He is so gallant and brave. She is beautiful and ambitious. Properly introducing your protagonist to the reader is one of the most important things you can do to tether the audience to your story.
Whether a hero or heroine, this special character is key to a narrative because it is his journey we follow, her fate we fuss over. The success of the plot — heck, even the novel as a whole — can hinge on how closely a reader connects with the main character.
Consider the following tips for showcasing your best guy or gal in your novel:
–Don’t wait too long to debut your main character. Setting the scene for your reader is great, but too much descriptive scenery — the kind that goes on for pages and pages — might leave the reader feeling uninspired and distracted by the time your finally get around to introducing your protagonist.
–Once you’ve made that introduction, be mindful of how well you place the main character into action. Too much interior thought, especially when combined with a heavy treatment of background information or setting, can place an unnecessary burden on the reader to trudge through the opening pages. Engage your protagonist in some action early to keep your audience engaged.
–Maintain a steady pace forward. Just as soon as your hero has been introduced to the reader, the conflict he faces should be clear. What is troubling him? What will he do with that angst? What potential dangers (emotional, physical or otherwise) does he face? These issues are important to the reading audience. Don’t waste time getting there.
–Describe the physical traits of your main character in a number of ways. This can be done through her interactions with other characters (her lover lifts an unruly strand of hair from her eyes), the way she engages the world around her (she thrusts her hand firmly forward for a confident handshake) or her own interior thoughts about her appearance (she loathes squeezing into a trendy pair of slacks).
–Make sure that you are in love with this character, no matter how flawed he is. Readers will have trouble connecting with a protagonist upon whom an author has failed to lavish all kinds of love and attention.
–Need more ideas on how to introduce your main character? Get reading! Check in with some of the great literary talents of our time and see how they have drawn their protagonist in the opening pages and throughout their novel. My personal favorite? I love Hemingway’s tender, understated treatment of Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Kerri S. Mabee