I recently posted something about Writer’s Digest Magazine saying it’s important to give your character a good introduction. I’ve already said I don’t really heed much to my character’s introductions (though I will try to in the future) because you can’t know enough of the character anyway until later on.
Well, interestingly enough Mark Kingston, my main character in my Civil War story has had several introductions, of several different kinds. I partially changed because I wasn’t very pleased with how I’d started the story originally. Then there came a point in my story which I found very hard to read, and therefore anyone else reading it might find it difficult to get through, so I thought it best to break it up in flashbacks. I think I am pretty pleased with the results (though the story is, annoyingly enough, still in the process of being edited). The final result is that Mark has technically had 3 introductions plus one that really didn’t work!
Here is the 1st version. I’ve reread it and find it’s a good reminder of why I wanted it changed. It’s mood is totally wrong, there’s peculiar sci-fi elements that don’t fit and the interpretation of Mark’s character is a little off because I immediately got the impression he was a bodybuilder, and that’s certainly never how I imagined him. Anyway, I’d better just put it down so you can read it for yourself:
Sunday mornings at the Fitness X-treme gym were always quiet, and this Sunday in late February was no different. There had been the usual rush of New Year Resolutioners but they had worn off by mid-February.
The usual popular, exciting music was going- the credit to that was due to Mark Kingston, the son of the gym’s manager, Julius Kingston.
Julius Kingston had started the gym in the midst of an earth in our distant future, when weight will still be a problem.
He had always been a big part of his project, a day never going by that he had made an appearance and encouraged his customers. However, as the years passed on, and his mission already partially accomplished with his neighbors becoming slimmer, he appeared less often at his gyms, but never less fit, and left it to his son, Mark, to help train the newcomers.
Mark, having lived in a world of vigorous health awareness, knew exactly what he was doing not only as a technique but more as a second nature. He had also received a text recommendation of pursuing a career as an M.D. and so he had studied that profession for a little while before dropping out. The time spent there had, however, given him some extra knowledge of fitness, so he looked completely comfortable and confident as he stood on a platform in the gym, looking around at the few people working out around and below him.
Overall, Mark did not stand out very much at that gym, except with the confidence showed on his face.
He had only stood there a few minutes when an employee from the swimming area came by, walking quickly and at the same time tying back her hair. She did not stop to speak to him.
“Mark, there’s someone wanting to speak to you on the phone, line 2,” She said, not waiting for a reply.
He glanced at her and then, changing his position slightly, apparently spoke to thin air, “Line 2.”
A small blue screen appeared, hovering in midair in front of Mark, the distorted, crisp image of a businesslike young man.
“Mark Kingston speaking,” he said, evidently about to continue along the lines of a customary greeting, but the appearance of the other seemed to cause him to hesitate. He then remained silent, waiting.
“Good morning, Mr. Kingston,” The other said, in a surprisingly comfortable voice, “My name is Zachary Black, I work with Dr. Derek Shelby, from the Goodwin University. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.”
Mark hesitated, nodding slightly.
“The name is familiar,” he said, looking slightly displeased, “But if this has to do with finishing my degree- I’m not interested. I haven’t taken a look at the Goodwin University for a while.”
The other nodded, saying, “It doesn’t really have anything to do with that. We received a text recommendation for you; the system matched you to Dr. Shelby’s project.”
A few things changed. I decided Mark shouldn’t have any M.D. training, and instead he did some paramedic training, which seemed to fit better. His dad- whose name, Julius, was provided by Orange Julius because I started writing this story in the mall next to an Orange Julius- completely disappeared. He certainly had nothing to do with starting a gym or whatever. In my revised version Mark simply ended up working at a gym because he could and it was available.
The only good thing about this original beginning (which is also the bad thing about it) is that I actually have a scene in Mark’s workplace. Never have I yet managed to set a scene there comfortably- partially because he became incredibly rich and didn’t need to work at a gym. This problem still irritates me, because I don’t like having things that you’ve never seen referred to or important.
So I wrote a new version, in which he gets to talk to Shelby. I wish I could remember the motivations for the setting and why I had to have them meet. It’s set in a fitness store, where’s he’s buying new shoes, and think I was hoping that would supplement for the gym. I think it helps but it still feels awkward to me. Here it is:
“Is that all you’ll be getting today?” The woman with the spikey hair behind the checkout counter asked, her eyes still set on the computer in front of her. It was a purely automatic question, said by millions of people before her. The answer was just as automatic.
“Yes, thanks,” Mark said, taking the new running shoes from the counter and turning to go.
He started heading straight to the exit, looking around him without much interest. His surroundings were like many stores. It was a ‘fitness’ place, with the newest equipment, a training area and a small cafeteria.
A man slowly got down from a stool and quickly stepped in front of him, saying, “Mr. Kingston?”
Mark stopped short, looking at him, rather surprised.
“I’m not interested in buying anything right now- I told you that last time I was here. You’d think that if you knew my name you’d remember that I’m not interested,” he said, irritated.
“I’m not selling anything, Mark. My name is Dr. Derek Shelby,” the man answered, putting out his hand. He had a normal voice and he spoke with an American accent.
Mark shook it, shoving the shoes he’d just bought under his arm. He asked, “Now they’re employing doctors to do the selling, or why did you want to talk with me?”
I think I will definitely keep this introduction (I apologize for the sudden end). It introduced Mark in a much better way than the original had, showing his rather defiant nature. the only problem is that he’s supposed to be a little joking in nature and I’m not sure if I’ve managed that without the original beginning.
Now, after I wrote this I decided to break up the ‘bleh’ section. What you just read is technically still his introduction, but I added this to the beginning:
The young man passed across several trees, getting further and further away from the terrible sounds of the battle, until it was only a distant booming that could have been mistaken for fireworks. Once he had made it far enough away he slowly sank to the ground, making no sound as though afraid to be seen. Sleep gradually came to him in a fitful, vague form, as he lay alone in the past.
He was not an ordinary man; or rather he was not ordinary to his surroundings. He did not belong to them, although there was nothing visibly different about him.
The only great difference, which seemed to be noticeable to animals, was that he was a time traveler, and he came from the far future.
His name was Mark Kingston. He had trained as a paramedic, then lost interest in that career after a couple years of studying for it. He acquired a job at a gym, got a girlfriend by the name of Fanny Carter and, at an age when one is usually set in their path, he seemed pretty well set.
But he was not satisfied with his life. He never said anything about his discontentedness, but it was evident to his friends.
He passed a couple of years at the gym, acquiring a reputation as someone you could trust and be friends with, both as an employee and as a person.
He seemed a different person now, where he lay in the past, in a forest- tense, exhausted and weary. His appearance was still very much the same, except for several scrapes, a bullet wound and his skin nearly the same color as the dirt he lay on.
But when he had first arrived in the past, and that seemed a long time ago for him, he had been a different person. Now, after a lot of things had occurred to make him change, it is nearly impossible for anyone to remain the same.
The change did not take place all at once. It took a long time for him to change, but it was only then that he was willing to show the difference. It started, in fact, when Mark decided he didn’t want to be a paramedic. The decision, although he never told anyone, even his parents, was a sudden one, but he was so definite about it, no one argued.
He did not entirely like working where he did, at the gym. But he seemed determined to go on there, hopefully rising in ranks until he could be the assistant manager or even manager. His choice- it could hardly be called a dream- was cut short, however.
It had all started with a phone call. And like any unsuspecting hero, he would never have expected a simple phone call to lead his life in an entirely different direction, especially where it led him now, laying alone in a world that was hardly his own.
And that is the introduction to Mark Kingston, leading into the second version I wrote. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much trouble introducing a character. It’s been very interesting.