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Young Writers Society
Writing Rounded Characters
Tue Feb 25, 2014 2:32 am
Writing Rounded Characters
People are not two-dimensional, and thus, characters should not be either. The problem being that people are also extremely complicated, and sometimes, writing a character that even begins to do justice to humanity is extremely difficult.
Some of us mend this problem by making up elaborate character templates, detailing everything from their full name to their entire history to every known like and dislike. Personally, I find this method extremely daunting and piddly, and my characters have a tendency to never keep to their template. For those that the template method works out for, that's great! For those it doesn't work out for, I've picked apart my own method, and I hope that it helps. If writing it down suits you better, go for it. I generally do everything mentally and make notes of certain specifics (age and birthday and whatnot, because I forget specifics a lot). Whatever floats your boat!
Set a foundation
Your foundation should include your character's basic personality (something simple, like a general type and a few broad characteristics), their main interest/s (one or two of their main fascinations/hobbies), their race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, age group, and a basic understanding of their history/family life, as well as snippets of their current situation (ie: living with their family; living on their own; homeless; in university/college; attends a boarding school; etc).
It's not totally necessary to know every single one of those things. If you don't have something figured out right away, it'll probably come to you later
Don't get too consumed with filling out all of the aforementioned categories. All you need in this step is a foundation to build on.
Yup, you read that right. Drop everything that you decided in Step 1 except for your character's type/broad characteristics, their main interests, their current situation, and maybe their age group and family life. Gender, sexuality, ethnicity/race and religion should have nothing to do with this next step, which is the most intensive.
The entire point of this one is to expand on the 'who' of your character's foundation. Narrow down or add to their type, take their broad traits and add to them or split them into more specific traits. Make sure that your positive traits are specific, and that they're matched with at least the same number of neutral traits (traits that you can't really slot as positive or negative or a strength or a weakness), and three or more negative character traits (physical traits do
count, save for in the manifestation of skills. Disabilities are not weaknesses, nor are appearance things).
Next, expand on interests. This is where history becomes necessary, because knowing if your character's a flippy-floppy person or if they're the type to follow one thing, roughly or to the T, will probably help you get to know them better. How have their interests evolved? Narrow them down, and use them to determine your character's long-term goals. If they're very interested in music: do they play a specific instrument/multiple instruments? Are they singers? Composers? Song writers? What's their favourite genre? Do they want to pursue it as a career, or are they satisfied with it being a hobby? What about when they were younger? In a few years? Etc, etc. Also, people will have interests and hobbies outside of their main fascination/s. A musician might also skateboard, or be interested in biology, or fashion.
Research if necessary
Now, and only now, is it okay to bring back what I said to leave out in step 2. If your character is of an ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, or any other aspect of life that you're not, or that you're not at least very knowledgeable of, reading up on it is probably a good idea. Gather histories, current events, and personal accounts, and make notes of things that
influence certain aspects of your character. There will be minor things, such as an outlook on other groups of people, their countries/governments, outlook on life, etc. Remember that this will not totally alter your character, and that if traits accompany your character based on the afore-listed, they should be just that. Traits. Not the entire character.
There's a more detailed article on this
Tying it all Together
Now's the time to figure out how all the different aspects of your character connect, and how their personality will cause them to react in everyday life and in accordance to the current social situation. It's also a good time to hammer out histories, family situations, and situations, make sure that the positive:neutral:negative trait ratios are balanced, and to double-check for excessive stereotyping.
One of the best ways to do this is to first write very short stories that are totally irrelevant to the piece that you want to stick this character into, just to let things flow and test how they react to certain stimuli. Torture them, bore them, indulge their wildest dreams and pleasures.
When your character feels like they're ready to go, let them go! Remember that they're subject to change and development as your work progresses, because people do that too, and oftentimes, you'll learn more and more about your character as your work progresses.
So, please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookcase on the wall.
— Roald Dahl
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