firsts. The first line, the first page, and the first scene.

Previous posts in this series:

  1. How To Write An Epic First Page
  2. How To Write An Epic First Line
  3. How To Write An Epic First Scene
  4. How To Make The First Time We Meet A Character Epic

In this post, I want to discuss the first time we meet a character. First impressions are a big deal when we meet someone and a book is no different. We do try to be kind. We try not to judge, but we make up our minds about someone usually in the first few seconds. (Read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell if you need more convincing.)

As writers, we need to arm our readers with the right information about our characters. There will still be room for mystery and growth, but we need to orientate the reader and give them an idea of who they should be rooting for.

Please go back to the previous posts to catch up and remind yourself what needs to be covered. Look at how hard your first page has to work.

How To Make The First Time We Meet A Character Epic

Characters are shown through:

  1. Internal thoughts.
  2. Physical description.
  3. Body language/actions.
  4. Their descriptions of other characters.
  5. Other character’s description of them.

[TOP TIP: Use our Character Creation Kit to help you create great characters for your stories.]

Look at these examples in the books we’ve been discussing to see how some writers use these techniques.

THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS

1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Viewpoint Character: Narrator, unknown, in the style of the town gossip.

I love how she includes and foreshadows all the important characters and introduces the conflict without any giving anything away.

Chapter 1:

Character 1: Isabelle Richardson/Izzy & The Richardson family

  • ‘how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.’ 

Character 3 & 4: Mirabelle McCullough and May Ling Chow

  • ‘All spring the gossip had been about little Mirabelle McCullough–or, depending which side you were on, May Ling Chow–and now, at last, there was something new and sensational to discuss.’ 

Character 5: Mrs Richardson  

  • ‘Mrs. Richardson stood on the tree lawn, clutching the neck of her pale blue robe closed. Although it was already afternoon, she had still been asleep when the smoke detectors had sounded. She had gone to bed late, and had slept in on purpose, telling herself she deserved it after a rather difficult day. The night before, she had watched from an upstairs window as a car had finally pulled up in front of the house.’ 

Character 6 & 7: Mia & Pearl

  • ‘But she had recognized the small tan Volkswagen of her tenant, Mia, its headlights shining. The passenger door opened and a slender figure emerged, leaving the door ajar: Mia’s teenage daughter, Pearl. The dome light lit the inside of the car like a shadow box, but the car was packed with bags nearly to the ceiling and Mrs. Richardson could only just make out the faint silhouette of Mia’s head, the messy topknot perched at the crown of her head.’ 

2. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Viewpoint Character: Narrator

PROLOGUE:

Character 1: Chase Andrews

  • ‘On the morning of October 30, 1969, the body of Chase Andrews lay in the swamp, which would have absorbed it silently, routinely. Hiding it for good. A swamp knows all about death, and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin.’

In the next section, notice how much description is given of the mother and how little is given of the father, yet you know everything you need to know. Even though, the mother leaves and isn’t ‘on the page’ she is Kya’s main motivation in the first part of the book. Most of what she does is to prepare for her mother’s return. 

CHAPTER 1:

Character 3: Kya

‘And then, Kya, only six at the time, heard the screen door slap. Standing on the stool, she stopped scrubbing grits from the pot and lowered it into the basin of worn-out suds.’ 

Character 4: Ma

  • ‘Who had left the shack? Not Ma. She never let the door slam. But when Kya ran to the porch, she saw her mother in a long brown skirt, kick pleats nipping at her ankles, as she walked down the sandy lane in high heels. The stubby-nosed shoes were fake alligator skin. Her only going-out pair.’
  • ‘From there she saw the blue train case Ma carried. Usually, with the confidence of a pup, Kya knew her mother would return with meat wrapped in greasy brown paper or with a chicken, head dangling down. But she never wore the gator heels, never took a case.’
  • ‘Ma always looked back where the foot lane met the road, one arm held high, white palm waving, as she turned onto the track, which wove through bog forests, cattail lagoons, and maybe—if the tide obliged—eventually into town. But today she walked on, unsteady in the ruts. Her tall figure emerged now and then through the holes of the forest until only swatches of white scarf flashed between the leaves. Kya sprinted to the spot she knew would bare the road; surely Ma would wave from there, but she arrived only in time to glimpse the blue case—the color so wrong for the woods—as it disappeared.’
  • ‘But Ma’s carryin’ that blue case like she’s goin’ somewheres big.’ 

Character 5: Pa

  • ‘Kya wanted to holler out but knew not to rouse Pa,…’

Character 6: Siblings/Family

  • ‘Kya was the youngest of five, the others much older, though later she couldn’t recall their ages. They lived with Ma and Pa, squeezed together like penned rabbits,…’ 

Character 7: Jodie

  • ‘Jodie, the brother closest to Kya, but still seven years older, stepped from the house and stood behind her. He had her same dark eyes and black hair; had taught her birdsongs, star names, how to steer the boat through saw grass.’

3. Children Of Blood And Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Viewpoint Character: Zélie, Amari and Inan – all first person

I didn’t include Amari and Inan’s chapters here, but when you do read the book take note of how much the first few lines in those chapters tell us about who they are and about the environment they find themselves in. 

Most of the prominent characters are mentioned in the prologue. It is through a description of her mother that she introduces her family, the antagonist and gives us the backstory. 

PROLOGUE:

Characters: Mamma, Baba, Tzain, the soldiers and the King.

  • ‘I try not to think of her. But when I do, I think of rice. When Mama was around, the hut always smelled of jollof rice. I think about the way her dark skin glowed like the summer sun, the way her smile made Baba come alive. The way her white hair fuzzed and coiled, an untamed crown that breathed and thrived. I hear the myths she would tell me at night. Tzain’s laughter when they played agbön in the park. Baba’s cries as the soldiers wrapped a chain around her neck. Her screams as they dragged her into the dark. The incantations that spewed from her mouth like lava. The magic of death that led her astray. I think about the way her corpse hung from that tree. I think about the king who took her away.’ 

CHAPTER 1:

Character 1: Zélie

  • ‘I tuck a lock of snow-white hair behind my ear…’

Character 2: Mama Agba

  • ‘As always, Mama Agba makes the selection gruelling, staring at each girl just long enough to make us squirm. Her brows knit in concentration, deepening the creases in her shaved head. With her dark brown skin and muted kaftan, Mama Agba looks like any other elder in the village. You would never guess a woman her age could be so lethal.’

Character 3: Yemi

  • ‘Yemi is the first to bow. She waits for me to do the same, but her gaze only stokes the fire in my core. There’s no respect in her stance, no promise of a proper fight. She thinks because I’m a divîner, I’m beneath her. She thinks I’m going to lose.’

Characters 4&5: The guards/The king

  • ‘Like most soldiers in Orïsha, the shorter of the two has a complexion that matches Yemi’s: brown like worn leather, leather, framed with thick black hair. Though we’re only young girls, he keeps his hand on the pommel of his sword. His grip tightens, as if at any moment one of us could strike. The other guard stands tall, solemn and serious, much darker than his counterpart. He stays near the entrance, eyes focused on the ground. Perhaps he has the decency to feel shame for whatever it is they’re about to do. Both men flaunt the royal seal of King Saran, stark on their iron breastplates. Just a glance at the ornate snow leopanaire makes my stomach clench, a harsh reminder of the monarch who sent them.’

4. Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Viewpoint Character: Narrator

CHAPTER 1:

Character 1: Margery

  • ‘Margery was ten.’ 

Character/s 2 &3: Her father/her brothers

  • ‘Since her four brothers had left for war, he often called her. Or she’d find him loitering at the foot of the stairs, searching for something without seeming to know what it was. His eyes were the kindest in the world and the bald top of his head gave him a naked look, like an egg.’ 

CHAPTER 2

Character 1:  Margery

  • ‘She dealt with the note the way she always dealt with them, and that was by pretending it wasn’t there.’
  • ‘The cuffs of her jacket were worn to thread and her only pair of shoes was so old they squelched in rain. If she took them to be mended, she’d have no choice but to sit there in her stockings, waiting for them to be ready, so she just kept wearing them and they kept falling apart.’ 

5. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Viewpoint Character:

The prologue is written as Alicia Berenson’s diary and Chapter 1 is an unknown narrator, who we learn is biased towards Alicia in his description. We do learn who he is as we go along. 

PROLOGUE:

Character 1: Alicia

  • ‘I don’t know why I’m writing this. That’s not true. Maybe I do know, and just don’t want to admit it to myself. I don’t even know what to call it – this thing I’m writing. It feels a little pretentious to call it a diary. It’s not like I have anything to say.’

Character 2: Gabriel

  • ‘I like watching Gabriel move around the kitchen. He’s a graceful cook – elegant, balletic, organised. Unlike me. I just make a mess.’ 

CHAPTER 1:

Character 1 & 2: Alicia and Gabriel

  • ‘Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists – Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer. He had a distinctive style, shooting semi-starved, semi-naked women at strange, unflattering angles. Since his death, the price of his photographs has increased astronomically. I find his stuff rather slick and shallow, to be honest. It has none of the visceral quality of Alicia’s best work.’ 

Conclusion:

To make the most of their character introductions the authors have employed at least one, but in the best examples, four or five of the techniques we mentioned above.

Tip: Get all the important characters on the page in the beginning of the story.

Don’t underestimate this introduction. It’ll do a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ for you and set the tone for the book and the reader’s relationship with the character.

The Last Word

I hope this post on the first time we meet a character helps you when you’re writing your story.

[TOP TIP: Use our Character Creation Kit to help you create great characters for your stories.]

Mia Botha by Mia Botha

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