1. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    When an author's characters mostly have the same traumatic past...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Shandeh, Aug 23, 2015.

    Something that I've just noticed about my writing is that MANY of my characters have suffered abuse at the hands of their fathers (or important father figures). Mostly it's my male characters.

    I have thousands of characters across all my worlds, many of whom have been forgotten, lost in the fog of stories started but later abandoned.

    Now, I am NOT a published author, and I don't like giving all my characters the same past, but no matter how hard I try, nearly all of them have daddy issues.

    One simply doesn't get along with his father. Nothing has happened between them, but they're cold and distant.

    Another was abandoned by his father, and abused by his mother.

    Another three were abused by their fathers.

    NONE of them have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their fathers but a lot have been beaten and I don't think I have a single character, male or female, who has a good relationship with his/her father.

    Now, what I'm curious about is this: what does this tell you about me?
     
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  2. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    My first gut reaction is that you may not have had a good relationship with your own father. No offense intended, it's common and natural for writers to incorporate what happened to them in childhood into their stories.
     
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  3. Christine Ralston
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    Christine Ralston Active Member

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    We tend to write what we know and if all you've known is a bad relationship with your father or another father figure, then that's probably the easiest background story for you to write your characters into.
     
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  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Exactly, and there's nothing wrong with that. Stephen King used to write about alcoholics and Alcoholics Anonymous, so clearly people have focused on the same common theme before in their books.
     
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  5. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Assuming that you yourself have no major problems with your father, I'd say you envision interesting or heroic men as being self made and not dependent on them for help along the way. Or to make them original thinkers, either their dad pushed them too hard and they now resent it -- conversely, they had to learn life on their own and same result -- so as to provide reasoning for their traits and qualities.
     
  6. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Interestingly, those of you saying I'm probably writing what I know are dead on.

    My parents divorced when I was 3 and though I had a good relationship with my dad until I was about 10 or 11 he's been largely absent (except for birthdays and christmas) for the better part of the past decade.
     
  7. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A lot of others take on the same theme in all of the stories. Ann Rice did a lot of vampire stories, Spike Lee made a lot of movies about racism against African-Americans, Tom Clancy is always doing espionage and global terrorism, etc.

    If you give your characters the same past to represent the same theme, just be sure to have the theme be taking on differently by each character, or each character will be too much the same.
     
  8. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    I find it very interesting to explore how the same events have different impacts on different people. To steal a quote, the same boiling water which softens the potato hardens the egg. Some of my characters are strengthened by their fathers' treatment of them (indifference or abuse), others weakened. Some fear becoming like their fathers, others are determined not to, and others still simply don't care if they become just like the men who abused them.
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A stab in the dark: you have daddy issues (conscious or sub-conscious)?

    By the time me and my writing partner were writing our fourth manuscript, I realized all my female MCs had daddy issues, which was pretty much just me projecting. (My personal back story is pretty much the same as yours).
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    My personal backstory is that I'm half-blind and had blind friends growing up. Ergo, blind people often popped up in my stories. :D Some were the main characters themselves, or they were major/supporting characters. It actually got to the point where it felt like there were way too many, so I had to analyze my stories to see what would make sense for the plot and the characters.

    Basically, no, no it's not at all odd. Plenty of authors make it their thing to write about a common theme. Some write about former alcoholics, others write about racism, it just happens. My advice is basically to do what Ryan Elder suggested. Play with the theme in different ways so your characters don't feel like the same person in a different set of circumstances.
     
  11. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    It sounds like you may have had issues with your own Father.

    It makes sense to write about what you know. Almost all of my characters have lost one or both of their parents because I know how to portray how that person feels.
     
  12. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    What I think I'm doing is taking my own experience (absent father) and amplifying it. Making these characters' fathers worse than my own, and seeing how they react. They're a diverse bunch. There's Eli, who resents his father for disappearing as soon as his mother found out she was pregnant (and resents his mother even more for the way she treated him) and has ongoing issues because of it. There's Andy, who's on polite but distant terms with his father, because they get along better that way - the arguments were hurting Andy's mother so he and his father Eric each took a step back from one another and accepted they are two people who butt heads. There's Montague de la Croix who is absolutely terrified he's going to end up like his father (who abused him, his twin sister, and his mother so badly that when he was 12 he ran away, taking his sister with him), who isn't to be mistaken for Monty Hale who doesn't have daddy issues. There's Brennen, who hasn't told me the extent of his issues yet, just that his father abused him. And there's Miles, who was brutally tortured by his father throughout his entire (very long) youth - Miles isn't human and his people reach full physical maturity at around the age of 50. Miles went on to become far more than his father ever thought he would, but is still scared absolutely witless of his father.

    And I guess a similar-ish situation is Raven (a female character), who was orphaned young and thrown into military training. She's a Halo fan-character and has the most horrific past out of all my characters. I won't go into it here because it might be triggering for some people and I don't really use her for much anymore, but it's contributed to her being absolutely batshit crazy.
     
  13. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    You have some interesting characters there! I like the way you talk about your characters.
     
  14. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I remember having a problem kind of like this.

    First what does it say about you? Not much. I mean there is way to many valid ways to take it. My personal guess?

    You find some aspect of the story interesting, so much so you keep wanting to tell that story.

    I love the aspect of the villain turning good and sacraficing himself as redemption. So when I find a moment I can write that? I take! Mew ha ha!

    In my case I got nervous that I was being repeative too but my general sense. A lot of my characters had tragic pasts. Even if they were in different ways. The thing I realized and I think this is important. It isn't about what they share but what they don't.

    I mean sites like TVTropes exist because when it comes down to it all stories have something in common. We don't hate or gather our pitch forks for that. We instead rate the differences. A perfect guess I have here. Is even if all off them were beaten by there father. I assume they don't all react the same? Different characters react differently in different situations and that my friend is the key. Or so I think. ;)
     
  15. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    They're real to me. I mean, they only exist inside my head, but they are 100% real. They are their own people. I don't consider them products of my mind. In fact I consider myself a product of the multiple people who live in my head.

    They talk to me. They tell me about themselves, and they give me the words I use to write. So I don't have a particular author's voice. I write using the character's voice.

    I swear I'm sane! (mostly)
     
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  16. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am the same way (mostly).

    I can see the difficulty of explaining it. I have that too.

    I mean. I know I created them and that they live in my head but I try and take the outlook of something like. "I am more recording them than creating them. I analysis them and try and understand them. Because I want them to be deep and compelling. I seek the day someone walks up to me and says 'I feel I understand your character better than you because of X' because I want to listen and see if they are right. Because if they are than I learned more about my characters than I could on my own."

    Does that make sense?
     
  17. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    I've joked with my friends that the main difference between me and a person who belongs in an insane asylum is that I write down what the voices tell me. But I do consider myself sane. I know they only live in my head, that they don't stand behind me and tell me what to write and how to write it (they do that from within).

    The thing that sucks about my characters is that they love to argue about things that have happened or that should happen in my stories when I'm trying to bloody sleep - so I end up having to get up and write before I can. It's now 6am, I've been awake all night, and will be awake for several hours yet, but I've been tired for ages. Coffee is my staple beverage for a reason...
     
  18. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Only 6AM? lol I usually am up til 7 or 8Am for a similar reason! :D Except I never have had coffee. I hear it tastes awful. lol
     
  19. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    I know exactly what you mean. I really want to see someone else's image of my characters based on how I write them. I write very little description because I write in first person a lot and it's hard to describe a character without it feeling like an infodump, or the character seeming narcissistic. I can describe other characters from my POV character's perspective, so in stories where I'll switch POV (like my current project), I can describe my main characters from the other POV characters' points of view, but I don't like dwelling on description.

    So this is a quick and dirty description, from Brennen's perspective, of Hale:

    I felt small before my friend; his shoulders had grown broader and more muscular since last I had seen him, and I now had to look up to meet his gaze. I had expected his years on the battlefield to change him, but not this much. And the changes went beyond the physical. His smile was gone, and his eyes were dull and lifeless, no longer the bright emerald I remembered. Though we were both just twenty-seven, his hair was no longer uniformly dark, but instead, peppered with grey.

    Gods, and I thought I had changed. This man before me was a stranger.
    That's the most description Hale's going to get, if I describe him at all - and Brennen hasn't seen him in 7 years (though Hale's been an active duty soldier for a little over 10, killing his first enemy soldier at just 16; there's a reason Bren and Hale weren't separated until 3 years into the war). There's a major character who has only been described with a line in which her chestnut hair falls across her face. Hale will describe her in a decent amount of detail throughout the story mainly because she's his love interest (among other, more important roles) and therefore he'll notice more about her than he will about other people.

    I don't like this bit of description; there's too much tell and not enough show. If I use it, it'll be heavily reworked.
     
  20. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    And 7 or 8am is an early "night" for me - these past few days I've been getting to bed at around 1pm.
     
  21. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    lol. The only real impression from that is they hadn't seen each other in a while, assuming due to war.

    The only issue I have with that is the fact he is saying things for me that I don't feel he would say or think. Such as the age. I never walked up to a friend, even one I hadn't seen in years and looked at them thinking. "We are both 27, just incase a telepath is listening, figured you would like to know. lol"

    Though it is a tricky issue in a book. On the note of physical description I would prefer to use occasional pictures over a lengthy dump on look. Unless look is plot related, in which you usually don't need more than a piece. A full picture should in my opinion be gathered over a longer period of time. Like in this one piece I say something like;

    Mark had combed his short black hair differently today. He was trying to hide what seemed like a fresh black eye.
     
  22. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Well what do you think that says about you? The question you need to ask yourself is :What is my relation with my father? Is it good, or is it bad? Maybe you feel that males tend to be harsh on their offspring as a result of how they, themselves were raised. IDK, not a psych major. Maybe try looking for other situations that would mess up your characters lives, cause it sounds like you are stuck on a fairly strict narrative that it was their fathers fault.

    I have a sketchy relation with my father, but I have done my best to keep it where it belongs in the past. Spent some time in counseling as a result to find out that holding on to all that anger and pain was actually very unhealthy for both mind and body. As a consequence I have created characters that are affected by what they have done and how it has shaped them for better or worse (typically worse).

    What I am trying to get at is there is a treasure trove of ways that you can damage your characters mentally, and still have them function in spite of these obstacles. Just seek out new avenues like, a scorned lover, evil maniac that tortured them, an old grudge, etc... Plenty of other ways to create a dysfunction in your characters with out clinging to a familiar. Just my thoughts, respectfully of course. Hope this helps, even just a smidge. :p
     
  23. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    I totally agree, @GuardianWynn. I hate infodumps, and I hate writing them, and that was really quick and dirty so if I use it or something like it I'll have Brennen tie Hale's traits into the narration more smoothly.

    What I was trying to show is that Hale is tall, reasonably solid, has dark hair and green eyes, and is prematurely grey (and haunted-looking) because of the stress of the war. I don't think I did a great job of showing and it comes across more as telling. And it's not very natural with it, which really bothers me. But it was quick and dirty and written specifically for this thread, because at this point in the story itself, Bren and Hale are still apart, and have interacted through letters for the past 7 years.
     
  24. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Thank you, @Cave Troll. I have a huge range of characters with a huge range of traumas in their pasts but I have noticed that I keep coming back to a shitty childhood. Mistreatment by parents is a common theme (and isn't exactly uncommon in real life either, sadly). Those who have bad childhoods despite having good parents are usually the ones who have no money, or were abducted at a young age (got a few of those because of Halo fanfics).

    I do have a habit of writing relatively young characters, probably because I'm only 21 so it's hard for me to put myself into an older mindset. I like mid-to-late twenties. My oldest character is 60 but is a bit of a wild one and was 15 when I first created him. So I think a part of the reason most of my characters have bad childhoods is because when I create them, they're still quite young. Some are still children so if they're going to have a traumatic past they're going to have bad childhoods.
     
  25. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    On the note of proper context. Do you mind if I show you something to ask your opinion on in a PM?


    Also in this case. I disagree. You want to tell. I mean I suppose we all have our different thoughts on showing and telling and everyone is on the "show don't tell" wagon.

    But the example here is the dead eyes or blank eyes of tragedy right?

    Because currently; this line.

    " His smile was gone, and his eyes were dull and lifeless, no longer the bright emerald I remembered" is showing. Well maybe you used a bit of telling there but it is the telling that I think works.

    I think showing is: When you give clues to a conclusion.
    I think telling is: When you just say the conclusion.

    There is simply no reason to say;
    "The woman was walking down the lane, a bag in hand. Lots of paper in hand. Walking door to door. Her blue outfit with white stripes looked cool and perfect for the weather of a person ready to walk a lot." Hint she is a mail carrier. lol

    It can be a lot more effect to just say she is a mail carrier.
    "As I sat on the porch I saw her go by, the mail lady. It was a hot day, the smile she wore I assumed was from how her outfit seemed built for heat."

    In your case. Saying or telling me his eyes hold a blank stare that is likely from the horrors of war is a fine thing to tell me. Because once it is established you can have the other character react. Which is likely to be more interesting part.
     

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