Storytelling Involves Characters

Here is one way to introduce a character running straight at the audience.

The show, don’t tell.

When introducing your character, sharing an experience of the essence with the audience is essential. With the football players, this is an easier way to introduce a character into the story. But, again, the action helps to tell us about the character.

Student Omar Yougbare in Koudougou, Burkina Faso.

While this might be a lovely portrait of the story’s character, you can see that because the man is just looking at the camera, it does little to tell the audience about the man. So now the story must rely more heavily on the storyteller’s telling rather than showing to introduce the character.

Paul Tiendeno is a student at the theology school in Koudougou, Burkina Faso. They teach theology and farming to help the pastors feed their families while they minister as bi-vocational pastors. 

Contrast the photo of the man just looking into the camera lens with this one, which shows the man working in the field and tending his crops.

Which photo helps to establish the characteristics of the person?

Just Coffee Cooperative

Here is the matriarch of her family pouring hot water over coffee grinds to make coffee. Showing her working in her kitchen is an excellent way to introduce the mother and wife of coffee farmers in my story on a coffee cooperative.

Just Coffee Coop in El Aguila Adan Roblero

The theme of the story I was working on about a coffee cooperative is how the cooperative’s success depends on the coffee drinkers getting to know their coffee growers. One of the Arizona coffee drinkers plays with a coffee farmer’s son in El Aguila, Chiapas, Mexico. Here, I am telling a small story within the photo, introducing the character into the storyline.

Doug Parkin, a volunteer pediatrician from Arizona, sees patients during his two-month service at the Baptist Medical Center in Nalerigu, Ghana. (Photo by: Stanley Leary)

Here is a doctor who donates some vacation time to serve in the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana. The story tried recruiting doctors to become full-time missionaries in this hospital. Unfortunately, when I visited, they had only two doctors.

Surgeon Danny Crawley is in theatre doing a hernia operation, and Comfort Bawa, the theatre assistant, helps him at the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana. (Photo by: Stanley Leary)

Danny Crawford is one of those two doctors and the only surgeon. So, this was a way to introduce him into the storyline.

Just Coffee Cooperative

Pushing the boy is one of the coffee farmers with his grandson in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico. I think this is a great way to introduce the coffee farmer and show the value of family to the people of the coffee cooperative.

Recording artist Soulja Boy poses for a portrait at his Atlanta Buckhead Penthouse on Thursday, April 23, 2009.

While you may have a lovely portrait of a person like this, a shot of Soulja Boy does little to introduce the character compared to if he was doing something.

Just Coffee Cooperative

The people can even have beautiful smiles, but you still know little about the characters when you have them stop and look at the camera.

Kalyn Wood

The portraits can be pretty powerful, but they are not the same as introducing the character when they are doing something. So yes, they can be powerful images that capture your attention, but what is the story?

State and Lake In-Line Rob Meier, Operator

Don’t you think this photo of the two guys competing on who can move the Oreo Cookie from their forehead to eat is a much more exciting and character-revealing photo to introduce a character?

The Archbishop of Atlanta, His Excellency The Most Reverend Wilton Daniel Gregory, S.L.D., presides over the Eucharist during The Mass of Canonical Installation of His Excellency The Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, S.L.D. at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta, Georgia on January 17, 2005.

This moment during the celebration of the Eucharist in Mass is a great way to introduce Archbishop Gregory into the storyline.

Clayton State University Campus Scenics

Only as a last resort should you use the posed portrait to introduce your character. Let the visuals tell the story—SHOW, don’t TELL!