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So you just created a new character. Only problem is, they're kinda boring.

I find one of the most challenging aspects of writing fiction is the introduction of a new character, especially one of lesser importance. This may seem counter-intuitive – shouldn’t a Main Character (MC) be more difficult to introduce than a minor character?


The reason for this is that you have more space and time to introduce the MC. They may be the focus of the opening sentence, paragraph, chapter. Hopefully when we meet them there’s something dramatic happening and we can see them fighting some aspect of the epic battle that is their life.


But for a minor character, we don’t have that space, we need to introduce them quickly so they can play their part and get out of the way. But just because they don’t do much, doesn’t mean they can be throwaway and a writer can afford to be careless about them.


Let’s imagine a doctor who’s about to deliver some surprising new to the MC. ‘Dr. Jenkins entered the room. He was old, his hair had thinned out, and dark circles grown around his washed-out blue eyes.’ So, we get the picture of an old male white doctor. But it doesn’t make for particularly interesting reading.


The first thing to think about is whether you’ve made a good creative choice in visualizing this character. The old, white, male doctor is something of a stereotype. Why white? Why male? Why old? Why not a young Indian woman?


Once you’ve made that creative choice, a powerful exercise is to write a few hundred words about that character to get to know them – a background piece. Place them in a situation a little before the point at which they enter your story and have something happen to them. Have some dialogue too. For the young Indian doctor, I wrote about her at lunch. She spills food off her tray and is angry with herself at her clumsiness and waste. This sets her up

to enter your story as tightly wound, and maybe not in the best possible mood.


Then consider their voice, and how they speak. Is it clipped, uncertain, quiet, loud? (Our Indian doctor talks quickly and with precision in her word choice). Are they garrulous, economical, circuitous? (She is very to-thepoint, but prone to long silences as she marshals her thoughts).


And then, how do they move? Fluidly, arthritically, slowly, quickly, erratically? (She is precise, matching the precision of her word choice, as if consciously taking up a well-chosen point in any environment).


You can then consider the aspects of physical character. Eyes (shape and color), mouth, nose, coloring, hair, build. Use these as ingredients into the overall introduction of the character, and not the totality of their introduction. Too often I read something like ‘Dr. Jenkins entered the room. She had long dark hair and almondshaped eyes of the deepest brown.’ Dull imo, and frankly not that informative.


Lastly, consider if there’s an action you can give them that could add interest to their moment of introduction. The common wisdom in screen-writing is to always have a character doing something interesting when they’re introduced. So not sitting on the sofa watching the TV, or

waking up, or making a sandwich. For our new Dr. Jenkins, I like the idea that she’s frustrated by some cleanliness issue when she first enters the patient’s room.


Work all of these into the background piece we talked about earlier, and then start writing version of their introduction. And don’t expect your first version to be your best!


So, here we go:

‘Dr. Jenkins entered his room and immediately noticed a used nitrile glove on the floor. It stopped her in her tracks. She looked over at the patient, her deep-brown eyes seemingly seeking the affirmation that she was correct to be offended. “I’ll have an orderly come make sure the room is cleaned,” she said, her voice low and precise. There was a long silence as if she was considering some kind of apology. “I was trained in Philadelphia,” she finally said. “Not in India like most people think.”’

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