ACADEMY: Lesson 3: Character Development

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    Let's get funky! Gama's Avatar Former Head Administrator
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    Default Lesson 3: Character Development

    Hey boys and girls.

    Firstly, let me apologise for the lack of an August Writer’s Academy. I assure you, it was a one-off due to several of the Writer’s Workshop mods being away at the same time... Just that time of year, you know how it is.

    Anyway, with that out of the way, let me move on to the good news. A new Writer’s Academy article! This time we’re doing character building! As I’m sure you’re aware, characters are a central part of a story, but a trouble we all have (I know I do) is making your characters come to life, and actually exist off the page.

    A trap that’s really easy to get caught in is for it to be impossible for your character to exist outside of the confines of your story. For example, what did your character do before the beginning of the story? What did they do after? If there are time skips, what did they do for fun during that time? I mean, surely they weren’t literally training the entire time? They must have at least kicked a football around or gone swimming or something, right?

    I read an exercise in a book that’s a massive help with this. The book’s called The five-minute writer, and it’s by Margret Geraghty. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in any kind of professional creative writing or even anyone who just wants to improve their writing. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find a copy of this particular exercise online. Here it is: How To Plump Up ‘thin’ Characters | The Five – Minute Writer | Writing | How To | Read Free Online Books at How To

    I often use this exercise when I’m unsure of whether my character exists in the real world or not, but it’s important not to use it so much that you know all of the questions off by heart. (Although that may be useful for creating characters in the first place.) The beauty of this exercise is that it asks you things about your characters that are completely irrelevant to the story, including some things which you might not have thought about, but are really important formative factors in real human beings. I don’t want to ruin the exercise before you do it, but have you ever thought about whether your character prefers their sandwiches in triangles or rectangles? Do they prefer to write with a pen or a pencil?

    I thought it might be fun if we all chose a character, whether it be one from an ongoing story here or not, put them through this exercise, and post the results here! (I think it’s a more useful exercise solo than it is as a group exercise, but you might want to try that too, I guess.) Remember! If you choose not to answer one of the questions, you need to be seriously considering why not. Each question you choose not to answer or to answer in a particularly unhelpful way makes your character less relatable and human.

    Another trick that I use is to write a ‘drabble’ or a one shot about the character that is completely removed from the rest of the story. This helps me to understand them as a person, how they act in their day to day life when they aren’t under the stresses that the storyline is putting on them. (If you want to do and share this, it’s probably best to post it as a one shot, and post a link to it here.)

    I always say that the words on the page are just the tip of the iceberg, you have to know 1000 times more about your world and characters than literally comes out on the page.

    So...

    1) Try out Margret Geraghty’s exercise, and post the results!
    2) What do you think of the exercise? Like it? Problems with it? Why?
    3) What do you think of the drabble/one shot technique?
    4) What are your own techniques for making rounded, believable characters?

  2. #2
    CEO of the Monsters Lugion's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    This is actually very useful. I bookmarked it for future use.

    Generally, when creating characters, I have sort of a head-canon, involving who's who, who's been where, how the characters met, their histories and how those histories are related, etc. I go over and go over this, fleshing it out, before writing it down on paper. From there, I mark out unnecessary or superfluous details and add or change details until I arrive at the finished product.

    (Also, ignore my avatar; it's a joke.)

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    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    This does look like a very handy tool for creating good characters. :)

    As for my techniques, I just use what I've learned in the past about creating believable characters. Plus, it also helps to put them through Mary Sue/Gary Stu tests to see if they have too many Sue/Stu characteristics. It's actually okay to have a few, to be honest. A character just can't have too many.

    One of my techniques for character development, though, is using their backstory. As a child, a character could have some characteristics, but then turn into a completely different person when they're grown up. One of the major characters of my Fire Emblem fic, Bryan (who I think is my best character so far), is an excellent example of this.

    As a child, Bryan was shy, lonely, miserable, and had very few friends (none, in fact, until Skye came along). He hated fighting, but he was bullied constantly. He was weak emotionally and mentally, and also physically in some ways. But he would never intentionally harm another person, not even those who tormented him so. Even when they started beating and hitting him, Bryan did not fight back. He detested violence and wanted nothing to do with it.

    But as a man, Bryan is nothing BUT a fighter. He commands a platoon of soldiers, and he will lash out against anyone that torments him or those he cares about. He's a bit short-tempered, he has very good lancing skills, and he's defeated every opponent he's been put up against. He still gets picked on for his shoddy leadership skills in the beginning, and sometimes he doesn't mind his manners. But he still takes out anyone he considers to be an enemy, especially if they bother those he cares about. For example, when two men who try to woo Faline (Bryan's eventual girlfriend) and harass both her and Bryan, he beats the crap out of them. And in one instance, he became so enraged that he couldn't stop stabbing his already-dead target (he looked pretty bad for this too). But Bryan learns from his mistakes and improves his leadership skills.


    Surprising, isn't it? That Bryan could grow to be the complete opposite that he was as a child. Well, Skye, his best friend, taught him some valuable lessons, and Bryan was already quite interested in the lance when he was a kid. He just refused to use those skills to hurt others. But eventually he chose to try it, and damn it felt good. To him, at least. Bryan changed and grew a lot as he got older.

    Another one of my techniques for character development is using what the character is destined to do. I used this one for Azura, the lord character of this story. She begins as a simple mercenary girl who works alone because she doesn't like to be helped and has little respect for most men. This is because as a kid, boys looked down on her as a fighter just because she was a girl. But over time, as she learns that she must play a huge role in the war in Altarais and that it's vital that she form many relationships and listen to the words of many people. And most importantly, she learns that she can do little by herself during these times. When Azura is made a Lord, she grows to adapt to her position and develop her leadership skills so she can rule her territory wisely. Her allies also teach her to become more accepting of help and that there are men out there who will respect her for her battle skills. Azura also learns to conquer some fears, such as her fear of spiders and other critters with eight legs.

    Azura also discovers new things about herself. She finds that despite her usual dislike for men, she is attracted to them, as she falls for Leyon, another major character in this story. She did not want to convince herself of this, however, because Azura felt that he was trying to coddle her on the battlefield (also an exhibit of her not liking to be helped). But Leyon got her to open up and accept her feelings, because he had also fallen in love with her in return.

    This isn't the end of Azura's development though. The story isn't finished. :P

    Lastly, a third technique I have is using life experiences. Leyon is an example of this. He used to follow his older brother everywhere, and learn to be as great a leader as he is. But once Leyon's brother disappeared and was declared dead after a terrible disaster, he needed to find other ways to carry on. He couldn't look up to his brother anymore, and had to cope. He had to learn what mistakes not to make so such a tragedy didn't occur again, and he had to become his own leader instead of look to his brother for support. And he did. He's tougher on his men now, he takes less crap from them than before, and he doesn't take as many risks. This also, however, caused him to refrain somewhat from finding new relationships. He was oblivious to Natalie's crush on him, and actually enjoyed matching up other people as couples more.

    But then he met Azura. Originally, Leyon also believed that women were better off having men by their side to protect them, because they are generally not as strong. But Azura showed him that even a woman can be a very tough opponent to take down. Over time, he fell in love with her, which was something he never expected would happen. He just couldn't grow close to anyone after his brother had disappeared. But Azura changed that and taught him a lesson about it. That's another life experience that let Leyon grow as a character.

    But again, this isn't the end, because the story is not finished. lol

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    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    Okay, so after digging up my Writer's Block book, try these character exercises on for size:

    --Write a story about a job interview gone bad--the more the character wants the job, the better!
    --Write a story about an argument that starts in bed
    --Describe your character's worst date
    --Chronicle the longest time a character has gone without sleep
    --Start a story with "Why didn't you call me?"

    (remember these ideas--some of them might appear again as weekly prompts!)
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    Legendary Pokemon クリスタル's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    Different genre of fic requires different sorts of characteristics for a character, where Margret Geraghty’s exercise cannot fully cover all the genres, and is not suitable to use in some genre either.
    However, the very basic concept of Margret Geraghty’s exercise still works for creating fresh character: which is think about the details outside the confine of the fic itself, whether such details are required by the fic or not.

    According to what I knew about fictional characters, in order to create a good 'plump' character, the following details must be included:
    1) Very basic, the name of the character, may or may not includes surname. However, depending on the character, he/she may have a second name, nickname, byname, codename, etc. These other names will somehow tell something about the character.
    2) Mentality of the character. This is the most important detail, IT MUST BE FILLED! Mentality of the character will includes his/her personality, mind-set, emotions, behaviors, attitudes towards certain situation, reactions towards certain actions, etc.
    3) The past, present, and future of the character. For the past history, it can be since his/her birth, or maybe just some fragments that forms important part of the character. The current present is a bit more important part: What kind of job the character doing? How is his/her current marital status? How is his/her current relationship between family/friend/colleague/spouse? etc. And for the future, because that will be part of the fic itself, you may just need a simple summary of what he/she trying to achieve, what is his/her goal, etc.
    4) The ability of the character. Depending on the kind of fic you are writing, you may want the character to have certain ability or 'special power'. It can be ordinary to extra-ordinary, also note that it includes the level of intelligence as well. In Fantasy fic, you may want the character able to use magic; In Sci-Fi fic, you may want the character able to pilot a robot, or clever enough to build a robot on his/her own; In Adventure fic, you may want the character already having wildlife survival knowledge; In Pokemon fic, you may want the character to be skilled in Pokemon battle. Note that be very careful not to make he/she a Gary Stu or Mary Sue.
    5) Strength and weakness of the character. Try to think what that character excel in, and what that character weak in. This may be in collaboration with 4).
    6) Like and dislike of the character. Try to list out what the character likes to do normally, what he/she likes to eat, what color he/she likes, what kind of girl/boy he/she likes (provided that you are writing Romance fic), what kind of style he/she prefers if go to buy something, etc. Please note that something as minor as prefer to write in red pen rather than black pen can remain as blank.
    7) The 'underside' of the character. After you had finish 1)~6), try to think of an opposite side which seems contradict to the general image of that character, or an hidden side which that character trying to hide from public. For example, the student with the top result in school actually loves to watch Doraemon in every Sunday morning, the macho man that beats all the gangster on the street actually had acrophobia, the girl whose parent owns a famous restaurant was in fact unable to even make a decent-looking sandwich. Such thing may become the weak point of the character, or become a surprising feature when others found out. This 7) is mainly used to make the character to become interesting, though one may ignore it if one wants to.


    Please note creating a character from raw is different from character development through out the fic story, because for the latter one, you will first require a solid existing character before you can further develop by the plot.
    A good character will grow as the fic goes. He/she will never remains the same as like in the beginning of the fic. Such growth must be reasonable and must corresponds to the flow of the plot, a person cannot suddenly become rocket scientist if he has no Einstein-level intelligence from the first place, or if he had never study such knowledge before, or had never went into a brain-damaging accident that has a billionth chance of causing a person to become Einstein the 2nd. How he/she grow will depends on the story, and of course depends on the fic author as well.
    Last edited by クリスタル; 3rd September 2012 at 07:59 PM.
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    J'ai Envie De Toi AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    I guess I'll give this a shot. These are the responses for Keith, the main character of my fic Unpredictable.



    That was fun! The third one (how other people see your character) made me realize something. Since I write in the first-person, I often get lost in Keith's point of view and don't really pay attention to the other characters'. This helped me realize that I'm sometimes forcing the other characters to be who Keith thinks they should be or wants them to be and not who they really are. I'll have to try to strike a balance in the future (perception versus reality, that is).

    I've written fair sized (although not detailed) backgrounds on every one of my characters. I try to use the events that a character has faced before they enter the story to form them rather than what I want the character to be. On a related note, one should always be careful to allow characters to change. For example, if a character has faced a lot of hardship in the past they may be stony and quiet, but if they've been hanging around with a bunch of good friends and having fun for a while, they should begin to open up.

    Thanks so much for posting this! My characters were beginning to feel weird and now I know why. I never thought that first-person POV would begin to constrict my mind. That's an interesting psychological concept, actually, but not really relevant to this topic.

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    is obsessed with Noivern! Zekurom's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    That exercise is one of the reasons I developed things like "backstory fics", and have a penchant for long, drawn-out prologues that seem irrelevant to the main story.
    The word "quadragonal" is the only word with "dragon" in it where "dragon" is not a root word. That makes it awesome.

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    Let's get funky! Gama's Avatar Former Head Administrator
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    [QUOTE=AetherX;4317027
    That was fun! The third one (how other people see your character) made me realize something. Since I write in the first-person, I often get lost in Keith's point of view and don't really pay attention to the other characters'. This helped me realize that I'm sometimes forcing the other characters to be who Keith thinks they should be or wants them to be and not who they really are. I'll have to try to strike a balance in the future (perception versus reality, that is).

    I've written fair sized (although not detailed) backgrounds on every one of my characters. I try to use the events that a character has faced before they enter the story to form them rather than what I want the character to be. On a related note, one should always be careful to allow characters to change. For example, if a character has faced a lot of hardship in the past they may be stony and quiet, but if they've been hanging around with a bunch of good friends and having fun for a while, they should begin to open up.

    Thanks so much for posting this! My characters were beginning to feel weird and now I know why. I never thought that first-person POV would begin to constrict my mind. That's an interesting psychological concept, actually, but not really relevant to this topic.[/QUOTE]

    I'm really glad the exercise was useful to it, and I certainly enjoyed reading your answers to it!

    I find this kind of thing is really useful for opening up the way you look at characters. It's really easy to overlook all sorts of things and this is one of many really good exercises.


    Quote Originally Posted by Zekkyuurem View Post
    That exercise is one of the reasons I developed things like "backstory fics", and have a penchant for long, drawn-out prologues that seem irrelevant to the main story.
    I used to have a bit of a habit for long, drawn-out prologues that seem irrelevant, but I've tried to kick it. I don't think it's a particularly good way to tell a story. I think the amazing work you put into back stories should reveal itself over the natural course of the story rather than through a seemingly irrelevant prologue that can be boring due to its irrelevance, or can make the beginning of the story seem irrelevant. There are ways to pull off this kind of thing, but generally I think making a conscious effort to show off how much back story you've got is a mistake. I always say that in a good story, there will be 100 times more to the world than comes out in the page. If you come up with pieces of back story that never become relevant enough to be even hinted at, they haven't been a waste. It's obvious when the writer has a proper understanding of a full and real world rather than a stage world which is used to prop up the story.

    Anyway, I decided to do this exercise myself. (Am surprised so few people have btw! You should really try it! And if you have tried it, post it here! It could be really useful for others!) I'm doing Max, one of the main characters from my current fic Brotherhood (link in sig for those interested). He's 14.



    That was quite good, actually. Thought about some things I hadn't properly considered before.

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    ◓Gypsy Vanner Horse Kyuuketsuki's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    This seems interesting. I'll answer these questions for Debonnaire, who is 18.



    That seems to be it. There are a couple of questions that I haven't really ever thought of, but my justifications for reaching those answers are:

    Food: Debonnaire probably doesn't eat much because she prefers to conserve her money, and considering she has three Pokémon to feed before the start of the story, and four as of the first chapter, I don't think Debonnaire can afford to eat luxuriously.

    Music: The reasoning for this was just the fact that, as a traveller, she doesn't have any direct way of listening to music.

  10. #10
    How puzzling! Protopost's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    Decided to do some for some of my characters and the fact that I had to think about some of them means I still don't know my characters enough, so I should think about them more :P

    Christopher 'Chaos' Combette



    And now for a char I'm still designing for an upcoming fic: James

    Last edited by Protopost; 20th September 2012 at 10:14 AM. Reason: I hate typos

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    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    So, I decided to do that exercise from the first post for Bryan, one of the three characters I brought up in my earlier post. He's 22 years old and is a very skilled lancer.

    To whom does your character turn for advice?
    It depends on the situation. If Bryan needs war-related advice, he'll probably turn to Francois, or later Ned for advice. If it's anything else, he'll likely consult Skye, his best friend.

    What are your character's 'hidden' attributes, meaning those known to the character but which the character would prefer others not to know?
    Well, Bryan definitely doesn't want many people to know that he was weak and sensitive as a child, or even of what his childhood was like at all.

    What are your character's 'blind' attributes, meaning those others can see but of which the character is unaware? (Remember these could be positive or negative.)


    Identify a frightening situation or moment from your character's childhood.
    Being unusually badly beaten up by the kids that constantly bullied him one day.

    With whom does your character feel most relaxed or at ease?
    Either Skye, his best friend, or Faline, Bryan's girlfriend.

    What is your character's driving force in life?


    What is the first thing other people notice about your character? Note that this doesn't have to be something visual.
    Bryan's green armor, olive green hair, and green eyes indicating that he's the famed Emerald Sentinel. Before he earned that nickname though, it was usually his exceptional lancing skills.

    Who is your character's best friend?
    As I've mentioned a few times already, Skye. He rescued Bryan after he was badly beaten by other boys, and the two became fast friends.

    Name one incident or event your character would prefer to forget.
    Bryan's entire childhood, pretty much. Aside from the good times he had with Skye, of course.

    In close relationships, is your character more likely to be the comforter or the comforted?
    The comforted, since even as a man, Bryan still shows some sensitivity. He can still be the comforter in some cases, however.

    When your character is angry, how does s/he express it? (Note, if s/he doesn’t get angry, what does s/he do instead?)
    First, Bryan yells and threatens the person he's angry at. And if that doesn't make them stop, he resorts to violence and beats the shit out of them. Especially if his target did something or said something bad to Skye and/or Faline.

    Is your character a spender or a saver?
    I'd say more of a saver, though I haven't really needed to bring up money much as of yet.

    What is your character’s weakness?
    Bryan's temper, and the fact that he's not very good at aiming with javelins and spears and all that from a distance. He focused mainly on direct combat while training and never practiced throwing javelins and stuff much. He likes his lances in direct combat.

    What is your character’s relationship to food? (For example, where, when, and what do they eat? Are they overweight?)
    Bryan eats normally. But since he was raised as a commoner, he never did eat luxuriously. He has an average appetite. I haven't really decided what kinds of foods he favors, though. Hasn't been necessary yet. xP

    What ‘mask’ or ‘masks’ does your character wear? (For example, does your character hide feelings behind a ‘happy’ face?)
    Bryan wears a toughness mask. Even when he's been crying, he tries to act tough or at least remain calm. He doesn't want anyone to think that he's at all like the weak, sensitive child he once was, despite that he is still a little sensitive.

    What music does your character like?
    Haven't thought of this. Bryan has rarely ever been able to hear music, so yeah.

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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    I followed the link, but didn't see any exercise, just stuff about the site. Am I missing something? Being blind, it's highly likely.

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    J'ai Envie De Toi AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson 3: Character Development

    Quote Originally Posted by The Imaginatrix View Post
    I followed the link, but didn't see any exercise, just stuff about the site. Am I missing something? Being blind, it's highly likely.
    It looks like the site was invaded by the man.

    Here's a cached version, just scroll down.

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