A while ago on a Saturday night/Sunday morning I went to the movies with my cousins. We saw “Takers” (with T.I. and Chris Brown) and I got a pretty good idea of how to start a story and how not to start a story. I know movies are different from books, but I think introductions are the same or at least similar. Action packed versus snail fest.
Basically, the movie begins (and I mean the first half of the movie) with the background stories of all of the main characters. There was very little action. There was one memorable action scene, but then it lasted for fifteen minutes. There was no balance whatsoever.
Now, in novels where authors have to balance character development as well as plot, is it better to give the sordid details of the character’s past up front or weave it throughout the tale. It seems like an obvious question, but maybe some people don’t know the answer.
“Info-dumps” as they are called are ridiculously annoying and can be insulting to the reader. Annoying, because I hate reading long, endless paragraphs (Hurts my eyes >_<) and insulting because it assumes the reader isn’t smart enough to pick up on details throughout the novel. But, in my head it’s a cop-out by the author. They couldn’t think of a creative way to incorporate the exposition so they TOLD it all in one brobdingnagian (Word of the Day app is awesome!) paragraph. If there’s anything stressed in my Fiction Writing classes it, “Show don’t tell!”
A character’s history is what makes them who they are and effects who they will become. Even if the story isn’t character driven there are still aspects of a character that will affect the outcome of the novel. Otherwise, the character is insignificant and shouldn’t have been written into the plot in the first place. Every character no matter how minuscule the appearance should have some sort of importance to the plot. (Read Charles Dickens if you don’t believe me.) If the character doesn’t have an effect on the story why should I care about them? I won’t.
If you tell me everything about the character rather than subtly reveal it as the plot progresses: what’s the point of reading and how is that realistic?
In life there isn’t a narrator that says, “Hey, that guy behind the dumpster is a thief. You shouldn’t talk to him. Oh, but he had a hard life, you know, his mom abandoned him, his dad abused him, and now he’s living on the streets because he had nowhere else to go and he’s angry at the world.”
We meet people in our journey through life and spend time getting to know them, making the experience that much more interesting, long-lasting, and important.
If I find out everything about a person in our first five minutes of conversation, I won’t have anything else to say to them or talk to them about. It’s the same with characters. Why should I care about them if you told me everything there is to know about in a giant paragraph?
But, this is me and my preference. What kind of introductions do you like? Dialogue? Action? Description? Character thought?