1. Walshy1595
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    Walshy1595 Member

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    Characters with no depth

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Walshy1595, Aug 18, 2012.

    Here's my predicament: basically, every character that I come up with or write about seems to have little to no depth about them. I could give them a really interesting backstory that tugs on the ol' heart strings, but no matter how I depict them in the story they just seem to come across as shallow and without much of a personality.

    Maybe it's a dialogue thing? I'm not sure, but every character comes across bland and uninteresting. If you guys could give me some tips, that would be wonderful.

    Thanks
     
  2. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Hard question...

    The back story might tug at people's heartstrings, but if it doesn't effect who the character is now, then of course they will seem bland >.< Explore why they're the way they are. I think that's the most interesting part of a character imo.

    If it helps, base the characters off real people...only a little bit though. It could get you started.

    Make a variety of personality types. Are they loud? Quiet? Why are they this way?

    It could be the dialogue. Are you showing their personality through their dialogue? I know this can be hard, so I suggest picking up a book and seeing how they do it for. For example, one of my characters, when ever he talks it's rare he says something negative about someone. Meanwhile, my main character tries to appear this way but usually comes off as sarcasm. Little things like that.

    The more time you spend with your characters, the more deeper they become with the story. Play with them in your mind a little bit, put them in different situations and brain storm ideas for them. I remember when my characters were just pictures and almost 1 year on, I can say that they have become 3D characters overtime.

    I hope this helped and good luck!
     
  3. Tom Fletch
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    Tom Fletch Member

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    Character flaws help. Short temper/addicions ect
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suggest you read several character-driven novels and analyse what made those character come to life. It's the best way to learn.
     
  5. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    When I start a story, I try to visualize the characters of my main characters. To get to believable characters I use tools that psychologists use to "label" people, e.g. enneagrams. In a later stage I divert from my initial character sketch, but at least I get a basis with some consistency and credibility. Add to that accent in language use, slang and speech patterns.

    HTH
     
  6. Cynglen
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    Cynglen Senior Member

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    I'd suggest doing some role play with the characters you want to expand on, either with some people on this forum or with some flesh-and-blood friends of yours who know what cooperative storytelling is about. I'm not talking about roleplay with dice and stats and such, but what you might call "development" roleplay. Put your character in various situations and, thinking as he/she would think, work through those situations and see if you don't discover something new about your character.

    I've done text-RP for over half-a-dozen years, with some of my characters being used again and again over most of that time, and who they've become today is incredibly different from the original image I had of them, and I have the experiences I played them through (and the friends who went through them with me) to thank for that growth.
     
  7. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    *cough* *cough* Twilight? *cough* *cough* Inception?
     
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    What kind of stories are you writing?
    Some times it's hard to escape the trap of genre, and it's easy to fall into a washcycle of
    cliched characters.
    Give them a twist - if you're going to do a vampire story make him a pudge, or a nerd, or boring.

    Give them a goal - this should tie in with the plot but there should also be minor goals that keep them afloat in
    interesting conversations. You don't need a lot of information for backstory - how 'bout just a favorite
    memory that could tie in with the plot, or help to expose the dynamics of his family.

    Give him a flaw, make him vulnerable. Nobody is a superhero, we all make mistakes,
    say the wrong thing, offend people and slip up. Too perfect a character makes for an
    unbelieveable character.

    Unless your character is suposed to be pretentious, avoid having your character
    give a rundown on how socially conscious he is, that's annoying. Also no soap box
    rants. Anything political should be subtle, beyond subtle - unless your character is
    a blowhard.

    Let your character express himself by his surroundings or material possessions.


    Even if you want to describe Ken and Barbie doll beauties remember a good many
    beautiful people don't sail through life thinking they're gorgeous - there's always
    things that haunt them, things they want to fix.

    Have him do something spontaneous - i.e out of character.

    Interests can reflect back to his character allowing the readers to learn what motivates him.

    That's the key - the story may seem to be about your plot, but it's really about your
    characters getting through a dilemma, once you nailed what drives them, it should be smooth , er
    smoother sailing.
     
  9. fwc577
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    fwc577 Member

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    May also want to pickup books on characterization. I just read a couple great ones because I wanted me characters to get deep as possible.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The fact that you primarily mention backstory suggests that maybe you're too focused on backstory and not focused enough on personality? I also wonder if maybe you're too focused on big significant stuff and not focused enough on the small trivia that makes a personality seem real. And, maybe you're doing too much planning ahead?

    One possibility could be to write irrelevant scenes, and see what your first impulse is for your character's actions. Let's take Jane, who's sitting down for a lunch interview with a prospective employer. My immediate impulse is that the restaurant is a fancy one with an extensive menu, and she's excited about the opportunity to taste the food. That leads me to believe that she's especially interested in food, and also that she's not all that interested in getting the job. Oh, and if she can't take herself to a fancy restaurant, she must not have a lot of money. But she's not all that excited about the job, so apparently money isn't that important to her - except that it gives her pleasures like good food.

    That's a fair little bit of detail that all came from an image in my head of Jane looking at the menu with interest and excitement. Maybe the interest and excitement in food came from the fact that I had a pretty small lunch and I'm hungry as I write this. But so what? I don't need to know _why_ I give particular personalities and attributes and background to a character, I just need to give them and to find them interesting.

    So I could start to write the scene, and decide/learn (I know I'm deciding, but as I let the impulses take control it feels like I'm learning) what Jane orders, and whether she tempers her choices based on what her interviewer might think of them, or whether she just doesn't care. I watch to see how she eats her food, whether she cleans her plate, whether she does her best to impress the interviewer with her conversation and whether she doesn't really care.

    And now I have an interviewer in that scene too. How does he feel about this girl who, he increasingly suspects, is just here for a good meal? Does he like or dislike that kind of self-focus? Is he impressed with her? Did he come here determined to recruit her, or did he just want the good meal himself, and is that why he scheduled the interview in the first place? What does he eat? Does he encourage her to splurge in her choices or does he casually comment on the inexpensive lunch specials? As I follow my impulses, I learn things about him.

    So now I know that Jane loves her food. Why? I decide that her mother wasn't interested in food or cooking; that she had a Puritan attitude about her food. But Jane's father used to take her out for good meals, so she associates good food with escape from disapproval and duty and an unhappy home.

    And so on. And so on. None of this was a plan or an outline, I just followed my impulses and got a character that I now rather like.
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Really consider what's driving your character to continue on in the story - what's at stake for them personally? - and convey this motivation, their emotions, thoughts, struggles within your narrative. Back stories are great but your readers care about the story NOW.

    And yes, dialogue does help.
     
  12. DanesDarkLand
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    DanesDarkLand Senior Member

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    One of the traps I found myself in was allowing the story itself, what I wanted to say, the plot, to guide what my characters were doing. If they are truly supposed to be people, each person would act according to the type of person they are. A man who relies on his physical strength would not try to think his way out of situations, he would use his muscles. A thinker would not be looking for a physical way out of a problem, but a mental thing. And when I thought I was being so clever and witty by having a man miraculously rise from a coma and pick someone up out of a crowd with one hand, I forget a special little detail. The reason he was there in the first place. It added oommphh to the scene, but reality made it impossible. Your story is what drives the characters, and the characters are what drive the action. "If they aren't real people, and you don't care about them, don't expect your readers to." That quote is from J.K. Rowling, and it helped me to correct many things in my own project.
     
  13. Walshy1595
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    Walshy1595 Member

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    Thank you very much everyone, all these tips and ideas are greatly appreciated. Hopefully now my characters will seem a bit more real and 3-Dimensional
     
  14. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Think of your character as having three levels.

    (1) At the surface is the way he or she presents himself or herself to the world. This is how your character would like to be seen. (By the way, not everybody in your MC's world is necessarily going to fall for this act--some people may see right through it--in fact, a few of them probably should.)

    (2) At the next level is the way your character thinks of himself or herself. This is probably not a completely realistic self-image, as we humans have a way of deluding ourselves, either by pumping ourselves up, exaggerating our own inadequacies, or running through our lives with unrealistic expectations about ourselves.

    (3) At the base level are the characteristics that shape who the character really is, not who they imagine themselves to be. For example, your character may think of themselves as ambitious and selfish, but when push comes to shove, they may act altruistically. (After the fact, of course, they may rationalize their actions in selfish terms to maintain the self-image they have crafted for themselves, but their actions don't quite match the way they imagine themselves to be.)

    Create some dissonance between these three levels, and it should help.

    [One more note: With regards to Level #1, understand that people do not present themselves the same way to the different people in their lives. They may play a certain role around the boss, be more honest with a trusted friend, and be completely hostile to a person they dislike.]
     
  15. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Backstory is great to tell someone what's happened to a character, their experiences before you, the reader, meet them. However, the biggest part? WHAT is their personality? Do they tend to become a smart ass when in stressful situations? Does you character miss things right before her face, that she should've seen and berates herself for it? there's so many things we do, daily, as normal people they transfer into characters. I have one who has a tendency to let her mouth get her into situations her backside can't pay.

    Does you MC drink? Do they smoke? Do they curse? Is there a favorite food? Do they have any sports they like/hate, or do they despise them all? The list can be endless as to how to build you character. Watch people around you in your daily life. Also read character driven books also.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write story, not back story. Bits and pieces of a character's past tend to emerge, relevant to the current story, but don't lose your focus on the main story. Let the reader remain curious but largely in the dark about the character's history.

    The most fascinating people in real life are an enigma. You don't know what their past is, and they ain't spreading it about!

    Besides, as you write more about a character, you may find a need to create an element of their past. What a shame if you've already stated something about their past that contradicts what you need now! Especially given that the past was arbitrarily constructed.

    I agree with Kate to a point though. Imply to the reader that there is a past that has shaped the character's current personality. Just keep it mysterious except where there is a compelling reason to reveal it.

    Leave the reader hungry.
     
  17. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    It's not just teasing a reader with a background that makes them want more. You, the author, had control over how much, or little, back story you wish to put into the story. Sometimes, especially with my MC, it's crucial you know it, while other times it's not. What makes the reader want to know more is a combination of your story telling ability, and the personality of the character in question. You can have the best story, and if the character is "flat" then no one will want to read it.

    They have to be real people, and it comes from blossoming everything about them, including the back story. Hell, my character's so real that I find MYSELF wishing I could talk with her in person. If you have the mannerisms, and the true behaviors of people in a character, then everything else falls into place.

    I only somewhere agree with Cog.
     
  18. Walshy1595
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    Walshy1595 Member

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    Thanks so much guys, all the help is really appreciated.
     
  19. Celestey
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    Celestey New Member

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    Hey! I have something to add that might be the cherry on your character sundae! (Okay, that was a bit weird....)

    I would say that all the input above is going to make your character 3-D but it you want to add a bit of extra realism, give your characters idiosyncrasies! We all have them. The habits may not be a big part of the story, you don't even have to write about them, but it's just an extra thing to bring your character to life. :)

    Celestey
     
  20. Baz the WarriorDreamer
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    Baz the WarriorDreamer Member

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    The thing that I think helps is knowing your characters like that the back of your hand as they say. You need to know everything about them and I mean everything. The more you know about them, the better you can write for them. Just write down as much as you can about them even if it isn't relevant to your story. It just helps to 'get in character' when you write for them. At the same time they need to have a role and be relevant to the story you are telling.
     
  21. brokenblade
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    brokenblade New Member

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    I like the idea of basing your characters on real life people. I guess what you can do is have your characters go through changes in their personality. Set your character up to be one way and have him do something that the audience wouldn't expect, yet not have it necessarily be out of his character. I guess, what I am trying to say is have your main character go through a gradual transformation throughout the story.
     
  22. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    There's all sorts of ways to provide twists, Cog, to take care of problems you already set up previously. I've dropped a major one in my second novel about Kate, and it's a doosey. Stephen Moffat, executive producer and lead writer on Dr. Who is good at this, setting something up in the first episode, and using it as an unseen move to fix something else.

    Watch Dr. Who and see how he handles introduction Jenna-Louise Coleman as the new companion. He's introduced her as a character who's been converted to a Dalek (major series villian) and just sit back and see how he fixes the "painting himself into a corner" he did intentionally.

    So, there's ways to fix your issues with a character or something comes up on their past you need to change. However, if, and it's a big if, you know your character backwards and forwards, then issues like that won't come up.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your example is not really relevant to the point I was making, though, because Stephen Moffat was not writing back story. He has a season-sized story, of which the individual episodes serve as chapters. What he does in that initial "chapter" is foreshadowing, and at the same time that first episode is also a story in itself. The references to the past were, in fact, integral to the story, and not back story.

    The difference can be subtle, but every piece of background revealed has to contribute materially to the story. Moffat and his writing staff (and their predecessors) are masters of melding immediately relevant details with integrated elements whose importance will become relevant later.

    Back story is a digression from the story to present a history, very little of which has any relevance to the story being told.

    To distinguish them, ask yourself: Does telling this now increase the tension in the current story, or does the tension pause for it?

    Too often, back story provides information that answers questions no one has asked. That's murder to the flow of the story. The same pieces of information, introduced at a later time, may have a completely different effect, because it then is truly part of the story, not a digression at all.
     
  24. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    You missed the point, Cog, which is: back story issues, no matter what you've created about your character are not "arbitrary" and unchangeable. They're not "fixed" point, and a writer, skilled enough (which is why i brought Moffatt up is because of his skill for doing that, can creatively change it, and do it in a way the reader doesn't see coming.

    I stand behind my opinion.
     
  25. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Alright, I am an incredibly character-driven writer. In fact, the problem for me is often the exact opposite of what you are experiencing - I often have really in-depth characters, and nothing for them to do. So, this advice may not be relevant, but this is how I personally "create" my characters:

    First, I think of an identity for the character - a "grand title" if you will. For example, I recently wrote a short story from the POV of a fishmonger. So, I put on the clothing of a person who spends his days handling the corpses of fish all day long. Then I thought... if I were a fishmonger, what kinds of things would concern me? The smell. The flies. The repulsion from everyone around. The fish rotting before I had time to sell them... that kind of thing. Then I tred to figure out what the character's goals are - to come up with a solution for one of his issues, perhaps? Create a magic soap capable of eliminating the odor of half-dead fish. Or maybe he feels morally conflicted about eating fish - maybe he's a vegetarian....

    So, my first sentence could be something like this: "Killing fish for a living would not be so bad, if not for the smell of guts strewn across the docks at high noon." etc etc. In that sentence, I have introduced my character, and also a conflict for him to overcome.

    The best way to do it, (in my opinion) is to put yourself in the scene. If this was you, what would you do? What would you think? This way, it is possible to create a realistic character, and the character can be anyone, or anything. If I were a puppy-eating goon, my biggest concern, likely, would be to find more puppies. If I were a fly in the middle ages, I would be in Heaven because really, how good was sanitation back then?

    Just my two cents.
     

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