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Creating good characters?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Darkfantasy, Apr 3, 2019.

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  1. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    I'm having a lot of trouble with my Fantasy plot at the moment, mostly what events should happen and how they fit together.
    I'm wondering if it could be due to my lack of depth in my main character. So how do you know you've created a GOOD character. One(s) that are three dimensional with emotional story arc and will make readers care about?

    This is just a possible problem and I want to make sure it's not my character. Even if it's not the problem I'd still like to know this because I'm always wondering if my characters are too flat.

    What's your process for creating these characters? Any links you could provide me with? Suggestions?


    Thanks again! x
    P.S - I'm still learning the craft of writing and need all the help I can get. I just can't seem to figure out what's going wrong.
     
  2. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Minstrel

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    My protagonist and premise are closely related. I might think of one before the other, but one always affects the other. A particular character is needed to tell a particular story—that gives me quite a lot of information. When I wrote a story where the main character rejected all magic, but had a strong potential for magic, then that affected how I portrayed him.

    I also think how a character reacts to important dilemmas in the story shows the deep character of the person. Imagine how they would act when forced to make a choice in a very difficult situation—especially one related to the story you want to tell.

    For minor characters, I like to give each one a verb to show what they do. What type of behaviors or actions are typical for them?
     
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  3. Bandicoot

    Bandicoot Dreamer

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    I like to imagine how my MC would respond to certain situations, both minor and major. What moves her and what leaves her cold? What does she want out of life and how much is she willing to do to get it? My current MC wants to explore and discover new plants, but doing that would entail rebelling against her 'family' and thus hurting people who love her. She is not willing to do it, until the inciting incident changes her life. So at the beginning she is a bit of a coward, whose small acts of rebellion are done in stealth. Then the character changes.

    I once created a character who was initially shaped by his father's thwarted ambitions. He didn't know it, until towards the end of the story. Then he breaks free and sets off to discover what he wants.

    Ned's point about minor characters is good. Thanks. I will try it out myself.
     
  4. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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  5. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    Thanks for the help so far and yes K. M. Weiland has a good site. Been reading her articles all week and just going through her process see if it helps.
     
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    No one mentioned motivation yet? That's the most important thing. Motivation and goal are all you really need to make a good character. Add some strengths to help them reach their goal and some flaws to keep them from reaching the goal and your set.
    Generally, the more motivated they are, the more engaging they'll be.
     
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  7. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    I agree. Motivation is crucial. A relatable motivation can be especially effective in hooking the reader.
     
  8. Firefly

    Firefly Troubadour

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    Ooh... This one is a big topic. I doubt I can come close to covering all of characterization in a single forum reply, but here are some things I think might be helpful/interesting.

    First, a good character needs to have both depth and breadth. A lot of times it seems like authors just pick one of the other. They'll either create characters that are full of interesting quirks and hobbies and surface details, but don't have much depth on the inside, or they'll create characters that have great inner issues but aren't very memorable or unique. If you skimp on the specific details, your character will be vague and blurry, but the the details can't just be meaninglesmeaninglesss. Always ask why your character has those quirks. (My favorite example of this is Percy Jackson's thing for blue food. Yes, it's weird and random, but it has a story behind it and says something about his deeper character)

    Second: Understand how the character thinks. What are their priorities? Where do their thoughts always go to? Is their first instinct to solve a problem with violence or with words? Are they cynical, optimistic, or pragmatic? Is their thinking very black-and-white? What kind of details are they going to notice when the meet someone new? A warrior might notice someone's weapons, or judge how difficult an opponent they might be in battle, while a young socialite might meet that same character and notice their clothing, or their bad manners. We all pay more attention to things that are important to us. (This is where voice really comes from, in my opinion. Word choice, dialect, etc. are all factors, but when it comes down to it, what a character thinks is more important than how they think it.)
    One of my favorite exercises for character development is to just pull random elements from the story world and write down what my character's opinions on them would be. Maybe one is loyal to the king and thinks he's a good leader, while another thinks he's naive and inexperienced, and another thinks he's dreamy and wants to marry him. Seeing how they'd react to different situations is also fun.

    Third (And fourth. This is kind of two): Vulnerabilities and strengths are a big part of what makes characters likeable and sympathetic. Showing the character's vulnerabilities helps the reader bond with them on a deeper level. Secrets, insecurities, weaknesses... we all have them, but in real life, we only ever share them within our closest relationships. Letting the reader into the reader into the character's heart helps create some of that closeness.
    I also think it's important to give characters you want to be likeable at least one admiral quality they excel at. Loyalty, bravery, honesty... This is a little subjective, it depends on what you value as a person, and every writer and reader will have specific traits that they resonate with more than with others, but likeable characters have to have something about them to like. (Just striving to be a good person is often enough here)
    Obviously not every character has to likeable in order to be well written, but if you want readers to care about them, I think making them sympathetic is pretty essential to that.

    Aand... I could go on, but this is already way to long (with way too many parentheticals) so this will have to be the end.
     
  9. Helen

    Helen Sage

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    Your characters will have different beliefs that are theme and premise related. That's the essence. You take them on a journey and arc and prove/show your theme and premise positions.
     
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  10. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    I agree with the fact characters and either one or the other. Where the "specific details" you mentioned the ones that are good to use to help characters have depth or are there others? So far I feel like I've created surface stuff but nothing of depth. I know my characters actions do mostly propel the plot. Like she makes a decision and if she hadn't the following event wouldn't have taken place and so on. But I'm finding putting those events into order really hard.

    But I have been reading through this article (someone else suggested afterwards) How to Write Character Arcs - Helping Writers Become Authors
    Is that the right sort of stuff for creating depth?

    Thanks
     
  11. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    What works for me:
    1. Decide what the character wants.
    2. Decide what the character needs, even--no, especially--if they don't know they need it.
    3. Dangle what they want. Put up roadblocks. See how important it is to them, and how they deal with adversity.
    4. As they scramble through the roadblocks, hit them upside the head with what they need.
    My test for when a character is developed enough is when I can put that character into a scenario and just sit back and observe and write down what they do. Until then, I pretty much repeat steps 1-4.
     
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  12. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    Is want the same a goal
    Sorry, I'm new to writing and sometimes people have two words for the same thing. Very confusing for learners.
     
  13. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    Pretty much, yes. I think they're interchangeable to a degree, at least as far as motivation. I'd differentiate them; the way I see it, a want may not necessarily be attainable, whereas a goal is concretely attainable.

    World peace may be a want, but bringing two major warring parties to the table to discuss a peace treaty might be a goal.
     
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  14. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    Ah thank you.
    There's so much to learn and it's a bit overwhelming. So many articles and each one seems to have a "follow me to this other place" link. And you follow this line and get totally confused. Especially when you read two articles that class something a then same, then get another that says this thinking is incorrect and they are two separate things. Maybe I'll master is some day.
    Haha
     
  15. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    So true. When I realised that there will never be a consensus on how to write a book I chose a particular method, one that appealed to me. Now, I like K. M. Weiland because she thinks like I do, and I find her approach strategic without being suffocating. There are things from other methods that I use, but I use them as side notes, most notably Dramatica.

    I would like to offer my (limited) experience, or at least the questions I’ve been asking myself. A goal is an objective that furthers the plot, like escape prison, or identify the killer, or kill the Dark Lord. A want is what the character thinks he desires, whether that is to be left alone, right the wrongs, become king etc., and is tied to their motivation. In a flat character arc these wants will not change much and they will still attain their goals. Currently I am pondering if their want is directly connected to their backstory or not as I am trying to develop my MC’s motivation. A need is what the character requires to become the person they need to be to achieve the goals. I know that’s a little vague, but I still have trouble articulating this concept. Basically it’s how they change, and how the original wants mask what they truly need. For example, the want to be left alone may mask insecurities about needing people. Once they overcome the insecurity, the want becomes updated. So I look at it as goals are plot points, desires (divided into wants and needs) are character based. Now these two should go hand in hand, or better yet, pull and push each other, get in each others way, or trip themselves up, to keep the story from meandering.

    Some character questions I’ve been asking myself:
    What are their roles (father, son, warrior, merchant, etc.)?
    How do they see themselves?
    How do others see them?
    Who do they associate with socially and professionally and why? (Orson Scott Card says something about ‘who makes up their village’ regarding this)
    What are their defining strengths and weaknesses? (remember, a strength can be a weakness too. My MC is independent and curious, usually a strength, but to his commanders he’s seen as arrogant and insubordinate.)
    What do they want?
    What do they really need?
    What about their history has defined them or scarred them?
     
  16. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    FutharkFuthark - thank you, that cleared things up and I've copied your answer into my notes (if that's ok). I find I can understand tools like giving your character a character lie. I can think of dozens but when it comes to applying this to my character I can't think of anything that's all ready there.
    Same with other things like want and need. I struggle with applying them to my characters.
     
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  17. Firefly

    Firefly Troubadour

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    I love K.M. Weiland. Her blog is a great place to start when learning all this stuff, it's one of the best out there, so if you're feeling overwhelmed, I would definitely recommend her.

    And to answer your question, yeah. I talk about vulnerabilities in my post above, and I think the wound/ghost stuff is a similar approach to the same thing. It's about getting to the inner pain and issues of a character, the stuff that really drives them. (I actually found the podcast that really solidified this for me after writing that first post the other day, if you're interested. If you find the wound/lie/ghost stuff is really working for you, I'm not sure how much it will help you, but it was really a breakthrough for me. PubCrawl Podcast: Crafting Characters )
     
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  18. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    DarkfantasyDarkfantasy . No probs, that’ll be $10. Seriously though, I did the same with Weiland’s articles. I just copied and pasted the relevant parts and the questions from each article and pasted them into a single word document.
     
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  19. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    FutharkFuthark and Firefly - thanks for the help I really appreciate it. I'm just struggling to apply what she says to the characters I have. I've decided to start with characters and work through her "creating a character arc" and just follow those things, even if I don't use them in my book itself. So starting with character lie. Hoping fleshing my protagonist out will help me with plot.
     
  20. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

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    I would not bother with various how to guides as to how you should create a character because there are plenty of inspirational material out there that you may not have considered.

    A random picture of an Asian gender ambiguous elf who could be female and Hit Girl from the Kickass movies gave me the idea for the physical characteristics of my main character. Her experiences of being poor is based on both my own first hand experiences of being poor and various people I have encountered while poor. Other aspects of her were based on fictional characters I read in Japanese manga, French cartoons like Asterix, the war novels of Sven Hassel, the horror novels of Graham Masterton and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games trilogy.

    Scooby-Doo, Big Hero Six, Miraculous Ladybug, The Legend of Korra, Aang the Last Airbender and various Japanese anime also provided inspiration.

    Movies like Moana, V for Vendetta, Richard the Third, Kickass, Wonder Woman, the various Harry Potter films, The Mummy trilogy, 1984, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind and Empire of the Sun all have inspired some of the characters that people my book. And Bollywood movies!

    TV shows like House, Elementary, Wellington Paranormal, AFK, Firefly and The Brokenwood Mysteries all influenced the characters I created.

    One of my inspirations was a cheesy billboard poster promoting New Zealand merino wool!

    In short look beyond what a few writers or publishers think main characters should be like and look at the rich and varied world of fiction, art and even obscure myths and legends to find that elusive character who will bring your story to life.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2019
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