We writers spend a lot of time coming up with the way our character looks–eye color, hair color, height, scars, freckles, etc. While all that is important, simply listing physical attributes doesn’t let the reader get a gimps into your character’s personality.
How do show their personality when introducing them? One way is by using location. A character’s surroundings can be a backdrop to bring out significant details about your character.
Say you have all these details about your main character. You know what they look like. You know that they carried a blanket around until they were six, that they hate watermelon, and that they have quite the addiction to boiled peanuts. But in spite of all the information you have, they just don’t come alive when you try putting them in a scene.
It could be that the location/surroundings isn’t a suitable background for the character. Try experimenting with different setting and see how they change the way your character is perceived.
Put them in a place where they will shine–a place that lets the show off their skills, proves their competency, or show what a sweet, likable person they are.
In the book I’m writing, The Hashna Stone, I introduce one of the supporting characters in an environment they thrive in.
Some branches to my left rustled. I looked up to see a red-haired girl climbing down from a tree a few feet away. The animal skins she wore and the way she scurried down in quick, sure movements made her look like an overgrown squirrel in deer-hide boots.
I started to move toward her, then stopped. Her bow was strapped on her back, so unless she had some other archer around that I didn’t know about, I was safe. I asked anyway.
“I am allowed to move now, aren’t I?”
She reached the ground and faced me. Her hair was cut unevenly just above her shoulders, as if she’d done it herself with a hunting knife. “Before we go anywhere, let’s talk about rules.” She strode toward me, face as stern as a general’s.
The way she scurries down the tree shows, rather than tells, readers that she’s had a lot of practice climbing them. You know right away that this girl is at home in the woods. This suggests that she has been living in them for a long time and is skilled enough to survive the harsh environment.
Her hair is described as being unevenly cut. If I had her entrance to the story happen in a city, her bad haircut might make her seem more like an street urchin who sawed off her hair for some money. But since we already see her competency and can guess at her self reliance, her haircut hints at the kind of nonsense person she is. She would rather chop it off than have to use time brushing and washing it that could be used hunting.
Another good way to use location to introduce a character is to place them in an environment that makes them uncomfortable, or where their talents don’t do them any good.
I did this with my main character, Dalan, who was the spoiled son of a commander but now is struggling with his position at a lower-class orphanage that lends out its residence to do manual labor for a fee.
The story starts out with Dalan thinking that his hands were meant to hold a sword, not a broom, as he sweeps the back room of a shop.
This is the perfect location to highlight Dalan’s resentment at his new role, and his hopes for one day getting back to his possession as a pampered city boy with tons of adoring fans and his plans of revenge on the person who put him in the orphanage in the first place.
If your character seems a little flat, try placing in a few different locations, and see how each place brings out a different side of them. Make it interesting. Put the sweet grandmother in a tattoo parlor, the six-year-old with ADHD in a business meeting, the dog lover in a room full of cats.
Your bound to get a reaction from those characters then! 😉