1. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    What makes a character fail?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Kallisto, Oct 2, 2015.

    There's a lot of questions on this board about making successful characters that are interesting and solid. But I think it's worth mentioning what makes characters just fall on their face. And this can relate to main characters or minor characters.

    So have at it. Why do characters fail?

    EDIT: To clarify, I meant why characters don't succeed in relating to audiences.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2015
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Off the top of my head..

    Characters are often figuring things out and that lead them this way and that way
    But sometimes it seems they stumbled upon an answer or made some connection from events that just isn't obvious enough or clear enough to the reader.
    Like, the reader can't understand why the character went there or thinks "This character wouldn't have caught on that."
     
  3. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    First of all, I love your avatar, @Kallisto . I for one welcome our new fuzzball overlords.

    Second of all, if we're talking about what makes a character unrelatable, unlikable, or just plain makes you root for the other guys, my top complaint is one-dimensionality.

    That's a term now.

    If a character exists for the sole purpose of X in a story, I will always root for them to be murdered in some glorious and horrific fashion. As a reader, I want more than just the surface layer and plot-related actions. I want to believe I'm reading about a human (or, whatever they are) who has feelings, motives, obstacles, choices, and is not invincible.

    :wtf:
     
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  4. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm unsure if you're asking what makes a character fail within the story (what makes him or her "lose," for lack of a better word) or what makes a character essentially not a good character for the reader. Those are two very different questions. I'll take a stab at answering both.

    For the first, a character failing within the story, depends on the goal of that character. I've often been a proponent of multilayered character motivations, where a character thinks he wants Thing A but in reality wants something much deeper and much less tangible. For instance, a character thinks she wants a new job but in reality truly wants an affirmation of self-worth. The idea is that the character thinks that getting Thing A satisfies that deeper want. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. A character can fail by not getting Thing A (because the antagonist is in the way). But I find that it resonates much more when the character fails by getting Thing A but finding that it doesn't satisfy the deeper want. Readers can relate to this very well, because that's how real life is for a lot of us.

    For the second, it really depends on the purpose of the character. You can't please all the people, and sometimes people just don't like other people. If it's a side character, make sure that character has a purpose in the story and isn't just taking up space. If the reader feels as if her time is being wasted, she's not going to be happy about it. If it's a POV character, you could find that by keeping the character at a distance from the reader could harbor apathy. I don't care about a character if you don't make me care. Put the reader in the character's head. Whether that character is likable or not is irrelevant--what matters is that reader can connect on an intimate level and get the full sense of "being" that character.

    Most importantly, have other eyes read the work. You can't usually tell if a character is engaging (or succeeding) since you have all the answers in your head already. You need the opinion of someone who doesn't have that access to tell you if you've pulled it off or not.

    My two pennies.
     
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  5. Bocere
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    Bocere Member

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    I agree with xanadu on this point - a good example of this in current popular culture I think is George RR Martin's Game of Thrones. When you read chapters from a certain character's perspective you can hate them with a fiery passion, but love the chapter and the story. Hating a character still counts as caring about that character, so likability is definitely not the "be-all end-all" of MC development.

    I think what makes a character fail for me is if they are not well-rounded. A hero should still have flaws, a villain should still have some good points (or at the very least some level of logical reasoning or personal history that explains his/her actions). There should be complexity and true humanity to every main character and your more prominent supporting cast as well. If I'm reading a story and I feel like the main character or sidekick or whoever just sprang into being for the sole purpose of filling the hole that needed to be filled in the story, but they have no depth then the character fails, in my eyes.
     
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  6. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    The lack of bravery in scary situations.
     
  7. Eliza Rain
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    Eliza Rain Member

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    Cliches. Oh dear goddess all the cliches that are recycled down to the character's molecular structure. If there is no change to a tired formula I am not invested in any hero. I don't care about the world, as fascinating as it may be, if I have to get dragged along through it with Unwilling Hero model 9 sub category: Chosen One.
     
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  8. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    A character will usually evoke a reaction from a reader, but it may not be the reaction the writer had expected. Characters can be boring, whiney, arrogant, exuberant, evil, stale, stereotypical, flighty, angry, or motionless. It's the reader who identifies, or doesn't identify, with the character, just like in real life.
     
  9. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Lack of real development or consistent development can definitely hurt a character. At least for me. Especially if it's an MC.
     
  10. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    One of my pet peeves (which I normally find in peer reading, not in actual published novels, though some may have some published examples) is when characters tend to repeat mistakes. They seem to lack the ability to learn, the first time, not to do something. So, a fiction/fantastical example:

    Steve has the ability to shoot lasers from his butt. But, shooting those butt-lasers results in a huge drain on his energy. And so the mistakes...

    Steve is in a fight, and, early on in the match, shoots a butt-laser at his opponent. Though the opponent is injured, they are able to continue fighting. However, Steve is now drained because of his use of the butt-laser. He either loses, or has to be saved by someone else.

    At various points throughout the rest of the story, for whatever reason, the author decides that it's somehow practical for Steve to continue to use his butt-lasers at the beginning of fights, thus draining him and leaving him defenseless and in need of aid.

    Small children make the connection, when touching a stove that's turned on, that it gets hot, and that they shouldn't touch it, anymore. Yet, somehow, characters in certain peoples' stories tend not to learn from their mistakes. A character always runs off to fight the bad guys on his/her own, and always needs to be saved, but they continue to attempt to do everything on their own, despite having no real reason to believe that they are somehow more capable, now, than they were when they first went out to fight on their own.

    Villains in children's series can get away with it, for the sake of comedy. Characters in well-developed novels cannot.
     
  11. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    All of Janet Evanovich's scenes follow the same formula. Plum wants to do some risky thing. Everyone tells her that she should not do the risky thing. She does the risky thing. The situation goes pear shaped. Plum has to call one of the people who told her not to do the thing, in order to rescue her.

    You'd be amazed how quickly that gets old, and yet Evanovich has sold millions of copies.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    For me, what makes a character fail is when they're not able to stand on their own two feet and do things themselves. They whine, sit around and mope, and wait to be rescued when they are in danger. They don't learn from prior mistakes, they don't grow. They're...just as they were at the very start of the book. I look at this character and ask, "What was the point of this?"
     
  13. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    As a frequent comic book reader/anime watcher this does get on my nerves on different levels . First, it seems like the author doesn't respect the character enough to make them learn for the sake of a plot. Second, it seems like a shortcut in writing to recreate the same scenario rather than push a bit of creativity. Characters like Taskmaster, someone who's a very good fighter but often loses because of his own arrogance, are a perfect example.
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    For one, characters who lack psychological plausibility. Meaning, I don't understand their motivations. They make a decision or act in a certain way, but I become doubtful whether they'd actually do this or whether the author is just using her characters as pawns to create drama and conflict. One example that comes to mind is the drama between Mercy Thompson, Sam, and Adam in Patricia Briggs' Mercedes Thompson novels. For the life of me, I don't understand how Sam and Adam willingly stand the bullshit territorial drama because both of their motivations are unclear. I don't think either of them are very good characters to begin with as I get a distinct feeling they exist solely to develop Mercy.

    Outside of books, one character that I personally consider a failure because she's so inconsistent is Temperance Brennan from Bones. I don't know if she's just as idiosyncratic in the books as she's in the TV show, but her behavior just never ceases to bug me. I don't understand how an amazing, successful, skilled writer that she is in the show, can be so godawful with metaphors, turns of phrase, figures of speech etc. These are basic literary devices yet she's constantly lost when Boothe or someone else uses them. She's worse than Kelly Bundy. My conclusion: writers just threw it there for comedic effect. I'm not a huge fan of this kind of writing. I guess I just like the facsimile of realism where the character, while always a marionette of the author, appears to have a free will of his/her own and doesn't seem to jump through hoops because the author says so. They jump because the author has given them a plausible motivation to do so -- if that makes sense.
     
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  15. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    @KaTrian You'd be great at CinemaSins. :agreed:

    "Because... plot!"
     
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