Character Introductions - HELP!?!?

BT Jones

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I would appreciate the wisdom of my fellow SFFers. So, on my final draft of Act 2 or my first story, and I have been stuck at the same point for about a week. It's how to introduce the 'cast' of this particular act. The first segment of chapter 1 has already portrayed probably the main character (an amnesiac) seeing herself in the mirror. But she's about to walk into an adjoining room with some fellow amnesiacs, although they have been up and about a while longer and already know each others names. But for the 2nd part of the chapter, I am switching perspective to a broadly omniscient narrative where the other characters are deep in debate. Do I call them by their names outright, or do I label them with only the rough characteristics that the main character (and the reader) has observed so far? i.e. the big angry one, the quiet timid one in red, etc.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I would appreciate the wisdom of my fellow SFFers. So, on my final draft of Act 2 or my first story, and I have been stuck at the same point for about a week. It's how to introduce the 'cast' of this particular act. The first segment of chapter 1 has already portrayed probably the main character (an amnesiac) seeing herself in the mirror. But she's about to walk into an adjoining room with some fellow amnesiacs, although they have been up and about a while longer and already know each others names. But for the 2nd part of the chapter, I am switching perspective to a broadly omniscient narrative where the other characters are deep in debate. Do I call them by their names outright, or do I label them with only the rough characteristics that the main character (and the reader) has observed so far? i.e. the big angry one, the quiet timid one in red, etc.
It might be best to pop what you have on critiques and then we can probably get a clearer picture :)
 

Joshua Jones

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Well, I'm not a published author or anything, so take what I say here with a shipping container worth of salt...

I feel like, if you go that route, you could go either direction with the descriptions or the names. If she/the audience hasn't learned their names, there may be some reader confusion, but that could potentially be played to an interesting angle if you foreshadow using it. This is a really rough idea, but something like "Pat, the one who will kill them all", and the mystery for the audience is the identity of Pat. If you go for the general descriptions, you'll have to be careful that the text isn't choppy, but it also may reduce audience confusion.

That said, a switch from a first person or close third to omniscient can be kinda jarring, especially within a chapter. Could you get the same effect from a characterized narration from the POV of an observer? Presumably, if a group of people wake up in some sort of enclosure with no memories, someone would be responsible for it and interested in what is happening inside, or plans to use them for some purpose outside. Could this person replace the omniscient without being named?

Either way, I hope you post an excerpt into the critiques! I'm curious to see it!
 

sknox

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Don't get stuck. Stuck means you keep thinking about a thing without actually writing that thing. Instead, just write the scene, no matter how clumsily. Let them introduce themselves to each other. Or have the omniscient narrator simply start using names. Scratch that: not "or" but "and". IOW, write the scene a second time. And a third, using some other approach. At least one will be horrible and you'll reject it at once. At least one will be at least worth considering. Put that one out for feedback.

But don't ever let yourself be stuck.
 

BT Jones

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Don't get stuck. Stuck means you keep thinking about a thing without actually writing that thing. Instead, just write the scene, no matter how clumsily. Let them introduce themselves to each other. Or have the omniscient narrator simply start using names. Scratch that: not "or" but "and". IOW, write the scene a second time. And a third, using some other approach. At least one will be horrible and you'll reject it at once. At least one will be at least worth considering. Put that one out for feedback.

But don't ever let yourself be stuck.
@sknox, I like that principle. I might have to stick with it. Usually when i get stuck, I have to leave my computer alone and sit up in bed with my trusty story gospel writing pad and then just write a page or two of "what am I trying to achieve here?"
 

BT Jones

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What @sknox said, but I would be concerned that a shift to a more omniscient narration breaks the inherent mystery of the amnesia, or feels contrived/awkward if the omniscient only sees what the amnesiac main character sees.
My first version was only what the amnesiac sees, with the characters introduced by the defining traits (colour of their armour and the letters / numbers printed on them. The way I wrote it last night was that the scene follows the other group of already awake characters as they walk into another room. This scene knows their names, but supplements that with references to their armour and other characteristics to allow the reader to link back to what character 1 saw.
 

BT Jones

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Well, I'm not a published author or anything, so take what I say here with a shipping container worth of salt...

I feel like, if you go that route, you could go either direction with the descriptions or the names. If she/the audience hasn't learned their names, there may be some reader confusion, but that could potentially be played to an interesting angle if you foreshadow using it. This is a really rough idea, but something like "Pat, the one who will kill them all", and the mystery for the audience is the identity of Pat. If you go for the general descriptions, you'll have to be careful that the text isn't choppy, but it also may reduce audience confusion.

That said, a switch from a first person or close third to omniscient can be kinda jarring, especially within a chapter. Could you get the same effect from a characterized narration from the POV of an observer? Presumably, if a group of people wake up in some sort of enclosure with no memories, someone would be responsible for it and interested in what is happening inside, or plans to use them for some purpose outside. Could this person replace the omniscient without being named?

Either way, I hope you post an excerpt into the critiques! I'm curious to see it!
Note to self, must remember to try multi-quotes in future to avoid this scattergun reply style. I wouldn't say I'm shy to post. I'm just a context kind of guy and someone reading random segments of my story really unnerves me. I'm afraid they would make their mind up on both the story and my writing in general from what they read. You can say what you like, but first impressions register.

I wanted also to post the first chapter of act 1 in her, but was advised to do it in 1,500 word segments over a period of time to allow people to digest (chapter was 4,600 words or so). It might sound totally pretentious, but I really didn't want that. I'm very proud of that opening chapter, even though it is a bit of an artistic red herring, but I've come to view it as (again, rather pretentiously) a work of engineering almost. It's a relentless, oppressive build of very dark, ominous tension (almost all in the mind of one disturbed character) that finally releases on the last line of the chapter. One of the Beta readers I gave it to absolutely adored it and told me she physically burst into laughter on a crowded train reading the closing line, such was the release.

So... You can see my quandary. I also genuinely think it's not something SFFers would necessarily be interested in. I know the 'SF' comes first, but I find people here are more interested in fantasy. My writing is very dense in character and also has quite <ahem> colourful language (which I would have to bleep out in any excerpts). Act 2 is a fresh set of characters and the main one is quite spiky and cosmopolitan, so as to differentiate from the previous character set. There's usually at least one character in each act responsible for some more industrial language.

I don't know. I will finish this off the way I envisaged it last night and then see if I will post it.

But I definitely appreciate the assistance.
 

sknox

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There are other ways to offer up a chapter. Put it on Dropbox or another cloud service, or simply ask for volunteers and send them a file. Also, some critique forums do handle larger word counts.

FWIW, I write in a notebook stuff about my WIP. One function of it is for me to tell the story to myself. That is, I'll say MC meets main villain but doesn't see her has such yet. She also doesn't see him as a serious antagonist yet. So, what would they talk about? Why meet in the first place. Because X, Y, Z....

Stuff like that, except wordier. Sometimes it breaks into actual dialog. It's also a place where I can say, maybe they do ABC or DEF, and I'll write those out in some detail. Sooner or later I'll write a big NOPE on one, as I realize it's not going to work. The bits worth keeping get typed into Scrivener; the rest is consigned to the dustbin of history. Actually, history doesn't have a dustbin, it has several cardboard boxes that hold about thirty years worth of such notebooks. History keeps everything.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I think there’s only one way to tell if we are a crit group in tune with your writing.... ;) I hope I don’t offend anyone here when I say that sometimes I disregard critiques if I know the person leaving it doesn’t really dig my writing, or if they want to change my (admittedly Often quirky) style. But there are always others who I do listen carefully too - and, yes, they tend to be the ones I beg full critiques from (so they now know who they are....) because they are in tune with my style and ambitions.

The crit group has, if not as many as, plenty of sf writers in it. It has those with a literary bent, such as The Judge or @Phyrebrat. It has those who focus on certain elements (I probably won’t give too much of a stuff about your beautiful language but I’ll let you know if your characters feel off, or your dialogue) and those who give sweeping crits without detail, as well as those who nitpick.

It’s grand to not want critique, it’s a very personal thing, but maybe not so grand if it’s based on an assumption the critters won’t ‘get’ it ;) :)
 

Droflet

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Yes, Jo's hit it on the head. Let's have a look on crits and we'll be better able to see where you are coming from.
 

The Judge

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Note to self, must remember to try multi-quotes in future to avoid this scattergun reply style.
Yes, please! We try and discourage multiple posting, though I know when quoting long posts it can make the reply post look like it goes on forever! Another option is not to quote the whole post, but only the most relevant bit as I'm doing here, or perhaps don't quote at all and just refer to the poster by name or using the @ thingummy. :)

I'm just a context kind of guy and someone reading random segments of my story really unnerves me. I'm afraid they would make their mind up on both the story and my writing in general from what they read.
I can quite understand this, but I think you are worrying unduly. If you put up only a short section, it does mean any critiquers are looking at it in depth, and if for instance I -- being a Grade A nit-picker -- notice a lot of spelling or grammatical mistakes, yes I am going to draw conclusions from that as to a person's writing. But I'd draw exactly the same conclusion from a whole chapter of such mistakes if it was in front of me, but I've saved myself several thousand words and a lot of tut-tutting!! ;)

More importantly, of course, agents, publishers and readers are all going to form judgements on a novel's story and writing within a few pages, even within a few paragraphs. Have you never opened a book, read the first page and then put it down again?

Yes, some people won't "get" your story, some will totally miss the point, and some will offer advice on what they think your story ought to be. We've all been there and experienced that. Conversely, I've read critiques here which have enthused about a story which ... well, let's just say the story wasn't one for me. But again, it's rarely the case that it's the fact I've only read a little which is the problem.

I wanted also to post the first chapter of act 1 in her, but was advised to do it in 1,500 word segments over a period of time to allow people to digest (chapter was 4,600 words or so).
Since you've now got over 100 posts, another way is to put up a much shorter piece, say only 800 words, get the feedback on that, make any changes which are appropriate, then put the whole chapter up in Writing Group where there is no limit on word count -- though the longer the piece, the fewer replies you're likely to get.

But anyway, isn't it the new Act 2 that's in discussion here, not the Act 1 you're happy with? So put up a bit of that, to see if the omniscient voice seems to be working, then after taking on board any comments, you could move into Writing Group and perhaps put up bits of both and/or see if anyone else would beta read what you've written so far to assess the changeover from one POV/voice to another to see if it works in context.
 

Joshua Jones

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@The Judge took pretty much everything I was going to say and, as usual, expressed it in a much more eloquent way. The only thing I would add, as someone whose meager flailings at a keyboard have been patiently and graciously eviscerated critiqued, the people on here are incredible about not looking down on others who are developing as writers. Far more likely than someone writing off someone or a work is them to be enthused and excited when the better second (or twelfth) draft comes out, even if its only an upgrade to crap from fried crap on bricks...

Other than that, what she said!
 

BT Jones

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But anyway, isn't it the new Act 2 that's in discussion here, not the Act 1 you're happy with? So put up a bit of that, to see if the omniscient voice seems to be working, then after taking on board any comments, you could move into Writing Group and perhaps put up bits of both and/or see if anyone else would beta read what you've written so far to assess the changeover from one POV/voice to another to see if it works in context.
Thanks @The Judge and @Joshua Jones. I will finish this segment as per my latest thinking and consider posting it in critiques. I will be in touch @The Judge if I need some guidance on posting size / shape / frequency.
 

BT Jones

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There are other ways to offer up a chapter. Put it on Dropbox or another cloud service, or simply ask for volunteers and send them a file. Also, some critique forums do handle larger word counts.

FWIW, I write in a notebook stuff about my WIP. One function of it is for me to tell the story to myself. That is, I'll say MC meets main villain but doesn't see her has such yet. She also doesn't see him as a serious antagonist yet. So, what would they talk about? Why meet in the first place. Because X, Y, Z....

Stuff like that, except wordier. Sometimes it breaks into actual dialog. It's also a place where I can say, maybe they do ABC or DEF, and I'll write those out in some detail. Sooner or later I'll write a big NOPE on one, as I realize it's not going to work. The bits worth keeping get typed into Scrivener; the rest is consigned to the dustbin of history. Actually, history doesn't have a dustbin, it has several cardboard boxes that hold about thirty years worth of such notebooks. History keeps everything.
I love your style, @sknox.
 

DLCroix

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Hi BT! Almost all "cross" dialogs (involving more than two characters) require planning. At least a "drawing" where one establishes the MC position, secondary 1, secondary 2, and so on. Especially when it comes to that scene in the room with other amnestics. Well, actually the same principle works whether it be a bar table or even to coordinate a more complex scene like a shooting. This helps avoid headaches, and cross-talk usually tends to confuse you a lot.
The other system is similar to playing with toy soldiers. Thus, in the manner of a régisseur, what one needs is only to be clear about the position of the actors.
That's how I do it at least. Because I am aware that sometimes one can have a very delimited outline, know what happens in all the chapters, and indeed, the problem is not what. It is the how. How a story is told. What is the camera direction? Well, I drew comics, since I was a child I have had a more visual imagination. Therefore it is not difficult for me to visualize a scene.
So let's go back to Shakespeare.
MC:
Secondary 1:
Secondary 2:
And so on. Nothing else should be borne in mind that what happens or is said as far as possible must have some importance for the plot. Even Secondary 1 and 2 should be of some importance. Of course there may be more characters in that room, but I recommend loading the narrative weight in at most three.
All of this somewhat mechanical breakdown should help you produce the scene visualization. That when it appears in his mind by the normal, “fully” unfolds with his dialogues, actions, personality winks, etc. You can see the dust in the ceiling lamp. If the floor is made of wood or ceramic. If it's cold. If they converse in the heat of a small stove. How they are dressed. A trick: for example, if you say that a character looked for something in the pockets of her pajamas, the reader will unconsciously assume the others also wear pajamas, but in addition to pajamas, slippers. There are cultural couples of which one mentions one thing and the reader usually associates the other.
 

tinkerdan

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You should write and see how it works out--try both--names one time and characteristics another.

Eventually they should have names. Pretty hard to work with, "hey you!'
Unless that's their name.

Which brings to mind that fellow we had here for a summer whose name was Yu.
 

Steve Harrison

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I get a bit fixated on scenes like this and if unsure I write versions from the POV of each character present and also as a broad omniscient scene. It's very time consuming, particularly if I don't get it right until the last version, but it tends to provide a deep understanding of the scene requirements and also gives me a number of nice little character insights I can use in the final version.

It's no wonder it takes me so long to write a novel!
 

BT Jones

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Thanks @DLCroix , although I'm not keen on limiting my scenes to only two people present. There's often many more involved in a discussion.

@tinkerdan , I feel like it's working now, with the 2nd part of the chapter from a fully-informed narrator. I will confirm guidance from @The Judge and try and post it.

@Steve Harrison, yes, I'm hearing you! I just passed the 6th anniversary of me starting this story (and series beyond) as a proper, serious hobby / pipedream career and it still feels I'm no closer to finishing. Maybe this time... Ha ha.
 

MikeAnderson

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I would appreciate the wisdom of my fellow SFFers. So, on my final draft of Act 2 or my first story, and I have been stuck at the same point for about a week. It's how to introduce the 'cast' of this particular act. The first segment of chapter 1 has already portrayed probably the main character (an amnesiac) seeing herself in the mirror. But she's about to walk into an adjoining room with some fellow amnesiacs, although they have been up and about a while longer and already know each others names. But for the 2nd part of the chapter, I am switching perspective to a broadly omniscient narrative where the other characters are deep in debate. Do I call them by their names outright, or do I label them with only the rough characteristics that the main character (and the reader) has observed so far? i.e. the big angry one, the quiet timid one in red, etc.
Since these characters have their identities to a point removed, perhaps referring to them by patient numbers instead would instill a feeling of these folks have lost themselves. Ironic nicknames also work, too. (For instance, you could call the angry man "Smiling Bob" or something similarly contradictory and snarky.)
 
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