1. Fireflyoflight
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    Fireflyoflight New Member

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    Proper Character Development for Idiots? Help Please!

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Fireflyoflight, Mar 4, 2013.

    I want to properly flesh out my characters but I don't want them to sound like the dreaded "Mary/Gary Sues". I've tried keeping a notebook for story development and try to write character bios but I've been working on my current project for six years and I would like to eventually submit it to a publisher to (hopefully) get published. Any suggestions?
     
  2. Miranda Louise
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    Miranda Louise Member

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    In the stories that I write,( I have not published any yet either) I usually start out by giving my character a name... I will sometimes change that name until I feel that I have the right name. I add flesh to my character by description of appearance, character, which includes moods, likes , dislikes, etc. If I understand your question, than I have to say , you need to believe that your character is real...to bring it life. keep writing , :)
     
  3. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    All characters should want something in every scene. Also, they should be haunted by something from their past. Make all your characters the star of their own story.

    Whenever possible, try to show two characters having conflict, whether it's funny (A lefty and a righty arguing over which is the better dominant hand) or serious (A communist and a capitalist arguing over which system is better).
     
  4. SomeWannabe
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    SomeWannabe New Member

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    A mistake I tend to make is to try to summarize the character with a few descriptors, which is kind of what I think happens in character bios. Like, oh, I want him to be mysterious, or she should be generous and loving. In the end it becomes very two dimensional and I realize that I still know next to nothing about them.

    Personally, I like to start with the character's experiences rather than character traits. I'd imagine their lives from the moment they were born. The pasts I create for them set the framework for who they would become. By the time I've built them up, sometimes I find that my character is nothing like what I'd imagined him to be in the beginning. I don't know if that's good or bad, though. XD

    And personally I think that Mary/Gary Sues are overrated. Even the most outlandish character can become believable given sufficient development.

    ... And here I go talking like I actually know what I'm saying. XD
    I'm definitely no expert and everything I've written is personal opinion only. :D
     
  5. GhostWolfe
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    GhostWolfe Member

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    At which point they generally* stop being a Mary/Gary Sue :rolleyes:

    * Perfection Sues are excepted from this generality.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    "Perfection Sue"? What's that?

    (I'm one of those who believe the term "Mary Sue" has no generally-agreed-upon definition and is entirely useless to writers.)
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    How far have you gotten in this story that you've been working on for 6 years? Do you have a draft and you're not happy with the characters, or have you been thinking so much about how to develop the characters that you don't have anything written?

    The best way to develop characters is to spend time with them, and you do that by writing scenes for them. Even if you don't ultimately use the scene in your final story, you've gotten to know them better when you've written them interacting with other characters, or even following what they do on a typical day and getting their thoughts and reactions to what happens.

    I have no idea what kind of story you want to write -- genre and character-wise. Maybe if you post a small section eventually for critique later on some folks might have some suggestions.

    As far as character bios -- those only take you so far. They're fun to do when you don't feel like writing but want to do something related to your novel and think about your character. But don't become beholden to anything you decided while doing a character bio or sheet. What's more important is what emerges as your character interacts with others and reacts to situations.

    BTW: If you've been thinking about this story for 6 years but have almost nothing written, then my first piece of advice to you is to open up a new word document right now and start writing it. Even if you trash it all later, you have to write it.
     
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  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Best advice possible! Well said, Liz!
     
  9. Shannonpeel
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    Shannonpeel Member

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    Practice. I write short stories from each characters point of view and put them into different situations. This way I can see how other's view them, what's going on inside them, how they respond to each other. The biggest reason though, is I can practice my writing because like anything practice makes perfect.

    For me, its all about empathy.... I can feel my characters and put myself in their shoes while understanding their personalities.
     
  10. Piankhy
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    Piankhy Member

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    Like others have said, characters will develop as you write. Working on your backstory for too long will probably kill your project because you'll get bored. That's just my experience though.
     
  11. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    Ask each of your characters these questions and let them answer you:

    - What are two words to describe your character?
    - What are the main traits of this character? are they angry, peaceful, kind? List at least 6.
    - What are their hobbies and interests?
    - What do they fear?
    - What are their thoughts/desires?
    - What do they look like?
    - What do other characters see when they look at them?
    - What do they try to look like to others?
    - How does their voice sound like? aggressive, soft, gentle, dreamy?
    - What kind of food do they like?
    - What are their motivations? What moves them and make them fight?
    - What are their choices, decisions, feelings?
    - Describe with one word their relationship with each character in the story.
    - What are they trying to protect?
    - What are their weaknesses?
    - How do their decisions and actions move the story?
    - Do they influence others? Do they have strong charisma that might lead another to trouble?
    - Do they listen to others or do others listen to them? How?
    - What is their age? Education? Abilities?
    - Do they have unique talents?

    I ask my characters these same questions and they help me get to know them. When you know them you can write their stories.
     
  12. La_Donna
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    La_Donna Member

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    I find a really good way to develop a character is to give them a tic.

    i.e. A character I have constantly plays with his wedding ring - he is calculating, powerful and concerned that his wife doesn't love him. Another example is a person who bites their lips - maybe they are nervous in social situations? Maybe this means they are quiet?

    It also gives them something to do in situations. i.e. When my character who plays with his reading ring is told by his wife that she absolutely hates him, he just stares at her coldly and plays with his wedding ring.

    I think these little movements can tell so many things about a character.
     
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  13. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Really? You don't just want to spend thousands of hours on something and then have nothing become of it? :) Your first mission is to put the publishing idea on the back burner for now and just write. If you're consciously thinking about getting published while you write, you will probably let your inner critic tell you that your writing sucks too much. Your only priority right now is to complete your rough draft, no matter how "rough" it is, how stale your characters are, etc. Worry about developing your characters later.
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I bite my lip all the time - not because I'm nervous or quiet (far from quiet, just ask anyone I know lol) - it's only because I get dry lips and then I have the bad habit of trying to bite the skin off. Then my lips hurt :(

    Love what you said about the wedding ring thing - definitely true.

    As for myself, I've not mastered this myself yet but in the process of writing my first novel, I found that 1) character bios are useless because descriptors don't tell you squat about a person - just try summing up your mum or best friend or sister with only descriptors. You can't. And 2) my characters began developing layers as I did more and more rewrites - on every new rewrite, my character became a little more complex, because I knew exactly what was lacking from my last draft, so I throw in the new ingredient along with everything else that I liked and kept. So on so forth :) I haven't found an easier way yet - there's probably one - but I'm looking for it just like you lol.
     
  15. GhostWolfe
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    GhostWolfe Member

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    There is a generally agreed-upon definition. If you ask people what a Mary Sue is (if they're heard the term in context), they will give you similar answers. However, TV Tropes suggests several categories of "Sue". For example, the Purity Sue is written to be the ideal of innocence & incorruptibility, while the Sympathy Sue is a target for disaster designed to play on the emotions of the audience.

    A Perfection Sue (also known as "Mary Sue Classic") lacks any flaws at all. They are completely perfect. In every way. The author hasn't even tried to make a bad apologetic attempt at making them more "rounded", or perhaps doesn't even want to.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Forget about Mary Sues, Perfection Sues, Gary Stus, and all the other variations. They are meaningless derogatory labels to take the place of any real analysis of the character. In other words, totally useless.

    Also stay away from character sheets and questionnaires. You can't reduce a character to a list of attributes without making the character flat.

    Observe people. Pay attention to their conversations, and to their behavior, especially to how they don't always behave consistently. See them change moods unexpectedly, and note how their personality changes depending on who is with them.

    Also, as your general writing skill improves, so will your ability to render characters well.

    Forget formulas and shortcuts. Practice, observe, and practice some more.
     
  17. GhostWolfe
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    GhostWolfe Member

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    There is considerable value to be had in recognising what not to do. Sometimes a bad example is more illustrative than a good one.
     
  18. Mot
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    Mot Member

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    It usually comes up in fanfiction, whereby the author has created a fictional version of themselves (or someone they find sexually attractive) and implanted them into the story. Perfection Sue is this character but, as someone mentioned, minus all flaws and traces of believability.

    "Everyone is fighting a hard battle" right? Humans are an almost perfect balance of success and misery. While you don't have to focus too much on the misery side of them, it would be useful to keep it in mind.

    And, as Cogito said- observe. Observe, and don't just 'see'. Charlie Chaplin once told David Niven about the virtues of listening as opposed to talking. Pay attention to people.
     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Give them something to do

    I think characters develop as you work with them. I recently read back over some old notes, back to some of my original character 'traits' I'd envisioned for characters in my now-completed novel. It's amazing how differently they actually turned out from the original 'plan'!

    Once you get your people interacting with each other and dealing with their story problems, their personalities will come to life. (Sometimes more to life than you want, if you've got a minor character who starts taking over the story.) I really don't think you can do much with questionnaires and lists. Just start with a few traits, give them a few things to do, and sit back and watch the fun! And of course be willing to go back over what you've written and sharpen early references to your characters, once you see them more clearly.

    Do try to avoid too much physical description, though - especially delivered in a wad right at the beginning. If you meet your guy with a bale of hay on each shoulder as he strolls into a barn, you've got a guy who is muscular and in good shape. If the guy struggles to lift a spoon at the dinner table, well, he's probably the opposite. If he has to duck to get through a doorway, guess what...he's tall! If he has to stand on tiptoe to get somebody to serve him at the bar, he probably isn't. Employ these kinds of tactics whenever you can. They avoid info-dumping, and paint a vivid picture which will stick with the reader, as well.
     
  20. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    I think the best way to 'flesh' out a character is show them interacting with their environment. How do they behave? Do they steal anything that's not nailed down? Do they help the old lady across the road? Or are they so crippled by shyness they can't speak when a stranger asks them a question?

    When you meet someone for the first time you don't ask them point blank are you a nice person or a bad person? No you don't. You get to know them and you judge them by what they do. Fleshing out your fictional characters works the same way. And its a great way to avoid the 'telling' problem.
     
  21. murasaki_sama
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    murasaki_sama Senior Member

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    The process of developing a character differs from writer to writer, but depends largely on the kind of character you want them to be. Personally, I believe a person should approach the development of their protagonist and antagonist differently. Additionally, a side character or supporting character requires a different kind of development.

    The character you want to know the most about is the protagonist. The story, after all, spends the most time on the protagonist (well, most stories do, they don't have to.). The character you should know the second most about is the antagonist. However, focus on a few traits, and how the antagonist relates to the protagonist. That relation, the conflict, should help define both characters. Then comes supporting characters, the ones who show up often enough to have names. They should also be defined by their relationship to the protagonist (or the antagonist). If they do not provide support to the story, they should, perhaps, not be there. The final characters are the nameless faces that perform a function necessary to the plot. You don't really need to know anything about these characters; avoid naming them if you can. Named characters, at least in my experience, have a horrible habit of taking things over.

    The development of characters also depends on the purpose of your story. Is the story about the characters? Or is it about the world? The event? If the story isn't about the characters, you don't have to make them perfectly, 100% realistic, well-rounded characters. What would be the point? This doesn't mean you should present one dimensional characters, just don't spend all your time worrying about how "real" they may seem. Spend more time on the plot; the characters will either develop to fit, or end up being unnecessary. Or, alternatively, spend more time on the world: it will help you define the characters, because characters and people are shaped by the world in which they live.
     
  22. nanobelle
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    nanobelle New Member

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    Killing Mary Sue

    Start with traits. If they are too good to be true then you've got a Mary Sue. People are flawed and there are things they dislike about themselves that may or may not be true. For example, Cyrano De Bergerac, he thought he was too ugly to find love because of his nose. Or Don Quixote who is old and mad but a true hero. Gawky Anne of Green Gables who dyes her unwanted red hair accidentally green and makes up more romantic names for herself than the one she possesses...
    I really despise invincible heroes or magically lovely heroines. The characters from Twilight leap to mind and Anita Blake, too. She started out as a promising character but as the books went on she left her vulnerable status and became the perfect Mary Sue, complete with magical attributes and pets. Men in action stories can fall into this, too. James Bond anyone?
    Good writers make pretty stories, great writers make memorable evolving characters. Think Sherlock Holmes, Porfiry Rostnikov or Jane Eyre. You want to get to know them, find out what makes them tick. They are like you and me, you hope they overcome their faults to find happiness.
    There's no excitement in perfection or invulnerability, it gets dull fast and there's nowhere left to go. Who cares if they live happily ever after? They can't ever die or lose to the villain, that would be unthinkable. We know the ending and what's the point in that? Trash your protagonists reputation, mar their appearance, hamper their ambitions, then like the gods breathe life into your Galatea and stir life into the marble.
     
  23. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Become your character and stop thinking like you would and think like they would and the character development should come to you in a snap
     
  24. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As long as you want to write realistic characters, character flaws are a must, I think. Because nobody's perfect and most people actually have many flaws, some quite serious (of course this depends on the context in which the character exists). For instance, a physically adept character who might appear a Mary Sue otherwise (you know, the classic action hero type) might suffer from psychological problems, a weak mind, things that would affect the character's positive traits in a negative way: a weak mind in a strong body is like a loaded gun with a broken recoil spring, i.e. it won't go "bang." Now, if this character was, say, a soldier or a LEO, their inability to function in stressful situations (e.g. combat) would create some serious problems for them.

    Personally, planning characters and coming up with their strengths/weaknesses is one of my favorite parts of creating a new story.
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree. It's true that no one is perfect, but a character can be interesting without parading his or her flaws. Following the logic of Chekov's gun, if you trot out a character's flaw, you have to significantly use it in the story.

    Characters show dimension by all manner of individual traits, not only flaws. A twisted sense of humor can work wonders. So can an unusual hobby or area of expertise.

    Nor are flaws necessary to generate conflict. Differences in values or priorities may suffice.

    An obsession with attaching flaws to characters can make your writing look formulaic, even amateurish.
     

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