1. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    Do your characters unintentionally grow as you write?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by The Elder One, Sep 22, 2016.

    When I started writing, I tried to outline characters' personalities, hoping to flesh them out but as I make progress in my novel I find that they take turns and twists I wasn't planning them to take, but it turns out great!

    One example is a character on my current WIP that was originally meant to be a introductory plot device, but he grew into a sort of sidekick with his own personal subplot tied wonderfully into the overarching plot.

    I now go with the flow when writing and I find that the ideas come up as I go along making the characters more alive and developed than I ever hoped I could make them.
     
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  2. Viridian
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    Viridian Contributing Member Supporter

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    Absolutely. When I first began my WIP my most interesting character was supposed to be my MC, but then all these other characters started sounding really great as I wrote them and completely outshone my MC. It's taken lot of writing to really find her voice but only through writing her scenes did I find it. Just outlining her did me no good.
     
  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Nope--they grow intentionally. :)
     
  4. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    Its all the cider and calvados - I keep warning blade that he'll be a right fat bastard by the end of book two, but he doesnt listen :D
     
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  5. Farryn
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    Farryn New Member

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    I'd just say go with the flow with writing, allow the characters to 'write' themselves out.
    One of my characters use to just be a one time only character, like he was only meant to appear in just one book. Yet, I kept on writing him and he actually became more of a secondary-main character who the people I shared my writing with loved. So eventually, I made him have a more important role in the series I am writing.
    Although now he is more mature, not the sneaky little scoundrel I first planned him out to be. xD
     
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  6. Pauline
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    Pauline Member

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    It's no surprise, I just hope they do their thing and evolve
     
  7. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Plutonium fuel rod, microwave burrito, and 3 ghost peppers.:supergrin:

    Nope they are pretty much expected to evolve, even if it doesn't mean all the much. Darwin would be so proud...:superlaugh:
     
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  8. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely my approach. I introduced one character on a whim, just to see what happened. He was an American Indian, serving as a deckhand on a first century Roman ship... though only I the writer knew that. Or a reader who spoke Cherokee... his name was Galosga, meaning "He who fell down". And about three other words, dawagistala (flint), huldaji (mountain lion) and selu (corn). He was simply a somewhat strange looking individual that didn't speak more than a few words of any language, kind of a deaf mute, physically a big guy, sort of a Pequod. Close friends to a Jewish rebel, also a deckhand. Those two had become inseparable, as the Jew had taught him what little Aramaic he had, on a previous ship, the Orion out of Tyre. Plays an important role in a key jailbreak. He didn't get to tell his story until quite late in the book, and then can't tell much..."Not know where home is, where here is either." Imagine yourself abducted by aliens, and taken to a planet somewhere that is 2000-3000 years ahead of yours in technology, without any common language other than kicks and sticks and tone of voice, treated initially as a slave. Gets to be part of a major love story with another whimsically introduced character in the third quarter of the book, Hina, who also evolved out a fierce well-armed Xiongnu woman sitting on a horse into someone who plays a major role in the heroine's evolution. She becomes his huldaji. And the final sentence of the book indicates that one of their descendants will be a person of enormous historical importance.

    Go with the flow! That is the key to making the characters come alive, and acquire their own personality
     
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  9. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I usually have a sense of who my characters are supposed to be at the outset, though it's never definitive and usually far from refined. The characters definitely grow with the story, as it's the story itself that shapes not only who they are but who they become. And it makes sense--the events that transpire in people's lives change them, whether for better or worse, and the main characters are no exception.
     
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  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    They definitely snap into focus the more you write them. I've had one or two where the developed versions of the characters end up not fitting the actions I had assigned them in the plot, and I'm more comfortable editing the plot than editing the characters, because I have a lot stronger connection to the idea of the character than the idea of the events.

    I have one character who was meant as a bit part but upgraded to sidedkick and then to co-protag within two weeks of inventing her - because she was the most interesting person I'd come up with. That, and now she has a very different role, because I originally had her envisioned as someone who didn't think the villain was all that bad and then got smacked upside the head with reality, but the evolved version of the character is way too smart for that. I originally envisioned her as a bit of an airhead - then I figured out she was whip-smart but ACTED ditzy as a protection mechanism - and then she evolved into just unleashing that intelligence on people in a really blunt fashion. So, she's no longer in the dark about the villain being villainous - and she has a better function.
     
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  11. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I started the Doctor Who story in my signature, I got about 3 chapters in before I realized that my the lead protagonist worked better as a serial killer than as one of the heroes.

    I also came up with a Malmooth character a few chapters later. He was initially supposed to be a secondary character, but he ended up completely by accident with an arc that fit perfectly into the arcs that I had already planned for a bunch of my other characters.
     
  12. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Similar to mine. My pirate initially appeared as a ruthless scoundrel but I wrote about him, I learned he was an urbane, self-educated and very professional thief. After his plans went wrong, he became an unlikely ally to his former victims who ultimately rescues them from certain death. He uses his extensive skills at evading the law to get the Romans safely out of China. His former accomplice, and the Romans' shipping master, started out as a minor bad guy, but I found he was almost a psychopathic killer. When the pirate meets his former accomplice near the end, there is a dramatic fight in which the psychopath is killed, but Ibrahim is mortally wounded. By this time most readers tear up a bit, since he has become such a steady father figure (he is about 60+) to the unlikely group , the man who always has the plan to get them out of the next tight spot.
     
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  13. Darth Batman
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    Darth Batman Member

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    Basically, I start with an idea and let my writing fill in things about the characters.
     
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  14. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    No, I don't trust my characters to have any sense. Or maybe that means, yes, they do. :)
     
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  15. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    I think it's a delicate balance

    I generally start out with a general premise for a character and general idea of a story I'd like to tell or premise for a plot

    Like having a lump of clay, I play around with the ideas & see what shapes come

    I don't create any outlines of bullet points in the initial phase, as my mind generally jumps straight to scenes & dialogues which I let play out & see how it shapes the character & story. So a lot of it is natural evolution, but as it's still all from my brain it's not quite out of nowhere. I'm still writing it, even if it wasn't pre-planned. I do use outlines later to keep track & make sure it all flows later on when the story has real traction & more or less ready to be fully fleshed out.

    However, none of my characters surprise me. They always behave as can be expected based on the situations they're in. I always find that my characters make perfect sense in the choices they make (even if it's flawed logic on their parts) because I know who they are & where they're coming from.

    What always bothers me about a lot of contemporary stories I've read is how characters at times seem unpredictable or without rhyme & reason behind their choices. And I'm never suprised when the authors in interviews comment "I was so suprised" and "it's like they did it themselves." I always see these sorts of things are flaws in the author's writing. An author should always have control of their story, and their characters should always progress or devolve rationally.
     
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  16. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even if you think of something down the road that you realize fits with your general character concept better than your original idea did?

    When I started thinking about making Captain June Harper into a serial killer, I was surprised by how much better it made both her and her friends' characterization and the story as a whole.
     
  17. Crybaby
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    Crybaby Contributing Member

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    I create a hollow character. You know just the basics to get me started. When the story begins to unfold and the MC is presented with happy/sad or confrontational situations the personallity begins to fill in the blanks, surprising me. This is the part I enjoy most about creating complex characters. You know their nature but like most of us, you think you know how you'll react in a certain situation until your presented with it in real life. For some people the contrast can be wide off the mark. If that makes any sense at all.

    There are times I write freely letting my brain randomly form behaviours for characters, it doesn't always work, but most of the time it does.
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I totally agree. It's so much fun when a character says or does something you didn't expect. It's always the right thing, too. I think it's a mistake to force characters to 'behave' all the time. Let them grow with your story. It doesn't close down possibilities (which is what some meticulous planners may fear) it actually opens up possibilities. Makes connections you might not have thought of when you started. I think a rich character always makes for a richer story.

    Of course you then have to go back and edit carefully, to allow for the changes you made. An important, but necessary step in this process.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2016
  19. hirundine
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    hirundine Member

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    I have a character in my novel (Joel) who started out as a nice guy in order to contrast my moody and broody guy (Ragnar). Originally my protagonist, Emily, was supposed to have a choice between the two of them - I didn't know which one she'd end up with. As the plot and the characters developed together, there ended up being a lot of chemistry between Emily and Ragnar and absolutely zero between her and Joel. As things developed further, Joel became an antagonist. I only realised this when I was writing a very plot-significant dream Ragnar had and there was this bit where Joel was holding a crossbow on him bragging about how he had an army and Ragnar didn't, and I suddenly saw that holy crap - Joel's a baddie. It just happened naturally in response to the circumstances. After a confrontation sometime later, Joel backs off on chasing Emily and starts to realise what a butthole he's been. Ultimately this leads to him trying to redeem himself by helping Ragnar (and quite a few minor characters) clear volcanic ash from the roof of the building they're all holed up in. It ends catastrophically badly, but it's not Joel's fault, and even though it goes wrong, by doing the right thing, the character ultimately returns to the original intention.

    Characters change in response to a developing plot. Sometimes you change them on purpose and you get to consciously decide on the changes. Sometimes you make those changes without consciously thinking about it and end up wondering how did that happen. Both of those things happen, and they're both normal.
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think that may be down to bad (or negligent) editing, rather than a lack of control of the story. If a character surprises you, I'd say go with the surprise, but then you have to backtrack and edit what you already wrote so the whole thing fits. Just changing a character in midstream without explanation isn't what most people mean when they say 'my character took on a life of her own.' They mean they came to see the character differently from how they originally envisioned her. That's not good enough on it's own, though. The original writing needs to get changed so the character makes sense throughout.
     
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  21. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    I don't know of a time I've ever had that happen, personally. Admittedly, I've not had the entire scope or extent of my character at the onset that became more apparent over time. For instance, Rumpel had always been discreetly manipulative & had a pension of collecting "debt" or having various people owe him favours to be later collected. It wasn't until much later I had a full idea of how ambitious he was & how these debts were meant for an ultimate overthrow of the established order. But even so, it all flowed naturally and made perfect sense as it expounded. Nothing contradicted or was at odds with his established character, and it all perfectly fell in line with his own rationale: he believes in the aristoi (rule of the best) and that magic is the clear outward manifestation of arete (excellence). And thus it cannot be a stable order, as the very condition is solely reliant on the very character of the aristoi, whose very exceptionality makes them more capable of greater good or worse evil than the ordinary individual. As Rumpel had the greatest manifestation of arete (the strongest magic), it follows he assumes he rightfully ought to be head of the established order. And as I thought it through, I knew it all made perfect sense

    While I might make additions or there may be growth in some quality or other, I don't usually backtrack or re-write character traits or aspects. And I'm never surprised where it leads to, as it always follows logically.

    But I don't think it's wrong if changes are made to ensure it follows logically. If it wasn't rational or didn't make sense prior, of course adjustments or changes are the best way to go. That is a sign of a good author who is in fact taking control of their story.
     
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  22. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Works for you. Me, I just take dictation from my characters and try hard to keep up with them.

    After a while, especially since mine is way long, and I have a bunch of mid-level characters that pop in and out only occasionally, I keep a list and a few paragraphs on backstory on each. So as they reappear later, that have the write job, the name is spelled correctly, age, place of birth, languages spoken. But that is for consistency, as the characters do not emerge from any pre-planned background.
     

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  23. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    And that is in some cases. But generally my petpeeve is there are authors whose characters quite frankly act out of character. No matter which way you look at it, it doesn't seem to have any rhyme or reason to what the character believes, what the character has learnt, any of the character's motives long or short term, et cetera. And that tends to be when these author's claim "the characters had a life of their own" and suprised even them.

    And to be perfectly clear, I said I think it's a balancing act. I think creative thinking quite often comes at the inspiration or mood of the muses, and is a very different type of thought process then when you think critically. So I don't think there's anything wrong with going along with the flow as your imagination moves the story and moves the characters. That is only natural & to be expected.

    It's just a complete negligent & thoughtless "they do what they want" that has no logical relation to their most basic being that irks me.

    My best description of what I mean is like when you open a damn or let loose a torrent of water: yes, it can sweep you along & often it may make unforeseen or rather unplanned adjustments as it interacts with the terrain. But it will never flow uphill or defy the natural logic of water. So it's not overall surprising when water behaves like water--even if it makes unplanned course corrections--, and being suprised water does not flow like water is indicative that something is inherently wrong with this scenario.

    I was not particularly commentating on the growth or consequential adjustments characters take that may not have been strictly planned out from the onset by authors.

    I'm sorry if that was unclear
     
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  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I agree. It annoys me no end when characters do things that are 'out of character.' But I always maintain that can be fixed with a proper edit. Even if that means totally rewriting what went before, if you like what they've become better than you like how they started.

    British and Aussie soap operas are MUCH better that the US equivalents, in that the characters are more realistic and events pass by more quickly. But this often results in a character who has been built up by the actor and the writers to be a certain sort of person suddenly having a personality transplant to the extent that you stop watching the show. Or—because some actors become so annoyed at what their characters are now expected to do that they leave the show—cutting the character out of the story altogether.

    Soaps, of course, are different, in that you can't go back and change what has happened to the character over the years. But you CAN do that with an unpublished novel.

    If your character started out as a nice person who wouldn't hurt a fly, then suddenly decides to molest a child or something because you suddenly thought up a new plot direction or a new aspect of the character, you can't just leave that. You've got to go back and insert SOMETHING into the start of the story that makes that metamorphosis believable. You might have a more interesting character and story on your hands by changing, rather than just sticking to your original "oh, no, he's a nice person who wouldn't hurt a fly" notion because it's what you thought of first, but you can't make that change believable without setting it up. You do the setting up during the editing phase, if you've made those kinds of changes.

    I consider it lazy writing to accept that a character has changed, and not bother to go back and make the change plausible for the reader. However, that's different from thinking it's a mistake to allow a character to change from what you planned for them. Sometimes, as others on this thread have said, an unexpected change of character is what turns a mundane story into a memorable one.
     
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  25. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    And with that I agree whole-heartedly. They can on occasion, do something stupid or out of character, but they should have a reason for doing it.

    In my story, the Arab pirate decides, after some intense negotiations with his Roman victims, to cooperate in getting their ship to China, but he has good practical reasons for doing so... his escape was compromised, he has nowhere to go except in their planned direction, improvising as he goes... he has tons of gold and silver in the hold, but what does one do with that without a secure landing spot, security and transport? It is just a temptation for someone to take both the ship and gold from him, or even the crew to mutiny and throw him overboard. So they offer him a modest ransom (~$100K or so in today's currency) to get them to China, in exchange for the centurion's continuing to train the crew to repel any boarders that might come along (And that happened, twice). At this point, he is 60, can never go back to the Mediterranean as he owes the creditors big sesterces for financing his failed hijacking, besides the Roman government wanting to crucify him on his own masthead. That, and the fact that he kept the Romans from drowning chained in the hold, and one rescued him in that same storm, they work out a grudging alliance that eventually becomes a warm friendship... something he has never known. So he decides he will do what he did as a child in Arabia, get a flock of sheep and go back to shepherding, settle down, maybe marry and finally have children, nobody trying to chase him down in China. Sounds stupid and out of character for such a successful pirate, but something like that might look attractive, until you try it again in a north Chinese winter at age 60.

    And that conveniently got him to Luoyang, which was beginning of the China herding areas, where he could rescue the Romans from the clutches of a Chinese jail while he is sitting around figuring out what plan B might be for his retirement. Which turned out to be getting them back to Rome overland, and his getting killed near the end.

    Believe it or not, all of my readers like these unlikely and unexpected twists and turns.
     

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