1. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    Relating to Characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by lordofhats, Dec 20, 2008.

    Just a question I thought of recently. I tend to find that many of my characters save for a few, really don't strike me as relatable. I tend to make them quirky or weird in some way to vary degrees from always smiling at anything to totally sociopathic. I tend to make characters I think would be interesting to read about and follow but that often ends with the characters being to varying degrees outside the realms of reality.

    Do you think that could be a problem? I like them mostly cause I tend to find my bunches that I assemble for stories amusing and I like screwing around to see how they can interact with each other, but because they're all weird in various ways. I have for example a character who is constantly bored and tends to respond to everything with unhumorous failing sarcasm and a character who is constantly cheery and optimistic to the point of not recognizing danger even when there's a gun to her head. Would you consider that a weakness for the characters or am I examining my characters over nothing?
     
  2. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Well, if I can't relate to a character, even in some vague tenuous way (for example, I'm not a sociopath out to rule the world, but a good writer can make such a character understandable or at least so unlikable that the reader has to read more), then I won't care about them, and I'll have little reason left to read. So I think that could be a problem.

    I would say that maybe the writer doesn't have to be able to relate to their characters, just that the readers should, but I wouldn't know that for sure since I always relate to my characters. To NOT relate to them would just be...weird to me. I wouldn't be able to write the story if I couldn't relate to the people I'm writing about. So I guess I find your situation inexplicable.

    From the sound of it you're focusing more on making beings who are quirky and interesting, at the expense of making characters who are human and realistic (even in fantasy, even with nonhuman characters, even with over-the-top characters, they have to be relatable, they have to be PEOPLE). You speak of gathering up quirks and such and mashing them together to see how they play out. That just seems weird to me. I don't throw together a bunch of quirks or personality aspects and make a character from that. I make a character, and their personality and quirks fall into place on their own. It seems more like you're writing quirks and personality traits, not real characters.

    But that could be just me (and I might be misunderstanding). I would not know for sure. Just speaking from personal experience. *shrug*
     
  3. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's absolutely necessary to relate to a character, but both writers and readers should understand the characters. I'm a firm believer that everything in a work of fiction should serve a purpose. If a character has a trait or quirk that makes no sense, it really bothers me. When I first began my novel, I didn't fully understand my characters. (I thought I did, but I was dead wrong.) It took time for me to really get inside their heads and realize why they do the things they do, however strange those things may be. But I still can't relate to them. I don't have to. I haven't been where they've been, seen what they've seen, or done what they've done, but now that I know those things, I have a better understanding of how they became who they are today.

    My point, in short, is that you don't have to be the character to understand their story, but you do have to know the character.
     
  4. Mello
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    When I create characters, I usually think of making them people, not stereotypes, first and foremost--people with more than one identifiable trait. A sure way to make people relate to a character is to give them flaws, because those are what separate heroes in fiction from humans in fiction. also, it would be good to, every once in a while, have your characters maybe do something completely random and out of place, because that's what humans do. although, that can be a risky step depending on the situation.

    your overly cheery and optimistic character sounds a bit one-dimensional, maybe there's a reason that the person is like that; maybe they believe in appearances over reality, surface over content. maybe something happened in their past that made them afraid to show dissent for anything.

    what I'm trying to say is that no important character can go through the entire of a story acting the same way or doing the same things, that's never interesting at all. you can't let us become comfortable with who that character is. we as an audience want to be jolted, we want to see them break down, screw up, become human. this can't be caused just by giving them quirks and such, you have to give them a struggle that will reveal their inner strengths and weaknesses.
    this was a bit jumbled but i hope it helped.
     
  5. Orland
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    And this is a bit of obvious advice from a newbie, but making too much of an effort to make your characters relatable can mean they turn out just as bad as a character who isn't relatable enough. And as has been pointed out, there is a difference between being able to understand a character and being able to relate to a character. It's perfectly possible to like a character if their actions are properly justified-no matter how unrelatable those actions are.

    And I do agree with the previous remark that making characters too quirky can be at the expense of their believability as people. See, most human beings aren't quirky; and if they are, they always have another side to them.
     
  6. jwilder
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    Ditto all the above posters. You don't have to make a character relatable, but you do need to make the character understandable. I don't have to be a jilted lover to understand a character who feels bitter and angry at his girlfriend and behaves accordingly. I may not relate to him, but I can certainly understand why he might behave as he does.

    If I don't understand a character, much less relate to him, I'm far less likely to be interested in the storyline. I'll become bored because I'm not emotionally invested in the character or his welfare. Without that, there's little incentive for me to keep reading about him.

    For example, take King Henry VIII - the one who killed and divorced most of his wives. I certainly don't relate to a character like that, but I understand the circumstances in which he was operating, and therefore I understand his actions. I don't agree - I still think he's a rather despicable chump, but I understand why he did what he did.

    Now, take another example - Holden Caulfield, from "Catcher in the Rye". I don't relate to him at all, and I don't understand him. I couldn't grasp why he did what he did, regardless of the relatability of the character. As a result, I found the character to be boring, lifeless, and stagnant. It was sheer threat of a bad grade that kept me reading that book in high school - because I couldn't understand why Caulfield was behaving as he was.
     
  7. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the replies. There is a reason most of my characters are the way they are (Mrs. Optimism for example is the way she is because she suffered greatly as a child and became tired of crying all the time so she only smiles - partial emotional trauma - and the fact she doesn't recognize danger well is because she grew up surrounded by it so most situations don't really register on her danger scale).

    I've been trying to tone down the quirky on a particular cast I'm working on because I really don't find them that believable anymore after writing a ways in. I've been toning down some of their more surreal behavior and I think I'm more comfortable now with their believability.
     

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