We thought Angel Burn had the perfect cast of characters–half-angel Willow, smoking hot Angel Killer Alex . . . what else could we need? But in her sequel, Angel Fire, author L.A. Weatherly has added a new character to the mix: another half-angel, Seb. Willow didn’t know there were any other beings out there like her, and now she’s conflicted. Will Seb prove an ally to her and Alex in their quest to end the energy-sucking cruelty of angels? Or will Willow’s unexpected attraction to him throw a romantic wrench in their plans? Below, L.A. shares her thoughts on the challenges and rewards of introducing new characters to a series.
Before you introduce a new character to a reader, you first need to introduce him or her to the author. Though you’ll find out some things about your characters as you go along, you should ideally have a basic handle on who your characters are and how they’re going to impact things before you bring them into the story; you’ll save yourself a lot of time and rewriting that way!
Then, let your characters speak and act for themselves–but stay firmly in the moment, and don’t give too much away. A common problem I see is when new authors try to explain everything about a character the moment a reader encounters them. The temptation is understandable: you want to make sure that readers understand what’s going on. But a really gripping story isn’t the one that spoon-feeds readers information; it’s the one that intrigues them by holding back whenever possible. So instead of asking yourself, ‘How soon can I reveal this information?’ ask yourself, ‘How long can I hold back with this?’
This is why the first time we meet Alex in Angel Burn, you do not read the following passage: “Alex was an Angel Killer, employed by the CIA to fight a menace that–unknown to most of the population–was slowly destroying humanity. Even though he was only 17, he’d already been on the road for almost two years as he traveled across the US to wage his solitary battle . . . (blah blah blah, boring boring boring).”
Instead, we have no idea who Alex is as he stops at a 7-Eleven for gas and coffee; we don’t even know whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. However, through both his conversation with a store clerk and his inner reactions, we quickly realize that he’s an outsider, and that the world might not be as we expect:
He had only seen high school on TV: jocks in their letterman jackets; cheerleaders jumping around the field; couples hanging onto each other at the senior prom. It was another world, one so stupidly innocent that it was frightening. High school students were old enough to be fighting, but none of them were doing it.
Because hardly anyone actually knew that there was a war on.
By staying firmly in Alex’s head–never revealing more than what he might actually be thinking in any particular moment–I’m able to introduce a character who’s much more intriguing than he might have been otherwise, because there’s an immediate mystery that hooks the reader: who is this guy? What’s going on?
As the scene continues, I also sneak in some physical information about Alex–hair color here, eye color there, and so on. Though you don’t want to slow down the action with big blocks of description, it’s important to provide a basic idea of a character’s appearance early on, so that readers can “see” them clearly. Other characters’ reactions can also be useful: I never say that Alex is really attractive, but we know he must be, because of the way the female store clerk is flirting with him!
So figure out who your characters are in as much detail as you can–and then simply put them in place and let them do the work for you, showing and not telling who they are. Don’t give everything away all at once. Strong characters don’t need an author to explain them . . . and readers will enjoy the ride much more if you allow a little bit of mystery.