1. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    What is a "complex" character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Man in the Box, Jul 31, 2013.

    This is something that bugs me. I can't determine an exact concept. Maybe a character who has multiple motivations, or who acts unexpectedly without being out of character... How is a complex character spotted as such, though? And, is it easier to write complex villains than complex heroes?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    A complex character as I understand it is just someone who is more real than all good or all bad. I've made one of my jealous girlfriend characters complex by having her help the protag whom she is jealous of. It was too cliché to have the girlfriend just be a jealous bitch, so she acts out, makes a scene and all that, but later makes friends with the protag and reveals herself as a more sympathetic character.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And in a more technical sense, a "complex" character is one who does not fit an archetype. It would be a character that doesn't fit neatly into the usual rolls of protagonist, antagonist, contagonist, sidekick, guardian, mentor, etc.
     
  4. morepages
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    morepages Member Contest Administrator

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    The way I think about it is a character with an internal life which doesn't have to do with the main character. In GingerCoffee's example, the "jealous girlfriend" had entire psychological motivations outside of her relationship with the main character which made her be nice to him. Her sense of "the right thing" her desire to be better than her immediate emotions, I don't know. So when in doubt, ask yourself: does this character do anything for a reason other than the main character?
     
  5. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Would this be "Flat" vs. "Round?"

    If so, basically there are two types of character developments. The first, Flat, always sticks to their role, never does anything unexpected.

    A Round, or Complex, character though is pa character that deviates from the established norms. They do things that are unexpected, act in a way that doesn't always make sense at first, at least until you understand their character.

    I like to think about it like this. A Flat character is like a shadow puppet, it has the shape and motions of a real person, but its one dimensional, there's no depth. A Complex character though is more real. Their character has depth and emotion, motivations that aren't always apparent, flaws, strengths, and quirks. A complex character is a more accurate representation of a real person, complete with idiosyncrasies.


    Hope this helps :D
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My view is that every person is complex, however conventional and tidy they may appear on the surface, and therefore every character should be complex. Now, there are limits - the character that exists only to spill iced tea on the main character while waiting on them in a restaurant may not receive enough attention from the author to demonstrate any complexity to the reader, or even to have any in the writer's mind. But there should, IMO, be no such thing as a character that is _defined_ as being simple, only characters whose complexity is not explored in the story.
     
  7. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Complex characters usually evoke sympathy, even if they have questionable morals or occupations (think of, e.g. Jeff Lindsay's Dexter Morgan). To me a complex character is also a realistic character, someone who has both flaws and strengths, someone the reader can relate to. On the other hand, for a story to become successful, the character doesn't have to be complex. It also depends, in my opinion, whether the story is plot- or character-driven.

    And like others have pointed out already, a complex character isn't a stereotype (they may have stereotypical traits, though, because real people do too).
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I would say a complex character is one whose inner and outer life doesn't fit together very well. Someone whose heart is nearly always in conflict with his head. Somebody who struggles to be happy, but is well able to maintain the appearance of happiness. Someone who is unpredictible, both to others and maybe to herself as well. Divine discontent. Someone who appears to be cold and unapproachable, who suddenly breaks down and reveals strong empathy and even love for other people, or another person. Someone who strives for wholesome perfection, but constantly undermines himself with self-destructive behaviour.

    A complex character turns out to be different from what the reader (or other characters in the story) assumes he will be.
     
  9. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    [MENTION=53222]jannert[/MENTION]: that is more or less what I think is an complex character, couldn't have described it any better.

    There is more than meets the eye when you're dealing with a complex character. I have this character who has dealt with some traumatic events and let those more or less dedicate his life. He wants to be happy, but he cannot justify himself to be happy. So here you have the conflict between heart and mind again as was said above.
     
  10. Richard Tijerina
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    Richard Tijerina Member

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    For me good character development happens when I establish a deep relationship with that character. Don't treat them as imaginary.

    The more time spent with the character, the more experiences you share together, the more you will understand that character.

    The complexities will come naturally, don't try to create it with science and reason. Spend years with the character and that relationship will pay off with good writing to back it up.
     
  11. Richard Tijerina
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    Richard Tijerina Member

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    For me good character development happens when I establish a deep relationship with that character. Don't treat them as imaginary.

    The more time spent with the character, the more experiences you share together, the more you will understand that character.

    The complexities will come naturally, don't try to create it with science and reason. Spend years with the character and that relationship will pay off with good writing to back it up.
     
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  12. Ann-Russell
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    Ann-Russell Member

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    A complex or round character feels like they are an actual person rather than a character in a story. The exist beyond the story. If a character is created to simply fill a role and then jammed into it without any further development, they fall flat. However, when a character has a life outside of the major plot line, they start to feel more realistic. In other words, they have aspirations, hobbies, passions and histories outside of the main story.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, YES. What he said...!
     
  14. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    Complex characters are real people who happen to live in stories.

    Pretty much everything everyone said. :p
     
  15. PaulGresham
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    PaulGresham Member

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    One way of creating a relatively complex character is to give him or her a human failing or two.
    I did this with the hero of my latest novel. I realised that I was creating a perfect being, a superman.
    After a while I found that this perfect being was irritating me - or maybe it was envy, anyway I gave him a few human failings to bring him down to earth.
     
  16. Smitty91
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    Smitty91 Member

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    A complex character, at least in my opinion, is someone who has several interests and hobbies, has an interesting (and sometimes tragic) background, and is internally and externally conflicted. A complex character has a personality that fits with their complex attitude.
     
  17. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Complex characters definitely should have last names.
     
  18. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    I think a complex character is someone in a complex situation, and I guess a complex situation is one which conflicts with the character's hopes, goals, fears, point of view, etc., which forces the character to act, react, and behave differently than their norm. In other words, a lot of internal conflict.

    In the film masterpiece TAKE SHELTER, the protag doesn't know if his strange dreams of an oncoming storm are premonitions of the future, or hints of mental illness - which does run in his family. What should he do? Seek psychiatric help, or take preventative measures to protect his family from the impending doom? What if he isn't crazy? What if he is? What can he do to help himself? To help his family? It's a complex situation with no clear answers. The man is being torn apart from the inside, and all he wants is for his family to be safe. But safe from what? The storm, or him?
     
  19. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    Exactly. Dexter Morgan is a perfect example of a complex character. Study him.
     
  20. EmmaWrite
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    EmmaWrite Member

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    A complex character has more than one dominant trait (they are not just kind, they are not just cruel.) It's harder to right a complex villain because the protagonist usually only sees the antagonist as evil, but people tend to find complex villians the most interesting.
     
  21. Kramitdfrog
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    Kramitdfrog Member

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    a developing character ..... a character finding his way
    childlike or discovering ones inhibitions... volatile .... alluring ... distant ... spaced and yet ... distant... superficial.. pychologically traumatised... disascociated .... villian

    anyway ... just some words to think on
     
  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Complex character' doesn't automatically mean 'complex person'. I agree with KaTrian, complex character is the same as three dimensional character, both of which are experienced as real people. Two dimensional characters are simply there to fulfil a purpose. It has very little to do with the archetypes or TV tropes, it might have something to do with terrible cliches.

    For me, Beatrix Kiddo from 'Kill Bill' was a complex character, or Mary Fischer from 'She-Devil' (if you want to compare supporting roles) whilst that chick from Sin City in a tight spandex costume was a two-dimensional cliche. In books, for example, In 'Millennium Trilogy' for me, Lisbeth Salander was complex whilst Mikael Blumkvist was two-dimensional.

    Two-dimensional characters are perfectly fine, as long as they are cast in the right role. In the wrong role, they can really devalue the narrative, whilst complex characters in minor and unimportant roles can just make the narrative unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome. The trick is in correct casting.
     
  23. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Here's a video discussion that might help:

     

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