1. Callista Reina
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    Callista Reina Member

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    How do you get to know your chacters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Callista Reina, Apr 24, 2016.

    A lot of times, when I try writing short-stories, I feel that my characters are too distant to me. They never feel real or solid, but more like vague impressions of another person that I only get feelings about, but never feel that I truly know. Am I doing something wrong? How can I get closer to my characters and feel like I really know them? Thank You!
     
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  2. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Short stories may be part of the problem, not enough time for them to encounter different things, expose more of their background. Trying exposing them to a variety of different situations, and see how they react. That is how you get to know your characters.
     
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  3. Rethagos
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    Rethagos Member

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    Well, you tend to not know your characters well enough, because... you didn't ask them what are they like.
    For finding out what makes them tick, you need to dig a little bit deeper.
    K.M. Weiland, from the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, has got some pretty nice resource on that. Lemme drop you a link:
    https://www.kmweiland.com/wp-content/uploads/crafting-unforgettable-characters.pdf
    If you're willing to spend a little extra time, your characters certainly won't suffer.
     
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  4. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Short stories are definitely part of the problem. Shorts are, well, short. Really getting into a character takes space. A lot of space. You need to see them in a bunch of different places ideally contrasting places, and talking in lots of different ways. That's just what you need to do. Particularly you need to focus on downtime and the quiet, relaxed moments in a story because therein lies the intricacies of a character. Under stress we see the broad strokes of a character; good or evil kinda stuff. But when you're under stress the stress itself determines the kind of reactions you can have. If you're being shot at you shoot back or run. Anything else is stupid. And that can tell us if a character is brave or cowardly or smart or cunning or whatever but that's about it. It's only when the stress is gone that we can see what is underneath it, what the character is carrying on their shoulders just from life itself. I could be a cripplingly depressed person contemplating suicide but if I'm in a gunfight I still shoot back. It's only when everything is quiet that someone might notice the scars down my arm. And you and I might talk about that after the fact with a few beers even if we never knew each other before; a friendship forged by nearly dying together. But in the moment when everything is exploding everything else that's ever happened in my life is irrelevant. All the subtlety is lost.

    And that's why shorts aren't amenable to this kind of stuff. Because you need a longer narrative with more peaks and troughs and more space for non-plot character stuff. It's just part of the form.

    To get there you just write. Write those quiet, dialogue heavy scenes 'after the end' or 'once the smoke clears'. Just write them until it feels like you're writing a real person. If you're having
    difficulty then just start asking yourself 'But what if they don't...' and following where that leads. What if this seemingly happy family man doesn't actually love his wife? What if this wisecracking guy is just putting on an act to keep people out? Just feel this stuff out and let yourself write and write and write.

    It's not an exageration to say I've written single scenes of dialogue that were 12k words long because I just kept going until I found the one thing that hit me like a tonne of bricks. Just started out with a germ of an idea where to go and kept going and going and having another character ask and poke and prod until I dug down to something deeper and more meaningful. And then I came back and cut out 10k words out of the middle.

    Give yourself space to write and you'll get to the important parts of the character.
     
  5. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    We sit down over a nice glass of Chardonnay, and have a lovely discussion. And if they refuse to be a part of my story, then I whip out the chloroform. Upon waking up they are tickled with a feather duster until they submit to my will.:supergrin::superlaugh:

    Joking aside, I found a free kindle book that helps you 'flesh out your characters" called something like 250 Questions You Should As Your Characters. Not 100% on the title seeing as my kindle is dead at the present, but if you can find it on amazon it may help you get a better feel for your characters. Good Luck. :p
     
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  6. DoctorDoom
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    DoctorDoom Member

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    **** Please view this post as a quote in the post-reply section. It did not format the same way on-page as it did in the editor.****


    Never have truer words been spoken.

    Now, @Callista Reina I must ask you a question:
    Are these short stories fantasy or realism? I'm assuming fantasy.

    The problem many sci-fi and fantasy writers have is considering the background their character comes from. Often they'll just decide on a name, hair color, eye color and skin tone. If they're an alien often it's just an excuse to have blue people. The characters think like the narrator thinks, and act as someone with the narrators background would act. But a boy who grew up in Nazi Germany is not going to think like nor have the same priorities as a girl from a coastal suburb in Australia. Part of the challenge in writing as other people is identifying our own biases and scope of knowledge and then for a time, stepping outside our own perceptions. This gets especially challenging when writing aliens. (I wrote a paper on that for my highschool lit class, and one on character development, which can be read here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-0Le9Xbts1-ItjCoB4M7rJa0Z-jmpWPGL5-NVi7ara8/edit?usp=sharing )

    I think the key to understanding your own characters is to first understand where they're coming from and what goals they have and why they have them. This takes research and as LostThePlot said, space. You can't go in-depth in a short story, and as I've found, if you use your highly developed characters in a short story, you walk away with the sense that there was more to the story than what you actually read. You walk away with questions and if you write weird stuff like me, many of your readers will corner you after class and ask what the f*ck you just had them read.

    I personally have everything about my character researched and determined before I'm done with my final draft. I know when they were born, what their parents were like, what their childhood hobbies were, what stupid things they did as a kid and how that affects them today, what friends they had and what those friends were like, what friends they have now and why, how they talk, how they write, what things they know and what things they do not, what their moral code is if they have one, and what their religious beliefs are. Plus everything else.

    Since I like writing people who think differently than the general population, I know what diagnosis they would get if they were analyzed by psychologist and the ways that makes them behave irrationally, what their pet peeves are and why they have them, what their biases and shortcomings are, and I think only when you have their entire life story plotted out do you actually 'know' your character.

    And it's not something you can just sit down and decide in one writing session. It's more organic than that. You usually start with an idea, a stereotype if you will. I'll illustrate my point with a few of my characters.

    Name Start Primary Traits Basis

    Mave -----> Annoying impish 12 year old know it-all. -----> Prankster, albino, child prodigy, kind of an asshole. -----> Wanted to tell a story about discrimination, but still have the story be funny.
    Agatha -----> 20-something killer of dipshits and dirtbags. -----> Sarcastic, jerk, not overly intelligent, jaded, swears a lot.-----> Wanted to tell a story about the pros and cons of 'justified homicide'.
    Exo -----> Professional villain-troller/insult doler. -----> Rude, sarcastic, well-intentioned, regenerative, asexual, -----> Wanted to make fun of super-villain/hero tropes.
    insults in the way of William Shakespeare.
    Zalphar -----> Moriarty. -----> Boring, lazy, regenerative, asexual, doesn't care, takes -----> Wanted to make fun of villain motives, specifically joy in causing trouble. emo villain motives.


    Secondary Traits Question Asked End Result
    Mave -----> Happy childhood, overly sheltered, until her half-sister Agatha moved in and -----> Why is she so adept at dealing with jerks? -----> Botanist and Agatha's
    reality gave her a dope-slap. boss, eg. morality pet.
    Agatha -----> Abusive mother, grew up in a cult, spent the first 15 years of her life a victim -----> Why does she kill people and endanger herself? -----> Azulian dictator.
    before snapping, systematically killing everyone who ever harmed her or
    anyone else. Suffers from PTSD and might be a psychopath.
    Exo -----> Reproduces by being chopped up, did not have family or childhood experiences, -----> Why are you such a tactless jerk? -----> Mad scientist and
    is employed by the DOCI, STC, ISRS and a variety of other crime solving and investigator. scientific corporations, was experimented on by said corporations, now has DID.
    Zalphar -----> Is Exo's unmotivated and uncaring alter. So they literally are the same. Lol. -----> Why are you a villain and why do you exist? -----> Villain!



    There's about 100,000 words worth of things I left out but that's essentially how my characters evolve and how I get to know them.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2016
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  7. DoctorDoom
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    DoctorDoom Member

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    And that completely reformatted everything. Poop. Look at it as a quote in the post-reply box please, the above version is fugly.
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree that short stories are the problem. I disagree that it takes a lot of words to show or know a character. And I absolutely disagree that you need to fill out charts or questionnaires or whatever else. (I mean, if these things work for you, go for it. But they're really not mandatory.)

    You can tell a lot about people from a single gesture. I remember when I was in university, walking down the street at night with a bunch of drunk friends, and most of us were being rowdy and I glanced over and saw one of my friends was talking to a homeless guy. Gave him some money, but also some attention and respect. I haven't used that scene in a story yet, but when I do, I'll be showing a lot about that character in probably forty words or less.

    When you're writing short stories you have to make every word count, for sure. But if you make that happen, your characters can be rich and meaningful in not much space.

    I'd say the most important thing to do is to channel your inner three-year-old and ask "why?" about pretty much everything. Don't just say your character ordered a beer from the tavern wench. Ask yourself why he ordered that. And then ask yourself whether the reason is important enough to justify including a hint of it, and then ask yourself how you can include that hint with fewer words. Often the answer will be no, it's not important enough, and that's fine. But if you get in the habit of asking yourself why things are happening, I think you can add a lot of depth without taking up much space.
     
  9. Callista Reina
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    Callista Reina Member

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    Thanks for all of the feedback! I like the differing perspectives on whether shorts are part of my problem. I was wondering if they were or not, but I agree with you, @BayView, that characters can be rich even in short stories. I still think I am not allowing myself to spend enough time with them though. But I will keep all of your suggestions in mind!

    [QUOTE="Lemme drop you a link:
    https://www.kmweiland.com/wp-content/uploads/crafting-unforgettable-characters.pdf
    If you're willing to spend a little extra time, your characters certainly won't suffer."[/QUOTE]

    That's an awesome link. Thanks :)
     
  10. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have simply became my characters before. I went out in public and acted how I thought they might act and even introduced myself as them in bars.
     
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  11. FaythFuI
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    FaythFuI Member

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    I'm the kind of person who writes pretty exclusively in first person - this is because I like to literally become my character. It takes a while to fully slip into their shoes if you've just started a story, but I find myself writing things as my MC that I'd never usually think of myself. I also like to physically express the way the MC may be feeling too - so I'll actually narrow my eyes when I'm writing if they're narrowing their eyes, etc. If they're about to fight, I stop for a moment and clench my fists and really visualize myself in their shoes, I let myself feel that adrenaline - then I can write it much more authentically. I have a novel I've been writing for over 7 years now (I know, I'm so slow and stop and go with it all the time), but my MC, Kathryn Blake, is her own person in my head. I'll go back and read some of her dialogue and laugh at her, because I realize she writes through me, rather than me writing her. I know that may sound weird, but when you really know your character, they often do the work for you, ha! So my suggestion would be to maybe try writing first person (not sure if you already do) and let your mind become one with the MC. Try physically doing their actions that you want them to be doing, and see how they're different from your own - It's like acting, pretty much (it helps, I swear!). After you get your MC down, other characters will feel much easier to get close to because you can bounce pieces of their personality off your MC's. Hope this gives you some ideas!
     
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  12. Callista Reina
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    Callista Reina Member

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    Yeah, that makes sense. Thank You! :)
     
  13. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing I do is write them in all sorts of situations not even related to the WIP they are a part of. Nothing fancy, just little shorts about them trying to pump gas or ride a bike. I wrote a whole scene where a character fiddles with linking their cell phone to a computer. The point is to develop their mannerisms and quirks so when it is time to write them doing something in the main story it all comes naturally.
     
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  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most people will tell you to start with character and then find story. I do it the other way around. Once I know what the plot needs, I go looking for characters who will work for the plot. I give a tongue-in-cheek example in this thread (sorry I can't be more precise and take you right to it).

    Anyway, to answer your question in a roundabout way, I get to know my characters by throwing them into a plot to see what they'll do with it. Up until then, I know absolutely nothing about them. This approach may or may not work for you, but it does work and perhaps it'll be just the thing for getting you over that hump.
     
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  15. Sophie Leo
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    Sophie Leo New Member

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    This conversation is unique for me because I am also looking for such ideas.
     
  16. Kayla Hicks
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    Kayla Hicks New Member

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    Do a description list. Write down all of their likes, dislikes, description, are they funny, mean etcetera. This will help you really know who your character is.
     

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