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How do you make your characters?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by The Writer's Realms, Mar 7, 2013.

  1. The Writer's Realms

    The Writer's Realms Minstrel

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    What is your process?
    What elements do you use?
    How do you characterize?

    I am looking for your whole creative process for making your characters. I am in a bad rut right now and a new process might help me make my characters more interesting. I guess I just need a better way to organize my characters.

    Thanks!
     
  2. jakilgore

    jakilgore Acolyte

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    I usually begin with an image in my head. From the top of the characters head to the soles of his/her feet, I try and visualize what the character looks like. And with that, I begin to see what and if they carry weapons, what kind of clothes they wear, do they have special items on them that would lend their own stories to the character. Then when I write, I write whatever image the ol' noodle created...tends to do well, but of course I have a good imagination. So if you are not as visual with your imaginations, this might not be the best way to create.
     
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  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I have a book I've used for years called "45 Master Characters". It's a detailed resource on male & female archetypes complete with descriptions on how certain archetypes interact. I start with archetypes about 90% of the time to ensure I have characters that are very different from one another (sometimes they're basic archetypes but they often wind up being more complex mixes of these archetypes).

    Next, I fill in character sketch forms. I'd be happy to share the layout with you. The detail level depends on the importance of the character. All characters get sketched. Major characters get a full detailed sketch & backstory. Secondary characters receive a more streamlined sketch (still using the same form but not filling everything out). Minor characters get limited detail focusing on appearances & relevance to major characters.

    Another consideration is how to decide the type of character you need. For my writing, when selecting a POV (or other characters central to the story) I always try to select the character that will have the most powerful emotional reaction to events. Sometimes that's an adolescent girl, others an aging mother, or a middle-aged & washed up drunk of a fighter. It all depends on how the character will react to the events in the story. I tend to write character driven stories but during planning, those characters need to be chosen by how they'll react emotionally. In my opinion, strong character emotional response will evoke greater emotion from the reader, increasing their connection to the tale and attachment to the characters.

    Lastly, I try to develop the secondary & tertiary characters around those POVs. These characters will serve as supporters, detractors, rivals, obstacles, foils, villains (major villains are already a part of the plot but minor villains are always needed), etc.

    Supporters are those characters that offer help and assistance. Rivals are those that compete with the MC but are not necessarily obstacles or villains. Detractors are minor obstacles that hold someone back but for good & unselfish intent. Obstacles are those characters the MCs must overcome or subdue but they may not be villains. Foils are those that are so extremely good or bad they can cast a grey light on the other characters enabling greater sympathy for the morally grey. Villains are henchmen and their masters who take purposeful actions, driving the plot and all characters. Major villains are almost always the first to be created as the story is first dependent on them and their actions. There are many other options...these are the ones of the top of my head.

    Anyway, that's the gist of it. Try to make your characters as distinct as possible. It will help keep things varied and interesting when you pit them against one another or put them as allies in harm's way.

    Hope that helps a bit.
     
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2013
  4. PlotHolio

    PlotHolio Sage

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    The first thing I do is come up with a tragic event, which may or may not be connected to the epic quest they undertake later. Then, I run different character archetypes through this event to see how they come out the other side.Then, I think about how such an event would shape the character.

    For example, if a character's entire family was wiped out by plague, they might become either a healer, scholar, or priest in order to find some sort of answers regarding the plague. Alternatively, they could now view life as inconsequential and become a mercenary, or they could become fascinated with death and disease and become an apothecary or necromancer.

    You might say tragic events are not necessary to shape characters, but I think they are, at least for my writing. I like heroes who are not afraid to have blood on their hands. Maybe they even enjoy it, and to have a hero who enjoys killing, the villains should be at least as screwed up.
     
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  5. writeshiek33

    writeshiek33 Sage

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    metally it qite easy for me to come with vague id of of who my character is i then write a first draft of story as i ask the question to deepen thevdimensions of the character for one book i dea i will be doing short storry on childhood to understand what trauma sghe been through for me there is one way i am a chameleon type writer whetre i find my methods adapt and change but one things constant with character dev for it is on fly
     
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  6. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I missed the question on characterization.

    There are many ways to characterize and draw distinction between the players in your story:
    1) Actions & behaviors
    2) Internal thoughts
    3) Dialogue and speech types
    4) Style (dress, appearance, chosen surroundings)
    5) Information given through narration
    6) Use of the prose itself to convey character through a POV's perspective
    6) Thoughts and dialogue of one character about another
     
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  7. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    This is similar to what I do. Most of my protagonists begin life as drawings before I assign them a personality and backstory.
     
  8. advait98

    advait98 Sage

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    I generally start with the plot first and once I feel I've sketched out enough of that, I start with the characters. Since I have the circumstances and the foundation of the story ready, it becomes relatively easier for me to make the back-stories of the characters, which is how I would derive their personalities. And I found as I went on with my story, the characters became deeper and more fleshed out and more different.
    I might be answering a different question, I don't know, but these are my views.
     
  9. Chime85

    Chime85 Sage

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    If you're stuck on ideas for a character, try small sketches. The best part is, you don't have to be any measure of artist to do this exercise. The purpose of this isn't to create a perfect drawing, rather, just blocks that critical thought process that blocks you. You'll find that soon you'll be adding all sorts of details without even thinking about it.
     
  10. Rob P

    Rob P Minstrel

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    I start with the story itself, its basic outline indicates an initial cast. eg a male warrior type in his forties. From this outline I determine the main emotional drivers, eg fear, anger, confidence etc. Emotional traits derived from these can affect the way a person behaves and appears.

    Then it's a case of putting physical appearances together, from people I see at the gym, in the mall, at the gas station. Clothing, weapons and the like get filled in later as the world building element gets fleshed out.

    Once I'm at this point, I write a full character profile, filling in additional details like, lost their parents at age nine, brought up by uncle. Things that could be the root either in part or in full for their main emotional drivers. Are they claustrophobic, difficult at heights. These may not be pertinent to the story but when your characters approach a certain situation, ie climbing down a cliff, being difficult at heights has the potential to move your story in a different direction for that scene.
     
  11. Sheriff Woody

    Sheriff Woody Troubadour

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    The character's role in the story comes first. If they have no reason for being there, I don't put them there.

    After they have a purpose, I give them character traits to turn them from a name into an actual character. I figure out what they want most, because the most important thing to them is what defines them as a character. I figure out what they fear, and what their weaknesses are. Then I devise situations that force the character to confront their flaws.

    For lesser important secondary characters, I just try to give them something that makes them memorable. I watched an old film noir last night called Cry Danger. First thing in the movie, the main character gets off a train and passes a newspaper stand. The newspaper man tells the MC that the paper is on him. The MC asks why, and the newspaper man says that if someone gets off the train and their picture is on the front page, they get a free paper. Not only does this inform the viewer that the MC just got out of jail, but it gives some depth to the newspaper man. He has a system. We understand something about him, even if it's just that little bit. It makes him feel like a person instead of a plot device.

    It's important to remember that a character is a person. They should have their own attitude, point of view, beliefs, goals, aspirations, dreams, fears, skills, defining traits and characteristics, appearance, etc.

    I've always believed that the best characters are the ones you can imagine in any given situation. Pick a random character and put him or her in some random social encounter. If you have a pretty solid picture of how they would act and react, you have a well-drawn character.
     
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  12. Filk

    Filk Troubadour

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    The Art of Creative Writing by Lajos Egri. It is meant for playwrights, but he nails character motivation like no other. He really has a grasp on why people are the way they are. The book is a pleasure to read as well. As the sheriff said above. motivation is the most important factor of a character.
     
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  13. The Writer's Realms

    The Writer's Realms Minstrel

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    Thanks for all the help everyone! I really appreciate it. T.Allen.Smith could you share that lay out you mentioned? I would love to see it. I'm definitely going to look into "45 Master Characters" and "The Art of Creative Writing."
     
  14. Lucas

    Lucas Troubadour

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    It depends on.

    My most cherished characters just come to me. I weave the stories around them. They are not engineered, they come to me directly, often through music.

    Most characters are engineered to fit into the plotline. I tend to make them contrasting, though I tend to make contrasting levels of "flatness". Also, some characters are harder to understand than others.
     
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  15. Filk

    Filk Troubadour

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    Also, I believe that Woody Allen credits Egri as his main influence. Cool beans.
     
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  16. The Unseemly

    The Unseemly Troubadour

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    Like with quite a lot of things I do in my writing, I make it up as I go along. Then it's a big plus for editing. Lot's and lot's of editing. Sometimes character #A still is called #A but becomes more like #B. Then I ponder over it for a while, and say "Hey wouldn't it be better if this instead of that?..."

    The process of creating characters, I have noticed, varies from writer to writer, and one of the important things to keep in mind is never to force yourself making characters you can't quite exactly get. Be comfortable with your writing.
     
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  17. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Sure.... PM an email address and I'll send the sketch I use.
     
  18. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I bought "45 Master Characters" based on your recommendation, T. Allen. I've seen it several places before and thought of buying it. I always like to have a writing resource book to check out from time to time. I'd like that sketch you use as well. I'll PM you.
     
  19. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Yep, no problem. It's a sketch I've compiled that pretty detailed. Let me know if you think of any useful additions.
     
  20. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

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    Many of my characters are created using my own personal experiences and other people I know in reality. My main characters especially mirror myself, however I don't just plonk myself into a fantasy story and that's the character's end. I give my character my traits, and build him up so that he does not necessarily resemble me. Physically, we are almost identical, except for a few minor tweaks. As far as personality goes, I emphasise his strong points, and doubly emphasise his weaknesses. I have asthma, and so I gave my character asthma. I am fast and agile, so is my character. I react terribly in social situations, am nervous and shy-my character is calm and relaxed and confident in the same situation.
    My character's family is very similar to my family, his brothers and sisters resemble my own, just with names changes, appearances changed and personalities that reflect the real life people I based them off.

    At the end of the day, creating characters is simple to get inspiration. Just think of the people around you, and manipulate their personalities, the way they look and give them a new name- and there's your character. Of coarse it's not as simple as that, you've created your character but really it's just an empty shell. Creating characters is easy, developing characters and giving them depth is the hard part. Characters need to have weaknesses, strengths, small things about them that make them interesting and make them feel real (e.g. my MC has asthma, has a sore shoulder from an accident in his childhood ect, small things such as this). Think of your own personal experiences, people you've met, think of your own weaknesses and strengths, mirror those in your character or perhaps do the complete opposite. Hope this helps!
     
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