I don’t teach writing – different skill set, really – but if I did, I think I’d use the first chapter of Bang The Drum Slowly as an example of how to create an effective first person character.
Author Mark Harris manages a world of miracles in that first chapter, and does so on the sly. First and foremost, he gives us the main character, Henry “Author” Wiggen and his distinctive voice, introducing us to Wiggen’s colorful vernacular, which he uses to lend authenticity throughout the work. Then, as in many contemporary novels, he essentially tells us the nature of the book – to simplify, it’s a buddy book – and its specific world – baseball. (He also plugs the earlier book where Wiggen appears, something I’m sure the marketing people would appreciate. You don’t have to read that book – The Southpaw – to appreciate Drum.)
Most masterful, though, is his use of a very small incident – a temptation with a stewardess – to illuminate Wiggen's character. The scene is so deftly handled that it seems almost like a throwaway bit – yet once the reader accepts it, he or she is willing to accept what in reality is a much bigger leap in the character’s actions, namely his decision to take his friend and sometime catcher Bruce under his wing.
The work is fiction, but the techniques also apply, to some extent at least, to narrative nonfiction.
Great read. It's a masterpiece of technique in a popular novel form. Enhanced if you like baseball, but that’s not a necessity, I think.
(The cover here is by the great illustrator, George Salter. You can see more of his works here.)