1. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    How to develop multiple compelling characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lea`Brooks, Jul 3, 2015.

    So I'm working on a new urban fantasy. And I've discovered I can't really move forward with the plot until all of my characters are fully created.

    And since I have thirteen characters, it's become quite daunting. Before you get all "that's too many characters" on me, let me explain.

    The story is a twisted, demonized version of the tv show The Bachelor. A demon kidnaps ten women, who he locks in his house and puts then through a series of trials and tests to figure out which one is the one he wants to marry. Two of the girls are going to be eliminated early, so I don't need to develop them as thoroughly. And two friends of the demon are only minor and are basically done. Two of the main characters are also basically done. So I really only need to build on seven characters. They won't be major roles, so I don't need to develop them as strongly as the main characters. But since all the women will be spending a lot of time together, locked up in one room, there's going to be some heavy interaction between them.

    Now, I know how to build a character. I do the interviews and use development sheets and whatnot. My problem currently is that I have so many, it's becoming difficult to make them all interesting and different. I'm finding that they all become very similar when I write down the basics. One of them is naive and sweet, another is sweet and quiet, another is quite but cruel, etc. They all just start blending together.

    So what do you do in this situation? Do you look at character tropes? Do you have special guides or worksheets that you use?

    Any advice would be appreciated. :)
     
  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I tend to develop characters pretty organically rather than using worksheets and stuff - those've never seemed to help me. What I like to do is throw the characters together in some random scene and see what happens, how they react. It could be something as simple as sending them off to a restaurant and seeing where they all want to go, where they want to sit, what they order, or something that might test them more like forcing them to have to make some terrible decision. "So ... Caroline just killed a man. How do we all feel about this?" I find that seeing how they play off each other helps the most in developing them independently.

    Whatever group dynamics they develop might necessarily hold true within the canon of your story, but you'll've figured out in what ways they all react to various things. Also, since you have so many you might think about dividing them into actual subgroups, deciding that these three are friends, these two can't stand each other, and working from there.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    My first reaction is, you're going to get more flack for a story like that than E L James got on her Twitter recently.

    Of course I don't know where you're going with the story so take my comment with a grain of salt.
     
  4. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't worry, it's not a romance. It definitely won't have a happy ending.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Astrology. :)
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    How did you come to decide on the numbers? Why 13? Why 10 victims? It strikes me as somewhat arbitrary, and arbitrary decision made at the outset can hamstring your writing later on. My advice is to leave whatever initial planning you've done flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen changes later on, like a piece of furniture you have to assemble. Don't tighten the bolts until you're nearly finished.

    Frankly, I wouldn't give the methods you mentioned for developing characters the time of day. Characters are organic to the story - they feed it and are fed by it, a dual dynamic process that is particular to each story we tell.

    In my historical, I had to come up with a lot of characters over nearly 500 years, so I didn't start with a number. In my earliest historical chapter, I started with one - an ex-sailor who comes to the New World to escape the Inquisition. Why? Because he had naively offered to help a young seaman whose parents have been taken by the Inquisition. So, I needed a seaman (well, as the chapter unfolded, I found I didn't need him for very long, so there wasn't much more to him than a name and a situation). Then, I needed a priest for my sailor to go to for help. And he had to have a basis of friendship on which to rely, so I created an incident that brought them together and commands continuing loyalty - the sailor had once rescued the priest when he was a being robbed and beaten. Moreover, my sailor needed the priest to be placed highly enough to be able to help, so I made him an assistant to the Archbishop of Seville. That was enough to get my sailor on a boat for Hispaniola.

    Once in the New World, I created an entire supporting cast for my sailor, including a jealous, scheming bureaucrat for whom he had to work; a young native girl whom he took as a slave to protect and ended up marrying; a wealthy merchant whom he helps establish as a landowner and his wife; other settlers; family...and so on. The evolving story created the need for characters and I filled them, throwing some historical figures in for good measure. Each and every chapter was written the same way.

    As for what they were like, it was easy to come up with defining characteristics that made them unique. As the novel went on, there were families of many generations, some of which held to the same positions over multiple centuries (such as landowner/slaveholder or merchant). Not wanting these to become all of a type, I made sure there were differences in personalities and opinions (such as a set of brothers, one loyal to Spain, the other supporting independence and both vying for the same woman). My advice would be to look for the potential for conflict between your characters and then use the conflict to highlight their differences.

    Good luck.
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm not worried, it's not my story. And happy endings have nothing to do with the controversy. Whatever.
     
  8. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What's the controversy?
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I like your premise. It almost sounds like an attempt at satire, actually. You know, poking fun at televised match making culture. You might as well be making a deal with the devil when participating in those TV shows. But yeah, you asked opinions on character development rather than the story itself...

    Rather than just giving them different personality traits (which will overlap in each person in any case), give them a thing. Let me elaborate...

    It sounds like stereotyping, but the thing could be in their looks or stem from their back stories. It can be a personality trait, too, and there can be several of them. I'll use the TV show Robin Hood as an example 'cause its characters are fresh on my mind. I could use something like the Hyperion books as an example, but I've already forgotten some of the characters. Buffy the Vampire Slayer also had a bunch of little slayers in the last season, so you can check how those were characterized.

    Anyway, I loved the ensemble cast in Robin Hood; they had distinctive looks and personalities without appearing too cartoonish. Here are the things about them I can remember:
    1. Robin - the masterful archer, faithful servant to Marian. Cute, but not handsome. Brave, but doesn't want to kill.
    2. Marian - the Night Watchman and the original fighter for the poor. Beautiful, but not in a bland, skinny Hollywood way. Brave to the point of stupid.
    3. Much - Robin's loyal manservant. Fussy, nervous, but an adept fighter. Very blond with big bulging eyes.
    4. Guy of Gisborne - Villain turned anti-hero with a slew of baggage. Tall, muscle-bound, but not too pretty 'cause his hair was always greasy and the actor has unique facial features (long nose, thin mouth). Hot-headed, but calculative.
    5. Will Scarlett - the quiet carpenter who fought with an axe. Stone faced, lanky.
    6. Djaq - the Saracen healer/fighter. Short, stocky, brown-skinned. Very clever and wise.
    7. Little John - the big guy with a stick, a slogan ("it's a good day to die"), and a heavy internal conflict 'cause he had left his family behind to be an outlaw
    8. Allan A Dale - Swindler who looked out for himself with a heart of gold. Somewhat on the handsome side, but in an approachable way as his nose was too long and face somewhat effeminate rather than masculine.
    9. Sheriff Vasey - THEE villain. Short, balding, missing a tooth, but instead of sad and pathetic, has a powerful, menacing presence.

    Not quite 13 of them, but they all have a thing (or two) going for them, that make them stand out. If you can attach such signifiers to your characters, it can help the reader to remember them. These signifiers should "interact" with their surroundings to make them stick in your readers mind and to help create an illusion of depth. E.g. Robin uses his skills with the bow to fight for justice. Will Scarlett uses an axe for fighting because he's comfortable with it due to his carpentry background. Djaq speaks broken English because she's not English. So you don't just plaster them on, you make them matter in the story.

    Does this make sense?

    How you come up with these is up to you. Character sheets (which can simply be notes) can be useful. Allow your creativity flow, no need to stick to some checklist. Tell their stories, or whatever comes to your mind. Use the question "why would the demon want to kidnap these women in particular?" as your starting point. Oh, and do develop the girls you eliminate early. You want the reader to care about their elimination. If the demon kills a sweet midwestern Christian girl who never hurt a fly in her life, it's going to sting.

    Here's a few examples (I just made these up, so if you like some of these ideas, feel free to use them, lol. In spoiler tags so they don't hog up too much space).
    Magdalena is twenty-two and comes from a broken home. Determined to rise above her underprivileged past, she's grown cool and calculated. On the inside, she recognizes her decisions may be immoral, but she will never go back to being poor and weak, and she refuses to be the victim, even if it means being a victimizer. She dyes her hair bright red as a symbol of her inner fire and she doesn't give two shits if others think that's stupid.

    Lola is only eighteen with a successful modeling career and a drug addiction already under her belt. She's just left rehab but once a risktaker, forever a risktaker. She's hoping to find a guy who'd support her as she's so used to her lavish lifestyle, she can't bear the thought of losing it. Her real name is Mabel, which she absolutely loathes. Lola hates conflict as they make her feel sick in the stomach and can make her cry, and she hates the idea of crying in public. Lola's got naturally curly brown hair and has a rare genetic condition due to which her eyes are of different color. She once made a sex tape with her ex-boyfriend and worries he's gonna leak it for all the internet goers to see.

    Shaquand joined the Marines when she was 19, but two years later she lost her right leg from the knee down in Afghanistan. She was honorably discharged and pursued a career in journalism. Now at 25, she writes columns to hunting and gun magazines. It's not enough to support her financially, though. Her parents partially support her, and it gnaws at her pride.

    Michelle is 23 and has just found out she's pregnant with her first child. Life's good... or is it? The child wasn't conceived by her boyfriend, but her colleague, Sammy, after a drunken night out. Sammy's married, of course, and isn't planning to leave his wife and infant daughter for Michelle. Abortion is out of the question too because in her state most abortion clinics have been shut down, and could she really do it anyway?
    Like @izzybot suggested, you can also just throw these characters together and see what happens. Give them a scene, a conflict/problem, and, again, allow your creativity to flow.
     
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  10. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, please. What is controversial about a non-romantic story about a bunch of girls coming together to save their own lives? No one actually falls in love with the dude, so it isn't a demonized version of women loving their abuser and staying in an unhealthy relationship.


    @izzybot @KaTrian Thank you so much!! That was incredibly helpful. I've often had terrible with multiple characters, and I think my problem is that I never had the thing. I just had a bunch of boring side characters that were just there to be there. They didn't have their own story or anything. And I realize now that they'll need it in this story.

    Thanks again! :D
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2015
  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Obviously you know what the controversy is that I speak of. And clearly I said I didn't know where you were going with the story.

    Bunch of women held captive by a demon who wants to marry one of them calls up obvious images. I was just sayin'.
     
  12. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're right, you don't know where I'm going with this story. So maybe you shouldn't make snap judgments without knowing all the details, which I purposely leave out because I don't like everyone knowing my ending before it's even written. Ask questions next time instead of making assumptions.

    And if you have a concern, you should say what you mean up front instead of giving vague clues at what you mean. I posted the early stage of this story a while ago, and someone else had the same worry. So because of that, I knew what you meant. But it would be easier for everyone if you would stop trying to build suspense and just come right out and say it next time. Saves everyone a lot of time and worry.
     
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  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    :rolleyes:
     
  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You might want to spend some of your energy figuring out the characters as they interact, rather than as individuals. Most people, I think, behave differently with different companions, in different situations, etc.

    I think this might be what people are getting at when they recommend a more organic approach. Your plot and your characters will interact, your characters will interact with each other, etc., and as that happens, you'll learn more about the characters.

    One thing you might be able to do is clump some of the women together. Like, if three of the women are best friends, maybe they don't really have distinctly different personalities... maybe they're all bubbly and optimistic on the surface. And then maybe one of them is really strong underneath and when shit goes down she pulls the other two together. So then you still have the weaker two clumped, without the need for a fully distinct personality for each of them.
     
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  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @GingerCoffee - what controversy are you stoke(r)ing now? :pop:
     
  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually have no idea what is controversial about her plot.
     
  17. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    She's suggesting that my plot is promoting abusive relationships. Because I have a character that kidnaps women and puts them through tests, she thought it was going to end with one of the women falling in love with the guy who kidnapped and tortured her.
     
  18. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Or it's a feminist tale of women breaking free from their male kidnapper. Point being , you usually can't judge the message of a story solely based on its premise.
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, the premise of the story has very little to do with the problem posed by the OP, which is sufficiently differentiating the personalities of a large number of characters.
     
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  20. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Too true. Apologies for chiming in; if we were to discuss the premise for whatever reason, that should be in a different thread and sub-forum.

    As for the topic: I think so as to avoid getting stuck with character details, it might be best at this point just get to the writing and write a few scenes with the characters you have in mind and just see what happens and where it takes you. :)
     
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  21. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that's just what I'll have to do. :) I'm still struggling jusstt a tad with the main demon. The story is all about his whims and desires afterall, so I'm trying to make sure he's just right before I continue. And since I haven't read many demon books, I'm doing a lot of research to make sure he isn't too cliched. :p

    As for the girls, I did try grouping them together, and that helped significantly. I'm sure their personalities will come out more during writing. Now that I know who is friends with who, I feel more comfortable moving forward. :)
     
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  22. Mattiemae
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    What I've basically done is figured out like Stephen King and other Screen writers, they're using Meyers Brigg's Personality and other Personality and mental disorders to create characters. If you also look up under Characters psychological analysis from movies you'll get a run down on how they break them down psychologically. I don't know how many women you have, but you can basically make 16 different ones just based on the Meyer's brigg's and the other color code personality test. Some use Astrology, Numerology, and Human Design Astrology that breaks down characteristics.
     
  23. Cry Wolf
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    Cry Wolf New Member

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    For me, I'd have to put each of them in an event to test them. My characters for example, C is the leader, but he's not one to be very friendly, P is in love with C but doesn't know how to tell him because of his demeanor. D isn't that smart, nor that brave. He also considers himself to be C's only friend (mainly since C was the only one who defended him in school, but it also turns out C only defended D just to get into a fight). Give your characters an origin, a strong background, then alter there character as the story progresses. Girl #1 is very timid, but after being pushed so much through your story's game, she becomes a bit more fierce. You could think about high school, Seniors are almost always different from when they were Freshmen.
     
  24. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Blending is a problem. I know all too well. My main story has 12 main characters.

    So first you get my vote of approval on having a high cast.

    Me personally? I create cliches in my head. it makes it easy to remember them all. Also some characters will get along with others better.

    For blending. When you have two character you fear are blending. I ask "What makes them different? What is a situation they could both go through and react differently? Why did they react different?" Then once you have that. Write it down and remember it. :D

    Hope it helps. :)
     
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  25. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    I do something similar, actually - I tend to ask "what would happen if I took this character to the pub tonight?" - which of the people I know would they like and dislike (and therefore how they're likely to react to other people and one another), what would they drink, where would they sit? Would they look at the artwork on the walls or get to know the staff? Would they be the dickhead who decides to learn to play the out-of-tune piano just when someone's put a song on the jukebox - or would they be the bigger dick who decides to put a dozen Morrissey tracks on when everyone's trying to have a good time?
     

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