1. Roxy
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    Roxy New Member

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    Bringing characters to life

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Roxy, Mar 17, 2015.

    I've been reading through this board from the beginning and working on my three main characters. I'm really pleased with what I have done so far: I have a friendship that clearly works, but also has little bits of grit in and I can see how I want to move forward with all three. I can even see great potential for a massive bust up a couple of books down the line, when they all lay the truth on each other. That's going to be fun to write. What I need to do now is make them more human. I need the little day-to-day things, the turns of phrase, the likes and dislikes, the habits, the gestures. I still can't 'see' them properly. I wondered how other people tackle this side of enlivening their characters? I realise that as I write more some of these will come to light, but I would like to create more tangible people from the beginning.
     
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  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't worry about the characters being 'more tangible' at the start. I meet someone new in real life and I don't know them well from the gitgo. My knowledge of them grows as I'm around them. That's how it is with my characters. They develop throughout the story.
     
  3. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Characters develop as you see how they react to things. Do they learn from the last decision? Get burned and refuse to make the same mistake? Hide and refuse to deal with things? Get a charge of energy from it and run out for more?
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hi, @Roxy! I certainly think you're asking the right questions. Bringing your characters to life is probably the single most important thing you can do to get and keep a reader's interest.

    It's hard to know exactly what to tell you, because I don't know much about how your story got started. Was it mostly a plot you thought up and now you need lively characters to make it interesting, or did you have a central character in mind and the plot developed from there? Is there a central relationship in the story that got you started?

    I feel very strongly that the key doesn't actually lie in the writing itself, but in your ability to envision and 'live' with the characters prior to writing about them. Once you can see them clearly, as you stated, then basically you just write what you see and feel and think.

    Find some time where you can be alone and uninterrupted, and start to think about your story. Pick a scene and make it come alive in your head. Don't worry about it, or worry how it fits into your story. Just let yourself spend time there. Pay attention not only to details, but to how you feel if you are one of the characters at that moment. What are you saying? What are they saying back? How do they look while this is happening? Do this kind of exercise until you KNOW what these characters are like. It's probably an idea to keep a notebook handy to scribble down anything you think will help you, including snippets of dialogue, but don't concentrate on the notebook and getting everything down. Wait till you're sure you've captured something, then quickly scribble a note to yourself.

    I find certain times are very suited to this sort of mental activity. Just after I wake up in the morning is a great time. When I'm walking somewhere familiar—where I don't have to pay attention to my route, etc. When I'm on public transportation. Or even sitting in a favourite chair, looking out the window at a peaceful landscape, or looking out at a garden where not much is happening.

    It's also fun to google photos of different kinds of people, and see if anyone in the photos gives you ideas about your characters. Or google pictures of similar scenes to the ones taking place in your story, and see if anything in those photos jogs your imagination.

    Here is the link to an article I just read yesterday. It came via my email from Writers' Digest. In addition to subscribing to the magazine itself, I also subscribe to these email offerings, which are often very good. I think this is one of the best articles I've read in a long time about what makes a story work ...and some of it may be relevant to your issue.

    http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-top-10-elements-of-a-book-people-want-to-read?et_mid=733701&rid=239329351

    Good luck and have fun. I suspect you're on the right track already.
     
  5. Roxy
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    Roxy New Member

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    Thank you, Jannert. What I am trying to do is probably similar to actors taking on a role, when they ask themselves "How would my character put on their shoes? Or eat spaghetti?", so that even if those actions don't come up it informs how the character is portrayed. Googling pictures was a good idea. I think I just need to give myself time, like you said, and really 'live' each one.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, 'living' your characters is one of the most fun aspects of writing, if it's story-writing you're doing. So do have fun!
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say keep writing them and they will slowly reveal to you how they behave - a lot of people including me will say that characters tell the author how to write them, but really how that works is that the more you right them, the more you start to consciously realize the subconscious assumptions you were already making about that person. That's why you have the intuition, even with underdeveloped characters, to say "no, they wouldn't do that" when you write them doing something that fits the plot but seems a little off.

    As for what I do, I'm probably a bit non-standard, but I spend a lot of time on my character's personal and family histories - how they were raised and what's happened to them in the past. That tells me how they relate to the world, what assumptions are layered into their thought process, and hence how they will approach certain situations. It doesn't give me nervous habits and stuff like that - but those you can sometimes assign somewhat randomly if you know enough about the character to know what fits. My glamour-obsessed high-functioning alcoholic, for instance, takes out her nervous energy by constantly filing her nails (often in situations where doing so is socially inappropriate)...but she hates her job and her body is telling her it wants alcohol when she knows she can't drink at the office (she also occasionally chain-smokes for the same reason). My hyperactive fashion blogger, on the other hand, was getting too powerful and smart in the plotline - so I gave hear a mental health issue to give her an obstacle. She was already hyper, so I gave her severe adult ADHD that she has to manage with medication - it works perfectly with her character because she already came off that way, and it makes her even more fun because she's smart enough to manipulate other people's emotions but can't control her own.

    The more time you spend with the characters, the better you get to know them (even if you'r really just getting to know your own assumptions), and the more you can define their habits, traits, and problems.
     
  8. BeastlyBeast
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    BeastlyBeast New Member

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    Don't make your characters like humans. Humans, to an extent, are rather boring. If you want really interesting characters, the best thing to do is exaggerate the character's traits. You mention that you have a big blowup scene prepared for the future - this would really help with that. Basically, make their good traits, fundamental and their bad traits, complete downfalls. Exaggerate your characters - don't have them sing to themselves on their way to work every once in a while. Have them do it every day, and loudly, to the point that other drivers look around trying to find where the sqwaking is coming from! Don't make your character be shy, make him a complete introvert. Don't make your character hot-headed, make him a psycho on the verge of massacring! Maybe that last one's a bit far fetched for what you're trying to write but, basically, exaggerate your characters. There will be much more opportunity to create conflicts when your characters do the ridiculous, rather than the mundane or slightly annoying.
     
  9. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have to disagree. Obviously characters are going to be exaggerated to an extent because they have to be people we want to read about. But normal people in extreme situations can be as interesting as crazy people. Nobody is boring when under extreme pressure.
     
  10. BeastlyBeast
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    BeastlyBeast New Member

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    I think one television show that does that really well is Better Call Saul. A lot of the main characters are pretty normal people. But, even then... Saul had drug lord connections, Mike's a former cop and SPOILERS FROM RECENT EPISODES a cop-killer. Saul's brother has that electromagnetic sensitivity, and it's not just an annoyance, he truly believes he has it, and goes to great lengths to try and protect himself from the imaginary ailment. I think you're right, that more regular-acting characters can be interesting in crazy scenarios but, to me, it's quite rare to see it. When I do, I usually feel a hint of dislike toward the normal characters, as I feel they should've known they wouldn't be fit for serious situations. Crazy characters, ironically, read better to me.
     
  11. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    What you've done there is describe the kind of character I loathe more than any other.
    People aren't boring. If you think someone's boring, you don't know them well enough.
     

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