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  1. isaac223

    isaac223 Active Member

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    General Characterization

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by isaac223, Feb 15, 2017.

    I think I'd consider this my most simple, general, typical and expected thread on this site for a while. People who frequently provide me with the assistance I too commonly request for will likely be relieved.

    I'm having issues with general characterization. I can write out 10+ paragraphs describing the character's personality, quirks, likes and dislikes and sometimes even more to outline my planned, but flexible, development for the character's personality. But following this process, I can't apply it. My characters often give off wooden performances, and when they actually show a modicum of the personality I planned out for them, end up flanderizing my own characters.

    I have issues finding instances to show that characters have *this* quirk or that they like *this* activity or that they're good at *this* or that *this* bothers them or that *this* brings them relief without being too irritatingly blatant about it. I also have issues writing dialogue in distinct manners. When I go to write, each character has the same vocabulary, same ways of saying the same things and only blankly saying what they need to for the plot to progress while remaining consistent to what little character I was able to project from them. What is the best way to get inside the heads of my characters, to solidify my image of them and to properly write their conversations in a realistic manner?
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My way is to understand what I want for a character in a story. I forgo character outlines and lengthy backstory description. I dispense with "quirks" or little tidbits. Things like that will present themselves as the story goes along. Trying to wedge them in never works for me when they are created ahead of the fact.

    I take a more basic approach. I try to understand who the person is in a general way, in the broad strokes, so to speak. This guides me in general directions as regards how they engage what happens.

    For example:

    Brenn: Brenn is shy, reserved, has poor body image. He's also really smart, in a very quiet, observant sort of way. He doesn't open his mouth until he's read the lay of the land. His upbringing has made him this way. He's learned to be careful.

    Tevin: Tevin is the fair-haired child in every respect. He's not guarded with his manner of expression. He doesn't have to be. Life has offered him little reason to garner those skills. People want to bask in his glow, men and woman alike. He's a little dumb because of this. A little oblivious.

    Amila: Amila takes pleasure in activity and thought that most of us would casually consider to be OCD. Again, her environment has made her this way. A perfectly set table with the ends of all the silverware perfectly lined up as she eyeballs from one end of the table down to the other is her idea of a good time.

    Victoria: Victoria has the looks of Tevin, but none of the good fortune. She's as canny as they come, but her circumstances have made it hard for her to use that canniness to get a leg up. In this story, her moment presents itself and is her driving motivation.

    Anything more detailed than that, for me, is an obstacle to the telling of the story. It doesn't allow me to let them have natural conversations, because I would end up manipulating the conversation to express a certain quirk or whatever, and, as you have noted, it's either too on the nose or it's wooden for lack of organic flow.

    Everyone's mileage will vary on this one. This is my way.
     
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  3. Lew

    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with @Wreybies, I think you are over-planning your characters. Mine start with just a few basic outlines, and their personality emerges as the story goes on. I get to know them bit by bit, and so does the reader. I am careful with quirks... my centurion speaks a vulgar low class Latin that I emulate with a cockney-like accent. The fact that he can actually speak quite well when he chooses, surprised me when he did it, and he explained why he chose to speak as he did, though surprisingly well-educated and well-read for his station in life.

    His senior officer plays continually with a little cameo of his wife, because he has actually spent very little time with her, really only enough to get her pregnant twice and not be around for the deliveries. Not been home for a year and a half, and now he is off on a year-long jaunt, which is going to be much longer than that... he doesn't know what he will find when he gets home. But that quirk was introduced on the third or fourth revision, along with his conflict over his wife, because in the first draft he had no conflict, was the same person at the end as when he began, competent, good negotiator, strategist, but flat.

    A barbarian female warrior emerged as a background character on horseback, and took over the next ten chapters, with a complex backstory and a love that changes her life.

    Let your characters breathe and surprise you. If they surprise you, they will surprise your readers. BTW @Wreybies, the E&D lives! Published 3 Feb, if you haven't heard me crowing all over the site
     
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  4. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whatever I do to look at my characters, I always look at myself the same way.

    I have patterns of thought and behavior that other people don't, and looking at how my patterns interact with other people's patterns gives me the best guideline for how my characters' patterns should interact with each others' patterns.

    I also do a lot of trial and error: when analyzing my themes and trying to construct ideas around them ahead of time doesn't work, I just pick something at random and play with it until I can decide whether I like it or not (and if not, how can I turn it into something I do like).

    That's pretty much what I do too: focus on the bare bones of where each character is similar and where each character is different.

    That way, by the time I've fleshed out more of the details of each, I don't need to write extensive notes to keep track of all the details, I can instantly look at the bare bones and remind myself "that first idea turned into the second one, and then the third..."

    My favorite specific systems are D&D alignment and MyersBriggs personalities (though I also add demographics)

    I am a Chaotic Neutral INTP (asexual/aromantic white man), and my protagonists are

    Alec Shorman: Lawful Evil ESFP (heterosexual/heteroromantic white man)

    Charlie Petersen: Neutral Evil ISTJ (black woman whose orientation I have not yet settled on)

    Amy Carmine: Chaotic Evil ESFJ (heterosexual/heteroromantic white woman)

    Jason Carmine: True Neutral INFJ (white man whose orientation I have not yet settled on)

    And that's it ;) These quick notes were all I needed to get started (even though Charlie was originally supposed to be INTP before I decided that she'd be more interesting as an ISTJ instead), and even after coming up with a lot more than just this over the last few months, these quick notes are still enough to instantly remind me of everything else.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017
  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't plan my characters. At all. At least not consciously. It's possible that, for example, Joe is cranky and cynical and a little bit funny because that was what worked best for the first scene that I put Joe in, and so that's what my subconscious created. But after that Joe is Joe, and that's who he is in other scenes, and that original creating scene may go away forever because it turned out not to be all that relevant.

    My PERCEPTION is that my characters appear fully formed, without planning, and that I then discover things about them. I realize that I'm really creating them, but my mind presents it as discovery. And often the discovery leads to other discovery--Emily's feelings about her mother lead me to discover who her mother is. And that leads me to discover who her father is, because who would marry her mother? And so on.

    If your mind absolutely doesn't do that, then my saying this doesn't help at all. But if it does, and you then reach out to mold and change the characters because you feel that they should be "planned", then I'd suggest that you leave them alone and just write scenes for them.

    Pick a scenario--the waitress drops iced tea on them, someone rear-ends them on the highway, they've found something that they badly want to buy but they can't afford, and so on. And write it. And discover who they area.
     
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  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    I tend to base a lot of charecterisation off people I know or combinations thereof , not in a recognisable way necessarily, but for example with one antag in After the Wave Lt Terry "Topsy" Turvey ... fairly early on the MMC describes him as 'an odious little shit weasel' (because hes been coercing the FMC to have sex with him via blackmail)

    Now it happens that I know a guy who Ive regularly described in my head as an odious little shit weasel (after he was spreading a false rumour that our fundraising manager and I were having an affair last year) I best not name him here, but call him 'bob'

    when I'm writing Topsy my mental picture is of Bob - not necessarily in physique, but in character - cowardice, lack of integrity, the way someone else is always to blame for his mistakes, brown nosing etc, so Topsy now also has his sneering stupid smile and 'the face you just want to punch'

    At the end of the book the FMC stabs Topsy in the groin with a fighting knife and leaves him for the wolves and buzzards - that hasn't happened to Bob yet , but if it wasn't illegal....
     
  7. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Something Wicked this Way Comes. Contributor

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    I have an MC that feels at home shooting/stabbing/breaking people, but
    also can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation (typically
    talking about the aforementioned, in a calm collected manner).

    Guess the point is don't over think your characters, otherwise they will
    be all the cliches you were hoping to avoid with them. There is a difference
    between having a fun fleshed out character with flaws and issues, and a
    cookie cutter standard of perceived perfection to make them fit the part.
    The latter gives off the impression of being wooden and marionette like,
    and we can see the strings forcing them along.

    Try to find a happy medium in the middle of things. They should drive the
    story, not the other way around. Try to work it in an organic fashion where
    the characters actions/consequences direct the course of the story, and
    not force their actions/consequences to conform to the plot.

    As for dialogue, well that is tricky (and not one of my strong suits). But
    it should reflect the personality of the characters involved. Give them
    a voice with inflection of mood and tone. Something hard to capture
    in a wall of dialogue, between characters.

    As an example of dialogue of wooden variety, watch the 50 Shades flick. :p
    Nothing they say really reflects situation, because they are very flat and
    monotone. Thus making the movie worse than the book oddly enough.
     
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  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've actually found that overthinking everything makes it easier to find the clich├ęs and figure out how to make them more complicated ;)

    And that my stories tend to end up being 80% character-driven 20% plot-driven despite starting out the other way around :D
     
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  9. isaac223

    isaac223 Active Member

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    I've actually found that when I write, mine tends to be a mix of both worlds. I end up writing with the intention to make the development of the narrative (including the setting and other important parts of the plot) and the development of the characters somewhat intertwined and consistently perpetuate one another. I try to stray from having it favor one or the other. My intent is to find a way to write a fluent character and plot driven narrative. Its just how I'd prefer to write things. It seems unfair for me to detract from one or the other, especially since one of the series I have in mind requires both to be fleshed out well to work the way I want it to.
     
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  10. shellawickley

    shellawickley New Member

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    For me, I'll have a clear idea of what my character is about, and when I write their dialog or mannerisms, they may all come out the same, but when I edit, that's when I change it up.

    For instance, my side character Charley is a petite punk girl with a positive energy that is contagious and bubbly. Her master however is the tall silent type that doesn't say much, but when he does, you listen. when I'm writing them I write out their interaction first in a general way:

    "So I think it's time with go out for sushi with Becca." Gerald leaned against the counter as Charley looked up happily at him.
    "Really? I'm so glad you're giving her a second chance, sweetie." Charley hugged him tight, and he laughed in response.

    Now with some editing it becomes this:

    "We'll do sushi. Go tell Becca." Gerald's gruff voice was soft, almost reluctant, but his grin was unmistakable as he gave a curt nod towards Charley. The petite woman squealed and bounced up and down.
    "Really? Oh honey I'm so happy! I thought you were going to hold that grudge with her forever!" She drawled out that last word as she jumped into his arms while almost knocking him over, but he was able to catch her easily. He grinned and just shook his head as he held her tight.
    "Only for you, sweet cherie."
     
  11. S A Lee

    S A Lee Active Member

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    Generally, I don't so much plan things out as much as my characters develop in my head and react to what happens through the plot.

    At risk of sounding mad, it's almost like having a voice in my head
     
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