1. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    Defining moments for your characters . . .

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by KhalieLa, Mar 16, 2016.

    I've met a lot of people who seem to think they know more about my characters than I do, which is laughable because I know them from the cradle to the grave. When I look at my list of characters, I realize that most of their defining moments happened long before the story began and will never be written, yet, it's those moments that define who they are as individuals. For one character, that's his first kiss, for another it's the moment his wife died, and for another it was seeing the horrors of war.

    Those moments have direct bearing on how my characters will respond in an number of situations and to each other, but have no bearing on the story, which is why they will never be written. That got me thinking about defining moments in our own lives. If I outlined my life, just as I would a story, what would be my defining moment? I really don't know, and even if I did, I'm not sure I'd share it.

    Do defining moments happen in real life or are they pure fiction? And do any of your characters have defining moments that shape who they are?
     
  2. HelloImRex
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    HelloImRex Contributing Member

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    Yeah, if someone loses a leg that's probably going to be a defining moment. If someone gets wrongfully put in jail for fifty years that's probably going to be a defining moment. If someone overdoses its probably a defining moment. Wow, all of these examples are traumatic events. I know defining moments can produce good results, but do they ever arise from good experiences? I feel like people change more when they are forced to adapt because of something that didn't work as it should have rather than changing because of something good that happened. If it was good why change? But yeah, I guess characters usually do have defining moments in stories, it seems almost like a necessary component. Sometimes they are watered down to be relative to the scope of the story, but if all of the defining moments happen before the story starts, the prequel in your universe risks being more interesting than the actual story.
     
  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think I'm with @KhalieLa on this.

    The example I'm thinking of is one of my daughters taking the decision (around 17) to chuck her rubbish job and go and spend a year working in Japan. When she came back, she "knew enough Japanese to flirt in".

    Having faced that challenge, she hit academia, got some qualifications and now has a good career that she loves.

    As far as starring in a novel, that's going to depend on something really exciting happening to her; say, a terrorist hostage scenario; and that's when, her defining moment kicks in as to how she's going to respond to the challenge.

    The problem with a "good" defining moment, from the perspective of an author, is that it tends to make your MC a bit "too good to be true" - everybody loves a flawed hero who's haunted by demons, rather than a golden child who's never had it rough.
     
  4. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    Having a baby may or may not be a good thing. It may or may not be a defining moment.
    I have two children and neither of their births would qualify as a defining moment since it didn't result in a change in who I am or how I respond to the world. This is what has me wondering are their moments in real life that change or alter our core character?

    The story isn't about those characters, none of them are the MC. In my character development I explored their lives so I could get a handle on how they would react and respond. Without knowing the important moments in their life, how could I write them when the depth of emotion necessary to make them the complex and interesting characters necessary to hold a readers attention?
     
  5. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    For me there were.. let's see. Four defining moments which made me the person I am now. They were not connected, or only by time and maturing, but rather light-bulb moments which showed me what truly is important. To me as a person. They were not 'exciting' as in someone did something especially good or bad. I remember them and will, each and every day of my life. Cherish them, even if the consequences were - and are - something difficult.
    One was an email with a job offer. One was a telephone call to another person while the computer was running. One was stumbling into a chatroom. One a documentary I watched.

    In writing I tend to give my MC's these as well, each in their own way. Because these really change a character, let him grow.

    In my novel, there is just an outstretched hand. For one MC, for the others I will see. Am not that far along now ;)
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2016
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Hmm interesting question. I'm a pantser so I don't know everything about my characters when I begin and sometimes I feel I don't know everything about them when I finish. People are so complicated that I often feel what we imagine about people or suspect is all we'll ever know.

    I don't always do that with my shorts ( make a character so unknown ) but in my novels my characters tend to live under a reputation of suspicion and rumors. Right now my mc is a very weak man who has a dangerous reputation ( he's in jail ) and his crime is keeping him both target and feared.
    He has several turning points in the past, and several in the current story.
     
  7. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    There isn't one specific thing for my MC in my current work. She has many events that change her perception/understanding, and her attitude towards others.

    I've only lived a little over a quarter of a century, but I've had many things happen that have changed me as a person, or how I see/interpret events around me. I try to reflect the same in my characters. It doesn't have to be an "epic turning point," many normal things can change people.

    Now I can't help but think of that quote "What can change the nature of a man?"
     
  8. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    It depends what we mean by defining really. Clearly a good deal about our characters is determined by how we grow up an th choices that we make on the way. But for all that 'defining' things don't have to define us if we don't want them to. In the end time passes and something else comes to define us.

    I think it's better to say that events define a certain period in our lives. That might be short or long but we'd be very unlucky to never have the chance for something else to define us. Even something seemingly extreme like losing a wife or a leg will one day become just something in our past; we'll find something in the now that comes to define us and who we are today.

    Who we are today is defined by who we want to be tomorrow. I kind of need to believe that.
     
  9. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    You are right that we can never truly know a person and a good deal of angst, drama, and hurt feelings often comes from assuming someone is own thing, then finding out they are something else entirely. I get that a lot in my life. For work I have to dress very plain and conservatively, so people assume I'm either the mousy librarian type or Suzy-Q-Christian, then get mad when I didn't live up to their assumptions.

    The same is true for our characters, it would be impossible to know everything, especially at the outset of a novel. Everyone once in a while the surprise me and I think, "I didn't know that about you!"

    That is precisely the question. What events would change our very core. I still don't have an answer; maybe never will.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think they absolutely happen in real life. If I had to pick from my own life, I would say the first one was when Uncle Sam relieved me of my duty because I date boys, and the second was a very close brush with the law (and not in a small way) because of bad choices on my part as regards staying in a relationship with someone who thought illicit activities were a "day job".

    Both events drastically altered how I view others and how I view myself. Both events took me a long time to get over for different reasons. The first taught me that people really will be as ugly as they say they'll be, so take their word for it. The second taught me that a cup of stupidity and a half pound of love can turn into a big ole' cake of trouble.

    In a left-handed kind of way my character Marco is a way of expressing these events. His moment is the murder of his wife, which he committed. And he did it. No twist that reveals his innocence.
     
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  11. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Of course defining moments happen. I generally don't bother thinking about my characters defining moments outside of the story. I want my stories to include those defining moments. If something happened to one of my characters as a child it's only because the thought crossed my mind that such a thing was needed for him to react in some way. If I needed to think about that original event then the reader probably needs to know it also so they can understand the full picture of the situation.
     
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  12. BadCrow
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    BadCrow Member

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    I like for my characters to have defining moments outside of the main story.
    So i can hint on said events without fully disclosing what actually happened.

    for example: one of my most important characters had two defining moments one where he starts a rebellion and the second when he changes his approach to conflict after being imprisoned.
    Both of them are not directly in the story arc but are hinted and very important.

    The main character of my book has no idea of said events and as she learns what actually happened she changes her view about him.

    Defining moments migth aswell be something solely in the MC's head (the realisation of something, remembering something aso.). I have to admit i like leaving the reader partly in the dark and letting his/her imagination run wild with the information i give;).

    One advise though: write the moments down for every character:p.

    As for my own defining moments... i seriously doubt i know them. As every person out there, my view on subjects and my way of responding to situations changed over the years, but i realy can't say when i became the way I am now.
    Most large events in my life seem to have had little impact while the little things changed the most... kinda weird now that i think about it:meh:
     
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  13. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Well, I don't think there's one defining moment because all of you can't be expressed by one gesture. However, defining moments do exist I think. And I think they do occur in fiction. They're essentially just the most expressive, developmental moments.
     
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  14. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I like this too . . . it's like a tease that keeps you interested. I haven't written them down for my characters and don't think I will, but I know them intimately.

    That's where I'm at too. I just can't say what made me who I am. I wonder if someone else would have better insight simply because they are "outside" of me.
     
  15. RahnyJae
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    RahnyJae Member

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    I do have one moment in my life that I think back on the most and go "if this one thing had gone differently, I might be a completely different person today." Maybe 'completely' is an exaggeration, but it was definitely a moment that happened during a time when my personality was straddling the fence between shy introvert and outgoing extrovert. I can't lie, I was totally a naturally nervous nerdy kid (alliteration point?) but still a lot more open with people I think. But when that moment happened--Mm, I don't know if it's accurate to label it a regression, but I definitely wasn't straddling the line between introversion and extroversion anymore. I fell into the former so hard, built a keep, set up a P.O. box and hotplate, the whole nine. lol And being that like didn't really jive well with the years where you're supposed to be growing and learning with people, so sometimes I think back on this moment and wonder if it had just gone differently or never happened, then maybe my interactions with people might have played out differently--dare I say better in a lot cases--and that might have shaped me differently as a person. So I wonder a lot about who that person would have been compared to who I am today as defined by that moment. Sorry, that's kind of a bummer one. I'm sure I have positive defining moments, too, I'm just such a moody bastard I can't think of 'em right now. lol

    As for defining moments for my characters, I also like to have a baseline defining moment that happened "off screen" as it were, then as the character is showing who they are in the present, bring mentions of this past defining moment that has made them that way. I especially like writing weird dreams, so my people need something relevant to dream about (unless they're psychic detectives, then they can dream about other people's defining moments.) haha But as some others have already mentioned, there can be more than one defining moment, so whereas something that happened in a character's past is defining the guy when we first meet him, about midway through the story or whenever, a completely new experience happens that will shape the character into a new or altered version of himself that we'll possibly end up with by the epilogue or, at the least, have for a little while of the story before he goes back to being his Chapter One self. And I feel like that's pretty true to real life. Some people change and stay changed or they change back or some mix of both depending on what moments in their present are pushing them one way or another over a period time.
     
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  16. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I couldn't disagree more about that "moment" being a bummer.

    I don't believe that you were "straddling the line"...introversion and extroversion are so basic to who/what you are that you can't decide to be one or the other, and then do "the whole nine".

    I have one daughter who falls heavily into the extrovert camp, another pretty introvert. Guess who's more relaxed and comfortable with who she is?

    Being an extrovert is HARD work, being on stage ALL the time. Trying to force yourself to be like that when it's not in your nature will screw you up like nothing else. Feeling guilty because you "chose" to be introvert will screw you up, too. Accept who you are. You're stuck with that person for the rest of your life.
     
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  17. RahnyJae
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    RahnyJae Member

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    Yeah, I have been learning this lately and applying it in doses. Can't fix a decade of insecurity and self doubt overnight, but for sure these are true words to live by. :)

    And you're right about introvert/extrovert being basic. I think I just stated that too shallowly for the sake of keeping it kinda lighthearted, you know, using that good ol' humor shield to cover up real hurt. Just to open up a bit more here, this moment, this negative thing that happened, made me legitimately afraid of people and afraid of being out in the world at a young age, which I feel like negatively affected my ability to connect with people as I grew up. So really, I feel like it goes beyond the moment making me more introverted, but actually pushing me into being closed off or mangled emotionally. Hey, so I guess it might actually be accurate to call it a regression after all. But, at the same time, you know it's not like I can go back and change it all, so you're still right about not dwelling on "who I could have been, if only this or that," whatever the circumstances. So, now in my 20s, I've been seriously breaking myself of that habit bit by bit.
     

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