1. KatieK
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    KatieK New Member

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    What makes your characters real?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by KatieK, Oct 9, 2014.

    At what point do they stop being cardboard cutouts, designed to service the plot, and start feeling like actual human beings? What do you have to do to create a real person, someone who matters?

    I have a character who I've half brought to life, and I'm struggling to finish the job. Any advice would be much appreciated :) .

    Thank you!
     
  2. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    To me, my characters are real when:

    They wake me up in the middle of the night screaming five words at me that turn into 5 thousand when I start typing.
    It hurts me to make them suffer.
    They never want to talk when I'm listening, always when I'm busy doing other things ...

    Well, that makes me sound like an absolute nutter but that's how my characters are to me, like real people.

    x
     
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  3. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    ditto
     
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  4. KatieK
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    KatieK New Member

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    That's what I'm trying for. How do you do it?
     
  5. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    If I knew that, I would bottle it and sell it!

    I honestly don't know how it happens and when it first started, I thought I was going a little crazy.

    Now there are times when I will ask for their opinions. They don't always answer straight away, but they do answer.

    I guess, have an open mind. Ask yourself (or your character) a question and then forget about it for a few days. Eventually, the answer will come and if you're lucky, it will be the character that tells you the answer.

    As an example, last weekend, I was sat at the laptop, fingers poised but nothing. Not a letter never mind a word.

    So I got a bit hacked off and said "right, that's it, if you're not talking to me, I'm off to make cake!"

    I'd been in the kitchen twenty minutes when one of my characters decided he wanted to make cake too.

    Couple of hours later, I had a fab scene where he did indeed, make cake for someone.
     
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  6. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    For me, it's rather weird.
    I consider my characters real in a sense.
    I know the difference but I think of them a lot and think of what they did and how they got where they are.
    Kinda like how you would spend hours thinking about a single character from G.R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones.
    You just have so much info about them, like you actually know them.
     
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  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I have no Velveteen Rabbit. I'm content if my characters serve the needs of the story and evoke a response in the readers that doesn't clash with the mood of the story.
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I've always felt that the best characters are the ones who are imperfect, who make mistakes - do something that makes me (and, I hope, the reader) say, "What the hell did you do that for?"
     
  9. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Whatever I want them to be.
     
  10. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    My characters make mistakes; I make certain of it. It makes them more human. I don't make them idiots, but there are decisions they make that seem like a good idea at the time but it later bites them in the ass. How they react to these failures additionally makes them more human. My 'heroes' generally mentally beat themselves up a bit, but always with a heavy dose of sarcasm and self-deprecation.

    How successful I am in creating characters can be gauged by how I feel at the conclusion of the story. One pair fall in love through the story and wind up living 'happily ever after'. I liked them, but when the story concluded so did my desire to spend any more time with them. My other MC is a tough little spitfire of a girl who is saddled with a shed load of personal demons. When I finished the first book with her I wound up crafting an ending that allowed her to come back in a sequel. I liked/like her so much I didn't want to be done with her. I'm now mulling around plot ideas and twists in my head, and while fun it actually makes me feel slightly bad that I'm working so hard to come up with hurdles for her to get over. Poor lass. I think she and I will work together through a few more books before we part company. That is what makes a good character in my admittedly limited experience.
     
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  11. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't feel that I write stories nor create characters. I report on the lives of the people. Like cutecat22, my characters are as real to me as any 3D person I encounter in the rest of my life. I talk to them, I listen to them, I know intimate details about their lives that will never go on a page but are integral to the way they live and the way they respond to experiences 'between the covers' of my 'report'.

    From a more technical perspective, I put myself in their situations. I feel the visceral responses to stimuli, like being shot at or just getting stranded in a ditch in a strange place, a flooded out car torrid storms and a tornado watch. I have felt emotions and I take that and extrapolate from that how my character feels with those same emotions. I can dampen the emotion or amplify as needed but what I have felt, they, too, feel. Betrayal, hurt, anger, fear, love, protectiveness, happiness, joy. Any human emotion that is in me, is in them. Differently because their life experiences are, to a certain extent, different. But, to me, they are all 98.6, 3D, real live human beings. I treat them as such and respect their individuality.

    Then I listen to them tell their stories and I write them down. Not a writer, a reporter.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2014
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  12. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    Making them real doesn't have to be a go-down-to-the-holy-river-and-splash-water-over-your-manuscript-whilst-warbling thing, neither does it have to be paticularily intensive- meticulously tearing them apart like some deranged scienist.

    First off, go people watching. Trust me- it's so helpful. If you don't fancy the idea of staring at someone over your cup of tea at your local tea room, then concentrate when you're talking to your friends, start little writing excercises based off of people you know- pretend they're suddenly a character. People have mannerisms, they have little quirks that are unique to them. Joe always manages to put his foot in his mouth. Sarah tends to fiddle with her hair. Peter doesn't contribute much to conversations.

    I'm not saying to make your characters a twitchy mess of jumbled reactions and quirks, just add little human faults, things to them- I'm sure that'll help.:)

    Oh, and one more thing. Perhaps try and put them in ordinary situations every now and then. When you're doing something ordinary, like washing up or walking your dog (if you have one. If you don't and stil walk one then there's something wrong). Imagine how they'd do it, how they'd respond.

    At least, that's what I do when I'm doing soemthing and my thoughts wander. When your reader gets immersed in your story, they won't just be characters anymore. They'll be real people.

    I hoped that helped at least a smidgen. :)
     
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  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me, the characters are real when I think of a situation, and can imagine quite easily what my character would do. What they would say, how they'd react and how they'd feel about it. Also, what effect on their life a said situation would have. And also, when I can see them in my mind's eye as actual people, in different outfits and when I can see them move through their environment. When I can 'hear' their voices as they speak.
     
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  14. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    The moment I create them.

    What? Like there is a definitive list of characteristics that a character must have to seem real? There are all sorts of people out there. What is real only goes as far as what we can experience.
     
  15. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    No, there's no definitive list. Each writer is different.
     
  16. Blig
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    Blig New Member

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    When I know them, their family, their background, their core beliefs. When I know what they'd likely be doing if I were to walk into their home unexpectedly. When I can ask them for their opinions on any subject and they have an answer.

    When I learn from them.
     
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  17. Aurelius Arram
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    Aurelius Arram New Member

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    I love bringing characters to life when I write, and I much enjoy dialogue. In real life we judge people (sometimes too hastily) by what they say. I use that in writing.

    In response to the OP, hopefully they become human beings as soon as they speak, but not necessarily nice or interesting human beings! What is it about their voice or choice of words that defines them? Can they say witty things, use sarcasm, show naivety, or viciousness, spitefulness, thoughtless or just stupid. It's a good way to lay down a quick impression of the character which may change later in the story as we get to know them. i.e the short-tempered person softens.
     
  18. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Watch a person's face as they talk; it tells a story in and of itself. More than 90% of communication is non-verbal, so I look to details like facial expression, mannerisms, and unconscious movement. My characters are flawed, stubbornly and exasperatingly, flawed. They bungle things up, their dialogue is also not Hollywood smooth. They use cant terms and occasional bad grammar.

    They poke and they prod, they annoy and quip. They are prey to their emotions. They can be rash, rushing headlong into an impossible situation and still, as well as I think I know them, they can still surprise me. I let them lead, whether with logic or emotion.

    And characters, no matter what their species or origin, have one thing in common. At heart they are all essentially human voicing the emotions, dreams, and ideas of their creators, who insofaras I know, are all terrestrial denizens of earth. Your thoughts are theirs as theirs are yours. Look though their eyes, delve into their senses. Take them out of their comfort zone, put them in a situation such as an RPG. How do they respond? How do you respond?
     
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  19. Einzelgänger
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    Einzelgänger New Member

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    I should start by admitting that I have yet to actually successfully write a story (I'm not counting stories that were forced to be written in school for grades)... That being said, I've had the idea for a story floating around in my head for probably around a decade now (with a few years of 'silence' existing right before it resurfaced roughly 6 months ago). There are still a lot of plot points I'm trying to work out, and some key characterization blanks to fill in, but there are at least 3 characters that I perceive as alive in my mind, similar to how cutecat22 and thewordsmith have shared. I can't say that I understand *everything* about them quite yet (may need to spend more time 'communing' with them, as it were), but I do feel like they actually exist *somewhere*, and choose to 'speak' with me on a limited basis. It all must sound a bit crazy to most, I'm sure, but I just find it really neat to see others talk about having similar bonds to their characters as well. I hope that this indicates that I am not at too bad of a start. :)
     
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  20. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Flesh.

    Call me an ass, but character's aren't real. That's kind of the point. I know what people mean, but they never will be real--authentic and believable perhaps. They are constructs, designed to incite emotion (joy, fear, hate, sympathy, sadness, laughter, and so on). Forget about them being real. All that matters is: do they work? But what makes them work? Well, what do you need them to do? What emotion will they incite?
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2014
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  21. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only problem I have with your comment, Selbbin, is this.

    Yes. We all know our characters are not real. Helz, we birthed them in our brains. We know they are not real! But we do want them to feel that way to our readers. We want someone who sits down to read our work to be able to believe that, somewhere, in some world, the people they are reading about really are real.

    If you can't do that, make them feel as 98.6 flesh and blood as you can, then they don't work. And nothing you do can make them work. They will incite no emotion in the reader because the reader will have no vested interest in what happens to your paper doll cutouts.
     
  22. Delise
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    Delise Member

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    I think the characters come alive when they start calling the shots instead of you. You want the story to go one way but in reality it goes a different way because of the personality of the character. I've had characters commit suicide while I was begging for them to find another way to live. I've had murderers who were sentenced to die turn around and become the main character of the story and some how people can feel empathy for that character. I think for me when I stop worrying about the story and just let it out, the character forms a voice. Somewhere in another time in a different dimension, perhaps they are there, they are alive.
     
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  23. themadhatterman
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    themadhatterman Member

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    I agree. Characters are supposed to have believable and "real" reactions to their situations, but I prefer a character that can do things id never have the balls to do in real life. That's what makes them interesting to me.
     
  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think the key to making characters 'come alive' is to get us as far into their heads as possible. How they look, behave, what their backgrounds are just aren't as important as making the reader understand the way they feel and how their minds work. This can be done via a POV character most easily. Make sure the reader actually sees events and other people through this character's eyes.

    By that I mean the POV character should make it clear how they feel about what is happening around them and how they think their way through a situation. If they notice something odd ...what does it make them WANT to do? That's more important, really, than telling us what they actually do. WHY do they do it? Give us their thought processes.

    Secondary characters can come alive through this process, too. What the POV character thinks or feels about these people can either be reinforced or contradicted by the secondary character's behaviour. For example, our POV girl is besotted with a guy and he says all the right things to her—but he doesn't look her in the eye when he says them. We, the readers might have opinions about him that the POV girl might not share. She might think he's shy, because it reinforces her attraction to him. However, we might think he's being evasive, depending upon what else we discover about him.

    The key is always inner workings. We will identify with a POV character who shares them freely with us, the readers. And we will guess at the inner workings of the other characters, based and what the POV character thinks and feels about them.
     
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  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think they stop being cut outs when an author realize that characters need to be shaped from the story and also shape the story. Too often there's a kinda distance between the two. 2-D characters seem disengaged from their environment their existence is to live and breathe the plot. They're reduced to stand out traits - Charlie Bucket i.e. hunger to distract us from the fact that they're not really a rounded character ( with hopes, desires, needs, fears, a past that doesn't really have anything to do with the plot except for us to better understand the character and his motivation ) that could exist outside this plot. Not that these characters can't be successful but they are what they are.
     
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