Saturday, 17 November 2012

Chalk, Cheese and Characters

Books would be no fun if every character was exactly the same. I doubt we'd long tolerate a Fellowship of nine Frodo Bagginses, and more than one Joffrey Baratheon Lannister in the Song of Ice and Fire saga would result in more brain heammorhages than ten thousand simultaneous attacks by swarms of angry ferrets.

If the real world is full of different people, why shouldn't fictional worlds be the same?

Answer: because trying to fit something as big and busy as the real world (or something akin to it) into the head of one individual person is a very big ask.

Trying to create a character who is nothing like you is easy enough - it's just a pile of personality traits, a few quirks, maybe a messy backstory and guilty cookie-related secret or two. Trying to make them come to life according to those criteriam is hard.

Handling of complicated, dissonant characters can take a huge toll on the quality of a work; be it a roleplay using canon characters, a high-end piece of fanfiction, and, most of all, original stories. You know exactly how you want them to be, but blast you if you can make them! Your own personality and moral coding creeps too much into the narrative, affects it, and results in something far less stellar than you'd hoped for.

Your tough and dependable warrior freaks out at the sight of blood like a teenaged girl.

Your unprincipled thug is utterly incapable of saying anything ruder than "idiot".

Your super-genius doesn't know a quark from a neutron.

And to top it all off, you think the horse might be developing  views on animal rights.


However, the situation isn't totally irrevocable. And don't worry, I'm not about to start off on a spiel about life experience. That's not fair. Not in the least because I doubt anyone's ever going to be able to meet a seven-hundred-year-old retired god of chaos to meet over a cup of coffee and chat about accurate portrayal of his personality. I'm not even here to suggest peoplewatching entirely; as interesting and insightful as it can be, sometimes it just feels like being a creeper. And when you're trying to pound out a novel, you've hardly got enough time to go out and hunt through the supermarket for someone to watch as comparison for the behaviour of your narrator's neurotic second cousin.

What I am here to suggest is . . . thinking. And reading.

Two horribly arduous tasks, I'm sure.

When hashing out a character, if you're not in favour of random situation generators that you can plonk them into to have a play with and start them out that way, it's always useful to turn your mind inwards and think about the situation at hand. Think about all the options ANY person could take - whether or not they match up with things you would do is a different matter. Pick the one that best fits the character and, no matter how out of kilter it feels with your own views, make them do it.

Remember: the character isn't you. And it's all for the good of the plot. Honest!

In terms of reading, well, that's fairly self-evident. If the story is something of a genre you've not written before, then go and give the genre a good poking, maybe get some recommendations from its fans for good starting points. If you want a good example of how to pull off a certain character archetype, go for a book or genre that you know does it well.

You may not ever be able to fully think like and behave like the character yourself (which, in some cases, is probably a good thing) but reading books critically, with an eye on their behaviour and thoughts throughout the action, can help you out over the more questionable areas in your own story. Your uber-cunning court lady is highly unlikely to make the blunder of falling for the "spell ICUP" joke, however funny you think it is.

And now, before I go, I'm going to leave you with a few articles I hope you might find useful just for general perusal when dealing with characters suffering from Wonky Personality Disorder:

- Tips to keep your "badass" from being just a plain "ass".
-  Tips on how to realistically portray victims of abuse.
- Tips on how to write more "masculine" members of the male species.
- Tips on how to write them clever types.

The site that I borrowed these from - "Springhole" - also does a really good series of things for both original fiction and fanfiction characters, as well as squillions of generators, articles, and other forms of epicosity.

Happy crafting!

~ Charley R


  1. I agree! Amen! Eeep! It's so true now I'm drowning in my characters screamings of "make me original". Squishing a whole world in your head IS SO HARD. No wonder most authors end up sniffing ink and walking lobsters. I am so off to look at those links.

    1. Haha, hope they help you! They've saved my butt a couple of times, I tell you!

  2. Great post! I think I am several people. Actually, I KNOW I am lots of different people. And it's awful. :P And tiring.
    But, it helps a ton. Writing them out it a handful, I'll tell you. I HATE dry characters and they always seem to end up that way cause my personalities get all mixed up. But, that's the hazardous side of characterizing... lol...
    Again, this was an awesome post!

  3. I'll check out those articles :D Sorry for the lack of commenting on your blog. The effort involved in actually checking my Blogger dash is too great for me to do it regularly ;)

    1. Do - they're really very good.
      And no worries - we don't all have bundles of time in our grubby mitts, do we?

  4. Ooh, nice! Sometimes I put too much of myself into a character and then it doesn't really work... although putting my clumsiness into my evil guy turned out awesome. :D

    Nine Frodo Bagginses would be very amusing for a while, though. They'd never get anywhere... they'd just stumble around, get lost, sit down to eat second breakfast, and get stabbed by Orcs.

    1. It's fair enough to put parts of you in, or even all of you if that's your intention, but if you've got a character who's not supposed to be like you in any way, shape, or form, then it can be an issue.

      Hmm . . . true . . . less irritating elvish singing too! xD

  5. Oh lord... you have the Spell ICUP joke over there too... *sigh* the 1st grader boy in my sunday school class used that on us the other week.... So of course my daughter spelled it, beng of the age where she wants to show how good she's gotten at sounding out and spelling words... *sigh*

    Oh right but that's not what thispost was about - no- (and how'd I know cookie loving Adona was going to get mentioned) - but your warrior fainting at the sight of blood reminded me that once upon a time Sarah, while able to deal with anyone elses blood, was always squimish about the sight of her own... I suppose that's possible...

    Anyway no to figure out how to remind myself to go look at those links of yours. :}

    1. Oh dear. Ah well, she's still little. She has the excuse.

      Ahahaha, I did not notice he'd crept in there until I read the sentence! GET OUT OF THERE YOU BLASTED FEATHER DUSTER! Gosh . . . just when I wanted him back, he refuses to go away again?

      Haha, I might link to them again in future, but hopefully the presence of htem on the blog at all might be a reminder :P

    2. Hm... How about a plate of freshly made cookies. *hands them over* Maybe that wil satiate him for a while? :}

  6. At first, I thought, suspiciously, that this was specifically aimed at me, talking about the Phils.

    By the end, I was thinking, "WHEEEE! What a great post!"

    And I think I'll go with the latter thought. I love the post and I love the ideas. And I totally relate. To everything. Awesomeness.

    1. N'awww, whyever would I write a post to directly attack you, of all people? I like you far too much.

      Haha, I'm very very glad you enjoy it - I think it's a pretty universal problem, so I thought I'd take my proverbial stick to it to see if I could help at all :)