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  1. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Keeping a calm, patient character from fading into the background

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Feo Takahari, Feb 25, 2016.

    One of my characters, Matt, is very calm and patient and tends to listen instead of talk. He's dating the outgoing, energetic Cheryl, so whenever the two are in scenes together, Cheryl steals the show and Matt fades into the background. A few different things I've tried to make Matt stand out more:

    * Putting him in situations that challenge him and test his resolve.
    * Giving him his own subplot.
    * Rewriting his backstory to explain why he's so quiet (and why he's dating Cheryl), and giving him the goal of becoming less awkward when he talks.

    Still, none of that solves the basic problem. Matt feels comfortable with Cheryl and trusts her not to judge him, so he's under no pressure to fill up the silence. He'll chip in with his opinions, but he's happy to let her talk or just quietly be together, and since Cheryl is often in situations where she has a LOT to talk about, Matt easily becomes wallpaper.

    My current thought is that maybe this isn't a problem at all. Cheryl is at the center of the plot, and most of its developments relate back to her, so maybe it's okay if Matt has less prominence and mostly gets focus in special scenes that challenge or develop him. Still, I'm a little worried that lack of speech could come across as lack of personality, and I don't want to pair off such a vibrant character with a wooden plank that has a face painted on it. What do you think?
     
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  2. Judahml
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    Judahml Member

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    Calm and patient doesn't necessarily mean unresponsive, or un-readible. For example...there is the age old writing teaching of "show dont tell" in this case it could apply two fold, Matt doesn't need to speak to stand out.
    A mischievous twinkle in his eye, a twitch at the corner of his lips, or a eyebrow raising just enough to be louder than a hundred words. Sometimes the quiet characters can be the most memorable when they get excited and break their norm. I had a friend who would hardly ever string two words together until he tried redbull for the first time, and then he could get enough words out fast enough. Sometimes it's the exception that makes the rule, or the character.
    Or make him a ventriloquist no one forgets a ventriloquist.
     
  3. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I immediately thought of Kevin Smith playing the role of Silent Bob. Silent Bob says nothing for 98% of Clerks and Chasing Amy. He makes do with facial expressions and gestures until, finally, he speaks. When he does finally say something it is in complete contrast to his boorish, loud-mouthed sidekick and expresses great intelligence and insight.

    When your character of Matt is given the opportunity to participate verbally in the story you need to make it count. He may lurk in the background but when he enters the spotlight make his contributions so memorable that the reader will...well, remember him.

    Silent Bob is one of my favorite characters simply because he only says really important stuff. No fluff, no self-aggrandizing.
     
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  4. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    Not sure you need to do all those things you listed other than just focusing the spot light on him. Why does he have to come to prominence through being challenged or developed? It sounds like a chore and just extra guff I need to read to understand a supporting character. I would rather be intrigued by his behaviour in a scene. I don't read a story to just listen in on a conversation, especially if a lot of it is one sided! I'm interested in the character's thoughts, his action or lack of action and all the little quirks and details that make a person unique.

    If he's attractive, then make a note of other women(or men) showing interest.
    If he's assertive, organised or punctual, then demonstrate this on a date.
    If he's awkward, uncomfortable or nervous then make him exhibits signs of this.
    If he's going to be part of the action later on that help or aid Cheryl, then I assume you'll be hinting or establishing some skills instead of him suddenly being blessed unexpected abilities...
    If Cheryl's going to hog the limelight, then we should see him through her eyes, after all, she's dating him for a reason.

    There are so many ways you can slip in details of Matt that highlight how he complements or interests Cheryl. If Matt really isn't that relevant to the story line then maybe she needs to date someone else...

    I think when you wrote "My current thought is that maybe this isn't a problem at all. Cheryl is at the center of the plot, and most of its developments relate back to her" that made me think the you already wall papered poor Matt.

    So I don't think he's the problem... :p
     
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  5. Samuel Lighton
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    Samuel Lighton Contributing Member

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    Well, if it's not a problem it's not a problem, and that's your book so you decide what does and doesn't work for you.

    If I choose to include a character like that, I'd definitely have them gain content by either actions that demonstrate their mental thought process (like accidentally breaking something precious to someone, then spending ages putting it back together, cracks and all), or the story being told from their perspective.
     
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  6. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    @LinnyV: you've got me thinking about what I wanted to do with this story, something I mostly forgot over the time I spent working on other projects. It was intended to have a dramatic plot to some extent, but my original purpose with it was a character study, showing how three damaged people each shared their strengths and compensated for each other's weaknesses. In that framework, Matt needs to have development in order to fit into the pattern and contrast his unique issues with those of the other characters. That actually makes my job easier, because it gives me more room to show the different ways in which Matt, Cheryl, and Linda (the third leg of this ungainly love triangle) all interact with each other, even in scenes that don't directly further the plot. How do Matt and Linda help each other deal with the possibility of Cheryl's death? How does Matt reassure and protect Cheryl, and for that matter, how does Linda inspire her?
     
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  7. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    If you're writing this in third person what's to stop you building the character by going into the mind of Matt and reporting his unspoken thoughts?
     
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  8. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    You could narrate his thoughts and observations more. Yes, Cheryl might be the one to steal the show, but since when is observing in the background mean fading? On the contrary, I would trust the judgment of the quiet observer, who listens more than he talks, about his opinions than another more flamboyant character. It gives him mystery too.

    In fact, you could even have him be the narrator of the story itself, and this way we see the world through his eyes. If not, just have his thoughts more prominent, give him a quality that allows him to see things more people can't see, and this will give his character importance and readers will listen to him.
     
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  9. Mars
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    Mars New Member

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    Being calm and patient doesn't necessarily mean quiet!

    You say that Cheryl is talky, outgoing, energetic -- often, this means the character doesn't always think before speaking or they mess up their train of thought. If that is the case with Cheryl, Matt could always chip in and help her whenever she stumbles. If the two have a more playful relationship, you have Matt deliver some great one-liners that have the added benefit of making the reader like him!

    In high-pressure situations, Matt could be the one to shine. When everyone else starts panicking, being calm and having a level-head can save the day. Matt could also become a great comfort character that the others come to for help with their problems, since he's so patient.

    There's a lot of great things to do with this kind of character. Don't write him off just because his girlfriend steals the show most of the time :)
     
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  10. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    Dry witty humor or humor that the character does not even realize is funny!
     
  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You may be going about this wrong (not that I know what I'm talking about so take this with a grain of salt). Why is he quiet and in the background? Just because he's comfortable being quiet and in the background doesn't tell me what he's doing in the story. Figure out what his purpose is, how does he move the story forward, and you'll have a better idea how to write him.
     
  12. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's what I would do.
     
  13. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    In retrospect, I don't remember why I initially decided to make Matt quietly supportive. Maybe it was just because Cheryl seemed like she needed someone who could rein her in and calm her down when she got too worked up. But the more I built up Matt, Cheryl and Linda, the more they started to fit into a three-sided pattern. Each contrasts the other two in what they consider themselves, how they try to please people they like, how they approach spirituality, what their greatest flaw is, what they dream of becoming . . . They're a triad (romantic and otherwise), different in so many ways, but with enough in common to love and support each other.

    I've scrapped or rewritten characters before who just didn't fit, and I could probably make a more talkative Matt if I tried. But that would require reworking his past and his spiritual background, which would impact his flaw, which would change how he tends to interact with others . . . It seems like a lot to do for a character who does fit. Besides, the more I learn from writing Matt, the better I'll do at other quiet characters in different stories.
     
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  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You can draw attention to the character by having the POV character pay special attention to him. Altenatively, let Matt be the POV character, which would resolve the problem of him being too quiet. Like in Handmaid's Tale, Offred - the MC and narrator - barely talks at all to the characters around her.

    You can also make sure whatever Matt does and says are particularly memorable. You know the person who hardly ever speaks, and when he does speak, he says something very insightful or meaningful - a man who never wastes words but for that very reason draws the reader's attention every time he utters a word. So if his words are few, let what he does say count - really count.

    Show us why Cheryl's dating him - rather than why Matt is dating Cheryl, if you get what I mean. What does Cheryl see in him that made him so attractive and special that she'd fancy him? Whereas if you focused on why Matt's dating Cheryl, then the focus is on Cheryl, which makes Matt more invisible, not less.
     
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  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    He doesn't have to be more talkative if what he says when he talks makes up for it in significance.
     
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