Almost done with Character! We’ve been looking at how to select details to best convey characterization. Last week we came up with some details for Amos Anderson, the main character of one of the stories we’ve been developing. Now let’s use those details as fodder for his introduction using the seven methods of character introduction that we outlined a few weeks ago.
We’re still using our human-rights-attorney story:
Set in the mid 1950’s, against the backdrop of the first US Supreme Court case to affirm gay rights, human rights lawyer Amos Anderson joins a wealthy Los Angeles law firm in order to fund his transgender partner’s wrongful termination suit against the federal government, not knowing that the firm’s managing partner is a devil intent on sabotaging the lawsuit.
Method 1: Out-of-Viewpoint Description
In this method, the narrator (not a view-point character) tells us about the characters.
Amos Anderson was a thirty-three-year-old human rights attorney. He often showed up to court in his boxing sweats, donning a suit only on special occasions.
Amos wore a brown suit now, as he shuffled up the courthouse steps, feeling as cowardly as the suit was tattered.
Method 2: Introduction Through Dialogue
In this method other characters talk about the character being introduced before the character makes an appearance on the page.
The journalist waiting to hear the summary judgment ruling in the Jenny Jones vs. The State of California case stamped out his cigarette and shook his head. “She-he should really get a different attorney. The only thing Amos Anderson knows how to do is lose.”
“Can’t even show up in a decent suit,” said the videographer, then, louder, as Amos and his client passed by, “Nice sweats, Mr. Anderson.”
Method 3: Introduction Through Environment
In this method, the author describes the character’s home or town or other defining surroundings.
Amos Anderson walked around the block, bypassing the gleaming white marble front steps. He slipped through a hedge, not worrying about the branches mucking up his suit, and entered the courthouse through its hidden back entrance, the one used by inmates, shuffling along in their hand and leg shackles. Private, dirty, and far less dignified, this entrance felt right. Even without an orange jumpsuit Amos fit right in, managing the shuffle with his own set of restraints: the weight of his caseload.
Method 4: Introduction Through Action
In this method, the character is introduced in the middle of an action that characterizes him.
Amos looked around to make sure no one was watching and then quickly squeezed and released Jenny’s hand.
Method 5: Physical Description
In this method, the scene’s viewpoint character describes her first impression of the character.
Amos had freshly showered, yet unkempt hair and wore a tattered brown suit that could have looked intentionally retro on his boxer’s frame if it weren’t for Amos’s hunched shoulders and fidgety fingers.
Method 6: Dialogue
In this method, the character speaks first thing, before we see him and before he does anything else.
Amos said, “Don’t worry, Jenny, the judge will rule for us, I think. I hope he will, anyway . . . probably he will . . . well, possibly . . . Jeeze, Jenny, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Those government suits–they’re so big and so many and so . . . ” So confident.
Method 7: Thoughts and Introspection
In this method, the scene’s viewpoint character is thinking about something, usually her backstory, but possibly about what she wants.
The judge’s ruling had to go in our favor. It had to. Jenny didn’t know it, but we didn’t have the money to continue suing the government. And I didn’t have the expertise, let alone the balls, to take a case like hers to trial. Sometimes life gives you forks shaped like Y’s in the road, and sometimes life gives you T’s. Tonight, we’d either be drinking champagne and counting our millions or we’d be . . .
I had no idea where we’d be.
PUTTING THE OPTIONS TOGETHER
Okay, now let’s put some of these methods together to make one, multi-faceted intro:
Amos Anderson preferred to work in his boxing sweats and only donned a suit on life-changing court days.
He wore a brown suit now as he led his client, Jenny Jones, around the block in order to bypass the courthouse’s marble front steps, not to mention the media. He held back the branches of a rhododendron so that she could slip through and then slipped through the hedge himself. The branches mucked up his best suit, but he didn’t care. It was already tattered.
Private, dingy, and far from dignified, the courthouse’s hidden back entrance felt most comfortable to Amos. Behind them, the criminal court’s morning docket exited the jail and shuffled along the covered walkway in their hand and leg shackles. Even without a matching orange jumpsuit and manacles, Amos felt as one with the inmates, managing a perp walk of his own thanks to his own set of restraints: fear of the judge’s summary judgment ruling in Jenny Jones vs. The City of Los Angeles.
A journalist stood to the side of the back door. Amos recognized him as the one following his case for the Los Angeles Mirror. The journalist stamped out his cigarette, nudged his photographer, and whispered loud enough for Amos to hear.
“Look, look, there it is. It should really get a new attorney. Amos Anderson can only lose its case.”
The videographer snickered and took their photo, then opened the door for them.
“Nice of you to shave, Miz Jones, your legs and your beard. No sweats today, Mr. Anderson?”
Jenny stood taller, but Amos kept his head down and walked faster, pushing Jenny along in front of him.
“Don’t worry, Jenny, the judge will rule for us . . . I think . . . I hope he will, anyway . . . probably he will . . . well, maybe . . . possibly . . . Jeeze, Jenny, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Those government suits . . . They’re so smart and so . . . so . . . ” So confident.
Amos never could muster confidence, not in the courthouse. Not even for Jenny. Instead, he glanced around the bright hallway, making sure no one was watching them, and then quickly squeezed and released Jenny’s hand. She looked down at him and gave him a small smile. It was one of the best things about Jenny: the few, small comforts Amos could give her seemed to be enough.
Inside the courtroom, the only chairs left were those at the plaintiff’s table. Amos shuffled up the aisle behind Jenny and took a seat.
The judge had to rule in their favor today. He just had to. Jenny didn’t know it, but Amos didn’t have the money to continue suing the government. And he didn’t have the expertise, let alone the courage, to take a case like hers to trial. Sometimes life gives you forks in the road shaped like Y’s, and sometimes life gives you T’s. Tonight, Amos and Jenny would either be drinking champagne and counting their millions on the right side of that T or they’d be . . .
Amos wiped his palms on his pants and sat on his hands to keep from fidgeting. He had no idea where they’d be.
Well, that’s it for me. What about you? What sort of introductions for characters have you come up with? Tell us in the comments.
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UP NEXT, IN TWO OR THREE MONDAYS
We’re moving on to scenes, but I’m not quite done yet, so it might be a week late, but hopefully not. Also, I’m working on something that, if I can swing it, will post on a Tuesday or Thursday.
Yes, a Tuesday or Thursday. It’s something new . . .
See you soon!