1. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Discovering your Character(s)

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Taylee91, Feb 1, 2011.

    How do you guys do it? I've read before that some writer's put their characters up a tree and see how they react, while others say it takes time for them to really find out who there characters are. I've personally been through the first path today, and it wasn't much help. I feel like I just don't know my MC enough to write down his exact quirks and etc. Anyone care to drop their pearls of wisdom?
     
  2. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    First, it depends on the importance of the character. For minor characters, I just think what type of person do I need for this scene, what do they want, and what do they think of the major character(s) in the scene. Sometimes, one of these one-off characters ends up with a trait or quirk I find interesting, and I'll develop them a little more, but for the most part they are there to serve a particular purpose.

    Main characters are something different. Because my stories usually grow out of and around the main character, they are where the story itself starts. None of them were characters I set out to create, they all originated from some sort of inspiration- often a question (what might a religious demon look like- what if they lived in a world where belief shaped reality?, or what if the 'chosen one' is a broken human being stuck in a world in which the grounding of that world is infected/decaying? are two examples), sometimes a dream, or a piece of music, or just something I saw while taking a walk.

    From there, I work through a pretty standard set of questions- what's their name, when, relatively speaking, were they born, where are they from, what do they want and why and who are they- what kind of person, what interests them, what do they hate? Aside from basic background information, most of those questions are answered in the text itself- for example, through short stories.

    Once I start working on a character and have a general idea for them, I look for more little bits of inspiration or ways to detail them- whether it's watching a tv show and wondering how they'd solve the mystery or overcome the challenge in the episode, or how would they react in a particular situation at work, how would they deal with a particular person. And to all of those answers, why? So, I guess for the two possibilities you raised, both? I have a general sense of who they are very early on, but all the little details aren't rounded out until the story itself is finished. I guess I could describe my method as, I really like asking questions?
     
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  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It can often take me a whole first draft to craft my characters exactly the way I want them - they change their names, appearence, background etc. Some do arrive fully clothed and say hello my name is ____ . Of hundreds of characters only about 4-6 arrived that way.

    For me it really is about learning to listen to them (even the most minor character), on youtube there is a wonderful song 'You're Nothing Without Me' its from the musical City of Angels - helps there is a version sung by the actor that inspired Socrates lol but it is about a writer talking to his character, its a wonderful depiction of how I see my characters. If you can get the hang of Shakespeare he for me is the king of characterisation whatever else you think of him (appreciate not many people like him), however he can give you a well rounded character in a line of dialogue. Dolly Parton is also a good one to study, her abilty to characterize is amazing - songs like Joshua, Little Andy, Jolene etc she packs a whole character into a song - defy anyone not to love and ball with tears over Little Andy. The Joshua Kadison song Jessie is also good. Songs and plays are better places to study how to characterize quickly because it happens in a shorter space of time than in most novels.

    When you are writing them it is the little touches that bring them to life - maybe playing with a pendant when nervous, stamping their feet, try and have one action they do a lot like sucking their lip, biting their nails - in Socrates case it is having a massive stack of hankies in his pocket which he hands over a regular basis. Angus balls his fist and smacks it into his palm. Beatrice tosses her hair, the Abbot smiles benignly which somehow makes him more menacing. Give them a trick to their dialogue either a word that is uniquely theirs or an attitude, Angus says volcanic his dialogue aims for an intelligent innocence, very occasionally out of that comes an intense wisdom - he loses his temper easily and forgives very quickly, Tom says lad a lot his dialogue is friendly kind uncle, with a hot temper, the Abbot is verbose but has taken to translating for himself - his dialogue is fire and brimstone verging on dry humour no one else gets, Bessie malaprops when talking to authority figures, Beatrice tuts, rolls her eyes and speaks condescendingly to her husband and brother - her two dads she is a tad innocent, twist em round the finger type, Alice is hyper direct every word drips with attitude, Merlin is still learning English so his is stilted with odd Cornish words, Nate is intelligent and quick, strong etc

    Also they interact differently with different people - for example I had the hang of my characters by the end of the rewrite of the first book. Was surprised when my second book was harder to write - then realised it was from Socrates POV the brother of my first MC - he would speak differently with the Abbot who is his friend and boss (rather than with Angus who was a bit nervous of him and a seventeen year old boy), to Angus, Nate is an older brother and exciting spy, to Socrates, Nate is his one and only lover, they have been best friends since they were seven the interactions are different.

    When writing them out remember to include their flaws - their physical and character ones. Their quirks and their relationship to other characters.
     
  4. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me the story come first, then I place characters in there and see how I want/need them to react. I polish them up as I go along.

    Elgaisma Anyone who does not like 'Shakespeare' it is their downfall. I admit that I have difficulty understanding a lot of what he writes but, that does not mean that he in not the most brilliant writer that ever lived - it has more to do with my own ignorance.
     
  5. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I am yet to find out how I actually do it. There is no one set formula for doing it. The characters that I have created so far have found their voices in their unique ways. Some found their voices even before I could think of a story to fit them in, and most others found their voice along with the story. I sometimes write a few trial scenes in two or three different ways, in which my characters react to situation in different ways, speak differently etc. This, I suppose, is giving my character different voices. Then I choose the one I like. Ideally, the voice of the character should become stronger and stronger as I write more and more scenes. Sometimes I don't go through this process at all because I just know how a character should talk, walk, think, react etc.

    Anyway, one way or the other, the most important thing I believe you should know about your char or give your char is its deepest desire/yearning/goal. This ideally, for short stories, should influence everything about your character. In longer fictions, the desire may change.
     
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  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally I find Christopher Marlowe was much better for plots and stories. However for me very few match Shakespeare for the ability to write dialogue and introduce a character. Personally I think Dolly Parton and Tim Rice have a similar ability, they do it through song.
     
  7. Pen
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    Pen Member

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    Good question.

    While originally the main character in my current work came in part from real life, I didn't know him except by his acts, and so while the pictures, places and timelines were more or less there, ready to be transplanted into fiction (legal reasons, yo) the reasoning and personalities around the character and how that led to the events of the plot had to be written.

    My method was to think how the characters would be day-to-day, how they would respond in everyday situations I could remember happening to me and so forth. I had to be very careful not to make characters who were me- starting rationales for actions with an entirely different set of assumptions that were originally again reverse engineered from real life people after seeing them in many different situations.

    Also, that "What would your MC do" game in the games subforum is fun.
     
  8. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Characters is like friends. Some you 'get' and understand almost from the moment you meet them, but most take e few days or weeks to get to know.

    But even if you don't get or understand them at once, that just means that you must stick around and hang out with them to get to know them. Keep writing, keep thinking about them, ask them questions, keep putting them up trees.

    Perhaps there are some people you never really get, and other people you just never learn to like. But generally you will underdstand you characters, like them, and get to know them if you just spend some time with them.

    ---

    Another thing you can do, just to give imagination a kick is to brows a lot of pictures trying to find a photography or piece of art that capture you imagination and gives you a visual impression to project your ideas on.
     
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  9. Birmingham
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    Birmingham Active Member

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    I guess that for me it's sort of organic. I start with an idea, and whatever characters fit, fit. Then, of course, as it builds up, one should edit it. For example, in the story I'm trying to write right now there are two couples, who really have nothing to do with one another throughout the book. And one of these couples, I knew I needed to go in depth into how they met, etc. Yet the other couple, I knew I should present in a really awesome scene, one time, and then not show them for the entire novel, at all.
    So basically, I figured, I'm gonna have to find a good story for how Kevin met his girl, and I have to make sure that Jason and his girl are presented in another scene and then go away.

    And then, because of the name I picked for Jason's girl, I started to think of a cute story of how they met, and started wondering how I put this into the book. I wanted to put the story of how Jason met his girl because it was really cute, but I knew it would take away from the dramatic effect of not showing Jason for the rest of the book.

    So I had an EXTRA introduction story for him and his girl, which developed in my brain, organically, yet I was SHORT an introduction story for Kevin and HIS girl. So, after I let that story organically be created, I brutally tore it out of Jason's plotline, along with the girl's name, and I slapped it onto the Kevin plotline. It killed 2 birds with one stone, and helped all the characters get to where I wanted them, but it bugged me that I had to do it.
     
  10. Birmingham
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    Birmingham Active Member

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    One of my characters is a politician who radically changes the political system. So I had to write a pretext for: A. What shaped the world and his country in such a way that he's able to get away with it? B. What motivates him to change his country and even the world in such a radical way?

    So, as cliche as it is, sometimes you have to have the hurt hero who lost everything, and is now going to lash out and hurt all of the bad guys who hurt him, or all of the bad guys who hurt others. Sounds cliche, but I think I can get away with it in how I specifically built that character, the people around him, and the events that led him to where he is.

    So, I guess you should think about what motivates them. You got a character who is driven out of pure idealism and won't stop? Write a background story about how that character lost everything or was traumatized. Maybe you can even draw from what you or people around you went through. I draw from my own life, and the types of people that I personally would like to see punished for their crimes.
     
  11. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Thanks everyone! That was a big help. I guess I just need to face the facts: characters don't form overnight :D
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    good characters are like good friends they take time to get to know you, for you to know them and for them to know each other :)
     
  13. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Thank you, Charlotte, for your pearl of wisdom :D
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    lol sometimes I have my moments. Seriously I think the trick is not to tell them they are real - and whilst keep in mind they are not so you don't end up loopy, try and forget it at the same time. Treat them as companions and friends, and friends of each other or enemies.
     
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