I never really understood how difficult it is to introduce a character until I began a large scale writing project. I compared a few different approaches from different authors but one thing remains uniform. The impression of the new character runs parallel to the perspective character’s opinion of new character.
This seems really basic. But saying it out loud helped me immensely. One of the things that made me settle on a multiple third person format, is the means in which you can naturally introduce characters from several different angles.
One would assume that it would be harder to describe the active perspective character in a first person story, but it comes across as fairly natural for a person to talk about themselves when telling a story to another person. It’s a form of interview, the character is telling you what they think. How strange is it that they would tell you their height? “How tall are you?” “What’s your favorite food?” First person doesn’t require a mirror because the character is regarding you directly by letting you step into their shoes.
However, in a third person (limited) story, this gets complicated. You have access to their thoughts and motivations, but very rarely does one mewl about how they look or what they’re wearing. Stepping into the shoes of a character in third person grants insight as to who they are as a person.
In my youth, one of my closest friends at the time told me about the alignment system of Dungeons and Dragons, and I’ve used it ever since. For those not familiar, it is broken into two parts. Put simply, it is how your character sees the world, and how the world sees them. Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic make up the creed in which your character applies their ethics to the world. The Good, Neutral, and Evil portion defines their morals. In that light, it’s fairly easy for someone to know someone’s ethics (but not always). However, it is difficult to tell where their motivations lie.
Let’s take my favorite alignment as an example: Lawful Evil. The Lawful evil character holds order in high regard. So high in fact, that he or she uses it as a baseline to make others fall in line with their tune. They know the loopholes and the fine details of order so well, that they can shape it to their whim. Introducing a Lawful Evil Character is fun because they can easily be mistaken as Good or Neutral in interesting ways.
Another interesting thing about introducing characters is your option to intentionally withhold information or mislead. If you’re in the head of the deceiver, the reader is told volumes about them. If they’re watching them through the eyes of another you can play with clues to the deception. The choices are limitless.
The clues could be obvious to the reader, but the perspective character could remain blissfully unaware.
On more straightforward topics, how a character looks, there are several ways for the narrator to feed you information naturally. Because you want the impression of the new character runs parallel to the perspective character’s opinion of new character… you don’t want to feed your reader too much information. The information they get is what the perspective character cares about. If the details focus on physical descriptions, the reader will associate that with the character. They may stamp the character as shallow (which in some ways is a good thing).