Writing novels involves juggling so many things. One small task is to give your secondary (and walk-on) characters a memorable entrance. Here are some tips on how to do this.
1. Introduce them one at a time
If your main character has a lot of friends, or is in a group situation, nothing is more confusing than throwing out a lot of names without context. For best effect, introduce characters one at a time, with specific descriptions or actions to make each character stand out.
Maggie Stiefvater does this really well in The Raven Boys, a YA fantasy with an ensemble cast: a psychic town girl named Blue, and four private school best friends, Gansey (a Golden boy), Ronan (tortured soul), Adam (loyal friend, scholarship student), and Noah (quiet watchful one). When Gansey's car breaks down at the beginning of his first chapter, two of his friends come to rescue him:
Stiefvater paints vivid and distinct personalities, through both description (type of car Ronan drives, quality of Adam's tie) and action (Ronan slamming the door, Adam and Gansey having an unspoken rapport). She also introduces Ronan with enough description so the reader forms a mental picture of him before Adam appears a few sentences later.
2. Describe your characters with interesting and memorable details.
In Renegade Flight, a futuristic story about a girl who ekes into a prestigious pilot-training academy (to pilot fighting mechas), Andrea Tang does a great job introducing the MC's rival:
In a few phrases, we meet this remarkable girl with attitude and style, as well as a sense of the MC's feelings about the girl, a mixture of admiration and maybe intimidation.
3. Describe characters from the perspective of the POV character and show their relationship.
Instead of a neutral description, show us how the narrator feels about a character, or the nature of their relationship. A great example is The Verdigris Pawn, when Alysa Wishingrad introduces Himself, the ruler of the kingdom and father of Beau, one of the main characters:
In this short paragraph, we see how cold and judgmental Himself is, and how Beau suffers under his father's scrutiny. In one paragraph, we already get a sense of the start of Beau's character arc, including his wound.
Another example is discussed in the article, "The Raven Boys - Third Person Voice" which compares how Gansey is described by Blue:
and by Adam:
The reader forms a picture of Gansey, but filtered through the eyes of the other characters.
4. Even minor walk-on characters can shine.
While you don't have to create three-dimensional personalities for minor characters, it's still worth bringing them to life. Here's an example from Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
Like the examples above, we get a picture of the matchmaker told from the perspective of one of the other characters.
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