1. Abel2bCain
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    Abel2bCain New Member

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    How to get to know a character you would never hang out with?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Abel2bCain, Feb 29, 2016.

    I'm wondering if anyone has any advice on getting to know your characters. I'm dealing with writing a character which I love as a writer, but would never associate with in real life. In the past I would get to know a character by imagining myself interacting with him/her. I can't imagine that because I would immediately want to get away from this character.

    I've thought about doing things like imagining this character going with me through my day, but the character is from a different time in history, so that just doesn't help me develop my story.

    Any advice? How do you get to know characters you love to hate (or even maybe scare you a little)?
     
  2. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think you should be able to imagine talking to or being the character. But that's not very helpful, is it? If historical is an obstacle do research, I would think you were doing that anyway. And I find connecting to characters is often about finding the side of you that agree with, empathizes with or sympathizes with the character. That way your literally making that personal connection, which helps me a lot with imagining there mind, making them real. IDK this is a difficult question. You're having trouble with both of the main approaches I use designing a character. Except maybe listing them like a profile. A history and personality profile. Would that help? Hope you get over this obstacle. Cheers.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2016
  3. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Think about what kind of people would like to hang around with him. The way people pick their friends is incredibly telling, and in that lump of people you can find someone who you can empathize with enough to begin making them bounce of each other in interesting ways.

    Also, not wanting to make any sweeping statements about you as a person but it may be helpful for you to genuinely go experience something connected to that character. You don't need to get all method on it but you broadening your experience in areas (particularly more weird, out there ones) will really help you get hands on with characters who are outside the bounds of your normal life. Looking through their eyes in an environment they would feel at home in, regardless of time period, will give you some nice clear insights into who they are.

    One of the problems with being a writer is that we mostly buy in to the idea that reading about something is this magically insightful experience; otherwise we wouldn't write. But there's also a tendency in us to believe the inverse; that for an insight all we need to do is read. And there's some truth to that in an intellectual sense but a huge amount of the human experience is totally divorced from the intellectual. It's to do with adrenaline and dopamine firing off in our brains. Any character with a dark side I guarantee has a messed up relationship with adrenaline; either thrill seeking or seeking control.

    There's so many things in the world from moshpitting to BDSM to IV drug use that the 'normal' person's response is 'How could you do that to yourself?' And the answer is 'Because it's fun'. Not because it's good for you; because it'll douse your brain in amazingly powerful chemicals that provide a very deep, visceral rush of enjoyment. But if you've never done it (or something comparable) then you'll never quite believe that it's true because it taps into a very non-intellectual part of us. It's why it makes me giggle to see the way that many people write drug addiction as this sorrowful experience, forgetting that cocaine and heroin really do very much work as advertised and feel amazing even if the rest of your life sucks.

    Now that doesn't mean I'd suggest you need to go and buy yourself a dimebag and some syringes (but if you do you want 30 gauge, 1/2inch low dead space ones) but just letting yourself get a bit out of comfort zone and experience some 'safe' adrenaline like parachuting or bungee jumping can help you start to understand why people feel this is fun. Getting a bit of personal, physical context on those feelings; having the sense memory of them there will give you a door into the mind of someone with a less healthy reaction to those same stimuli.

    If you've never been in a fight you'll never understand why it feels good. That may well not be a wise idea but it's true. To understand someone you need to know what it feels to be them even if that scares you. You just need to find a safe way to tap into it.
     
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  4. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    For me.. I become the character. The 'Me' gets swallowed. Someone very wise once said "To understand all is to forgive all". I am not advocating doing the things my character does but the brain is a wonderful thing. No one ever can look into what you imagine. I can sit in my garden and give myself permission to be this other, and then I write.
    I also endorse what @LostThePlot said, but within reason, within reason. And without ever endangering anyone - and that includes yourself. There are a myriad ways out there you could do stuff without crossing this border. From parachuting, to taking self-defense classes, ..
     
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  5. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    There's always going to be people in life you don't want to interact with but are forced to. You could always imagine the character is your own brother or sister. If your world is essentially the same as our world you could try finding forums related to the interest of the character and read what those sort of people talk about. How they interact with each other. Dealing a historical character depends on what part of history. There are lots of time periods with vast amounts of surviving information. You can track down diaries, journals, and other first hand reports about how people lived, what their daily concerns were, etc.

    Just about anytime you build a story there will be characters that you wouldn't like. They won't all be evil, just different. In fact, if your story only contains characters similar to your own personality and some antagonist character(s) it might become boring to the reader. ( an issue I struggle with )
     
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  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmmm. I have trouble with this one too. I personally like to do a lot of family backstory and personal history for my characters, so with my villain I've definitely booted her back and tried to pick apart what makes her who she is. I still have a hard time making her tick as a plausible, fully developed incarnation of evil - but I have developed a lot more sympathy for her by taking her back to a point in her life where she was more sympathetic and relatable, and dealing her exactly the right blows to send that version of her (who I like) down a dark path that turns her into a monster. Actually, for that reason I really feel bad thinking about her downfall now, because I know who she was, and it hurts. So maybe that could help. Depending on how old your bad character is, boot them back to a time where they weren't so bad - develop sympathy for THAT person, and then remember the person you liked is still buried deep inside their later self.

    In my case, that meant taking a 47-year old executive back to her college days. If you're looking at someone younger - what were they like as a teenager? A child?
     
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  7. Euthymius
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    Euthymius Member

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    Spy on them.

    Pretend you are watching them go about their daily lives from a mile away with a high-powered telescope. What do they do?
     
  8. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Look up people on the Internet who have those sorts of attitudes. Even if this is a historical character, you can probably find someone with equivalent attitudes. See how they talk and how they portray themselves, and read between the lines to find what they're actually like.
     
  9. Abel2bCain
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    Abel2bCain New Member

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    You guys have all given some really helpful advice! Thank you! It's very encouraging too! I do know this character has A LOT of potential, so your comments are helping me to not give up on him. I'm still scared of getting to know this character, but that's because I think his weakness and mine is the same and if I go deeper I might be opening myself up to something I'm trying to suppress.

    Do you ever find that your writing effects your behavior or your daily life? Any advice on compartmentalizing? Do you do any mental exercises or decompressing when you stop writing and have to go back to reality? (BTW, I have two little kids, so I don't want to be like this character AT ALL around them and like I said, we may have a common weakness)

    I'm loving your responses! Don't stop!
     
  10. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I find that thinking about certain characters in certain ways for long enough can affect my mood and mindset to a degree. For example; Bradford and Sebastian makes me sad/happy and wonder about human nature and relationships.
     
  11. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    How people react to their own writing is going to be different for everyone. The human brain is a weird mechanism that way and you'll find tons of threads here about the different levels of connection people feel to characters. That said, I would worry too much about becoming like your character. There's tons of fiction in the world, lots of it with deeply disturbing characters, and you don't see news stories about the writers of those books becoming psychotic. George R. R. Martin in real life like to ponificate about how violence is bad and he comes across as a giant teddy bear...this is the guy known for brutally and randomly slaughtering beloved characters at every turn. Heck, I once saw a mug fir sale that said, "Don't check my search history, I'm a writer not a serial killer."

    So if you feel like something is messing with you emotionally, you can stop. But I wouldn't be too afraid to get to know your dark characters. That, and you made this person up in the first place, they came from some dark corner of your brain and really you're exploring that...writers have a tendency to use those dark corners in craft while most of the population tries to pretend they don't have then (they do, by the way...they all watch Game of Thrones...which really isn't any more messed up than WRITING Game or Thrones)
     
  12. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    You won't become you're characters - your characters all emanate from you. Even for dark characters you'll just be tapping into your personal ideas about universal human experiences like love and pain and rejection.

    Hence, my characters are (on some level) half-broken, semi-teenagers with problems entirely of their own making. That's my view of the human condition. We lie, we die. Even characters I don't like share inner demons and too much pride to ask for help. I've had an 'interesting' life which gives me a certain authority on the practical side of darker subjects but those dark parts are window dressing on another problem that always springs from my own neurosis.

    Long story short, at worst your characters will give you a way to express impulses you wouldn't otherwise. That doesn't mean you're a would be murder, just that you can probably sympathise with why murder seems like a good option.
     
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  13. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    If I'm having issues getting to "know" one of my characters and other characters and the plot aren't helping, I'll often write the character into a mundane conflict or situation and write how they would react. Like the restaurant getting a food order wrong, or fighting over a parking spot.

    If the universe they are in is a more fantastical realm you can do the same thing. How would they react to someone stealing their horse, or their spaceship running out of fuel just parsecs away from the nearest fuel depot?

    These little snippets don't need to have anything to do with the plot, but the little things are often insightful into the depth and breadth of a hard-to-understand character.
     
  14. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I strongly endorse this approach, both as just getting to know a character and as a general thing for whenever you have a space with nothing in particular happening.

    It's a good thing to do; the distilled essence of character. Plot matters but characters do too and these seemingly banal activities play as a good contrast to the 'big' events and lets your characters breathe and be normal people for a moment and that's where their true selves really shine. It's easy to be a hero (or villain) when you don't have time to think but it means something much more when you stop for a moment, exhausted and haunted by the faces of the men you killed and still get back up an do it again.
     
  15. Abel2bCain
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    Abel2bCain New Member

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    Sorry I didn't thank you all sooner! I've since tried some of the suggestions you've mentioned and things have been going well! It's still a challenge, but I've also had some good breakthroughs. I'm letting myself free-write as the character and not worrying about whether it will ever be part of the final draft. It's been good to step back and just take time with my character. I plan on continuing to apply a lot of the advice given here to getting to know my other characters too. Thank you all again! I really appreciate the support!
     
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  16. Lillian Nightingale
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    Lillian Nightingale New Member

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    I would suggest maybe reading a book or watching a movie with a main character with similar traits and hobbies to the character you're writing. You could also try writing a character profile or a short story focused on the perspective of said character, try to put yourself in their shoes and/or situation.
     
  17. Wexeldorf
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    Wexeldorf Member

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    If you're comfortable doing it, try an exercise of flash fiction/short fiction with your character and you (or another character you can empathise with) thrown together into a situation where you need each other for survival. Eg shipwrecked on an island and hunted by a cannibalistic tribe or left for dead in a jungle full of wild beasts. Whatever is appropriate for your character's historical origin, and play it through. You can learn a lot about a character when put into dangerous situations. You never know, if the flash/short fiction is good enough, it might make it into the larger story somewhere.
     
  18. Andrew Rosemel
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    Andrew Rosemel Member

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    I think the coolest thing about creating characters, is that there is no limit on how you can write them, or who they turn out to be.

    I most often realize the differences in people during conversations. Everyone reacts differently to different news. For example, your friend John tells you about his terrible camping trip. Maybe you would respond with: "Shoot, that's unfortunate John, but there's always next time!" While his other friend would just laugh and make jokes.

    Or even (in writing situations) make your character do the complete opposite of what you would you.

    Try taking inspiration from conversations, or quirky mannerisms from people you know, to create a character that you would never hang out with. I hope this was to some use! And good luck with your writing! -Andrew
     
  19. ToBeInspired
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    ToBeInspired Contributing Member

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    Not sure if it matters that much. I can write a psychotic character without associating with serial killers. It'd be hard to write characters if that was the criteria. I'm closer with my characters than even my close friends. Why? Because there's always a part of me in each of them. It's an intimacy reserved for few people. I know EVERYTHING about my characters, there are no secrets between us. I know their darkest secrets, their greatest joys, hell even what they had for breakfast a year ago.

    We're close whether I like it or not. The only difference is that I can kill off my character without getting arrested, heh.

    Maybe try disassociation. Add a little outcast vibe. Reflect your feelings in your other characters interactions with him or her.
     
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  20. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I've never understood this getting-to-know-your-characters thing. You, as the writer, are making them up. You can make them whatever you want them to be. You have complete control of everything they do, say and think. They are not real. They are whatever you want them to be. One thing I will say is that if you are writing a character you would not hang out with, you better make sure they are damn entertaining because basically you will be asking anyone who reads your book to be hanging out with your character for a good amount of time.
     
  21. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I get tired sometimes of the endless exercises that people suggest to "get to know your character." It seems silly sometimes because, as you said, you are the creative force behind these fictional people.

    Also, I think it wouldn't hurt to point out that some of these character things can be a good way to get the creative juices flowing.
     
  22. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As a huge fan of the Villain Protagonist character concept: make a list of the ways that your character is not like you.
     
  23. T.D. Dixon
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    T.D. Dixon New Member

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    WOOT!

    I love...LOVE when my antagonist or his/her minions freak me out or make me uncomfortable. Never, NEVER see this as a bad thing. It's an incredible experience. In fact, when you're writing is making you uncomfortable, or your writing is emotionally affecting you, that's EXACTLY where you need to be! That's where the good stuff lives and more often than not, it's the truth of you and chances are, its the truth for your readers. Every painful memory or experience you've had in your life becomes material for writing - gives purpose to them (I have found this to be true even in those painful moments which had no purpose before - suddenly they do...)

    Also, you have to love your characters - like your children. Even the antagonist. I too struggled with loving my bad guys earlier in my career. A bi-product of that, I was was equally just as afraid to put my good guys through the ringer. Afraid to hurt them. That was until I learned that not all good guys are all good and not all bad guys were all bad. It was also very easy to see what drove my protagonist and why they did what they did. I had to learn to see things from my bad guys point of view. If he/she needed to end someone (and badly I might add...) there was always something "pure" in his reason for doing so. Love. Service to mankind. Sparing others from the pain he/she experienced before....Something. It makes such a difference when you know their motivation for being a wack job. lol.

    Don't be afraid to deep dive into those painful memories or experiences in your life. If it makes you uncomfortable keep going. Our jobs as writers is to brave those painful feelings and deal with them as they can create powerful scenes or chapters in your work that will stand out to people. You'll be fine. Promise.
     

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