1. Edge
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    Edge Member

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    I can't pull a character out of thin air

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Edge, Mar 3, 2009.

    I am sort of having a problem developing characters. Every one of the people in my novel is some one I know, I take what they look like, act like, and think like, tweak some small things so they work well in the story, and write them in. Yes I have asked them all if I could use them, and they have all said it was ok, as long as I thank them when I get published...more like if I get published, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it. I just can't make up a character that people will be sad about, if I was to kill them off. I have read the Guides, but they just didn't help me. I really worried that using my friends as the basis for characters could come back to bite me.
     
  2. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    I don't think that this is particularly unusual, and it's probably good practice on how to portray real and believable characters. I use the word practice because, at the same time, I don't think it's entirely ideal for each one of your characters to be highly recognisable as your friends and family.

    I would, however, go so far as to suggest that no one creates a character from thin air. What goes in to the basic make up of a character can really only be based on things we ourselves know, feel, believe and have experienced. Perhaps you might want to try looking at the creation of a character from a slightly different perspective - instead of trying to think of what would make other people sad, think of the types of things that specifically affect you. Evoking emotion in someone else is most successful when you can feel it first. Secondly, it's worth noting that people are emotionally affected by a wide range of things, and even moments of joy can contain sadness. Personality traits alone aren't just what people react to, it's also the events surrounding the character, as well as how they deal with them.

    That is not to say that each character is or should be a mirror of yourself. I'd suggest starting with some very simple basics first. If you have a story already, begin by thinking about what a character looks like, then add things like patterns of speech, the way they walk, something they believe in strongly, their daily habits - good and bad, what they want most out of life... You probably have a much wider frame of reference that you can glean mannerisms and traits from than you realise (starting with books, films and other forms of media, even animals...the sources of inspiration are practically endless).

    Good luck!
     
  3. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    It might come back to bite you. If you're populating your works with friends, family, and co-workers without even changing the names and/or mannerisms slightly, I'd say you're destined to run into trouble. It only takes one dissatisfied person to make the whole thing blow up in your face.

    Tread lightly. Or better yet, walk away from this habit before you go for publication. It's got 'bad news' written all over it, in my opinion.

    Is that your criteria for a good character? Personally, I'd prefer to see my readers' emotional range span more than just sadness. I want to see the readers get happy when s/he is happy, scared when s/he is scared, anxious when s/he is anxious, etc, etc. And if the character is the antagonist, readers may be glad to see him/her go. :p

    For me, coming up with characters is all about expanding my mind -- you have to train yourself to think like other people, even to think like other creatures. (Have you ever written from the POV of an animal, a plant, a magical being of some sort? I recommend it. ;)). But don't get caught up on the outward traits (appearance, speech patterns, body language, etc) when developing a character. Focus on what's brewing in their head. And once you have a firm grip on that, the other things will follow naturally.

    But how do you think like someone else? It's easy. Everybody's got the same brain as you. (Though some of us have taken a few blows in that department...) So, contrary to popular belief, there's nothing stopping you from seeing things from another person's POV, thinking exactly the way they do, or from becoming someone else. A good exercise to practice this is to take a current event or issue that you feel strongly about, (such as abortion, the economy, politics, stem cell research, religion, etc, etc) and try to see things from a point of view opposite to yours. I mean really try to tear your opinions down. Find every fault imaginable with your original stance, until you can clearly see where the other side is coming from. Congratulations, you've just taken one small step toward becoming someone else.

    Now, file away those thoughts and use them next time you're trying to make a character. You're going to have to do this often and on different issues, taking varying stances, (or no stace at all, if you want an apathetic character,) until you have a thick stack of ideas, opinions, and life views that you can apply to a character. Then just make up a background story that explains how this character came to think/act the way s/he does, form a picture of what s/he looks like and why s/he dresses that way or carries the things s/he carries, and lastly tack a name onto it. Now, you have a complete character and it's time for the hard part: writing his/her story.


    And, of course, opinions on character development differ. I'm not at all suggesting that my way is the only way to do this. I'm sure others will come along and suggest what works for them. And I'll probably, nod, agree, and see things their way... cuz that's the kinda guy I am. :rolleyes:
     
  4. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    Try using combinations of your freinds traits. Mix and match, its fun.
     
  5. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Everyone does it from time to time. I do it, sometimes without even realizing it. With practice, you'll be able to do more.
     
  6. Hyohakusha
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    Hyohakusha Active Member

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    Hmm, yeah i don't think its a terrible idea, as long as you realise that if you ever do get published there might be repercussions. I mean David Gemmell did that with his first book and it got him fired from his job i believe. If you want to write a convincing story its important the chaacters right though, and it may be that your friends characters arent. Just relax and let the character show you the way.
     
  7. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    I don't think anyone can pull a character "out of thin air"... they'll mostly be based on people you know, with some influence of characters you've read or seen on screen. As the truism states "You can only write what you know".

    Mix and match is good... and I think most characters do have combinations of characteristics from different sources.

    The other approach is to study personalities and characteristics... for example read up on Myers-Briggs 16 personality types, Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and common fears and neuroses. Oh, and "The Five Love Languages" is a good one too. Understand how people with different personality types / intelligence profiles / primary love languages will react to different people and circumstances. Then - as needed assign the types to different characters.

    (You also need to decide the usual things like their tastes in movies, books, food, music; any moral rules they follow; belief system; what they really want; fears and phobias)

    Some possibly useful links:
    http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences
    http://www.fivelovelanguages.com/learn.html
     
  8. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I never, ever base characters on people I know. Ever. I just don't find the people I know to be interesting enough to make good fictional characters. "Write what you know" is more figurative than this, in that you can merely have an understanding of psychological/emotional reactions, the things that MAKE UP different people, and use that to create characters "out of thin air" without having to base them on real people. I've long been interested in psychology, how people interact, the differences and similarities in personalities, and that largely drives how I create and write characters. Hence why I didn't reply to the OP sooner...basing characters on people I know, and doing only that, is just so bizarre and foreign to me. I literally can't imagine not being able to create a character on my own, without basing it on somebody I know personally.

    To the OP, even original characters not based on real people aren't "pulled out of thin air." I find that mine often sneak up on me. An idea creeps into my head and I start to think about it. You might consider this "thin air," but the truth is, I then spend weeks, months, YEARS developing that character in my head so they become a three-dimensional being. Even characters I've well known for decades are still growing and changing in my mind. They weren't just born fully formed overnight. Maybe the real issue isn't that you can't create a character "out of thin air," it's that you think you should be able to, when the truth is, like anything in writing, you have to work hard at it.

    I agree on reading books about personality theory and such though. If your only experience in understanding people comes from the people you know personally, you need to broaden your horizons. Psychology texts are a great place to learn about how personalities work.
     
  9. Rave
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    Rave New Member

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    This may or may not be helpful, but I was reading a guide on designing a character for comics, as in sketching up character sheets.

    What this artist said was that your character should be recognisable with no hair and no clothes, meaning the way they stand, move, their expressions and features should all say who they are.

    She also said to take three or four main principles or themes and run them through the character, show little hints of it everywhere.

    Now, I don't see why that can't apply to writing. I do similar things when I'm trying to develop a character for a play - I work on the concept of what they are and then decide how to show it.

    For example, I was given two seperate characters, who, on the outside in their mannerisms seemed almost identical. Both male in similar time frames, both arrogant, both womanisers, one was a petty theif and one was a soldier, but the basic outside appearence was the same.

    So with the help of some more experienced folks, I decided that the petty theif would be a drunk, and I would dress him like a hobo. I would use the drunkenness to exxagerate his arrogance and turn it more grandiose and semi slapstick. For example he carried a wine bottle instead of a sword, which showed first of all he was a drunk, secondly that he was a little bit out of it and thirdly it added humour.

    I decided that the second guy, I would play semi gay, he would dress in a flamboyant style, and I would pitch his voice slightly higher, and he would use feminine hand movements whenever he talked and maybe dance around a little.

    Sometimes you need to take basic elements, and then decide how you'll show them. Try watching cartoons, readng other books, watching movies and plays and picking out traits in characters that you like, and then thinking up ways of showing them. Somebody who is hot tempered is likely to have a louder voice, they might go red a lot, they might shout, they might swear, their fists might ball up a lot, they might walk around looking very tense.
     
  10. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Broadening your horizons is about the best suggestion I've read in this thread. By its very nature it is so broad, but I would recommend, apart from researching personality types, to spend time amongst people, and I'm not being facitious here when I suggest this. Sitting where people socialise or congregate is a fabulous opportunity to practice the observation of the human animal. How else are you going to gather the necessary intelligence? It's obviously not something you're going to achieve in a day, which is all the better when you consider the places and situations you can put yourself into to study modes of speech and behavioural patterns. Actors do it all the time. They follow people to study their physicality and habits in their character-building research, so why shouldn't writers be as ernest in their approach? Limiting yourself to a narrow perspective will only limit your craft.
     
  11. g1ng3rsnap9ed
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    g1ng3rsnap9ed Contributing Member

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    I had this problem when I first started writing. In all honesty I can't even remember how I got into going from a gore-writer to becoming a character-writer, because I consider characters my strongest skill in writing. What I have been doing lately is beginning the story with a very simple character and letting the character expand and grow along with the story. This has helped me a lot with my latest batch of characters, which feel more real to me as of now than most people that I know in real life. (Or maybe I'm just a loon. :p)

    Hope that helps!
     
  12. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Why can't you make up a character who would cause grief, were he to die?
    Everyone is answering you with long posts, while I feel as though you have not given enough details, sufficient to warrant a long post.

    What HAVE you tried? Have you combined characteristics and physical traits from movies? Cartoons? Why is this a problem for you, incidentally? You just can't seem to think of anything?
    Details, man!
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Try mixing traits from different people and create a unique person.

    Contrary attributes can work well. Say one of your friends play the violin very well, but he is skinny, and the opposite of a jock. Say you have a jock friend. Mix them together.

    Now you have a man that plays the violin and kicks butt at football. Would this kind of person hide the fact he plays the violin? Maybe his friends would find it nerdy, so he keeps that side of his life private. One day a girl that thought he was just another superficial jock, hears him playing. No superficial jock can play like that, she thinks.

    Once you start to mix different traits together, it opens up questions. Answering those questions will tell you more about this new character you invented.

    For example, why does this jock hide the fact he plays violin? Why does he care if his friends think it is nerdy? Perhaps his father made fun of him when he started practicing in the house. His father is a strong man, and he told his son, "Stop playing that sissy instrament." If his father thinks it is a sissy instrament, maybe his friends on the football team will also. And you can see how you can keep going.
     
  14. traffic101
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    Hi, I'm guilty of it too. But I think if that's what you need to start, go for it. Eventually you should be able to come up with your own characters using a bit of this, a bit of that, perhaps someone on tv, perhaps someone in the movies.

    I like to build my characters with brown hair, have height, etc. Some traits I keep the same, but the personality is where you can have a lot of fun.

    I think as long as you are writing, you're on the right path.
     
  15. crimsonrose
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    crimsonrose Senior Member

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    The character in the story that I'm working on now is based off of a picture my fiance showed me. He was randomly like "Hey, wanna see the most beautiful man in the world?" and I was like.. "alrighty".

    http://th06.deviantart.com/fs15/300W/f/2006/361/8/6/PF_Vega_by_UdonCrew.jpg

    It's a picture of Vega from Streetfighter, a game that my fiance loves. Anyways, I kinda looked at him for a second and went, whoa, I can base a character off of him. He just kinda seemed like he'd have a story to tell if only I gave him a world to live in.

    Thus, I suggest you search through deviantart.com. Look through the pictures. Type in things like "werewolf" or "futuristic male", ya know? Anything you want to write about. Sometimes seeing a character that you didn't even know was in your head, right in front of you, helps alot.

    Also, I like to research Zodiac signs. I think they can, oddly enough, tell you alot about a person. I make my character a Scorpio, and it helped me form his personality. Look at the likes and dislikes of different zodiac signs. Research your favorite one. I also build character profiles liek a few others on here have mentioned. I put random tidbits about them. Also, this website really helped me

    http://www.squidoo.com/CharacterProfiles

    Through these excersizes, I discovered that my character reminded me of Winter, of all the seasons, and so on and so forth.

    :)
     
  16. Light
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    Light New Member

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    I am basing one of my characters from one of my favorite actors.
    Although, I change the personality to suit the story.
     

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