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Character Entrances

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Grammar nazi
(and proud of it)

Joined: 05 May 2004
Posts: 13693
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2005 11:42 pm    Post subject: Character Entrances Reply with quote

Yeah, we've been through all the yadda of playwright vs. prose format entrances before, right?

Time for my $.02 -- with a little more of a "how-to" perspective.

What is playwrighting? To recap, it's when you present a character infosheet / profile form describing all the aspects of your character at the same time you actually jump in to the RP. This casts the assumption that you're relying on the infosheet / form to portray the looks and such of your character. Problem with this is that a character form is not actually part of your RP'ing, it's reference material -- stuff that you'd find in an Appendix section.

So, on the other end of the spectrum, there's a prose entrance. A prose entrance introduces your character to the RP and describes what you most need to know about them (their physical appearance, etc.) at that point. The obvious advantage here is that you DON'T have to reveal everything about your character immediately -- you don't have to give away "spoilers" about them.

Lately I've been seeing some hybrid character entrances. THIS is what I'll focus on.

For starters, let's take this guy named "Fred" -- courtesy of SeventhSanctum's random generators:
This intelligent magic knight has narrow red eyes. His medium-length, straight, luxurious hair is the color of the sun, and is worn in an attractive style. He has a slender build. He has purity powers that are invoked by a wand. His elegant, semi-transparent costume is blue and white in even proportions and it glows with a strange but soothing light.

And let's say he's to play in an RP like this (courtesy of another SeventhSanctum generator):
The story is about a noble, a wily heroine, and an elegant paladin. It starts in a xenophobic realm. The story begins with an accident while traveling, climaxes with someone getting lost, and ends with the revealing of an impostor. A lost treasure plays an important role.

Fred's the paladin.

So, for now, first I'll give you the Ugly of a character entrance -- that is, the ol' character sheet:

    Name: Fred
    Species: Human (male)
    Eyes: Red in color. Narrow.
    Hair: Medium-length, straight, sun yellow in color, styled attractively.
    Appearance: Slender build with an elegant, semi-transparent blue and white costume that glows in a cool light.
    Class: Magic Knight
    Weapons: A sword and a magic wand with purifying powers.
    Bio: Searching for an important lost trasure. Met up with the other characters after an accident while travelling alone.

    Fred walked up to the party and greeted the heroine standing next to the old wagon....

* * * * *

There we have it, Fred's character infosheet. This might make useful reference information later on down the road of the RP, but for now, since Fred hasn't been added or introduced to the RP yet, it simply will not do. Especially since the only introduction Fred has to the RP is that we know his name is Fred and that he's walking up to the other characters in the RP to say hello. Not very impressive of an entrance, eh?

Let's try to improve that a bit, then. The first and most obvious step would be to simply rephrase Fred's profile information into a form. So let's take a whack and....

    Fred was a smart, slender guy for a magic knight. He had narrow red eyes; medium-length, straight, luxurious hair (which he wears in an attractive style) matching the color of the sun. Fred always carried with him a wand that he could use to invoke purifying powers, and always dressed elegantly in a semi-transparent blue and white custome glowing with soothing light.

    Fred walked up to the heroine standing next to the old wagon and....

Stop. Is it just me, or does Fred's opening paragraph look a bit ... familiar?

This intelligent magic knight has narrow red eyes. His medium-length, straight, luxurious hair is the color of the sun, and is worn in an attractive style. He has a slender build. He has purity powers that are invoked by a wand. His elegant, semi-transparent costume is blue and white in even proportions and it glows with a strange but soothing light.

Holy dj vu all over again, Batman! Fred's improved entrance sounds a heckuva lot like his original SeventhSanctum-generated profile information.

That's the "bad" of the character entrances -- or should I add, the "not too bad". Fred's revised entrance is written in prose, and it blends in with his RP entrance a little bit, but the problem here is that it's just pure exposition. The entire first paragraph is spent rehashing Fred's profile information, essentially giving a "snapshot" of who Fred is before introducing him to the plot -- in other words, it's merely a paraphrased character infosheet. All the info is still there, it's just covered in a (not very deep) layer of prose.

The issue here is one of style. A casual reader might not pick this up, but to a critical reader, if they read a sentence like "Fred had narrow red eyes", their first reaction might be "red eyes -- so what?" What importance do those red eyes have that Fred's owner dedicated one entire sentence to describing it? What did you just contribute to the RP besides a small trivia of information? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You're just reciting information, dumping it on the reader's doorstep before you actually put it to use. In other words, it's an "infodump".

So, next, here comes the meat of creating the "Good" prose style of a character's entrance. To do this, you need to make your words and sentences work overtime, teach them how to do double-duty. It isn't easy, and while I can give you a few starter tips, this is a whole lot more art than science, so practice and experience is what you need to really learn how to do it well.

To make your words do double duty, you need to weave your exposition into your narration. If you want to mention Fred's eye color, for example, then find something to do that refers to his eyes in some way. Say that Fred's looking into the sunset. Sure, you could say "Fred stood there watching the sunset. Fred had red eyes." But that's kinda bland -- you jumped from narration to pure, unfiltered exposition in the span of two sentences. Rather, something like "The sun's western rays reflected shimmeringly from Fred's red eyes" can be much more effective. This sentence implies that Fred's looking at the sunset, and it tosses in Fred's eye color as a bonus.

Similarly, about Fred's hair. Why dedicate an entire sentence or two to describing his hair? If there's something better for Fred to be doing, then let him do it, and keep your eyes peeled for places where you can toss in a reference to Fred's hair color. Say that Fred's running over to the old wagon. "Fred sprinted over to the old wagon, his sun-kissed hair blowing in the breeze as he ran." In this example, the important part is that Fred's running over to the wagon -- and I just threw in Fred's hair color as a bonus, weaving it into the sentence so that the details themselves don't draw more attention from the reader than what Fred is actually doing.

There's another way you can make your words do overtime with your characters - find multiple ways you can refer to them. Poor Fred, for example, let's say he forgot his name and we can't refer to him as Fred anymore. What then should we call him?

- A cool blonde man?
- A red-eyed knight?
- A guy in the blue/white costume?

The fun part about these non-name monikers is that you can substitute them occasionally, in place of the character's actual name. So let's take a prose entrance like this:
    Fred felt the breeze against his blonde hair as he ran towards the broken wagon, sunlight reflecting off of Fred's red eyes. Fred looked to the heroine standing at the wagon. She greeted him, and Fred said hello.</li>

Fred this, Fred that... let's mix in a few of Fred's "non-name" monikers and see what it turns out....
    A breeze blew against the magic knight's blonde hair as Fred ran towards the broken wagon. Fred greeted the heroine and said hello.</li>

Whoa... "magic knight's blonde hair" is only four words, yet it describes not only Fred's hair color, but also his class! And it's not even the whole point of the sentence, because Fred's actually doing something in that sentence (running towards the wagon).

This last trick is fairly advanced, though, and carries its own risks... for starters, the writer simply MUST make clear the connection that Fred is the magic knight we're talking about. Otherwise, a casual reader might get confused and start thinking that Fred and the magic knight are two different characters! Dont laugh, I actually was thinking that when TenthDivine joined the Anthro RP. It took a bit of backsearching through the thread to realize that the term she often used to refer to her character wasn't the name of a comrade or friend, but the name of the character's species.

Of course, once everyone has learned a good picture of who Fred is, then you can start being a little more liberal about the use of non-name descriptors to refer to the character by. If you introduce right away that Fred's a magic knight, and it's made clear that the magic knight = Fred, then there'll be no problems down the road if you suddenly refer to "the magic knight" out of the blue instead of calling him by name.

* * * * *

Remember, the trick about a good prose entrance is to avoid simply pouring out all the details at once (usually in the form of "[he] was" or "[he] had" type sentences), and to mix those details in with what the character is actually doing in their entrance post.

That about wraps up this edition of Strata explaining things from his point of view. There are several ways to introduce a character to an RP, from the much-dissed character profilesheets to the much-sought-after good prose entrance. I hope I've given you some thought as for how to write a good prose entrance that doesn't sound like a profile sheet on audiotape.
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