Have you ever gone to lunch with someone and they regale you with all the humorous antics of someone you don’t know? Your friend pats your arm in between guffaws and says, “Oh, you just have to know how typical this is of him! blah, blah, blah…” You want to laugh, but it’s hard. In order to really get it, you’d have to know him. That’s when I usually have my friend give me more background. Ohhhh, so he’s an airline attendant with a lisp and oversized buck teeth….now I get it.
If you don’t know this character, it’s hard to fully understand or appreciate the impact of the story. Well I see a lot of submissions that do the same thing. If chapter 2 is a party scene with a ton of characters who are all saying witty things, I won’t be fully engaged with any of it – regardless of the clever banter – because it has no meaning for me.
They’re little more than clever talking heads with no dimension and no frame of reference. I’ll scratch my melon wondering who are all these people and why did the author not think it a good idea to make the introductions? If I don’t know them, I won’t care. If I don’t care, I quit reading – and we all know what that means. Hello Ms. Rejection letter. Now that’s an introduction no one likes, right?
Before you include a bunch of characters in your scene, you must ask yourself whether the reader has been properly introduced. If not, your book may be tossed across the room. This is a bad thing.
Characters are the vehicles that drive the plot. They drive the plot because we care about them. We care about them because you, the writer, gave us a proper howdy-do. We have a good feel for who they are, their personalities, and how they are likely to react. Without these markers, the plot is as dry as the beagle’s designer dog food. We don’t gotta love them, but we sure do gotta know them. Otherwise it’s a whole lot of one dimensional blah, blah, blah.
Even if you’re including a minor character, some sort of introduction is important. It’s putting a face to the name so whatever they say leaves an impact. After all it’s one thing to have someone named Joe utter, “Fahbulous to meet you, dahling, love the dress,” and quite another to mention that Joe is a transgender entertainer who is never seen without his pink ostrich feather boa and green Farrah Fawcett wig. A simple sentence suddently takes on reference.
As you face each new chapter, weigh how important the introductions are. Will their dialog – no matter how minor – have more meaning if we know a smidge about them, or they not worth knowing? Think about the time your mom got all in your business for not introducing her to your boyfriend. And let’s face it, you didn’t introduce him because you were getting ready to break up with him, so why bother investing the breath so Mom can smile and be all nice-like?
Or was that just me?