A post at Kill Zone Blog: How to properly introduce your protagonist
Recommendations: clue the reader in about the protagonist’s name as soon as you can. Also gender. Also race, if that is a factor. A hint about physical appearance, but not too much. A hint about backstory, but not too much. I think that’s a summary of the recommendations at the post, which is worth reading through.
The post also points out, of course, that all the above is easy in third person, which is largely true; and considerably more difficult in first, which is definitely true.
I want to address a particular difficulty that applies to the Tuyo series and no doubt to some fraction of other secondary world fantasies:
Adding physical description when everyone in the entire story shares a specific physical trait, so there’s no reason for anyone to ever think about it.
In Tuyo, the Ugaro look like Inuit, only somewhat more so. That means they all have black, straight hair. The Lau look like Maasai, only somewhat more so. That means they all have tightly curled or kinky black hair. I’ve said that here. But it’s hard for me to say that in the actual books.
There is very seldom any reason for Ryo to think something like: “She has beautiful straight black hair.” All Ugaro have hair like that. It makes sense for Ryo to notice length of hair, the style in which it is worn — things like that. It doesn’t make sense for him to think about color or straightness when he’s looking at another Ugaro. There’s exactly one moment in Tarashana where he does think that, when he’s with Darra, very close to the end. That’s it. That only happens because he’s so physically aware of Darra, much more so or in a different way than he is of other Ugaro.
Besides that moment, I think the first, or nearly the first, time I ever have Ryo think directly that all Ugaro have black, straight hair is when he contrasts that with Inhejeriel. This is also one reason I gave Elaro, the poet from the east, a reddish tinge to his hair — this contrasts with the Ugaro of Ryo’s region, so that I can say that all the Ugaro in this region have pitch-black hair.
I realize any reader must have gained a general impression that the Ugaro are culturally uniform. This is not actually true. The reader simply has not had any way to see cultural variation among the Ugaro. *I* know about cultural variation that exists in this world, but Ryo does not, or has not had any reason to think about it — both, probably. Elaro opens a gateway to at least mention that kind of variation. That’s one useful role he plays for me as the author, though this isn’t going to be important in story terms (as far as I know).
Ditto for the novels told from the pov of a Lau. Neither Nikoles nor Esau ever thinks about hair color or type. All Lau have the same kind of hair — at least all we ever see. Style is noticeable. Color and type, not so much. That shuts the door on some kinds of easy physical description that I really can’t use, or at least not very easily. That’s why some Lau shave their beards in patterns or shave patterns into their hair. That gives me something else to describe.
Eventually, if we return to the starlit lands, that’ll be one useful function of the tattoo-like patterns many of the Tarashana wear. I’ll have to figure out what those actually mean, but, especially if we’re seeing the Tarashana through the eyes of an Ugaro protagonist — very likely — those patterns will be useful for for both the protagonist and the reader to tell different Tarashana people apart.