There’s a saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. With that in mind, what kind of impression do your characters make when they first appear? If they aren’t making a great first impression, you’re missing a chance to make a memorable introduction.
One of the best ways to make a memorable first impression is to use irony to create contrast between what you expect and what really happens. The greater the contrast, the greater you’ll remember the difference. For example, in “Die Hard,” John McClane is revealed to be terrified of flying. Yet the irony is that he’s a cop with a gun.
In the zombie action comedy “Planet Terror,” one main character is a nurse. You would normally expect a nurse to be sympathetic to people but this particular nurse describes three needles as “her friends” and jabs a patient with each one. With each needle jab, she explains what “her friend” does in a semi-sadistic manner. Since you normally expect a nurse to be sympathetic and caring, and this nurse seems more sinister and sadistic, her behavior makes her first impression extremely memorable.
In “Little Miss Sunshine,” there’s a teenage boy who wants to become an Air Force pilot. You would expect most teenage boys to be angry with an attitude towards his parents and this boy is no exception. What makes him different is that he has also taken a vow of silence. So unlike most teenage boys who might argue or fight with their parents, this boy simply says nothing at all.
In “The Karate Kid,” the hero’s mentor is a karate expert. Yet at first glance, he appears to be nothing more than a simple handyman with no future and no life. When we find out how much karate he really does know, it makes his initial appearance as a bumbling handyman loser even more dramatic and unexpected, and thus more memorable.
Think of who your character is and then find a way to create massive contrast from that expectation. If your main character is a lawyer, you might expect him to be dishonest, but you might not expect him to work as a minister on Sundays as well. If your main character is a stripper, you might expect her to be sleazy, but you might not expect her to be studying biochemistry in college at the same time.
Contrast and irony can make every main character’s first impression a memorable one. The more memorable your main characters, the more likely audiences will care about your story in the first place.