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Creating deep solid characters


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As I'm getting further into my book, I am finding it more difficult to work with supporting characters as I only know the main parts of my main character and main supporting character.

I have never build a full character profile before and I want to learn how to do it so I can do justice to supporting characters conversations and reactions etc.

 

So what I am wondering if someone is willing to work with me to learn and teach me if needed how to make believable realistic characters with depth that people will find likeable and relatable. I want to be able to fill in all aspects of the character build even if it's not all included in the book.

 

I've looked at questionnaires and videos, but I have a tendency to overthink or not understand the simplicity sometimes

So if I can learn to build 1 character properly, I can use that to build more in the future

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You know, I looked at a lot of those character-building charts and whatever, too, but I didn’t find them very helpful. I mean, they’re sometimes 30 or more questions long, and most of the questions are pretty irrelevant to the story. For me, I just come up with a few details of the character’s appearance, activities, and family background—things that would come up naturally in story dialogue or description.

 

Really, only a few questions are necessary (for me, at least.) Why is this character in the story? (I.e., what’s his role?) Is he going to help the main character achieve his goals or hinder him? What does he want/need in his life? If I took him out or blended him with another character, would the story suffer?

 

i hope these ideas are helpful. I’d be happy to help you brainstorm if you need ideas about specific characters...

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I used to do "character sketches," where I'd jot down my character's full name, birthday, hair and eye color, their hobbies and skills, their favorites list (i.e. favorite food, animal, color), and their "favorite saying" (I probably only had that because they did that on the app Gacha Life). I don't do that anymore since I lost them when my computer crashed, but I kind of imagine how my characters look and act over time. A general idea of what your character looks like can help in the beginning, and you can go from there. For instance, if your character has auburn hair and green eyes, they probably are really outgoing and peppy (I'm not saying everyone who looks like that acts that way. I'm giving an example.).

 

Zee has some good questions to ask yourself as well when you make your character. I can try helping; although I'm not sure how great of a help I'd be since I'm not full of information. 😛

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One of the best resources I've come across in developing well-rounded characters was on the storyembers.org website. The focus they took there was on the worldview of the characters: what they believe, why they believe that and how they interact with the world. This was after I tried one really detailed character worksheet that went into the character's entire history and education and skills, but that just left me with a lot of what happened to the character without contributing to what they believed and why. Knowing what your character believes and why they believe it is important, because that informs every aspect of what they choose to do and how they respond to situations.

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@Amosathar, since you've brought up this topic, I've been thinking more carefully about what I actually do think about when writing a new minor/secondary character, how much I need to know. My latest book introduces a new secondary character that I haven't used before. His primary purpose is to be a kind, practical, level-headed counterpart to the protagonist, who's more idealistic, and a bit of a drama king.

 

Since they live and work together, my secondary character also helps/hinders the protagonist at key points in the story...for example, he agrees to trade a shift at work when the protagonist needs to be somewhere else, and provides key information about their job when at one point he learns it first (think cleverly disguised info dump.)

 

This secondary character's name is Vova. He's young, but I don't know his exact age (early thirties, perhaps?) His parents are briefly mentioned, but exactly who they are, his relationship with them, and whether or not he has any siblings, I have very little idea, since these things aren't important to the story. Other than the fact that he's dark-haired, physically strong, and given to using liberal amounts of cologne, there's really not much more information given about him in the story, (nor did I invent more.) But that's OK, because he feels the role he was created to fill quite effectively, and I can hardly expect him to do more than that.

 

Hopefully that's a more specific, concrete example of how you can go about "using" a secondary character to fill a necessary slot in your protagonist's story.

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The character I am writing about was merely a barely supporting character before, but since the rewrite she is going to have more of a story connected to the main supporting character. At first all I knew about her was her name is Rose and she has a sister Amy. In writing this new chapter I know that their names are Rose which is short for (Rosealee) and Amy which is short for (Amalia) and their last name is Sanchez. I find it hard to write about someone from a Mexican heritage  as I don't know anyone personally like that and I want to be realistic and not offensive.

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I generally model personalities base off of that of the main character.  If the character is serious or quiet, you want to have some conflicting personality: cheerful, optimistic, sarcastic, chatty.  If you have a strong, self-assured character, you want someone who is cautious, or questions.  You want some difference to create conflict, thereby spawning meaningful dialog.

 

A novella that I'm working on (my freebie, giveaway for signing up on my mailing list) couples a quiet, reserved, but devout and unquestioning main character with a bookish, quick-witted, rational partner.  Whereas one does not question their belief in a singular God, the other doubts because of an absence of proof.  They share a common cause: the protagonist because he is given a commission to slay the enemy, and the other because he's seen first-hand the horrors the enemy has committed.

 

One carries the conflict, the other carries the dialog.

 

In the book I am querying, the main character, who is a dishrag, is paired with a domineering presence of a wizard, and the cool, level-headed experience of a warrior.  The main character carries the conflict as well as the dialog, but he is bounded on both sides by the wizard's certainty, and the warrior's skill and cunning.  Plus, the two distinctly contrasting personalities (the irritable wizard and the unflappable warrior) provide depth to all of the interactions.

 

In the end, you only really need two or three stand-out personality traits to make a secondary character seem whole.

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You know, I really find this whole discussion rather odd--the way you plan out your characters, that is.  All of these questions you've got answer.   You don't leave any room for the subconscious to work.  Don't you ever just sit down and let the characters happen?  

 

I'm serious about the question, by the way.

Edited by suspensewriter
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yes that's generally what I do, but I guess I'm looking at this more specifically in relation to writing a character that is of a racial background and culture I don't understand. I'm not sure how to explain it, but the last thing I want people to see from my writing and her dialog is an Australian's idea or view of what a Hispanic person is like.

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Read some books by Hispanic writers?

 

Be aware of the fact that "Hispanic" covers a multitude of countries and therefore cultures. Not all Hispanics are Mexican. They don't eat the same foods, listen to the same music, think the same way. And certainly they do not all speak with a Spanish accent, which would be different from a Mexican accent or a Colombian accent or an Argentinian accent.

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9 hours ago, suspensewriter said:

Don't you ever just sit down and let the characters happen?  

I do have some characters that have just happened. One walked into a tavern, grabbed an ale, and simply introduced himself as the amusing but reliable side-kick to one of the main characters. Another has simply grown into his love interest in her quiet but direct way. I do find that even when I am answering questions about the character, a lot of their personality and history just "happens" onto the page.

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Well I did some research and watched some videos and after 2 hours realized that I don't need to describe her yet because her current interaction is with a blind woman so all that she would be able to gauge from her POV is the possibility of a slight Spanish flavor to her speech although I haven't decided if her accent is that obvious yet. Later on when the scene is at her home I can describe her and the interior design of her home to convey what I want to. 

 

Of course with a last name like Sanchez, you would have to assume some kind of heritage.

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10 minutes ago, Amosathar said:

Of course with a last name like Sanchez, you would have to assume some kind of heritage.

 

Some kind of Hispanic heritage, you mean? Nearly everyone’s name carries some kind of heritage...but I know a couple people who got new, “made-up” names upon immigration, one simply because his original name was hard to pronounce. I don’t think that’s so common anymore though. And here I am rambling again...

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11 hours ago, suspensewriter said:

You know, I really find this whole discussion rather odd--the way you plan out your characters, that is.  All of these questions you've got answer.   You don't leave any room for the subconscious to work.  Don't you ever just sit down and let the characters happen?  

 

I'm serious about the question, by the way.

 

I suspect this is something writers grow into with age and experience...though it may be a bit about personality, too. I’d venture to guess that you’ve lived more years and written more books and stories than the majority of people on this forum, and certainly in this discussion...

 

As a new writer, I know it helps me to have a few “building blocks” in place right from the start. With time, and repetition, this process will grow more intuitive...I hope.

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Again, I would like to point out that if you use a Spanish accent, you are going back to Spain, not to South America. And if that's the point, that's fine. 

 

A slight Spanish accent might involve a bit of a "th" sound when pronouncing an "s." 

 

Another point: there is no "typical" description to fit every Spanish or Hispanic person. They come from all different backgrounds and colors. However, the stereotype for a Spaniard would be much different from a Mexican or a Cuban or a Chilean.

 

Depending upon the conversation, you might find the logics differ too.

Edited by carolinamtne
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