Do you feel a responsibility to your characters?

Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Louanne Learning, Sep 21, 2022.

  1. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Active Member

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    "Be a sadist" seems connected to what I wrote a few posts up about putting your character into high-stakes moral decisions in order to show them at their third dimension

     
  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    The game of chess in complex, but the pieces are simple.
     
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  3. ps102

    ps102 Active Member

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    This isn't to doubt your writing ability in any way but I don't think that this is entirely accurate. I get the analogy you are making, as in, characters are merely assets/components of the whole story in the sense that you built them and move them around to get the story going. But I don't quite understand what you mean by 'pieces are simple'. Characters are definitely not simple assets the same way chess pieces are. Writing good and compelling characters is not easy at all, as many (even professional) writers fail to do that sometimes.

    A chess piece is pre-set and pre-made, it isn't special. But on the other hand, characters can vary greatly.

    As I have tried to explain in other posts, that depends on what kind of writer and what kind of work you are doing. In the first place, this statement isn't even true. Who remembers Winnie the Pooh? I remember it by the Disney films, and guess what? The author based his story on Christopher Robin, which is his son, as well as his stuffed animals. So the character came before the story.

    That didn't come without consequences though, and the real Christopher Robin had serious trouble in his adult life because of the books his Father published. For it to have come to that point, his Father obviously wasn't very responsible (trying to deny his son's trouble). He just created a fantasy land and moved the chess pieces around without regards for his son. I mean, I'm sure the first time he wrote stories, he had pure intentions, but then the fame probably got into his head (read the article for more details).

    So, again, moral obligations on a character hugely depend on what you are working on in the first place. @Xoic has said time after time that he sometimes bases his character from real people, and well, that's gonna create different mindsets for him as opposed to people who work them from the ground up just for the sake of them being part of a bigger thing, like pieces in chess. And since they made up with that attitude, there isn't a sense of "responsibility".

    Think of it as a piece of wood. It can be used for a specific purpose, like becoming a door. But it can also be carved into a wooden toy that a child will cherish for the rest of their life. Something can be crafted to mean something else, with different mindsets before-hand.

    Different writers, different methods. different ways to see things. Probably why opinion here is so divided. One thing is for sure, there isn't a wrong way to see characters or their crafting process.
     
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  4. hmnut

    hmnut Member

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    I think the Chess analogy falls apart because as writers we are not players, WE ARE THE GAME!

    Maybe Chess IS the perfect analogy, actually it is more of a "Game Development" analogy than strictly chess analogy.

    Again WE are not the players moving the pieces... the PLOT is the player, the CHARACTERS are the pieces, the BOARD is setting, and the WRITER is responsible for all of it.


    Do I personally feel a responsibility to the characters... not particularly, I feel a responsibility to the story. I can have an idea for a character that I love so I don't want to put them in a bad story, but the same can be true of plot or setting.

    Just from the writing philosophy that I believe developing your characters is a bigger priority than the other aspects of your story (not that you should be lazy with setting and plot but not as important as character IMO). Still my bigger philosophy is characters serve the story, not the other way around
     
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  5. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Active Member

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    I think in this thread we have been comparing apples and oranges. There are plot-driven stories and there are character-driven stories.

    Plot-driven stories focus on external conflict. Character-driven stories focus on internal conflict. Whatever is the focus of the writer, that's where their responsibility lies.
     
  6. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    I would contend that, in addition to those two, there are theme-driven stories. Because of that I conceptualize the “drive types” as a three circle Venn diagram.
     
  7. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    My stories are plot driven until the characters take over. I worry about some choices they make, because if they get too out of control, I will kill them. When my characters are approaching an event or struggle, I have an idea of what the outcome would be and start writing that scenario in the narrative, But when the conflict hits and the dialog takes over my characters take over and come to a better conclusion than I had envisioned.
     
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  8. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Active Member

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    Thanks. I found an article about the three types of stories. It references screenplays, but can be applied to all stories.

    Character, Plot and Theme: The Components That Drive Your Screenplay Story
     
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  9. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Interesting. Character arc is very important in most of mine, but so is theme. I didn't realize there's a conflict between them, but then my theme is generally closely tied to the character arcs. And I generally let theme emerge from what the characters do—I discover it as I'm writing. But the character arcs are already firmly in mind at that point.

    Yeah, looking back I can see where in my writing character started being more impotant than plot. It's when my stories started improving and I couldn't pin down why. My friend said the new stories I wrote were 'about nothing', or that 'nothing happened', and yet he also said they were better than before.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2022
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  10. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    In fact when I try to plot a story, as soon as it comes to the actual writing the characters usually step forward and take over. I either need to keep going back and adjusting the plot or just scrap it and be a discovery writer.

    And yet I find I need to start with plotting, just to get a sense of the general shape and direction of the story and work out some things in advance.

    Lol, I just realized, it's like what I heard about Robert Downey Jr. on the first Iron Man—he'd look at the script, say "I'm not repeating this garbage!", crumple it up and throw it at the wall, and start improvising. That's pretty much what my characters do with my plots.
     
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  11. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Comparativist Contributor

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    You know Stranger than Fiction was a really good movie. Will Farrell was excellent in that one.

    I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately, as I wrapped up my WIP. My gut reaction is to say yes, I do feel a sort of responsibility--I guess to the characters, but maybe that's only because they're the easiest to relate to? Being fellow humans, instead of a setting or plot or something else abstract. Maybe it's just because I put two years of my life into making it, and it has to mean something and therefore they have to mean something but if they don't it's my fault. That is kind of a responsibility, isn't it?
     
  12. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Active Member

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    I think it's mostly about what the writer focuses on, what drives the story. Whatever drives the story doesn't make the other two elements less important.

    Even if your story is plot-driven, you still need complex, compelling characters. If theme is what drives your story, you still need complex, compelling characters. And there has to be an interesting plot.

    Me too.
     
  13. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Active Member

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    Yeah, it doesn't matter what kind of story I am writing, I feel that responsibility to the characters, to get their story right, to express their experience truthfully.
     
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  14. M J Tennant

    M J Tennant Banned

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    I totally feel a loyalty to my characters. You spend such a large part of your life committed to fleshing them out that it becomes personal. I also try to write what I know and therefore there is always part of myself in all of my characters. How can I not want to protect them? Even the bad guys. M J x
     
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  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I'm in the 'no, characters don't actually exist' camp... i feel a responsibility to my readers to write good characters but that's a different thing
     
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  16. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "Chronic City" by Jonathan Lethem
    My characters are me. They're different aspects of myself or they're modeled after people I've noticed, but again, that's filtered through me. They don't exist outside of me.

    I always say to be true to your story. Tell it with maximum impact and don't let others poison it with outside concerns. I think you have a responsibility to get that right. Call it authorial authenticity. Seems almost redundant . . . must be the same root word. The Creator must be an honest creator, I suppose, or the whole world is a lie.

    What you're writing serves one purpose, and that's Story. Since the story is characters/setting/plot, you could say that you owe all of those a sincere telling. But once again, those are filtered through your own perceptions, so the bigger point is to be true to yourself.
     
  17. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I've realized my plots do the same as my characters. If I were to use the same language (that so many people seem to dislike), I'd say it's a living thing that grows on its own after I plant the seeds. But of course that's metaphorical, just like when I say characters take on a life of their own. In a way it isn't—it depends on what you think characters and stories are I suppose. They're a complex group of thoughts, and when they take on their own life it just means they become more complex and more well developed.

    What really happens is that I thought I was done developing it, but after some time I developed it more. Suddenly and unexpectedly. New ideas just appear and they're better than the old ones. It doesn't feel like I'm the one doing it, because it's intuitive. This is why it makes more sense to say it grows or evolves, just as the characters do if you allow them to. It's happening partly in the unconscious, but for that to happen you need to be willing to pay attention to the subtle hints—the quiet voice inside. That's another metaphor of course—there isn't really a voice inside, but that's the best way to describe it and I think writers get it because we work largely in metaphor.

    But then I'm a discovery writer, and this is the value of discovery writing. You start before you have a totally laid-out plan or locked-in characters and let things develop as you write. It means you have to stop at times and re-write parts, but these are growing pains. It's worth it if the story and the characters are improving.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2022
  18. ps102

    ps102 Active Member

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    That's why it's a good idea to leave drafts alone for a while, some part of your brain processes various thoughts and ideas when you spend some time away and makes links, then the next time you look at it (or even suddenly as you're doing the dishes or something), you see all these new ways you can improve it.

    Your brain is complicated, it needs time to form these links between your old observations and your new ones. I think the Hippocampus is involved here. It takes a while to process, organize, and consolidate memories in such a way that its easier to look through them — and all of that happens in the background without your input.

    That's probably why the seeds you describe sprout and take a life of their own. They are links of ideas, growing more complex with each observation or thought you make.

    And the brain likes linking things together. Why do you think we make similies all the time?
     
  19. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Active Member

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    Einstein called this "the essential feature in productive thought." Termed combinatory theory, it essentially says that every new idea is created by connecting two unrelated ideas or thoughts together in a new way.
     
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  20. ps102

    ps102 Active Member

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    Ah, thanks for that, I was looking for something to support what I said, but I couldn't quite find it.
     
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  21. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Active Member

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  22. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Bingo!!

    I made several attempts at my story, with months in between each. I think it sat for over a year before I dusted it off this time and went back to work, and that's when I found characters and the idea itself had grown. It's a Cobbler and the Elves thing. I'm convinced that's exactly what that folk tale is about—'sleeping on it', but only after putting in some serious work. The elves are the unconscious, finishing the work you began. The cobbler had to do the planning, cut the leather, and lay the pieces out, and then the elves came in and finished what he left undone.

    Not only Einstein, but many of the great inventors and creators of history used this method. And often the answer they were seeking came in the form of a dream.

    The story that sticks with me is about the guy who invented the sewing machine. He had been puzzling over how to run the thread through the needle and not coming up with anything. I don't know for how long. But the important thing is he was actively working to solve the problem, then he gave up on it and did something else for a while. In his case he slept. He woke from a dream very excited and knew the dream held the answer. He had dreamed he was surrounded by cannibals armed with spears, and they were holding them with the points aimed at him. Which meant he could see the ends very clearly. Each one had a hole through it near the tip. And he understood as he woke this is where the hole needs to go in the sewing needle.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2022
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  23. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I can't find the Nova program What Are Dreams? online anywhere, it used to be on YouTube. There's only a 30 second trailer on the Nova website now. But there is a transcript under it you can read. Here's the relevant part:

    What it really is is a collaboration between the conscious and unconscious mind. It doesn't have to be a dream, you can just stop working on the problem and do something else for a while that distracts your attention—a video game or crossword puzzle or something. And often when you return to work on the problem, or maybe the next morning, there's an answer waiting for you.

    Here's the whole thing if anybody's interested. Scroll down and click on the Transcript link.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2022
  24. Jlivy3

    Jlivy3 Member

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    Isaac Asimov called it the Eureka Phenomenon.
     
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  25. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Active Member

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    I was really stuck on the ending to chapter one. Trying to capture Lizard's headspace. Shut it down and went out and played Scrabble on the patio with my brother, who came over. (BTW I won despite having several turns with just vowels).

    Not even thinking about it, while we're out there, several insights came to me about how Lizard must be feeling given her situation. They just pop in my head. Beyond my ken.
     
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