How do I know your Protagonist?
(Or any other of your characters)
As writers, we want the reader to identify, or have a feeling for, the protagonist. Likewise, we want the reader to get to know all of our major characters.
Sounds good and we can agree with that premise.
But how do we accomplish that?
Here are four ways the reader can get to know your characters. (For sake of clarity, I'll use Jill, a female protagonist.)
First, you can tell the reader about Jill with descriptive narrative. This is perhaps the most common method, often used during the first meeting of the protagonist. Jill Hanson barely measured five feet tall and weighed less than a hundred pounds. Her dark hair was cut into a flat top. Her brown eyes were as serious as the nine millimeter pistol she aimed at the man. The reader gets the picture (or as much as you wish to give at this point) exactly the way you want to present her. This is quick and clear. It is also the easiest. And many would say it is the least effective, but it has its uses.
The second method is to let others in the cast tell the reader about the protagonist. This is most effective if one character is describing the protagonist to another character. I'll tell you this, Becca, Jill is smart, determined and driven. This method has a distinct advantage of letting the reader know how others feel about Jill. At the same time, the reader is learning something about this other character. Is she jealous of Jill? Or perhaps in awe of Jill. And here it is easier to get in certain types of qualities that might not come easily in descriptive narrative.
A very important way to show the reader about your character is through her actions. "Actions speak louder than words" is a cliché because it is has been true forever. You can impress a characteristic on the reader by having Jill act a certain way. The ice pellets bounced off the pavement. Jill took off her coat and draped it around the shivering girl. Often this is contrary to what we were lead to believe by the second method above.
The most powerful way to let the reader really get to know Jill is by using internal dialog for her. Now the reader has the actual thoughts of Jill. And the reader will believe those. It is at this point that whatever was revealed before can either be confirmed, or completely contradicted. Jill straightened her stance and held the gun steady. I'm terrified, she thought. But I can't let them know that.
Keep in mind the strengths of each. Number one, descriptive narrative, is easy, straightforward and quick. The second method adds depth to your story. How others relate to Jill can be very important. Different characters may give quite different pictures of her. The third method is the embodiment of the cardinal rule: show don't tell. Show the reader who Jill really is. And the fourth method shows the reader how Jill feels about herself and the people, things and situations surrounding her.
Which of these should you use?
All four. Every book.
After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years. He has had four non-fiction books published. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his seventh book releasing in spring, 2016.
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Over My Dead Body, is available at: http://amzn.to/1BmYQ0Q