When Characters Meet

Meeting new people can be awkward. It’s as simple as that. While writing fiction, sometimes we’re faced with the dilemma of introducing very different people under unusual circumstances. Some time ago, I had a conversation with a friend who needed to do just that–but was drawing a blank on how to go about it.

Here’s what we came up with:

In real life, there’s this little introductory period that we get past through the use of “small talk”. What we’re doing is sort of poking about, trying to find common ground that will bring us together and give us the basis for establishing a relationship. Unfortunately, a chapter of small talk (usually) doesn’t make for good reading. We want our dialogue to feel natural, but dialogue generally isn’t a good substitute for the events that propel the story. Ideally, we can establish a mixture of both.

So how do we help our characters establish the basis for a relationship… without spending pages talking about where our characters went to high school and their various hobbies?

One approach is to introduce your characters, and immediately throw them into a difficult situation. Ambushed! Followed by their enemies! Earthquake! Whatever. The events can be used to accelerate through what might otherwise be an uncomfortable (or dull) soft spot, and serve as as the basis for the relationship between the characters–whether you need them to be friends, enemies, or uneasy allies.

Ambushed? One fellow stops and fights, the other runs, and the third tries to negotiate his way out of the situation. Whatever your characters choose, it’s going to have an impact on how your readers perceive them, and how the characters will interact with each other from there on out. Once you’ve decided what you want the perception and relationships to be, craft your events around that.

~ RM

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