First Impressions: Maximizing Your Character’s Debut

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April 14, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue

As I’ve been working through the initial round of feedback from beta readers and critique partners on my novel, I have been constantly surprised at how many people thought I was writing for a YA audience. So, I took a long hard think about why this might be and, after melting a few brain cells, I think I figured it out.

In the first draft of my prologue (not the one currently posted on this site), my third sentence was, “I am not an angsty teen bemoaning how unfair life is.”

Whoops, there it is. Three sentences in, I basically told the reader that my character is in denial about her issues and left them with the assumption that my main character is a teenager. Neither is correct and nothing my characters said or did after that line did much to change that initial impression.

Image: stupidinventor.com

While I have fixed this in my current draft, this has gotten me thinking about the importance of a reader’s first impression of a character and how easily it can be flubbed. So, I plan to go back and review each scene in my novel where a character is introduced and make sure I’m presenting the character appropriately for their personality and maximizing the impact of their first impression.

I’m thinking there are three important things to consider for making a strong first impression:

  1. Action- What the character is doing when we first meet them can create a very powerful image in the reader’s mind of who that character is. Let’s say we meet a character in a bar. Think about how differently we’d perceive him if he’s drinking a beer, laughing, and playing pool with his buddies versus sitting at the bar by himself and staring into a glass of whiskey.
  2. First Words- A character’s first few lines of dialogue can also tell us a lot about a character. What they say, how they say it, and even what they leave unsaid can leave the reader with distinct impressions of a character.
  3. Their Image- I’m not talking about describing the character, but focusing on descriptives that truly define their image. Maybe it’s their stance, a facial expression, the way they dress, they way they style their hair, or an identifying feature like a scar or tattoo that you can use to drive home a distinct first impression.

Now, I’m certainly not an expert on this topic, these are just the thoughts I had that I could use to give my characters more oomph. Fortunately, there are experts on the interwebs and here are a handful of resources that I found in my research this morning:

Now I must return to my WIP with these thoughts in mind and kick some characters into shape!

Share your thoughts below: What do you do to maximize your characters’ first impressions?

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8 thoughts on “First Impressions: Maximizing Your Character’s Debut

  1. LindaGHill says:

    That’s exactly what I’m struggling with at the moment. Thank you for this! It came at the perfect time 🙂

    • Glad to help! I know I can’t be the only one struggling with the same issues, so I try to use my blog to help others in the same position… or just commiserate. Knowing I’m not alone in this type of thing helps me keep pushing onward even when I feel like my entire book should be introduced to a shredder 🙂

      • LindaGHill says:

        I can’t tell you how much I agree with that at times.
        I want to share with you what this post made me realize: I closed my eyes and went through in my head what impressions I was giving of my female character. All was well. Then I did the same with my male character. Suddenly my eyes sprang open and I actually said out loud ‘he sounds like a stalker!’ ha ha. Both he and I would like to thank you for your assistance in this. 😀

      • Beware the creepmaster! I’m so glad to have played a small part in saving his rep.

  2. Aldrea Alien says:

    I do get the occassional person who reads the first piece of my first novel saying they thought it should be labelled YA (to be fair, the MC starts off as 12). I find it interesting that those who’ve read further never mention it again.
    Guess they saw why I’m firm on the adult label. ^_^

  3. Fel Wetzig says:

    Hey, I saw that I got a referral from this post today, so I thought I should stop by and see who’s talking about me. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing my post, I hope it gave you some ideas for introducing your own characters.
    Fel, The Peasants Revolt

  4. […] first few words/setting/description of your character can make or break ‘em for your reader. Read what she has to […]

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