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  1. Emmy
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    Emmy Member

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    Getting to know you...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Emmy, Apr 27, 2009.

    I think I know my main character. He is someone that I can see in my mind, I know the sound of his voice, the way he laughs, who he loves and hates, and what his hobbies and interests are. I know my other characters in a similar manner, but my MC is the most important.

    But I don't think I know him well enough yet.

    I've always heard that it's best to form really good characters and let them tell the story. But in all honesty...I don't know if my character's actually doing that. I think he is, but then I find myself stuck in a lot of places in my story.

    I've done a lot of things to get to know him better. I've answered various character formation questionnaires, but the answers aren't very compelling. I don't look at them and say, "Wow - that's the ONLY possible thing he could say!" ...but I don't do this with people I know in real life, either. I've also had conversations through him with other characters, trying to flush out unknown points of his character. I've thought of him in detail - everything from what kind of car he drives to how he combs his hair and what kind of clothes he likes to wear.

    I've even looked up his horoscope personality, as a Sagittarius - because that personality is closest to my MC - and it's helping, as strange as it sounds. But I still am not 100% convinced that I know this guy, inside and out.

    My other characters? In the bag. But this character is still a bit of a mystery. What he would say in response to others, why he would say those things. When I'm writing, I just write whatever comes in my head, whether it's something a personality like my MC would actually say. I know this is a mistake in the making, but if I were to sit there and try to think in his head, I'd be at a loss. He's complex, he's a guy (and I'm not), and he's much older than I am. I know someone something similar to my MC in real life, but not 100% the same.

    Would it be awful to describe him and get some feedback? I don't want to seem lazy, but I've really worked on this guy and I'm not getting what I need to know.

    Or is it possible for characters to reveal themselves to their creator as the story progresses?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This sounds like the writers' equivalent of actors' The Method.

    I don't believe in fully formed characters from the outset. The author knows the character as much as anyone, but the character remains a writer's wprk in progress. Expose the charactre to a new situation, it is incumbent on te author to decide how the character will react, and to further decide if that response is consistent with the character. If it seems out of charactre, is it really? Or is there somethingelse going on? The character may be responding in an unexpectred way due to some past event, and it may be time to start hypothesising what that event might be, Or you could make note of the odd behavior and decide where it comes from later.

    I prefer to leave mysteries unssolved at the time. People surprise us, and themselves, all the time. We may not ever figure out why in many cases. But a mysterious choice can become a separate story, or can just become an intriguing character aspect.

    Incoimplete characters are MUCH more flexible. The more you fiull in unnecessary details, the more tightly you constrain the character.

    Set your characters free! Liberate them from the shackles of a thoroughly predetermined history.
     
  3. Emmy
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    Emmy Member

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    Very good - thanks for this. You've answered my last question, which I should have written at the beginning of my post.

    Thanks!
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Writers who say they let characters tell the story really confuse me. Characters are nothing more than literary devices that let you, as a writer, communicate ideas. You make them do, say, think whatever you want to advance the story as you want to. That said, any intelligent reader will immediately reject an inconsistent or unrealistic character so you do need to be careful about how you depict them, but as for "knowing" them in a real sense, and having them talk to you, its a little new age for me. Writing is just words on a page, after all.
     
  5. TereFaerie
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    TereFaerie Member

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    Did you spend any time writing a back story for him?
    I don't just mean a few sentences.. frankly I only use those questionaires as guidelines-- no, more like prompts. I read them, and then I take my trusty notebook and pen and write exhaustive back story as I think about his job in my novel. Yes, it's a job, and the things he needs to do to propel the plot have to have proper motivation.
    Otherwise, he's just scenery. If he doesn't propel the plot, you don't need him.

    Find his motivation in his history. You made him, created him, but he didn't come out of thin air. For every major character I use I write a little history that explains how they became the person they are and the person that is worth writing a story about.
    99.9% doesn't go in the book. Its all for you, to make this character come alive. He's not a mystery to you-- you know all his secrets. His deep dark secrets like when he watched his brother's friends kill a kitten when he was eight and the guilt he felt for not standing up to them. Or whatever. Think of the events that shaped your existence (first love, etc.) and decide what events shaped his. Pulling on our own emotions like that makes it easier for them to seem real, in my opinion, especially frustration, lonliness, shame, etc.
    Get one of those small one dollar "assignment pad" style coil notebooks and just see how much you can write about the character. Keeps the characters disctinct in my mind. And I find that the smaller expanse of paper is less threatening, lol.

    Good luck!
     
  6. Sphi
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    It depends. Is your story about plot development, or is it about character development?

    A plot development story is a story in which events bring the plot from one point to another. For example, a story centered around a flood that rips through a city and leaves a family fighting for their survival is a plot development story. There may be character development, (family issues resolved, a coming together in a time of need, etc) but the plot is driven by action and events.

    A character development story is a story in which the character(s) change drastically over the course of the story. An example would be a newlywed couple who fall out of love, and the story follows the man, who becomes a lonely alcoholic, and the woman, who is left with the teenage daughter who is constantly in detention at school, and how they both learn to find hope again just when life seems not worth living. The events of the plot all work towards shaping the characters, and everything the characters do reveals more of who they are.

    If your story is a more plot development story, it's good to have a pretty good understanding of your characters and the minimal changes that will occur.

    If your story is more of a character development story? You can't know everything right away. Give your characters room to grow and breath and let the changes come to then. Allow them to develop and shape, to gain and lose, to show you who they really are as the story progresses.
     
  7. Emmy
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    Emmy Member

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    These are great suggestions - thanks one and all. I've already started working on this character, using these ideas.

    On the side: I feel like I've bought into a lot of junk psychology about writing. I read famous author's interviews from time to time, trying to glean little writing tidbits, and there's a lot of this kind of talk. "Let the characters tell the story," etc. Then I talk to other writers, and I think to myself that I don't know jack about writing. It's bizarrely refreshing. Letting fictional characters tell a story has always sounded a little...off to me, but what do I know? I'm not pulling millions for my books, let alone even been published yet.

    It's good to have a place to come to where realistic and straight forward advice is given.
     
  8. c.n.nevets
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    c.n.nevets New Member

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    Always remember that you're the writer. You are creating the stories, the settings, and the characters alike. However that works for you, it's right.
     
  9. B-Gas
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    If you're still having trouble getting into the character's head, there's a couple of good ways- there's my favorite, the interview, where you, as the author just talk to the character and write down everything that happens and everything they say. Try and figure out their qualities from that.

    Otherwise, there's the twenty adjectives method- write down twenty different adjectives that describe the character. They all have to be different, and they all have to be different aspects- no saying "stupid" and "idiotic," for example. You can use small phrases if you need to. You'll find yourself putting down strange aspects of the character that you never realised before. This one works best with two or more people, each one writing their own character.
     
  10. democat
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    People's personalities develop through their experiences, and that's how I try to develop the characters. In the course of a year a persons personality tends to change, they could start the year as dancing on a table, pissed off their face and end it quietly enjoying a glass of wine with their lover.
     
  11. lilix morgan
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    lilix morgan Contributing Member

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    Yes, very much so. When I began on my novel my MC was very much in my head when it came to looks, personality, the little-ish details. But there were places, much like you just said, that lacked and fell off. Just like your best friend in RL, you can't always know EVERYTHING about them instantly; it takes a good, long time, years even. As as a writer, that kind of time isn't available generally, so we do our best and just write. Gradually, through the writing, the MC and any other character will gradually come out, and you will learn much, much more about them.
     
  12. Pliny
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    My approach on characters is to ask myself one question: what type of person are they? Then I try to answer that question as concisely as possible.

    For me, it's not about quantity. I feel the writing should dictate the characters, and not vice versa; it cannot become incumbent upon the character to do the storytelling. Ultimately, they're just a medium within a medium, through which you communicate to the reader. Fleshing out characters in too-great depth keeps you from the writing, and it's only by writing that you can truly discover the important things. How relevant is your character's favorite color if it never comes up in the writing? Of what import is your character's favorite restaurant if he doesn't eat out during the story?
     
  13. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    Well, that's how it is for you. I think about it the complete opposite way. My characters have a total life of their own, I barely even had to think them up, it felt like they just appeared in my mind fully created and waiting to tell their story. I love them like real people, they are friends. I definitely don't think of them as "devices", but then again I'm very new age. ;)
     
  14. bumboclaatjones
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    bumboclaatjones Member

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    I always develop characters by watching human behavior. I put together the personalities and character traits of people I know or have seen walking about. I find it makes for more believable characters.
     
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