1. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    I love my story itself, but I'm more passionate about other stories' characters than my own. Help!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by FireWater, Aug 2, 2016.

    When I form my own story ideas, I start with ideas/scenarios. I'm passionate about building stories based on high concepts, so I'll have a spark based on a sci-fi horror "what if" or a potential dystopian future or something. Then I come up with a character and his/her personal stakes that could fit into that world, and go from there. And on my WIP novel, so far I'm making pretty good progress.

    But I have a really hard time breathing life into the emotional stakes, character relationship dynamics, etc. in my own stories. The "passion" part so to speak. I can do it enough to make the progress needed in my story, but it feels like a challenge, which slows me down.

    When I enjoy other books/shows/movies/art/etc, I can get deeply, deeply moved by the messages within. For example, when I watch "Game of Thrones," I can see how Dani's storyline is about rising up from oppression and finding empowerment, and all the equivalent philosophical themes in Jon Snow's storyline, Arya's etc. Even when I'm playing a video game like Dragon Age 2 with vivid characters of interesting backgrounds, I can come up with very complex character-based and emotional scenarios in my head without even trying - just an automatic "hmm what if this happened" and then my brain goes from there.

    But with my own stories, it's hard finding that depth in terms of emotional things, character interaction, philosophy, etc and it's a challenge to delve deeper than simply chugging from plot point to plot point.

    I can create a billion deep layers to a character and come up with highly entertaining scenarios of character interaction, but only when it's someone else's characters or if I'm imagining an alternate route for a story that already exists. But with my own characters in my own novel, I get stuck and feel like I"m less able to deliver on the same level.

    And before anyone says that I'm not passionate enough about my story -- that's not the case. I'm deeply fascinated by the world, plot, creatures and scenarios that I've built. I imagine it as a movie in vibrant detail. It's just that my characters can't loosely run free. I can write fanfiction stories for my friends (lame, I know) and it's like, boom, sit down and the pages fly out and soon I have a 3,000 word story in a sitting, easy. But with my novel, it can be hard to write 1,000 words in one go because my characters feel less real and it feels like work to come up with their reactions, subleties, interactions, etc.

    I know I"m not doing the best job describing this, but it's the problem that I've been having and it's been frustrating me immensely.

    Does anyone else relate to this or have any solutions? And I already know about the "what does your character want, what's their motive, what experiences have shaped them" questions. The problem is that I have difficulty creating answers that I'm actually passionate about. It feels like I'm just pulling stuff out of my ass to plonk on a worksheet, instead of actually caring about them as interesting humans.


    grhnsiugskdgjng so
     
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  2. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I get what you're saying and I think part of the problem is the nature of art.

    I've spoken with many artists of various types who don't see, or even care to see, what the audience sees. When I asked Australian writer David Malouf if he gets frustrated with people finding meaning in his work that he didn't intend, he replied that he doesn't see most things that are in the work and is happy for people to bring whatever meaning to it they like. He just writes and the reader can bring to it whatever they like. The same experience was replicated with painters. Some just liked the colours of an image that to an observer brought depth and meaning.

    We create the tools for the reader to create depth and meaning and may not see it ourselves because we are so focused on all the other mechanical details of plot, pace and structure. We may be writing with one thing in mind and not see what others will see. You may start to see it if you look at the work as that of someone else, but that's hard. You know the background, you know the intent, so it's hard to fill in the gaps like you can with other work. I'm sure the story given to Daenerys seemed just as dull to Martin and he didn't intend or see the complicated messages in the passage of her character from oppressed bride for barter to 'breaker of chains' and queen, he just liked the plot.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2016
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  3. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    I get what you're saying and appreciate the reply. That is an encouraging message.

    But there's so much emphasis on being deeply emotionally involved with your characters, and having these uniquely fleshed out highly-awesome people, and I just haven't been able to feel that way. My characters all end up feeling somewhat stock-like. I'm able to differentiate them so that they seem distinctive compared to each other, but for each of my main characters, I can list of plenty of people in other fandoms/works who are similar.

    You know that feeling when you find yourself relating everything around you to a fandom/story/show that you're passionate about at the moment? Like when things are dull in the real world, at school or work or whatever, so you see things through a lens of your favorite story to make things more interesting? (I used to think I was the only person to do it and that it made me a huge weirdo, but apparently lots of creative types do this) I can do this easily for the fandoms and characters that I've recently read, but I never do this with my own characters. Most people I talk to are deeply passionate about their own characters, even if they don't perceive everything the audience does about them, and think of things in terms of what their own characters would feel/think about the situation at hand. I do this subconsciously for other writers' characters, but not my own.

    And again, the character development tools--like determining their influential moments, darkest secrets, motives, fears etc--don't help much, because I don't get passionate about the answers. For me, coming up with those things just feels like I'm bullshitting stuff for a homework assignment - I can plonk down ideas but I don't get genuinely fired up about the answers, and instead it almost feels like I'm doing a work assignment or homework (not my overall novel, just the character development part).

    This distresses me because I want my novel to be able to move and inspire people, in the same way that my own favorite stories have moved and inspired me. And no matter how cool or fascinating a plot concept or backdrop is (those are the parts I'm good at), the aspect of the story that actually MOVES people is the character's internal arc, or their stakes driven by how much they care about their personal circumstances. That's the real "guts" of the story, but my guts are lacking. I'm good at the skeleton, but the skeleton isn't what makes a story memorable or moves readers or gives them something to relate to.

    I don't know if I"m making any sense. I care so deeply about other characters, but I don't know how to get myself to care about my own.

    Sorry if I'm being repetitive or excessively wordy. I had friends over earlier and we all drank too much red wine. Cersei Lannister style for the win.
     
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  4. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hate 99% of Character Profile questionnaires too. The questions always feel superficial to me, only applying in a specific instance that doesn't tell me anything about why it matters that the answer is one thing or another.

    Is that the reason you also have trouble connecting with the answers you come up with, or is it something else?

    ...

    Somewhat off-topic:
    The reason there were so many versions of every great Classical myth – Hephaestus was crippled because a) Hera threw him from Olympus because he was born ugly, b) Zeus threw him from Olympus because he was born ugly, c) Hera threw him from Olympus because he sided with Zeus in an argument, d) Zeus threw him from Olympus because he sided with Hera in an argument, ... – was because it used to be considered a great honor to have created a popular work about characters that everybody was already familiar with.

    The Iliad was a fan fiction. The Odyssey was a fan fiction. The Aeneid was a fan fiction of the Iliad and the Odyssey :D

    Michelangelo's career as a sculptor took off when a copy of the Sleeping Eros was discovered to be such a cunning forgery that only the greatest of sculptors could possibly have had the skill to replicate the original so perfectly. The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Luliet was originally written in 1562. Julius Caesar in his youth wrote a story about Hercules.

    You're good ;)
     
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  5. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Could you imagine your characters just stopping by your door for a coffee? Could you imagine going on a holiday with them? Are they your friends? Could you make them your friends?

    That's what I do, but it comes naturally to me. I just envision a person I have not met yet, or imagine that this MC is out there somewhere, just out of physical sight but caring about me. When someone becomes a friend it gets easy to care about him/her. And that transfers naturally to words, and your readers will get it, never fear.

    In terms of character-sheets, they are detrimental to the way I come up with characters. They feel much too artificial, a real person does not come out of a box. He is already there, and I just have to peel back the layers, to talk to him, to get to know him. If I have a defining scene with a new MC, all other reactions of this MC come out of it.

    I hope this helps.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @FireWater - The spoiler that Simpson included in this post gave me a rather bizarre idea.

    What if you pretended your main character IS one of the characters you love in somebody else's work? Or somebody you know in real life whom you love? Pretend you're writing fan fiction based on your favourite character. You've obviously created your own world and plot lines, etc, so you won't actually be copying somebody else. But play around with the idea. Pick a character whom you really love from another work, and start using his or her name in place of your own character's name as you write. (You can go through later and change the name back—Find/Change is such a great wordprocessing tool.) Start to envision that character instead of the one you've created. Make it a Han Solo story, or a Dani story, or some other fictional character you love. Or your best friend, or the lover you lost (or won), your brother or sister, favourite public figure, etc.

    It might be the spark you need. Worth thinking about?

    I based several of my characters on real people I know, simply because it made it easier for me to care deeply about them. They evolved over the course of the story to where nobody will ever guess who these real people are, but it helped me to focus on my own feelings about these real people, and made it easy to write emotionally about the characters.

    Tricksy, I know. But it worked.
     
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  7. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I was thinking that too and it's worth a shot.
     
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  8. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    My attempt at a useful reply:
    So, I guess it comes down to what bothers you most: that you aren't in love with your characters or that other people might not be.

    If it's the first: maybe some other writers get so wrapped up in their own characters just because they're different to you. Maybe not all writers do that. the other posts here (and my waffling below) suggest that might be the case.

    If it's the second: there's only one way to know whether you actually have a problem here... What feedback have you had on your characters from other people? What evidence do you have to suggest they can't move and inspire?



    Some other nonsense that fell out of my head before I got to the 'useful reply':
    Oh good. That's normal. Phew. I've been stuck on board the bloody Battlestar Galactica since mid-January. (There is some very not nice stuff happening here: send help.)

    I don't think I do this with my own characters either. Sometimes something will happen and I'll think "what would my character make of this?" or "that's the kind of thing my character would do" or what have you, but I don't go off into hour-long reveries about them while I'm supposed to be, let's say analysing sales data on psychology textbooks.

    I think (I think) maybe this is down to one aspect of the point @Selbbin made: your characters come out of your head, other people's characters come out of one or many other people's heads. When you read your characters you know it's you trying to express something (and if you're anything like me, feeling that you're missing the mark). When you read other people's, you're taking someone's (or many someones') attempt at expressing something, and trying to unpick it and decipher it, and tie it in to your own experience of the world: struggling every which way to unwrap a gift that you can't help believing probably has the answer to life, the universe, and everything inside.

    I suppose it's the "We read to know we're not alone" thing. You're never going to have the chance to meet and get to know your characters in the way your readers will. You will not run into their carefully crafted final selves when you pick up a book and read it for the first time. You won't glimpse them through the trees and excitedly think, "There's someone there! Who is it?" You're the one who set them off walking through the forest. Seeing a smoke signal when you're alone in the wilderness is 1000 times more exciting than building a fire and wafting a blanket over it. Or something... Maybe...

    Lots of words. Sorry.
     
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  9. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Is your WIP your first novel? If so, I wouldn't worry one bit about what you are feeling. In fact, if it is your second or third I also wouldn't worry. Novels are such an immense art form with so many moving parts that simply developing a coherent story and communicating it is an enormous undertaking. The finer points are very difficult if a writer is still learning the basics.

    I really liked my main characters in my first novel, but I feel a much deeper attachment to the ones in my second. This is because the rest of the writing process has become more instinctual and I can focus more on characterization, less on mechanics and such.

    One other thought: I notice that you have set a word count goal for yourself. I did the same thing on my first novel. It was great for knocking out gobs of words per week, but not so great when it came to quality of writing and reflection on story and character. I repealed my word count requirement for my second novel. Instead of injecting ideas into the story I wait for them to evolve out of the elements that already exist. The result has been better writing. Consider relaxing your word count requirements and see if that helps.

    Best of luck and keep writing. :)
     
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  10. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    I was ruminating on this idea as well. I've felt some form of this character-frustration several times. I too find fan-fiction much easier to write. All that being said, I do think it's easier to become enchanted with characters from our favorite works simply because we're meeting them fully formed. We see them as a whole, polished entity, with complexities and foibles and all that comes with it. Our own characters begin (usually) as little paper dolls, sketchy notions and ideas that move around the story we've made for them in a 2-dimensional, superficial way. We define them, give them depth and motivation, private demons to battle beside their real world opposition. We've seen them every step of the way, every version, and had to labor over every adjusment or modification. Maybe it should be like a mother, who formed her child and who loves it more than anyone else ever could because of that, but I think sometimes it's more like the magician who knows the tricks behind the illusion, and so never gets to experience the awe of it. Maybe others will see your characters are be inspired by them, but you sort of still see them as the paper doll.

    Anyway, just things I was pondering as I read through this thread. Have you ever had anyone else read your works? Have they given you any feedback on your characters?
     
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  11. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Thanks everyone for the responses. They're really helpful so far.

    My favorite thing right now is the "pretend you're writing fanfiction" idea. I actually going to do this tonight, and see if it works. I bet it will. My own characters are pretty flat, and I've even been told so by readers (although they say the plot and suspense and writing mechanics and pacing/structure are great). On the other hand, when I write fanfiction under an anonymous handle, I get comments saying that it feels so deep and raw and emotional and the characters feel so complex and multilayered. There's a total disconnect between the depth of my own characters and the depth of my portrayal of other fandoms' characters. I think that the concept of temporarily writing my characters as those other characters (and then changing the names with Find and Replace) will work especially well because the characters I'm inspired by (who I would write as prior to Find and Replace) do not all come from the same story, they come from totally different stories. So it's not going to feel like I'm just plonking a gang of people from one story into another, if that makes sense, because the actual interactions and group dynamic would be different.

    About the character worksheets. Of course it's stupid when they're full of questions like favorite color, birthday, parents' jobs, pets from childhood, middle name, birthmarks, and other stupid crap that doesn't matter to the story. But even when they're full of questions that actually ARE meaningful (like fears, motivating factors, deepest wants, secrets, events that impacted them, why they have their worldviews they have), they still don't help because, while I could think of answers, I don't actually care about them enough to be deeply passionate about them when i'm writing. When I'm reading a story and the character is someone I'm inspired by or can relate to, I get hardcore "into" all that stuff about the character, to the point where I even enjoy writing fanfiction about them. But with my own characters, even if I can come up with answers to flesh them out, I'm not actually passionate about those answers and my character just ends up feeling like a stock person or a chess piece.
     

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