Giving Your Character the Introduction They Deserve


The simple directness of Neil Gaiman


Shadow’s Introduction from American Gods

I think the way Gaiman introduces Shadow is just near perfect.

“He was big enough and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, taught himself coin tricks, and though a lot about how much he loved his wife.

The best thing — in Shadow’s opinion, perhaps the only good thing — about being in prison was a feeling of relief. The feeling that he plunged as low as he could plunge and he’d hit bottom. He didn’t worry that the man was going to get him, because the man had got him. He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.”

In the opening page, Gaiman describes:

  1. Shadows appearance.
  2. Shadow’s passion.
  3. Shadow’s Mentality.

I think the way Gaiman introduces Shadow is just near perfect. It’s nothing too flashy and Gaiman just comes out and states “Shadow loved his wife.” 

Now you try! Emulate shadows intro. What does your character look like? What is his passion, how do they think? Write two sentences about each and mold them into a paragraph. See how it turns out. What? You already have an agent?? Good job.

Bod’s Introduction from The Graveyard Book

“Bod was a quiet child with sober eyes and a mop of tousled, mouse colored hair. He was, for the most part, obedient. He learned how to talk, and, once he had learned, he would pester the graveyard folks with questions”

From this we have.

  1. Bod’s appearance. (Sober eyes/ mouse-colored hair)
  2. Bod’s actions. (Obedient)
  3. Bod’s mentality. (He loves to ask questions and learn about the world around him)

Again, three characteristics all rolled up into a direct introduction. 

It’s ok to be direct with appearance, but show how your character thinks when you are introducing them. It can be as simple as, “so and so loved to ask questions.“

Richard Mayhew’s Introduction form Neverwhere

“The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.”

If you don’t see that pattern yet, then I’ll tell you. Neil Gaiman is simple and direct. This is really all we need to know about Richard: “He was not enjoying himself,” because once Neil contrasts Richard’s mood with the scene (they are in a bar celebrating), then we get an idea of what type of person Richard is. So the advice from Neverwhere is:

  1. Be direct
  2. Contrast how your person is feeling and thinking about to what is going on around him.

Final Thoughts:

It’s ok to be simple. It’s ok to tell.

  • “Bod was a quiet child.”
  • “Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.”
  • “[Shadow] kept himself in shape, taught himself coin tricks, and though a lot about how much he loved his wife.”

Here are some examples I wrote just now:

  • The thing Susan thought about the most, was how she was going to die.
  • Elliot liked to punch people in the gut. Elliot was an asshole.

Woah, slow down there Neil


How to tackle the middle of the book – 4 tips from Neil Gaiman Novels

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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