1. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    How do you create truly interesting group dynamics and secondary characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by FireWater, Jun 30, 2016.

    In general, with different stories, something I struggle with overall is creating interesting dynamics when groups of characters have to interact together. Basically any portion of a novel that involves a group "journey," like Katniss's fellow Hunger Games tributes, or the faction mates in Divergent or the group journey of LOTR. Don't get me wrong, I'm not comparing my own story to those (lol) but I'm referring to that type of situation where the plot logistics involve the main character interacting with others.

    I write in first-person present, and have no issue getting deep into the head of the character I'm writing, but I have a hard time making 3D characters when they're described externally through the MC (i.e. since I'm not inside their POV).

    Also, I have a hard time with creating interesting dynamics between them. I really don't want to go the route where everything becomes a corny, stereotypical love triangle or full of romance jealousy drama.

    And, no matter how much I research the subject and read other books, I feel like all my secondary/group member characters end up being either really flat, or like caricatures, and I end up hating the scenes I've written that involve group dynamics.

    Does anyone have any tips with this? It's not an issue that's specific to the plot of one scenario, since I have this issue with all my stories.

    Because of it, it's not like I'm writing long "a group goes on a journey for the entire book" storylines, but sometimes group dynamics are inevitable.
     
  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I tend to boil it down to two points: how are the characters similar and how are they different?

    Think about Harry, Hermione, and Ron from HP. Harry and Ron are more slacker-types while Hermione is a driven student. Hermione and Ron know more about the wizarding world while Harry tends towards cluelessness, though Harry and Hermione are actually from the muggle world while Ron isn't. Harry and Hermione are more active while Ron is more likely to sulk. Harry and Ron are more prone to make jokes while Hermione is more serious. Hermione and Harry are thought of as gifted while Ron's considered average. Harry and Ron are into quidditch and Hermione's not. Harry and Hermione are both fairly well-of while Ron's life is filled with hand-me-downs. (Hopefully you're into HP or I've just said a whole lot of useless nonsense.)

    Trios like this work because you can always have a two-against-one dynamic where one character may be odd or left out, but the other will always be there. But it works in larger groups too. Look for the things your MC can have in common with the side characters - where do they come from, what do they want, how do they think about things, when did they meet and under what circumstances? If there are divisive issues in your plot, where does each side characters fall on it and why? How does this effect how they get along with the others? Everyone shouldn't always be on the same page, and your MC should be able to see these differences; you don't have to be in the supporting cast's heads.

    If you first need to work on developing your side character to the point that you know these things, consider the story from their perspective. Everyone's their own main character, so why are the side characters on this journey? What motivated them, what keeps them there? You should see the differences between them starting to crop up. And if you have characters who're a lot a like, don't be afraid to merge them - you don't need redundant or pointless characters just to fill out the ranks. Fewer richer characters is better than a multitude of samey ones, IMO.
     
  3. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Thanks! I'm a huge HP fan, so those examples made perfect sense.

    What are also some tips for making them have deep, multi-dimensional personalities without being in their head? In other words, having that multi-layeredness show to the readers despite being in 3rd person. I don't want to fall into the trap of "the daredevil one," "the broody one" and whatnot.
     
  4. Holoman
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    Holoman Member

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    I think it needs conflict, that makes it interesting. That doesn't mean it has to be serious, it could just be minor, like two have clashing approaches to things so always argue about the best way forward. But for example you had the conflict between Legolas and Gimlee in LOTR as natural enemies, who didn't really trust each other because of their race and took pot shots, but then evolve to just friendly competition.
     
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  5. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    You may not have their internal thoughts, but you still have actions and dialog. That should be enough to show what kind of people they are. Since you're into HP (phew), think about the Weasleys - they start off helping Harry and being kind to him, we see Molly fussing over her kids, Fred and George cracking jokes, we get the sense that they're a close and caring family and good people without needing to be in their heads. We know Draco's a little shit because he looks down on them for no reason. We know Hermione's a know-it-all because she immediately infodumps and we see her eager to answer questions in class - and we also can infer some of her internal motivations to prove herself as equal once we know she's muggleborn. There's plenty you can demonstrate about a character without being in their head just with what they say and do.
     
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  6. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Thanks, and you're totally right about all of those things.

    I guess what I'm saying is, what about enriching the secondary non-POV characters on a deeper level? It's easy to label Fred and George as "the pranksters," Draco as the "Joffrey-esque little shit," Hermione as the "studious bookworm who starts off a snot and then turns cool." But I want to have my secondary group characters feel just as real as the MC, in terms of having more depth and layers. I don't want to have everyone exist in boxes of--for example--daredevil, artsy one, angsty one, or whatever. Everyone has internal aspects that are different to how they come across on the surface, and I want them to feel like real people and not a bunch of cheesy sidekicks with cardboard qualities.

    I hope I'm making sense lol, and thanks again. :)
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're having trouble getting to know your characters when you're looking from the outside, you could write some throwaway scenes where they're the first-person viewpoint character. Use those scenes to learn who they are and influence how you depict them when you go back to writing from the "real" POV that you want to use.
     
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  8. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Have them act out of character. The pranksters might have topics they take very seriously. The daredevil may have a secret phobia. The bookworm might not be as smart as he seems. These characteristics will be revealed through speech, action and body language. They might have intimate conversations with the MC in which they reveal deeper aspects of their personality. The MC may, as the story progresses, gain insights into their character. Love, hate, camaraderie, and conflict are ways to build interesting supporting characters.

    Remember, everyone you ever met in your entire life who seemed like a real person was observed in third person. We can't hear or read each other's thoughts (thank God) but our friends and loved ones are still very real to us. It can be that way in your story too.

    best of luck
     
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  9. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I will echo the post above this in saying that you give them roles, then have them break the roles FOR A SPECIFIC REASON to make them multi-dimensional. It also helps, as pointed out earlier, to write throw away scenes from their perspective to get an idea of how they would or wouldn't do things. First person POV gives you the ability to add range to other characters in a way that Third Person does not. The reader has blinders, and doesn't always know the intent behind the actions, this can bring tension to the group dynamic (necessary element to a group).

    Here's another concept. When writing a first draft, it's ok for your characters to be flat. Why? Because in revision you have a chance to critically evaluate what is working and what isn't. It took me far too long to realize that I cannot expect anything near perfection on a first, second, or third run through of a written work. Write those characters, and if you don't like the scene. FIX IT later. You can ALWAYS fix it. Your intuition should tell you if a character is flat, and you can decide how to handle it when you have the work written.
     
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  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just this morning, I posted a somewhat long essay about why I love using MyersBriggs types and Dungeons&Dragons alignment as character-building tools

    and I think this idea might help with this specific problem because the point of each system is to categorize several ways that two people would be similar and which ways they would be different. In my Doctor Who fanfic, the initial team of protagonists are

    a Lawful Good ENTP named Damien
    a Neutral Good INFJ named Nathan
    and a Chaotic Good ISFP named Arachne
    who take orders from a Chaotic Evil ENFJ named June.

    Sometimes the most noticeable thing about them in a specific scene is that June, Nathan, and Arachne are being sensitive while Damien is being insensitive (F versus T)

    Sometimes the most noticeable thing about them in a specific scene is that June and Arachne talk about what they "want" to do and Damien talks about what he "has" to do (Chaotic versus Lawful)

    Sometimes the most noticeable thing about them in a specific scene is that June and Damien keep running their mouths while Nathan and Arachne just say their piece and then shut up (E versus I)

    Sometimes the most noticeable thing about them is that June is a bloodthirsty serial killer and nobody else is (Evil versus Good)
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2016
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  11. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Thanks. I love Myers Briggs, and learned about it years ago. I'm an ENTP/ENFP/ENFJ (kind of on the edge between those types depending on the situation) and it's a really interesting way to learn to read and analyze people.

    Another thing that I should specify, is that it's not all secondary characters who I have a hard time making "real." I can do enemies, antagonists, love interests, or other types of characters just as vibrantly as the MC, and have no problem. For some reason, for me, the difficulty that I"m describing only comes in situations that involve group dynamics with other people in the same boat as the MC. In the case of my current YA dystopia novel, it's where my MC meets the other people who are in the same boat as her, and they have to figure out what to do going forward etc.

    Those types of peer/friend group characters are where it's hardest for me, and where I always have this issue. I don't want to fall into a thing where they're all just following around the MC on the same journey, like different characters who may as well be one. But at the same time, their own agendas or opposing plans can't get so complex that it tangles up to a level of confusion or distracts from the main plot.

    How can I weave those secondary characters' own conflicts or agendas into the MC's main journey in a way that fits the balance of not being too burdensome, while also not being to "same-y?" Does that even make sense? I feel like I'm really bad at explaining this.

    You have given me awesome tips on how to characterize the other group characters - it helps me tremendously and i'll definitely use it. But I guess I also struggle with how to incorporate their own plots, so that the characters are meaningful and have their own roles to play, without totally taking over the story in a bad way or, the opposite, being just passively along for the ride.
     
  12. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was actually just going to work out the math behind that typing as a purely intellectual exercise, but I just realized that it also ties into making characters deeper :)

    I've taken 7 MyersBriggs tests from different sites: 4 gave me INTP, 1 gave me INFP, and two said that I was split perfectly down the middle, so I averaged the collection of numbers and got the 90% I, 85% N, 65% T, 80% P that I mentioned earlier. If you're primarily ENFP and secondarily ENTP/ENFJ, then perhaps your numbers are something like 75% E, 75% N, 60% F, 60% P

    Which also leads to the bit about consistent inconsistency that was mentioned earlier. If I were to mention that I'm doing something that I don't do normally, you would expect me to be unusually sensitive more than you would expect me to be unusually social, practical, or organized. You, on the other hand, doing something unusual would more likely be something unusually insensitive/organized rather than something unusually asocial/practical.

    Making characters that never break their base patterns are boring, but characters that don't have base patterns in the first place are even worse. Solution: base patterns for when the characters break their base patterns and when they don't :D

    Maybe have a scene where the characters discuss which of their goals are the most compatible and then agree to focus on those first?
     
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  13. Kyle Connor
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    Kyle Connor New Member

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    Hey.

    It shouldn't be difficult to write sequences if you have an in-depth knowledge of your characters. It means you must transform yourself into each character's mindset and wonder how they would react in a particular situation.
    Like I an writing a book. It has some main characters. One is a shrewd criminal hiding a past, the other is a kid who knows about the past but pretends he knows nothing, the other is a caring girl who sees only the good in others, then there's a sarcastic geek who's occasionally funny but doesn't know when to stop and often kills his own jokes.

    And you don't need extreme situations to make a scene interesting. Start with something as simple as say, talk about a movie or a gossip on a person or Pizza. A simple conversation in each of their styles will make it funny or cynical or anything you'd want it to be.
    For instance, imagine a scene from Two and A Half Men (Of course, the one with Charlie Sheen). The kitchen conversations between Charlie, Alan, Jake and Berta. Look how a simple conversation between just four characters turns funny instantly since we know how each one is going to react.

    So bottom line, know your characters, blend into each of them and the situation becomes interesting.
     
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  14. Holoman
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    Holoman Member

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    Another thing that realy makes me like secondary characters is mystery. In fact most of my favourite characters in books are secondary characters, and they always have some secrets, things we want to know about them, but are teased by having the secondary character not reveal them to the MC.
     
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  15. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Thanks everyone. I really appreciate all your help. I think I've got this nailed down for now. :)
     

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