How best to handle introducing new characters, new stories, and readers to one another? Well, my preference both as a writer and a reader is to get a sense of them, but not necessarily learn everything about them all up front at once. It’s a slow dance, a tease, a little here, a little there, and you get to know them, just like you do in real life. When you are introduced to a person in front of you, you might get their full name, or you might not. There’s formal introductions: “may I present Princess Hildegard of Aronia to you, Grand Duchess of Rexington?” and then there is: “so this is Joe, my plumber. He’s pretty good, if’n you don’t want it done fast.” With a wink and an elbow nudge.

Both of those situations tell you much more than the number of words I used to relay them to you. One implies a formal setting, perhaps a glittering ballroom, elegant clothes, immaculate grooming… the other is a couple of guys standing around in stained shirts, possibly beers in hand, a nametag on someone’s chest. Introductions don’t just give you a name, they can also set a world up around the person being introduced. It doesn’t need a full biography… which is good, because the writer might not know yet where the character comes from, what motivates them, and what’s going to happen next that the reader needs to be clued in on as well. That last can be walked back with editing at the end, but if you pants the way I do, when it starts rolling out, you’re stuck with what is in the head.

Like the story below, which I started musing on while driving, wrote down a bit of, and I know a bit more. But I didn’t know where the first character came from, or why, or if she’s scared and running, or what from… and the second character I didn’t realize lives in fearful respect of his wife until I’d written him a bit. I like him… I wonder what else he’s got hidden in there. Finally, the character I haven’t yet written is his daughter, who shares some many of his traits, to both her parent’s dismay. The dragon, the king, and the princess.


The dragon flying out of the morning’s sunrise was already exhausted. Her wings were strained and each upstroke felt like fire up her neck and down past the base of her tail. Wi’ilmaiyaa of the Akureyri (Just call me Wilma, dangit) had reached the end of her abilities. If she dared further, she would plummet from the skies. Tears rolled down her scaled cheeks and fell unchecked into the low-lying clouds beneath her. In the proper conditions, given some time, they would have become the stone humans called moonstone, as they contained many minerals. Falling through water, they dissipated into nothingness, valueless and forgotten. Wilma’s people were chemotrophic, their every fluid and fiber based on inorganic materials. But a literal heart of stone – asbestos fiber that functioned like myosin and actin did on an organic framework – couldn’t beat forever, and hers was about to burst. She folded her wings tight to her backbone and plunged into the clouds.


Arnbjorg sat on the tall stool and hunched over the table in front of him. It was strewn with paper and parchments, and he had ink on his best sword callus. He regarded the stained finger ruefully. If he’d had any idea what kingship would mean, he’d have turned it down flat. But at the time, standing there panting in the sunshine, the hot fire of a battle rushing through his veins and making him feel like he was invincible, he’d just bent his head and accepted the slightly dented (they really had done a stellar job beating out the worst of the bludgeon marks) and somewhat bloody gold circlet without demur. Now? He tilted his head slightly and listened. That wasn’t his daughters calling out in play… He stood up, ignoring the stool clattering to the stone floor behind him, and reached for the great sword that hung by the door in its sheath. Clutching it in his hand, he raced for the castle stairs.

In the courtyard of his keep, the king joined the gaggle of his people that had gathered around a single man. The shepherd, to judge from his garb, was gesticulating wildly.

“It fell out of the sky! And hit the hillside so hard it buried itself! The cloud of dust went up like smoke!” His eyes rolled back in his head, and he swayed.

“Calm yourself.” The king deliberately lowered his voice to a rumble. He stepped through the ring of people and stood facing the hysteric, his sword still in his hand, but now hanging by his side rather than ready to draw. “What fell?”

“I… I don’t know.” The man stammered. “I was…” He pointed to the hills above the keep. Castle really was too grandiose for this place, Arnbjorg thought for the umpteenth time. “With my flock.” He added unnecessarily. “Been out since early, but it was ver’ foggy.”

“So you aren’t sure where exactly you were?” The king prodded. He was tempted to pull the sword and add some physical prodding, as this idiot was trying his patience.

“No, no…I was in Old Peter, the Peter that was the wolf-killer, in ‘is pasture. T’isn’t a real pasture y’understand, just it’s all smooth and neat-like in the rocks up by Rocky Top there.” On familiar ground now, the shepherd regained his equilibrium.

Arnbjorg translated this flow of local lore. “So you were on high ground.”

“Aye.” The man nodded vigorously. “Best grazin’ this time o’ year.”

“Can you take us there?” The king asked, starting to buckle his sword on. He glanced back toward the castle door, but he still didn’t see his wife. If she saw him… He shivered a little at the thought of the screeching about his health and safety. “Quickly now, man!” He wasn’t running away. He was running toward a potential threat to the people’s safety, that was the ticket.

If you want more stories introducing characters, check out this list of readable books over at my blog today. A group of likely looking tales, promising some very interesting endings.

23 thoughts on “Introductions

  1. Thanks for sharing lots of valuable stuff!

    I loved the king. Despite having a woman’s name he seems a very decent man with normal parental reactions stuck in a dead-end job. He carries his sword around and forgets to buckle it on until later, like forgetting to zip up. He sounds like most of my middle-aged friends, nice guys to fish and drink with.

      1. Bjorg and/or Björg used to be common Norwegian and Icelandic names.

        When you use sciency description for the dragon I get sci/fi vibes.

      2. Looking at it all one word in English, Arn might seem pretty close to Ann. Annsomth sounds female. To someone who speaks only English and does look at it Arn Bjorg, one might compare it to Arnold and Bjorn. I know Arnold is male, and assume Bjorn is, so I’ve been parsing it as male.

      3. If it’s any consolation in one of my very first stories written in high school I have a male Russian character a surname ending in “ova”. 😉

      4. Oh, Cedar, you’ve done it again! Sucked me into that world.
        I’m going to have to buy that book when it is finished.
        As a science teacher, I like that bit about the heart structure – very imaginative.

        1. Well, I was trying to figure out what in the inorganic realm would work as fibers like muscle and could only think of asbestos, also, that works nicely with dragon fire.

          I have now written another 3000 words on the story, planning to keep this one short and fun. I am changing the king’s name, though! Arnbjorg is now his daughter the princess and his name is Torbjorn, thanks to Kord.

  2. I think I recall reading a book, I think Timothy Zahn, where a character had a Japanese name. Anime, manga etc had primed me to expect that the other gender was associated with that name.

    It was one of a trilogy about a space war between humans and some strange alien menace.

  3. Bjorn means bear. Very male
    Bjorg means rescue. Female
    Borg would be castle. Female

    Both Bjorn and Borg would work with Thor as a prefix. Torbjorn Thor’s bear and Torborg Thor’s castle. Torborg is very out of date. Torbjörn is fairly current.

    Arn would be something like Eagle, and is germanic,

    I realised that scandinavia wasn’t a main market for fantasy when one of Sparhawks Pandion follower was named Berit, which is a name that in the days of Eddings was a byword for rather angry working class women. More so in Sweden than Norway. is nice.

  4. Literally Yes. But also when I dig some more, Bjorg also means protection, so I guess it might be more like protected by the eagle or protected by the might of the eagle. Makes more sense than rescued by the eagle. There is this story where Loki goes aloft with an eagle that is a shifted giant, but I doubt parents wanted to invoke that trope for their child.

    “Blessed by Loki”, sounds as bad as “May you live in interesting times.”


          You might have read this one already. But lots of people have not. It is THE great Icelandic epic. It has everything and the kitchen sink in a very laconic, “I killed him and went home and ate breakfast” style. I think the translation from Icelandic is good, at least as good as the Swedish or Norwegian translations.

          The part below is from the 76th chapter.
          The fellows attacking are not serving a notice. They are besieging an Icelandic farmhouse, attacking Gunnar of Lithend, the Mary-Sue of the story.
          A bill is a primitive pole-arm. The Gunnar-fellow stole it earlier on and liked it.

          “”Thorgrim the Easterling went and began to climb up on the hall; Gunnar sees that a red kirtle passed before the windowslit, and thrusts out the bill, and smote him on the middle. Thorgrim’s feet slipped from under him, and he dropped his shield, and down he toppled from the roof.

          Then he goes to Gizur and his band as they sat on the ground.

          Gizur looked at him and said –

          “Well, is Gunnar at home?”

          “Find that out for yourselves,” said Thorgrim; “but this I am sure of, that his bill is at home,” and with that he fell down dead.””

  5. Yep. Those Who’ve read the Nials Saga are primed to accept Inigo at face value. My kids are finally old enough to see th movie.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: