1. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    My MC is lame.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by tristan.n, Sep 7, 2011.

    All right, I know I've posted something similar to this, but now I'm hung up on something else. I'm writing two stories at once because they're following nearly identical timelines, so it's just easier for me to keep things consistent this way. In one of the stories, the main character is a female, and she starts out as a very aggressive, dynamic person. In the second one, the first main character is also a female (later the title of main character will be shared with a male character), and she is reserved and very kind-hearted and polite. The problem is that the polite character is just plain flat. How can I make her a more interesting character while still keeping that shy, quiet personality?
     
  2. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I have a character who's like that. Maybe explore why she's like that/her past? Or make her have her moments when she isn't quiet or shy, y'know?
    Sorry if this wasn't much help D:
     
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  3. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    Why is she so polite? Does it have anything to do with her background - social class or upbringing, for example - or does she just have this need to be nice to people? If so, why? People rarely do things "just because", so if you know the reasons why she acts the way she does, it'll help you get a better understanding of who she is.

    Also, just because someone acts outwardly timid or reserved doesn't mean they have a boring personality. Maybe she has some weird quirk or hidden talent that most people wouldn't expect. Some of the most out-there people I've met seemed really shy at first - it wasn't until I got to know them better that I realized they weren't as "flat" as they appeared to be.
     
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  4. topeka sal
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    topeka sal Senior Member

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    Your thread title made me laugh and reminded me of a Roz Chast cartoon (a cartoonist who publishes a lot in the New Yorker). The idea of the cartoon is classified ads in the newspaper all by authors trying to sell off their characters for various reasons. In one panel there's a guy whose ad reads something like, "For Sale: Main character. White male, 20-something, needs to to learn some hard lessons in life. Author too close. Doesn't have the heart."

    So here's a question: Are you too close to this character? I think it's pretty common for writers to write "me" (as in a lot like me) characters as shadows, passive observers, and therefore uninteresting. I think it has something to do with many writers being quiet, observing sorts of people themselves. If this is the case, try to forget the "you" in her and give her some characteristics that are quiet the opposite. It will help you get free of her.

    Just an idea. I also think that Banshee's suggestions are spot on.
     
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  5. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, the story won't go anywhere if the MC isn't doing something. Even if she isn't very outgoing, she's going to have to do something (and/or have something done to her) for plots to advance. This girl has beliefs, doesn't she? Ideals? Values? Things she loves, hates, enjoys, or loathes? There will always be an opposing force --someone or something with opposing ideals, values, beliefs, etc-- to which she must respond. If her only response to opposition is to politely excuse herself, I seriously wonder if she is actually your MC at all. She may just be a secondary character (or observer, as Topeka pointed out) and someone else is actually driving the plot.

    Bear in mind, when I say the MC must "do something" I am not strictly referring to physical action. What does she think when she confronts opposition? How does she feel? What emotional responses or thought processes does this character go through? You say she is kind-hearted. Okay, so how does she react to those who are not? You say she is reserved. Okay, how will she react when forced to take a stand? You say she is polite. Great, but what will she do/think/feel if I shove her down and don't say "excuse me?" What happens when my "jerk" philosophy clashes with her "polite wallflower" philosophy?

    Character development is not simply about your character's personality; it's about how that personality clashes with the myriad other personalities s/he encounters along the journey. She may be outwardly polite and serene, but what's going on in her head? Shyness means she bottles up her feelings; it doesn't mean they aren't there. The girl could be a powder keg ready to blow for all we know.

    EDIT: I should also point out that your character does not have to "explode" for her to become interesting. But there is power in her silence. When/if she finally does open up, people will listen.
     
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  6. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    It could be that she simply isn't the main character for that particular story.
     
  7. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    Thanks for all of the advice! To better explain, her name is Fiona (she goes by Fin), and she lives with her sister and dad. Her mom died because of an illness when she was pretty young, which crushed Fin because she looked up to her mom way more than she did to her dad. Her mom was also very compassionate and raised Fin to see all life as beautiful and sacred, and to treat even the most horrid of people with respect and kindness. Fin is not a saint, however. She's very impatient and very passive aggressive, so if someone pisses her off, she holds it in rather than expresses it, or she gives them the silent treatment. Around the people who know her best, she is flighty and carefree, but reserved around strangers until they make an effort to get to know her. Is that a little better?

    In the very beginning of the story, she is confronted by her country's soon-to-be leader, who met her once and was fascinated by her. This person is very sought after, and everyone envies Fin for becoming his friend. Sooner or later the guy falls for the girl, yadda yadda yadda, but she finds out that he is quite the opposite of her. While she is compassionate and loves all forms of life, he thinks of people as nothing but livestock, and to him livestock is disposable. Outwardly he is charming and seems to be quite the romantic guy, but Fin also finds out that he has a "friend" who has been telling him what to say to her the whole time. This friend, Jack, honestly hates the young ruler, so naturally he and Fin form a bond and secretly plan to escape the country. From then on, Jack and Fin are both the main characters, and they help each other with their struggles, whether it's physical, mental, emotional, whatever.

    Does that sound a little less flat? (I think typing it up just now even helped me get to know my own characters! lol)

    P.S. Jack is one of the ruler's personal assistants, so to keep his job (which paid pretty decently) he tolerated the ruler and gave him advice when he asked for it. The leader is just a little desperate for friendship and thinks true friends can only be bought, or in this case be hired as a friend.
     
  8. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Maybe it's just me, but I thought that the ability - and the willingness to work on character development - was part of being a writer. So many times people ask these 'how do I do' questions hoping
    that someone else will have the answer.

    Read, research, practice, work hard, use your imagination - in exactly the same way that most of us do. If you don't want to make the effort yourself, what makes you think anyone else has the
    time or inclination? The character is yours and only you could and should be able to develop him.

    That's what writing's all about.
     
  9. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    I never said I wasn't making the effort. I just want suggestions, that's all. I like to get other people's opinions and ask questions. Sometimes I don't see things from an angle that someone else would. To me, writing is all about learning, and not just from research or reading or whatever. I've learned more from listening to people than I ever have just by searching for things on my own.
     
  10. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    OK. I get that. But your characters are the mainstay of your story and can only be developed by the person who knows them best. That has to be you.

    You have to know your character inside out. She is flat because you haven't spent enough time getting to know her. Do you, for instance know what her likes and dislikes are? Do you know what music she listens to, what food she likes?

    I know that may sound stupid, but to make your character three dimensional, you have to know everything there is to know about her. You have to give her a life. Make a bio. Age, height, weight, colour of eyes, hair etc. get to know her physical features and then move onto her emotional and phsycological characteristics. As you develop this picture of her you'll get to know her.

    At the moment she is flat because that's all you are allowing her to be and that's because you don't know her well enough. A character will develop as the story develops but they do need to be solid characters in your mind before you even start.

    It may seem like a big faff and a pain when all you want to be doing is getting on with your writing, but this is part of the package. Solid characters need work - there isn't really a short cut. And the time you spend getting to know her now will paydividends down the line.

    Hope that's a bit more constructive and doesn't sound to weird!
     
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  11. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    To add to everyone's advice, one thing that's always worked a lot for any character are their interactions and dynamics with other characters. A lot of times, a really, really wild and annoying character, or a really really snarky and witty character are boring - maybe even frustrating - on their own. But combined with other characters, they all shine.

    In your case, maybe have the MC's antagonist or best friend or some other character who hangs around enough to have some kind of personality that contrasts well with her.
     
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  12. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    That's true... I'll have to tweak some things about one of the MCs then, since they're pretty similar. I have a "character interview" thing filled out for this character, but even with that I'm still bored with her and can't make her come alive. Thanks for all of the input everyone! I'm going to start writing from the middle and see what happens instead, I think. What's the saying? Let the characters write themselves or something?
     
  13. Sr. Flora OSB
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    Sr. Flora OSB New Member

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    I would recommend your starting with something exciting in Fiona's life--either negative or positive. It is those exciting moments in life that mold us and shape us. How does Fiona respond to the moment? Does she become hardened or bitter? Or does she become charged to bring change?

    Further, I agree with above sentiments. Looking at nuns from the outside, one might think that we are all polite, docile little church mice. Living in the monastery, however, reveals the "bumps and warts" that we all have. For example, there is one nun whom I used to know (she has long since passed) who appeared to be the sweetest, simplest woman on the outside. After getting to know this Sister, however, one realized that she was a chain smoker who used very foul language and enjoyed smoking cigars--NOT what one expected when meeting her. Perhaps Fiona is like this?
     
  14. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    Maybe your shy, polite character is just boring in her own way. Not much excitement in her life, she is generally mild and reserved or something like that. You could give her a "shy" sense of humor about things. I'd probably try evening her out by giving her a friend that is totally opposite from her.
     
  15. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    If you can't find interesting things about your character, like a sense of humor or an upbringing in an old fashioned family to complement her shyness, I suggest you take that manuscript and use it as toilet paper.

    If you can, take that one or two interesting features and exaggerate them until she's not just a polite daughter of a rich old family, she's a princess who aspires to be a court jester, but is much too shy to apply for the position... Which means conflict, and conflict is pure epicness.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But passive aggressive strategies like the silent treatment are not "respect and kindness". It sounds to me like she _pretends_ to treat people with respect and kindness, but she deals with conflict - and conflict is inevitable, even in good relationships - with dysfunctional, insincere strategies like the silent treatment. In other words, she's my mother. :)

    To me, this could be the key to making her more interesting - an inability to deal with conflict directly is a major character flaw that can destroy relationships. It would likely be something that would affect her relationships with everyone, not just with "bad" characters.

    I'd argue that she's boring because she's wearing a mask of infinite tolerance and non-conflict, and thus hiding her real personality from everyone, including herself and including you, her creator. She's playing a role. Find out what's behind that mask - the resentment, the anger, the feelings that are being suppressed by the unrealistic behavior expectations that she got from her mother.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  17. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Just pick a negative trait and use it as a counterpoint.

    Maybe your character is kind-hearted because she needs to be. Next question is why does she need to be? Could be that she's just always been a needy person, or perhaps she was not always so kind-hearted, was in fact quite the opposite, and now she's trying to atone. Or maybe she's not kind-hearted at all, and she's just keeping up appearances because she feels like she can't be her true self around anyone else.

    Just take the positive trait and turn it on its head.
     
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  18. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You could show Fiona as occasionally struggling to maintain her calm and manners. I guess she doesn't want to let her Mum down--I know she's dead, but trying to live up to a dead parent's expectations, kind of keeping the parent in her life--it's not an uncommon trait and it's sometimes must be tough maybe even maddening, like she is being watched over, judged, even.
    Then again, maintaining moral standards, trying to be positive and being polite to aggressive people instead of losing her temper can actually be a real strength, not a weakness. Some of my favourite heroes are those who have impeccable manners and never lose their cool--it makes the person arguing with them look like a total ass. There's nothing inherently boring or weak about a hero who doesn't lose his/her temper or argue. And there's good opportunity to have internal conflict--the char's natural inclinations and the early 'training' from Mum--maybe with a total mental meltdown later! I like your plot premise very much.
     
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  19. webbo_5
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    webbo_5 Member

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    Make her polite to a fault. Tightly wound and always verging on the cusp of an outburst.
     

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