1. CyanideBreakfast
    Offline

    CyanideBreakfast Member

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2012
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Scotland

    Advice on fleshing out important characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CyanideBreakfast, Sep 19, 2012.

    I have a couple of characters in my current work that I need to work on, and I'm not entirely sure how to do it.

    The first character is supposed to be a middle-aged man who, for lack of a better title, is my MC's mentor. He is there to teach her how to control time (again, for lack of a better description). He's also important to add questions for the readers...why is he thrusting her into the teaching role when she is so new to it herself; who is the white-robed person he is talking to and why does the topic worry him so much? Both questions pretty much have the same answer but this is vital to the climax (no I am not giving that away!) My dad has read what I have written so far, and has said I need to develop this character to be more middle aged...I know that doesn't sound right, but I can't think how else to explain it. My dad suggested that this character doesn't sound or act like who he's supposed to be, but I have tried to at least describe him as a mentor, long suffering, weary, bored almost while totally enthralled by what he does so that when he meets newcomers he tries to add mystery to it to keep them excited.
    So, what I need advice on: how do middle-aged men generally act? Talk?



    The second character is my MC. My dad said she is still very shallow. I'm not quite sure what he means by shallow, whether I need to flesh her character out more or if she's just...shallow. Now...her background...she witnessed her mother's death aged 6, but when the story starts she is 18. She lives with her dad who is a doctor and works all hours and prescribes her medication, believing she is depressed from what she witnessed (his character is the one that can't cope, almost like a projection of a self-diagnosis). She also has an older brother who is pretty well adjusted, acts as a mediator between the two, and mostly takes care of her when she has nightmares about that fateful day. She is one of many chosen to look after time; has a long standing crush on her brother's best friend; one of the other Time Keepers is in love with her but she doesn't see him in that way (I guess you've figured out the story, huh? But don't count me out just yet! There is more to it) She might be 18, but in some ways she is very childish and shallow, almost like she thinks the world revolves around her (although I haven't actually said those words yet) so if my dad means she is shallow in that she thinks like that then that is what I want. It eventually results in everyone walking away from her because they are so fed up of it, and it is all from her POV.
    Even with all of this, she is a deep and caring personality and it shows with an event involving her best friend and her interactions with other characters. Again, she is shallow but she doesn't intentionally set out to hurt anyone. This characteristic, of thinking mostly of herself, is what leads to 'the final showdown', so to speak.
    Not all of this has been incorporated into the story so far, and I am trying! This is one of my weaker areas in writing so I guess for my MC I'm looking for advice on what to look out for in what I've already written to show that she does have a full character, flawed on many levels, that as the story progresses she works out some of the kinks and advice on ensuring I am making that progression with her as I continue.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. DefinitelyMaybe
    Offline

    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2012
    Messages:
    866
    Likes Received:
    227
    Location:
    Leicester, UK
    I'm a middle aged man, but I find it difficult to answer your question. I hope that I walk in a more reserved thoughtful way than I did when I was younger. Maybe.
     
  3. SRCroft
    Offline

    SRCroft Member

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2010
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA
    Its hard to say without seeing your writing per say, but from what you describe, you are having a flat vs. round 3-D character issue. Sometimes the characters develop more as you finish writing your drafts, because you, yourself get realizations or ideas for their personality. You obviously have a good vision of these characters and how you would like them to be perceived by the reader-- what you need to do is ask yourself questions on every line, action, and scene:

    How would this character react? flaws, age, personality, ability, conflict type
    Don't be afraid to let your character fight against what you want them to do. Sometimes what the "would" do is more real then what you "want" them to do.

    Every human being is a layered being: Core Belief (hardest to change), Values, Dominant Attitude, and opinion
    you have to break or soften each layer to change them, they should come into play in how they react.

    So lets look at your middle aged man:
    Opinion: This kid has potential
    Dominant Attitude: Worn, but passionate about newcomers.
    Value: Teaching is essential to not misusing ability. Social ability is useless, skill matters.
    Core Belief: (should probably reflect your theme or the opposite) if the opposite would need to change over time

    Thats just an example really but ask yourself those questions. Now when he speaks you can say, whats his opinion in this situation, does that match his attitude, would his values let him bypass his negative attitude (as an example), does anything here go against his core belief?

    If anything goes against a core belief there should be a character blow up. e.g. in that sorcerors apprentice movie, the MC does something that reminds the teacher of a mistake he made--so he freaks out. His Core belief was that this type of attitude causes pain and loss. It took whats called literary pressure changes to fix the teachers core. At the same time the kids core was I am worthless. Every time he showed worth the teacher saw it as arrogance and it created conflict. Eventually the kids core changes to feeling worth. This all at the same time falls under the umbrella of that stories theme which is Redemption.
     
  4. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    I wasn't aware that all middle-aged men generally act or talk alike. Do all (fill in your appropriate demographic desciption) act or talk alike? And if they did, would you ever want to read about one?

    I think what your dad is getting at is that you are writing from the POV of someone you don't know and, based on your current level of experience, cannot know. So, your writing is bound to be limited, uninteresting, or just plain wrong. Fortunately, you can get to know such people through various fictional works, and I would suggest the following:

    Helen Simonson - "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand"
    Jim Bouton - "Ball Four (Including Ball Five)" (the most recent edition, which includes notes from 1989 as well as the earlier editions)
    Tom Clancy - "The Sum of All Fears"

    Now, the careful observer will note that Major Pettigrew is a little old to be considered middle aged, which most people consider to be age 45-60, but given his character and modern medicine, as well as the kind of character you have in mind, I think he'll do nicely. It's also true that Jim Bouton was 30 when he wrote "Ball Four". But the add-ons occurred when he was in his early 40s and then around 50, so the transition in attitudes is instructive (as is the fact that many of his opinions stayed the same; we don't really change all that much over time, as much as we are shaped by life's experiences). I include the Clancy novel because in it is a subplot about Jack Ryan coping with something of a midlife crisis.

    Getting back to the "shaped by life experience" bit, you have to keep in mind that as each man is different, and each life is different, you have quite a range of possibilities from which to choose. That said, there are often some common themes - regret at lost youth and choices made, longing for what might have been, fear of approaching infirmity and (eventually) death being the most common. But they are not universal. Some men realize their greatest accomplishments in their later years (I hope to be one of them).

    BTW, the Simonson book is outstanding in no small part because she is a woman and yet understands the major so well.
     
  5. CyanideBreakfast
    Offline

    CyanideBreakfast Member

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2012
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ok, I realise that my phrasing wasn't exactly great when I said general. Obviously everyone is different and I want my characters to have a personality unique to them. I kind of tried to take some traits from old school teachers I had and really liked, mainly my Higher English teacher who was brilliant and enthusiastic and a little bit mental (in a good way, of course) and my standard grade maths teacher who was less eccentric, still loved maths but showed signs of being frustrated by people who just did not get it (like myself. I could have cared less about the subject as bad as that sounds!). I'm also not writing from the man's POV. My story it's 1st person, through the eyes of my MC, the girl, so all my character descriptions are how she sees them. And I am finding it hard to give them unbiased descriptions given that for most of the book she could care less so long as the end result suits her.

    I want to post this male character's introductory paragraph...but for me, being so involved in this, I can't think which paragraph to take to give an example of how he is written =/

    That said, everything suggested has definitely been helpful and I'll need to go over my work again looking specifically at that.
     
  6. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    441
    Likes Received:
    20
    I'm certainly far from a middle aged man (being a 23 year old woman), but I'll weigh in anyway.

    According to Erikson's Stages of Human Development, young adults are in the intimacy versus isolation stage - their focus is in forming the relationships that will support them throughout their lives, and usually starting a family as well. By middle age, most people have already started their families if they're ever going to do so, and are turning their minds to what kind of legacy they want to leave behind when they die. This shows up in raising children, in their work, etc.

    By that model, perhaps you could see the mentor as looking at the MC as his legacy, and her actions, good or bad, reflect on how well he has taught her. This could be lying under the surface when he interacts with her - this feeling that he has to train her, get her ready to face what she has to face. Since she sounds very immature, this could be a frustrating prospect for him.

    Incidentally, one of the best fleshed-out middle aged mentors I've seen is Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
     
  7. CyanideBreakfast
    Offline

    CyanideBreakfast Member

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2012
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Scotland
    Oh that sounds good, I hadn't thought of it like that. Buffy was a brilliant TV show! Might watch it again for Giles and try get some inspiration for my mentor.

    The only issue I kind of have with it is that he won't just be training her. Each Keeper has lots of students, although not all at the same time. There's a fair bit going on between these two that isn't all obvious until the end. He knows what all of it is and she doesn't and cannot know until right at the end. She does note occassionally that he looks increasingly old and worried, threadbare almost and there's one moment written (and more to come if I can plan it properly) where she is awed by his skill. He is 50% of her reason to grow up.
    Incidentally...I do love the way I feel like I'm talking about these two characters as if they are actually real people!
     
  8. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    I think this is a good point, and a good starting point. But you will need to go much deeper for your characters to ring true.
     
  9. Weefatfella
    Offline

    Weefatfella New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2012
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    West Lothian, Scotland.
    I am 57 years old I would suppose qualify hopefully as middle aged. I'm not an experienced writer by any means but I will try to help always. I have two daughters in their twenties and when I am advising there, I do so with thought to their own intelligence. I don't just blurt out, 'do what I say,' it's more 'hear remember' what I have said on related subjects. I plant seeds which I hope will grow. If they don't I water them with reinforcement. ...Example something on the news. not too bad but I believe zero tolerance should be adopted to drink driving, ( I'm a Taxi driver ) an easy one cos it's Sunday. A drink driver has nearly killed someone. I would calmly say while both girls are within hearing distance ' I think that's an absolute outrage. why any government in their right mind would allow an innocent person who has been hurt by a drunk driver.....etc Hopefully they will listen and adopt my approach. When talking older guys get passionate and breathless because they need to get the point across. All things are more important, they see the grim reaper stalking behind them.They can't hurry with their feet, they do it with their minds.

    To teach anything, a different rule would apply. Never discourage always encourage, even if you have to wait till they eventually get the thing close to, or right before applauding. Manner, is patience, older guys have made all the mistakes and have lay in bed half asleep, running their embarrassing escapades over and over in their heads and always vowing to themselves to learn from those mistakes. The middle aged guy listens so he can change what he doesn't like or he feels is inappropriate.If someone is pushed into a situation to effectively control something they know nothing about they will crash and burn learning nothing. If they have been taught the rudiments they will begin to falter but will remember and catch themselves, enforcing the learning and maybe finding an easier and possibly better solution. That's why pupils are forced to answer to a teacher, forming the answer in the head is what it's all about.
    Drivers with Sat Navs never know where they are without them. Drivers who find the route for themselves never get lost. I hope this helps... Weefatfella
     
  10. CyanideBreakfast
    Offline

    CyanideBreakfast Member

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2012
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Scotland
    Thanks that actually helps a lot! Gives me a lot of insight into the thought process of older men, even if you're only one man explaining how it is for you. I'm still working on my research to get a round character for my mentor.
     
  11. ranjit23das
    Offline

    ranjit23das Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2012
    Messages:
    93
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Leeds, UK
    Hi there

    I agree with SR Croft's comments - good advice there.

    You should complete a character template - even for your secondary characters - and complete that. I have seen some floating around on the net. The templates will force you to consider things like age, appearance, mannerisms, life history, mental state etc.

    As a writer you need to 'give life' to your characters. If you visit the sites of some establshed writers they explain how they bring their characters to life. Time well spent.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,995
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    I would strongly recommend against a character template--making so many decisions before the character has ever entered a scene would kill the character for me.
     
  13. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Agreed. Character templates tend to lead to rigid, flat characters. They have a place in gaming, but in my opinion thay are a very poor choice for writing.
     
  14. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    Consider me in agreement also. Character's should be left to grow, and respond, on their own. Outlining them will kill the process and deny them a chance to truly be who they are.
     
  15. CyanideBreakfast
    Offline

    CyanideBreakfast Member

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2012
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Scotland
    Yeah I have tried the character template in the past and always changed it as I went according to what I was writing. I keep my characters in my head and just write now. I find it easier to develop them as individuals with unique personalities whereas when I tried profiling, templating etc first they all sounded the same written down. It might just be me though. I don't like my own style of writing sometimes, I find it quite young in comparison with myself. I am experimenting though, trying to find something to improve it and mature it.
     
  16. AlexinDelhi
    Offline

    AlexinDelhi Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2012
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Middle aged men? I am a middle aged man in my early 40s. Some people call me retard, some call me insane, some call me crazy while some outright stupid. I am not what a middle aged man supposed to be, supposed to be from the point of view of the people, the society I live in. I don't fall into that societal mould of a middle aged man, I am what I am. Now take my brother, he is a serious kind of guy who knows where to draw limits, who knows the ways of the world, who knows what to do and not to do-behaves responsibly, in short. He is a typical middle aged man that fits fine into the societal mould of middle aged men, that goes fine with the perception of how a middle aged should look like, behave, think, walk, eat and act. No two people are same, my point is. A middle aged man in Australia can be way different than the middle aged man elsewhere in the world. You are 18, I am sure you must have seen middle aged men (friends circle), talked to them, your own dad. You want to create a realistic character observe, think about men in such age group you have met. Pen down their features, how they walk and talk, how they think and what they think. Study people as many as possible. Read as many character as possible, read critiques of popular characters you will come across the vocabulary to define your character.You will have a character developing in your mind, gradually. Your age, its a tad difficult but not impossible. The other character your father finds shallow, you need to find it from him as to what he finds lacking in her, ask him to give you an overview of the character he finds shallow and you will know what she lacks and how to fill in the gaps. If you like you can share more details about both the characters here on this forum so that people are in a position to tell you how they feel about them and what further needs to be done. God Bless!
    PS: while its good to know the character templates but it would be better if you use your own talent to create your characters, give your imagination a free reign and let the characters form on their own. Writing is a business of heart and soul, templates are worldly things.
     

Share This Page