1. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Help Fleshing Out a Trio.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Dean Stride, Sep 18, 2013.

    I've been thinking about starting my biggest project (only project) ever, which has been in the "making" for about 4-5 years now. To date, I've got entire manuscripts vaulted in my noggin, but the conception of the three main characters has not been as fruitful. In short, I'm not confident enough to begin before I'm absolutely (somewhat) certain that they are enticing enough to arouse a curious reader.

    This is really important to me, I need your help and/or advice on the intricacies and general aspects of all three. Anything that stands out inadequately, seems out of place or just feels too bland; anything at all.

    Would've done this myself, but I'm too biased at this point. I'll attempt to condense the most crucial information you'll need, but if anything additional is required, let me know.

    So here goes:

    MC #1:

    Background: Born in a small, but relatively influential family. Their father is a mafioso, their mother is a trophy wife. Has two siblings - younger sister, older brother. Mother and father are murdered by rival mobsters, sister is abducted by raiders, brother presumed dead. They disappear after the incident.

    Role in first novel: Reappears many years later assuming a different identity. Founds a security technology corporation, merges with petrol company into conglomerate. Hires MC #2 to hunt down MC #3. Builds an unlikely partnership between all MCs. Devises a plot to destabilize the country.

    Personality overview: Egocentric, intelligent, charismatic, introverted, sly, blunt, distant, awkward (only in intimate situations), harsh, emotionally inept, distrustful.

    Peculiar traits: Good at ball games, bad at athletics, rarely confronts others face-to-face in battle - prefers to use surroundings to his advantage, carries a gun - uses a Swiss pocket knife, loves gello - his biggest weakness, hates his secretary - doesn't fire her.

    MC #2:

    Background: Only child, born to a mother (petrol magnate) and father (retail industry). Mother dies when MC is young, presumed natural death. MC suspects father, runs away, becomes assassin for hire.

    Role in first novel: Chased by MC #3 after shooting candidate for mayor. Consequently hired by MC #1 to capture MC #3 alive. Tempted to join a partnership with former MC.

    Personality overview: Selfish, street smart, intimidating, socially awkward, cunning, direct, indifferent, soft (towards flowers), has OCD, loyal.

    Peculiar traits: Impressive metabolism, knows capoeira, writes poetry while hanging upside down, always carries a screwdriver, never drives a car - owns a motorcycle, always orders two of everything, hates polar bears, loves aardvarks.

    MC #3:

    Background: Orphaned when family dies at infancy, custody given to uncle (police officer). Uncle passes away when MC is older. Follows uncle's footsteps, becomes best head detective in local police force.

    Role in novel: Given the case of candidate for mayor's murder, begins tracking MC #2, confronts them after long game of cat and mouse, ultimately captured. Initially refuses to take part in MC #1's plans, but later joins out of necessity.

    Personality: Compassionate, geeky, respectable, extroverted, sleuth, pacifist, materialistic, brash, obsessive (with people), selfless, distrustful.

    Peculiar traits: Drives only red automobiles, has a smithy in the basement - crafts daggers, skilled at wielding butterfly blades, likes to weld bolts into art, colorblind, enjoys Frank Sinatra - hates Elvis, can play the fiddle, has an uncanny distaste for anything Italian.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm struggling to remember from line to line, because the descriptions are so cool and list-like. I'm just not getting a picture of the characters at all. Do you feel that you know these characters? What if you wrote about them in paragraphs?

    For example, for the third character: Jacob Lightner was born to a middle-class suburban family, but both parents were killed in a car accident before he was eighteen months old. His uncle, Paul Lightner, a bachelor and a policeman, adopted him and brought him into his small, shabby apartment in the city. Uncle Paul, though unmarried, raised Jacob as his own son, and Jacob grew up with the police force almost as an extended family. Jacob always intended to be a police officer, and except for a momentary experiment with a rock band in junior high school, he followed that plan. Jacob always regretted that Uncle Paul didn't live to see him put on the uniform; Paul died of an early heart attack during Jacob's sophomore year in college. Jacob was able to finish his studies; Paul had preserved every cent from Jacob's parents' estate and supported Jacob with his own earnings.

    And so on. Now, I don't really approve of character sketches in the first place, but I do think that they should be in something closer to a story format, rather than a list format.
     
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  3. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I agree with Chicken Freak. I seem to do the very opposite of you. Rather than making lists of traits, I 'feel' the characters first, get to know them, and then I draw up lists purely to remind myself how they first appear. Characters should evolve as time and circumstance change them, so being too rigid is not a good thing. It seems as if you are well ahead in terms of how you want the plot to go. Just watch you don't end up blattering square pegs into round holes to fit your initial plot ideas.

    The fact that you are even asking this, makes me think your see your characters as means to an end, not as real people. If you truly knew them, you wouldn't have to ask, and you'd have ready your defence of them. I would. I know it's not the way everybody does it, but I spend a bit of time working with my characters away from the plot. I put them in different situations, and expound until their personalities start to reveal themselves in a way I can relate to. Often, doing this, although taking up time, proves valuable, and even done as an exercise, I often come up with ideas that can be used to reinforce their characters and personalities within the main piece. Like I said, doing it this way doesn't suit everybody, but I believe that, just like life, the only way to truly get to know a person is to spend time with them. I find writing the best way to help these traits insinuate themselves firmly into my mind.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2013
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  4. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I do two things: first, I have to have something to say through a character. If I don't, I'll just end up writing boring procrastination. Knowing what I want to say with the story is one of the most important things when I come up with characters, who are the my chisel and hammer, the most important tools to get my ideas across, give them a voice..

    If I still don't have a solid grasp on my MC (or whomever), I don't care. I start to write anyway. I know from experience that after a given amount of words (could be 1k or 50k, doesn't matter), I'll know the characters inside out. Granted, they still surprise me sometimes, taking the story where it wasn't originally supposed to go, but that's only a good thing. Regardless of whether that happens or not, once you've started writing the character, the story, you'll get to know your people. Sometimes that means extensive rewrites of your early chapters, but that's just a part of the fun. I've even come to enjoy some of the uncertainty of early drafts, that sense of adventure and excitement.

    To me, the first and worst case of this was a few years back. For the life of me, I just couldn't get a solid grasp on my MC even though I'd planned the hell out of her. Since I write with KaTrian, I can't just halt a project because I don't know my MC, so we wrote and we wrote and we wrote some more. Lo and behold, at just around that 50k line, I realized I knew my character: her likes and dislikes, dreams and desires, fears and nightmares. So I wouldn't worry one bit; just write and enjoy the ride and it'll come to you.
     
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  5. Whedonesque
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    Whedonesque Member

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    I feel like the personality traits should always be a natural consequence of their personality or history. Why does MC 3 hate all things italian, for example?
     
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  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This. especially the bolded portion.

    The soul of writing is in the verbs, not the adjectives and adverbs. This is particularly true of characterization. Define your characters by what they do and how they react in the context of the story.

    Adjectives and adverbs are static. They describe state. Verbs deal with movement, and movement, as growth and change, is what makes characters vivid and memorable.

    I don't make lists for my characters. The text of the story is the record of my characters.
     
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  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't need any more 'fleshing out', you already have too much anyway. What you need to do is start writing this story. Then you'll have something to work on. It seems to me you are procrastinating with it a tiny bit ;)
     
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  8. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    I don't agree entirely.
     
  9. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Criticism duly noted, will start working on three short stories involving each MC, then I'll post them to the appropriate section. If anyone is interested, they can go check them out once they're done.
     
  10. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Another thing to consider, characters develop over the course of the story. They change and grow based on whats happening to and around them. The best way to get to know them is usually to just start writing them into the story that they were created for.

    Now I understand that you said that you don't feel confident enough that you know them to start your main project, but it might be helpful for you to just jump in and start it. You'll have plenty of time to make changes as you go along, and you'll really get the opportunity to get to know your characters, as they are in your story.

    Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't write them into short stories... I just don't find that he most effective way to flesh out characters. There are lots of different opinions on the subject, but I guess you have to find what works for you, and what will make you feel most successful. It seems that a lot of those character building exercises get in the way of actually writing the story that you want to write, imo anyway.

    Hope this helps! :D
     
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  11. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Hmmm... they don't necessarily have be be fully crafted short stories. I find scenes useful, personally. I chose a random scene and just go for it. It might only be a couple of paragraphs, but I put my character in different scenarios with the intention of exploring certain aspects. For example; my character is faced with three people who are disagreeing with him. What does he do? Does he fight his corner and stick to his own view, even when the dissenters have a point. Is his character malleable enough to take opinions on board? Does he tell them to f**k off, and mind their own business. It's by asking myself simple questions like these, that I start to see my character as a person. It doesn't have to be a convoluted, time consuming exercise, in fact I find it fun, and it helps me get a clear idea, not only of character but of voice.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm a little bit curious as to why you haven't actually started writing yet. I think you may be spending too much time charting, listing, etc, when what you really need to do is start writing.

    You've got characters in your head. Presumably you've also got an idea for what they're going to do. You've really got to take the plunge and start! Otherwise you're going to turn yourself into a champion list-maker and not much else!

    Once a character starts moving around, meeting other characters, dealing with story problems, trust me, their characters will develop! And they will change. And the story will change with them. That's the fun of writing fiction. Don't be scared to start.

    Pick a scene, any scene, that you might already have thought up which includes your characters. If you haven't thought one up, that's what you need to do next, not list yet more characteristics. (It doesn't have to be the beginning of your story or anything chronological.) Just write it, and see what happens. Once you've done that, you'll have a good idea of what to write next. Before long, you'll have a WIP, instead of just a head full of good ideas.
     
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  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want to move on from here, but really don't want to start writing (btw, I think short stories are a waste of time, unless they will be incorporated into the story later, so if you want to stick with this plan, then at least write about something that's likely to happen in the big story). Ok, let me start this sentence again :D Perhaps you can move onto planning your scenes. The skeleton of what happens when, think in terms of three act structure and what scenes you want to include. I'm sure you have a few scenes in mind already, start with them and see what kind of story you want to tell. Once you have this skeleton, start writing the first chapter. You'll edit it to death later, so don't worry if it's not perfect. Just plough through. Think about the opening, who is 'on stage' at the time, conflicts, goals etc. I bet that by the end of 2nd or 3rd chapter you'll have a much better feel for your characters and you'll be 10k words into your story.
     
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  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree. Original poster, one thing to keep in mind is that no matter how much you prepare, it's highly unlikely that you'll just write the book, do a little light editing, and have something to submit to agents. Odds are that you're going to write and rewrite and tear it apart and rewrite it again, for quite some time, and that your final draft may have only a vague resemblance to your first. So I'd say, just get started on the first.
     
  15. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    That's exactly what I was planning, by the way. My definition of a short story is close to what you're describing.
     
  16. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Hah, funny thing is, I'm expecting to get a lot of pressure on getting this thing done, even after I've finished it. But before I start writing, I want to be sure I can make my characters work for me, and consequently be able to work for my characters. My characters are like employees, they'll only get a job if they fit the job description. I don't go with vague notions of what they should be, because I'm a plotter. The way I see it, most of you are not like me, so your response was as expected (almost).

    The profile sheet I posted here as a resource is for them, that's just my style. But, I will heed your advice and feel the characters through several short stories (scenes).

    That is, once I get any free time from university obligations.
     
  17. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    More than a few scenes. I've got 2/3rds of the entire story in scenes all up in my head, ready to be written.
     
  18. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    The peculiar thing about my idea of the characters is that it used to be quite fluid. I'd have one prospect for them, then I'd scrap it for another, entirely different one. However, over the course of these few years, they become more and more solid, getting ripe for the picking. I purposefully waited mainly for this reason, but I'm beginning to feel like I'm ready to do this (almost).
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, you're definitely ready! And good luck...! It's likely to be the most fun you've ever had ...well, the most fun you've ever had in front of a computer, anyway.
     
  20. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Well, at least it will be more productive than getting wasted in the campus kitchen.
     
  21. jg22
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    The 'peculiar traits' are stupid and won't add anything at all to your story (they also reek of trying too hard to fashion unique characters). I'd ditch them.
     
  22. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Thank you for that completely lacking and non-argumentative answer, it will be duly ignored.
     
  23. jg22
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    jg22 Member

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    What does a character's preference for gello or distate for Italian cuisine add to a story- or even character complexity? What is the relevance of a preference for red cars, but not blue cars, for example? How about a hatred for polar bears? What has that to do with anything? Would either your story or your characters be any different, be any lesser, if you removed all of these silly 'traits'? Your character's personality peculiarities become gradually evident as the story progresses- as you write the story, but, as you have not yet started writing your story, instead, you have a list of throwaway attributes feigning a shallow veneer of complexity. I think that you should stop sitting and thinking up ways for your characters to be as random and unique as possible, and start writing their story. The greater in size your list of character traits and attributes pre-writing, the greater will be the limitation on dynamic character development when it comes to writing, But duly ignore me if you like.
     
  24. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Of course I'll ignore you. Your ability to think outside of the box is fairly poor from what you're giving me so far, and instead of trying to give me advice, you're trying to patronize me and give me a lecture.

    For me, a personality starts with the little things, not unlike the universe itself. So what is their relevance? It makes a character more life-like and builds up a believable story around them. If you've ever met a real person, you'd know how odd their preferences may be after you've spent some time to know them. For example, I love Japanese culture, but I hate Japanese food, and this little bit of trivia has altered my personality to some extent and may even explain a few of my personality traits, such as my disgust towards marine food, which relates to my fear of deep water, which impacts many of my decisions when around large bodies of water. My love for Japanese culture means I value honour and teamwork, as well as natural artistic expression. See how you can develop an entire personality around a bit or two of trivia?

    Why stop there? I love gello. In fact, it's the one thing I hate sharing, which means that it is some sort of weakness of mine; It can be used against me and can be a very interesting discussion topic of why exactly that is, which in itself may reveal something crucial about me . It makes for a much more interesting soft spot than, say, kittens.

    Preference for red cars over blue ones? Perhaps it goes deep down to social and hierarchical stereotypes, where red represents a color of dynasty, power, passion and aggression, while blue may represent something else, such as royalty, scholarship and moderation. Some aspects may overlap, but the preference clearly indicates an incline towards one or the other, it helps show rather than tell what the personality of its wielder is.

    If you think such traits are "silly", then you and I have nothing more to discuss.
     
  25. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    Woah dude. Nice of you to share your opinion and all, but your delivery is definitely a bit off. He's not saying that these details will be included in the story, they're just to help build up the character and their traits. I think that it adds volume and life to a character and helps you write being more in their mind space. Just because it's not the way you work, doesn't mean that it doesn't work at all.
     
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