1. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    Handling of Characters You Identify With

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by NoGoodNobu, Oct 18, 2016.

    I just had a sudden revelation:

    Any character that I find myself identifying with is a thousand times more likely to experience violence or abuse in one way or another in the course of the story than one I don't.

    I realized this when I was listening to a song yesterday that seemed to be in line with my female main character for a WIP when it brought up the idea of strangulation. When I thought about this character being choked, I immediately discarded the thought and went "no, no, this girl should be strangled, if anyone." But for the first time, I actually pondered why it wasn't okay, to my mind, for Character A to be strangled but it was almost automatic that Character B ought to be?

    And it was because Character A was in no way like me, and that Character B shared small, certain traits of mine.

    And then I did a rather quick rundown through all my stories over the years, and realized whatever characters I myself associate with in some way or other have been stabbed, strangled, beaten, viciously attacked, and even on occasion murdered. They could be main characters, they could be minor characters. But nasty things were more likely to happen to them than the others, and more often than not did happen to them.

    I think the reason why is the same reason I use self-deprecating humour: it feels safer to attack myself than to hurt anyone else.

    Also, most my characters undergo trials & hardships regardless of relation to me; but it seems it generally isn't as prone to violence.


    So I'm rather curious: for characters with which you identify or have put something in of yourself, do you change the handling of that character in your stories? Do they get preferential treatment? Or do bad things happen to them more often? Is there literally no difference between them and the characters wholely unlike you in your works?

    I'm rather curious if anyone else notices a trend towards one way or another.
     
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  2. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    It's an interesting question. I think I generally know when a certain character is more autobiographical than average, but I don't think I feel any greater sympathy for them. If anything, it's probably less sympathy. They usually end up with a bunch of great stuff happening for them, that they in no way deserve.

    I'm gonna go rethink my life now...
     
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  3. Infel
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    Infel Active Member

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    I can't really think of characters I have that DON'T have, at least in some part, some aspect of myself in them. It's easier to write about something, or build a character around a trait, that you have experience with, right? Whether its a good trait or a bad trait, if you've got it then you can play with it. I've got some characters I really have no taste for that I still have to grudgingly accept came from some part of me. I don't know if I could create a character that's wholly different from me--I wouldn't know how to do it!

    I wouldn't say their traits influence their handling, though. Doesn't it all come down to how they act? If they deserve preferential treatment or not? I'm far from the best creator on the block, but I feel like if I build a character out of shyness and depression, and at some point in the story she decides to buckle down and pull up her boot straps, then she's earned a happy ending, or at least a break, right?

    Maybe you're just mean to characters like you because its easier to write how they'd react??
     
  4. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    Yes, I do the same thing. I put the characters closest to me through hell, probably because I know best how I would handle it in real life. When something good happens to the characters, I feel I have enough vested in them emotionally that the small accomplishments seem miraculous (they do to me, anyway). My poor MC has to deal with a horrible mental condition that she tries desperately to hide, but the more she fights it, the worse it gets. She quickly becomes a target for violence and discrimination, but everyone around her turns a blind eye. I [probably] don't have a mental condition, but I have been terribly depressed a few times, and I used to have epilepsy, the combination of which left me in a very dark place. My MC is sort of an embodiment of that time, I guess. I used to have dark, disturbing nightmares for months straight, and I'm actually using those exact dreams in the story, but my MC experiences them as hallucinations.

    I also have a male character who never developed strong coping skills, so when his lifelong dreams are crushed by the people he loves, he takes to drinking to escape his shame. He creates this outer shell that makes him seem cynical and numb to everything, but he slowly learns to let himself be vulnerable and to accept himself as he is, all artsy and timid and romantic--not at all what his father wants him to be. I can't help rooting for him, even though he's an antagonist in the story, because I see bits of myself in him and in his own hell he goes through.

    This is an interesting topic... I'm curious to see what others will post!
     
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  5. MusingWordsmith
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    MusingWordsmith Member

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    Interesting. Now, my two cents about this. Hm. The characters I most identify with don't tend to go through more than any others, actually. In fact my most 'traumatized' ones I don't really identify with at all. (I don't have a very clear idea for most of their stories yet though, so the degree of trauma may change.) A running theme of mine seems to be having something terrible happen, but being able to pick up and move on with your life. In fact I'd say most, if not all, of my (main) characters fit that theme, whether or not I can identify with them.

    The character I identify with the most out of my current batch I'm working on has gone through some trauma. He's fresh out of what is basically a three-years long kidnapping situation when my book starts. But out of the three, I'd say my female MC is the one who's gone through the most, and I don't really identify with her that much.

    So, it's an interesting thought, and I can defiantly see where it might come from but ultimately, not me.
     
  6. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Good questions. Good thoughts.

    Sometimes I don't realize I identify with characters until after I've written about them. And then, sometimes I wonder if I identify with them or I just want to be like them.
     
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  7. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I love a character who makes bad decisions. Can I relate? Sure. While writing I try to think like my character. Briefly, I am the character. But bad things only happen to them if that's how I want the story to go. None of the characters are real. None of them are really me. I think it's good to be able to relate to your characters, but if bad things are only happening to the characters you feel are most like you, make sure that's what really works for the story and this isn't some attack on yourself.
     
  8. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    Yes, this is definitely the first thing that went through my mind when I made the discover: has this unconscious habit adversely affected my stories in anyway whatever?

    It's only been about a day since I made the realization of this trend to my stories, but looking back I don't spot anywhere that it is disruptive or counterproductive to the stories so far.

    Most incidents are fairly inconsequential (as contradictory as that sounds) and aren't ever really big plot points or pivotal moments (with maybe one story as the very noteable exception).

    That raises the question then of were they necessary?

    That answer seems to change based on the particular story & incident. A few actually seem to be no, they were not necessary; others seems to be a resounding yes, they were in fact; and a lot I'm still unsure of and trying to process.

    The ones deemed necessary seem to be needed because there isn't anyway else the scene could've gone down, based on character dynamics & the situation, et cetera. While it is possible for the plot to move forward without the incident ever taking place, it does take something away from the story when removed, a sort of subtle gravity of tone as a shading to the backdrop or something.

    But to be clear, bad and even horrible things do happen to the characters that don't share qualities of mine--it's merely they aren't of a physical attack or violent nature. And often what they undergo--psychologically, emotionally, whathaveyou--can come across more traumatic in actuality because they are more pivotal to the plot overall.

    And my final thought--I don't think the characters are autobiographical or anything that close to home. It just seems to be small qualities that I tend to relate to. I doubt anyone could actually pull all those characters together & see any sort of connection between them--they vary in age, sex, personality, temperaments, and myriads of other ways. Probably only one person outside myself (my best friend & platonic love of my life) could actually pick out the small details that lead me to identify with them--and that's because she's the only person so well versed in all the eclectic microscopic facets of me.

    But now that I know that I have this tendency, I am going to be keeping a closer eye on how I deal with my characters & how it effects my stories.
     
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  9. Iain Sparrow
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    Iain Sparrow Active Member

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    The problem with most Fantasy/SFF books I read, is the same thing that happens in movies... you almost always know who is going to die, and who will make it to the end. It's just natural that the characters you take the most care in creating are the last ones who you want to kill off, even for the good of the story.

    Unfortunately, if you're doing that sort of thing than you're treating characters as props.
     
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  10. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    A simple explanation may be that exploring tragedy, assault, violation, or any form of abuse through a character we identify with is more natural and intuitive than trying to write these same circumstances through the perspective of a character with which we don't.

    I don't think it is any reflection on your emotional state, merely reveals that you aspire to be authentic in your writing.
     
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  11. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    I know precisely what you're speaking of--and that it is frustrating.

    Now death isn't a normal occurrence in most my stories, and only a very few feature it. But I always had a saying:

    The death means nothing if the dead mean nothing to you.

    And I find I'm more likely to kill characters I love than anyone else. My favourite death scene had supporting characters of two mischievous brothers that had a friendly rivalry/jealousy going between them but who were inseparable, and I just adored the two of them, so I killed just the one off and left the other broken as a painful reminder with his guilt & shame. I killed a handful of other characters in that same work too, including the protagonist at the end, but I definitely had a favouritism for those boys and consequently the one's death.

    Apparently I have a reputation with the few people who I currently let read my writings for killing off characters they emotionally invested in (if my book features death).

    I am curious though if they can tell which characters will die in any given story of mine; because while I like to think it wasn't made obvious, perhaps there is some telltale of preference or something else that points out that this one is marked for death. I should probably ask.

    I never want deaths to feel like a gimmick or that I'm just a one-trick pony.

    More things to consider〜
     
  12. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's interesting. I don't think I've done it myself, even though I've written two characters who were quite similar to myself. I don't mean the usual every-character-has-a-piece-of-me similarity, closer than that. I don't think either of them experiences more physical violence than the more neutral characters, but it's possible they're made fun of more than usual. :D

    Maybe you feel "safer" and more confident when you're punishing "yourself," or something like that. If they share your personality and background, it may also be easier to imagine how they'd deal with a certain problem. With a character who's very different, comes from a different background and has different experiences requires more careful planning, I think. Like you need to first get to know the character before you can put him/her through the grinder. That can be quite frustrating and exhausting if you don't know the character well enough, write something, and then later have to go back and rewrite while with "you" the way they react, survive or cope with an assault comes more effortlessly. However, I don't mean to imply writing yourself into a story is lazy or anything. Difficult themes and violence aren't easy subjects to explore, so I'm just wondering if it's possible that with a bit of a self-insert the author feels more confident tackling them.
     
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  13. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    In a way I kinda know what you mean. Though my characters kinda live in a violent universe, and dish and take.
    Though I have done horrible things to secondary characters that are far worse than to the MCs, and I don't identify
    with them. Unless you count my MC that mentally tortures herself, trying to figure out what is the best thing they
    can do given a situation and turn over a new leaf.
    On the other side I have hordes of aliens killing humans (Military units) like it was an Olympic sport. I think that
    most people can identify with the fact humans are not the only horrible creatures ever conceived. And this is
    not limited to simply getting ultra violent with breaking bones, and disemboweling them with swords.
    Granted there are allied aliens of the evil human faction that get the same treatment. Also plenty of
    horrific acts of human on human violence in similar fashion, as well as less than pleasant concepts as
    rounding up civilians and mercilessly harvesting their organs to aid the factions war machine.
    So for the sake of bad things happening, there is never a shortage of horror and gore on the stage of
    a full scale war. Plenty of blood, death, and torture to go around. Good and bad are beliefs, and practices
    based upon the observer. The good can do horrible things, and the bad can do wonderful things.

    So why do you feel it is necessary to harm the characters that you identify with?
    What happened to you in the real world that makes you want to harm a fictional
    character so strongly?

    I don't think the author of His to Use:Mastering Melody, actually identifies with Melody.
    If she does then I don't see it as she depicts some pretty nightmarish version of a BDSM
    relationship that is a few notches below the movie The Girl Nextdoor.
    I doubt that the author has been in a position in her real life that would even come close
    to mirroring that of her character Melody in the slightest.
    (Though on a side note: Why are there female Erotica authors that think being tortured
    by rich guys is sexy?)
     
  14. G. Anderson
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    G. Anderson Senior Member

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    I've never thought about that before, but I'm afraid I might actually do exactly the opposite. :S

    I tend not to write characters that resemble me. Why I do not know. Maybe it makes me feel safer, or maybe I find them more interesting. Maybe I learn from them or maybe I'm simply a boring character to write about? But I know that I always try to make them very different from me. Yet they are an extension of me because they come from my imagination. And yes, at times they have been inspired by people I've met, but after all they will still arise from my impression of the people I meet.

    Therefore I end up with some characters that I may not resemble, but whom I understand better than the other characters. And I find myself a lot more protective towards these. I also find that I tend to make male characters more antagonistic, which is something I don't like, since I don't believe that men are worse than women (and vise versa). But being female, I think I try to protect my female characters a little more.
     
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  15. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    I think it's also possible to over-think this. If you spend too much time trying to figure out whether you treat certain characters differently, especially if it's really only a slight inclination one way or another, you may just end up writing something less authentic-sounding. As always, the only real test is when it gets in front of an audience (or beta readers). You may be seeing something that hardly any readers will even notice, let alone object to.
     
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  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a million answers to this because there's a million different ways to relate to your own characters (insert my usual rant about the neurobolics of hacking your own brain). Some people will tell you it's never okay to feel bad killing off a character because they aren't real and if you feel bad for them then you're treating them as real when they aren't. Personally, I'm not of that school, and I don't like character deaths played for entertainment/gore value - not because the character has feelings but because it says something about the author and the reader if you enjoy the IDEA of someone dying horribly (I'm personally repulsed by that idea, and even more so by the idea of enjoying it).

    That said, while I don't kill characters OFTEN - and because I think death relatively rare event in our real lives and therefore too much of it in non-war fiction is a problem - I do have plans to kill off several big ones in sick ways, and a lot of "extras" end up dead (If you write a terrorist attack, it's kind of hard to avoid writing about lots of nameless corpses). That said, with named characters, my usual rule is that if they weren't CREATED for the purpose of dying, they live. If a character gets killed off, that means I knew I was going to kill them off before I wrote them - otherwise, I do have enough of an emotional connection with all of my characters that I personally feel wrong "deciding" to kill them (whereas if I start from a death that "already happened" and work backwards, it doesn't feel like me hurting someone). Although, I do have a tendency to be gory when I do kill characters - mostly because I think violence it horrible and I want to make it FEEL horrible for the reader.

    ....and I know that all sounds weird, but again, the human brain plays lots of tricks on it's owner. Emotions are weird things,

    And I do have at least one major death on my series outline that I "decided on" after knowing the character a long time - it's poetic, so I broke the rule *evil grin*.
     
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  17. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    This is a very good point. Think of it this way: challenging yourself. If your 'characters' are close to you than you have the opportunity of exploring your own kind of responses through them, and maybe grow as a human in the process. Come to think of it, this is true with any 'character' you generate, be it close or the exact opposite to your own character. It lets you explore.
     
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  18. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    I don't think I have any trauma or anything I suffer from. To be fair, my paternal grandmother was abusive but, after my first black eye at one year of age, my parents adamantly never left me alone near her. She was just racist and it happened that while my siblings took after her ethnicity I as a child looked strongly like my maternal grandmother's ethnicity. (It's funny now, because as we grew up all of us altered in that my siblings got darker and I got lighter and none of us look like anything at all anymore.) The biggest result is I just never really took to my paternal grandmother. But I know everything she said is rubbish & discount it because she said the same & worse against my Mama whom I absolutely adore. So I don't think it emotionally or psychologically scarred me personally.

    The only thing I've ever been diagnosed with is ADD.

    I don't think it's necessary they suffer violence--it's simply that if there is violence, they are more likely to be those that undergo it.

    For instance, the WIP mentioned in the initial post has no physical attacks or violence of any kind. The strangulation put in my mind by song lyrics was disregarded for both girls in the end because there is absolutely no place for it in the text. It doesn't progress the plot, it doesn't do anything for character development, and it makes no rational sense in the context of the situation or the character dynamics.

    Most of my works aren't anything too serious. Generally I write fantasy or light romance--it's usually fluffy or silly or just fun. Technically the one character that has the most violence perpetrated against her (strangled, hunted, dissected alive & conscious, et cetera et cetera) was in a comedy. She also was a supernatural/undead sort of entity so she pretty easily survived all the attacks and only the dissection bit actually left her a little rattled. It may seem weird that a lot of that violence was played for laughs, but in a story populated by witches, werewolves, vampyrs, witch-hunters, etc, you kinda expect there to be beefs. ƪ(˘⌣˘)ʃ But the most violence still did happen to the one character to whom I most related.
     
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  19. Dominique Parker
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    Dominique Parker Member

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    Nine times out of ten if you're a character in something I'm writing you're going to have a pretty rough time. There are some who have it harder than others but, on the whole I usually have a pretty clear idea of what kind of tone I want my stories to have. A lot of the time that will be the deciding factor as to who's going to have to deal with the bulk of the hardship.
     

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