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  1. Samus Aran
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    Samus Aran Member

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    Is it good or bad to know everything about your characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Samus Aran, Jun 13, 2008.

    Hey, everyone. I've been sitting on this question for quite some time and I'm wondering what your thoughts are.

    Sometimes when I'm writing, I feel like I know everything I need to know about my main characters. But if someone were to ask me to describe what he looks like or some minute detail of his past, I would have no idea how to answer them.

    When I am writing, I do not picture my characters. I describe their actions and little things like their fingers and how they're dressed, I even describe their faces, but when I picture them in my mind, they have blank faces. Is this bad?

    Also, is it beneficial or hurtful to your story to know everything about your characters? If you know everything about them, won't you be inclined to tell more to the reader, giving away some of the captivating mystery they hold?
     
  2. heyharris1
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    heyharris1 Senior Member

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    hello,
    im no expert but i give just enough details that needs to be to make the sceen. for instance, in one scene im writing a talk about a girl who is a slave. i basically describe her as being barefoot and dirty, tattered cloths, and unwashed hair as ratted as blackberry bushes. later on after being saved from slavery and gets washed up, the guy responds to her as " seeing you now after you had washed, i never noticed how blue your eyes are." not exactly how i wrote it but you get the idea, just suttle hints i quess.
    jim
     
  3. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    It basically depends on your particular writing process. Some need to know all about their people to be able to write for them. Some write the story and discover the character in the process.

    Try it both ways, if you like, and see which works best for you.
     
  4. Marloy
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    Marloy Contributing Member

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    Your aproach is actually very interesting, I wouldn't necessarily go and say that it's bad.

    I think it really depends on what you are writing and how you want to write it. If you don't have an intimate view of your characters nor do you want your audience to, write your story that way, or vice-versa. Your POV can also help this, such as writing in third person (omniscient) and distancing yourself as much as possible from appearance and past but zooming in on little quirks like things they do with their fingers so the reader imagines things you don't mention.

    It's the same thing with knowing too much. If you want the audience to have an intimate relationship with the characters you do the opposite to achieve it. This is what I usually prefer to do because the more you know about your characters the more at home you feel with them and the more casual you get.

    Sometimes I go so far as to write short narratives for the characters, even if they're ones who only have one line in the entire story, but that's just me. :p
     
  5. Rebekkamaria
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    Rebekkamaria Senior Member

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    To me, it’s very important to know almost everything about my characters. I don’t have to know everything immediately, but I have to have a very strong idea about everything before I can write solid, real characters that invoke enough feelings from me.

    I learned this the hard way, thinking that I could write like many of my friends do, just following their instincts and coming up things as they write. I have to have a real world behind me until I can write. I have to know it like my own pockets. I need to know what to keep hidden, what to reveal, what to use, what to leave unused etc. I love foreshadowing and subtle hints. I can’t do that if I don’t know all those little things my readers can’t know.

    But I also need to leave room for change. :)
     
  6. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Knowing very little can be a trouble because you may do actions and says things which can be contradictory to the other actions and dialogues of the character (unless that is the whole point). The reader may not be able to connect to the character, get inside his head or anything of the sort.

    Knowing too much can be destructive too, as you may make the story superfluous and leave no room for change, flexibility and variability. The reader may get too many details to use them and may get confused, and would find the story intertwining into senseless details.

    Therefore, have a middle approach. I, for instance, have a picture of my characters in my head, at least a faint idea of them. I let myself become that character for the time I'm writing for them, and since I'm an actor I love to depict their actions and dialogues in front of the mirror. I observe the way I act when I'm a certain character, and use these details to build my character. I daydream a lot, and my story writing technique is mostly acting out the story to check my actions and dialogues.
     
  7. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Knowing so much about your characters isn't a bad thing. It's just in the writing process you have to learn to present information, including about your characters, in moderation. Just as with anything in your stories--not too much description of the scenery, not too much back history, not too much dialogue or narration, etc. I can't say what's right or wrong to do because it's something the writer has to figure out as they go along.

    Regarding how you physically visualize your characters, I'm somewhat the same way. I can say, this character has red hair and blue eyes and is 5'3", but if someone were to ask, well, what shape are her eyes?--how big is her nose?--does she look like anyone famous?--I would have no clue. I can say, "Well, she's pretty," and that's about it.

    I think part of the issue here is that I'm a shy person who doesn't really look at people's faces a lot, so, while I'm observant, I'm not good at describing faces. I can recognize people when I see them, and could point out someone in a photo, but if I were called in to compose an eyewitness sketch of a suspect, I'd never be able to do it. I noticed this also when I finally learned to draw my human characters (albeit in a cartoony style)--there are differences, but most of the main things like eyes, nose, mouth, etc., look much the same. I understand there are facial differences in people and I can even point them out when looking at someone but darned if I can replicate them in drawing or writing. I just visualize all my characters in general terms like "Good looking" or "Ugly," etc.

    Fortunately it's not necessary to describe all the facial characteristics of your characters! You can often get away with something like, say, "She was tall for her people, her long black hair pulled into a loose braid, and she had graceful high cheekbones and the most unusual green eyes." Don't even have to mention her mouth shape or nose shape or whatever at all. Just pointing out what's most conspicuous or unusual is good enough.

    I too think that describing a character through their actions and mannerisms is a good way to describe them. My characters go through all sorts of facial expressions in my work.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You need to know everything about your character that you have exposed to the readers. You should probably know him or her a little bit more than that.

    But if you nail down too much about your character, you risk pricking yourself into a corner, with nowhere to go with him or her.
     
  9. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey, that sounds like me. :)except i'm a bit taller.

    But, like everything else in writing, it can be good or bad depending on how you write it. So, in the words of my father "if it works, do it."

    And i feel the same way, I can never really picture my characters faces.
     
  10. Marloy
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    Marloy Contributing Member

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    Really? that's hard for me not to do.

    Well, not that I would be able to draw a detailed picture, which actually gets very discouraging because I picture my character's faces so well that I want to depict them, and I can't.

    But I digress. :rolleyes:
     
  11. Rebekkamaria
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    Rebekkamaria Senior Member

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    Oh, I use real people as references for my characters. The looks of my main character are based on a girl I saw in the subway. She was interesting, completely captivating, and I wanted that look for my character. She wasn't beautiful; she was cute. But there was just something about her face that had me staring. :) That is how my characters get their faces. Sometimes I mix many faces together.
     
  12. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    To be honest, the amount you know about your MC isn't all that important. It's the amount you learn about them throughout the writing of your story that matters.
    However, you need to know some details before you begin writing - the character's general personality, his/her basic physical features, a little background, and motivation.
     
  13. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    I tend to go over the details of the story so many times in my head that I by the time I'm done plotting out a story's outline - which can take quite a while, believe me - I know a lot more about each character than the other people do in-story. I'm still having fun with one story in which there's a lot of tension between two people because one is the bastard son of the other, and the main character has no idea and doesn't know why the two are so overly formal with each other all the time.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    One potential problem is if you have to change something about your character for the sake of a plot.

    There are always two versions of your character - the one you have presented to the readers, and the more complete version contained in your vision as a writer. You always want to keep the presented view of the character to be a subset of your internal view.

    If you need to make changes, you do not want to make changes inconsistent with what you have already presented to readers; you'll disappoint or even enrage them, and they will eat you for lunch.

    So the changes must be made in your private vision of the character, but you have to be very clear on how much of it has already been reflected in the public version.

    This task becomes far more difficult if you have painstakingly constructed a character in minute detail in advance, well beyond what you needed for your story. If your public view consists of dozens of chapters written but not yet published, it's bad enough - you will have to carefull review every scene you have already written that even remotely relates toi that character to make sure you haven't introduced inconsistencies. It may, in some cases, be easier to rewrite entire chapters, depending on the changes to the character.

    If your character is continued through a series of stories, already published, you can't change the public view at all, All you can do is try to minimize the new inconsistencies. That may mean the story you have in mind just won't work with that character.

    But back to the point of this thread, if you limit the difference between your view of the character and what you have shown in your writing, it's easier to make additive changes that remain consistent. So don't overdefine your character before you begin to write. Get to know your character at the same time your readers do.

    There's another advanatage, too. If you know your character too well in advance, you may assume that what is obvious to you is also obvious to the reader. But you forgot to ever show that aspect to the reader! Suddenly, the character who seems so real to you seems hazy and vague to your reader.
     
  15. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    I agree, but I think that the normal human being is constantly leaving room for change (whether or not they wish to!) so I think that should happen anyway. I think if you pigeonhole your character too much, there is no room for plot development. I think you should eventually know every little thing about your character that only he could possibly know, even if the reader doesn't outright learn every bit of detail in the text. I feel that it should be present to the reader, whether subtle or readily available within the main body of the story.
     
  16. GuitarSolo
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    GuitarSolo Member

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    Being able to describe your characters on paper and not being able to describe them in real life is okay. Simple paper can bring out so much inspiration and thought in a person it can be astounding.

    Being able to describe your characters in real life but not on paper is not really okay though. (lol)



    A good backstory for a character is good though. You don't want to feel "swept away" by a personality.
     
  17. BrinkofDawn
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    BrinkofDawn Contributing Member

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    First off, Hi :D

    I think it's good to know the characters you create because without them and their individual and different personalities the story will turn out like crap no matter how compelling it sounds.

    It's also on how you're going to write your story, the Point of View. If your POV is in third person then information should come as individual characters evolve and the reader will have a better understanding of a variaty of characters in your story. If written from a first person POV then your telling the story as if writing in your own journal. The reader will only learn about the character telling the story and what he/she feels and what he/she learns about the other characters.

    I hope that helps :D
     
  18. Cougar1002
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    Cougar1002 New Member

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    I think as a writer, you need to know your characters well enough to at least drive your story forward without being confused. There's a balance to it of knowing enough details for the character to be "real" and overdoing it to where you procrastinate on your plot in favor of detailing the characters too much.

    Where I draw the line is telling everything about my characters to the reader all at once. Giving partial information and gradually revealing things over time adds an element of mystery and surprise to your stories, and it makes things go more smoothly for authors.
     
  19. JanesLife
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    JanesLife Member

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    I'm not sure what the 'rule' is, because I only ever see myself writing. I can't help but plan out every little detail, though. When I write, I can't even start without knowing the ending of the story... well, I can't write if I don't know the entire story. I have pages and pages of plot outlines, some pretty and colorful, others on crinkly notepaper, even a few on newspaper... I guess it's a weird habit (along with my ridiculous inventions...I have a file of those, too... xD).

    At any rate, I map out the whole situation because it helps me to put meaning into the right places; I get nervous when I just start writing, because plot/characterization/meaning can change so much as one continues to think about their work. So I guess I need to mull things over quite a bit before I write. So I guess I do know everything about my characters, which is probably causes a bit of strangulation, but I'm sure any other situation would be worse. I have to think a lot to produce anything worth reading, and edit several times. :)
     

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