As some of you know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has started, which means my poor blog may be forsaken for the glory of the “win” (i.e. writing a 50K+ word novel in the month of November, and remember people, Thanksgiving is in the mix and my little family is hosting it, with out of town guests! Keep that in mind if my posts are less stellar than usual this month).
You can all see my magnificent, daily accomplishment, or my miserable failures in word count on the NaNo widget in my sidebar (not that anyone really cares but me, but I can delude myself to feel good about myself, right? I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!)
So today I want to share a bit of my nascent novel, as a way to look at introducing a character. I, personally, can’t stand a book whose first sentences reads something along the lines of: “Jack Jackson stepped out of his New York City sky-rise onto Broadway, his blue eyes fixed on his Rolex, his thinning, blond hair untouched by the wind, and his pin-stripped suit impeccable. He was a real estate agent by day, and a private eye by night, and knew the value of time, and at 39 (pushing 40) he didn’t have time to waste.”
I hate him already. In two sentences. Just look at that stupid hair. I hope in the next sentence he steps off the curb and gets plowed by a bus. What am I saying? I’m the author, I can do that to him. “Eyes still fixed on the second-hand of his watch, Jack Jackson stepped off the curb, unaware of the five-ton bus hurtling down the road with failed brakes.” The End. Ah, that felt good.
For me, I like a slower introduction to a character, a nuanced introduction, something more like when you get to know a person in real life. You don’t meet someone over the cheese-dip at a party and get their whole life story in the first five seconds, and if you do, you likely wish that they’d step off a curb just like good old Jack Jackson.
Here’s my intro of one of my characters in my NaNo novel, named (for the moment) Aguila’s Eye. I aim for a sense of the character through hints and sketchy details.
Sprout had learned the value of invisibility at a very young age. Now, at eleven or twelve, he had perfected it. His movements, his breathing, even the level of dirtiness of his clothes and face was calculated so that the residents of the House wouldn’t notice him, wouldn’t turn their deep, dark eyes his way when he entered their rooms.
Invisibility had allowed him to stand silent in shadows as babies were made, as babies were born, and as both babies and mothers were wrapped in shrouds of linen flowering with stains of blood when the delivery had gone poorly. He had witnessed fights, lovers quarrels, plotting and revenge, all from the quite bubble that he pulled around himself when he wanted to disappear. They never saw him. In their eyes, he was no more than stone, than dust, than the clay pot filled with offal that he emptied from their rooms each day.
“Did you see how his stockings had fallen ’round his ankles?” A young woman sitting on a divan next to Abda Clir’s bed laughed, hiding her mouth behind her hand as though the sound could be stopped by her fingers.
“Femi, everyone saw them. That and his pants split up the back so you could see his silks beneath.” Abda Clir lay lounging against the cushions on her bed, her hair a tangle that Sprout doubted could ever come undone.
He slipped the rest of the way into the room and shut the door behind him without a sound. He kept his eyes fixed to the floor, as though it might jump up and run away if he didn’t keep it locked in his gaze. Twitching at his cap, he pulled the earflaps down further before crossing the room to place a clean chamberpot in the corner, and collect the full one. Neither woman so much as glanced his way.
“But how many bottles had he had, do you think?” The other woman’s voice was high and excited, and Sprout risked a glance–he saw it was Abda Clir’s cousin who had come to the House last fall to find a husband. She leaned forward toward her cousin her eyes wide at the spectacle she was still seeing from the night before.
Clir waved a hand airily and yawned. “Abdu Bakari drinks more wijn than five men combined. Everyone knows that. Haven’t you seen his nose? Like a raspberry. I’ve seen birds swoop at it thinking they’d get a sweet treat.”
The other woman giggled, once again hiding her mouth with a delicate hand.
Sprout silently agreed. He likely knew Abdu Bakari’s drinking better than anyone, as he was the one to clean the vomit and filth when Bakari had taken in more than his body could handle.
Without waiting to hear more, Sprout slipped back out the door, sloshing chamberpot tucked under his arm. The last thing he heard before the door clicked shut was the trilling laugh of Abda Clir.
How do you like to meet a character? What makes you want to throw them in front of a run-away bus?