Posts tagged character development
Posts tagged character development
Oooh, the dreaded ‘Shit The Secondary Character Is Better Than The MC.’ You are not alone in that - everyone comes across it in one way or another. However, I’m going to stick with a lot of advice I’ve heard and say you shouldn’t drop everything to chase the secondary character, and here’s some reasons why:
- Fascinating secondary characters are often only interesting as secondary characters. This isn’t always true, but bare with me - history is littered with fascinating secondary characters who rely on that secondary role to stay fascinating. Part of what makes them so interesting is that we don’t know as much about them as we do the MC, and we may never find that out (in this story at least!). This is why you’ll see fandoms fixate on characters who don’t get much page/screen time. They’re mysterious and leave people wanting more in a good way.
- The main character is in that role for a reason. Your main character doesn’t have to be more interesting than the side characters if that is not her role. I’m not saying they have to be boring, and if you think your main character is boring you should try to work on them a bit more, but they are there to explore their story. Interesting secondary characters are part of that story, but ultimately if it’s their story you want to tell, you should tell it. Don’t feel like you have to make them Super Special Awesome; just make them who you think they should be,
- You can use the Interesting Secondary Character to shake things up. Your secondary can help or hinder, reveal character or trip up your main character. Ultimately, though, whatever makes them so interesting can bring out more plot and story for the main character as the two interact. Don’t waste what makes them interesting - get it involved in your plot.
I don’t want to tell you that you can’t make the secondary character your main character, because that can work too, but if you have a plot and story about your MC you want to tell, don’t drop it at the sight of a shinier character. Ultimate that shiny character is there to help your character shine on their own, no matter how it happens. Get them more involved, use them to shake things up, and don’t forget you can always explore the secondary character in another story (perhaps a sequel? :3?)
- They don’t count as antiheroes if there are zero in-text clues that their behavior is immoral. It just looks like you share their opinions.
- They don’t count as antiheroes if their actions never have any negative consequences. The whole point of immoral actions is that people get hurt.
- Please don’t write what you think of as a hero and then slap the antihero label on them when you get criticism for their actions.
So you’re thinking of writing a character as asexual? Great! Maybe you’re asexual yourself, or maybe you’re a non-asexual person trying to portray it accurately.
Being asexual can affect a person’s life and personality in many ways; I know that I, at least, would have grown up to be totally different if I weren’t asexual and aromantic. Your asexual characters’ personalities should reflect asexuality without being completely defined by it. And this holds true regardless of whether you’re writing original fiction or fanfiction.
If you’re not asexual, it may be hard to think of ways that asexuality could affect your characters’ lives, and how you can portray it in a sensitive and realistic way. So I’ve compiled a list of character-development questions to help you. There are no right or wrong answers, as long as you treat your characters’ sexual orientations as real, and not as something to be “fixed” by falling in love or having good sex. These questions will help you get an idea of all the options open to you as a writer, and prepare you to write your asexual character in a consistent way. You may even get some good ideas for plots and conflict from this list. And if you are asexual, then this list might be helpful to you, too.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve put a lot of books down because the characters were just completely fucking boring. This was especially troublesome for me when my favorite genre was YA urban fantasy. I have quite a few teen fantasy books on my shelves with bookmarks still sticking out of them from years ago.
And don’t get me wrong—all those books had really great hooks. Cool settings or an interesting conflict (and fantasy creatures to boot, so….). But then I actually started reading and all the characters were just bland cookie-cutter stamped duplicates of the same boring crap I’d already see a million times before.
You already know how their character arcs are going to go. There’s nothing new. Nothing to keep me interested. Nothing to make me care. Just 200+ pages spent with characters who have all the personality of soggy cardboard.
So how do you keep your characters interesting? It actually isn’t as hard as you might think. There’s one amazing SUPER TIP that I can give you that will totally make your characters pop. But I can’t just give you the SUPER TIP.
That’s something we have to work up to. (Or you could just skip to the bottom like an impatient noodle. But you’re not an impatient noodle, right?)
So, first off, the worst thing you can do for your character is dump everything you know about them in a long-ass paragraph at the beginning of the story. This goes for ALL YOUR CHARACTERS. Just don’t. A quick introduction—one or two lines—is just fine, but don’t try not to go overboard. Leave a lot to be discovered later on.
I say this because, at least in my opinion, some of the best novels have characterization through the wholebook.Reveal little things about your characters through the entire story. Pretty much everything your characters do should show the reader a little bit more of them.
Also, keep in mind that your characters’ actions speak louder than their words.Your characters can easily tell the reader they are one thing, but if all their actions contradict that, the reader won’t believe them. And unless you’re trying to make your narrator unreliable, that definitely isn’t a good thing.
For example, I recently read a novel where there main character insisted several times in the beginning that they were strong. They even punched a guy once by accident and made his nose bleed. But after that, they spent the entire novel crying and waiting for rescue.
It’s easier to let your characters show themselves than to prove themselves.When you explicitly tell your reader your character is going to be a thing, they will expect that thing. Instead of setting up expectations, let your characters surprise the reader with their actions. Let the reader get to know who they are based on the things they do, rather than just letting your character live up to set expectations.
Oh, and I feel like this should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Develop all your characters—at least a little.I mean, you don’t need full character arcs for your character’s boss who shows up twice, or the clerk they talk to at the grocery store a couple times. But every character who appears more than once should have something that makes them unique.Something that makes them stick out. Something that might speak to at least one reader out there.
That something can be just about anything. Clothes, hairstyles, accessories, speech patterns, dispositions, nervous ticks, their opinions, the way they walk, etc etc… It doesn’t matter what, as long as it makes them special.
And that’s about all the small advice I have, so I guess it’s time for the SUPER TIP.
The absolute biggest piece of advice I can give you for creating interesting, realistic characters is get to know them.
Yeah. I know. Big shocker there. And I know it doesn’t seem like a huge piece of advice, but it really is. The absolute best thing you can do is get to know your characters as if they were living, breathing people. Know them like they’re your best friend. Know things about them that will never appear in your story.
If you take the time to get to know them on a human-level, you’ll have a complete grasp on them. And the reader will be able to tell.
Hemingway once wrote, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”
Happy writing, lovelies.
Take away something at the beginning. I saw a comic on Tumblr a long time ago about a woman who discovered she wasn’t real. The comic was short and it was just her inner thoughts. Just a few panels of her inner thoughts were able to make the reader sympathetic because something so integral to her was taken away and now her identity is shattered while everyone around her has something that she doesn’t. Do that to your character. Take something away from them that makes the reader feel bad for them.
It can be difficult to do this with everyday situations unless you show what it was like before that something was taken away. You can show your character in “the everyday world” at the beginning of the story and the inciting incident can happen right away. A common theme that makes readers care for a character is loneliness.
Give them something at the beginning. Or you can do the opposite. Show your character in a situation that makes the reader pity them and then fix it in a way that makes the reader feel happy for them. Again, a common theme for these situations is loneliness. The lonely rejected kid on the playground who is approached by another reject kid is a familiar scene that achieves this.
Introduce an antagonist. If you introduce an antagonist that the reader ends up hating right away, they’ll be more inclined to side with the protagonist.
Make them relatable. It’s quite difficult to make a character that almost anyone can relate to, but you can make a character a good chunk of people relate to from the very beginning. Think about the age of your character and relatable problems that surround that age. For example, identity, individuality, and relationships are important to teenagers. Introducing a character dealing with one of those issues from the very beginning can draw readers within that age group into the story.
Torture your character. Put them in a physically and/or emotionally painful situation at the beginning of the story. The trick is to make the scene honest and genuine enough that the reader wants this character to come out victorious.
- Extrovert – someone who prefers the company of others over being alone; someone who thinks as they speak
- Introvert – someone who prefers the company of themselves over others; someone who thinks before they speak
If you want to think of it the way I do:
- Extrovert – recharges their emotional batteries around people; drains their emotional batteries while alone
- Introvert – recharges their emotional batteries away from people; drains their emotional batteries while with people
It’s not that extroverts constantly seek out conversation and are naturally socially adept, it’s that they feel more comfortable talking with people. Often, for extroverts, talking about ideas or concepts with others makes them more tangible and therefore easier to understand. Likewise, introversion is not about being shy and secretly possessing a genius level intellect that loud-mouthed extroverts don’t understand. Introverts like having a grasp of what they are going to say before they share it with others. Introverts do have conversations and have friends. They just tend to have fewer acquaintances than extroverts.
An extrovert is more likely to enter a conversation with a stranger and/or hold a conversation with others about general things, like the weather or sports teams. They are also fastest to react to a sudden question or challenge. Extroverts are also more likely to be socially confident, which means they might visibly stand up to authority figures, whereas the introvert would take a more subtle approach. An introvert s conversely less likely to enter a conversation with a stranger and more likely to, say, read a magazine. Introverts do hold general topic conversations, but they generally speak when they need to. An introvert takes longer to arrive at the same conclusion as an extrovert. However, whereas extroverts add things as they think of them, the introvert will present all their ideas at once. Introverts are not as visibly rebellious as extroverts.
Here are some examples of extroverts and introverts reacting to the same situation. Remember that your character’s reaction will be unique because of their past and situation. This is only meant to serve as a baseline. In these examples, Sabato is an extrovert and Hyun is an introvert.
The waiting room is as cold and sterile as a hospital ward. It contains one other patient: a woman with a coughing child. You have been waiting to see the orthodontist for ten minutes now.
Sabato: I notice that the woman is carrying an umbrella. I didn’t think it was going to rain today. I should ask her about the forecast.
Hyun: The ceiling is rectangular. It is four tiles wide and fifteen tiles long. That means the ceiling has sixty tiles on it.
You are serving on the prom committee. Your advisor has just told you that the total from the prom fundraiser was two thousand than expected. She is asking you for ideas to close the two thousand dollar gap.
Sabato: I say, “I think that holding a chicken barbeque would be a good idea. We would need to rent grills, though. I think I know someone who can help us. We’ll also need tents in case it rains. Making order forms would be a good idea so we don’t make any extra chicken. The order form should include different types of barbeque sauce so we can appeal to more people…”
Hyun: I think about it for a moment. I think that a chicken barbeque would be a good idea because who doesn’t like barbecued chicken? We’ll need umbrellas if it rains. Can we find enough umbrellas? Can we find enough grills for the chicken? Yes, to both. OK, I’m going to present my opinion verbally.
You dislike your English teacher because he’s too opinionated and has a very short temper. You’re assigned a five page paper over the weekend. You and your classmates have already been given ten pages of homework in another class.
Sabato: “Is it possible that we could change the deadline? We already have a lot of homework for another class?”
Hyun: I’m going to write an over-exaggerated version of what he wants us to write. He won’t even know I’m mocking his writing style.
How it’s written can be cliche and it can be an issue, but the trope by itself is not inherently bad. Here are some common (and possibly troublesome) traits I see with this trope:
- The Genius is an Arrogant Jerk: And everyone lets them get away with it because their jerkiness is blamed on their genius. A lot of writers who create a Troubled Genius make them rude, selfish, and nosy. These characters do not respect personal boundaries and are often condescending to other people. This wouldn’t be a problem, if the authors handled it in a different way. Jerk geniuses are never called out on their behavior and the author writes it as something desirable, funny, cool, or intelligent. That is a problem. Abusive and invasive behavior is not a symptom of intelligence.
- Never Fit In: This isn’t really a social problem, but it’s kind of cliche. Many troubled geniuses do not have friends, were always a little odd as a child, are loners, and were bullied as children. While skipping grades or being ahead intellectually can definitely affect a child’s ability to make and keep friends, they can still have relationships and they do not have to be bullied to be a troubled genius. Give your character some friends or something if you want to make them a bit different from other characters in this trope.
- Genius is a Curse: The Trouble Genius’s intellect always causes conflict for them. Why not something else? Why is their intellect always the reason for X, Y, Z? Characters are more than their intelligence and your character should have internal conflicts that do not relate to their intelligence as well, just like everyone else. When a character’s intelligence is painted as a curse or a burden and as the only internal conflict your character faces, that character starts to become two-dimensional.
- Math and Science: These characters are usually geniuses in math and science. You can be considered a genius in many fields, from history to acting to painting.
- Male: They are always male.
To romanticize something is to take something undesirable and make it seem desirable or beautiful. Show the troubled part as it truly is. If your character deals with mental illness, don’t show it as something that makes them smarter or more desirable. Show all the bad things that come with it. Show it realistically. The same goes for any other type of conflict, whether it’s internal or external. Make it realistic and don’t leave out the bad stuff and show that actions (if your character fits in the first point made above) have consequences.
If you feel like you have a well-developed main character, but your secondary characters aren’t getting enough focus—there are certain things you can do. It’s important that your protagonist is thought-out, but you also need to worry about the other characters that are helping to support the story.
Here are a few ways to ensure you’re not neglecting anyone:
- Take the time to fill out character sheets or brainstorm about ALL your important characters. Obviously, not every character needs this done, but you need to spend time thinking about those that have an effect on your main story and the plot. Filling out character sheets is fun and will help you understand each character. It will also help give you ideas for scenes.
- Focus on why each character is important. How do they support your main character? How does their presence change the plot? Are there scenes that focus specifically on a secondary character? Knowing all of these things will help you decide who to keep and who to cut. Each character in your story should have a specific purpose for being in your story. It’s often easy to forget that.
- Try writing a short passage from the POV of each secondary character. I know you probably won’t use them, but it really helps. Getting into the mind of each character will help you develop them thoroughly. You’ll also care about them more, so you’ll focus on their stories.
- Know how all your characters are connected and who will interact with each other. Each character in every scene of your novel should make sense. There should be a reason why everyone is there, even if it’s a small one. This will help you with character motivation and piecing the full plot together. Let your characters speak for you.
Basically, it’s about understanding the motivation of each character you write. There needs to be a reason for all your characters and you need to get into their heads. Every character should be important to the plot.
lunabeck said: Hello! I did try looking around, but all questions on character development tend to be about HOW to develop them. my problem is a bit different. because i know her development, and how she is at the end of the story and all that, I keep writing her like that in the beginning. so pretty much I’m having trouble writing her BEFORE the she changes cause i keep writing her like she already had everything happen to her. I’m sorry its confusing, thank you!!!
Thank you for your question, lunabeck!
I’d spend some time figuring out what changes will be made to this character over the course of the story and why these changes are made. Where along the plotline of the story does your character acquire some of these changes you’re talking about? Why do these changes occur? What was your character like before the changes?
Examples? You betcha!
So let’s say that your character (let’s call her Tara) feels a certain way about this guy Bert at the end of the story. She likes him. Cool. Did Tara always like Bert? Is it a worthy plot point to make her not like Bert at some time before the end of the story? If so, what changed her mind?
Perhaps Tara met Bert at the beginning of the story and they totally started off on the wrong foot. Maybe Bert insulted Tara’s friend. Maybe Bert had had a few too many Long Island Iced Teas and acted foolishly. Fair enough. It happens to the best of us. Over the course of the story, Tara has to grow to like Bert, though, right? Because at the end of the story, she likes him, and we know that going in. So what changes?
Bert could get a kitten. Everyone likes kittens. Then maybe Bert helps Tara move. That’s always endearing. Maybe Bert apologizes to Tara for insulting her friend, and Tara realizes that she’s been super hard on Bert for months over some tiny thing. Maybe this interaction puts Tara into an introspective mood, and she finally understands how judgemental she can be toward strangers because of her own fear of inadequacy. Then she and Bert move forward as equals in their friendship. Roll Credits.
The point is that Tara doesn’t always have to have liked Bert. It might actually be more interesting if they don’t start off as besties, you know? Tension between characters is conflict, and conflict drives stories. Maybe play around with what changing relationships might do for Tara’s character arc. If she likes Bert when she didn’t before, how has that changed her emotionally? How would such a change affect her reactions to events in the beginning of the story versus the end of the story?
Maybe Tara moonwalks her way through the story as a kind, generous person and an epic dancer. That’s fantastic (and definitely fun to have at parties), but it doesn’t have to be that way.
What if Tara starts off sort of dull and rude? And she can’t dance. Lame.
Basically, what if Beginning-of-the-Book Tara and End-of-the-Book Tara are exact opposites? How could you make that a thing?
What events would have to occur in the story to change Tara from rude and dull to kind and generous, from a non-dancer to an epic dancer?
Maybe she starts going to therapy to figure out how to transform her critical eye into a force for good instead of evil. Instead of valuing the short-lived high that comes from commenting on other people’s shortcomings, Tara could teach herself to use that critical eye to identify problems and her considerable intellect to work with others on creating solutions. Boom. Rudeness into kind generosity.
Now, a change like this could take the whole story to evolve properly. This isn’t a one-trip-to-the-therapist change; this is a life-altering choice Tara has to make. It needs space. It needs time.
What about the dancing, you ask? Well, have her take lessons. (That sort of takes care of the dullness, too. Everyone needs a hobby!) Maybe dance class is where she meets Bert!
(These are, of course, extreme examples. Most character arcs are slightly more nuanced than this.)
If you’ve already got a character that is, in your mind, a finished project, it’s worthwhile to spend some time slowly unbraiding that character. Where do they seem weakest in terms of personality? How can you exploit these flaws in the beginning of the story? What personal or external struggles would cause even a subtle change in their personality?
At the end of the story, Tara, your character, is still human. If, say, Tara went from being incredibly ungrateful to counting her blessings, it is very rarely so drastic a change. Those are the kind of changes you really only see in articles about character development because they make for the clearest examples. They seem forced, inhuman even. It is more likely that if Tara starts off the story being incredibly ungrateful, she will still struggle with being ungrateful at the end of the story, if only internally. After all, the only type of finished person is a dead person.
So if you have an end-of-the-book character in your mind and you’re trying to chart her journey, and maybe she has a habit of taking things for granted, or struggles with it a little, you can trace this character trait back to when it was at its worst and start there. You might even think about mapping out Tara’s development. Creating a map might help you visualize your character’s development vs. the story’s progression if that is where your trouble lies. It might help with timing and syncing up development with events in the story with each step of the character arc.
Essentially what you’re doing with character arcs is throwing rocks (story events) at a wall (the character) over a given period of time (the story). The rocks chip the paint. They crack the moulding. They dent the drywall. Eventually, if the rock is big enough or you throw enough little rocks at one spot on the wall, you’ll make a hole. At that point, the wall is changed forever. Even patching the hole won’t be perfect, and a patch can’t ever undo the fact that there was once a hole.
To reverse-engineer a character arc, figure out the chips and cracks and holes in the wall of your character, then find rocks that seem to match and decide how to throw them.
Thanks again for your question!
-C and Hannah (theroadpavedwithwords)
Anonymous by request:
To the anon asking about childhood divorce and how that affects teenagers: I have some information for you that you might find useful.
My parents divorced when I was nine (I’m seventeen now) and my brother and I ended up transferring between houses every two weeks. My mother and father both remarried and we gained a step family at both places, thus putting us in the “separate families” category.
For me this meant:
Constantly picking up your life and moving it elsewhere
Questioning what “home” means and if I actually had one
Questioning if I had any “real” family at all.
A general sense of confusion and lack of control over my life, and some estrangement from my parents.
A strong sense of independence
The development of a larger inner world and appreciation for the little things in life
The mental reliance on things that were consistent,
(i.e.: school, friends, siblings, hobbies) which helped strengthen skills and relationships.
The eventual realization that relationships with people have nothing to do with how I came to know them, only what I put into it.
So, for example:
Your character may have become a fantastic dancer over the years because it was something that kept them stable through the moving back and forth, but can also be anal and unpleasant about little details like appointments and dates because of a need to exert control over the things they can. So on and so forth.
Theses were just my personal experiences, but I figure that it happens to a lot of kids in my boat and the perspective could help you flesh out your character if you happen to put them in a similar situation.
Good luck writing! :)
I’m going to now start writing a series of articles that focus on different aspects of revision, such as character, plot, openings, middles, endings, exposition, voice, style, and point of view; setting and description; dialogue; theme; and polishing your novel. I will be linking to previous articles in this series so that way you can re-blog it for your own use or save the link. I will also be keeping track of these posts in my newsletter, which you can subscribe to here. I will release my newsletter on the sixth of every month. The advantages to signing up to this newsletter will mean that you can archive it in a folder, keeping track of important articles I’ve written on my Tumblr blog—as well as my Wordpress one. There are a lot of other advantages, too.
Let me begin by talking about the revision checklist for your lead character.
- Why is your lead worth reading about? What makes this lead separate from other characters that this lead’s story is more important to tell than the other characters in your book?
- How can you make your lead stronger?
- Will readers bond to your lead?
- Is your lead well-rounded enough that readers can relate to said lead and see this lead as a whole, complex person?
- Your characters need to be compelling. They must be as human as we are, with the ability to surprise readers with their character development. If your main character seems flat, you need to assess the reasons why he/she is flat. One way you can remedy this situation is by writing out a list of likes and dislikes your character has. You can write about their passions, their motivations, and what they want to achieve. You can also participate in a thread titled ‘How well do you know your MC?’ on AbsoluteWrite in the YA forum. Another way you can remedy this is by getting excited about your character. One way to do this is to choose a celebrity you think would be cast based on your character’s personality. Using the voice of your character, write journal entries. Look at your favorite books too. What makes these characters as human as we are?
- Identify the emotions of your characters in a particular scene. Assess how realistic these emotions are in terms of who your character is. Your character must desire something, whether it’s getting a scholarship to a prestigious university, trying to save the world from some catastrophe, or something. These desires flow from scene-to-scene. What does your character desire in a particular scene? As people we all strive for something in our lives. Your characters need to do that as well. How far are they willing to go in achieving their goals? What emotions do they feel on the path of achieving this goal? Amelia’s goal in When Stars Die is to protect her loved ones and the world she grew up in from Shadowmen who seek revenge on the people who made them Shadowmen in the first place. On this journey, she experiences heartache, bitterness, anger, love, fear, doubt, and other emotions as well. You then need to identify what is trying to impede that desire and what emotions follow in trying to fight against what is blocking your character’s goal. When you can identify these emotions and what they do to your character, you have a better chance of creating a character readers can relate to.
- How have the events in your story changed your character?
- How has your character developed from these events? Remember, character development is crucial. Your character must be different at the ending than he/she was in the beginning.
- Does your character wish he/she had done something different in achieving his/her goal?
- Is your character bitter about the outcome? Or does your character love the outcome?
- If your character is bitter, why? If your character loves the ending, why?
I myself don’t do any charting—just outlines and notes; however, I do know charts have been very, very helpful for many writers.
- Assess every part in your manuscript where your character has developed in some way, like a revelation, for example. Mark parts where the character has revealed something about him/herself that adds to character development.
- Read your marked parts in order. Are these inner bits about your character believable? Are there any inconsistencies in characterization, such as an inconsistent voice or something that your character would not do? Are there any other places where more character development is needed?
- Here is one character chart I found that I think will be helpful in developing your character during revisions.
Any questions on this particular subject, feel free to ask. Next topic will cover revising your plot.
In life the people we know are usually consistent to their own personalities and characters; whether this be consistently pessimistic or consistently unpredictable. keeping your characters as true to their, well, character isn’t always easy. Of course it helps if you know your charactersinside out, back to front and all around. They should be like people to you, like friends you never meet in person or old work colleagues you haven’t seen for a while. Once you know them it’s much easier to apply their unique personality to paper with consistency and efficiency.
Here’s a checklist that will help you to do so;
- Consider their physical abilities (and awareness of them); most people are aware of their physical abilities and limitations, some think they’re Glasgow/Berlin/Atlanta’s answer to superman or catwoman. This is as much a part of their personality as anything else; an arrogant individual may think they can overcome their physical limits when they really have to, a delusional one may think they have no limits. Though the first is quite common, the second might hint at any number of factors that cloud the mind, think: alcohol, drugs, mental illness. If you want some quick advice on physical capabilities and how to exceed them see; Here and Here, respectively.
- Consider their personality; are they argumentative? Shy? Do they seek confrontation or actively avoid it? Remember a personality is made up of many facets; a person who looks for confrontation, has a short temper and is a staunch pessimist will react differently to a situation that someone who hold these qualities but is an optimist. While the first will see reasons to be angry and people to argue with more often, the second may need to be actively argued with or antagonised before they ‘snap’. They may also be more forgiving.
- Consider the reality of the situations you put them in; almost every person, when cornered, when desperate, is capable of killing (mentally). It may be that they lack the physical capability to kill but no living creature is born without the desire to live and will to fight for survival. Arguably only a true saint or complete coward could face torture or certain death without fighting back. So think; is your character one of these types? Are they the kind of person who would lash out only as a last resort? Or the kind who uses violence of all kinds without guilt? Does your characters reaction to the situation you create fit them or do they act this way to service the story? If the second is true then you might need to reevaluate your character arc in order to bring them to a point where this act fits their psyche.
- Evaluate their motivation; it should be something that the reader, knowing your character, believes would move them to act in certain ways. We wouldn’t believe that, upon receiving good news, someone would become agitated and angry but if we were then told that for some reason this was not good news for them we would reevaluate our stance. For example, consider the (fantastic) film ‘Steel magnolias’; in any normal circumstance we would be shocked that a mother would react badly to her daughters planned, consensual and desired pregnancy. But considering the fact that Shelby has severe diabetes and runs the risk of compromising her long term health with a pregnancy, suddenly, we understand her mother’s actions; she is fearful. She loves her daughter and thus is angry at what she sees as a flippant disregard for her own life.
By asking the right questions during the revision stage of writing you can easily determine where your characters are straying slightly, if it’s not already obvious to you as the author. The most reliable way to catch character deviations like this, however, is to give the story to someone else to read, someone who likes the genre you’re writing in, too. An interested reader will pick up on small falters in characterisation with the ruthless efficiency of a bloodhound and, if you pick the right person, they wont be afraid to tell you. If these issue come to your attention, no matter how, these four points can be used, also, to fashion a ‘repair’ for these issues. Just as you use them to confirm that actions are consistent with characterisation, you can use them to answer the question “If this is not what they’d do, what would they do?”
Is your kind and intelligent but quick tempered teacher realistically going to slap a child? No, probably not.
So what would they do?
Well; a kind, intelligent, quick tempered teach might physically lash out at a pupil if they;
- Were facing physical violence from a pupil and had no other options; not to be crude but anyone would lash out if faced with assault, rape, murder or extreme humiliation.
- Were under the influence of mind, and therefore, personality altering substances; drugs/drink etc. Some antidepressants, on the rare occasion, can induce anger in an individual.
- Had experienced something that altered them as a person for good; we’re not talking the boiler breaking down or a partner cheating. We’re talking loss of life, limb or individuals; we’re talking stuck in an elevator for three days, forced to survive on a kitkat and tear open the rusted escape hatch with your fingernails. Real, permanent and irreversible change of a person’s psychological fingerprint requires a high impact situation. Certainly it needn’t be a physical situation but it should match the corresponding change in magnitude.
Lacking real change they’re likely to;
- Bite their tongue and soldier on; someone with a passion for teaching would most likely wish to help all their pupils, even the troublesome ones. Especially if this person were also inherently kind.
- Shout or, verbally, lose their temper; they might feel guilty afterwards, or remonstrate themselves for lacking in professionalism.
- Turn the anger inward and, if the situation is long term, persistent and severe, self destruct.
This is a limited example but, I hope, is helpful nonetheless.
I assume we’re talking about weapons, in which case, size and weight are both very important considerations, though possibly not for the reasons you’d think.
Size is critical for determining reach. This is how far you can reach out and impale someone. Generally speaking, longer weapons have a significant advantage over shorter ones. I say “generally” because there are a ton of specific exceptions, but if you can stab someone before they can reach you, that’s a combat advantage.
Weight is a major issue, but it’s never about being able to lift a weapon, (unless we’re talking about weapons designed to be used from an emplacement, like the M2 Browning) it’s about how agile the weapon is, and making sure that you can carry and use it all day.
This is why the heaviest swords intended for combat rarely exceed 8lbs. It needed to be light enough that its wielder could carry it and a couple other weapons and use them during constant physical exertion.
That “intended for combat” bit is a fairly important distinction, though. Parade swords were the historical equivalent of your friend’s gaudy katana display. They were there to look cool, not to be useful. Parade swords could get into the 20lb range. Some of those are amazing pieces of art in their own right, but they’re not practical weapons.
If we’re talking about your character? Then size and weight aren’t major considerations. Overall physical fitness is vitally important, but beyond that weight isn’t a huge issue. Depending on climate and diet, weight is semi-independent of physical fitness. I realize that may sound insane, but particularly in cold climates, it’s entirely possible for someone to bulk up while maintaining a layer of fat as insulation.
Size isn’t a huge issue unless your character is unusually large or unusually small. Characters that are less than a foot taller (or shorter) than their opponent should have roughly similar (unarmed) reach.
That said, shorter individuals do have lower centers of gravity, which makes it much easier for them to get into more stable stances.
It’s worth pointing out that: women have a lower center of gravity for their height than men.
When you think of ‘a really powerful bad guy’, how do you imagine them? Someone with a lot of money? Status? Pawns?
Power can be a lot more than someone with a lot of resources… Let’s look at some of the different types of power:
- Physical power. Someone with great physical strength. Their power is best demonstrated in a physical fight. They use total dominance and aggressive, scare-tactics to maintain their position. If they lose a fight, they lose their influence of fear…
- Intellectual power. Someone with a vast quantity of knowledge. Their power is in the information they have, and how they decide to use or apply it.
- Coercive Power. This is power attained through the punishment of those who don’t comply. The power accumulates when others actively try to avoid bringing a punishment upon themselves.
- Informational Power. This person knows things the other characters want or need to know. They can exercise their power by purposely withholding information, or only giving it in the way they specifically choose.
- Legitimate Power. Someone in a high position, whether it be in government, the military or any standard work place. Their power is in their rank - without their title, they lose everything that comes with it.
- Generational Power. This person comes from a long-line of powerful people. All of their power is in their reputation, so they must uphold it if they wish to be respected as their ancestors were. This power can also manifest as a bloodline power or ability.
- Expert Power. The best of the best, this person is hailed as the most knowledgeable in a specific field. Therefore, they hold onto power not only through intrigue and recommendation, but by consistently proving they are better than any of the competition.
- Ownership Power. This person only has power because they have claimed ownership of everything they command.
- Reward Power. Someone who can offer special treatment or material items as a reward for desired behaviour from their subordinates. If they have something that is heavily sought-after, then their power grows all the more.
- Referent Power. This person may have very little that entitles them to power, but the way they are received by others demands respect and reverence. In essence, they are worthy of power only if those who ‘worship’ them continue to believe they deserve their admiration.
When you imagine a ‘tyrannical despot’ character, you’re automatically taking from this list more than one form of power. That’s not to say a character can’t possess more than one type… but the despot character is a very specific one, along with the kinds of power they can exercise.
A despot maintains legitimate power - more often than not - by forcing their way into the seat (otherwise they wouldn’t be despotic). Since they fear their title cannot retain their power alone, they begin to exercise other types of power to keep their status. So, for example, reward power to those they want to keep close, coercive power to those who look like they may not be loyal to the cause, etc.
When you find yourself thinking up an antagonist, try to think about what other kind of powers might be in their reach.
Ultimately, in a story, there is The Big Bad. So, in Shaman King, although Yoh and his friends go through the tournament facing-off against a lot of different Shamans in one-on-one/group battles (arguably, mini-antagonists with different extents of power), the ultimate bad guy is Hao, who plots to win and use the legitimate power that comes with that to reform the world into a Shaman-only place.
Hao isn’t the Shaman world’s equivalent of a CEO or national leader; all he has from the list above is generational power and great physical power based on the fact that his spirit ally is nails as hell. He isn’t already the Shaman King… it’s something he is shown to work his way towards becoming.
You don’t always have to create the character to be at their peak from the very beginning. Even those without great legitimate power can hold something over the heads of your main cast in order to antagonise them throughout the story.
Power comes in all forms, and it’s not always, ‘the most powerful and influential person in the world’. Alongside Hao, there are other great and powerful shamans in Shaman King that hold power over Yoh and the other characters in some way. Just look at Lyserg, who becomes completely taken over by the X-Laws even though they’re not in a leadership role; they win him over by claiming expert power and using Iron Maiden Jeanne’s referent power as a poster for their ‘worthiness’.
Additionally, the shaman world coexists with the real world and even though the humans still have powerful representatives, those people have no influence on the story’s events.
I think all you really need to do here is think about new ways of creating your ‘really powerful bad guy’ by re-establishing the types of power they will need in order to do their job as your bad guy. When you start to think about making the biggest, baddest of the lot, scale the character down a little and think about other ways they could influence the lives of your other cast members. Basically, take away all of their resources and re-imagine what they would have to use and/or do to exert the power you want to give them.
Nobody is saying this character can’t become the biggest and the baddest… but they don’t always have to start out that way.
I hope this helps… Followers, any additional thoughts?
Incorporate some of the Universal Douche Behaviors:
- Betrayal/broken promises
- Having fun at the expense of other people
- Not being considerate of others’ wishes or rules (e.g. listening to music without headphones in a library, bouncing a tennis ball when someone has asked you to stop)
- Manipulating someone for personal gain
- Hogging things (the ball in a game, the shower, someone)
- Acting entitled
- Petty thievery
- Refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions