1. Khilo
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    Khilo Member

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    Getting to Know Your Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Khilo, Oct 14, 2008.

    As far as I'm concerned (which probably isn't very far), to have a good character, you should know them personally. Just because they aren't tangible doesn't mean they aren't real.

    Let's start right now, in fact. Names are the least important part of a character, some people will say. Names will develop once you know the character better. While I do agree with that as far as some people go, I like to have a name for my character when I first meet them. So, let's make a male character, and we'll call him Brian.

    I don't like to write down Brian's physical appearance, simply because I like to let the reader imagine him as they see fit. However, I will have my own knowledge of what he looks like. If I didn't know what he looked like, I wouldn't be able to have him do logical things. If he is short, I can't make him reach to the top shelf at the grocery store without climbing, could I? So, let's create Brian's image in our own head. He may look different to you than he does to me.

    After the physical stuff, you should get to know his personality. (Once you really know him, you may end up trying to write something about him, and you'll be able to hear him in your head telling you that he would NEVER do such a thing, and how dare you try to make him? It's happened to me.) Brian may be a heart breaker and a bad boy, or he may be a pocket protector nerd. It's all up to you. But, even the label doesn't go deep enough. What makes him angry, happy, sad, upset? What does he find funny, and just how far does his humor go?

    Next, let's study his background, his past, his future, his dreams, his goals, and all that good stuff. Is he white, black, Hispanic? Asian? How many parents does he have, and why? Does he have brothers and sisters? How about cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles? Has there been any tragic events in his life up til now? What does he want out of life? Where will he be in twenty years? Is he happy, depressed? You get the idea.

    Let yourself get to know him, as well as or better than you know yourself. Your characters will make or break your work. You can have an amazing plot, but if you have dull characters that no one can relate to, where will you end up?

    I hope this helped some of you! :)
    -Khilo
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Khilo, luv, pet. I'm going to suggest that you edit your OP and make the font bigger. It was a bit hard to read. You might not get many responses to you query.

    As for me, I often have my characters write journals in order to get into their heads.
     
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  3. Khilo
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    Khilo Member

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    Thanks! The font is bigger.

    That's actually a good idea, having them write journals. I've never thought of that before.
     
  4. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    That's really not true, I'm sorry to say.

    Your writing is what will make or break your work. You can have both an amazing plot AND good characters--if your writing is amateurish, no one will want to read anything you have written.

    A lot of amateur writers suppose that the reader is going to love their characters as much as they do. Again, that is not the case. How the reader reacts to your character, including whether the reader will love your character or identify with him/her or not, has everything to do with your writing skill and nothing to do with what's going on in your head when you write.

    See your character as a robot that you are placing in the middle of a group of people, trying to gain their approval of same. The robot will look however you want it to, and do whatever you want it to--all the people in the group can see is the robot, and no one can identify with, laugh at, or feel sorry for a motionless, featureless robot. In your mind you may love your robot, and see him tossing back his head and laughing, or eating an apple, or swimming in a lake--but unless you can MAKE him do these things so that your audience can see it, too, you are failing in your task as a writer

    So your robot is "tall", for example--the group will see a "tall" robot, but only "tall" in terms of how you define "tall". If you are only five feet tall yourself, then your robot may be "tall" to you at five feet nine inches, but to many in the group it will not seem all that tall. That's a fail, right?

    My point is that you may be able to see your robot's, um, your CHARACTER'S character--his/her family, friends, how he acts when he's bored/sad/angry, and so on, but the reader can't see those things and if they are given out of context with your story, the reader will quickly become annoyed. You'll be sitting there all upset because no one loves your character the way you do--you'll be thinking: "But I told them the story of what happened to him on his first date! Why are they all dissing me??"

    They're dissing you because they don't CARE what happened to your character on his first date, and if they don't care it's because you didn't use your writerly skill to MAKE them care.

    I'm not picking on you! You should in my opinion read more works by your favorite writers and try to figure out what it is the writer does to make you care about his/her characters.

    If you love or hate a writer's character, it's always because of the writer, and never because of the character itself.

    Better luck to you. It's good to see that you are trying to analyze your craft. yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  5. Khilo
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    Khilo Member

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    Thank you.
    I never thought of it that way. To me, the characters and the plot have always been equally important, but if my characters aren't developed enough, I have a hard time getting to know how they will work out for the plot, and it all falls apart. But I think there is for sure truth to what you said.
    And no worries, I don't feel picked on.
     
  6. mutants vs. vampires
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    mutants vs. vampires Member

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    Whenever I meet my character for the first time, I imagine there characteristics, not their name. I usually search on the internet, or use a name I really like (Isabella, Rosalie (twilight, yes, i do read it), Taylor, or Taylee ex.)


    But when there name comes to mind, everything falls into place immediatly.


    Taylee:
    black hair with red highlights
    nose piercing
    round nose
    wide blue eyes

    ex.

    not that i'm using her when i'm writing...
     
  7. Khilo
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    Khilo Member

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    (Hey now, Twilight is good.)

    I did the same thing with Jane. I didn't think of her name for a while. I just sort of developed her in my mind, and then the name happened. With Adam, it was the complete opposite, as with Kate.
     
  8. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    It's helpful to know the basic stuff, but I don't think it's necessary to know everything about your character. I usually come up with the basics and add more as it becomes necessary. If you know everything, you will face a lot of boundaries on what your character can do.

    Like Scarlett said, it's your writing that matters. It's how you go about getting it done that matters. You can know your character better than you know yourself, but if your grammar is awful, no one will want to read anything you've written.
     
  9. Khilo
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    Khilo Member

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    I agree with that. If your writing is horrible, you won't get anywhere. But for me personally, my characters are a major part of it, because to me, if I don't know my characters really well, that's when I end up hitting the serious bumps. If I don't know my characters well, I can't tell how they would react to my plot, even if it is really well written. I think well thought out characters and really good writing go hand in hand.
     
  10. mutants vs. vampires
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    mutants vs. vampires Member

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    my writing....i dunno if it is good or not. i would guess not, even though i get 98s and 100s in english when i write a paper. but...
     
  11. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I make it a point to know and care about my characters, and I find that doing that helps with everything else such as the plot.

    I know everything about my characters. I created them and thus I know what they look like, how they feel, what they would do. I try to become them in a sort.

    So I find writing for characters I care about helps with everything else. I attach myself to characters. If I can't invest in a character, I can't invest in a plotline. And if I can't invest in my own character, how can I expect my readers to? So I make it a purpose to put a lot into each and every one of my major characters. They become very real to me and I find that knowing them and caring about them helps everything else along.

    Just my 2 cents.
     
  12. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    I spend alot of time developing and getting to know my characters so nothing "unexpected" happens.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you empathise too much with your characters, you may find it dofficult to put them in jeopardy or inflict harm on them. That's great for your characters, not so great for your plots.
     
  14. Little Miss Edi
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    Little Miss Edi Contributing Member

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    I'm never that logical with my characters. Surely if you just fill in the boxes then they're not characters but cardboard cut outs of them?

    My characters appear, demand attention and come complete with answers to all the questions I might have (I might have to coax those answers out lovingly but they're there! :p ) No matter how well you get to know them, if they're really '3 dimensional', they'll have a way to surprise you, that's what I love about them. :)
     
  15. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    I read where a fellow poster (who's name escapes me) suggest that you can interview your character. I think its terrific way to get to know the ins and outs of a personality.
     
  16. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Not something I go for myself, but reminds me of a device used by actors to help develop characterisation. The actor sits or stands in the centre of a room, or stage, and is questioned by the rest of the cast about traits his/her character may or may not have. Works in that respect, but may be going overboard in the writing department. Horses for courses...
     
  17. Khilo
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    Khilo Member

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    I do that for the plays I'm in. It's fun to learn something about the character you portray, especially when the thing seems so trivial, like, "what's your favorite color?" or "what do you like to eat for breakfast?"

    I like to know those things about my characters as well.
     
  18. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Whoohoo, it is my turn to disagree. One word Twilight. I for sure did not enjoy Twilight because of the writing. The writing is amateurish, and tons of people wanted to read it, and have read it, and love it.

    I think I liked it because of the character's. Not so much Bella, but Edward, and Alice. Alice is awsome.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The characters are revealed through the writing. The writing can be good in terms of characterization and weak in other areas; but your endearment with the characters is STILL from the writing, not from any list of attributes.

    Fictional characters only exist through the writing.
     
  20. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Difficult, yes. Impossible, no! I admit, I have backed out of killing a character twice in my serial already cause I liked the character too much. However, I find that the character's survival was indeed for the benefit of the story.

    I am also going to be killing off a character I REALLY like at the end of the season. And in the novel/novella(not sure how long this will be yet) that I'm writing on the side, I empathise heavily with the characters and let's just say that the ending isn't sunshine and roses.

    And as for inflicting harm/putting characters in jeopardy, THAT has never been an issue. Maybe actually killing them has been difficult, but I never have felt any trouble with the jeopardy factor. But that is just me. All I know is that my characters mean a lot to me. They are real to me and as such, I think that helps with tough decisions regarding their fates. Things don't always work out in the real world. So looking at these characters as real actually helps with tough decisions such as killing them, or even just putting them in jeopardy.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I meant the kinds of things that might impede them from reaching their goal, and also leave them permamently affected. Would you hold back on disfuring burns that would scar a handsome or beautidul character for life? Could one of your favorite characters lose an eye, or a hand, if that would tell a better story? How about lose a child through his own carelessness?

    These are life-altering events. And if they occur when the character is already struggling to meet an important objective, it could be the last straw, making him turn aside. But if despite all that, he gets back on track and manages to prevail in the story's main plot line, then you have the stuff heroes are made of.

    However, your hero will never be the same afterward. If you have formed an attachment, and perhaps even want to use him later in other stories, it may be difficult for you to allow him to suffer such losses, especially if they are senseless losses with no recompense.

    Your character loses a job in a way that ruins his reputation, and he was set up. However, he never is able to get back at those who used him as a fall guy. There's no justice to it, only bitterness. But he still must continue on.

    Do you see what I'm getting at?
     
  22. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes probably. Although I personally don't get into gruesome details like that because that's not really where I go with the story. And now that you mention it, the premise for my novel/novella is actually a man loosing a child through his own carelessness. Ok, well that's not really the premise, but it is the backstory to it. So yes, I can honestly say with that last one, yes I would do it. I'd probably do the injuries if I felt them necessary, but so far I haven't.

    Yes, but sometimes in life, things don't work out. And in my novel, the man doesn't come back from his life-altering event. Of course he could have very well done that, but I felt the story would've been too predictable had I gone that route and I felt the darker ending I chose to have a much greater impact.

    I do see what you're getting at. And I see how this could pose as a difficulty. But like the characters in the stories that we write, I think it's possible to overcome them. As I said earlier, I think accepting the characters as real could make it a bit easier to let bad things happen to them, at least it seems to work that way for me. Bad things do happen to good people in real life. It's the fictional world where everything can work out happily and life can continue on with few to no problems. To me, considering these characters real people sort of helps me personally, to accept that bad things will happen to them at some point. It's the struggle and unpredictability about whether or not they will bounce back from this that I feel can make a good story.
     

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