1. TOmRL
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    TOmRL Member

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    How do I tell if a character is well written?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TOmRL, Jul 14, 2014.

    What the hell is good characterization? And what the hell is good writing for that matter?

    I'm not just talking books either. Some people I know can just watch a film or play a game and know almost instinctively that it was poorly written or poorly characterized. These people never tell me what it means for a story to be well written or well characterized. I've asked numerous times and multiple people and no one seems to know. It's like these people have access to information that is withheld from me. This
    lack of knowledge in this area has haunted me for a long time. How do I tell if a character is well written? There isn't even an article about this that I could find on google. Is everyone supposed to instinctively know?
     
  2. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    Poorly written could simply mean the writing etiquette is weak or sloppy. As for characters being well written, I honestly feel that it usually boils down to empathy. If you can connect with a character on an emotional level, you'll typically feel something for them. It's why underdogs are such a popular thing, as most of us have at one (or more) point in our lives felt we're up against someone or something far superior to us. There are probably other ways to tell if a character is well written, but relatability is my best assumption.
     
  3. TOmRL
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    TOmRL Member

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    I don't know what writing etiquette is. Also connecting with a character emotionally is one thing, but how do I defend this? How do I defend a characters writing. I can say something like "I thought Emma was a pretty good character" or "I connected with the Emma character" and can be shot down instantly with "Are you serious? Her characterization is awful". These people seem to know things I don't.
     
  4. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    You're not digging hard enough:

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue

    http://fanlore.org/wiki/Mary_Sue

    http://www.springhole.net/writing/marysue.htm

    Usually, when a character is idealized, they're poorly written, unless that's what you're purposefully going for with a good ulterior (or maybe obvious) motive. You can't always feel it, though, because writers tend to get so into their narrative that they blind themselves to its flaws. This is where a second or third perspective might help. However, even with outside help, there is no formula for success. Is your character flat and static, like Bella from Twilight, or rounded and dynamic, like Holden Caufield from Catcher in the Rye? Does my brief assessment of these personae even hold any merit? You can't know for sure, until you've tested the fields yourself. Write and see what works for you.

    Cheers!
     
  5. TOmRL
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    TOmRL Member

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    I've never written before. How do you create a good character personally? Do you go with what your hands are typing in the moment or do you have a plan for how you build this character.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This is one of those questions where I don't have an exact answer, but I know good characterization when I see it. I can offer some personal thoughts on the subject, that's all. First, you should look at context. Does the character fit the piece, or does it seem like the writer just dropped the character in without purpose? Second, what purpose does the character serve? Is he/she meant to be realistic, or is he/she a symbol for, say, an ideology? Finally, do the character's thoughts/actions/dialogue reflect his/her purpose? This last one is more of a subtlety and depends on interpretation.

    Remember that this is just my opinion. Your opinion may differ and is equally as valid.
     
  7. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    Why don't you think about what YOU like in characters in novels you've read or films that you seen?
     
  8. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    I used to plan, so much so that I made this monstrosity of a character sheet: http://www.writingforums.org/resources/comprehensive-character-profile-sheet.22/

    However, none of my characters ever worked for me. Currently, I like to base them on real life personalities (friends, family, etc) and to go from there. This doesn't mean planning won't work for you. Again, try and find your golden spot, it doesn't have to be one way or the other.
     
  9. TOmRL
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    TOmRL Member

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    Because I don't know what I'm talking about.

    Also I've recently entered adulthood and have never written in my life. Is there hope for me?
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Of course! It's never too late to learn writing.
     
  11. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Look at this guy:


    If he can make it, so can you. There is no excuse.
     
  12. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    If you were 40 and you were asking that question, there'd be no hope for you, but as your pretty young it's probably the case that you haven't seen enough of life, met enough people or seen things from different angles.

    What motivated you to ask the question, are you trying to get into writing?
     
  13. TOmRL
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    TOmRL Member

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    ...What did he do exactly? Other than making a film about how he's still happy.

    Well my question here was asked only so that I could gain knowledge to apply in my analysis of film and games. I gave up all hope for writing a while ago. I don't have the right stuff for fiction I don't think.
     
  14. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    From wiki:

    "Vujicic graduated from Griffith University at the age of 21 with a Bachelor of Commerce, with a double major in accountancy and financial planning. Subsequently he became a motivational speaker, travelling internationally and focusing on teenagers' issues. Having addressed over three million people in over 44 countries on five continents,[4] he speaks to corporate audiences, congregations and schools.

    Vujicic promotes his work through television shows and through his writing. His first book, Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life (Random House, 2010) was published in 2010. He markets a motivational DVD, Life's Greater Purpose, a short documentary filmed in 2005 highlighting his home life and regular activities. The second part of the DVD was filmed at his local church in Brisbane – one of his first professional motivational speeches. He markets a DVD for young people titled No Arms, No Legs, No Worries!.[5]

    In March 2008, he was interviewed by Bob Cummings for the 20/20 American television show.

    He starred in the short film The Butterfly Circus, which won the Doorpost Film Project's top prize of 2009[6] and the Best Short Film award at the Method Fest Film Festival, where Vujicic was also awarded Best Actor in a short film.[citation needed] Butterfly Circus also won the best short film award at The Feel Good Film Festival in Hollywood in 2010.[7]"
     
  15. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    So maybe you're sitting in a bar sometimes and people are engaged in conversations about films they've seen or something, and sometimes you sit there being quiet, not knowing what to say and wishing you could inject in on the conversation with insightful thoughts about the characters that would impress a young lady or something like that?
     
  16. TOmRL
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    TOmRL Member

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    No, I'm in conversation with fellow analyzers frequently. I'm pretty good with allegories, hidden meaning and symbolism. But when the conversation of plot or characters come up, I have nothing to say. Because I have no idea what makes these things good or bad. I don't want to impress people, I simply want to have something useful to say when that point comes. I don't appreciate the charge of being some kind of show off.
     
  17. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    By the way, a film is more or less a script on a screen. If you can't analyze the latter, you'll have a hard time analyzing the former.
     
  18. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    Again, I guess it all goes down to life experience, especially if you can relate to the character or not. The main point is whether or not the character leaves an impression on you or not, just like in real life. There's a lot of instantly forgettable characters in modern films and some just aren't worthy of commenting on, especially in action-movies. Maybe the movies you've been watching have too many of those type of characters.

    A film like Taxi Driver, for example, has characters that leave a lasting impression on you, both good and bad, so maybe a film like that would be good to watch and think about what your impressions of the characters are, and those impressions may change over time.
     
  19. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Take my bold correction as a compliment to your typical strong pool of knowledge :3

    A big part of what makes a good character is whether he fits the story personality wise and whether his dialogue is in line with who he is, what's realistic, and whether the lines are well written rather than just filled with whatever first popped into the writers mind.
     
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  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One random thought: I feel that a character is well-written if they do unexpected things...but the unexpected things are things that make you say, "Oh...but, yes, of course." You never would have thought of it happening, you're surprised, but you're delightfully surprised because you realize that, yes, of course they'd do that.
     
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  21. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    To me, a good character is one that surprises me. Think of a stereotype. If a character fits in that stereotype and never leaves, I find the character boring. However, if you find out they have layers and sometimes go against type, then the character gets better. I think this is why I like anti-Heroes.
     
  22. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Aw. I'm 40 and writing my first book. (Though, not asking that question.)

    :)
     
  23. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    For me good characters are ones that do familiar things but the writer makes them feel fresh and when they do unexpected things they're not so quirky that they're not familiar. Motivation is not easily discerned. Good characters make the reader feel as though they'd only gotten one glimpse of their character's life and are still wondering about their past and future.

    They also don't talk in a vacuum they're engaged with their environment and they have body language. For me a flat character is one that is easily labeled and does things merely to reinforce that label - i.e. The pushy jock who gives a runt a wedgie. When they do speak it's only to uphold the label or the mc's impression of them. They live merely to becomes pawns to the plot. The pushy jock who does nothing but appear at the right/wrong times to inflict agony on the mc or to finally get his come-uppance. A reader never cares about the character's past and future because they know they only existed for this story.
     
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  24. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write what you want to write - if it makes it to the editing process then you can go back an hone in on the things that make the story great...or decide you've learned from this story but that it's not what you're looking for and move on to the next one. As for what is good or not - join a group or something and read other people's writing and help them work on it. I joined one earlier this year and it's tightened my writing and focussed my plot significantly

    Either way the important thing is keep writing.

    Some people fill out long character dossiers, other people just dream up basic characters in their minds and then let them run wild in an imaginary landscape - which all depends on what works best in your mind.

    The technique I've been using for my newer characters is to start with basic traits - age, gender, ethnic identity, occupation, basic personality - make sure a few of those traits are mismatched with eachother, and then build the character as a complete being by figuring out how a person would reconcile the differing aspects of their personality.

    For instance right now I'm working on a character who I started with three details: 1) She is a practicing member of the Jain relgion (just something I was interested in writing). 2) She has some stereotypical "sidekick" traits such as being a loudmouth. 3) She's a young professional fashion blogger.

    From there, the research I did revealed that I'd created a potential problem in that Jainism is a harshly anti-materialistic faith based on self-denial, and my character is a obsessed with the trappings and benefits of American pop culture. So by working out how she gets around that, I now have a complete character who is defined by the tension between her Jain identity and her American identity, and really has to spend a lot of time figuring out that both of them fit into her identity as an individual and that she's at her best when she uses both. That all came from a character who I originally intended to be a rather shallow supporting-cast role (she's now a co-protagonist).

    I also found that another key mismatch that can help me flesh out a character is to mismatch the character and the setting. Right now I'm fleshing out an Australian Aboriginal character who spent her entire life in the remote Northern Territory, working as a local TV reporter - who suddenly gets sucked into a major international political story that forces her to leave Australia and take a job with a major news network in Washington D.C. Putting someone like that so totally out of their element poses all sorts of questions about their mental reaction to their new landscape and their isolation from their own people (I live in D.C...never met an Aboriginal Australian here). I'm probably going to up the stakes even farther by having her assigned to cover the Israel-Palestine conflict at some point.

    So hopefully those are some ideas and examples for how to build characters - granted I'm new at this myself so take anything I say with a grain of salt.
     
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  25. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    Well if the character is unpredictable and almost human and is a round character. Then you know its a well written character.

    An example of well written characters Warhammer 40k's Horus Lupercal vs Game of Thrones Jamie Lannister.

    One is a demi-god and has the power of legions at his command. Jamie Lannister is a knight of kings guard. Do i Know whats going on Jamie's Mind? No. I have no idea. Horus's, yes to a degree, we know he is unpredictable and predictable at times. Both are well written, but Jamie is more flushed out, but he is more human like, because he is human, not a demi-god. Being able to relate to the character is probably the biggest part of writing to a character. But.... If you are really incredible at writing, writing a character we absolutely despise is even harder.

    In order for me to flesh out a character, I have to assume the role of my character. I speak it outloud, and then contrast and compare to a poorly written character. (Which I ave a ton of)

    A good character is one that is memorable and entertaining. Entertaining does not just mean it is a fun read, but an interesting one at the same time. Maybe your character is an assassin trained by the government to kill an american citizen? Yet he knows what he is doing is wrong, but he does it because he wants to provide for his family. That character has depth and interest. As long as he acts human that is. Which means they are unpredictable, some humans are predictable but they are not very interesting. Most often the Heroes are the predictable ones, and the villains are not.

    Kind of sad really.

    But for you I say read your characters. Make them something else, make them human. Make them do unexpected things. Which will have consequences down the line. Make the character's interactions effect another human being.
     

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