1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    How can I break away from stereotype expectations?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ryan Elder, May 30, 2016.

    For my story, I have rewritten it a few times, and I have gotten some comments from readers and friends saying that they do not believe the characters.

    They say that the they do not believe the police officer character, saying that it's because it's not what a cop would do, or they do not believe the lawyer character saying it's not what a lawyer would do. Or they do not believe the serial killer villain character, cause it's not what that type of character would do, etc.

    I feel though that perhaps the readers have developed stereotypical expectations of the characters based on their chosen career paths though.

    I do not think of my characters as cops, lawyers, or serial killers, I think of them as people. Each individually different people, who are allowed to behave in their own characters even though they have certain career paths.

    But readers have expectations as to what those types of characters should behave like. Is there anything I could, or should do, to break that mold in the readers' minds?
     
  2. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I would say that there is a narrower band of expected behavior from police officers or lawyers. There are rules and laws that govern these individuals. These people have a great deal of responsibility and training and will, therefore, do certain things. I think the best way to vary these characters is to inject personality into how they do things. Their personality will color their decisions, but they will still make choices that are in keeping with their professions.

    The serial killer, though, I mean, who knows what those guys are thinking. You are talking about lunatics who may dote on their pet kitten while they kill someone's grandmother the next day.

    I guess without any more specifics, that's the best advice I can give. Did your readers tell you what aspects of your characters seemed unconvincing? Maybe the problem isn't that your characters are not convincing as a police officer, lawyer, or serial killer per se, but not convincing as real people.

    Do they have motivations, desires, fears, goals, likes, dislikes, friends, enemies, opinions, and things like that? If so, are these traits illuminated in the story? When your readers are saying they don't believe in your characters, perhaps they mean there is a lack of depth.

    Look at your story and see if there are places that you can add more depth.

    Hope this helps.
     
  3. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    I will basically echo what @mrieder79 has said already.

    You're right that these are people first, and thinking about them as people before you think of them as a cop, a lawyer or a serial killer is a good start.

    But if your reader can only see them as a cop, a lawyer or a serial killer and their criticism comes from your characters failing to meet their expectations of how a cop or lawyer should behave, then perhaps your problem is that you haven't adequately defined them as people.

    If you need your cop to behave or react in a certain way that might be contrary to how people expect the typical cop to react, you need to justify it in the way he behaves as a person. Give him genuine moments to act as the person, not the cop. Whether this is through mundane activity, personal relationships outside of work (family, love interest) or a passion or hobby that provides a suitable counterweight to his profession.
     
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  4. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Well one of the cop's is the main character, but I need him to react in that way, right in the opening scene. So without knowing anything about him prior to the opening scene, how can I make the reader see him as more than just a cop, in the first scene?

    Also the lawyers are minor characters who are only in a couple of scenes, need when the plot requires them too. So I don't want to get into their personal lives, since they are not major characters, and their personal lives don't have anything to do with the story. How should I approach it in that case?
     
  5. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Posting your first page might help.
     
  6. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Regarding injecting some personality into your faceless lawyer characters, you can convey a lot about a person with simple cues.

    You can do this through little observations made by your protagonist. A stain on the shirt. Uneven tie. Bags under the eyes. Smell on the breath. How the person stands. How much space they keep between people. Voice: volume, tone, texture, vocabulary. Sports team colours on the tie or the socks.

    These are just simple things you can do to give your background characters a life beyond the scenes they appear in. Little pieces of intrigue.
     
  7. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Perhaps maybe I am going to far with the character development and the characters are too different, from everyday people...
    I was told before by other writers and readers, that my story can come up off as unrealistic or implausible, because I choose theme over plot, and I should have plot development come first.

    I like stories with strong themes, and therefore, would like to write my own. However, it seems that the more theme driven I make them, the more implausible they become. But how does one write a story that places theme, over realism? For example, in the movie Minority Report, the climax where the hero, confronts the villain is very theme driven. The hero says this line to the villain:

    "You see the dilemma don't ya? If you don't kill me, the precogs were wrong, and pre-crime is over. But if you do kill me, you go away, but it proves the system works."

    The hero uses the story's own theme against the villain. I tried doing something similar with my ending originally, but people say that it was unrealistic, because cops do not bring criminals down by using a story's theme against them. Cops gets evidence, turn it in, and make arrests. They do not put themselves in a life and death situation, just to stick a the story's theme to a criminal.

    Looking back, I feel that my new attempts at more realistic character actions, can make the story weaker. If in that example of the movie, if the hero just turned in the evidence, and an arrest was made, it just wouldn't be near as strong theme wise, without presenting the villain with a theme driven message.

    So should characters be more realistic though, and should not use themes against each other in a the world of crime, cause that is now how real people in that world behave?
     
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  8. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    So long as you can show, somewhere along the line, that the characters had the potential to behave in a certain way given the right circumstances, we can accept the internal logic whether it seems realistic or not.
     
  9. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. But if I show potentials beforehand, that kind of foreshadows what will happen, and it gives away surprises, maybe?
     
  10. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    False flags
    Red herrings
    Redirects
    "It was all a part of my plan after all!"
    unreliable narrator


    There are tons of ways to make the reader hate you :)
     
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  11. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    It doesn't have to be a direct parallel. Just a small, at the time innocuous event that reveals more in hindsight. Something the reader can look back on and say, "Yeah. It makes sense now."
     
  12. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Read Agatha Christie.

    A good whodunit will leave clues all over the place, but it's still an intellectual exercise to work out who did dun it.

    And, yes, a surprise ending can be good. But, sometimes the author tries too hard to surprise us, and you end up with deus ex machina.
     
  13. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. What about ending where a character makes a theme driven decision though, rather than a more logical one, like in the Minority Report example?
     
  14. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    The only problem with stereotype is bad writing. Any person that could happen, which is a lot of potential human beings, can be written well. People sometimes worry that their character is like a stereotype. I say, are you writing them shallowly? Because if you aren't, it doesn't matter whether it is perceived as something their group is generalized as, because every stereotype exists to some degree and many are actual trends just exaggerated. E.g. there are reasons to suspect that maybe gays are more effeminate, it's just not all of us and not all in the same way or degree. (rant rant:rant:)
    So, anyway, maybe it's more concerns about the general realism of their actions. Maybe they're saying " a cop wouldn't do that" because it goes against police procedure and restrictions. Or that it wouldn't work for a serial killer to do x because it would get them caught. So on. Have you checked that?
     
  15. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    TBH, that was a flaw with Minority Report, the fact that the whole film revolved around a flaw in the system. Don't forget, that technology wasn't real.
     
  16. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. But that's just it though. I was told it was illogical for a cop to use a villain's flaws against him, instead of doing actual police work. But if the exploration of flaws is more impactful, then is their a way to write it correctly?
     
  17. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good point.

    But also, accountants are typically seen as boring, grey men.

    But they're overrepresented in hazardous sports.

    But not all accountants are adrenaline junkies, either.

    Yes, in a professional setting, you'd expect an accountant (cop, doctor, lawyer) to behave in a professional manner. But I've known an accountant for whom near enough was good enough...and I can blag my way out of it if I get caught making up the numbers. And I've known a solicitor who got struck off. That does actually give you scope for character development; have him be fallible, and spend all his time paranoid that he's going to get found out for his mistake.
     
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  18. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    If you want the character to be unprofessional, then yes. Definitely.
     
  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I think this is your problem. You're not choosing characters OR plot, but something you call theme. You know how you want your story to go and you're trying to force your characters into it. Ever since I joined this forum you've posted regular threads asking us all "Can I do this?" "Is this realistic?" "How can I make this work?" and it doesn't seem like you're getting anywhere.

    I said this before and, against my better judgement, I'm saying it again: Get rid of all your preconceived notions of how your story should be. Think instead what would my character do when faced with this situation? THAT is the story you need to write. If you continue working back to front, you will never get a coherent, believable story.
     
  20. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    But you see cops behave unrealistically in fiction all the time, and I do not get why realism matters so much. Like in the movie The French Connection for example, during the chase, Popeye Doyle commandeers a civilians car and drives after the train, he is chasing. The suspect he is pursuing is on the train.

    He crashes into several things on the way, including almost hitting a woman pushing a baby carriage. Very exciting stuff. But in real life, a cop is not allowed to commandeer anyone's car and do that. The cop would get to a phone, or pull out a cellphone in modern times, call the police and have them do it. But if that happened in the movie, it's less exciting and less memorable, compared to the MC taking risky action himself.

    Professionalism can equal boring to a degree. Do you see what I mean? Even if I go by the notion what would those characters do, they still have to make unrealistic decisions, such as commandeering cars, or do something exciting at least, rather being realistic, which can be underwhelming in comparison, if that makes sense.
     
  21. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Yes. It's really a balance. What you want the story to be is all fine and good but you need to consider the realism of it, and the way the character you have designed would behave. Sometimes the ideas direct you a little.
     
  22. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I can try that approach, but when stories like in the Minority Report or The French Connection examples I gave, or several other works of fiction have characters behaving unrealistically, what are they doing differently?

    If I have to follow this new notion, I need to know why other works of fiction are sacrificing realism for themes, or suspense. What is the distinction for why I shouldn't do the same, or what I am doing wrong, compared to them?
     
  23. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    The find ways to make the believable things exciting.
    Also it depends on what your aiming for. The more grounded your trying to be the more people will expect realism. people analyze the realism of Sherlock Holmes more seriously than Michael Bay's Transformers movies. Is this a story with a sense of humanity and logic, or is it more action-y or perhaps heavily conceptual?
     
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  24. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay then. I would say mine falls into French Connection territory maybe. How much can you break the rules there? You say they find ways to make it believable. Instead of writing a situation to be realistic, perhaps I should write it as not and find a way to make it believable instead?

    Also if I am told that a character makes an illogical decision, but most of the story I have already written, hangs on this character's decision, I can change the story around, in which it will become a very different story. I asked one reader's opinion and he said it would make the story a lot worse, and instead I should change the character around to fit the otherwise illogical decision.

    Is that sometimes worth doing, instead of changing the plot?
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2016
  25. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Why do you care what other people are doing? I don't. I want *my* stories to be well-received, so I write in a way that readers like. If yours are telling you that your system results in unbelievable characters, then change it or accept that you're only writing for yourself.
     

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