1. Earphone
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    Earphone Active Member

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    Creating "dark" characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Earphone, Apr 15, 2011.

    I've noticed that recently many of my characters have had rather grim lives, and wondered if you others do that too. How do you go about making your characters' lives miserable?
     
  2. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    Having a parent die in childhood can put a sour drop in your Happy Flakes. Or any family member that you were really close to, for that matter.

    When half of my characters fall in love with someone, they have to accept the fact that getting intimate can lead to that person's death, so it puts a strain on them and makes them rather lonely. (Among other things)
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Socrates:
    Was brought up as a crown prince - his mother had an affair he looked just like his birthfather so she abused him, his grandfathers abuse was I think just physical may have been sexual (Soc doesn't like talking about it), his father was weak willed and pretended it wasn't happening. His grandfather imprisoned and threatened to behead him at age eight, he was also imprisoned in his teens because he wanted to be a teacher, his sister killed his mother when they were eleven, she killed their father when they were twenty eight, invaded his mind and turned him evil to the point where his only defence was to spend months quivering in the back of a cave in his swan form, he is pre-mortal (sort of immortal) so his attempts at suicide only caused him injury that was very slow to heal (my immortals heal more slowly than mortals), he had a gay lover he had to keep secret until he was twenty-eight. And that was just the first twenty-eight years of his life - I have written a further hundred years of his life in other stories lol He is my most abused character by far.
     
  4. Earphone
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    Earphone Active Member

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    The parents/family deaths are a given.

    Wow, that's horrible. (In a 'Wow I'm impressed at how dark that is!' kind of way.)
     
  5. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    Depends on how it happens. If one parent died because she gave birth to you, that can cause some pretty intense feelings of guilt and self-hatred.
     
  6. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    One thing is not to make them miserable to the point where the reader rolls his eyes or throws the book against the wall, of course.

    Generally it seems most of my main characters' problems steam from conflicting interests between two or more options or choices or what not.

    Still, in arguably my most serious current project, it seems that most of the major characters are miserable because of bad relationships with their parents (or with their children). They're also miserable because since they are all royalty, high-level government officers, or related to either, their decisions have important ramifications on not only their Empire, but much of the world, since their Empire is the largest in the world. It's an unpleasant situation to be in.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It gets much worse for him in the most recent work I have written him in. Poor Soc does have a rough time of it, he is mostly a decent guy though. I can't reveal too much on open forum about the end of it but I nearly destroy him. He has such a childish sweet side as well.
     
  8. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    One way is to follow the proud super-hero tradition of letting your characters' paranormal powers complicate their lives. E.g, Rogue of the X-Men can't touch someone without absorbing their abilities and memories and rendering them unconscious. If she hadn't temporarily lost her powers, she'd still be a virgin.

    I have one character who's afraid of getting angry, because it will cause her powers to hurt everyone around her. And the only way for her to deal with that, is to always expect the worst - if she expects the bad things to happen, she can't get angry about them.

    Subjecting your character to various horrors is the obvious way of making their lives miserable, but you can also show the effect it has on them. Show how dysfunctional their daily lives and relations become. For example, the tragedy of being abused is not just the experience itself - it's also being unable to trust anyone when you are finally free of the abuse.

    In The Shawshank Redemption there's a scene where the protagonist's friend is released from prison after many, many years. He gets a job at a supermarket, but is so used to being told what to do he can't go to the bathroom without asking. Finally, he realises he's unable to deal with life outside of prison and hangs himself.

    Now, imagine how that would work for someone who's been held prisoner in a cellar most of their life, or raised by a group of white supremacists in the wilderness, or who has a deformity which has made almost every single person they met recoil from them at first sight...
     
  9. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Existentialism mostly: Sh*t happens. Harder to accept for some people, good & bad fortunes in my stories generally have no greater purpose & destiny behind them. They just happen, as is in real life.

    That & socioeconomic/historical factors - some eras of human existence just suck, leaving my characters to be victims of the particular dehumanizing, "dark" zeitgeist they were born into.

    I guess I try to avoid making my characters dark. Rather it's a natural consequence of their being a product of their environment. It's a part of them, it permeates the subtext of their dialogue & their interactions with others. However, it's nothing I draw inordinate attention to. When a main character seems to be getting their ass kicked by the universe for no good reason, I tend to be dubious of the author's intent: contriving sympathy, etc. But of course, it depends on how it's done. Avoid being too wangsty I guess.
     
  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    That is why I like writing Royal Families and corruption lol allows for epic Shakespearean style universe ass kicking.

    In Socrates case he is heir to the keeper of the universe so the universe kicks back - people are kind of the bacteria in god's gut so the good bacteria slug it out with the bad bacteria. Socrates as the strongest good bacteria gets to fight the strongest bad bacteria. I don't quite phrase it that way in the story lol It is shown better. My books take place in a universe that is inside god.

    It is complicated because at seven he created a lifelong partnership later becoming lover to the heir of the Lord of Evil (the one under the Matriach of Evil) they join together to create one mega good bacteria and things that happen to them seriously upset god's gut.
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    A dark character isn't just all the crap that you throw at them. :) I have 2 main characters with very similar back stories (both cursed, father issues, etc) but while one of them tends towards being dark and brooding, the other is fairly cheerful and never lets it get him down, choosing to focus on the moment. Maybe he will be sad or angry because things are happening around him to make him sad or angry, but if left alone he doesn't sit and dwell, and so his reactions are always good and pure, while his buddy has a tendency to sulk and argue and occasionally stalk people in a creepy way and in the end he does a pretty awful thing.

    Some characters I've written have been screaming angst storms without ever having had a single issue in their past, or dark and even sadistic just because they are that way, and they acknowledge that.

    *shrugs* Just stopping this thread making the link seem so clear that dark pasts are the only way to have a character be dark themselves.
     
  12. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Elgaisma: I'm not remotely familiar enough with your work to have been referring to you. I hope it didn't appear that way, lol. I'm mainly referring to author's who turn their MC's into sympathy or blackhole sues (tvtropes.org), or whose characters inexplicably incure the attention of fate/destiny too often to seem natural/organic within the story universe - within the context of being "dark" or otherwise I suppose.

    Sounds like you've steered clear of such follys, fret not :)


    But then again, I am generally attracted to existential themes/styles & turned off by fatalism/overt plot contrivance, so my opinion probably isn't representative of most people, considering how prevelant the latter are in much of fiction.

    But yeah, people aren't made or stay 'dark' for no reason, especially since it's not very fun. We are the culmination of our life-experiences (imo), so: make the reasons impactful enough to have made the character who they are, but also realistic within context of the story, as well as their reactions/internalization consistant with their personality. Some people bounce back from horrible tragedy, others breakdown when their car does. The poor teenage girl whose grandparents died in a plane crash, parents died in a scuba diving accident, puppy died from a toxic level of cuteness, boyfriend died trying to save her parents, bestfriends turned against her, etc. within a couple months is the character I'm talking about, to be hyperbolic. Just try not to overdo it.

    Personally, I have a character who is very "dark", but that mostly manifests in being taciturn, superficially apathetic, disengaged, aloof & covertly self-destructive. Most of what is apparent to other characters are his negative attributes (as in, the lack thereof) instead of overt displays of suffering, angst, etc. It all depends on how it's done I guess.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    lol didn't take it personally - actually he isn't a dark character - he is the ultimate on the side of light (complete with flaws lol)

    His sister is a dark character and has had an equally tragic life. When their younger brother is born he vows to protect him, his sister is eaten by jealousy.
     
  14. Froggy
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    Froggy Member

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    I keep having to remind myself not to make characters that are too heroic, too gifted, too stable...
    I believe they are the result of what the universe threw at them and the choices they made to deal with it.
    The challenge doesn't always have to be something negative, like death or violence. Sometimes the exact lack of friction can lead to a desire to break out, seek a challenge, which is then met with total naïveté...
     
  15. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    My favorite character is an antihero with a range of low level psyciological neurocies [like borderline scarcity] He currently lives a very grim life.

    When creating a bookstore for said character, I started with myself, then asked the question 'What would it take to make me into him? ' his bookstore is the answer.
     
  16. beanie29
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    beanie29 New Member

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    this isnt my character, but a quite good example is from an anime, where two of the antagonists were a brother and sister who grew up in an orphanage where they and other orphans were physacally abused and were forced to watch and act in black market movies featuring themselves being beaten up and raped.

    when they ran away, they new no love other than from eachover and became serial killers
     
  17. Azeher
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    Azeher Member

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    All of the others' opinions were good and respectable.
    I've created "dark" characters too so maybe I can help you a little.
    I don't think the character's parents death is the best idea, though. I've used it but even I recognize it's a bit of a cliché. Why don't you try something different like uncaring/unloving/abusive parents?
    Or even "normal" parents! I know it sounds dull but in that way you'd have to come up with a better and more original idea about why s/he turned out into a grim person.

    I usually give my "dark" characters abnormal or sad childhoods, while having a yet more abnormal adolescence in which they commit weird and bad acts (this is to make clear their minds weren't well built as a result of their initial years of life). Then in adulthood, they are finally aware of their own sins but think it's too late to ask for divine forgiveness... so they turn out to be dark-ish persons.

    I don't use this patron for all my grim characters, however, there's no reason why I can't since the possibilities you get from it are limitless, or well, the only limit is your imagination. There are thousands of kinds of "abnormal/sad" childhoods. And it's not obligatory that the character commits a crime, just doing something that shows the reader he's an affected individual; even weird habits can cover this.

    But it's true that you shouldn't over do it. Characters that have suffered too much and could keep suffering are disgusting and wrongly made.

    I hope I have helped you in something.
     
  18. Serieve
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    Serieve Member

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    I'm fascinated by this thread mostly because I'm not sure how all of you are defining a "dark" character. Some of you touch on the question, but I don't think it has been directly addressed. I mean, I can get a general sense of what you believe a dark character is, but... Is a dark character just someone who has had horrible experiences? Someone whose view of life is pessimistic? Someone who reacts in a negative way to the things that happen to him or her? Someone who is deeply flawed such that they unintentionally (or intentionally) bring about horrible events?

    Then, those questions raise other interesting questions, like how do you define a character in general? By their actions? Their attitude? By what happens to them? By how they react to what happens to them?

    Is it possible for a happy-go-lucky and optimistic character to be considered "dark"? Could a broody and reticent character have a very optimistic and bright view of the world and still be believable? (Wouldn't that be interesting... ^_-)
     
  19. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Probably not a "broody" character, but reticent maybe. Broody kind of is all about the sitting around thinking about dark things, which means no optimism allowed.

    I believe a dark character is some or all of the definitions you offered - some are dark by association to their pasts, while others are dark because of what they do. It's entirely about how they are received by the reader. Eeyore, for example, is adorable and cuddly and often quite funny, despite being the very epitome of a dark, manic-depressive character, because in the context there is no room for a reader to take up the depression as a serious train of thought.

    In any case, a dark character is such a wide bracket all we can really do is talk about our experiences, particular characters, and how we personally go about writing them because trying to define them's kind of hard. :p
     
  20. Serieve
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    Serieve Member

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    Oooh, Eeyore is an interesting example...

    Even though I listed them, I have a lot of qualms with many of the "definitions" I proposed, actually. I know of people who have had terrible things happen to them who I would not at all consider to be "dark" people. On the contrary, they seem to be the most optimistic people I know. My biggest objection, though, is the thought of being defined by what has happened to me. If, for example, I were raped, and suddenly people only referred to me as "that girl who got raped," I don't think I could capture the overwhelming rebellion and anger and helplessness and despair I would feel at being defined that way. Some #$@#%^$& decided to violate me--does that mean he defined who I am?

    I think a great example of a dark character is actually a comedian--someone with a particular type of humor that bites, that makes us wonder why we're laughing. Someone who, while watching us laugh, is actually laughing at us. That sounds dark to me.

    But I don't really know how to define a dark character--that's why I'm interested in what others have to say. And even if we never reach an answer, I think wondering about it could bring up some valuable and interesting thoughts.

    (I am also totally okay with anyone taking the meager character sketches I happen to come up with, because it's not like I have my name on them or anything.)
     
  21. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I think a dark character only "is" what people see them as. Maybe someone read Eeyore in an honestly frightening light when they were a kid - I mean, I was scared of hobbits, and they're even less frightening :p The darkness is only perceived. The means by which is it perceived is what the writer does, and so horrible things happening to the character is one way to make the story itself dark. The character, or good or bad, has to contemplate those things. Therefore, a rape victim, to use the example you offered, may still be a quite cheerful character who has got on with her life afterwards, and maybe for most of the story she is not defined by it. However, the writer has introduced it to add a darker dimension to her cheery character, and will bring it up in order to add that depth. Therefore a scene or set of scenes will be written exploring this aspect of her character - probably showing an out of character or at least strong reaction to some sort of romantic situation or even just being left alone with the wrong person, and by that will give the reader something to think about on the subject in question. The character herself isn't particularly dark unless she has reacted darkly - say, seducing men then damaging their goods instead of sleeping with them, or directing that suffering on herself with self-harm or something - but she is the vessel of darkness. For the sake of this thread I think we are talking about that form of dark character as well.

    Er... losing train of thought. Ah well. i think I said enough. :D
     
  22. Serieve
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    Serieve Member

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    Hm, okay. That sounds almost as if you're saying a dark story makes a dark character; since the reader reads the story, and the story has a dark atmosphere and tone and (likely) theme, then the reader will also read that darkness into the character. Which makes sense, though I'm not sure if I buy it.

    Or maybe you mean that the character is dark in that she (our example) makes the story dark by showing that terrible things happen to good people, whether or not she herself is "dark" in the sense of reacting badly or thinking pessimistically? @.@ This feels like that chicken-or-egg question, though I'm sure it's probably just that fact that these things are inextricably bound up in each other.
     
  23. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeeeah, I'm going with the wishy washy "they're about one and the same" thing. :p I hate defining stuff as ONE THING ONLY THERE IS NO OTHER WAY.
     
  24. HBAdams
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    HBAdams Member

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    If you're talking about the perspective of grim and miserable, then that fits my current MC quite well.

    He was the 2nd son and therefore not expected to do anything of particular importance with his life since his eldest brother was to inherit the family rule. After his brother dies, he's expected to take up all of those responsibilities and is horribly unprepared and unwilling to do so. He feels pretty grim and miserable about the situation. :p

    It's definitely not death and despair, but that kind of jarring lifestyle change can make a person bitter.
     
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  25. Azeher
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    Azeher Member

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    Hmmm... you've somehow opened my mind. No, a character doesn't have to have suffered to be considered dark.

    I define a character exactly by all that you mentioned.

    Yes, a happy-go-lucky character can be dark if s/he is hidding his "dark" side or is not hidding it but has two sides of their personallity. A character can have several sides if they're believable.

    About the broody and reticent character... I don't think so. That's why they're considered "broody" and "reticent", however the reticent one like Melzaar said, has more chances.
     

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