1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    How to bring out the humanity of characters in your writing?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CMastah, Mar 16, 2014.

    Here's the thing, while doing up the outline of a story I have my heart set on writing (well, typing up really), I keep thinking up some of the scenes in the story and on following the advice of a friend, decided to put the scene down as I was already excited about it. The thing is, I ended up coming up with the actions and the dialogue and.....it was lacking in any emotion from the characters, it's like if someone was just narrating something he's seeing and hearing. The two characters were meant to be as close as mother and daughter and yet.....I felt like all I could do was to drop in one mention of the older character looking with pride at the young girl and that was about it. I remember reading through several excerpts from novels and I found what seemed like one method of doing so:

    Hyping up the situation around the character so that her reaction to it, while only mentioned subtly, seemed to scream loudly.

    The truth is, I'm interested in creating endearing characters who are honestly good people trying to survive a violent world but it's the 'making them endearing' part that I'm struggling with. Where can I learn to make characters that readers would honestly feel sympathy for? (I'm not even sure they're the type people could connect with)
     
  2. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Use dialogue. The way people speak to each other conveys a lot.
     
  3. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Readers feel for characters who fight against their world. It doesn't matter so much that the characters are similar to your readers. It matters if your characters want a goal familiar to your reader, and they decide to fight for it despite overwhelming opposition. The goal of fighting back against a cruel world to find happiness is something a lot of adult readers can sympathize with. Make the situation tough on them and have them continue to fight, and you could have the makings of some characters that readers can connect to.
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Interspace your dialogue with gestures, subtle actions. Look to your setting and see what you can incorporate. In order for your readers to feel an impact through the characters, you have to make the scene as real and vital as possible. A believable mesh with the setting helps.

    There's a lovely moment in an old movie On the Waterfront in which Eva Marie Saint is walking with Marlon Brando and drops one of her gloves. As they're talking he picks up the glove, sits on a swing and tries to put the tiny glove over his big hand. Writer's can tend to miss moments like this cause they're so into writing the dialogue and getting out what needs to be said - they forget beauty or things that reveal true character.

    Could be too strong a contrast, which can backfire because she looks too longsuffering or almost superhumanly patient. Even with sci-fi and fantasy it's better to give a character obstacles that aren't too over there head. Things readers can relate too. If you stack the deck against them with no choices, and then your character doesn't even near-cave under the pressure - people won't buy it.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Probably because that's what you were doing. You need to decide for any given scene whose point of view you are showing us, and then show us. Whether it's narrative or dialogue, you have to get the reader into the shoes of your POV character. A problem I had early on was that I often felt I had to show more than one POV, which really meant showing neither.

    I'm currently reading Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves and she conveys each of several POVs extremely well, each in its own time. Tom Clancy often bounced around multiple POVs, presenting them rather well (in between his military techie dissertations). You may want to go back to your favorite literary works and read them again. See how the writer puts you into each POV.

    Another problem may be that you are apparently writing disjointed scenes, rather than a planned story. I started my first novel attempt the same way. It can be a good exercise, but my advice would be: the sooner you write a well-conceived story, the fewer of these problems you will have.
     
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  6. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    This is all a matter of interiority. There are techniques to showing the characters as endearing and meaningful, but the root of the issue is getting inside the character. As @EdFromNY said, you want to decide who's POV you're using for the narrative especially at specific scenes. This allows you to project information as processed by your characters. We will see how they feel about each other in the way they think about each other, the way they talk to each other, and the way they act near each other.

    To draw reader sympathy, you have to go inside the characters and flesh them out. Know their pasts, their ambitions, their hopes and dreams. Know what kind of environment produced them, what details they remember about their lives and about the world. In other words, you must make them human, and you must do this by creating some level of interiority. If not interiority into them directly, then by making them important to other characters while still making their motivations clear.

    Dialogu is so important because it reveals character. It is the reader's window into who the characters are. It is the writers tool for humanizing non-interior characters on the page. One way to give your dialogue more impact is to establish tension in the scene and allow it to affect the way your characters move or talk or think. Note, tension does not mean conflict, it is in essence just a pull, or something that makes the situation tight. Perhaps something is at stake? Maybe the characters aren't on the same page? Maybe the moment is awkard due to the nature of what's being talked about.

    Just some things to think about. I know I came off strong, but in no way do I posit my advice as the only or best advice. It's just what I've learned. I'm sure people with more experience could explain it better or give you more useful, concrete advice.
     
  7. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Congratulations, you just discovered the single most common glitches new writers suffer, so the good news is that there are solutions you can learn and apply. The problem, simply put, is that you're doing just what your teachers trained you to do. You're writing from an author-centric viewpoint—the outside observer. And in line with that teaching you're writing in a fact-based way. The problem is that it's inherently dispassionate. You're informing the reader of what's happening in the scene, just the way a history book explains the events that make up that lesson.

    The problem is that people come to us to be entertained, and that requires an emotion, not fact-based approach. And they want to become the protagonist, in real-time, living/experiencing the moment in time the protagonist calls, "now." They expect the story to be told in clock-ticks, sweeping through time as a shadow person standing in the footsteps of the protagonist, actively noticing and reacting. That's what's meant by "showing."

    Do that, and for the reader the future is unknown and uncertain. Only "now" is known and what "now" means to the protagonist.

    Look at the way you live your own life—the way I and everyone reading this does. From the moment we come awake our life is an unending chain of cause and effect, motivation and response that continues till we sleep. We don't live in overview or synopsis. We never hear an invisible voice explaining our actions to an equally invisible audience. And if one did begin talking about us we would demand to know who they are (rent Stranger Than Fiction. It's a writer's movie). When we meet a new person no one stops the world to give us a synopsis of their life. We muddle through as best we can, using past experience, education, our needs and desires, and the situation as we understand it to decide what to do next. Can your characters live any differently and be real to the reader?

    A good article on one method of accomplishing that can be found here. But in general, the trick is:

    1. Take the approach that says you, the author, aren't in the story. So shut up as yourself. Don't explain or stop the action for a history lesson.
    2. Once you start the scene-clock for the live section of action don't stop it until the action has finished and you need exposition to bridge to anther time/place.
    3. Show the reader only what matters to the protagonist. And show it to them as the protagonist perceives it, misunderstandings and all.
    4. Make the reader privy to the protagonist's decisions and evaluations so they will always have context for what's said and done.
    5. Show the protagonist's reasoning process as they decide on what to do/say, and include the things a given reader might suggest for the protagonist. This accomplishes two things. First, the reader feels as if the protagonist is taking their ideas into account. And second, it keeps you honest because sometimes that alternate idea is better and your protagonist really would have preferred it.

    Want a shortcut? Hie thee to the local library system and pull in a copy of Jack Bickham's, Scene and Structure. He'll not only answer your question, he'll answer the ones you don't know you should be asking.

    I do have to comment that you are one of damn few to have noticed the problem. Most people, because they already know the scene and the characters in it, automatically fill in the blanks and never notice the problem.

    Well done.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The other advice you've gotten is dandy, but I wanted to respond to this. I'd abandon the goal of "endearing" and focus, for now, on making the personalities and feelings clear, whether they're endearing or annoying. Trying to clearly view the internal world of a character, and trying to make that a pleasing and endearing internal world, seems like too many things at once. You would be simultaneously editing and uncovering. Just go with the uncovering for now.
     
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  9. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Heheh, thanks, the truth is one of the most important goals I had for my story was conveying to readers the powerful emotions (familial love, pain and having to bear that the other person loves you but still sees you as less than human). When I read what I'd written, all I could think was, 'who are these characters?', I'd planned for them to drive on through the story, pushed by pain, love and a desire to help others but when I re-read what I'd written, I saw no humanity conveyed whatsoever, just a mechanical breakdown. I checked out the link and it's from the same website that has me re-doing my layout (I originally made a layout of my story and then started work all over again when I discovered this method and MAN did I learn a whole bunch of new things about my characters in addition to changing parts of the story to make the whole thing make sense). This guy is awesome and I'm more than a little surprised he's giving all this (excellent) help for free.

    I did admittedly make that one stand-alone scene without it being connected to the story. The truth is, I'm getting bored of putting the layout together (I'd already done up many pages in my (in comparison) badly done layout and was re-doing them according to the snowflake method) and wanted to get down to actually writing the scenes themselves and definitely jumped the gun on this one badly.

    I do also admit that I got the idea for that simple thought after reading through the bathroom scene in Carrie so it does certainly carry much in the suffering department :p

    When I went over some of the characters I intended to be endearing, I realized they lacked much of this. Their love for another character came off as....unrealistic? Unearned? Their love IS intended to be more of a crush that turns into actual, deep love (although it turns from a crush into a Platonic love) but I realized that it made no sense, like they just loved that person just because they're there. I worked some more on the character and ended up realizing that...as basic as this sounds, 'it takes two to tango' and had the other character actually putting in the effort, which is what led to the first's crush for (on?) him.

    This is certainly something I need to focus on, I think if I bring out the characters as I see them, then they'll probably endear themselves to the reader without me having to force the issue. The truth is, they may not come off as endearing to some, but then again I'm more eager to put my own vision of the character out as I see them, not try and mold them into something I wouldn't even be interested in writing about.

    EDIT:
    [/quote]Readers feel for characters who fight against their world. It doesn't matter so much that the characters are similar to your readers. It matters if your characters want a goal familiar to your reader, and they decide to fight for it despite overwhelming opposition. The goal of fighting back against a cruel world to find happiness is something a lot of adult readers can sympathize with. Make the situation tough on them and have them continue to fight, and you could have the makings of some characters that readers can connect to.[/quote]

    The biggest problem is that their fight for the majority of the novel is for something they don't yet believe in :/

    My biggest concern is that I've rarely felt that dialogue conveys as much as the text that speaks of the characters feelings, their physical self that begins to get affected by the other person. I'm worried that since dialogue of that nature IS still important that I'm actually doing a pretty bad job of using good lines (I've ended up with some cliched lines that just sounded terrible).
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2014

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