1. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Overdeveloped character traits

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by doggiedude, Apr 5, 2016.

    I frequently have found that characters in many fiction pieces that have character traits that the author portrayed in an extreme manner. A character can't just be whiney he needs to be SUPER whiney. They aren't evil, they are the most evil creature ever to exist. Mr. angry doesn't only get upset over normal things he needs to freak out over the slightest thing that doesn't go his way and then stomp around the room kicking puppies.

    It makes me wonder if the author is doing this sort of thing because anything less won't attract the readers attention to the character defect the author desires to be seen. Should my greedy characters be SUPER greedy? Does my ethical character need to be Asian and spout off words like "I would never want to dishonor my family name!" Are these things really needed or are we underestimating the readers ability to understand more subtle traits?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that the very idea that the author wants a character defect to be "seen" suggests an extremely mechanical/artificial way of creating a character. I imagine the author thinking that the reader will say, "Each character should have two good traits, three bad traits, one bad habit, and between one and five behavior quirks. This character only has two identifiable bad traits! What a lousy book!"
     
  3. WriterMMS
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    WriterMMS Member

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    You can be subtle, but subtle works dont tend to garner as much immediate attention. Subtlety is the trademark of sorts if works remembered in history, not during their time.
     
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  4. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Do you also imagine that app developers expect their users to say, 'oh wow, what an elegant bit of code they've used to make my phone measure my heart-rate in the gym'?

    Devil's advocate. :twisted:

    Regarding the OP, @doggiedude, I think it depends a lot on the type of fiction you're reading/writing. You often see more overblown characters in genre fiction and fewer in more literary stuff. I think there has been an interesting trend in recent years for the two camps to borrow from each other (more plot in literary fiction and more character development in genre).

    So, for your story, it depends on what you're writing. Is it all Hollywood style bangs and crashes or something more nuanced?
     
  5. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    I've never really thought about it before. I try to make my characters balanced, I guess. My current MC has mild social anxiety, and I'm trying to find a good way to pull it off without punching it in your face or preaching about it. I want it to be a trait, but not define him. Good thought, and I think I can utilize it going forward, thanks!
     
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  6. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think "I would never want to dishonour my family name!" is a phrase. :p:p
    Anyway, yeah. Traits shouldn't feel shoved in your face. Some characters will have more extreme versions of them than others, and when it's extreme it should feel right.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's more a case of the writer being insecure about his own abilities as a writer. It takes a certain amount of skill to be subtle, to relay something gradually, to hint at meaning and let the reader deduce it or, better yet, allow the reader the freedom of interpretation. To me, your example is a writer who's deeply insecure and ammateurish, that's all. He doesn't think the reader will "get it" otherwise - but if you're a good enough writer, you would be confident that they would, because your skill would be sufficient for the task.

    ETA: that, or perhaps the writer is writing for a particular genre niche where exaggerated characters and being spoon-fed is expected by the reader - note: many bestsellers and chick lits! In this case, it's a deliberate choice the writer has chosen to fit a niche market in order for their book to sell. Strategic, but not good writing, but who cares if people are buying your books eh?
     
  8. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    I don't want to derail the thread, so I'll keep this brief. How are you defining good here. What's wrong with people buying your books?
     
  9. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I don't think the proposed criteria is that it sells. It's that it does something that sacrifices a degree of artistic integrity and talent for a technique is proposed to sell well. That's my understanding of the concept represented by her.
     
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  10. SadStories
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    SadStories Member

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    Caricaturing personalities is a well-established technique that has been used by many of the greatest writers. Dostoyevsky, who is often considered the greatest psychologist of all writers, takes it so far that many people find it frustrating to read. His characters will be jumping at people's feet to kiss them. Since the 20th century there has been a reaction to writing this way though. Modernists, like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, believed that humans were too complex to be captured this way. You had to throw yourself heart and soul in the contradicting complexity of the individual. Later, that is after around 1950 and with postmodernism, it's also become common to see humans as empty shells that just change depending on cultural and social contexts. I think there is a lesson to be learned from both postmodernism and modernism, but these are books that are usually very hard to read, sold little at first - and it would also be old-fashioned and a little cheap to copy them today, in my opinion (though many people do). Personally I prefer highly caricatured personalities with complex aspects.
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Oscar Leigh explained it well for me, so thanks! :D

    I guess for a writer to be able to write tailored to a niche that way is evidence that he/she is actually a skilled, good writer - however the quality of writing they produce is deliberately lacking in finer nuances and the more artistic side of writing. You know, the difference between Shakespeare and say, J.K. Rowling. However, plenty more people want J.K. Rowling rather than Shakespeare, and there's nothing wrong with writing what is enjoyable for the masses even if it's not exactly a literary prize winner. I suppose there're different tiers of "good writing" - it's not like it's either good (artsy) or bad (commercial). There's a spectrum here. But the example given by doggiedude of the writer with exaggerated characters - unless it's a deliberate caricature made that way for a clear purpose, or a particular style of writing that fits the genre the author intends for their book, then I can only assume it is truly bad writing at the bottom of the quality spectrum!
     
  12. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Well said. I completely agree. :agreed:
     
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  13. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I saw what I thought was a pretty likely misinterpretation; to the point of it seeming like your post wasn't read properly. And I just had to act!
     

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  14. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    No, I read it right. I was just stirring the pot for shits and giggles. :bigtongue:
     
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  15. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Wait, really? Fucking trolls!!!! :supermad::supermad::supermad:
     
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  16. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends on the author, the audience and what you want to achieve.
    It can be really clever to be unsubtle -
    "Bah! Humbug!" Are Scrooge's first words in A Christmas Carol after Dickens spent 2 pages building up what a stingy old miser he was.
    And in a lot of horrors the characters aren't very subtle.
    I think the true test is execution. If it works it works, if it doesn't than it just looks shallow. I think if the author has issues with dialogue they should avoid this technique as it can result in a lot of dumbass things being said. If they're good with dialogue though, than they can probably turn the overblown character into something interesting.
     
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  17. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    Lots of good comments here.
    [rant]
    My first take on it was that writers -- especially younger writers -- don't write nuanced bad guys because they've seldom been exposed to that sort of characterization. Look at the current crop of action movies, superhero movies, and television dramas. The bad guy is usually remorselessly evil, megalomaniac, without a shred of redeeming quality, hence making him (and it's always a him, isn't it?) a worthy foe for the hero. There have been exceptions, it's true, and those exceptions have invariably made for a better story. Magneto and Doc Ock had back stories that made it clear that their characters were motivated by higher impulses than simple greed or lust for power. But most of the crap I've seen recently has had nothing of that nuanced characterization. They're just bad. They're walking character defects writ large.

    But as has been stated above, maybe that's what the reader wants. Maybe that's what sells.
    [/rant]
     

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