1. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    Am I The Only One Who Thinks that Creating a Lifelike Character Sounds Impossible?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by mbinks89, Apr 24, 2016.

    I've been struggling as to how I'm meant to create a lifelike character that isn't a thinly veiled version of myself? I don't think I can know anyone besides myself, and even then, I spend a lot of time meditating, and have gone to a therapist, to try to understand the mechanics of my own Self. So how then do you fellow writers create a character that is believable, and not simply a name with a few associated adjectives? I've tried Googling this, but more often than not I come across articles telling me that I need to know everything about my character, from their worst fears to the food they eat. Am I over-analyzing this, or is that not a somewhat impossible task?

    I guess what I'm asking is: How do you create believable and unique characters?
     
  2. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    You write what you know. You have friends, family...Use them as a basis. Give them little quirks. One loves football...one collects china cats.

    Without him being aware, one strokes his mustache whenever he sees a pretty girl.

    Add details that give them a uniqueness

    One tip that might help strengthen the characters. Remember that each is the star of their own show.

    You are not alone in this struggle.

    “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

    Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

    Here is a useful guide with a mnemonic.

    STEAL

    Speech: What does the character say? How does the character speak?

    Thoughts: What is revealed through the character’s private thoughts and feelings?

    Effect on others towards the character: What is revealed through the character’s effect on other people? How do other characters feel or behave in reaction to the character?

    Actions: What does the character do? How does the character behave?

    Looks: What does the character look like? How does the character dress?
     
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  3. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you are over-thinking it. (A common habit of mine, as well.) I think rather than focusing on creating believable characters as an independent thing you need to do, I would recommend focusing on creating characters that fit into your story well. Once you start seeing characters as an extension of setting, plot, etc. and those things as an extension of characters, I think it's easier to see how you should be creating your characters. Characters shouldn't be made believable in an arbitrary way; they should be believable in a way specifically chosen that fits the story. I think the latter is a much easier process.

    If you'd appreciate a broad, generalized guide for grouping people based on their behavioral characteristics, you can use this: http://courses.cs.vt.edu/cs3604/support/Groups/First.Characteristics.html (I think Hubardo first linked this in another thread, so thanks go to him.)
     
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  4. loonypapa
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    loonypapa Member

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    I wrote up quick, one page bios for each major character, complete with a photo and answers to questions like what was their home life like as a kid, what life-changing event happened to them at age X, etc. Then when I'm writing about them or following them through a scene, I have the one page bio open on the left side of my monitor, and the WIP open on the right side. It helps me.
     
  5. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    To one degree or another, I think most authors wind up with a set of "actors," taking the kinds of people they know how to write and reusing them in different roles. "In this story, I called my headstrong young romantic Edith and made her the primary love interest. In my next story, she'll be called Teresa and the villain will manipulate her into fighting on his side." Unless you're writing a really expansive epic, you can probably get away with just six "main actors" in a single story, plus bit characters who don't need as much development.
     
  6. Samuel Lighton
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    Samuel Lighton Contributing Member

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    I do what you do for my characters. I use myself mostly. I have other things to draw on, but in essence I can only rely on myself and my thoughts to make a character.

    The way I do it, is I break myself down into sections. That's why I usually write stories about conflict. I can break myself down into my noble self, and my ignoble self, and pit them against each other in a battle against themselves. To me, it's a battle of inner id, but to anyone reading it's a conflict between two separate people. I can do this for many more characters too, compartmentalizing other parts of myself and instilling those traits into a wider array of characters.
     
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  7. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I design my characters around the requirements of plot. 'Design' may be a strong word for it, though. It's more like: here's the plot. What trait will make my character want to achieve the goal inherent in the plot? What dilemmas will he struggle with to do those things required by the plot?

    By the time I've answered those questions, the character just sort of rises up from the muck and does the job.
     
  8. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Opinions opinions opinions. Everybody has them. So should your characters. Have them comment on things in their thought life: other characters, events, event their own thoughts and ideas. This helps characters pop.

    Memories are good too. People are always connecting the dots inside their heads. We are programmed to look for patterns and similarities. Your characters should too. Have them draw parallels between different events in the story, different characters, weave their past into these parallels.

    Uncertainty. We all have it. Give it to your characters. Have them deliberate, flim-flam, waffle, change their mind. Writing isn't a presidential primary (thank God) so let them flip flop.

    Hope this helps. Good luck and enjoy your writing.
     
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  9. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think focusing too much on them as plot devices is what creates unrealistic characters in most cases it happens, but yeah, there's an element of that.
     
  10. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I definitely do base aspects of myself. In fact, you don't even need to do it intentionally. There's always a way to empathize. And once you can do that with a believable, layered character, you will make them live.
     
  11. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    Creating interesting characters shouldn't so much be your aim as creating conflict and having realistic characters champion opposing sides of it. The former comes from the latter.

    In the heart of every person we know is a core set of needs, goals and fears which are influenced by the geography and culture of where we live; a crossing of nature and nurture psychology. If your main character lives in a rich, peaceful society where the boys and girls chase endless romances in a quest to find 'The One', your interesting character is someone who either has good reason to fear their place in the dating world or alternatively, someone who has no interest in it. Then to make them interesting you explore why, past, present and future. Why are they so adverse to love? What experiences have shaped this world view? Will war or venereal disease one day destroy the family unit? These are the questions to ask yourself when shaping your character.

    Characters don't have to necessarily be entirely original but they have to stand out from one another. If you look into your characters, see them all as having their own individual story and draw conflict from them wherever you can you'll find you have less 'interesting characters' and more 'people'. The instinct might be to rely on cheap gimmicks ('This is Steve. He throws swords in the sky for a living.') but if, and this is the hard part as writing is the introvert's art, you take the people you know and take the time to figure out their motivations for life, you'll find the traits, flaws and hypocrisies that make people so fascinating and can inject them to form your characters.

    Hope this helps. :)
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, I think you're over analyzing.
    I think the trouble is a lot of writers shoot themselves in the foot by creating scenarios that really don't offer a lot of conflict or motivation so then the actions become standard and paint by numbers. If I create a drop dead gorgeous hunk, whose nice considerate caring and my mc female is looking for just such a guy and he appears - what's the problem? People don't just need flaws they need histories - what if all she's dated are good looking guys and is already suspicious that he's an arrogant player in disguise. She's actually developed a prejudice against good looking men. What if he's an ex-obese child and this woman is the first woman he's ever hit on and her rejection is ready to have him heading back to the mallomars. Suddenly everything they
    say or do has a root, a motivation.

    Build up issues to keep your characters reacting to each other. Don't make them too clever, let them misinterpret things, be arrogant, be wrong, be judgmental, be nice, be flattering, be different. Remember everyone has got there own little world going on. I recall years ago I was getting a lot of compliments on my long hair and at one point it got to be annoying because I just wanted to cut it. So the compliments had a way of rubbing me the wrong way - but nobody knew that. When you put little details like that in people can relate to them. And it gives an added dimension. Genuine compliment - or maybe not - mc's inner reaction - mc's outer reaction - and whether or not anyone picks up a vibe on the mc's irritation.
     
  13. Avalon McSoley
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    Avalon McSoley Member

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    I used to have the same problem, like all of my best characters (judged by readers) have been the ones resembling me. The way I changed this was basically to try and get to know people very different from myself. For example it was impossible for me to write about a character who was homophobic, because I simply couldn't rap my head around the idea. The solution was to start listening to the homophobes, read their arguments, try to find out why they believed what they believed. So now, although I still don't agree with it, I feel like I understand the homophobia, I get where it's coming from, and now I'm very able to write about such characters. Exploring the minds of people different from yourself has to be my best tip.

    Like in my current work, my character is an abortion activist, while I'm actually pro-life, and people have told me that his views are very convincing, although I don't agree with him at all.
     
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