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Storytelling and Writing Craft > Interesting characters

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message 1: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments Do you think about how to make your characters interesting? Do you begin with characters and then build a story around them, or do you plot your story and then build your characters? What makes a character interesting?


message 2: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Great questions Scout.

For me, my story is fundamentally built around the antagonism of the two main characters, Anton & Chloe.

I began with their relationship, and built the story around it, which fleshed everything out.

For interest, I thought it was important that both characters have powerful and relatable goals.

Anton witnessed the brutal torture and murder of his mother, and his father is abducted and consigned to a hellish imprisonment - he seeks justice, and to free his father. (cough, cough, nothing to do with Batman, cough, cough...)

Chloe was deceived and bound by her master, and seeks her liberty which can only come with her master's death.

Chloe is the agent of Antons mother's torture and death and the abduction of his father - she is the primary target of Anton's drive for justice.

Chloe cultivates Anton as a weapon against her own master, if Anton can be 'unwittingly,' induced to kill her master, then the 'curse,' will be broken and she will be free. (FREE! Oh so free - the world will tremble...)

The rest is building a world in which this relationship plays out. Once you have the characters the plot builds itself. I'm always asking myself "what will this character do in this situation?" And the rest follows.

Authentic character expression creates the plot.

Chloe has the first scene in my first book, and Anton the second. Their final confrontation is the climax of the story. Which principle will be the victor, Justice or Liberty - let the champions take their positions....


message 3: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments Justice vs. Liberty, played out by your characters. Why should one win? Or do they both win? Very interesting.


message 4: by Graeme (last edited Jul 03, 2018 01:42AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Setting up a conflict between two irreducible goods creates a situation where readers can find value in both the Protagonist and the Antagonist, and may even reverse those roles.

I do find reviewers favoring Chloe or Anton, depending upon their natural inclination to one side or the other.


message 5: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments I try and make my characters relatable, but to also evoke emotion in my readers. You have to become invested in either a character's success, development or demise to keep reading, I believe.


message 6: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Hi Leonie,

Your characters are compelling. I fully invested in Shanna, and her compatriots vs the vile insect scum invading her planet.

And who couldn't love your cats - genetically engineered - uber-hunters with a high loyalty to their human families.

Great work right there.


message 7: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Graeme wrote: "Hi Leonie,

Your characters are compelling. I fully invested in Shanna, and her compatriots vs the vile insect scum invading her planet.

And who couldn't love your cats - genetically engineered - ..."


Thanks, Graeme, that's so nice to hear.

I've recently read Illuminae, Gemina and Obsidio by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff which is a terrific YA series, and they've created some absolutely remarkable characters - and they're so relatable, even if you're an adult. I think it's the little quirks and habits that they've integrated into their characters that make them marvellous.


message 8: by Graeme (last edited Jul 03, 2018 05:38AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Agreed. It's important to deal with the little things too - it's make the characters that much more relatable.


message 9: by Michel (last edited Jul 03, 2018 06:30AM) (new)

Michel Poulin For me, drawing an interesting character(s) is done at the same time I draw the main initial outlines of my story. A good story should evolve around interesting characters, either good or bad ones, but still interesting. Be famous or infamous, but be somebody!. Or: do the good, not the bad, but if you do the bad, do it good!

You may invent the most interesting and innovative fictional universe for your story, but it will feel flat and boring if your main characters are essentially nobodies. Clueless nerds stumbling around a story are also not my favorite type of reading.


message 10: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments I start with the main outline of the story then try to draw characters suitable for the story, and if possible I try to draw them so that at the beginning of the story they would not succeed, but they have to develop on the way. Maybe it is a mistake on my part, but many of them are not that likeable. If the story requires scumbags, then those characters can't be nice and cuddly.


message 11: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Ian wrote: "I start with the main outline of the story then try to draw characters suitable for the story, and if possible I try to draw them so that at the beginning of the story they would not succeed, but t..."


Perhaps Nik would like to comment re difficult protagonists...


message 12: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16322 comments Yes, I'm all for difficult, controversial protagonists. There are some ultimate scumbags and their saint opposites, but in general I don't believe in all good or all bad people and aiming at realistic/exposing lit I go with controversial protagonists that sometimes, for example, promote noble agenda with despicable means or do good with vile intent. Besides, I like to challenge the virtues of my protagonists -:)
I believe the same person may, for example, look for an owner of a lost wallet with a few dollars in it, but be a little more reluctant if finds a bag with 100K in it-:)


message 13: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments I used to challenge the virtue of my students. I'd ask if they thought of themselves as good people who would do the right thing. Yes, they did. Then I would ask them what would be the right thing to do if you saw a homeless man drop a twenty on the sidewalk. Would you pick it up and give it back, or would you keep it? Give it back, they would say. It's his money. Then I'd ask, Would you keep the money if the person who dropped the twenty looked wealthy? Being virtuous usually was tossed right out the window at this point, with no regrets.


message 14: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2333 comments I think a lot of people wouldn't even pick the money up...You remind me of money I found on the floor while standing in line at the gas station...right out in the open and no one touched it...I picked it up, asked around, and felt only the slightest tinge of guilt keeping it when no one claimed it.


message 15: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments But if you'd seen who dropped it, what then? My point was that you know right from wrong, but you're more likely to keep the money when the victim can afford the loss. Doesn't make it any less wrong to keep what doesn't belong to you. Interesting characters walk a fine line between these dichotomies.


message 16: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Do you feel remorse when you cheat a little bit the IRS in order to get a decent income at the end of the year? Do you think that it is acceptable to avoid declaring some revenues in order to having some extra money to pay for more/better food for your family or to buy new clothes? There is so much wastage, inefficiency and corruption at government level, so why feed further the pigs at the through? How many people would agree with those points of view?


message 17: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments As it happens, Michel, I disagree. I have run my own company for about 30 years and have never knowingly not declared income to our IRD. Yes, the politicians waste it, but when I sign a statement that the above is true, I mean it. I agree wasteful politicians are a curse, but I would prefer to have those politicians fired at the ballot box. Not that I am howlingly successful at that.


message 18: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Please understand that my questions were hypothetical. I just wanted to have a feel of what people generally think about tax cheating. If I were trying to grab every cent I could, then I wouldn't be giving my novels away for free.


message 19: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments Michel, I never accused you of tax cheating, but when you said "How many people would agree with those points of view?" I confess I thought you were asking a question.

For what it is worth, I do not give away my novels for free, but I do discount them from time to time. The reason I don't give them away is I did twice, and got no sales or reviews after it, so there was no point.


message 20: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Okay, let's go back on the subject of this thread. We were discussing the morality and values of MCs in novels, if they knew right from wrong. One way that J.J. and Scout used to measure this was by asking about money found. Do you return it or keep it? I used another measure, basically cheating or not on your taxes. So, let's continue on that line. What I say is that government corruption, graft and mismanagement is sapping the will of its citizens to be honest.


message 21: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments As fior morality of MCs in my novels, some have it and others don't, because that is needed to get the tension in the story. I know it has been done before, but good vs evil is a sort of trope that is general. If all the characters are pure, the story is a bit like confetti - thrown around it is more or less instantaneously forgotten. If you don't have "morally challenged" characters, the story doesn't work, and characters like Caspar Milquetoast are not exactly memorable. (Although I suppose Caspar has been recalled more than once.)


message 22: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan The best way to demonstrate character morality is through actions and choices made under stressful conditions.

I.e. When the heat is on - true character is revealed.


message 23: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments Indeed, Graeme, but some of them have to have moral deficiencies for that to work. Ten Mother Teresa's in the story will have its limitations.


message 24: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16322 comments If to take a reality for inspiration, Obama may be the nicest dude on Earth, but I'm not sure whether his legacy will be all that memorable by future generations, and Trump may be a person that it's not that easy to be friends with, but might left some impact (early to judge whether bad or good).
Bill Clinton too seemed a remarkable dude, yet he had to undergo an impeachment, which he successfully survived.
Or Kennedy, the legend, who, as appears, wasn't exactly the loyalest of husbands -:)


message 25: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin You want an interesting character who is the epitome of 'Mister Nice Guy'? Use Tom Hanks as a model. You just can't help but like him and he seems to be as much of a nice guy in private life as he looks on the big screen. Tom Hanks will never play a 'bad guy' role, yet his acting talents can't be denied.


message 26: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Sullivan (Gangster) was a borderline bad guy role. "Road to Perdition." REF: IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0257044/...


message 27: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Léon, the professional assassin in 'The Professional' would certainly qualify as a very interesting character with challenged ethics.


message 28: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Loved that movie.

There is a whole class of 'bad guy,' characters who are faced with even worse people, who make them look good.


message 29: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments Michel wrote: "You want an interesting character who is the epitome of 'Mister Nice Guy'? Use Tom Hanks as a model. You just can't help but like him and he seems to be as much of a nice guy in private life as he ..."

Indeed, but here are often some more questionable guys in his movies. If you have some bad guys, then you most certainly need some good ones too.


message 30: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments Graeme said, "There is a whole class of 'bad guy,' characters who are faced with even worse people, who make them look good." I read novels with main characters like this, and these characters are more interesting than straight good guys. I admire writers who can somehow make you side with the bad good guy.


message 31: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan hmmmm I know someone like that....


message 32: by Graeme (last edited Jul 13, 2018 08:51PM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan The key is to give them a noble purpose, or code of honor that they obey regardless of the trouble it might cause them, while they hang their vicious, honorless, low-life, scum, opponents on meat hooks in a freezer....


message 33: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments In one of my novels the important character (IC) put some bad guys in the pantry and freezer for later fine dining - but he was a raptor, so I suppose that does not count as being bad.


message 34: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan That's normal behavior for a smart, high tech raptor


message 35: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments Indeed normal behaviour.


message 36: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments Talk about a noble pupose. What about a good guy who's backed into a corner by circumstances beyond his control and takes a journey to the dark side in order to save his family? His metamorphosis from good guy to bad guy drives the story and makes for an interesting character and a great story.


message 37: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments Write it, Scout!


message 38: by Graeme (last edited Jul 14, 2018 12:03AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan A dark arc, typically navigated through many steps where each block to the hero's attempts to save his family calls forth a stronger and stronger reaction.

Will his family still recognize him once he rescues them, or will he have traveled too far a path to relate to them. i.e. gone to a place he can not follow. (Anakin Skywalker).


message 39: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments Anakin's descent into the dark side (the killing of the young ones) really was not about saving his family. But Anakin is a good example for such a dark arc.


message 40: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments How important is it to have a character go on a journey, either physical or psychological, or both?


message 41: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16322 comments You need circumstances to have a character 'decided' or 'subverted'. Michael Corleone didn't exactly like family's lifestyle until confronted with the need to protect it. It's then that he becomes a mafia boss.
Most people live unidentified and only when they need to make a choice we'd know how they are


message 42: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Both. A merely physical journey is not transformative, and descends into portraiture where the character is the same after the journey as they were before.


message 43: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments I just thought about The Lord of the Rings, which is mostly about a physical journey with many interesting characters and experiences along the way. It was more about the journey until the very end, when Frodo made the right decision. And The Wizard of Oz was all about the journey until the end, when all the characters' problems were resolved. There's no place like home.


message 44: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments A physical journey can be OK if there is a problem to solve. Think of "King Solomon's Mines". The character does not have to transform during the journey, although a little development may happen. But that is just circumstances bringing out what was already there. As an example, I do not recall much transformation with Sherlock Holmes.


message 45: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments So, there's the kind of story aimed at resolving a problem, and the characters don't have to change, as with Sherlock and other detectives. The story is the thing.

Here's a question: When you write a main character, how do you decide what qualities he will have? Do you ever base the MC on yourself?


message 46: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Hi Scout, for a story arc to occur, something must irrevocably change. I think you have helped identify two basic forms.

[1] Both the world and the character are changed, and
[2] The world changes, but the characters do not.

I work exclusively in [1], but obviously there is a huge amount of excellent fiction in the 2nd form.


message 47: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Scout wrote: "When you write a main character, how do you decide what qualities he will have? Do you ever base the MC on yourself? ..."

This is an excellent question. For me the qualities of the characters are developed at the same time as I develop the conflicts between them. The first qualities that will become visible to me will be the ones that emphasize and sustain the conflict.

My MC's are not based on me at all, - at least not that I can tell.


message 48: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 12045 comments I also try to avoid basing characters on myself, but I suppose at times some characteristics slip through.


message 49: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2333 comments Scout wrote: "Do you ever base the MC on yourself?

..."


Not sure it's the same thing, but I've put MCs in situations based of situations I've been in. I've taken elements of myself and incorporated. I had someone tell me they loved the sibling relations in my family dramas, and while they're not the same relationship I have with my own brother, I've taken elements and twisted them about to create the relationships in the stories.


message 50: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6312 comments Most MCs today seem to be anti-heroes. I'm posting a couple of things I found. Is your MC an antihero or a Byronic hero, or some combination?

• Antihero: An antihero is a protagonist who lacks many of the conventional qualities associated with heroes, such as courage, honesty, and integrity, but still has the audience's sympathy. An antihero may do the right thing for the wrong reason. He may be fundamentally selfish but do a few good things as long as it suits him.
• Byronic hero: A Byronic hero is a variant of the antihero. The Byronic hero is usually a man who is an intelligent, emotionally sensitive, introspective, and cynical character. While Byronic heroes tend to be very charismatic, they're deeply flawed individuals, who might do things that are generally thought of as socially unacceptable because they are at odds with mainstream society. A Byronic hero has his own set of beliefs and will not yield for anyone. While it might not be initially apparent, deep down, the Byronic hero is also quite selfish.

I notice that selfishness is mentioned in both definitions. Is your MC selfish?


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