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  1. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Best Characterisation Exercise In History.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by B-Gas, Mar 18, 2009.

    I read this exercise- a short one, a simple one- in "How to Write The Breakout Novel," and it's brilliant. It's just brilliant.

    Two steps. You've got your character- protagonist, love interest, villain- you've got them kind of figured out. You know their general role in the story, their basic modus operandi.

    Step One:

    What would they never, ever, do?
    This isn't something major in the geopolitical sense. Most people wouldn't commit genocide, most people wouldn't murder their loved one. Pick something deep and necessary to the character. What would they, personally, never do?

    Step Two:

    When would they do it?
    Put the character in the vise of extreme circumstances. Figure out that situation where their one most holy "Thou Shalt Not" is violated. Feel their emotional torment, their horror looking back on what they've done, the rage or terror or pain that forced them to do this.

    And putting a gun to their head isn't enough. Physically forcing the character to do the action isn't enough. They have to choose to do it. They have to do it of their own free will, even though better options may well be available.

    Example:
    Main character, a goblin chief from a small, weak clan on the outskirts of a small human town.

    Part One:
    It's a fundamental part of Goblin Law that goblins never harm other goblins. It's so fundamental to their way of life that the very concept of murder is alien to them- killing other sapients, sure. Killing animals, fine. But turn a blade against another goblin? No. Never. Not in a million years.

    Part Two:
    One goblin from the clan, enraged at the senseless murder of his scouting party by citizens of that town, has begun to attack the town, murdering its citizens by night, staying within its borders, not returning to the clan. In response, the humans begin to search for the clan's secret grounds, and messengers are sent to other towns. The goblin and human worlds are on the brink of all out war. The chief enters the town to find the renegade, hunts him down and tells him to return. The renegade tells him he won't. He can't. He likes killing; he has been consumed by revenge and no longer feels fear. If he returns home he'll just find more humans to kill. It will only be a matter of time. The chief cannot afford to let him live. He could. He could walk away, let the war start. But the stakes are too high. And so, the chief damns his own soul and kills the renegade.

    What do you think? Of the exercise, I mean.
     
  2. Addicted2aa
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    Addicted2aa Senior Member

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    It's interesting but I'm not sure how useful to a story it would be
     
  3. pacmansays
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    pacmansays Senior Member

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    I use for my current character as he's unable to stand up for himself and do anything about his situation
     
  4. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    In mine, this already happened. And now the MC continues complaining about it.
     
  5. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    It's not useful for a story at all. It's meant to get you inside the head of the character, figure out just how far they can be pushed.
     
  6. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    I think it can be fascinating in the story itself- it lets not just the writer but the reader see what makes that character tick, what their utmost limit is and how they can overcome it.
     
  7. sweetchaos
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    sweetchaos Contributing Member

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    It's actually very useful for a story. This is all about character development. The more you're able to make them like a real living person with complex emotions, and even a past, the more believable they become within the context of your written work.
     
  8. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Precisely. And that scene will usually work its way into the back of your head and find its way into the story.
     
  9. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    A couple of my characters are already destined to be tested this way. But I like to use a similar process in the creation of any important character. I imagine all manner of impossibly difficult situations and make them perform for me to take their measure. I'm a cruel god.:p

    It's a useful exercise. You develope character personality while at the same generating potentially meaningful conflicts - the heart of any great story.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I see it as an exercise in plotting more than characterization. Establishing conflict and playing it out is the core of plot development.

    Although the response to a "breaking stress" can be illuminating, the character's responses to lesser obstacles is also enlightening.
     
  11. Benska
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    Benska Member

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    This would be very useful, I would think.

    I prefer the idea of writing a short story or two with your Character as the MC, though, because you can cram in a bunch of obstacles, both large and small. You also get that little bit of experience in other aspects of story writing, too, and every little bit counts.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I agree with COG. It is a big part of story structure, and a lot of good stories put there character to the test this way.

    My character, Clay, who later becomes Bharita, would never think of mixing with another species. He was taught to never trust offworlders, and never ever mix with them. But when he falls in love with an Agija woman and other things happen, he questions his core beliefs. He comes to the realization his core beliefs were never his own, but his father's, and his father's father's beliefs. In one word, conditioning.

    Indiana Jones would never touch a snake, but . . .
     
  13. g1ng3rsnap9ed
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    g1ng3rsnap9ed Contributing Member

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    Me too. I really push my characters beyond the limit and then drag them further. In one story for example, the protagonist sees the antagonist, but decides to let them live for selfish reasons. Then later on in the story, the antagonist kills her father.

    I'm sorta mean to my characters. :p
     
  14. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like that exercise! Doing it may or may not help you develop an actual storyline (I, personally, think it would), but the best part is that it helps you become familiar with your character. Even if you don't plan on USING what you learn from the exercise in a story, just the fact that you know it opens them up to you.

    When I create new characters, I like to make a complete bio about them, from biggest fears, to favorite color to secret desire...I think the more you know about your characters, the more you can do with them.
     
  15. lilix morgan
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    lilix morgan Contributing Member

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    XD

    Same. I've done this before with this mondo questionaire I had for my MC and the others. Now that I'm aware of her weakness, what she'd never do, she's forced into it, because I realized how well it could work into the plot of her story and develop her further. Or crush her. Whichever happens first.
     
  16. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Well... given that this is the plot of my book...

    Not the only one, of course, but a substantial part of it is my main character having to turn on a good friend of his, and that friend having to decide whether or not to kill my main character for his treachery. Everything sensible and logical says yes - but they were good friends, once upon a day, and the main character has done what he can to make up for what he has done...
     
  17. Manolius
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    Manolius New Member

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    I agree. I also think this can help you get more comfortable with the characters (who and how(?) they are) and what is their part in the story and how they unfold, therefore, making it easir for you to carry on.
     
  18. crimsonrose
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    crimsonrose Senior Member

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    I think that's fabulous. I just copied the exercise and pasted it into a word document so I can use it on the characters in my story before I do the final draft to make sure i have them down totally, and so I can use it for future stories :) Brilliant.
     
  19. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    I'm not sure what my character would be completely against doing, ASIDE from genocide (this concept plays into the story, so that's why I bring it up in this way). I think I might need examples.
     
  20. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I think that this is an interesting way to further character development--this is definitely a unique approach. I might try doing this eventually to see if it helps me out when I find myself getting stuck :p

    ~Lynn
     
  21. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Billy: It's something that is within your character's capabilities that they would never even consider doing- or, if the thought managed to cross their mind, they would dismiss it instantly.

    A shy man- a man whose primary character trait is shyness- killing someone, seems to be a great example, but that's too far. They really would not do it. But a shy man going out of his way to make a friend? If he needed to? That's something they'd never do. But he could.

    A knight slaughtering innocents seems like a great example as well, but again, she just wouldn't do it. But if you give her the additional character trait of truly loving her horse, and spend pages showing her caring for his wounds and brushing his fur, and give her the odd quirk of always buying an apple in every town they pass through, just for the horse- then leaving the horse behind is suddenly something she'd never do.

    And, counter to both of these examples, simple geography isn't enough. Leaving the horse behind because she's going overseas, that's a kindness. Trapping the shy man in a freezer with a beautiful girl, they're going to get to know each other. The character has to choose to do this act, whether through temptation or a raising of the stakes.

    I don't know enough about either of these characters to say what will push them over the edge. Perhaps you do.

    Say, this might make a good forum game...
     
  22. Chaoslogic
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    Chaoslogic Member

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    This makes me think of Light Yagami, the anti-hero protagonist from Death Note.

    He's the handsome, 4.0 GPA prodigal son of city police chief. He's cunning, honorable, and rightous. One day at highschool he discovers the Death Note, a supernatural notebook that kills anyone whose name is written into it. When its owner finds Light, he learns that Light has written several pages of names into the book.

    This was only the first few pages; I was caught off guard.
     

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