1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Where to start with characters?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ArcaneSpellbook, Nov 22, 2020.

  1. ArcaneSpellbook

    ArcaneSpellbook New Member

    I cannot for the life of me work on characters to be fleshed out or even gimmicks (for D&D). Any advice? Motivations are a killer, how they react to things is difficult. Just... throw all the advice you've got at me.
  2. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    This is unfortunately rather vague and therefore will likely lead to all sorts of advice. The thing i like to do is just write shorts with characters, even boring ones to get their day to day routine and such. And sometimes put them in insane circumstances, which are fairly normal circumstances in fantasy or sci-fi worlds. It comes down to writing them and learning the character to flesh them out.
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I'll just second this. It's great advice.

    With my current WIP, which I'm doing for NaNo, I didn't have time to do a proper character development before I started, and now that I'm two thirds through the book, the character is quite well fleshed out, but also quite different from what I expected her to be. I like it, it's not a bad development, but I'm going to have to do a full rewrite for the second draft.
    S.T. Ockenner and Malik like this.
  4. ArcaneSpellbook

    ArcaneSpellbook New Member

    I know it's vague, I just don't know what to do much. Thank you for the writing shorts idea :)
  5. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

    Sometimes I just make myself a table of options and then roll a die lmao.

    But seriously, you're offering two different issues. A dnd character is way different than a book character, since you control everythign in the book but not dnd (your DM does, and even then, there's things the opther players or even just luck can do that will change things outside of your control). I'm only going to talk about book characters since that's what I'm the most familiar with.

    A lot of developing characters/worldbuilding/plot building is "okay, and that means what?"-ing. Say your character returns home to find his adopted family blasted to bits, and you decide he's going to go on a quest to avenge them, cool. Logically, what does that say about your character? He's brave enough to go do this, maybe he holds family as a really important thing, maybe he already hated the bad guys and was just looking at a reason to go after them. Maybe he sees this as the perfect opportunity to rally a bunch of people behind the cause of taking down the Big Bad but then he takes the Big Bad's place himself and becomes the next evil space emperor. What of those do you want to pursue? How do you want your character to change throughout the story? What about his beliefs and morals would support that? A character that will happily join the villain will be very different than one who will do anything to take the villain down, but they both might hold kind and country above all others, but the ways they think it should be done would be different.

    You could also google "ask your OC" questions and start doing some of those
    Nighty_Knight and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    For me, to start writing a character, I only need to know two things, what they want emotionally and what they want physically. Now, these wants have to be concrete and have a clear and achievable path to them.

    The physical want is usually the big picture goal of the story. EG. Defeat the empire. Earn a million dollars. Get that promotion. Get to Rivendell.

    An emotional want is just that, something that if achieved affects the character emotionally. A lot of times this is love. Sometimes it's respect. Other times, it's something like the desire to find a family.

    Sometimes, that emotional want can be split in two into an emotional want and a spiritual want. And as it's name indicates, a spiritual want is deeply personal and affects the character at their very heart. A lot of times, it's a desire to change a character flaw in someway or achieve some sort of spiritual understanding of some sort.

    The physical want's success is important to the most people. Eg. Defeat the Empire.
    The emotional want's success is only important to a few people. Eg. Find family. Find love. Find adventure, etc.
    The spiritual want's success is only important to the character. Eg. become a jedi like your father.

    During the course of the story any of these can change. All that's important is that they exist because they help drive the character forward and keep them moving. Knowing these wants creates a skeleton from which to build their backstory. Why they want these things is generally how I start to flesh out the character, and what they're willing to do to get them is what reveals the character through the course of the story.

    Anyways, that's how I do things.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2020
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  7. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

    In the end, it comes down to practice, practice, practice.

    In your situation, I would do 3 things:
    - plot your story without worrying about characters and their motivations. Just write the plot you want to write and shoehorn the characters in there
    - write cliche characters: Nothing wrong with going with what is familiar. Go with the "thief with the heart of gold" or "farmboy prophesied hero" or whichever and just apply cliche reasoning to their motivations. The hero wants to save the world because he's the hero of the story. Someone just wants revenge. The bad-guy is simply bad.
    - Fix things while editing. In the last novel I finished I found that while reading through one of my characters needed to be more decisive in his choices. So, while editing, I went through his dialog and removed all the "I think we should do this" and maybe's and al lthe other words that indicate you are hedging your choices as a person. And it works fine.

    Now, this will not win you writing awards for best character. But that's not the point. The point is to write, practice and then see where you can improve. Either while editing or just with the next piece you write.
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar


    noun: caricature; plural noun: caricatures
    a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.
    This was the first definition of caricature that popped up for me when I Googled "caricature definition."

    Thing is, if you remove the last part, in order to create a comic or grotesque effect, then what remains is pretty good for describing how most characters will be developed: certain striking characteristics are exaggerated.

    Of course, if you are going for a comic or grotesque character, you can leave that first part in.

    Almost all fictional characters are only partial beings, not whole persons. They can seem like whole persons to us sometimes, but I'm afraid that's because we as readers bring a lot to the process of reading that character. In truth, most characters are simply exaggerations. A certain number of key characteristics are highlighted, i.e. exaggerated, over other possible characteristics. Hermione is brainy, and Samwise Gamgee is loyal and humble but also, it turns out, courageous. Hermione is more than brainy, but not a whole lot more; just add a few more characteristics.

    Basically, as you begin to write them, worry a little less about who they are as persons and instead worry about how they make you feel. What is your reaction to Hermione, to Samwise, to Peter Parker? Naturally, you'll have your own characters. Their key characteristics, the things most exaggerated about them, are going to be the things you most strongly react to. As you write them, you'll be exaggerating those features and ignoring many other features you theoretically could include. If they are in a room together having a discussion—or is it an argument?—then the words coming out of their mouths, their stances on things, are going to arise from these key features that make you react most strongly to each.

    For instance, if Pamela is very sensitive and shy, and this is what drew you to her character in the first place, then her actions and words in that scene are going to exaggerate these features of her. Maybe there's more underneath that shyness that also drew you to her. Maybe she grew up in a broken home, abused, and always tried to do "the right thing" for her siblings in that situation but always had to operate outside her father's view, or present to him a "quiet face"—Well then, this aspect of her will also be an undercurrent to the actions and words you give her in that scene.

    I'd say don't try to be too subtle about it. There are key features of each character that interest you in that character. Draw those out, let those guide you, and don't bother worrying whether the character is a real person or a whole person. Let yourself create that individual via a handful of key characteristics. As long as the character continues to interest you, then you'll be on the right track.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2020
    LAG likes this.
  9. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    My characters start with a purpose and I write them to get to know them while making sure it fits their purpose. So, how I create and develop characters is to write them. Back in the day I studied the enneagram and piles of other stuff, seeking some secret to characters. It was interesting, and maybe some stuck in my subconscious, but for the part? Meh. The damnedest things happen when writing characters.

    For instance, two popular characters developed a characteristic response to problems. Solineus tends to go straight at a problem, no fear, step into the heart of the danger and try to kll it. It’s becoming a running gag, what he’s famous for. Meliu, on the other hand, has two basic philosophies: hide in plain sight, and escape through the front door. All sorts of these things develop over time.

    Depth in characters (relative to real people) is illusory, a creation of the reader in many cases. Half the trick is giving the reader enough of a character that they begin to impart their own characterization, some piece of their own psyche into the character and story.
  10. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    Well, my first question back to you is why are you writing? And my second is what are you writing?

    I think the answers to those questions will help you work out what sort of characters you are writing about, and hence what sort of characteristics they have. Some admit they base their characters on people they know, and I suspect the truth is that we all do to some degree. Write what you know, as they say. So my suggestion would be that you think of people you know well, what they're like and how they react to different things. Then start taking some of those characteristics and put them into your literary characters.

    As others have said, we as readers tend to put our own interpretations on the characters we read about (it's one of the reasons film and television adaptions sometimes disappoint viewers) so you don't need to describe your characters or their behaviours down to the last toenail. My experience is that your characters evolve as you write, so what starts out as a somewhat thin description in the first story ends up as someone with a complete family history by the fourth story.
  11. Hir i-Chorvath

    Hir i-Chorvath Auror

    When I'm making a character I usually build a basic outline and then throw them into a short story or a roleplaying scenario to see how they turn out. I usually start out knowing their race and profession first and build from there. To me, names are really important, the name defines the character. If a character has a wrong name it's not going to work, they feel off. I'm not good at explaining so here's an example of a character I made recently.

    I knew I wanted a fae character and I liked the idea of someone who was really good at tracking people down. So, a mercenary type.
    From that, I knew that he was an expert hunter and money is his first priority.
    Then I had to decide whether or not he was an apathetic character.
    He didn't seem like one to me on account that he likes to talk to people to get information and has fun doing it. He's a friendly person but when it comes down to it if there's money involved, he's going for the money.
    So he's fickle and untrustworthy as a companion but provided you pay him enough very reliable to bring people in.
    Then I had to decide why he was in the game in the first place.
    Well, he's a fae. So he's going to treat everything like a game. So he goes and tracks down his quarry and then because that's too easy, he tells them what he is doing and gives them an allotted amount of time to run to he can find them again, and then it is "fair".
    Most fae are tricky and hard to understand, is he?
    No, he doesn't like taking forever to get information out of people. He doesn't like being misunderstood.

    And so on, but you get the idea. With that outline, I usually will go into a bit more depth and add a little there take out something there if it doesn't fit. But after that, I usually throw them into a Q&A or a roleplaying scenario and see how they turn out or act differently than I thought they would.
  12. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

    I start with a basic idea of a character. Where does he fit in society, what does he want, what is his general personality like, and how does he/she fit into the plot. Then I just push him into my plot and start writing and I discover who they are.

    Both in my previous novel and the one I'm currently writing, I had the experience that somewhere in the first third of the book a character will say something that helps define them. It's just a sentence and I doubt a reader would pick up on it, but for me, it stands out during / after the writing sesion and it sticks with me for the rest of the book.

    For instance, in my current WiP, I came to the following for a viewpoint character: "The rocking of the ship comforted her. Her mother would have been proud of that bit of sailing." Now, this struck a chord for me for this character. It's a direction that I feel I should explore and that I can use to color her thoughts and give her a bit of a character arc.

    In my previous novel I typed the following for a character: “How come you know so much about what Ragnur is thinking?” Elina demanded.
    “He’s my father in law,” Finn said.
    Again, finding out that the antagonist of the first part of the book was the father in law of the protagonist added depth to the character for me.

    So in the end, just write and see what happens.
  13. Nighty_Knight

    Nighty_Knight Minstrel

    I may be insane, but first I put the basics down for the character, who, why, what, where’s of the character. Then after that, kind of think of a personality they are, very basics of the personality. Then the possibly insane part, that works for me, is act them out in a scenario, a setting. Almost like to are playing the character to an audition for yourself. Just don’t let anyone see you or they may call some guys in white coats to take you away.
    S.T. Ockenner and Hir i-Chorvath like this.
  14. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    I've said this a few times...

    My MCs are always created in the moment I have the main framing idea for the plot. In some way, there will be a quirk of the MC that fits exactly with what most fundamentally drives the plot. This is a really good way of always staying close to the spine of the story, which for me is an article of storytelling faith.
  15. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

    The antagonist defines the protagonist. So I work on them first, and usually it's easier to develop a bad guy. When I know who they are and what they want, then my ideas for the protagonist start appearing.
  16. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

    1) Take inspiration from yourself. You have a literal lifetime of research. Don't your punches. Try to really dig into your most personal stuff and put it to use.
    2) Give the reader a solid core that can easily be summarized in a single line. The butch lesbian. The stoic warrior. The stupid barbarian. The trickster. This is not their whole personallity, just their foundation.
    3) Write your story. Whatever it is, it will likely give you some ideas about how your character could be evolved to fit in. For instance, I wrote a story about a dilemma about someone locked into a room with a weaker person who would kill him if he went to sleep. So, kill or be killed. So I made the weak person be a super-slow snail creature who was naturally weak, and the strong person a Conan the Barbarian type with a strong moral, but rather laid-back.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2020
  17. Chris O'Brien

    Chris O'Brien Dreamer

    I'd suggest... anywhere!

    Don't build just the character. Build their lives. You want a super villain? Different ways to go about it. Most would be inclined to start with a motive. Not essential, but a good start. But look at another rout.

    He's a farmer. Pen down his relatives. Are they all alive? If so, do they get on? If they're dead, who killed them? Natural causes? Disease? If a disease, what happened to the village / farm? Avoided now? Derelict town feared by many? Someone start the disease or did it just happens? Let's go back to our the person in question. Hometowns in ruins. Many he knows our dead. Possibley there's no particular person responsible but he could be left furious at the cruel fates, or will do anything to restore his family and friends, or perhaps even resort to malign practices to ensure such calamities never happen again.

    Hobbies! Perhaps before getting bogged down crooked villainous ways he was something of a poet. Farmers have dreams beyond their harvests, surely? Painter? I personally love it when a villain has a relaxing talent. Whose to say villains have no conscience either? Maybe in between being an evil bugger, he or she likes to commit their ruthless feats to poem as a matter of respect to the victims.

    I could go on, but in case you haven't noticed, the key to writing any character (in my opinion) is ask, ask, ask. The more questions you ask yourself about your own characters, the more fluff you get. Before long, the fluff will start answering those questions for itself.

    Excuse typos. Using a phone.
  18. Spacebar

    Spacebar Scribe

    I like to do contrasting characters. For example, if I have a male character, now I'll make a female character. If one is brave, the other will be cowardly. If one is noble, the other will be degenerate. If one is old, the other will be young. Now have these contrasting characters interact, and something interesting is bound to occur.
  19. ConquerorWorm

    ConquerorWorm Acolyte

    Well, since you said it's for D&D, I think that's very different from if you're writing a story. I don't know if you're GM:ing or playing, which also makes a huge difference.

    If you're the GM: Remeber, first of all, you are not making a main character, but rather one to either support or oppose the PCs. Nobody likes a super cool NPC following them along, outclassing them at everything. Besides that, think of motivation and all the things mentioned above, but also, what role do they serve in the campaign, why are they there. This is the actuall important thing, are they there to motive the party, give information, be a villain. Also remember that any interesting backstory or even complex motivation that you give the character only matters if the players find out, and it is generally not enjoyable for a player to spend too much time listening to the long backstories of NPCs.

    If you're a player: First of all, remember that you are not playing alone, you're job is to make a character that works in the story and works together with the other players. It's great to have a complex backstory and a great motivation but if that motivation doesn't make you go on the adventure at hand or work together with the other characters it is just going to get in the way. Be proactive, be sociable, be cooperative. Also, be ready to throw your preconceived notions about the character out the window if you find something more interesting in the interaction with the other players. Motivation and character traits that develop during play are usually more interesting than those buried in your character's past.

    Also, as so many others have said, try to find a basic hook, a mood for your character, a basic description, a voice. Doesn't matter if it's a bit over the top or cliché.

    P.S. I know that this is a writing forum and not a roleplaying forum, but I just figured since it said D&D in the first post I would give my tips from that perspective.
    Nighty_Knight likes this.
  20. sehsphare

    sehsphare Dreamer

    I think the beginning of character development presents itself as they work out their first problem. And that can be a simple problem, like going to a market. What do they notice? Who do they talk to? Who do they avoid? If you allow your character to interact with the environment instead of just trying to evoke what they are thinking and feeling, then the character will begin to flesh out. Thinking and feeling of the character is very important though, so don't overlook it. Maybe it would help you to envision characters you know like your little sister or brother. What were they like as children? What were their quirks? What did they play with? Did they share? Were they mamas boys daddy's girls? If you can think of someone you know very well, try and discern the small things that make them who they are and start there with your character development. Writing shorts as stated previously, is an excellent way.

Share This Page