As I mentioned in my last post, Kneel & Prey is the third time I’ve had to introduce the character of Gabby Wells in the series. The first attempt was in Water & Blood, the second was The Homecoming Incident and the third is Kneel & Prey. Each time I spent a lot of time and energy conceiving the best way to introduce Gabby Wells, because the first time you meet someone, even in fiction, can tell you a lot about them.
Characters are often defined by three characteristics. Their competence, their proactivity and their sympathy. You need two out of three to make a good character. Since book taste can vary into a number of sub genres, we can use a film example that everyone knows to illustrate the point.
The first time we meet Indiana Jones in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark he is exceptionally competent and very proactive, but has almost no sympathy.
We meet him in a jungle, standing by a river, holding torn pieces of a single map in his hands. Behind him, one of his assistants, no longer trusting Indy’s judgment, pulls a gun. Indy hears the cock of the pistol. In silhouette, his head tilts slightly upon the recognition of the sound. In a quick motion he pulls out his whip, flings it, dislodges the gun from the assistant’s hand, showing his command of the whip, then steps into the light where we see his face for the first time.
The rest of the opening 10 minutes of Raiders is an extension of defining everything you need to know about the character Indiana Jones. He’s fearless. He doesn’t care about primitive belief systems. He’s ruthless. He hates snakes. He is a thief. His arch rival is Belloq.
In the film/book Hunger Games, we meet Katniss as she hunts for food in a starving land (competence), yet offers some of her catch to others (sympathy). As the story unfolds she becomes a reluctant hero by saving her sister, thereby thrust into a world where she must be proactive or die. Her lack of sympathy is compensated by Peeta.
Knowing how important introducing the Gabby Wells character would be to the reader’s identification with her, I worked out a scenario that would showcase her skills in a way that is believable for a freshman to do while at school. You learn she’s calm under pressure, very competent at what she does, and proactive to a fault. Her sympathy level wavers throughout the series as she is often driven by compulsion, with little consideration to the consequences of her actions.
Introducing a character correctly is critical to reader buy-in. Take as much time as you need to get it right.
What are your favorite films, books, TV shows? How did they introduce those characters?
Let me know in the comments.
Here’s an audio version of the blog post: