1. Vintage
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    Vintage Member

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    The importance of characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Vintage, May 14, 2011.

    Alright, so recently, I have run into a problem when it comes to writing. I mostly write short stories in the horror or comedy genres, which is something that I find that I can do quite easily - people praise my ability to build up tension or my humour.

    However, I have recently dabbled in other kinds of writing. My latest endeavour was a relatively long story. I will spare you the details, but when sending it to others, they praised the atmosphere and the storyline. They did, however, find my character interactions and, to an extent, my characters to be somewhat lacking. I have heard this argument when trying to write outside of my usual genres before, so I took notice of this.

    To be honest, when I read a book, the characters are largely vessels for moving the story along. I do not care much for when one of them dies or whether a couple gets together - they are, after all, not real. Since I can apparently write good horror stories that are pretty much devoid of characterisation, I do not see why this suddenly becomes important in other genres. A lot of people have said that all the best stories are character-driven. While this may be true, I have yet to find more than a couple of characters that I could identify with and might actually care about.

    I'm guessing that this is a flaw of mine, but I really don't get it:

    Why are characters so important? Why can you not just enjoy the story, the atmosphere, etcetera? Why does every story have to involve personal drama in order to get people invested? Furthermore, how do you get people to be invested?
     
  2. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    To me, characters are what make the story. If the characters, are flat and boring then I won't care for the conflicts they get involved in, therefore not care for the story and put down the book. If a book just has 'pretty' adjectives for describing the atmosphere and the environment, I won't care. I know description is needed, but characters are more important imo.

    It has to involve personal drama for the readers to relate with the characters. The more the reader relates, the more the character comes to life. There's a couple of books i've read that I couldn't relate the main character, but the author still made me care for them in some other way.

    If you want people to be invested, make characters that they can relate to (e.g, go through conflict) Have round personalities (Flaws, fears ect..)

    I hope this helped..
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suspect (purely theorizing here) that with a short horror story (I wouldn't say this of long ones) the reader sees himself as the frightened character--even though the character might not actually resemble him at all. That strong identification with the character might be what makes up for the lack of character development, and the inherently high emotional level of a horror story might also help.

    I'm the opposite of you when it comes to reading--to me, the plot is a machine for revealing things about the characters. I can admire an interesting and intricate plot, and it certainly adds a lot to a story, but I can also tolerate a pretty sloppy plot if the characters are interesting.

    Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that I need personal drama. Especially in a shorter story, simply seeing well-developed interesting characters interact can be enough, without my needing to see their personalities change or their emotional world threatened or anything like that.

    I'm curious - who were the few characters that you cared about? And what kind of fiction do you usually read? And, leaving reading, are there any characters in movies or TV or comic books or any media I've forgotten about, that you care about? I feel that I need to see your current starting point in order to be able to suggest a way that you could either care more about characters or make your readers care more about your characters.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  4. Vintage
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    I know that a lot of people think so - what I am trying to get an answer to is this:

    Why are they important? I try to give everyone personal flaws and weaknesses, so it's not that. It might be that my characters are just too alien for the readers to be able to associate themselves - in my mind, interesting characters are the ones that you won't meet on the street. I don't get invested in the characters, but there are still some which I consider cool, cute or whatever. Or maybe I'm just bad at characterisation. It's a possibility that seems more and more likely.

    But again, why do people care about the characters, sometimes more than the actual story? If I wanted human interaction, I would just go outside.

    EDIT:

    The only recent example I can come up with is the protagonist from the new My Little Pony series, called Friendship is Magic. If you haven't seen it, I guess this is going to sound rather silly, but it's actually very good. Quite a phenomenon on the Internet, too. It's worth a watch if you haven't seen it. Seriously.

    Anyways, there is a main cast of six characters, all of which have different personalities. A snobby artist, a competitive tomboy, a shy animal lover, etc. All are facetted, likable and have both good and bad sides. And then there's the socially awkward bookworm. She tends to fall outside of the norms, both socially and in other respects, because she is, well, different. When hosting her first slumber party, she consults a book for instructions and does not at all pick up on the (For the viewers) obvious signals that her two friends are not really happy about one another at the time. It's over-played in order to make people understand what is going on, of course, but I have had similar experiences where people expected me to pick up on some non-verbal signals that I simply did not get. In another episode, they are all working together on a huge task - however, despite her special talent (Magic) being able to easily solve the task, the others want to do it the traditional way. Since she is not really good at anything else, she ends up being left out. Again, it is a kids show, so it obviously works out in the end. But the moment where the others find out that she actually used magic, thereby breaking their rules which are only enforced because "That's how we always did it" and then scold her for it, resulting in her running off almost crying - well, I find that surprisingly relatable. What great works of literature have not been able to provide for me has been given in the form of a children's cartoon: A character that is pretty much me as a kid. So yeah, I can relate to her.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Heh. :) I really like that last sentence.

    All I can really say is that they do. I think that I _do_ want human interaction on my fiction. I like at least one or two characters to either be (1) someone that I can strongly identify with or (2) someone that I'd like to hang out with.

    This is, in fact, a failing of my own--I have limited appreciation for fiction that doesn't have characters that I find likable. Even if the characters are fascinating psychological studies, if I don't like them I lose interest. And if they aren't detailed enough for me to feel that I know them, I can't like them.

    I just can't appreciate a plot as a plot, any more than I can fully appreciate a beautiful plate with no food on it. I suppose I need to see a place for me in both scenes--I need an opening to imagine eating the food, and an opening to imagine interacting with, and _enjoying_ interacting with, the people.

    Does that help at all, or did I just make it more confusing?

    ChickenFreak
     
  6. Vintage
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    No, I do not think it is a failing of yours. It is how most people read a story, I assume. The responses I have gotten for the stuff I wrote outside of my normal genres certainly seem to suggest so.

    I will take the Harry Potter books as the only example I can come up with right now. Many people have told me that their favourite book out of those is The Prisoner of Azkaban. The thing is... That is also the book where the least actual plot happens. Voldemort is not even in it. Breaking the formula is fine, but there was much builup for very little actual climax. Yet, I have to assume that the whole character development of Harry, Sirius and Lupin was just that important to people. But I just do not care much for that installment. Because it is not actually very exciting. The only moment of tension is when they are being attacked by Dementors at the end, and that one is over quickly. I was more interested in learning whether their saviour really was Harry's father than what happened between Harry and Sirius.

    Am I making any sense here? I know I sound ignorant, and I really try not to, but I just do not understand the appeal of character interaction when there is plot to follow.

    I would write the analogy as such, from my point of view:

    The plate consists of language, description, mood setting and so on. It builds a foundation on which to place the story. The food is the plot, because that is what keeps me interested. The characters are, to me, utensils. They are knives and forks and spoons. While they might be nice enough to have, you can do without them if necessary. It's nicer with them, but they are not the most important part.

    But again, this is my opinion, and I am not trying to step on any toes here.

    Would it make sense if I said that it did both? The more I know, the more aware I become of how little I actually know.
     
  7. JayFS
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    JayFS New Member

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    Well developed characters allow the reader to experience the story to a whole new level. It's not only about what's around them and the fact that they are there, but the emotions they are feeling and the problems they have to go through. People want to feel that they know this person, and thus will genuinely care for this person's well-being.

    When they do that, they will want to know what happens to Mary, and if she will get away from the mass-murderer who's creeping through her house. They will imagine the horrors if she died; her kids will be motherless, her pregnant baby will die inside her, her husband will live forever alone.

    To make it short, it makes your story engaging. It makes your audience care for your book in the first place.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm latching on to this as a possible key. If you don't fluently "speak", or even if you speak but don't enjoy, the language of nonverbal communication and the undercurrents below verbal interaction, then I can see that a lot of character development in fiction would be uninteresting. For example, consider the exchange:

    Jane: "I straightened your desk for you."
    John: "Thank you."

    Depending on how these two characters have been developed, this might well be a situation where Jane is announcing that she has drastically exceeded her boundaries - one's desk is usually a very private space and for another person to tidy it without permission can be incredibly rude. And John, underneath that "thank you" may be suppressing a world of fury, or frustrated resignation. There could be a black humor in the simple, dry, "thank you."

    (Edited to add: And there are still more layers of possible nonverbal communication here - Jane may be announcing that John's desk was unacceptably untidy and that she's done waiting for him to clean it. Which may communicate her assertion that she's the one in charge of household standards and John should obey her rules. And so on and so on - the layers could just keep on going.)

    But if you don't naturally "read" this stuff, or enjoy it, then the interaction is just really boring - it would be logical to wonder why the exchange is even there.

    I hope I'm not stepping on your toes (you certainly weren't stepping on mine in your post) - I don't know if you have a lack of fluency or interest in these nonverbal communication elements, but if that is true, then a lot of character development in writing would be pretty boring.

    In my case, I don't speak this stuff well, but I do read it OK, and and I'd _like_ to be good at speaking it. So that may be why I like to be inside a story that has a lot of it.

    Again, I'm not sure if I'm making a bit of sense?

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. Vintage
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    I understand that. My issue with it is that, well, I do not really care what happens to a character. I can feel tension if Mary is trying to escape from the killer, but it is broken the moment he catches her. At that point, I move on. I will not say that this is correct in any way, because I actually think that I should feel compassion for these characters, but... I do not. I cannot. When she is dead, I move on.

    The last horror story I wrote had a lot of sexual implications, despite containing nothing explicit. I think I put in a grand total of five lines of dialogue. And those who read it praised it. One guy even said that he found it utterly repulsive, yet would happily read more. Sometimes, I like to delve into insanity by making the narrator insane, perhaps even unreliable. I have stopped in mid-sentence, I have delved into fear of the unknown, fear of the known, etcetera. Most of it has been succesful with those people that I could get to read it. Yet, whenever I try to write the least bit of serious non-horror fiction, people will almost instantly jump onto the characters. I am not saying that this is wrong of them, because it has been an almost universal complaint, so there must be something about it. What I am saying is that, well, I simply do not understand it.

    You might be right. In comedies, I often find this kind of stuff easier to figure out. Because comedic characters often have exaggerated personalities. But sometimes, I will sit in a cinema, watching a movie and suddenly wonder why everyone around me seems to be completely absorbed in what is happening on-screen while I simply resort to my popcorn and wait for the next joke or plot advancement. Sometimes, I will find a character excruciatingly annoying because he/she keeps screwing up, thereby delaying those moments. When I tell someone that I thought a subplot about a character doing something stupid because he/she was, say, in love, felt like needless length padding to me, they will often tell me "But he/she was in love." And I just answer that yes, that is correct, but why would they spend movie time on that?

    It is harder with books, since I do not really have anyone to discuss specific books with. What I read ranges from classics to paperbacks that happen to catch my attention. Most of them just end up on the shelf after reading. But I have noticed that my preferred books contain both what would be classified as pulp fiction and masterpieces. Same goes for the books that I do not like. For example, I have never seen the appeal of Shakespeare, and I have so far only found one of Dickens' works that I liked (The Signal-Man). On the other hand, a franchised paperback by a guy named Scott McGough is one of the few books that I have actually re-read. It often seems as if I just find other things important in the book compared to most people I know, and it is quite frustrating.

    No, not at all. I am grateful that you take your time to help me understand this. It seems like this might be the root of the problem. And if it is, then it is a shame, because I have tried to correct my problems in this regard (Due to it leading to some problems socially quite often) for years now, to no avail. Then again, I have not given up yet, so hopefully I will learn it some day.

    You are making lots of sense, and it has been very helpful. I guess I will just have to see how other authors tackle these things and then try to somewhat copy that, then. Thank you.
     
  10. JayFS
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    I think I see what you're saying. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong though.

    If you think that your characters simply operate as a medium to get your story going then that's perfectly fine. But there still needs to be something that would garner value for the readers - in this case, I believe, it would be your plot. In most stories the plot revolves around the characters, but in your story the characters revolve around the plot, correct?

    I will have to read some of your writing samples to avoid making any incorrect assumptions. In any case, if the story works for you then feel free to continue on with it.
     
  11. Vintage
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    Basically, yes. The problem is that it works fine with horror stories, as I have already mentioned. But when I try to do something else - say, a kind of serious parody of a very light-hearted work which mixes 1984 with a somewhat (But not completely) formulaic fantasy backstory, or when I try to do something original in an urban fantasy style... Well, it doesn't really work, to put it nicely. People do not like it. I included two writing samples below. The first is a horror story which does (supposedly) work without characterisation and the second is an excerpt from a longer piece where it does not work. There might still be some mistakes after proof-reading, seeing as English is not my first language. But I digress.

    There are things in this world which man was never meant to find. It is quite ironic how readily most people will support any cause which allows them to come into contact with the unknown. It is this curiosity which I believe will inevitably lead to our demise. As these words will most likely be my last, I can quite clearly attest to the truth in this theory. It is unlikely that anyone who reads this will be as clear-sighted as I currently feel – indeed, my descriptions of the horrors that I have experienced will no doubt leave some people with a compulsion to walk in my footsteps. I know that am unable to stop this. However, I must still strongly advise the reader against doing so. What I – we found – was not something that can be described with mere English words, nor will any painter’s imagination suffice. Even as I am sitting here now, I can feel my sanity attempting to push away that horrible experience, that thing. But I must recount it – I must retell the tale of what I and my travel companions found all those years ago, in South America. I have been oblivious to the signals, to the deaths of my old friends. But every once in a while, there have been word of bloody murder – no, not murder, suicide – and too many times, the victim was someone I knew. To be honest, I have not had much contact with any of them since the expedition. And then, three weeks ago, I received a letter that was signed by Patrick Bergmann. It read thus:

    Dear friend. I am afraid that I am slowly losing my mind. For the past few weeks, I have been followed by something. I have blocked out the sun from my window, and when walking through the house, I try to avoid making any noises. And whatever it is, whatever this being that is stalking me is, I am certain that it has come because of what happened in the jungle, all those years ago. Do you remember? Of course you do, how could you forget? How could any of us forget? But back then, we made a promise never to tell the world about what happened. But now, now we must talk. We are the only two left from the original expedition. Have you seen the obituaries? I have put them onto my wall, to remind me of what is waiting.

    For the last few nights, there have been sounds everywhere. Downstairs in the house and outside my window. Something scratching, rustling around. I dare not look during the night, but every single morning, I notice that my books and papers do not lie where I left them the evening before. And when I do fall asleep, I have horrible dreams. Things, places that are not of this world. Shadows moving amongst enormous obsidian buildings. Creatures that are utterly incomprehensible. Alien geometry. Sometimes, the dreams are different. Sometimes, the creatures abduct me and take me to strange places. I cannot see them clearly, but I can feel them. They are outsiders, and the air around them is different from ours. They cannot survive here, so they take people away, to their own home.

    Something is coming. I cannot evade it any longer. Tonight, it will come for me. That is why I am sending you this letter: In the hopes that someone might be able to defeat it, to make it through this alive. I have high hopes for you.

    Your friend,

    Patrick C. Bergmann

    Upon reading this letter, I dismissed it as the ramblings of a madman. Deep down, I had felt this same fear, because the thought had also struck me – what if there was a reason behind the deaths of the four others? Somehow, we thought we had escaped, that merely by going home, we would be safe from what we discovered in the jungle. But this was, of course, foolish. I sent another letter to Bergmann, but found out that he had shot himself the same day as he sent the letter to me. And as the last survivor of what happened, I feel that it is my obligation to break that pact we made all those years ago. I need to tell the truth about what happened, because even now, I know that there is something outside my window. It is not trying to get in, nor is it doing anything that indicates its true intentions. But it is there, I know that much. My time is running out, and I feel that writing out the truth is the only sensible course of action at this point.

    I was born into a relatively wealthy family. I received very good grades throughout my entire education, and my dream of becoming an archaeologist was quite puzzling to my parents, who wished for me to become a doctor. Still, they hoped for it to merely be a “phase”, and when I asked for help with funding an expedition with five of my friends to the Amazon forest, they complied. This was going to happen in the summer of 1924. Throughout the next seven months, we gathered the funding necessary for mounting such an expedition – our goal was the investigation of some recently discovered Pre-Columbian ruins. It was a long trip from England, and it took weeks to get across by boat. During these weeks, it turned out that not all of us had the iron stomach that we boasted about. At one point, I thought about taking the boat back immediately upon landing. I wish I had.

    When we got onto the shore, we were all surprised at how humid and hot the country actually was. Our local guides did, of course, not have any troubles with the weather, and were quite amused by our agonies in the beginning. Deciding that we did not want to put up with that kind of things (Keep in mind that we were English gentlemen, and thus obliged to at least try to keep up appearances), we managed to shrug off the uncomfortable nature of it all rather quickly. While we were never told so, I have a feeling that this earned at least a bit of respect from our three guides. This also made me even sorrier about what happened to them. But as things were, we spent the next two days stocking up at vastly inflated prices in the local port town. Eventually, the nine of us managed to suit up and head into the jungle, our guides leading the way. The five of us were young and excited, while the sixth, a professor from Oxford College, seemed worried the instant we set foot in the forest. I saw him standing there, staring wistfully at the ocean. When I asked him why, he merely told me that it might be a while until we saw it again, and that he wanted to take a last look. I nodded, turned around and started walking, and so did he after a short while. At the time, I paid little attention to it, but considering what happened later, he might have known something that the rest of us did not.

    The next few days of travel through the jungle were uncomfortable, yet rather uneventful. There were some problems with leeches and other native creatures, though our guides did not appear to mind much. And obviously, we had to follow their example – young and arrogant as we were. At one point, we got lost, but at this point, our guides merely showed the way. And eventually, we found something. But there was something inherently wrong about the place – our guides, however, assured us that these ruins were, indeed, the famous ones that had been found recently. But there were no humans to be found in the area around them. The ruins themselves, however, defied all description. They were nothing like what was usually built by Pre-Columbian civilisations. The carved murals were even more puzzling – upon further inspections, they showed primitive warriors fighting off something... Alien. What they were fighting was not depicted in its entirety. Instead, there was a carving in the stone of numerous tentacles reaching through a rift in reality. The lack of details left one’s imagination to fill out the details, something which was arguably more horrific than whatever any human would be able to depict. Indeed, upon closer inspection, I seemed to find details that I had not noticed previously – small symbols surrounding the creature, symbols which almost seemed to be alive with a malicious will of their own.
    Prolonged exposure to the sight of these symbols strained the eyes and left me with a bout of nausea. I cannot put my finger on exactly what it was, but the very nature of the symbols was unnatural and surreal. They could not exist, and yet they did. The carving itself also seemed to change, as if the wall tried to repel the unnatural nature of what had been depicted on it. The resulting effect made me question my sanity, and I decided to show the others what I had found. But it turned out that I was not the only one to discover something like this. There were many more carvings, all depicting the same symbols and beings. The guides kept assuring us that these were indeed the ruins that we had been looking for. And there were some signs of people: Remains of fires, mostly – the warm, humid climate had must likely reclaimed whatever perishable materials might have been left, and scavengers had found the rest. The question was, with such an incredible discovery, how come the place was utterly deserted? When asking our guides, they seemed slightly unnerved, which we attributed to local superstition. They spoke of something which only held a name in their native tongue. In the end, we decided to continue the examination, regardless of their jumpy behaviour.

    When night fell, we were all quite exhausted. The rations were not particularly thrilling, but they were welcomed, famished as we were. The guides had put up tents for all of us, with nets to keep out the critters of the night. The night was filled with sounds, but overall, it was rather pleasant, albeit quite humid. But the sounds... Most of them were merely made by animals, but every once in a while, we would hear some that sounded like echoes coming from beneath the ground. When I asked Miller, who was lying the closest to me about it, he merely concluded that it was volcanic activity. At the time, this seemed like a sensible answer – when we asked the guides about evacuation, they told us that there was no cause for alarm. And eventually, I went to sleep. But as pleasant as the night was, my sleep was haunted by horrible dreams. Old buildings twisted into impossible shapes, creatures walking amongst them, worshipping gods that had been forgotten by humanity long ago. Whether this was a different planet, dimension or, as I presumed, a different time, I found that when I awoke, what I had seen, felt and smelled in the dream was mostly gone from my mind.

    The next day, we managed to uncover more of the ruins’ secrets. We compared our findings, and found that murals like the ones I had found were present on numerous walls. But the most peculiar discovery was the small statuette that Bergmann found. It seemed much newer than the ruins themselves, and yet the motifs seemed quite similar to what the murals depicted: A formless horror covered in writhing tentacles, which were in turn filled with fanged, gaping maws. The tentacles covered the entire body of the abomination, mercifully shielding our eyes from its true form. Beneath it were the twisted forms of what upon closer inspection revealed itself to be humans, praying to the blasphemous being through orgies and self-mutilation. Wherever one did not look, the carved creatures and people seemed to change slightly, something that was only visible upon close inspection and with a keen eye. But despite that, I had no doubts about the existence of these changes. My friends agreed on this, and we spent the rest of the day studying the odd statuette. Miller attempted to draw it, but unsuccessfully – it simply defied any attempt to being put to paper. Food this evening was provided by the native guides, and was surprisingly good – we were told that the large guinea pigs we ate were a local specialty. I must admit that I quite enjoyed the native food, although this can probably be attributed to my hunger, rather than the quality of the cooking that we were served – my tastes are normally quite refined.

    The following day, it appeared that something had happened during the night. Our equipment had been scattered around and at least one tree had vicious marks on it that seemed to have been made by some large animal. I had slept extraordinarily well that night, but the others told about loud noises and something going bump during the night. Our guides wanted to leave, but we asked to stay for two more days, so that we could finish drawing and describing what we had found. The ruins were actually larger than we had originally assumed them to be – as we realised how little time we had, we explored the clearing completely and found out that this was actually a small city. And as it was noted before, it was eerily devoid of any signs of people having been here before. I was the one who discovered the meaning of the place. Wandering around, I found a large, round stone slab which seemed to have been moved recently. After calling the others and working at it for a few hours, we eventually found the mechanism that moved it. A grinding sound accompanied the slab moving, and ancient, cool air rose up from the hole. We found some torches, and the nine of us entered the hole.

    A spiral staircase lead into the darkness, murals carved into the walls all the way down. The horrible symbols from before appeared every now and then, sickening me as much as the first ones had. The staircase was long, but it eventually ended. At the foot was a large room with statues sitting in rows all the way along the walls. The statues were most definitely not human, nor were they reminiscent of any old deity that anyone knew of. They were intricately detailed and depicted beings beyond description – horrible beings that could and should simply not exist. Even the statues seemed to distort the natural laws in order for themselves to exist. There was another room adjacent to this one, which we entered. Another flight of stairs lead down into more darkness. As we reached the bottom of these, we were greeted with a breathtaking sight: A pyramid, imposing and ominous. It was made from a dark stone material – judging by the texture, this was most likely obsidian. Where these primitive people had found it and how they had managed to transport and form it was a mystery.

    But there was something more in here. We could not see much of the massive underground room that we had entered by the dim light of the torch, but it was quite clear that it was something unique. The obsidian was as smooth as glass in some areas, and a set of stairs led up to the top of the pyramid. At every level sat two statues at each side of the stairs, but I dared not shine a light on them. None of us really wanted to know any more about whom or what had built this, but we knew that we had to explore it for the sake of scientific discovery. We ascended the flight of stairs together, all nervous for some reason that I cannot explain. At the top, there was a door. After we found and turned three round handles, it slid open, dead air escaping from the hole. At this point, Newman was caught in a fit of panic. Maybe he saw something in the darkness that the rest of us did not. He ran away, screaming wildly. We followed him, of course, and left the door unlocked. I did not think of it back then, but today, I know that this was a fatal mistake. We later found him huddled in a corner, whimpering and gnashing his teeth. The man could not be brought to his senses – when we tried to talk to him, the only response was a faint, gibberish muttering.

    We took Newman with us to the surface, where night had already fallen. The guides had cooked up dinner for us. But upon seeing the state that Newman was in, they tried to communicate with us, to ask questions about what had happened. When we managed to tell them, they seemed genuinely horrified. They wanted to go home immediately, but we eventually managed to convince them that this should wait until the morning. After all, Newman needed to get to civilisation if he was not better by tomorrow. If he was, there was little reason not to stay here – science had to come before the wishes of the natives. As we were eating, I thought I heard more sounds from beneath. But it did not sound like before. Something echoed through the empty halls down there, as if something was moving – something large. I dismissed it as a figment of my imagination. As we all went to bed, our guides stayed up, and kept watch. The sounds continued for a while before falling silent. I fell asleep shortly thereafter.

    My dreams were odd and frightening. A city with cyclopean obsidian structures, spires of polished, black stone extending into the air and far out of my sight. Shadows were moving among the buildings, growing more tangible as I regarded them. They were horrific creatures, things not of this world. And then, suddenly, the city was ablaze. It was under attack from other beings, just as alien as the ones that I had been walking amongst. The air was filled with a cacophony of screams from inhuman throats and explosions, building collapsing everywhere. I was caught in the middle of a war. And then, suddenly, I was not. I was flying out of my body, far away from the conflict. I saw the entire world beneath me, two civilisations fighting for dominance, both collapsing under the weight of the struggle.

    I was awoken by Bergmann in the early morning hours. When I escaped from the dazed clutches of sleep, he told me that Newman and the guides were gone. We called out and looked for them, but they were nowhere to be found. As much as it annoyed me, we had to mount a search party. We packed up our things and started making our way through the jungle. After hours of calling and searching, we found what we were looking for. The next few seconds are quite frantic in my memory. It was Newman and one of the guides, or more accurately, what was left of them. Newman was hanging from a tree, and his lower body was missing, the entrails hanging down like pink, fleshy ropes. The guide was lying in the midst of a large pool of blood and entrails, scattered on the forest floor as well as the trees around it. There was a look of sheer horror on his face, and it seemed that he had clawed out his own eyes – his face was covered in scratches and blood, and his fingers were soaked in blood. The stomach had been ripped open, and his left leg had been ripped to the point of the flesh being completely tattered.

    Not far away, we heard a scream. It stretched out and was filled with pain. And something else, sounds that did not belong here. There were no animals around, just the sounds of a man screaming and whatever he was screaming at. And then the screaming stopped. Slowly, we began backing away. And then something, something moved toward us. It was fast. We all started running. At one point, I threw a glance over my neck and caught a glimpse of something. I cannot describe what I saw, for there is simply nothing with which to compare what I saw. It was a monster, worse than anything I had heard of in legends. My mind could not truly comprehend what I saw, for today, it is impossible for me to retell the events that happened afterwards. They say that I and three of the others – including Bergmann – were found at the outskirts of the jungle, our clothes covered in blood. We had apparently been conscious enough to tell our names and addresses, for when I awoke, it was in a bed in the local madhouse. I do not know for how long I was in there, but after I awoke, I managed to convince the doctors that I was, indeed, as sane as any man.

    We tried to forget what we had seen and experienced in South America, and made a pact that we would not tell anyone. But with the death of Bergmann, I feel that it is my duty to inform the world of what lurks in the dark corners of the Earth. Those who have not experienced true horror as I have will obviously only see this as a story, something with which to amuse themselves. But for the few readers who will know that his is true: I beg you, correct what we did wrong. And learn from our mistakes. There are things that Man was not meant to know. And we crossed that line. We found That, the thing which has hunted us for so long. What will happen once it is finished with us? Will it go back from whence it came? I doubt it. It has been in hibernation for untold eons, since before Man even existed. A new feeding ground has grown forth from the ashes of the crumbling world that it left behind. To the ancients, humans are merely prey. We only exist to sate their age-old hunger. I hear it now. It is coming. The stench and sounds are unmistakable. It has entered the house. Too early. I had at the very least hoped to finish my

    A man walked silently through New York City on a September night. It was cold enough that he had to wear a jacket, but not by much. In fact, he could have gone without it just a week ago. Of course, that mattered little, since the jacket was essential for hiding the tools of trade for his specific profession. And on that September night, he was out on a job. The city itself was as lively and bustling and ever, and it annoyed him to no end.

    Prostitutes, drug dealers, people with no self-respect, no appreciation for their own humanity. They wasted their lives in a futile pursuit of things that they thought would make them happy. Reality was, of course, very different from what they imagined. But they were so young, their lives so short. It was unlikely that they would manage to realize the truth about their own lives and mortality in time. But these observations were highly hypocritical, seeing as how he had sacrificed all of his humanity for even less.

    Still walking, he pondered his own monstrous nature. What would these people think of him? Would they consider him to be worse than them? Possibly. He took a turn and walked down a narrow alley. A single lamp lit up the middle of it, mosquitoes buzzing around the bright light. And someone was standing at the end of it. He could already smell them. A sour stench mixed with alcohol and adrenaline. They were drunk, hadn’t showered for the last few days and they were almost pissing themselves at the thought of what was about to happen. Young, inexperienced thugs out on their first or maybe second mugging. They had never experience a successful one before. If they had, they would be much more enthusiastic. He removed his hand from the gun under the jacket. No need to waste any shots on them. He walked right up to the four shadows in front of him. A hand extended and pushed him backwards.

    “Where‘re you going?”

    A burst of nervous laughter erupted from the three others. The one that had pushed him was clearly the leader. He was the one who needed to be humbled the most.

    “This is our alley, and we demand something from you, if you’re gonna go through here.”

    One of them had sneaked up behind him. They were not going to be satisfied with just a bit of cash. Sam could not help but smile a little.

    “The **** you laughing at? Get ‘im!”

    Sam felt the one behind him move. He simply whirled around and grabbed the guy’s arm. He was young, fifteen at most and absolutely terrified. Good, perfect for a demonstration. Still, having to take these young lives was a waste.

    “Don't,” Sam said.

    The boy did not listen, prompting a response from Sam. He snapped the young guy’s arm like a dry twig with a flick of the wrist. A scream emerged from the boy’s mouth. Sam threw him onto the ground as he continued towards the others.

    They had been dazed momentarily by the counter-attack, but now they were regaining their senses. One of them had pulled a sawn-off shotgun. This was proving to be quite interesting. Sam had expected the one with the weapon to wait until it was too late, but his adversary turned out to be rather proactive. He heard the weapon fire and felt the pellets penetrate his back. But he did not react. Instead, he grabbed the neck of the boy, snapped it, and turned to the rest of the gang. By now, they had probably figured out that there was something abnormal about him. Good. Sam looked down at the gunshot and grinned, revealing two rows of sharp teeth as the wounds healed rapidly, the small pellets falling to the ground. Two of the remaining three stepped back, but one remained steadfast in the face of adversity. This was going to be intriguing.

    The other two seemed like they wanted to leave more than anything else, so Sam circled around them at incredible speed, grabbed one of their heads and poked out the eyes of its owner. At this point, it became fairly obvious to him just how screwed he would have been as a human in this situation - this one screamed as well, but no one came to his help. No one had come at the sound of the gunshot or the last scream either - presumably, people were willing to sacrifice each other to preserve themselves. Sam's left arm moved upwards and then down in an arc, crushing the skull of the second attacker with a sickeningly loud cracking noise. He turned to the final one, the leader. It was impressive, actually - even now that one last attacker just stood there, and tried to pretend that he was not scared ****less. But the smell of urine and the wet stain on the front of the boy's pants told a different story entirely.

    Sam lit a cigarette and enjoyed his adversary's pitiful attempt at hiding the shameful sign of fear. But still, the face had not changed its stoic expression.

    "What's your name?" Sam whispered.

    The kid got confused. "Huh?"

    "Your name?"

    The kid did not answer. Of course not. Confused and having trouble not breaking down in tears, he really was a pitiful sight. For a moment, a picture flashed into Sam's mind, of him leaving the kid alone and telling it to change its life, use that for something good instead. But no, not now, not today. For a moment, Sam just stood there, regarding the frightened attacker, now the victim of someone else's attack. A small cloud of smoke was blown out of Sam's mouth and nostrils.

    "Tell me now, honestly," he said. "Are you afraid of me? I just killed your three friends there, it's perfectly understandable if you are. I would just like to know."

    "You're not gonna get off on me being afraid, you sick ****."

    Sam merely shrugged. Now he was getting tired of this game. He grinned, rows of sharp teeth revealing themselves in his mouth. Finally, the kid started backing down, but it was too late. Sam's hand moved towards the boy, his feet propelling him forwards at blinding speed. He made a rapid slash, and a spray of blood covered his face and clothes. The boy staggered about, clutching his throat. Blood still seeped out between his fingers, and each rasping breath sounded excruciatingly painful. Finally, he fell to his knees, looking at Sam with a look that seemed as if he was begging for mercy. But all that Sam's face revealed was contempt. When the boy finally toppled and landed flat on his face, Sam began walking away. He took a glance backwards. How old could the kid have been? Seventeen, perhaps? It did not matter, really, and he continued towards his goal: A man by the name of Robert Jackson, Bob for short. Wanted for human trafficking, dealing in drugs, murder and numerous other illicit activities.
    But that all changes after tonight.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My suggestion would be not to try to imitate the emotional expression of people that you don't identify with, but instead make at least your viewpoint characters more like yourself, and try to express their emotional life. While you might still find this boring, because you prefer plot-centered stories, you'd at least have the advantage of "feeling" the character's emotions.

    An example scene, based on how I feel about girly indirect communication:

    Jane asked, "Are you going to wear that?"

    Oh, for bleep's sake. One of _those_ questions. I'd learned, from painful experience with other friends, that Jane really meant, "Wow, you look terrible. Wear something else." But Jane thinks that actually saying that, so that I can tell what she means, would be rude. So she asks the "polite" version, and I'm supposed to know that she means the rude version. And somehow that makes her polite, and if I can't figure out what she means, I'm the rude one.

    Who made up these rules?

    People like Jane, of course. So I counted to ten before asking, "What's wrong with it?"

    You guessed it - Jane called me rude.


    ChickenFreak
     
  13. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    We are people. We are empathetic and experiential creatures. Characters are people. We are able to empathize with their experience, and in a sense vicariously experience it ourselves, which is IMO why characters and their struggles are poignant. Horror stories are exhilarating to me because I can put myself in the character's terrified shoes. Sad scenes are such because I can at least abstractly empathize with as much. I've never been chased down by an axe-murderer, but relating to the victims experience is the main, if not the entire reason it's thrilling.

    Without characters - as both a vehicle of plot development and perhaps more important, as a vessel in which to experience the story - there's nothing to relate to, no emotion or universal human experience to tap into or feel. Without characters to experience the plot through, stories tend to become mechanical and kind of meaningless, to me. The depth of possible emotional investment in a well-crafted character can be astounding - that is why i'd say they're important in bringing life to a story.

    Eh, I probably should have wrote this while sober, but I hope it helps
     
  14. Spring Gem
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    Spring Gem Member

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    I read your second except which you said wasn't working. I think your problem is your narrative POV. You are writing in a distant third or possibly an omniscient POV. I get the feeling that someone is floating over the scene and describing it. For example, you start the piece with "A man walked...", then halfway through the piece you finally reveal his name. You dip into the characters thoughts, but not necessarily his feelings. Most stories that focus on character are either first person or close third.

    BTW, I found myself pulled into the story, and I'd consider it to be dark fantasy.
     
  15. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Well in horror stories the characters are just there to be killed off. They don't need to be anything other than flat characters especially in short stories. In other fiction however you want people to be able to relate to the characters. If the characters feel real the reader will become more immersed and the plot will become more real. Also a characters personality can greatly affect the plot. Two different reactions to the same event could lead to two very different stories.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would dispute this. Even if your character is only there to be killed, you want the reader to care. You want the reader to empathize with the character, and to do that, the reader has to get to know and, at least on some level, like the character.
     

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