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Old 11-22-2013, 01:17 PM View Post #1 (Link) ELEMENTAL: Characters
Demon Hunter (Offline)
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Elemental: Characters


In sight of God and men, mods and newbies, an accumulation of knowledge gained from various sites (including this one), plus the results of deep thought on the matter. This is mostly aimed at writers from newbies to scholarly apprentices, but I'm sure it could be an eye opener for some beyond this range.

Of the many elements that make any story good, one of the most crucial and vital ones is character. (I’ll try to organize this, elsewise this would get pretty random.)

WHAT ACTUALLY DEFINES/MAKES A CHARACTER?

Sure Daria is an elf. Sure she’s a princess. Great, she’s got purple eyes. Wonderful, she can cast a spell quicker than greased lightning on Monster’s energy. (very cliché so far but bear with me) Amazing. Now what?

I read a thread on this site that had the main character go around for an entire day in angst, doing nothing but walk around in reminiscence, bubbling out quiet anguish about how her father was killed. Maybe the author wanted me to feel sorry for her. Maybe he/she wanted me to want to hug this girl and burst into tears. I wanted to slap her, do pardon. I really did. Here’s why.

Characters, more than anything else I think, are made and developed by motivation. Your characters have to want something. They are going for it, something gets in their way, they have to figure out a way around it, there’s conflict, and so a story unfolds (Sans plagiarism, Dabs).
Sometimes your character wants something from the start. Something might happen to him/her that makes them want something (i.e., they discover that they have owned the Ring of power, or their dad gets kidnapped, or their friend becomes reserved and they want to figure out why). Infinity_Man said this is a way to add depth. Whatever the case, YOUR CHARACTERS HAVE TO HAVE OBJECTIVES. Who wants to read about a person walking around doing nothing/going nowhere? And again, it doesn’t always have to be ‘Avenge my father’ or ‘Overthrow Dark Lord’.

They can be small objectives too. In the book I’ve just started (which I seem painfully unable to continue for fear of failure) the guy and his family walk around for two days without anything incredibly exciting happening. Way boring, right? I hope not. Besides carrying the reader along on a litter of humor and fascinating characters (I’ll get to that in a bit), I give them objectives like “Figure out why mom has been crying all the time lately” and “I got to meet Yuorie in the grove tonight without mom and dad knowing.”

Besides being very opposed to the omniscient voice, I think it’s a bad idea to tell the reader outright about your character’s motivation. Imply, by their actions and conversations. SHOW what they want, don’t TELL. Then there’s always the option of keeping their motives secret. But if you’ll notice, secret motives or not, they still have them. So have them, please.

Another thing that defines a character and adds depth is their past. It avoids shallowness and blankness. We as people are products of our past. Our past – the influence of time, ourselves, and other people – has made us what we are.
So your character is 18 years old. What happened in those 18 years? Did she have a crush on 6 different guys? Failed relationships? Did her parents divorce? Did her brother threaten her life when she was 10? (Please no frozen psychology though.)
Your char. needs to have a past, even if less than half of it gets mentioned in the whole of the story. Do all of your friends know every detail about your life? No? but every detail of your life still happened even if it wasn’t mentioned, right?

People are products; products of abuse, cruel words, kind words, kind treatment, harsh living, easy sinecures, neglect, pampering, and/or a ton of others. Make a life, man. Make a life.

BUILDING INTERESTING CHARACTERS.

Ok, so you know that much. Now how do actually build the personalities? What are the basics towards interesting/intriguing characters?
No, I’m not going to give a step by step because I don’t have one and there might not even be one. But I believe the following might be helpful, if nothing else true.
As far as I know, there are only three forms of good characters. What I mean by this is, if you do a good job at characterization, your characters will fall under one or more of the three categories:

(1) A character that is so lovable that the reader can’t help but want them to succeed (Think of Arya or Sansa in Martin’s books).
(2) A character so vile and hateful that the reader keeps on reading to see him/her go down. (Think of Joffrey in Martin’s books).
(3) A character so fascinating that the reader can’t help but read on. (Think of Tyrion).

Good. Pick one of these for your characters, and come up with an original form. What, more guidelines? Sheesh…

So personality. You want to make each and every one of your characters, especially if they are main or secondary, very unique. Sure there’s appearance – and if you describe Joe as having pink hair and tattoos covering his face, then yes it will be very easy to remember him. But a body is a body, not a character. A character requires so much more. Try to think of quirks and habits and things that make Joe original and distinguishable from the rest.
I’m not going to walk you through every possibility because we, as the creations of an insanely creative being, have limitless imagination and personality possibilities. But here are a few for beginners, even though I hope that with time you will not need them:

Patience vs. Combustion, Intelligence (sharpness, wisdom, etc.), Reservation, Genuineness, Shyness, Humor, Quirks (tapping toes, wearing the color blue, humming, etc.), Speech, Likes and Dislikes, Abilities (from acrobatics to discernment to flying to summoning lightning), Purity vs. Vileness… wow. I made a “Character Map” here at home and the possibilities are… extensive, to say the least.

I don’t worry too much about my character’s body. I used to think that with a cool enough outside, the personality won’t matter. I couldn’t have been more wrong. That said, I do believe being a giant with 20 claymores and silver eyes and tons of scars can say a lot about a character, much more their past. 10 square inches of burned skin doesn’t just show up out of the blue. It makes a person wonder what happened… And I assume you, as the author, would know, right?

BEING REAL.

On a few occasions I have been told that fantasy characters do not have to be real. It’s why the genre is called fantasy, right? Can’t you make the reader relate to a character without them being realistic?

I’ve said it tons of times and I will say it again. Your character can have blue wings, 54 antennas and knives for hands, but he still has to be real. I’ve said this before too: Real people are going to read your book. Give them real characters. They are so much more relatable. It actually makes the reader go “Ok, this author is making common sense and his characters are actually people, so this author might actually be giving me a real story instead of typing out dreams.”
I’ve already written an advice thread about reality so I won’t cover everything here. But here are some pointers, along with some

BIG NO-NO’S AND COMMON MISTAKES

>Don’t have frozen psychology. You might convince some readers, but the more intelligent ones will probably get exhausted with the character. And if it’s your MC, you really don’t want that happening. Why is your character angsting instead of actually doing something over daddy’s death? Why haven’t 20 years of living blurred at least some of the effects of the rape when she was 15?

>Don’t sacrifice character for the sake of another, or for epic-ness, or for world-building. Obey your own rules. Stay true to the characters you’ve presented. So you’ve described Asahel as a quiet, resented, emotionally reserved guy. Why the heck does he exclaim “Oh my glob you’re so amazing!” when Feiran hits the bull’s-eye? Why does Gyrus, who seems like a dimwitted, cruel brute become silent and thoughtful while Delia gives her sob story? Why doesn’t he laugh and tell her to shut up? About world-building, I’ve seen authors make their characters’ conversation trail off into the ancient world, and the kings and gods up north, and little technicalities. And that has its timing; dialogue is a good way to slip in history and world. But not when they’re in a life-death situation, please.

>Do not have characters that only exist when you need them. It’s terrible. These secondary characters have nothing to do with the plot. They just sit down and hug the main character when she’s down, or provide another mouth to worship the main character from. It’s gross. Please give them personality. Bring them into the story. If you can’t find a way to do that, why on earth do you have them in the first place?

>Have a little gray. I’ve become tired of the innocent superwoman or the honest, just, pure white guy hero archetype. Sure, there are some of those still in this world, but 999 out of 1000 are one shade of gray or the other. Fantasy worlds tend to be extremely harsh and unforgiving. Which makes me wonder why the heck your pretty white character hasn’t weathered a bit, or why he isn’t dead. If you must have good-guy characters, at least give them flaws – they are people, right? Call them elves, druids, rage-runners, dragons, they’re still people.
And don’t make your bad guy (if you must have only one) purely black. People usually have intentions. Here’s where motivation comes in.

>Do NOT have author’s darlings. You might know what I am talking about: a character who will NEVER die, because the author always steps in and carries him away to safety – using a totally random character appearance or eagle’s wings or something. A few readers might go “Whew!”. I am stuck wondering why the heck that character isn’t dead. In fact, it actually makes me side with the bad guys and hope they can actually figure out a way to kill him/her. Really, I would find it very satisfying to find out that that character was out-geniused and killed. This might just be my style and my likes, but if you really wanted to add reality and suspense for future characters, I say kill some MC’s. It would let the reader actually know that yes indeed your characters can be defeated.

RELATION

You want your readers to relate a lot to your characters, especially the main ones. I’m not sure there exists such a thing as a character everyone likes but…
Depth really helps in this, and therefore background and motivation. Let your readers see why your character wants what they want, make them actually want it too.

An effective way for making the reader ‘love’, so to say, your char is through suffering. But please, don’t heap mountains of torment on your character because that is when this torment becomes fictional. The reader’s mind goes blank. Her dad died… wow. Powerful. Bad grandma or stepmom slaps her and confines her to her room. …Moderately strong, if you do it right. She breaks her arm, and her aunt still yanks her by it to throw her down into the cellar, where her face busts. Pretty dramatic. Her food gets eaten by the rats. She’s down there for a week. She gets out and finds that her pet dog is dead. And her aunt comes home drunk and beats her. And her sick mom finally dies. At this point, all of this suffering becomes unreal.

Wow, that went off course. But yes, suffering – fully backed, fully reasonable, all consequences considered – can cause the reader to feel for your characters. But make your readers feel the pain.

There’re a ton of other ways – love at risk, awkward situations, innocence, etc… Even having gray characters might help because it tells the reader that they are real people and they have struggles of their own. Basically you have to figure out your own way.

And no you don’t have to make your readers fall in love with your characters in the first page. You probably want to try, though, or if it’s a bad guy make the reader hate/be fascinated with them.

Also, if you have interesting enough characters, that should help with relation... or at least let the readers like them.
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Old 11-22-2013, 02:33 PM View Post #2 (Link)
lalodragon (Offline)
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I've always suspected that if the character was interesting enough, his sleeping patterns would become interesting. You don't care what a stranger dreams about, but you might listen to your best friend's dreams.

Speaking of motivation, here's Vonnegut's third rule: Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
That glass of water. My characters rarely have a strong motivation: maybe they want to be happy; they want to survive. And daily motivations will come and go. But they're only living. Is faint motivation to be happy worth as much as that glass of water?
Off the top of my head I can't think of a book where the character had no drive or goal. (Camus? His characters are usually have circumstantial motivation, not personal.) But I'd love if someone would reply with exceptions. I know people who aren't "driven", and they have their stories, and they aren't all uninteresting; surely there are books like this.
Vonnegut also said, “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor… She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”
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Old 11-22-2013, 02:43 PM View Post #3 (Link)
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Good advice overall. Parallels with Dwight Swain's methods of writing.

>Do not have characters that only exist when you need them. It’s terrible. These secondary characters have nothing to do with the plot. They just sit down and hug the main character when she’s down, or provide another mouth to worship the main character from. It’s gross. Please give them personality. Bring them into the story. If you can’t find a way to do that, why on earth do you have them in the first place?
They're called 'devices', I believe, and they're fine. They should have personality that works to some purpose or effect, but they don't have to be directly entangled with/tugged along by the plot. Look at Twelfth Night, for example. The play often lists things like 'musicians' and 'sailors' that don't even have lines. They exist to support other characters.
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Old 11-22-2013, 04:24 PM View Post #4 (Link)
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Originally Posted by lalodragon View Post
I've always suspected that if the character was interesting enough, his sleeping patterns would become interesting. You don't care what a stranger dreams about, but you might listen to your best friend's dreams.

Speaking of motivation, here's Vonnegut's third rule: Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
That glass of water. My characters rarely have a strong motivation: maybe they want to be happy; they want to survive. And daily motivations will come and go. But they're only living. Is faint motivation to be happy worth as much as that glass of water?
Off the top of my head I can't think of a book where the character had no drive or goal. (Camus? His characters are usually have circumstantial motivation, not personal.) But I'd love if someone would reply with exceptions. I know people who aren't "driven", and they have their stories, and they aren't all uninteresting; surely there are books like this.
Vonnegut also said, “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor… She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”
Vonnegut himself has several characters who aren't driven. Malachi Constant from Sirens of Titan. Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse-five (for the most part; I think there may be a few places where he's insistent on talking about his abduction), and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting. Murakami also tends to have a lot of non-ambitious characters, too, a lot of whom I find interesting.
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Old 12-14-2013, 04:58 PM View Post #5 (Link)
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I can see what Spiders means with devices. hm. i think i was talking about the characters that the author spends pages in description on, as if they were going to do something big. I think I'll edit it when i have the time to include that.

Lalo, I'm not sure if you were agreeing with me or not, haha... And i have seen characters without motivation in published books befre, but it was only for a short time... like, the author gave us a bit of their everyday life before the story started. In which they did have small motivations like 'milk the cow', though, so im not sure.
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"There are billions of normal people in the world... we don't need one more." - Joshua Lenz.

I will crit upon request, but... Acknowledge: Though my punches may be soft, i will not pull any.


Professional Artist. Musician. Singer. Downhiller. Magician. No, I'm not a grown up yet, but I would give it all to be able to write the way I want to.

A Quick Reality Check
How to write Cliche Fantasy
ELEMENTAL: Characters.
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Old 11-16-2014, 11:43 PM View Post #6 (Link)
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I remember hearing Jim Butcher mention picking a few character traits to exaggerate in your main protagonist and your main antagonist. Harry Dresden is NBA tall and a smart-mouth to everyone. Darth Vader's life support helmet is another example. Harry Potter had a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Even Richard Castle is an overgrown man-child. You can even get creative about it and write an unremarkable side character, exaggerating his blandness. A few mild exaggerations make quite a memorable character.
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