Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 22, 2015

Introducing a Major Character — in a Few Words

Just as the first line of a novel is vital as a hook to draw readers into the book, the introductory description of a major character, whether protagonist or antagonist, is vital to the book.  It should be early and succinct.

One of the best I know is from the late Robert B. Parker’s Brimstone, a western.  The principal protagonist is Virgil Cole, a gunfighter.  His sidekick is Everett Hitch, a former Civil War officer and West Point graduate. Hitch narrates most of the book and the dialogue between the two carries the story.

Everett is telling, in the first few paragraphs of the book , about entering a saloon in a new town, for the first time.

“He wasn’t special-looking. Sort of tall, wearing a black coat and a white shirt and a Colt with a white bone handle. But there was something about the way he walked and the way the gun seemed to be so natural. People looked at me sometimes, too, but always after they looked at Virgil.”

Good, huh? Parker was a master at bringing his characters to life. This short description illustrates his craft.


I’ve tried to emulate Parker (and others) in my writing.

In the novel, Overload, the principal protagonist, Frost, is introduced when his buddy Ferguson talks to him on the telephone.

They agree to meet and then…

“He was gone. I didn’t hear the click.  Frost was like that sometimes—most of the time. He wasn’t rude unless he intended insult, then it was plain.  He was a minimalist with words. Each word or phrase he offered wrapped a thought, like paper enclosing a package, good or bad. ”


  1. Great examples here Tom and I must say, Frost, your protagonist in Overload proved to be an intense, smart and powerful character. Enjoyed this post!

  2. Thanks, Rich. I like Frost. He’s starring in my WIP, “Nuclear Poison.” Cheers!

  3. That is an excellent description of a character. Good luck with your writing.

  4. Enjoyed your examples. Excellent tool for a high school English teacher to use in a creative writing class with students.

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