1. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Getting Stuck in Character Ruts?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Killer300, Dec 28, 2013.

    What I mean by this is when, despite attempts otherwise, you end up writing basically the same main character regardless of the tale one's trying to tell.

    In my case, if I ever attempt to have a male lead, the character is always introverted to an extreme, is, at the oldest, in their early 20s, and is terrible at academics and/or athletics. For who they resemble, they frequently come off as Sato from Welcome to the N.H.K., if in an American context somehow. It doesn't matter what type of tale I tried to write, or how ludicrous such a character would be in the context of the story, if they are male, and the lead, they end transforming into the above.

    Now, this isn't an inherently bad character, but obviously, this isn't an appropriate type of character for every story. So I wonder, do you ever get stuck into ruts like this? If so, what do you think caused them? Was it a lack of exposure to other character concepts? Or something else?

    Please share your thoughts on this, regardless.
     
  2. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't really had this problem, because I find humans infinitely interesting. That means I'm interested in portraying several different kinds of humans, characters I think have stories to tell, regardless of their age, sex, gender, race, or whatever.

    I have noticed that I do have preferences though: I mostly enjoy writing physically capable and relatively smart characters who still have flaws and elements that set them apart from stereotypes.
    Of course I have written physically weak main characters too as well as dumb characters etc, and I've enjoyed them, but if someone told me that I could write just one character before I died, it would probably be an action-oriented, high-to-moderately intelligent... hmm, I'd say young woman. Just because generally I find women more interesting than men, but since nobody has a gun to my head, I tend to write 50/50 men and women.

    I never have two similar main characters in one story (unless I'm writing twins or some such), but some MCs from different stories do overlap sometimes. In those cases, I plan carefully how to separate them in some way. For instance, if both are e.g. as described above, i.e. fit, smart, young women, one might be a quick-witted, hot-headed, extrovert who tends to dash headlong into trouble (or pleasure) while the other is a slower, but deeper thinking, more calculative introverted loner who prefers to consider her circumstances carefully before making her decisions.
    Of course, that's only a very superficial example, but you get the idea.
     
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  3. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I used to have this same problem, and one of the things that helped me was to start out by giving each character one major difference between them, and to, at least temporarily, focus on that major difference.

    So, my character was the overly-b****y, moderately intelligent, well-built, arrogant character that everyone wanted to like, but couldn't help but hate. I listed down all of the main characters that fit this description (at the time, Lottie, Valarie, and Estelle). The first thing I said was, "Does this description really suit any of these characters for the purpose of the story?" I decided that Valarie really is suited to it. She has a reason to be the way she is. Lottie, I decided, should be that way in the beginning of the novel, when she feels the need to defend herself. But when she feels safe with the people around her, she'd calm down and let her "real," personality shine through. The major difference I focused on with her was an inherent desire to help the underdog. And, with Estelle, I decided to start by trying a layer - that her b****iness and all that was only a result of an insecurity.

    Once these two characters were given a decidedly non-b****y quality, and I started to play off of those more and more, their personalities began to change. It's hard to write about "that b**** that helped that scrawny little kid," or "that b**** that cried herself to sleep, last night." And it opens the door to more personality traits.

    I actually got the idea to do it from a friend - she's having a hard time writing one of her characters because she wants him to be an a**hole, plain and simple. But she knows his back story and what's causing the A-holedness, so she feels the character isn't coming across that way, anymore. It's completely changing her chapters. So, for me, I just worked it the opposite way. ^.^
     
  4. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Ah, I see.

    This could help break me out of the rut, depending on how I change the character in question.
     
  5. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I think people tend to write what they most identify with. I for example am extremely introverted, have had a history with drugs, and am academically oriented (history mostly.) As a result, my MC, Allison, is a heroin addict that while she makes many stupid decisions is actually extremely intelligent. She has a girlfriend, but their relationship is falling apart because she is such an introvert, whereas her partner is kind of needy and wants lots of cuddling/contact (similar to my dissolving relationship.)

    Her sister on the other hand is a high powered Public Defender, kind of stuck up, wants the finer things in life like Louis Vitton handbags, big SUV's, etc, and sees her druggie sister as a pariah at times. This is a characature of my mother's best friend.

    Allison's drug dealer is based on the guy I used for years, and many of her friends are composites of people I knew, along with interesting barflies, and other folks I've met over the years.

    My next MS will take place in the south with characters based on some of the individuals I've met since I arrived in Tennessee. Sometimes that's all it takes is paying attention to the people around you: Their traits, mannerisms, speech patterns, and so on. Some of them can be pretty interesting!
     
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  6. Love to Write
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    Love to Write I'm a lover of writing. What else is to be said? Contributor

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    Background is important to why a character acts the way they do and why they are different to the character next to them.
    If you're having trouble making your MC's different from one another I suggest taking a moment to create a brief background for each of them.
    I think you'll find that their backgrounds will effect who they are as a person. Uniquely different backgrounds will help you create uniquely different characters and personalities.
    The character sheets that the Role Players create on the RP portion of the site is a great example of this. How is it that they're can be ten different characters but each of them be uniquely different? Style of the writers is one of reason but the other main reason is because each of the characters have a different background, a different history.
    Hope this helps!
     
  7. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Great replies guys! But okay, yeah, I myself have social issues, hence, perhaps my MCs are based off that, among other traits.

    And yeah, changing their background a bit should help, and making sure the background doesn't get twisted to return to the MC I'm traditionally stuck with.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think I've had that problem yet, but I have read other authors that have, published ones, even famous. And While I believe that after huge success, readers expect a certain type of character in your stories, at least I would like to see some variation from one book to another. otherwise it's going to be pretty predictable. So I think you're right thinking about this now. And Thornesques advice was good. Think about their motives, their reasons for being how they are and you'll find it easier to make them different. Maybe you only need to flesh out the characters a little more.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree that you need to know a character's past. You need to know his or her behavior, certainly. I know the behavior of many friends and colleagues, and their values, without necessarily knowing diddleysquat about their pasts. You can make up bits of their past as the story calls for, but it is not necessary by any means.

    In other words, it is one of the pervasive myths of writing that you must compose a back story in order to make a successful character. It's bovine floop.
     
  10. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    This is certainly true, especially as backstory can frequently lead to a backstory trap, but I think in this instance it might have more value, if only from the perspective of breaking someone out of a writing rut.

    Still, this is a good point.
     
  11. Earthshine
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    Earthshine Member

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    I also used to have this problem. All of my characters would be overly friendly and kind (basically, Mary Sues), and would in some way reflect my own personality. The only way I found to combat this was to FORCE myself to write characters who were the complete opposite.

    For instance, since I wrote overly kind characters I decided to write a character who was b****y, bigoted, cruel, shallow, ect. At first I really struggled, and kept slipping out of character. Eventually, however, I got the hang of it and found I actually really enjoyed writing this character.

    If I were you I would force myself to write characters who are the total opposite of your usual character. You say you usually write characters who are introverted? So write an extrovert, but not just any extrovert - the most extroverted character you can possibly imagine. Even if you just write a short story or a random scene that is in no way connected to what you are currently working on. You don't necessarily have to do anything with the character, but simply having the practice of writing different characters will hopefully break you out of your rut.

    I hope this helps.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is the usual cause of characters being too similar. The best solution is observation of people who are very different from you, followed by practice compositing characters based on those observations.
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeeeaaah, young promiscuous moderately good-looking women with daddy problems.

    I've since broken the rut and in my and T.Trian's WIP I haven't a single character like that, but in our earlier stories and manuscript drafts, yup, I think I wrote her 4 times. Not that they were exact carbon copies of one another, but those elements were there in all of them.
     
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  14. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    I never had this problem to speak of. Usually most of my characters are based off of an aspect of myself that can be explored which is how to evolve into different people. Try that out.
     
  15. outsider
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    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm having a similar problem, in that some of my secondary characters (the main protagonist's friends) are from a working class, Scottish background, as am I.
    I am resolutely determined that the characters must be authentic and adhere to the Glaswegian demotic in all dialogue where this would be the case in life. I reason that it's simply trial and error but often feel that in order to make the text more 'readable' I'm compromising this resolve. Furthermore, a few of these characters have had limited education and in order to convey their thoughts, I find I'm using my (the narrator's) voice to accurately express how they feel as they could not do it adequately themselves.
    I realise this could be construed as quite preposterous, being as its 'my' world and I decide just what or what not anyone can think or say but does anyone else share these dilemmas in their writing?
     
  16. Wild Knight
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    Wild Knight Active Member

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    For my heroes, they are socially awkward, snarky, and pretty ineffectual, which is getting on my nerves lately, because that just makes him a "generic hero".

    My heroines are more divided. They are either maternal in some way, though not necessarily always kind... or they are violent if really pushed. There is almost no in-between.

    I believe that I am getting better at portraying the male mains, though.
     
  17. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    This is important, I think. I used to write characters that were basically just me, though they did differ in some respects based on the story I dropped them in. They were means for me to live vicariously, to be what I wasn't and get what I couldn't have. Back then, I was horribly introverted, anti-social, depressed, and felt helpless and aimless in life. I didn't talk to or interact with people. I was closed off from the world. As I grew up, I started to open up, to experience more people and more of the world. I saw what diversity there was around me. Even still I know there's a lot more than I know. There's now very little of myself that slips into my characters.

    I met an author once that worked as a dealer at a casino so he could meet interesting people. I never read anything of his, though, so I can't attest to the value of such a thing other than it sounds solid on paper.

    I, personally, am not good at improvising. I'm not a sharp wit, I'm not quick on my feet. I have to think things through and consider them before I can get anything of substance or value. And on top of that, I frustratingly can't think much through without committing something to paper, without getting it out of my head. I'll just get stuck on that one thing and dwell on it until the end of times. So I, personally, find it very helpful to work out the history of my characters. All the main characters (and increasingly, secondary ones) in my current project have at least a page of history written out so I know where they came from, what they know, who they know, and all that jazz. I've come up with some great story hooks that I never would've thought of otherwise by doing this. And while there's plenty, I think, to say for the nature of a person, nurture also has quite a bit to do with who we are.

    If I ever feel like a character, main or otherwise, is too much like others, I know I just haven't fleshed them out enough. I tend to have an end goal in mind, a personality and demeanor and whatnot that I want someone to ultimately have, and it's often quite fun to figure out how life got them to that point.
     
  18. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Read different genres. Even bad ones you dont like such as chic fiction lol. See how the leads are. Take notes about how they stand out and compare and see how different they are. Other than that people watch or write 3 characters the same and change one thing.....then another......and compare.
     
  19. TheApprentice
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    TheApprentice Contributing Member

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    I have a similar problem. My characters mostly have either blonde hair, green eyes, or both. They are also all anti heroes, but my role plays all take place in an anti-hero universe.

    Anyways, just have them alike to you in most ways but give them one difference. This is a baby step I'm still on. Keep giving your characters more differences and eventually you will have a diverse cast of characters.
     
  20. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    It seems to me that having problems with characterization indicates that the writing is driven by plot or atmosphere or some other "force" and definitely not focused on the characters. As an older sort of guy, I am never at a loss for a character, as most people I know are "characters" in the sense the word used to be used. I often quote Joe Ancis who said (approx.) "The only normal people are those you don't know very well."

    If I tried to write an action hero, I might have a problem since I don't know any, or any who come close. I do know a couple of pretty tough guys though, with faults and peculiarities that could be grafted on.

    If you can't come up with diverse characters, or at least diverse character traits I would imagine it comes from either not knowing enough people or not bothering to get to know them.
     
  21. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    I used to fall into this and sometimes I still do it however whenever I find myself falling into this trap I break the characters down to a single trait (it might be how the world sees them, how they see themselves) for example 'arrogant'. Then I start writing/thinking the arrogant character into various scenarios independent of other characters focusing on just this trait and soon I know what makes my character tick and they're a lot more than a single personality trait. Once I've gotten into a character's head and personality outside the story I find it easier to write them consistently and believably in the story.
     
  22. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    I have something similar, a character that has exactly the same personality in everything I write. He would be the sole focus of it all too, if I let him, but I satisfy my need to write him in there by making him a secondary character. He's like my muse :p
     
  23. Bridget from NowNovel.com
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    Bridget from NowNovel.com Banned

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    I think it's really important to get down to the nitty gritty of who the character is, because that's what will set him apart from your 'uber-character' who keeps creeping in... What small quirks make this guy so special? I'm also a big fan of creating loveable flaws, because I think that's what makes us human, the little things we do that are unexpected and/or 'wrong'.

    [link removed]
     
  24. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    First, best solution? Force yourself to write something completely out of character, wholly and consciously different from anything in your comfort zone. For me that's short stories and first-person POV. So, I wrote a short in first. We-e-e-ll, sorta short. As short as I've been able to make it so far... 14,000. A far cry from short but...
    But the first person narrative approach worked so well and was so much fun that I'll probably go there again. The short form? Well, as you might have noticed, it's virtually impossible for me to write short. o_O
    But forcing yourself out of your comfort zone will help to break "bad" habits and help you to see people and things differently. It works.
     
  25. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I just faced this same problem: making yet another vanilla male character who just sort of walks through the scenes while spouting intellectual greatness. The same guy seems to find his way into most of my stories, and I hate him. Faced with introducing a male 'hero' yet again, I read this thread and knew I had to do something different.

    What I did first was change his physical appearance in general, and enhance it with great detail (in my character outline; not necessarily in the story). It helped me paint a much better picture of him than any I'd had before. Then, for personality I tried to find in my head a real person I already knew that would be close to the type of character I needed, but not to copy them completely. I narrowed it down to one friend/acquaintance, and one cousin. I morphed the two of them together to get the person I wanted, who was the 'good guy' I needed without being the reflection of me same generic guy I'd always been using. I now like this character, and look forward to 'working with him' instead of pushing through scenes with him to get to ones with my female (who, as usual, is filled with quirks and I adore).

    Summary: cull a portion or all of your character's basic-ness from someone you know and can relate to, then adjust as needed.
     
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