1. Venom.
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    Venom. Member

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    Creating Characters: How much is too much?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Venom., Mar 21, 2014.

    I'm trying to find a good way to plan my characters so I can understand them better but I'm not aware of the best processes. In the past I either go into too much or too little detail and I'm just curious as to how people try and create decent, three dimensional characters and how they plot or plan them.

    Any insight would be great as I'm trying to find methods that best suit me.
     
  2. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, it really depends. Some characters just appear in my head, and I already instinctively 'know' them. Others, I have facets of their character but I need to think systematically in order to make their personality consistent with what I need them to do. I studied human psychology extensively, and I write character-driven stories, so it's very important to me to create real, three dimensional characters. I can't stand inconsistent reactions and behaviour, if i come across it as a reader, it makes me roll my eyes and throw the book away.

    Here's a blog I wrote about how I approached character development when I was a novice writer. I still take myself through the questions sometimes, if I need to jog my brain into conjuring up a character who is not easily revealing themselves to me.
     
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  3. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    I don't think it necessarily matters beyond you having the information and control you need when you write. Personally I keep a document file on my computer where I write down characters' full names, nicknames, sex, and enough about who they are, what they do, where they're from and who they're related to to both grant me and make me remember who they are, so as to be consistent. This is probably a bit extensive in comparison to most authors, however, especially considering I know the sexuality, middle names, birthplace and whether or not they're right- or left-handed for most of my characters. Whatever interests you and satisfies your needs is enough. Don't be lazy, though, either, so be prepared to sit down and think of how they look and behave and all of that, if not before writing at least before editing so you avoid having an important character quirk only appear halfway through your story but mentioned like it was always there.
     
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  4. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    Most of my characters come as I write. I start with a shell of a character (e.g. I need a gruff ronin samurai). I map who he is at the start and then what change needs to happen by the end. I fill out a small character biography. I then start writing. As I write, the real depth of who he is becomes evident. I make changes to the biography as necessary as he evolves with the story. They often start fairly flat until I'm a few chapters in and discovering how they react to obstacles presented.

    One thing that helps me sometimes though is advice from a creative writing professor. He told me that to create 3-dimensional characters I shouldn't worry about the stuff that's not necessary. Not bashing people that make a point to know if their character's are left or right handed, but think back to a story you've read and ask yourself did they ever once mention it? Odds are unless it was drastically important to the story, it never comes up. I use that as an example because that is one example he used after asking us how many knew if our characters were right or left handed. He had an exercise he liked us to do and that was write out "He's the kind of person that..." five to ten times and finish those sentences. I like it because if gives you ten times as much insight into your character than who their family is, what their favorite foods, are and whether or not they are left/right handed.
     
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  5. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    For important characters, I will go into more detail. For lesser characters, I will let them tell me who they are. They sometimes surprise me!
     
  6. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    Feels like ages since I posted on this website...huh.

    Well, the nice thing about writing is that there is never enough of anything! You don't have a budget or anything remotely similar. Create as many characters as you'd like. The thing is to create characters that you deem necessary, and not create just to create.

    I myself brushed the major characters at first, then supporting characters and then when I began writing I may have felt the necessity to bring another character in, or maybe one just popped out of nowhere.

    The depth of a character...I'd say that is completely up to you, depending on the character of course. Okay let's say there was a king whose parents were murdered (previous Queen and King) now this king is young minded and naive, thus it falls upon his uncle to guide him in ruling a kingdom. (Now we're focusing on his uncle) okay we need an uncle that is competent, that is all we know for now. What made him competent? Well he probably shadowed every step of his kingly brother. ---Now just go from there. I know this is kinda a plotline, but I think that is how you make characters, and as the protagonist(s) story moves on, then you continue needing more characters.

    Let's say a protagonist goes to a bar and sees this nasty looking mercenary staring him down. So now we're focusing on the mercenary, will he be a minor character? Maybe. Depends what you want to do with him. So what made him who he is? Maybe he fought off a bandit raid to protect his family, but failed.

    Characters are only as good as what drives them. That is my slogan in a way, and of course Faulkner "The only thing worth writing about is the human heart and its conflict with itself." unless you want an all in dark vs good.

    I really don't know if I answered your question correctly, this is just one of many ways to create a character. I don't even use this method a lot. I tend to be very structured and solve these knots early on. But characters tend to pop up and flesh themselves out on their own. The only limitation to your imagination is you :)

    Oh, and I don't even know if it is a fantasy story you're writing. That has a tremendous say!
     
  7. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    What kind of audience are you writing for? I think you should balance audience needs with what you feel comfortable with. I have my own tastes. For example, I found the paragraphs of character development in Justin Cronin's books a bit too long for my liking (but they were good in that they created a very vivid world that I could lose myself in). On the other hand, I found that some books by Clive Cussler didn't have enough detail about characters and I didn't care about the characters as much as I think I should have (however, long-winded writing doesn't work so well for action/adventure books).
     
  8. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    I usually find myself spending to much time with characters, but that's only because I personally really enjoy developing their personalities. I don't think there are "rules" in how much you should develop of them, but certainly you should get to know them really well. I like to think of creating a character as getting a cup of coffee with someone, and just listen to their stories. The same way you can spend hours talking with someone about their lives, you can spend hours developing one for a character. Their experiencies, their fears, their goals in life, their likes and dislikes, and so on.

    After that, you don't necessarily have to put it all on a story, you just use what you need. But I think you should understand them very well, at the point that you have no doubts when thinking how they would react to a certain situation in your story.

    This is mainly for main characters, I don't think you should spend that much time on secondary characters. Even less with "extras" (Those who appear for maybe only a paragraph. With those I believe a stereotyped description is enough, like an angry shop attendant, or the old man next door whose tv is always loud, for example).
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Totally on the same page as Jazzabel here. Sometimes characters just pop in, fully formed and I understand who they will be. This is usually my protagonist. Other characters show up also formed, but clearly they didn't read the requirements of their parts. In my current WIP, my central protag, Devin, still is exactly how he came to me, but his love interest has altered dramatically, both physically and as regards his personality. Another character in the same story, Amila, originally came to me as a simple country lass, but when I got to writing her part in the story I realized that for where I need her, a simple country lass would get trampled. She needed to be much smarter, wiser and tougher than how she came to me to start. The needs of the story and the dynamic of the character go hand in hand. This is one of the reasons I'm not one to make imaginary friends out of my characters as some writers are wont to do. When I realize I've hired the wrong actor for the part, the actor has to go.
     
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  10. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    What is significant or important to the story. If you describe the character as having blue eyes and it never becomes a factor in the telling of the story, why bother saying he/she has blue eyes. On the other hand, if the blue eyes are symbolic or someone falls for him/her because of blue eyes, then likely, they are significant.
     
  11. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    It might have an effect if "blue eyes" has a significance and association to the author.
     
  12. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    But if it has none with the story, why bother putting it in? Isn't brevity important?
     
  13. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know. It might be for some writers. Not so much for others. (Brevity) But a few words thrown in here or there like "blue eyes" instead of just "eyes" would hardly matter, especially if it makes the writer feel that it reads better, even if it matters only to him or her.
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's a slippery slope, author insertion. I agree that a tiny indulgence here or there won't hurt, but if it'll stand out like a sore thumb, then it's not a good idea to use it. Eye colour can go either way. If the writing is strong enough, you'd get away with it, I'm sure.
     
  15. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    Please keep in mind you two, that the blue eyes reference was just a tiny exposition, not to be taken literally. I intended to use it to showcase what adds and what does not.

    Perhaps I should have used something larger in tone. Say the person's father spent time in prison for killing another, but it doesn't play out in the story. It doesn't affect the story. Is it important to note it?
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You as a writer are the only one who can answer that question, and the readers cast a final verdict.
     
  17. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    If it has zero affect on the story, it's superfluous, but I also approach from a screenwriter's perspective. We have generally, 120 pages at most to work with, so it's imperative to keep it essential.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Screenplays are a different kettle of fish, I don't know much about that style of writing.
     
  19. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    There is stuff that happens in your story and stuff that happens outside your story. The part where they discover their parents' flaws might also be out of story, but it still happened to them.

    You could start with too much detail and start stripping out what really doesn't work. (Nulling lines shouldn't hurt too badly, especially if you copy off the file so that they still exist for your own reference.) You could also start with not enough detail and add another layer until the story feels fleshed. You could purposefully add notes in the margins that don't appear in the final version. (There are free word processing programs that are fairly robust.)
     

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