Establishing Character Moment

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The panel that made fanboys say "Who's Gwen Stacy again?".

"Sometimes, when you meet a new operative, it's a good idea to open with an aggressive move. You learn about people when you make them play defense: their reflexes, weaknesses, how they handle themselves under pressure. And even if they are able to counter, it never hurts to know how far they're willing to go."

Michael Westen: Burn Notice

First impressions count, and in TV and film, even more so; there's no point in hiring an actor to give us a Deadpan Snarker if people think he's seriously being a total ditz until the third act. So when the character comes into the plot you give them an Establishing Character Moment.

The first moment does not have to be huge, it doesn't have to be impressive, it doesn't even have to be first. It's about revealing a character's motivations and abilities in a single introductory scene. They could blow the roof and rappel in from a helicopter with an automatic in each hand...but if they're The Woobie it's not a good idea.

Sometimes the first thing needed is to set up how they fit into the plot but this may not best reveal their character. So the Establishing Character Moment may be one or two scenes down the line. For TV shows with their episodic format the character may first do what they need to do in the episode and then near the end establish how their character will fit into the ongoing arcs and themes of the show.

Other times the Establishing Character Moment may be the small calm when the character carries out something completely unrelated to the plot to show them in their natural element before putting them in an unrelenting storm of plot lines—for instance, during a Morning Routine sequence.

When it happens, it cannot be taken back. A running punt to a puppy will completely colour attempts to Pet the Dog later, but if you start with a gentle stroke then some people may get the wrong idea about your villain. Then again, a Bait the Dog moment may subvert this...or it might itself serve to show the complex, multi-faceted Hidden Depths of that character.

See also Establishing Series Moment. Bitch Alert and Incoming Ham are subtropes of this.

If it's a musical, it's an "I Am" Song.

Examples of Establishing Character Moment are listed on these subpages: