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Building a character

 
B.A. Boose
(@britty4760)
Active Member
Posts: 15

In recent years I've been honing my skills working on building believable characters that feel like they could walk off the page. Since entering WotF, I feel like I'm getting a better grasp on putting characters together but I'm still missing a few things that make them come alive. I enjoy reading books, blogs, articles, etc. on this topic. The downside is the feeling like I'm trying to drink from a fire hose; there are so many tips and tricks out there on how to put together a character I sometimes don't know what to use.

What do you guys think about this? How do you form a character? 

V37: 1Q, HM, 4 Q, HM

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Topic starter Posted : April 26, 2021 10:50 am
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
Gold Star Member
Posts: 1055

I flesh out my characters through writing (and, sometimes, tabletop roleplaying), but when it comes to getting a basic starting skeleton that I can build on, it helps me to figure out the following:

  • Name (Having a name gives my brain a focus point where I can layer on character traits.)
  • Virtue (The thing the character most aspires to be--brave, caring, tenacious, protective, ambitious. This doesn't have to be one of the seven holy virtues--I've just played a lot of Chronicles of Darkness, so the term stuck for me.)
  • Vice (The character's baser self or default state--stubborn, greedy, cruel, timid, obsessive. Again, doesn't actually have to be one of the seven deadly sins--I just really like the way CoD characterizes things.)
  • Aspirations (What does the character want? I like to have one or two short-term goals in a scene, along with one larger-scale overarching goal.)

One thing Jim Butcher said that's stuck with me is that, when you introduce a character, you want to do so in a way that highlights one or more of the protagonist's major character traits. The reader is going to make assumptions about your character based on said introduction, so you want to give them the right impression. (For example, if you have this big, muscle-bound character planting flowers, the reader will make very different assumptions than if that character gets introduced as the instigator of a massive barroom brawl.)

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells
R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, SHM, ?, ?
Ticknor Tales

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Posted : April 27, 2021 6:59 am
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Reuben
(@reuben)
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Posts: 216

I liked how Robin Hobb went about it in writing excuses -- https://writingexcuses.com/2016/10/12/11-bonus-01-characterization-and-differentiation-with-robin-hobb/ -- where she talked about getting to know your characters. Certain things I've learned always go into it, mainly: What does the MC really want? What does he think he wants? What kind of thing would make him act against his nature?

 

Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm ~ Winston Churchill
V37: R, R, R, HM
V38: SHM

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Posted : April 27, 2021 11:13 am
B.A. Boose
(@britty4760)
Active Member
Posts: 15

@disgruntledpeony, thank you, that helps! Those four basic character starters are really good. I'll definitely try that. Smile

V37: 1Q, HM, 4 Q, HM

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Topic starter Posted : April 30, 2021 11:13 am
B.A. Boose
(@britty4760)
Active Member
Posts: 15

@reuben I'll check out that episode, thanks!

V37: 1Q, HM, 4 Q, HM

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Topic starter Posted : April 30, 2021 11:15 am
pdblake
(@pdblake)
Bronze Member
Posts: 98

I use list of questions that I got from Holly Lisle's site Forward Motion.

 

www.pdblake.co.uk

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Posted : April 30, 2021 11:23 am
Cray Dimensional
(@craydimensional)
Bronze Member
Posts: 99

Interesting. I flush out through writing, but usually they start out as a variation of a personality I met. I just started using one note to create backstory notes.

I am curious does character development come before or after plot development for you? 

Small steps add up to miles.
V38: R, P, P

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Posted : April 30, 2021 2:07 pm
pdblake
(@pdblake)
Bronze Member
Posts: 98
Posted by: @craydimensional

Interesting. I flush out through writing, but usually they start out as a variation of a personality I met. I just started using one note to create backstory notes.

I am curious does character development come before or after plot development for you? 

I tend to have a story idea then think up characters. The character development always affects the plot though. 

www.pdblake.co.uk

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Posted : May 1, 2021 1:16 am
Agathon
(@agathon)
Bronze Member
Posts: 62
Posted by: @craydimensional

 usually they start out as a variation of a personality I met.

I do this a lot. I've known a lot of people over the years. A large percentage of them well-intentioned but barely competent. I've also observed my own attitudes regarding what constitutes reasonable behavior change as time goes by. The problem is making the real person unrecognizable in the story. Your friends, co-workers, and acquaintances might not be amused.

Agathon McGeachy
Figure Sculptor, Mechanical Designer, Reformed Rakehell, Writer
Vol 37, Q2: HM
Vol 37, Q3: HM
Vol 37, Q4: HM
Vol 38, Q1: R
Vol 38, Q2: the waiting is the hardest part
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Coming soon: NIWA 2021 Anthology 'Forbidden'

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Posted : May 1, 2021 11:22 am
Cray Dimensional
(@craydimensional)
Bronze Member
Posts: 99

@agathon Thanks for your words of wisdom. I have been changing things up quite a bit lately.

Small steps add up to miles.
V38: R, P, P

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Posted : May 1, 2021 12:09 pm
B.A. Boose
(@britty4760)
Active Member
Posts: 15

@pdblake, thank you, I'll check it out!

V37: 1Q, HM, 4 Q, HM

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Topic starter Posted : May 1, 2021 1:45 pm
B.A. Boose
(@britty4760)
Active Member
Posts: 15

@craydimensional, I think it's a mixture of both. I get an idea for a plot then I'll start developing a character, then I'll work on the plot more once I get a better understanding of who my character(s) are. 

V37: 1Q, HM, 4 Q, HM

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Topic starter Posted : May 1, 2021 1:51 pm
Reuben
(@reuben)
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Posts: 216
Posted by: @britty4760

@craydimensional, I think it's a mixture of both. I get an idea for a plot then I'll start developing a character, then I'll work on the plot more once I get a better understanding of who my character(s) are. 

Same. I get a cool idea, think of what would cause conflict in such a situation, and who would be the most affected/conflicted, that sort of thing. By then I have a basic character and a basic plot. I explore those, trying to find ways to emphasize conflict and also deepen the characters' motivations which would, in turn, deepen the conflict.

Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm ~ Winston Churchill
V37: R, R, R, HM
V38: SHM

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Posted : May 1, 2021 6:46 pm
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
Gold Star Member
Posts: 1055
Posted by: @craydimensional

I am curious does character development come before or after plot development for you? 

Depends on the story. Sometimes I get character ideas first, sometimes I get plot ideas first. I have some favorite characters who tend to summon new stories to them every so often...

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells
R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, SHM, ?, ?
Ticknor Tales

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Posted : May 1, 2021 7:08 pm
B.A. Boose
(@britty4760)
Active Member
Posts: 15

@reuben, yes exactly!

V37: 1Q, HM, 4 Q, HM

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Topic starter Posted : May 5, 2021 3:03 pm
B.A. Boose
(@britty4760)
Active Member
Posts: 15

@disgruntledpeony, that's cool! 

V37: 1Q, HM, 4 Q, HM

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Topic starter Posted : May 5, 2021 3:05 pm
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