So...characters

Zymologist

Has been in the eye of the world
#1
Alright, so I have a plot (and a pretty good one, I think), but my characters leave a little to be desired. Or, you know, a lot.

Do any of you have a preferred method of filling out character ideas? Like one of those character sheets you can find online; do any of you have a favorite one? I need something to give life to these people.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#2
I guess when I think about it, it tends to be about motivation for me. Why do they do what they do.
Following that logic often uncovers that certain things must have happened in their past to make them behave like that. Once you have motivations and past then you get a sense of their character, after that you're talking about idiosyncrasies and personality.
Real people are never just one motivation or one defining experience. Although some great characters are, Lord Grimdark freely admits that Friendly in "Best Served Cold" is entirely defined by his obsession with numbers, but people like him as a character.

Have you got an example of one of your characters? We could try and flesh it out on here in this way. I mean - start at "Fighter/male/After retribution" and go from there?
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#3
I haven't written for awhile. But I have some thoughts.

I tried making my own character sheets. And it ended up being a pointless exercise (for me) for two reasons:

(1) It seemed like too much of a stretch to try to work some of those details in. I hate reading about how someone is 5 feet 8 inches tall or likes ice cream, just for the sake of it. (The details *can* be worked in, but perhaps not that specifically. For example, Sevro in Red Rising and Golden Son was small compared to other Golds. And there is a reason this detail is mentioned. And we learn that Golds are tall and Reds are not. But we don't hear every character's height. It would be boring and hard to remember if certain details were given for each character.)

(2) I just plain forgot about a lot of that stuff as I wrote. So I spent time doing it but it ended up being time wasted.

Of course, it all depends on how you write. I found that my characters developed personality traits on their own. One was an overbearing mother hen type. Another liked to eavesdrop. Another had a specific preference for physical traits in romantic partners. But I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff, just sort of daydreaming possibilities for the story, before I ever write anything down. (I'm in that stage now, actually.)
 

WOllfen

Is a wondrous friend of modest Kruppe
#4
All good points so far and worthy of consideration. Another method you may wish to consider is look at the real people in your life and how they interact with each other, especially those that stand out not just because they may have great personalities but also those that don't get along with others. Consider their motivations, why is there so much drama all the time? Why do they always seem to go after the wrong person in relationships? There's a wealth of different characters all around you in real life.
 

Zymologist

Has been in the eye of the world
#5
wakarimasen, good question. I'll have to think about actually sharing one of my characters here.

And Sneaky Burrito, yeah, the character sheets that have a space for height and favorite color and stuff like that seem kind of ridiculous to me. That's partly why I was curious if anyone had any character sheets that they'd actually found useful. I've seen several that were less than impressive.

I suppose I can share this. I find myself really hesitant to share my ideas in general*, but I'll give it a little bit of a try: one of my characters is probably going to be an investigator of sorts, who ends up taking a job that turns out to be a lot more sinister than it first appeared. Pretty thin, thus far. I've basically only established the character as far as the overarching plot.

*I've shared some of them before, all excited, and then a couple weeks later thought they were largely garbage. Now, however, I have what I think is a great plot idea, so that may have changed.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#6
*I've shared some of them before, all excited, and then a couple weeks later thought they were largely garbage.
Every idea I've ever had. Especially if I'm tired.

So, investigator. I'd be thinking like this.
Does he do it because of a sense of civic duty?
Does he do it because it's what people in his family do?
Does he do it because something happened once that made him realise he was good at it?
Does he do it to prove he's cleverer than everyone else?
Does he like it? Is he a keen intellect or a jaded misanthrope?
He is young or old?
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#7
*I've shared some of them before, all excited, and then a couple weeks later thought they were largely garbage. Now, however, I have what I think is a great plot idea, so that may have changed.
Haha, this is why I trashed multiple manuscripts a few years back. Letting the work sit for awhile really helped me see what a tribe of Mary Sues I'd created.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#9

J P Ashman

Stood on the wall with Druss
#10
Of course, it all depends on how you write. I found that my characters developed personality traits on their own.
I find this is how it is for me, too. I tend to go for plot/event and the characters 'react' to it. Some of my favorite characters (both to write, and that people have commented on) are characters that weren't meant to be...well...characters. They were there because they needed to be to allow something to happen or to allow another character to do something. I enjoyed writing the scene with them in, and they suddenly appear in another. Then, before I know it, they're popping up all over and getting involved with the plot through their own sub-plot.

I feel that you have to enjoy writing a character for them to be good. If you enjoy them, they intrigue you and in turn will intrigue a reader.

As for descriptions. IMHO only describe what's necessary. Readers read because they have an imagination. If they want it all spelling out for them, they'd watch TV or read a comic. Concentrate on your story, any distinguishing features/traits/clothing etc. and ensure you are consistent with those things. The way people act, as far as I am concerned, can change! I am moody some days, according to my wife, brother, mother, father, friends...you get the picture. Other days I am center of attention, look at me, I'll dance anywhere I don't care. Two differed people on two different days. Characters don't have to act exactly the same all the time. However, continuity needs to be set. Being moody once, in a certain scene, but never again is kind of off if they're normally cheery about everything, but mix it up often and the character really comes to life. Again, IMHO.

I have described some characters as being big, red haired or olive skinned with a tattooed face, but I have tried to mention it in passing or through actions, not just stating it as facts. But, a lot of my characters are hardly described at all beyond male or female, tall or short...if that. Readers will make their own mind up, as long as what they decide on isn't dashed later on in the book. Don't say nothing about a person's looks, then drop it in on chapter 25 that they had orange hair and tiger striped skin (over the top? I don't care, they sound wicked!).

Wow, sorry, essay. Guess what I am trying to say is, write the story with your investigator. You're still writing it, so he can change a fair bit if you want. Chapter ten and suddenly he has a cleft lip. Jump back to the start of the book and mention it in passing; he struggles with certain words and gets funny looks. Throw the odd look or slur in another chapter or two, then come back to Chapter ten and crack on with the story.

As for motivation, aye, that needs sussing right from the go I guess. If you don't know why he/she is doing what he/she is doing, he/she won't.

Anyway, some great advice already on this thread (for me as well as you). Oh, and I write epic fantasy, so I have a bucket load of characters. I think sometimes having a single protagonist is harder than having characters coming out of your ears, because all the focus is on him/her.

Keep us posted, and sorry about vomiting a bunch of words onto the page.

Tara for now
JP
 

TomTB

Super Moderator
Staff member
#11
I (as a reader) actually quite like to be told (by the author) what a character looks like. Maybe not in massive amounts of detail, but a paragraph at some point near the beginning of a characters introduction just to set out redeeming features, helps me build that picture in my mind.

When I started reading The Expanse series, I went onto IMDB to look at the actors playing all the major characters in the TV show. Cheating, I know, but I prefer to have it that way, then there's no question in my mind as to the characters appearance when it comes round to their scenes in the books.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#12
@TomTB and probably less chance of disappointment when you read a book then see the on screen version.
Kind of makes sense but then I think I would feel like someone else was putting their vision of things in my head.
Don't know about the Expanse series, was it tv before it was a book or something?
 

TomTB

Super Moderator
Staff member
#13
No, books came first. I started reading them after they'd started filming the TV adaptation. I just would personally prefer to see the characters (actors) so then I could picture them in my mind when reading the books. Lazy I know, but .. meh ..
 

TomTB

Super Moderator
Staff member
#14
In a similar vein when I'm starting a book (or partway into one) I'll google fan art, to see how different people portray various characters. I'll then tend to base my metal visualisation of characters on these representations. Don't do this all the time - I did with Malazan though ..
 

dunebuggy

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#15
I like it when authors describe everything and anything about their characters,i'm a stranger to their imagination,help me out but its also nice when there is room,to make my own assumptions about them and when they do something completely opposite,to what I expected of them..I probably would curse and get pissed off but the unexpected is welcome. I do want to know how they look like,it does matter to me as appearances like in real life,does play a part,if the person has a scar or a huge forehead with angry veins.
 

J P Ashman

Stood on the wall with Druss
#16
Don't do this all the time - I did with Malazan though ..
Haha, love the lazy meh bit. To be honest, I did this only once.......on the Malazan series too, funnily enough.