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CHARACTER INTRODUCTIONSBy workshop member Helena Szczepaniak
A very amateurish plotting device is the attempt to build up interest in a new character by what I call the "dirty phone call" syndrome. One type of "phone sex" service is just a recorded message that you pay by the minute to listen to. They're notorious for their waffling introductions, which may go on for several minutes, like this:
First voice: "Oh, oh...I just can't BEGIN to tell you what Josie was getting up to today...it's just...well I just don't know where to begin!" Second voice: "Huh! YOU can talk!! I just never...IMAGINED that you could be such a slut! I-I-I'm TRULY lost for words..."
First voice: "Oh come on! I was NOWHERE NEAR as filthy as you were today!" etc.
The unlucky caller usually hangs up in disgust, never really hearing anything particularly exciting, but having been successfully fleeced of a number of dollars. Unfortunately, much the same technique shows up in the character development of a lot of beginning writers!
You get something like:
"Karen was sitting quietly sipping her coffee when the tinkle of the door announced that someone had just come in. She glanced up and her face froze in horror. It was HIM! Oh God...no! NO! But HOW?! It just wasn't possible. Of all the coffee shops in the Betelgeuse system why did he have to come in HERE?! She tried to hide her face from the door. I thought it was finished! I thought he was out of my life for good!" etc. without describing the character.
What the author is essentially saying is: "Now pay attention folks, 'cause this character is really, really interesting. Trust me." without ever getting round to telling us why we should be interested. The author is essentially trying to build a character "on credit."
Unfortunately, just as with a credit card, at some point you're going to have to pay up, and you'd better be able to do it.
In the above example, there should have been more clues as to what had gone on between these two. If it was a doomed romance, there should have been something about his flashing brown eyes or gorgeous wavy hair. If it was a physical conflict, she should have glanced uneasily at the scars on her right arm. Unfortunately, you can't order the reader to find a character interesting, you have to find a way to make the character interesting.