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Stephen King's characters are masterful. How?

Game

Dreamer
I was just reading 'The Stand', I'm at about 7%, but the characters are built so well, I can imagine them in my head so clearly, their personalities, character building is an art, Stephen is indeed an artist.

My question, for an amateur writer, how do you build your characters so well? In such a magnificent yet relatable way, conflicted and graceful.
How?

Tips will be appreciated :)
 

Twook00

Sage
I've always enjoyed Stephen King's characters. In my opinion, they feel real because they think and act like real people. When I write, I'm too focused on myself to think like the character. It's always, "What do I want to write about, what do I want to describe?"

But King's characters think for themselves. It's as if he just sits back and lets them type for a while.

Example:
The light of an early summer afternoon as it slipped toward dark had so many good things wrapped up in it: baseball at the Little League park, where Fred had always played third and batted clean-up; watermelon; first corn; iced tea in chilled glasses; childhood.

This is a very revealing passage. It's so easy to relate to this character. This has nothing to do with drama or plot or conflict, its just the character in her world being herself.
 

Mindfire

Istar
I was told be just uses the same characters and settings over and over. Especially Maine. There's even a drinking game out there.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
I was told be just uses the same characters and settings over and over. Especially Maine. There's even a drinking game out there.

I don't agree regarding the characters. Or even with the setting, though it does show up more often than other places. His works are not limited to Maine.

I agree that King is one of the best in terms of creating characters. He makes them real people, and does this, in my view, with an engaging narrative style that lets you close to the characters, and also in playing up the many real-world, common experiences the character has had that we can all identify with. You can see bits of yourself or people you know in his characters, and so they come across as authentic.

A fantasy writer would have a hard time adopting the exact approach King uses, unless their work was set in the real world. He ties his character firmly to the real world and the common experiences of readers, and in a fantasy setting you would have to recreate the sense of a shared experience in world that doesn't have all of the features that King uses to engage his readers.
 

Twook00

Sage
A fantasy writer would have a hard time adopting the exact approach King uses, unless their work was set in the real world. He ties his character firmly to the real world and the common experiences of readers, and in a fantasy setting you would have to recreate the sense of a shared experience in world that doesn't have all of the features that King uses to engage his readers.

It's difficult to bridge the gap between this world and another when there are so many differences, especially when you don't know much about the world you are working with. I think a lot of my characters fall flat for this reason. I'm writing a character who doesn't have much going on other than the predicament he's in. It's as if he is as clueless as I am.

There's a scene in one of the Wheel of Time books that gets brought up where Perrin the blacksmith goes into a forge and just starts making stuff. This is a favorite scene for many people because it really connects them with Perrin's world outside the plot. It hits you that this guy had a life before the bad guys came.
 

Mindfire

Istar
It's difficult to bridge the gap between this world and another when there are so many differences, especially when you don't know much about the world you are working with. I think a lot of my characters fall flat for this reason. I'm writing a character who doesn't have much going on other than the predicament he's in. It's as if he is as clueless as I am.

There's a scene in one of the Wheel of Time books that gets brought up where Perrin the blacksmith goes into a forge and just starts making stuff. This is a favorite scene for many people because it really connects them with Perrin's world outside the plot. It hits you that this guy had a life before the bad guys came.

Why not go in the opposite direction. Aren't fantasy worlds and characters interesting BECAUSE they're unfamiliar and different? That's why we read about roving adventurers who kills dragons and takes on demons of the netherworld and not people who stay home and work a day job. Someone once summed up the core concept of fantasy as "the unknown is to be loved for its strangeness."
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
Someone making a YouTube video about something doesn't make it true. The Shining, one of his most famous works, doesn't take place in Maine. Is Christine set there? I don't think so. Certainly not the stand. Firestarter isn't set in Maine. And so on...

EDIT: That's still a pretty funny video though.
 
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Game

Dreamer
Completely agree with Steer, his works are pretty diverse, most of the time.
I'm currently reading The Stand, aside from its terrifying length, it's a good book. But I'm only at the beginning.
 

Kit

Maester
I agree that King is one of the best in terms of creating characters. He makes them real people, and does this, in my view, with an engaging narrative style that lets you close to the characters, and also in playing up the many real-world, common experiences the character has had that we can all identify with. You can see bits of yourself or people you know in his characters, and so they come across as authentic.

+1. In Cujo, there was a mailman character who appeared in a single scene. He spent several paragraphs mulling over the fact that lately he'd been passing gas a great deal, and was mildly concerned that it could be a serious health issue. I know this must sound lame outside of context- but believe it or not, with that glance inside the guy's head, he became a memorable and sympathetic character. I always remember that as an excellent example of making even a very peripheral character seem interesting and real.
 
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+1. In Cujo, there was a mailman character who appeared in a single scene. He spent several paragraphs mulling over the fact that lately he'd been passing gas a great deal, and was mildly concerned that it could be a serious health issue. I know this must sound lame outside of context- but believe it or not, with that glance inside the guy's head, he became a memorable and sympathetic character. I always remember that as an excellent example of making even a very peripheral character seem interesting and real.

I would always remember my time being wasted! Not to hate on Stephen King, but my ADHD doesn't mix with his style (it's a personal opinion, I understand he is a good writer). Has he ever written a story in a large city? They always seem very rural/suburban (at least the movies do ;)).

I finished The Eyes of the Dragon (which apparently inspired him to write Misery), and I enjoyed that, but not a bunch. I could not get past his style for The Dark Tower, Tommyknockers or any of the other books I've tried reading of his.
 

Kit

Maester
He does tend to like small town settings.... parts of The Stand are in large cities, but almost everybody's DEAD, so that doesn't really count. ;)

All of his best stuff (IMHO) was the earliest (pre- "It"). That material was more horror-focused (and I think less tending to meander and get weird). The books post-It definitely have a different flavor than the earliest batch. His most popular work remains The Stand. My faves (besides that one) are Firestarter, The Dead Zone, It, Salem's Lot, The Shining. Those first four for the characterization, the last two for the horror.

He has several collections of short stories as well, which might be more accessible to the ADD among us. :) (Again, the earlier stuff being better IMHO)
 

Twook00

Sage
Anyone ever read Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King? It's a fairy tale/fantasy type with castles and mages and such. I hated it, or at least the first 50 pages (that's as far as I got). The reviews for it are really good but I just couldn't tolerate it. Definitely not your typical Stephen King story.
 

Game

Dreamer
Anyone ever read Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King? It's a fairy tale/fantasy type with castles and mages and such. I hated it, or at least the first 50 pages (that's as far as I got). The reviews for it are really good but I just couldn't tolerate it. Definitely not your typical Stephen King story.

Mhm, intriguing, I must check it out as I really enjoy fantasy books.
 
Anyone ever read Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King? It's a fairy tale/fantasy type with castles and mages and such. I hated it, or at least the first 50 pages (that's as far as I got). The reviews for it are really good but I just couldn't tolerate it. Definitely not your typical Stephen King story.

Not only did I read it, but I referenced it in a post two posts before yours ;)

I found the discussion King went through to describe why a rope would break to be more memorable than the rest of it. Of course, I ended up going into mathematics soooo yeah.
 

Twook00

Sage
Not only did I read it, but I referenced it in a post two posts before yours ;)

I found the discussion King went through to describe why a rope would break to be more memorable than the rest of it. Of course, I ended up going into mathematics soooo yeah.


Doh! I must have skimmed. Putting on my dunce cap now.
 

Helen

Inkling
I was told be just uses the same characters and settings over and over. Especially Maine. There's even a drinking game out there.

I wouldn't be surprised.

In fact, from the "archetypes" angle, there can only really be so many.
 
Why not go in the opposite direction. Aren't fantasy worlds and characters interesting BECAUSE they're unfamiliar and different? That's why we read about roving adventurers who kills dragons and takes on demons of the netherworld and not people who stay home and work a day job. Someone once summed up the core concept of fantasy as "the unknown is to be loved for its strangeness."

The worlds are fascinating because they're strange, but the characters are fascinating because they're familiar, even if they have unfamiliar elements or do unfamiliar things, like slay dragons. Characters we can identify with on a personal level—they suffer the same disappointments and excitements that we do, but on a larger scale—we end up liking, even if we don't know why. Characters who are utterly strange and bear no resemblance to the human condition are very hard to like.
 

pmmg

Vala
I've never been a fan of Stephen King, books or movies, but I have heard it said many times his characters are among the best. I fear I did not see that. I thought mostly they were caricatures of pinned on traits, and used bad language to seem relatable. I think Mr. King must have colorful language in his every day conversation, and applies that to characters as what seems normal. Anyway...I study him because of his success, but I've never been one to enjoy it. Which is odd, I did like his on writing book (though he used sentence enhancers a lot in that too if I recall).
 
I was just reading 'The Stand', I'm at about 7%, but the characters are built so well, I can imagine them in my head so clearly, their personalities, character building is an art, Stephen is indeed an artist.

My question, for an amateur writer, how do you build your characters so well? In such a magnificent yet relatable way, conflicted and graceful.
How?

Tips will be appreciated :)
Love Stephen King, I’m also an amateur writer or hobby writer really, but I think King’s enduring strength is in creating characters that are completely, utterly ordinary. They could be any one of us, and that is also what is so clever, and unnerving about his storytelling. I try to create characters in my work that are also true to life, but with fantasy it’s a little different isn’t it because you have more hypotheticals to contend with. King’s work is more magical realism, sci-fi, thriller and horror.

Finchbearer 🪶
 
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