1. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    How do you make your characters stand out?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TDFuhringer, Feb 5, 2012.

    I'm having a problem that I don't usually have. In novel length fiction, building a character is fairly easy. But right now I'm writing my short story for the contest and I've noticed my characters don't really stand out. Specifically they don't seem all that much different from each other during dialogue scenes. They all sound like me. :) So when you're working within word limits, what techniques do you use to keep your characters clearly separate?

    Thanks.
     
  2. louis1
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    louis1 Contributing Member

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    probably the easiest and most unoriginal way to do this is making them t-t-t--talk like like.. this. or make one of them talk very fancy. or make them talk like yoda (BAD IDEA) or make them have like a favorite word, i know i say SWAG at the end of each sentences SWAG.

    that's all i have for now, swag.
     
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  3. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ha ha, I like that. SWAG.

    It would certainly be a bit cliche though, eh?
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Are you a peoplewatcher? If not, you should consider it. It's a good hobby for a writer. In doing so, you can pick up idiosyncracies of speech and action that can set your characters apart.
     
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  5. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a very good idea. I'd actually heard that once before but forgotten it. Thank you very much for bringing it up. That will help!
     
  6. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    In addition to people watching, I think of close friends I have and how different their personalities are. They have very different ways of speaking, talking, walking, dressing. Lines or words one of them might say may never cross the other's lips. Sometimes I think of funny one-liners they've used that still make me laugh and I use that sense of humor in my stories. Though I do not use my friends as characters, they inspire me to discover characters.
     
  7. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like this. I've been thinking along similar lines. For example I'm thinking of rewriting it so only the one character uses bad language and vulgarity, and another uses bigger words than the rest, etc. to set them apart and show something about their character without saying it outright.
     
  8. Cerrus
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    Cerrus Senior Member

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    In my story, my main character in my story is exactly like me. I have not met anyone in the world that is similar to me, because well, my life is a lot different from others, but I make sure I'm not using the same persona for all my other characters. The rest of my characters are usually based upon people that live around me in my life. I think this helps get a more realistic character that'll stand out because I know how these people will react or what they will say during certain situations.
     
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  9. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I usually consider the character carefully and see what other things I know about them that would affect their speech. When I have new characters that I don't know very well yet I usually give them a ton of dialogue because that's pretty much how I find out everything about them. I'll often edit it back later, but with the important groundwork for the character now done so they come across a bit clearer in their speech.
     
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  10. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know how many characters you have, but short fiction differs in the number of characters you can have/that can be developed, let alone be introduced or an intricate part of the plot. There just isn't time (the words) to do it.

    If you're counting on dialogue to help differentiate characters, consider word choice and patterns. It can be overt (with word choice/repeated words and phrases) or subtle (with patterns).
     
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  11. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Excellent suggestions everyone, thanks.

    I've got only four characters. I'm thinking: My main character, the captain, will be the only one to swear and be indecisive. The doctor will be me, long winded and a know-it-all, using big words. :) The navigator will be quick and no nonsense, never using compound sentences. The tech will use be the only one to use 'word whiskers', meaningless fillers usually used to hide a lack of confidence.

    I think I may have something here. I hate having to be so deliberate, but its a short story, I need the differences in their speech to really come off the page fast.
     
  12. Drusilla
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    Drusilla Active Member

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    It sounds to me that you don't know your characters properly.

    It's easier to make characters who are vastly different stand out (the villain and the hero). But don't let the characters who are not vastly different become clones of each others. I recommend you to take your time on making every single characters. Make sure they are deep, complex characters and not just fillers to do a task. Try to think about: What makes each character different?

    Even if you are working within word limits, don't think about your characters as someone within the limits. Take your time to make them. Write about each single character, and let each character be the main character here and now. I do have a clear main character in my story, but I often write short stories where I let other characters be the main character. Test your characters. Take online tests, and answer them as if it were your characters who were answering. I love to do that.
     
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  13. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    You are absolutely right Drusilla. This is the fastest I've ever written anything. I just started last week and it has to be done before the deadline (Feb 20th). It's a great exercise and it's helped me spot some of the weaknesses in my writing that I'd been overlooking. Now that I'm in the 'third act' of the story I know my characters better than I did when I started. I need to go back and rewrite them. Which is why I've asked for tips. Normally I would sit and think about the characters for days at a time till I 'got it' and then they would flow naturally. Deliberately writing them differently is quite a challenge and I'm enjoying it and learning much from the process!
     
  14. Drusilla
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    Drusilla Active Member

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    Is it a contest here? I know there are contests here, but I have never participated in them.
    I've experienced the same thing back in school, when we often had to write short stories and smaller texts.
    If you want to use the characters later on, you could rename them. Even if you feel that you have bad time, maybe you should sit down for some minutes every day and think about your characters/quiz them.
     
  15. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes there's a Science Fiction Short Story Contest going on right here at writingforums.org :)
     
  16. TheWritingWriter
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    TheWritingWriter Senior Member

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    If your characters don't stand out from one another, they might not have personality. Think of each character as a different person, with different habits, different sayings, different thoughts, & different emotions. I become rather fond of my characters, & I spend a lot of time on their personalities & development. Get to know your characters.
     
  17. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I know I'm late on this thread. But I'm goig to try and give you some advice. Have you tried writing a storyline for each character's personality? It nearly worked for me, but I wasn't sure if it actually did. If your character hates going to school or something, you might show her that she doesn't like school instead of telling here.

    "Amy snatches her backpack and walks out the door. A bus pulls up. The bus drives until it reaches the school.

    She enters the school with a frown on her face. When the first bell rings, she enters the math classroom and sits. A 16-year old boy behind her opens a banana and throws the banana pill against Amy's head. Then she yells. The teacher calls out the boy who threw the banana pill.

    The bell rings. Amy and her classmaates walk the halls until they reach the lunch room. A student balls his fist and tells her that if she tells her mom about the banana, he will knock her out at lunch break.

    As school ended, Amy takes the bus and goes home. Her mom asks her how her day went. She says, "It's alright," like she really didn't mean it. That same student picks on her almost everyday, but Amy refuses to tell mom what problem she has in school.

    That's just how I write my character biographies whenever I don't know what to write.
     
  18. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    My experience with peoplewatching (which is really fun): The wheels of Target shopping carts lock up at a certain distance from the store. so they can't be stolen. Sitting on a bench in the sunlight, five groups deal with this problem:
    The first is mildly annoyed, takes his stuff and kids and walks to his car.
    The second freaks out completely. We sympathize with her husband and with her kids whom she frightens with her hysteria.
    The third (a couple) have no problem; they think it's cool. They walk off with their kid.
    The fourth is unsettled and disturbed.
    The fifth simply lifts his cart up onto its rear wheels, which don't lock.

    The variety of reactions are very surprising and tell something about each person. Putting your characters into a shared circumstance and showing how each one reacts will bring the readers closer to them and reveal the differences between them.
     

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