PDA

View Full Version : Making Great Characters


SFFWorld.com
Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum


Pages : [1] 2

choppy
April 25th, 2003, 12:36 AM
So once again, I'm about 30 pages into a story. I have a simple, but good plot, some good themes, a great setting and some vivid imagery. I even have a little dramatic conflict. But the story's falling flat on its face.

Part of my problem I think is the characters. They're too flat. So my question is this - what makes a great character? Do they have to be "real"? What separates say Hannibal Lecter from a generic serial killer?

Hemingway
April 25th, 2003, 01:07 AM
Well lets see if I can help a little. Habits are a major key to distinguishing a character as someone who is realistic. Example: Everytime Captain so and so became angry he began clicking those metal balls clack clack clack....or a certain speech pattern like...I've walked 30 miles today, so I have.... sometimes instituting a certain pattern in speech or using a particular saying goes a long way as well...the saying in this case is obviously "so I have"
Know your characters history, from his childhood to his adulthood. Build a voice inside your head for a character (sometimes I'll use a famous actors voice or something like that).

The most important part is making your character an original personality..now how you do that can be done in many ways. Like Hannibal Lecter...a man of utter insanity, yet he he is remarkably intelligent and cunning. Two very contrasting traits. Try mixing different traits together, like the silent type, but when speaking he conveys words like poetry.

The rest is up to you, good luck. Oh and BTW characters are the most important part in any story, so you're right in assesing this issue as immediately as you have. A great story is key, but characters are what people care about, they are what drives a story. It's like having a Benz without any damned gas, will look damn pretty but it isn't going to get out of the garage.

Bear
April 25th, 2003, 04:27 AM
There are no cut-in-stone answers here, but some things I like in characters:

Flaws:

I hate reading characters that are too perfect. Flaws are important. Characters might be a little vain, cocky, frightened, nervous, timid around the oppostie sex, overly blunt, never learn when to shutup, cynical, or whatever, but there needs to be something, IMO. And flaws can be endearing. If you have a cocky character who isn't particularly good at anything, it could be funny. If you're hero was someone who suffered from a panic disorder and feared nothing more than marching into battle, it could be inspiring to see him overcome it. There are a million combinations here. But flaws give characters believability.

Individuality:

Your characters, as Hemmingway mentioned, should be unique. Cookie-cutters and stereotypes aren't very interesting. Your characters, for lack of a better word, need character. Flaws are apart of this, but so are strengths, behavioral patterns, speech patterns, outllooks on life, political standpoints, etc. There are millions of ways to customize your character. Why use the presets?

Protagonists need to be likable, to an extent. Even if they aren't entirely admirable, there has to be something that makes you want to read about them, something to latch on to. Because who really wants to read page after page on people they can't stand? But again, if you take this too far and have a character that never makes a bad decision or says the wrong thing, it lacks believability and can be more annoying then appealing.

I could get into my thoughts about Villians, too, but there's a lot to say about that topic. And I'm lazy.

mistri
April 25th, 2003, 05:22 AM
Habits may set certain characters apart but they also get irritating. Once a set phrase or action has been repeated more than a couple of times, it really begins to jump out at the reader. Maybe it just annoys me. I dunno.

What I do to try and set them apart is give them different personalities. I've used in the past a book called The Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, though I guess it may not work for everyone. For example, I may decide one character has passive aggressive tendancies, and then try and let that come through their dialogue and actions, without actually getting repetitive.

If your characters are very well-defined in your mind, that will probably (hopefully!) come through on the page anyway.

Great characters are unlike anyone else - doesn't mean that they have to be totally weird or anything, but more that no one should be able to take their place. Great characters can't be confused with any others.

What separates Hannibal Lector from a generic serial killer is his intelligence and his charm (not that I find him charming particularly, but Clarice sort of does) and the fact that he is not like you would expect a serial killer to be like.

KatG
April 25th, 2003, 12:44 PM
Why do you think your characters are flat?

choppy
April 25th, 2003, 04:55 PM
Why do you think your characters are flat?

Well I guess this stems from the fact that the story is still in its infancy and I haven't flushed out a lot of their respective histories yet. I feel like they're pretty generic. Each reacts to a given situation based on rational decisions, rather than being influenced by personal history. Their triats don't jump out at me yet, and if my main character died, I'd shrug my shoulders in a Seinfeld-esque manner and start on something else.

The suggestions above are great. I know I have some work to do, but I started this thread just because I thought it would be a good place to brainstorm.


Here's another question:
Who are some of your favourite literary characters and why?

Hemingway
April 25th, 2003, 07:34 PM
Roland of Gilead (Darktower series by Stephen King)- Silent type, but when he occasioanlly cracks a joke your jaw absolutely drops, because you cannot believe the man of implacable stone actually has humor in him. Roland keeps a lot inside himself, but you get the sense that he is very deep, despite his withheld history. The best character ever.

Robert Jordan (For Whom The Bell Tolls by Hemingway) A short fuse, and portrays a real sense of authority to those he believes beneath him. Has no sense of sparing feelings (sometimes I just have to say ouch when I hear him reply). Very observant so iot makes things very interesting when narrated from his perspective. Sparse, but witty dialogue. Great character.

You should check out there Greatest and worst characters of fantasy thread. It's in there somewhere, probably on page 2. It'll give you a good idea of what people do and don't like.

milamber_reborn
April 25th, 2003, 11:03 PM
Martin's characters are great.

You need good interaction. Work on your dialogue and make sure you can enter the mind of your characters when you write.

Stewart
April 26th, 2003, 11:25 AM
Ender from Ender's Game is one of my favorite characters. He is barely passed infancy when the story begins yet he is more intelligent than any of the adults around him, he thinks was such strategy that he almost never fails to achieve his desired goal but that in itself is the problem for him because every goal he desires always requires his hurting or even killing somebody. Now as a reader this wouldn't such a big deal if he were an adult because adults kill all the time in books but he is barely a teenager as the books closes out and although he regrest every death with an intensity that overshadows every other emotion he shows in the story he always finds himself killing again and again. He is an very well done character.

KatG
April 27th, 2003, 10:01 PM
Originally posted by choppy


Well I guess this stems from the fact that the story is still in its infancy and I haven't flushed out a lot of their respective histories yet. I feel like they're pretty generic. Each reacts to a given situation based on rational decisions, rather than being influenced by personal history. Their triats don't jump out at me yet, and if my main character died, I'd shrug my shoulders in a Seinfeld-esque manner and start on something else.

The suggestions above are great. I know I have some work to do, but I started this thread just because I thought it would be a good place to brainstorm.

So it's not because the issue is blocking you writing the first draft, just that you're gathering intel for fiddling with your characters? Because at this point, it's not unusual for the characters to be in this situation and it sounds like you've pretty much already figured out what you're dissatisfied with and why.

Of course, the main character dying thing, that might signal a real problem, because if you're already bored with this person, it may become harder and harder to write the work as you go on. You say that the characters seem generic to you. How is the main character generic?