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Character Design

Xaerun

"toxic and negative"
This could fit in a whole range of sections but since I'm primarily a writer when it comes to using characters I'll put it here.

Now.
I'm looking at designing additional characters, and whilst I have an idea of what I'd like in mind I'm not sure if I'm very good at slipping in and out of characters. Judging accurately what they'd do in certain situations, etc. Your own fursona is ridiculously easy; he/she/it just does what you'd do in each situation. Not difficult at all. However, other characters get tricky.

Some people say "Use your close friends as models", but I don't know many people well enough to know what they'd do if they were cornered by a dragon in a marketplace and are surrounded by cotton candy and soda, for example. Weird and wonderful situations.

I've seen some people who put personas on and off like a hat (like that class in D&D... Mountebank, isn't it?) and have it absolutely nailed. So, I was wondering, does anyone have any tips on how to get better at developing characters? Taking it all the way to favourite ice-cream flavour to what shoe they put on first to what time they go to bed, everything.

Play Dungeons and Dragons, maybe? I've been looking at picking it up and it seems like a reasonably good way to practice...
 

Xaerun

"toxic and negative"
Oh no, that isn't the issue. The difficulty is changing between characters.
Thank you anyway, MLR's posts are always pretty fascinating to read.
 

Zeichwolf

Wolven Writer of FA
Ah, yes, this has caught me a few times. Every now and then I'll see my characters sort of... blend, so that personalities are less distinct. Reactions to events generally seem to lean towards your own reactions, even though the character isn't based off of you. I know how that is far too well.

My suggestion for this is to sort of write out a character personality sheet. What I do with these is write down the first five or so scenarios that come to mind, and then under each of them I'll list different reactions and pick the one I think most appropriate or feel could be best for the character. Now, check the chosen reactions under each category and make sure you don't contradict yourself- don't make your character a bully while being kind to the elderly, or things like that. Or if you do, give a believable reason why the character can be contradictory. It generally works for me, though staying in character is sometimes hard- you end up wanting to do everything by your reaction. Just stay true to the character sheet. XD
 

M. LeRenard

Is not French
Xaerun said:
MLR's posts are always pretty fascinating to read.
Aw shucks....

Anyway, I guess the easy route is to make all of your characters so distinct from one another that it's never even a guess who's talking. You know... Gollum vs. Aragorn. Pip vs. Mrs. Havisham. Whatever.
Generally what I do, though (not that it always ends up working), is I center a character around a certain personality type (angry, joyful, quirky, whatever) and try to stick around that. Obviously they can act differently if the situation calls for it, but you have to have that one trait in your mind at all times when writing the character.
If you do that enough, eventually you'll get into a kind of swing for that character, where the instant you write the name you'll be thinking like him or her. In a sense, then, it comes down to familiarity. Once you get comfortable enough with a character, you'll know exactly what to write.
That said, a lot of this stuff is often best left for editing. You won't get it right the first time, so go back and fix stuff that seems off to you as you're reading it. That's probably the best way to handle this kind of thing.

You certainly could play D&D, but it's only practice if you really practice. It's like writing, but fast-paced and oral. I actually used writing to practice for D&D, so....
But it could work just as well the opposite way, I'm sure. Hopefully you have a good group to play it with. That helps a lot. And strive to become a DM, because that's where you really start to practice switching personalities on the fly. All good DMs can make Joe the peasant an interesting character, and different from Jon the peasant who lives next door.
 

ScottyDM

Bites when Provoked
I think if you properly create your character,
then you will start to know things about your character,
and then you'll be able to begin to get inside your character's head.


I start with stories about the character. My main story that I'm going to write, my real story, might take place when the character is 43 years old. But what happened to him before he got to be 43? Why did he drop out of college? What did he do before he became a business consultant? Why hasn't he been back to his hometown since he was 18? You don't have to write these little stories down, but if you do, keep them short and simple; use use narrative summary only.

Because of these stories that I know exactly how my character will react when his fiancee leaves a note on his kitchen table, slips out the door, and vanishes.

Some writers collect facts about their character, such as what her favorite color is or her favorite books or movies. I can't really do that without knowing where my character came from first. Once I know my character's stories, then what sorts of movies she might like, become apparent.

And I do role-play with my characters in my mind. For some of the more complex scenes I'll become one of the characters and act out the scene, then switch and become the other character and act out the scene again. Sometimes I'll act it out again and again, with variations, until I'm satisfied. Then I write it.

Sometimes I collect pictures of things around the character, things that have significance. Once, I had one character give another a Spanish Doubloon on a gold chain as a gift. I found a nice picture of a doubloon (both faces) and I put that in my resources folder for that story. I could look at the picture and think, This is what he gave her.

Last night I happened to stumble across a TV show on PBS that taught teachers how to use artifacts when teaching literature. The show was titled "Artifacts and Fiction: Workshop in American Literature" and was fascinating. The idea was that when teaching American literature to high school students, use artifacts from the culture in which the story was set. One teacher chose Arthur Miller's "The Crucible", which is about the 1692 Salem witch trials. The artifacts the teacher used were gravestone photos from Salem in the late 1600s, which were decorated with skulls or cherub faces equipped with wings, hourglasses, angels, demons, and in one case a large candle being snuffed out by a skeleton (death) while an old man with an hourglass (time) looks on. And the teacher also had the students read the famous Johathan Edwards sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (1741), which is another sort of artifact.

I was fascinated and wondered how to turn that around. How do I use artifacts (that I create) to help me to create a culture, and to understand it as I create it? But individuals also create or collect artifacts around themselves. The things that are dear to them, that speak to them.

If you can discover (or invent) the sort of artifacts your characters might be drawn to, then that will help you understand your characters. And if you can understand your characters, then you can imagine what it's like to be them. To think the way they think and react to the way they react.

Kind of brings it full circle because things like favorite colors and favorite movies are personal artifacts too.

To keep track of all these things for a story I've been using FreeMind. Here's a screenshot for one of my short stories. A little round bubble at the end of a bigger squarish bubble means there is more data tree, but it's hidden. A little red arrow inside a bigger squarish bubble is a link to another document (local or remote).

Good luck!

Scotty
 
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Shouden

When in doubt: C4
Hmm....I just realized that I tend to give my major characters some memento or artifact that someone gave them or they found or something. In the current novel I'm writing, my main character (Laura) always carries around a sword that her ex-fiance gave her, I have another character (Talla) who uses an old pistol from the 19th century that a close friend gave to her. One of the maids in the series (Sasha) wears a pendant around her neck that was passed down from her grandmother.

I do find that it helps not only bring them down to earth, but it also gives them a bit more personality and character.


I also do the mini-stories that Scotty and MLR use. I find it fun, and it does iron out the characters' pasts and personalities.

Usually, though, when I start writing a character, they already have their own personality, which makes it easier to write them.

Another exercise is to write from the POV of each character. When I do this, I try to give each character a different style of writing or speaking. Also, if you tell the same story from multiple POVs, remember that everyone sees and remembers something different. It's okay for minor inconsistencies as long as the main point is the same. This is how cops know when a group of people are lying: If the stories are EXACTLY the same, then it's probably a made up and rehearsed story. (POV is also why the Gospels in the bible seemed to contradict themselves, when in reality it's just a different person telling the same story from their POV.)

I made sure to put some minor inconsistencies when I wrote Talla's Story as comparied to Cityscape, because one version is from Talla's POV and the other is from Laura's POV. And they'll point out or remember different things depending on what their personality.


Anyway, I hope that helped.
 
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