1. Goldenclover179
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    Goldenclover179 Member

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    Making Three Dimensional Characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Goldenclover179, Aug 9, 2016.

    No matter how hard I try, none of my characters seem real to me. They act unnatural, awkward, the dialogue is strange, their decisions are strange, even the names sound made up. They don't act like real people and they don't have free will, like good characters do. They're so obviously written and made up, and I'm not sure how to fix this; but is there any possibility that this is just me, the author, knowing that I've written it and it coming off as fake to only me?

    How do you write realistic feeling characters?
     
  2. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure anyone can answer this question. And if they do, you'll get a thousand different answers because no process is the same for two different people.

    My suggestion is to read books in which you think there is a strong, three-dimensional character and critically evaluate why that character works for you. Really look at the dialogue, character beats, actions the character takes and ask yourself why that seems real.

    From my experience, I am my biggest critic. I've written things that I think are total garbage, but someone thinks otherwise. I think what you have here is a mixture of being too hard on yourself and having an issue with your characters. Most writers, I think, know in the pit of their stomachs that something is amiss in their own writing. If you have a strong notion that your characters are flat, they might be. No one can really tell you because we haven't seen your work.

    Try to critically analyze some books and see what happens.

    Also, when you have been here the required amount of time, have the requisite number of posts, throw something up in the workshop. Ask specific questions and see what people have to say. There are a good number of people here that can, and will, help you.
     
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  3. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    I think about my sort of character and see if I can spot someone similar in life. I see how they act and say stuff, because what's more realistic than people? Actions then get mulched up with other actions from other people and I of course add in lots of my own.
    @Spencer1990 is also right, you should read books and try to work out how characters in them are formed. Also ask other people about their favourite characters and why they like them and whether they feel real.
    And yeah, putting up actual samples of your work should help! (I can talk...)
     
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  4. Goldenclover179
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    Goldenclover179 Member

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    @I.A. By the Barn and @Spencer1990, thank you for the advice, it was extremely helpful. I'll try out the methods you've described.
    And I can't post samples of my work in the workshop, I haven't made enough posts yet.
     
  5. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    It's definitely possible it's just you. You know all your characters' actions and decisions in advance, so of course they seem made-up and obvious. It's a difficult thing to judge for yourself.

    I'd echo Spencer in advising you to reread characters who seem real and well-rounded to you and really analyze what it is about them that makes them jump off the page. The thing that's helped me the most, though, is paying close attention to actual real people. Pay attention to a 'scene' in real life and think about how you'd describe the dialog and actions; pay attention to how people come to the conclusions they do and make the decisions they do. A lot of the time real people aren't perfectly logical and make objectively bad choices! Characters whose decisions are weird aren't necessarily unrealistic.

    I've been casually studying psychology for a long time, which has helped me a lot in understanding what motivates and effects people. I don't know if you need to go that far (I'm coming from a place of being bad at relating to people at all, so to be a writer I had to play catch-up), but it couldn't hurt. The subject's pretty broad, unfortunately, so I could't really give you any pointers on where to start.

    Examples would help. On a case-by-case basis I might be able to tell you why/how or if a character is coming across strangely. So yeah, definitely make use of the workshop when you can (remember to offer some critiques before asking for them).

    You also might just need to spend some more time with your characters. Develop them a little more - flesh them out, figure out what makes them tick. Remember: they don't have free will, you're building them, and it's work, so don't expect it to just come to you. You have to go to it.
     
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  6. Goldenclover179
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    Goldenclover179 Member

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    @izzybot, okay, thanks. I'll keep that advice in mind; and what I meant by free will is that some writers describe a particularly well-written character as having free-will, because the character seems human enough that they're almost deciding the story, not the author.
     
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  7. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    Yeah, I just think too many writers - especially newer ones - take that to heart too literally. I know I did for a while, anyway, and I didn't let myself exert too much will over my own plots because it seemed like the characters wanted things to happen X way so who was I to argue, right? But my writing is a lot better when I don't let the characters run the show. Again, it's work, and you're the one who has to decide what happens.
     
  8. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I'll add to what @izzybot says about not letting the characters control the plot. Personally, I think it's a bit silly when people say their characters are alive and wanting to do X or Y. It's just not true. We are the masters of our creativity, not the other way around. I've never felt that my characters were alive or dictated what would happen. I understand that some people feel that way, and that's well and good for them. But it just doesn't--hasn't--happened that way for me.

    If that's what's making you doubt yourself right now, I will (in the most friendly way possible) tell you to hush up and carry on with your work. :D

    Don't get caught up in comparing yourself to what other writers say, it will only hinder your progress.
     
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think the statement "my characters took on a life of their own," is a subliminal way of recognising that something you originally tried to do with your character didn't work. That's a realisation something every writer should pay attention to. If you get to the point where you say "Oh, dear, my character would NEVER say that," or, "He's not the kind of person who would do this," then you've identified something in your story that's not quite right.

    That's a different issue from starting out with a character and just letting the character dictate the plot. (Although that also works well for some people.) But shoehorning a character into dialogue or action that doesn't feel right for that character can result in dismay on the part of the reader.

    Your conception of a character will probably deepen as you write, and may actually end up being different from the person you envisioned back when you originated your plot. If it's important to keep the plot rather than the character, it's a good idea to go back and identify WHY the character seems to be getting away from you, and remove the elements that are distracting. If you prefer the evolved character, then maybe go back and tweak the plot, so the character's personality makes more sense in context.

    If your character has developed into a compassionate person, then partway through the plot they behave as if they are self-centred and uncaring, this will not sit well with a reader. So either go back and remove the compassionate facet of the character's personality, or move forward and change the self-centred, uncaring part of the plot. OR get their metamorphosis to make sense. Maybe something happens in the story that changes this person's outlook? That's another way to go.

    You should probably not leave personality transplants untouched, though, just because they serve your plot.

    Personally, I love my evolved characters, because they open up story possibilities I hadn't originally considered. These characters are always more nuanced than my original ones were, and a lot more rewarding to work with.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2016
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  10. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    First off, you could possibly be too hard on yourself. Has anyone actually said that your characters seem unnatural? Or they have issues with your dialogue? No character has freewill. Not even the best written one. As writers we sell the illusion of free will. And that's all we do. I say unless someone honestly points out that there's issues with the characters and why they feel the character has issues, not to worry about it.

    Secondly, what has really honestly helped me is developing just three things of a character. Their goals, their motive and their conflict. I don't really worry a whole lot about anything else so long as I got those three things down. I can fine tune character's personalities later with feedback, if it's even necessary.
     
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  11. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    How many decades have you been writing? If < 1, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Keep at it. Follow the above advice. Read books. Attend writing workshops. Take college classes. Work your a** off. I tell myself, "You can do this," every time I sit down to write. It helps. I keep writing.
     

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