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Guide to Memorable Characters

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Level 83
I am the love in your heart. <3
Hi everyone,

So yup, I am writing my first writing guide. I thought it would be a good contribution to the forums and hey, it could be the start of my writing guides series. :p

Okay, so enough chatting and let's get to the real thing.


The Guide to Building Good, Balanced Characters

Alright, so you've decided that you'd like to write a story for a novel or a game or whatever, and it's time to build the heroes of the story. Easy task, right? Just some cool hero and heroine, a few simple NPCs and of course, the big bad guy. There, we have the characters of our story.

Well, this may seem simple, and it might seem like all you have to do now is choose their names and you're all ready to go. The dialogues can be thought later and well, the personalities, we can aim for any stereotypical type and that would be fine.

Truth is, building characters takes a lot more than that.

You might have the layout and the plot, but without real, true characters you have nothing. It's their job to actually make your story come to life and make the reader react with the actions and events. If your characters are lifeless, then so is your story, no matter how cool it is.

Look around you in the world. Billions of us are everywhere, yet every single one of us is unique in some sort of a way. Each one of us has their own favorite hobbies, likes and dislikes, things that get on our nerves and others that crack us up-let alone our personalities, that decide all the previous.

Sounds like a lot of details? Let's take it step by step.

Decide the background and work from there

When first building your character, decide where they come from. Is it a small village where most people are simple farmers without much experience about anything else? Or is it a large city with many facilities and lots of interests? Perhaps some sort of a tribe in a war with another tribe?

Your character's background decides a lot of their personality. It wouldn't make much sense to have an overly-protected princess have much experience with fighting monsters or a man who fights with a tribe be withdrawn and shy.

Their family and how they grew up decides a lot, too

We don't fall from trees. Our parents bring us up, or any other family members, and those usually have a huge impact on our personalities and how we react and behave in different situations. You have to decide these important details to decide on your character's personality. More importantly, important events in our childhood, especially tragic ones, leave a mark in us that we cannot deny.

For example, a character who lost their parents at a young age probably suffers fear from losing a loved one later in their lives. Someone whose parents are alive and well are more likely to be more stable and happy if their parents do take good care of them, while another whose parents are alive also but are more neglecting will be a lot less stable.

Now the actual personality . . .

Now that you've decided on the background and your character's family history, you can decide on your character's personality. Now here's something important in my opinion: don't be afraid of the stereotypes!

I know some of you will frown at this but truth is, if you try so hard to avoid something, you'll end up doing it anyway, or not creating anything at all.  :tpg:

Sure, I know that no one will want his character to be called stereotypical but it's your job to make what seems to be a stereotype completely different and unique! How can one achieve that, you wonder?

In my opinion, if a stereotype has every little bit of his personality 'justified,' it's not a stereotype anymore. And a little bit twist can actually do the trick.

Let's have an example.

One of my characters may seem stereotypical in the beginning: the everyday normal cheery girl who jokes a lot and is always energetic to do anything. She likes friends and company, does sports and dreams of her knight who would whisk her away on his white horse one day.

Lame, right?

Well, what if I tell you that this girl is actually a queen who's hated by her people because she's cruel to them? Because of a trauma she's suffered in her past, she rarely takes mercy on anyone who commits wrong in her kingdom to the point that it's cruel at times, and her people who can't understand her reasons, hate her for it.

Now that's interesting, right?

To make it short, your characters can be as interesting as you want them to be, even if they seem lame or stereotypical at first sight.

The Consistency . . .

This is very important, the most important point of all. Your characters need to have an opinion, a voice of their own. The personalities that you've created for each of them must control them, not you. Yup, that's right. You don't control your characters. The moment that you give them a personality, they decide on their own.

Just because you got a wonderful idea that you want to implement in your story doesn't mean you have the right to make the characters do what you like. The moment that you get such an idea, you have to think of all the characters it affects and the choices they will have to make and ask yourself-do these choices really go with their personalities? Would they really do that?

Character Development

However, the previous doesn't mean your character is necessarily a stubborn person who holds to their opinion (unless it's a trait of theirs, of course.) Any character is subject to development on the long run and with the correct sequence of important events, of course.

This has to be done carefully and logically and varies from one character to another. For example, a shy, sensitive little girl is more subject to being affected by events around her than a strong, mentally stable soldier who's used to fighting in wars and tragic events. All of your characters can change either a bit or dramatically, but the change has to be suitable to their personalities and to the size of what they actually suffer or go through.

You'll have memorable, lively characters then

Follow the guide above and hopefully, with the right amount of work, you'll find a character that almost resembles a new living being. Remember-having a few memorable characters whom your reader can relate or sympathize with is a lot more better than many different but lifeless characters. Understand them, love them and give them your time to build them carefully and thoroughly.  Make people think about them, wonder about their actions, but always have an answer and a reason for every action they do. Their thoughts, memories and feelings should be clear to you as you write every single word they utter.
Well, I hope this could help. Any more opinions would be highly appreciated. ^^

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That's a neat guide Miss Nile. Thanks for sharing!

The Hero of Rhyme
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Nice! :-) I'm a character/dialogue nerd and I honestly was really relieved to read this. I was expecting a "make the most original character evar" post, but you seemed to embrace what many of us think of as "stereotypes". Which is awesome and I totally agree with your perspective! I really like the idea of this thread, so I'm going to add my two cents for the discussion! :ma:

I've noticed that certain character "stereotypes" are just a broad look at someone's outward character - something that by no means shows a lack of depth (except perhaps at first glance). If someone were to summarize a real person, they'd surely seem like some form of stereotype, too! I believe that the real development is in the execution! I find that whenever I have to write a short biography about my characters, I lean more towards recognizable traits. But when I'm writing as them, they feel more like a blend of many, undefined traits. It's like sitting down to describe my sister - she's timid and kind of awkward. Saying that alone seems stereotypical "shy person", but that's not the only thing she is. She's also sort of not-shy sometimes, likes to talk, and has a sense of humor. Characters can stretch to all forms of boundaries and beyond, typically favoring certain traits.

In my totally harsh, FE elitist, maybe slightly controversial opinion, Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the perfect examples of what not to do with character development. In the previous games, the characters seemed less unique, but more like...well, people. In that game, though, each character was given some stupid niche and stuck to it like a robot (example: the weird guy that literally was obsessed with candy and used sugary references in everything that he does.). Many of the characters felt awkward and detached. (Note: it's still a pretty fun game).

I guess my point with that was "don't try too hard to make characters unique". Sure, they may have some weird niche that sets them apart from the other characters, but that can be terrible when used in excess. The truth is, people are bound to mix traits and have a lot of similarities - and a lot of differences. Even the most epic-silent-awesome-omega-bad asses are capable of a snicker or laugh every now and then.

Oh noes, you got me started. ;_; It's nice to have more writers around here! :ladyj:
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Level 83
I am the love in your heart. <3
Thanks for the comments! And yup, I definitely agree with you there, The Outsider. You have some valid points there that not many take in account when making their own characters. XD

And thanks! I definitely call myself a writer and it's nice to be around here. :3 :D