Introducing the characters in a story is a subtle art. One of the oldest ways to do is to describe her or him detail: “Ram was a gentle boy, with a sweet smile. He had an unfortunate childhood which never soured his attitude but left behind a sad quality which was to haunt him all his life.” The advantage in this is that the writer can narrate all the aspects of Ram and create a complete picture of him the disadvantage in such an approach is that it strips the character of any mystery or surprise element.
For a touch of drama, it is interesting to let a second character introduce the first before his appearance. “Come Leela, you must agree to meet my cousin Sheel. I must warn you he’s lake a touch-me-not, very prickly. But he’s got a weakness for clinging women and you are sure to make a hit with him.” Here, the writer has described three characters- Leela as the clinging type, Sheel as the touch-me-not and the person speaking as one who is very sure of himself. A perfect example of this form of character delineation is in the works of Jane Austen. Read her Emma and concentrate on the chapter of Emma going for a picnic. The conversation at the picnic is very revealing about characters who are not present there. This method helps in speeding up the narration. The biggest disadvantage is that there is a bias towards the character who will not be portrayed truthfully.
Another interesting why to unfold a character is to let his actions speak for himself. “Sunil walked into his father’s room stealthily. He closed the door and tiptoed to the wardrobe. The lock glared at him. But such trivia had never daunted him. He whipped out a funny looking knife and in a trice, pierced the lock open. He rummaged in the cupboard with a confidence born out of practice. After a couple of minutes, his hand closed around the faded purse he was looking for. He pulled out the Rs.100 notes, counted 401 of them and pulled the purse-strings. Stuffing the wad of notes into his pocket, he closed the cupboard and walked out. Getting into his shabby car, he drove to the little hut on the outskirts of the city. The money changed hands. With a deep, satisfying puff, Sunil leaned against the wall and watched the smoke spiral up towards the ceiling. A cunning smile lit his face. Once more he had scored over his pompous, smug father!” This paragraph gives a deep insight into in to Sunil’s character. From his behavior, it comes through that he has a father complex and is deliberately following a path bound to shatter his world. This form of character portrayal has the added advantage of taking the action along -- a touch of the racy.
A rather limiting factor creeps in when a character is talking about himself. Either he will sound too modest: “I am a fairly good looking person or so people say…..” or too self-opimonated: “I was always considered a leader in class…..” The reader will not get a true picture of the character.
There is no universal formula for the best way to depict a character. It depends on the approach of the author, the theme and the style. There is only one requirement though. The depiction should be truthful and credible.