1. Robyn
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    Robyn Member

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    Problem with characters' personalities...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Robyn, May 27, 2010.

    I'm working on my first novel, and the main problem I've had with writing is the characters' personalities. Each character has a unique personality, but when I write it seems to change. Quickly. Their dialect, sense of humor, rudeness, and so on, are constantly changing. I keep having to go back and change scenes, over and over again. Does anybody else have difficulty with this? Or does anybody have any advice as to how I can overcome this problem?

    In advance, thank you!
     
  2. jeanne
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    jeanne Member

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    Human have wide variety of action. Rude people doesn't rude all the time neither funny people never cry. I'd suggest keep the core of personallity in your mind - their background, their experience, what make them be them - and let your character being human.
     
  3. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    It's possible that you are starting your work without a clear picture of who your characters are. As you write, your understanding of the characters change and develop: consequently, the way you are writing about the characters changes as well.

    Now, it's natural that sometimes you will decide to change a character as you write or in between drafts. As long as this is done in a planfull way, it's fine. It sounds like it's happening unintentionally though. Either you can just write and fix it when you revise, or do more planning from the start. Answer basic questions about each characters motivations, background etc. before you begin to write. Then, any variation in the character should be based on what is 'true' for that character.
     
  4. Jemnisimi
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    Jemnisimi Member

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    Sometimes it helps people to fill out a character sheet. A character sheet is one form of a writing exercise and if you're not 100% comfortable in your characters' minds (your ability to write perfectly in-character and stay that way), exercise is a great way to make it come easier. Another exercise I like is to pretend a character is posing a strange question to the one I want the exercise to be about. Perhaps coming up with random questions to ask the character will inspire you about parts of their past that won't necessarily be in the novel. A person's past shapes their personalities more than anything, after all.

    Here's a character sheet to get you started:

    Character Chart
    Character’s full name:
    Reason or meaning of name:
    Character’s nickname:
    Reason for nickname:
    Birth date:

    Physical appearance
    Age:
    How old does he/she appear:
    Weight:
    Height:
    Body build:
    Shape of face:
    Eye color:
    Glasses or contacts:
    Skin tone:
    Distinguishing marks:
    Predominant features:
    Hair color:
    Type of hair:
    Hairstyle:
    Voice:
    Overall attractiveness:
    Physical disabilities:
    Usual fashion of dress:
    Favorite outfit:
    Jewelry or accessories:

    Personality
    Good personality traits:
    Bad personality traits:
    Mood character is most often in:
    Sense of humor:
    Character’s greatest joy in life:
    Character’s greatest fear:
    Why?
    What single event would most throw this character’s life into complete turmoil?
    Character is most at ease when:
    Most ill at ease when:
    Enraged when:
    Depressed or sad when:
    Priorities:
    Life philosophy:
    If granted one wish, it would be:
    Why?
    Character’s soft spot:
    Is this soft spot obvious to others?
    Greatest strength:
    Greatest vulnerability or weakness:
    Biggest regret:
    Minor regret:
    Biggest accomplishment:
    Minor accomplishment:
    Past failures he/she would be embarrassed to have people know about:
    Why?
    Character’s darkest secret:
    Does anyone else know?

    Goals
    Drives and motivations:
    Immediate goals:
    Long term goals:
    How the character plans to accomplish these goals:
    How other characters will be affected:

    Past
    Hometown:
    Type of childhood:
    Pets:
    First memory:
    Most important childhood memory:
    Why:
    Childhood hero:
    Dream job:
    Education:
    Religion:
    Finances:

    Present
    Current location:
    Currently living with:
    Pets:
    Religion:
    Occupation:
    Finances:

    Family
    Mother:
    Relationship with her:
    Father:
    Relationship with him:
    Siblings:
    Relationship with them:
    Spouse:
    Relationship with him/her:
    Children:
    Relationship with them:
    Other important family members:

    Favorites
    Color:
    Least favorite color:
    Music:
    Food:
    Literature:
    Form of entertainment:
    Expressions:
    Mode of transportation:
    Most prized possession:

    Habits
    Hobbies:
    Plays a musical instrument?
    Plays a sport?
    How he/she would spend a rainy day:
    Spending habits:
    Smokes:
    Drinks:
    Other drugs:
    What does he/she do too much of?
    What does he/she do too little of?
    Extremely skilled at:
    Extremely unskilled at:
    Nervous tics:
    Usual body posture:
    Mannerisms:
    Peculiarities:

    Traits
    Optimist or pessimist?
    Introvert or extrovert?
    Daredevil or cautious?
    Logical or emotional?
    Disorderly and messy or methodical and neat?
    Prefers working or relaxing?
    Confident or unsure of himself/herself?
    Animal lover?

    Self-perception
    How he/she feels about himself/herself:
    One word the character would use to describe self:
    One paragraph description of how the character would describe self:
    What does the character consider his/her best personality trait?
    What does the character consider his/her worst personality trait?
    What does the character consider his/her best physical characteristic?
    What does the character consider his/her worst physical characteristic?
    How does the character think others perceive him/her:
    What would the character most like to change about himself/herself:

    Relationships with others
    Opinion of other people in general:
    Does the character hide his/her true opinions and emotions from others?
    Person character most hates:
    Best friend(s):
    Love interest(s):
    Person character goes to for advice:
    Person character feels responsible for or takes care of:
    Person character feels shy or awkward around:
    Person character openly admires:
    Person character secretly admires:
    Most important person in character’s life before story starts:
    After story starts:
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I despise character sheets.

    But you probably need to better understand your characters to keep them consistent. Not with lists of attributes scars, tats, and other distinguishing characteristics - leave those for the FBI Wanted posters and RPG profiles - but by seeing them clearly in your mind's eye. Know them like you know the people in your life.
     
  6. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    No.

    Robyn, it seems as if you've got a good idea of who your characters are, but you're trying to use them in a story that demands different personalities and you're accidentally making changes as a result of that.

    If you want your story to be character oriented, write a short story involving each of your characters or combinations of them to get a good feel for who they are and how they interact.

    If it's more plot driven, then focus on the story and mold your characters to fit the part that they need to play as you go.

    Do not - DO NOT - rely on a cardboard cutout with their driver's licence and medical records taped to it because you will only be worse off.
     
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  7. Eternity
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    Eternity Member

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    Change isn't always bad. Keep in mind that people do change over time. Also that people consistently the same through a novel can quickly get predictable, boring, even - dare I say it - annoying. :) Don't be scared of them changing. Just make sure you've given them a good reason for the change.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is the problem that you're pre-declaring their personalities, they're changing from that, and you're trying to force them back to the original concept?

    Or is the problem that you're letting their personalities develop freely, but they just keep changing wildly and never stabilize?

    If it's the first, I'd try letting their personalities develop freely, maybe by writing a bunch of throwaway scenes, until they stabilize and you feel that you know them.

    If it's the second, I'm at a loss. :) I'm sure there's a solution, but my characters always seem to stabilize, so I don't know what to suggest.
     
  9. DanielCross
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    DanielCross Member

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    It happens to me to, so what I do is go back and add internal monologue that's in line with the character I want to represent. It's a little bit tedious, but never nit pick while you're writing, that just throws off the flow. You'll find that you need to edit a lot anyhow, so its not too much of a hassle.
     
  10. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Character sheets, no.

    No offense but it sounds like you need to get to know your characters better. It's nothing to be ashamed of er anything, every author has to go through it. It's a vital aspect of crafting a story, and something a self-respecting author absolutely can't go without.
    Do you know anyone that is as unpredictable and inconsistent as your character sounds? No? Probably because although ppl can be quite unpredictable, everyone has relatively consistant patterns of behavior, including unpredictability.

    It might be worth doing some trivial, inconsequential writing exercises to cement your characters' personalities a bit more.
    What are your characters like in mundane, daily life?
    What are they like with each other? With their friends and family?
    They got passed over for the big promotion. How do they take? Blame their boss? Their co-workers? Themself?
    Their favorite song comes on the radio. Do they sing along? Hum? Bob their head?
    Someone accidently steps on their foot, what do they do?
    ect, ect, ect

    I've a pretty good understanding of the behavior of the people i know well. I know how they'll generally interpret a situation, and how they'll generally react. Of course, there is always the inevitable variability of human behavior from one context to the next, but again, there are always general patterns of behavior. Unpredictable people are usually predictably so.

    Keep working on it. If you're capable of recognizing what is wrong with your MC's(some ppl aren't), then you also possess the critical meta-cognition necessary for bettering them, and thus your story.

    I don't know a d*mn thing about your story obviously, so I can only hope this helps some. Good luck.
     
  11. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I haven't heard of character sheets until recently but I really dislike the idea of something so rigid, personally. Isn't that the point of thinking outside the box? To not make lists or have anything rigid in place?

    What I'm doing currently has worked best for me. Write maybe a paragraph about the character's personality. I don't tend to get detailed with these. It's basically a skeleton for my characters' personalities that gets the flesh added over time throughout the story. I sort of do a synopsis of the character. Possibly a couple major life events that may shape how that character behaves in a given situation.

    As for how they look, I just close my eyes and envision what I think that character looks like. I don't force it, just let my mind wander where it pleases with ideas for it. It's not usually detailed at first but the details come later as I write more. Hope that helps. Best of luck with your story. :)
     
  12. Lankin
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    Lankin Member

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    I like questionnaires instead of classic character sheets.
    And I like to find out more about a character when the story evolves. I also constantly have to change some parts I have written earlier.

    If you write as a profession, and you have a deadline, it might be not so. But as it is your first novel -- perhaps, rather enjoy the process!
     
  13. K.S.A.
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    K.S.A. Member

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    I am not a huge fan of character sheets either. But sometimes, something a bit similar helps me stay focused and doesn't let me get confused with which character is for which book. It is especially helpful to me because I tend to write several pieces simultaneously.

    So, I have profile sheets for each of my characters in each of my series. But everything isn't pre-arranged. You need to let your character grow on you, become more familiar with the character type they are, and develop along with them as they develop alongside your storyline. Don't ever drop a character if it begins to go in a direction you hadn't planned on. It may make things even more interesting than they are.

    Also, I'd suggest drawing at least a few characters/character traits from people in your acquaintance since it isn't easy to base a character on a completely stranger because you wouldn't know how they would react in most situations.
     
  14. Falconjudge
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    Falconjudge Member

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    Ever hear the term, "The character writes the story"? You should probably have a good enough idea of your characters to write them into situations and just "see" how you could imagine them reacting. "In character" is a very broad term: a person can be made up to hate idiots, but when used in a story, he can still make a bond with a ditz; it's all in the situation.
     
  15. ToxicWaste
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    ToxicWaste Member

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    If I may make a suggestion, sometimes writing a "test" dialogue between your character and yourself helps your character's personality take form. It doesn't have to be you and the character; it could be between two characters or some other person. Just a dialogue of what your character might say in a normal situation (i.e. over dinner, to a stranger at the bus stop, to a girl/boy friend). The dialogue seems to be able to achieve what the character sheet attempts without making the character seem flat.
     

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