1. TimHarris
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    TimHarris Senior Member

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    How to develop my characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TimHarris, Jan 11, 2013.

    When I write, I am always told that my characters are my weak points, and I agree on that. This is probably because I mostly spend my time by myself, instead of being outside and socializing. I am just more comfortable that way.

    Is there any good ways to learn how to develop my characters? And while we are at it, what makes a good and strong character in fiction? Personally I love stories that has strong character interaction and character development, but I have trouble writing about them. Any tips?
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Usually I would say that the way to develop them is to spend time with them, writing scenes with them, irrespective of whether the scenes would ultimately make it into your story. I heard Don Maas speak, and he talked about putting yourself into each of your characters. He has several books -- you might want to check out The Fire in Fiction, and see if that sparks anything or resonates with you.

    I think having a good and strong character is one who is believable. Who has good and bad qualities, who has quirks, who sometimes questions himself. The way I like to discover these is to put the character at lunch with his family or his friend and see what everyone says.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Read good fiction with lively, interesting characters, and examine how the author accomplished that.

    It won't happen in a day, but of course there are no instant solutions.
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't have to be a social animal. You do have to be a good observer. Go sit in a mall, an airport, bus station - and watch the people. Look at their expressions, what they do, how they interact with others and the difference between family, friends, officials, strangers. Listen to tone of voice. Make up little vignettes about the people you see. Ask yourself why. Why are they excited? Why are they laughing? Why did they give that person that look?
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're still young, and maybe you feel that your main characters have to be Heroes with a capital H - purehearted, strong, endlessly good and wise, infallible. Nobody in real life is like that, even though many (if not most) of us strive, in our own ways, to be.

    Try an exercise like this: Pick someone you know - an acquaintance, or even a family member - who has deep flaws. Maybe they're selfish, or mean, or cowardly, or alcoholic, or the kind of ne'er-do-well who can't be relied upon. Just someone who annoys and exasperates you with their flaws. Then write a story about them in which they are the main character, putting them in a situation where they must succeed at something important to them. Make it so they aren't the villain, but the hero who has to overcome their weaknesses of character. (For example, what would happen if a man like that suddenly learned that his sister and her husband had died in an accident, and he was now responsible for caring for their four-year-old child. He loves the child, the child is important to him, but suddenly he finds he has to be responsible in a way he had never been before. Can he do it?) And give the character an arc. People love to read about characters who overcome their flaws - look at the enduring popularity of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is a great character. Every actor wants to play him. Audiences love his story; that's why so many movies have been made about him.

    Characters have to have the kind of flaws real people have, and their stories have to be about them confronting those flaws. Maybe they succeed and maybe they don't, but they change in the course of the story. We, as readers, have to be caught up in the story, hoping for them that they succeed, cheering for them when they do, weeping for them when they don't.

    I realize I'm generalizing here, and leaving out many kinds of great characters (Atticus Finch is a hero through and through, for instance, but I guess ultimately To Kill a Mockingbird is Scout's story). I'm just offering a suggestion that may help if the OP has the kind of problem I've described here.
     
  6. SunnyE
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    SunnyE Member

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    I agree with all the advice so far, particularly minstrel's. One of the worst things you can do with character development is to create someone who is one-sided. It almost never works. Real people have good and bad qualities alike, we just tend to shine in one direction or another most of the time. Readers don't want to read about a hero who is good to the core. They like him/her to make mistakes, to have flaws and to be conflicted. It helps them to relate more and makes it easier to root for them. At the same time, you don't want to create bad guys that are all bad. There's no fun in that. You want to humanize them. Maybe delve into what has led them to be the way they are. Likely they weren't born terrible, but terrible things happened to them along the way that led them down that path. One of the more important points is that along the way, your lead character needs to grow in some way. They need to learn from both the successes and the failures. They don't necessarily need to grow into a better person--just a different one, though I think most readers tend to prefer they come out better in the end. It's up to you and how you want your story to pan out. There are a number of excellent books out there on character development for fiction writing. I suggest pouring through the library or searching through Amazon. They will give you a lot of detailed ideas that may steer you in the direction you want to go. Hope that helps at least a little. Good luck to you. :)
     
  7. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    I suggest you allow the characters some brains.

    Show them affected by what happens to them.
    An very good example would be them becoming expasperated after a series of unfortunate events.
    I just look at my parents when they're yelling and I backtrack every single event that lead to this.

    -An optimistic/cheerful person, then? Well, WHY are they optimistic?
    They have some solid ground, perhaps. A religion that comforts them,
    a family to go back to at the end of the day. Something they would love more time doing and see it as a bright golden thing in the distance.

    -Reverse it? Slide the carpet from under their feet. Have their loved ones die. Have them excommunicated for a treason they did not commit.


    -A pessimistic/cynical/jaded person? Just have a person who believes they have nothing to live for.
    They could still have a wife they love, its just not the thing that keeps them going cheerful.
    They spend time with the children at the end of the day, but aren't as passionately interested.
    Their love for boats when they were little was crushed by their father and now they have no hobbies to turn to.

    -Reverse it? Gradually insert something they care about or interests them.
     
  8. Apollo.
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    Apollo. Member

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    Your post made me smile. I am like that in real life.

    It is often the people around a good person who tries to corrupt them because they lack goodness in themselves.
     
  9. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Early writers tend to suffer the habit of taking certain things about their characters for granted, either having the character assume the author's traits or by failing to elucidate on the character's moods and thought processes. The latter happens either because one simply forgets or one hasn't really considered them.

    Try throwing your characters into different scenarios to see how they react. If they all react the same way, you've definitely got problems. Otherwise, it presents a good opportunity to flesh out what makes them unique and interesting.
     
  10. Apollo.
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    Apollo. Member

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    Agreed. I find travelling a good way to explore character, seeing the world shows interesting people. In fact I'd recommend all writers travel and be exposed to new experiences, environments, locations and people as much as they can.
     
  11. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd suggest braving the outside world and communicating with people. Even just being more social towards coworkers/acquaintances will make a difference in how you write characters. Find out what and how people think.

    Being able to write realistic characters is my main strength. I've been told that it is clear from my writing that I'm social and that I "get" people - and I only started to hear that after I made the decision to go out and get more involved with people. Over the past few months I've been out: 2-5 times a week for socialising (depending on the amount of time I can spare); at least once a week for volunteer work; and it's rare a day goes by (even my days off) where I'm not communicating with my current team members and/or conducting interviews with strangers (face to face, email, phone, etc). This doesn't mean I'm always in the mood for socialising or that I'm even 100% confident doing it - but it's essential. However, all the communicating does wonders for my writing because I am getting constant exposure to different: uses of language; points of view; body language; etc.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Be careful not to over-define your characters before you start writing. Don't forget that your story will change your characters no matter how they start. If you lock your characters down in every detail, you don't allow them to go through their arcs, and you'll find you have no story.

    In real life, we change (usually minutely) whenever someone enters our lives. I'm not the same person I was twenty years ago (or maybe even last week) because I've been living my own story and going through my own arc. There are essential parts of me that don't change, but there aren't many of those, and it certainly doesn't take an iPhone app to define them.

    This is why I oppose the idea of character sheets. They tend to be full of utterly useless and irrelevant details (What does he have for breakfast? What is her favorite color?) that make the novice writer think he's creating, that he's actually writing, when he's really just wasting his time.

    Take your character and put him in a situation. Write a scene or three about him dealing with his situation. He'll grow into a fully-formed person before your very eyes.
     
  13. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    When i develop a character for a story i start with their name then i go from their.
     
  14. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    You can observe other characters in other books or a different media, then use them as referrence to develop your characters. Don't make them too similar. Just add some similar personities and give them their own voices.
     

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