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Author Topic: Relating to characters  (Read 5011 times)

Offline Blackthorn

Relating to characters
« on: February 02, 2016, 11:34:51 PM »
How do you effectively write characters you have very little in common with? For example, I have a character very much influenced by my interests, but my main character is a lot harder to write as he is less in my source of knowledge. I have the same problem with characters of different gender or fictional race. I'm sure others have this problem (probably why elves and dwarves can seem so one dimensional)

Research helps, but it cant beat real interest and immersion.

Does that mean the character isn't right? What tricks do you have for writing a character well when you don't really understand the things you feel your character should?

Offline Yora

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2016, 11:50:49 PM »
I think the main priorities are to understand what your characters want, what values guide their actions, and what abilities and resources they have. When you can keep that consistent, there's not a whole lot that you can do terribly wrong.
If you want to make the characters' role in society relevant to the story, consider what special barriers and previleges apply to them and take those into account when describing their actions and thoughts. These are different for different people within the same society and in my oppinion really the biggest outside factor that determines their personalty.
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Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2016, 12:08:53 AM »
How do you effectively write characters you have very little in common with? For example, I have a character very much influenced by my interests, but my main character is a lot harder to write as he is less in my source of knowledge. I have the same problem with characters of different gender or fictional race. I'm sure others have this problem (probably why elves and dwarves can seem so one dimensional)

Research helps, but it cant beat real interest and immersion.

Does that mean the character isn't right? What tricks do you have for writing a character well when you don't really understand the things you feel your character should?
Have you tried using your imagination to fill in the gaps? That tends to do it for me. I don't think I'd make it very far if I was only able to write 20-year old male writing students in my books.

Then again, maybe I'm being a bit dismissive. I know writing characters/dialogue/humour/prose/whatever comes a lot easier to some people than others. For me personally, it's all about constructing a persona for that character and learning to inhabit it to anticipate what they'd say/do next and what would be 'in character' for them. But I'm much better at getting into the heads of other people/characters than others might be. So there may be different methods that might work better for you.

Ultimately though, it comes down to understanding what your character wants in a given scene and how their personality/experiences affects that. (So basically what Yora said.) If you want some help with that, try studying psychology somewhat and try to get a good grip on the human condition and how normal people think. Or you could absorb a ton of media and use some of the outstanding characters examples you find as inspiration. Or, ideally, you could do both. When it comes to writing, there is no perfect advice. It's all about finding what works best for you.
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Offline night_wrtr

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2016, 01:07:52 AM »
Read a wide range of character types. There are MCs of all different shapes/genders etc. That will help to bring you into other mindsets and expression. What kind of character are they? Put down a few main things and try to find a,few books that have similar characters. Study them, then use that as a muse.

You can't teach experience, but you can allow yourself to open up to more than your own.

You have to disconnect your self from the character. The character doesn't care about what you think or care about. They have their own self. That is what you have to tap into.

For me, there is a lot of placing myself into that characters mind. Think about who they are. Their past, their experiences that make them. Their motivations, what drives them? This is a hard thing to do for some people. I speak from experience. I am a night writer for a reason. I need time to get my mind right and into the character. Once I'm there, I feel it. You should see some of my facial expressions.  :o Its a weird thing being in that place.

Practice is the big thing. Write until you get closer to what you want. If its not right, try again. Keep doing it until it is. Then write more until it's perfect. Write out of your comfort zone until you've got it.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2016, 01:10:59 AM by night_wrtr »

Offline Nora

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Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2016, 01:24:52 AM »
Are we talking first or third person, to begin with? If it's first person, I guess not identifying with your character is a bit harder.
As a third person... besides having a clear idea of your character's motivations and means and, well, character, I'd say that it doesn't matter if you identify with him/her :
How often do you identify with people around you? Not that often right? But you can see how your friend of different gender, different work and temperament, can react to a situation with anger, when you'd be much cooler and lenient, right?
Third person allows to describe that. You're following your MC around, and as you write–at least, for me–you get to discover more of your MC's temperament, as reactions to such and such external factor become more obvious. You get to be used to the person you write about, whether you're similar to them or not.

That's why some people find that sometimes their characters end up having a life of their own and shaping the story, going different ways than intended. They predict a certain plot point, but when they arrive there, the MC evolved and they know it won't fit for them to react like originally planned.
I think recognizing this and accepting to change your story to fit a good character is one aspect that makes a difference between a good character driven story, and some of these awkward books where the characters act "out of character" just to allow a plot twist. You can read about characters who change their minds in one paragraph and go against their principles without noticing. That's bad writing.
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Offline Blackthorn

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2016, 02:00:58 AM »
Are we talking first or third person, to begin with? If it's first person, I guess not identifying with your character is a bit harder.
As a third person... besides having a clear idea of your character's motivations and means and, well, character, I'd say that it doesn't matter if you identify with him/her :
How often do you identify with people around you? Not that often right? But you can see how your friend of different gender, different work and temperament, can react to a situation with anger, when you'd be much cooler and lenient, right?
Third person allows to describe that. You're following your MC around, and as you write–at least, for me–you get to discover more of your MC's temperament, as reactions to such and such external factor become more obvious. You get to be used to the person you write about, whether you're similar to them or not.

That's why some people find that sometimes their characters end up having a life of their own and shaping the story, going different ways than intended. They predict a certain plot point, but when they arrive there, the MC evolved and they know it won't fit for them to react like originally planned.
I think recognizing this and accepting to change your story to fit a good character is one aspect that makes a difference between a good character driven story, and some of these awkward books where the characters act "out of character" just to allow a plot twist. You can read about characters who change their minds in one paragraph and go against their principles without noticing. That's bad writing.

I'm talking third person, but with a group of characters, many with very differing upbringings. I do imagine first person would make the problem much worse. My MC I envision as a knight, filled with ideas of honor and chivalry, but only when it suits him. He envisions himself as honorable, but there are times when he is not and never even knows it...going by his own sense of right and wrong.

I have no problem putting myself in other peoples shoes during disagreements. I can understand their point of view without agreeing.

The problem is, while I can understand different reactions, I have difficulty imagining the reaction until its in front of my face.

Thank you all for the great posts.


Offline Blackthorn

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2016, 02:15:00 AM »
One problem I have is if I don't really have a particular characters voice the dialogue tends to be shaky. Other times they aren't mentioned as often as some other characters, almost like I leave them in the background because I cant get in to their heads.

Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2016, 04:14:35 AM »
One problem I have is if I don't really have a particular characters voice the dialogue tends to be shaky. Other times they aren't mentioned as often as some other characters, almost like I leave them in the background because I cant get in to their heads.

When I have this problem, I start drawing limitations for the character. Little quirks that will help me get a sense of who they are and how they would behave. For example, I have one character who will never end a sentence in a preposition, not in his dialogue, and not in the prose in chapters from his PoV. I have another who I forbid the use of a direct address (i.e. Can you bring me that chair, Blackthorn?). Once I have an idea of what they wouldn't or can't do, it's often easier to get a sense of what they would do.

Offline Blackthorn

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2016, 05:13:20 AM »
One problem I have is if I don't really have a particular characters voice the dialogue tends to be shaky. Other times they aren't mentioned as often as some other characters, almost like I leave them in the background because I cant get in to their heads.

When I have this problem, I start drawing limitations for the character. Little quirks that will help me get a sense of who they are and how they would behave. For example, I have one character who will never end a sentence in a preposition, not in his dialogue, and not in the prose in chapters from his PoV. I have another who I forbid the use of a direct address (i.e. Can you bring me that chair, Blackthorn?). Once I have an idea of what they wouldn't or can't do, it's often easier to get a sense of what they would do.

I think that could be very interesting. I'm definitely going to try that.

Offline CameronJohnston

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2016, 08:49:39 AM »
Might be worth writing down a full character profile:
Note down things like personality traits (honorable, sarcastic, optimist), what is important to them in descending order (little sister, village, religion, cats), cultural differences from whatever your main setting is (don't eat meat/blood, religious practices, disgusted by current setting quirk), what they most want in life in descending order (knowledge and power, a good life for sister, money), what they most fear in descending order (disease, that they will fail in learning magic, rats)

Things of this nature really help to get a better feel for a character if they don't pop into your head already fully fleshed out.

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Offline JMack

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Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2016, 11:40:20 AM »
What's interesting for me in the discussion above is that I tend to think about the words I'm writing rather than the characters Im channeling. Was that sentence too long? How about that paragraph? Oh, I should delete those words. If I put the reveal of the princess at the end of the paragraph, that's a lot better.

I think I sort of trust on faith that I'll get the characters right, and that doesn't always work.

Meanwhile, in terms of elves or dwarves being one-dimensional, we need to remember that except in very rare circumstances, there's realistic human behavior underlying those races. Maybe there are exaggerated traits (pride, greed), but these are still "people".
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Offline Yora

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2016, 11:51:24 AM »
"Humans with points ears" has long been a hugely debated topic. Personally I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter. I can't really think of any stories in which nonhuman characters feel substentially different from humans. The idea that they should be noticably different from humans sounds nice on paper, but nobody seems to ever do it.
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Offline Nora

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Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2016, 12:49:17 PM »
"Humans with points ears" has long been a hugely debated topic. Personally I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter. I can't really think of any stories in which nonhuman characters feel substentially different from humans. The idea that they should be noticably different from humans sounds nice on paper, but nobody seems to ever do it.

Probably because precisely no one would identify with them? I guess in the Long Way, the aliens living on the "angry planet" really have a weird, alien way of thinking and functioning, and I remember being a bit puzzled by their action, as the author wanted us to of course. That was nice. But as a MC or predominant race it would have been awful.
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Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2016, 12:58:29 PM »
I would say use the opportunity to explore the aspects of their personality and the values that conflict with your own. Put yourself in their shoes and see what it would be like if you compromised your beliefs to take part in something that you would normally find abhorrent in your personal life.

If you are a pacifist then explore the mindset of someone who kills indiscriminately with no emotional attachment or because they liked it, even got off on it. If you have more traditional views on sex then explore the mindset of someone that has no qualms about being aggressive towards women and fulfilling the character's base urges regardless of how it effects those he has slept with.

My MC is pretty much at a moral and ethical state of neutrality. He has done things that many would find despicable, and other things that many would consider selfless or heroic. His story arc shows how his morals and ethics have transformed from the more idealistic to more cold and calculating because of different life experiences.
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Offline Yora

Re: Relating to characters
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2016, 12:58:55 PM »
I have great doubts that this "identifying with characters" thing is even real. People talk about it a lot, but I don't find it very convincing.
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