background preloader

How to Write a Character From Start to Finish

How to Write a Character From Start to Finish
The best fiction is about a character who changes in some significant way. The selfish brute learns to put others first. The woman marrying for money decides to marry for love. The career ladder climber learns to cut back on his hours to enjoy his family. We love to see characters transformed. —by Jeff Gerke Most of the time, main characters in fiction are changing for the better. But there’s also room for characters who change for the worse. Perhaps most intriguing of all is a “bad” character who flirts for a while with the idea of being good, but then decides that his true self is on the dark side of the street. Of course, not every story has to be about a character who changes. Whether your protagonist ultimately turns toward or away from the light will be up to you, but we’ll look at ways to send her on a journey in which she’s transformed. The Inner Journey In fiction terms, a character’s transformation is called his inner journey or character arc. The Nexus The Seeds of Change

Writing Mentally Ill and Insane Characters You can't go through an archive of fiction on the Internet or a collection of roleplaying profiles for long without finding a character who is supposed to be mentally ill, or "insane," or something. However, many of these characters are based in huge misunderstandings and misconceptions about how such things work, and some of these misconceptions are harmful to real people with mental problems. So, here are some things to know and do when it comes to trying to write such a character yourself. Know what it means to be psychotic, insane, and mentally ill. First, the term "psychotic" refers to someone who has a severely warped perception of reality due to an underlying disorder. "Insane" is a legal term today. Now, society is full of people who will label people insane or crazy at the drop of a hat. These people are of course wrong (and cruel, if they use the terms in a derogatory or dismissive sense) in labeling others thus. Some common myths and misconceptions addressed.

Writing Sympathetic Morally-Ambiguous Characters Let’s face it: real life doesn’t neatly sort itself into tidy little good and bad/right and wrong piles for our convenience and ease of mind. Very often we have to face situations that force us to consider our values and what we really believe and why we believe them, or force us to pick what we can only hope is the lesser of two evils. If what we write is to accurately reflect reality, then this this fact cannot be ignored. On the downside, morally ambiguous characters who aren’t handed well can quickly become obnoxious and even repugnant. First, your morally-ambiguous characters need not, and probably should not continuously angst and bellyache over each and every less-than-spotless action. However, the character should have to grapple over major decisions where the implications of each choice are understood by the character.

Create and Write Better Non-Protagonist Characters (NPCs) For the purpose of this article, the term “NPC” and “PC” shall refer to “non-protagonist character” and “protagonist character,” respectively. Not only will they refer to PCs and NPCs in the traditional sense (“non-player/playable character” and “playable/player character”), but also to to non-protagonist characters in non-interactive fiction (eg, TV, books, movies). The reason being, the advice in this article applies to both RPG NPCs and non-protagonist characters in non-interactive fiction, and some forms of roleplay (eg, fandom and play-by-post roleplays) can blur the distinctions between the two. They need to be treated as people with their own lives, and not merely as stepping stones or obstacles for the protagonists. Many times, NPCs aren’t treated as actual people who have lives, dreams, and problems of their own but as little more than walking, talking objects that have little purpose other than helping or hindering the heroes somehow.

Female Characters and Their Stories The following is a list of tropes and elements that are lacking in female characters in fiction (particularly in the Internet fiction I find) these days that would be nice to see more often. Now, I want to clear one thing up - don’t think that a character or story must embody each and every one of these items to be good, or that incorporating these items will automatically make a story or character good, or that any story that fails any of these points is automatically bad. They’re just elements that right now are woefully uncommon in female characters and stories about female characters. Female characters with plot-progressing skills and traits that actually exist in the real world. Even in fantasy stories. Consider this: when you create a character with admirable traits and skills that actually exist in the real world, you create a character who can potentially give others something positive to aspire to. Female characters with meaningful duties and responsibilities.

Your Character May Be Boring This article explores some extremely common reasons that characters end up turning out bland and uninteresting. If you're concerned that you might end up with a boring character, read on! Your character can't or won't do anything that progresses the plot. Characters who have the motivation and drive to actually do things make things happen and thus push the plot forward are more interesting to watch than characters who sit around on their duffs and wait for plot to happen to them. Your character has no interests, passions, opinions, or emotions to speak of. Interests and passions give your character things to do and to talk about with other characters, which can help foster plot and relationship progression. Also, three things are important to note: 1. 2. 3. Your character is too much like another character people have seen before. Your character is never challenged or thrown for a loop. Your character never changes and develops. So, in summary...

Writing Cute Characters Now, while all of these traits are considered "cute," it's of utmost importance to remember that a character need not exhibit all of them to be perceived as cute. For example, DUMMY in the Iron Man films has a sizeable fan following who find him to be ridiculously adorable. DUMMY is an arm robot that exhibits none of the physical attributes associated with cuteness. A misconception held by some people I've seen is that adding further "cute" traits or exaggerating pre-existing "cute" traits will unconditionally make the character cuter. Cuteness operates on a scale similar to the Uncanny Valley effect. Character development should never be halted because the author wishes the character to remain "cute." Small emounts of "cuteness" can make a large impact on the audience when they're exhibited by a character that doesn't normally behave in a "cute" manner. A character does not need to be completely innocent to be perceived as cute.

Wonder Baby Syndrome I took stock of commonly-disliked canon progeny and tried to work out what they had in common. After reviewing various disliked offspring, I've noticed that they tend to exhibit the following three traits: The offspring has powers or abilities rivalling or exceeding those of one or both parents.The offspring uses those powers or abilities to advance the plot without the parents having to raise their offspring through a normal childhood first. (Rapid growth, time-travel shenanigans, or being a super-powered baby are examples of how this can work.)The offspring becomes the main source of conflict and/or plays a crucial role in solving the conflict in the plot or plot arc. A few examples: In Breaking Dawn, Renesmee has amazing vampire powers, she's uncannily smart (adult-level awareness from the moment of birth, in fact), she grows rapidly so she can become an active player in the drama, and the entire conflict of Breaking Dawn is centered on her. Then there's River Song from Doctor Who.

Writing Children One thing I've noticed is that a lot of writers - both amateur and professional - seem to have no idea how children actually behave. Many child characters I've read don't act anything like real children. In fact, I can't help but wonder if many members of the present generation of adults sprang fully-formed as teens or young adults, because they seem to have no idea how children actually behave despite having allegedly being children themselves. Here are some of the most common mistakes: 1. Children who are completely fearless in their ignorance and innocence, blissfully frolicking into situations where adults would wet their pants in terror. 2. Another mistake is having children giggle when other other noises would be more appropriate. 3. 4. 5. A child is most probably not going to ask "Mommy, why are your eyes wet?" Likewise, a child is not going to see an adult in pain and ask, "Daddy, why are you acting funny?" As a general rule, children: 1. 2. 3. Cue the withchunts. 1.

Write Better Chosen Ones In every other fantasy story, there is a Chosen One. Xe can alone defeat the Big Bad and save the universe. Unfortunately, Chosen Ones are incredibly easy to completely bork up. Ask yourself whether you really need a Chosen One If you can restructure your story so that it does not involve a Chosen One, you probably should. Make the future uncertain If you've decided you need a Chosen One, make sure that the outcome is uncertain - ie, that there is a chance that the hero could completely fail in xir quest. Do not use your character's Chosen status as a substitute for actual motivation Some chosen ones - particularly evil chosen ones and dark messiahs - have no real reason for doing anything other than they've been chosen to do it. Do not use your character's Chosen status as a substitute for actual skill or practice Don't have your character successfully bumble through everything because Destiny says your character must succeed. Don't make your character the ultimate solver of all problems

Writing Masculine Characters There's nothing quite so jarring as reading a male character who speaks and behaves more like a teenage girl. Whether the differences are biological or sociological in cause, there are definitely some common differences in the way males and females tend to speak and behave that (at least at this point in time - in the future, as societal norms change, who knows?) typically need to be accounted for. Please note that I am writing this as a general guide, and not as a guide (let alone a rulebook!) for all male or "masculine" characters everywhere, since there will always be justified exceptions - not every man or "masculine" persona finds slapstick hilarious, for example. (And no, if you are female and you feel that any of these apply to you, I am not implying you are male. Make your character's dialog more direct. Back to General CharacterizationGo to a random page!

Basic Tips To Write Better (And More Likeable) Badasses Yet another character type that is often poorly-written by amateurs, many badass characters end up becoming completely unlikeable or even despicable. Here are a few tips to keep these characters from going this route. Your character needs to be more than tough and talented. Strong, sexy, smart, skilled, and sassy are all great character traits, but on their own they're going to leave you with a character who is at best forgettable, and at worst completely unlikeable. Stop and ask yourself: if you took away the skills and talents that make your character badass, do you think anyone would care about or want to associate with your character? Don't create an unstoppable kickass machine. Characters who are so awesome and unflappable that there's no doubt they'll win are boring to watch. Be careful that your character doesn't become an amoral/self-centered jerkass. Smirks are not shortcuts to cool.

Write Better Ensemble Casts Another fine article contributed by J. Avoid homogeny, if possible. It's all too easy to create an entire group of characters who are almost just alike. Whether they're the same race/species or just have the same main interest, they often come out as cookie-cutter clones. Sometimes this is acceptable - characters from a racially homogenous society will likely be of the same race, and characters whose lives center around a club will be interested in whatever that club is about - but unless them being so similar is relevant to the plot or setting, leave it out. If your character is a team of superheroes, for example, there's no reason for every one of them to have great dress style - and if they live in a racially diverse area, there's no good reason for all of them to be white. Remember - you are allowed to intentionally create a minority character to make your cast more diverse. Avoid the "one of each" effect. Happy/grumpy/any mood is not a personality. Leave out The Tagalong.