Posts tagged characters
Posts tagged characters
Your protagonist is going to go through a lot. Whether you’re writing a grueling horror novel or a romantic comedy, it’s the suffering of the protagonist in one way or another that carries us through the story. I’m looking at this through the lens of an urban fantasy/horror writer but it applies no matter what your genre.
But if our characters are even remotely human we need to deal with the aftermath of them undergoing that trauma. Let’s say you’re writing a Lovecraftain horror story, the heroine has to fight her way through madness, monsters and mayhem* to find herself at the end of the story with all of her friends dead (perhaps some by her hand) and her perception of the universe absolutely shattered. If it’s a one off story you don’t need to deal with what that kind of experience can do to a person in the long term, although it’s a good idea to at least hang a lampshade on it.
In a series or a story that covers a long time period it has to be addressed. It will depend somewhat on who your character is, but sooner or later if they’re exposed to violence or extreme strangeness they’re going to have to deal with it. Whether dealing with it means speaking to a counsellor, medication or simply having a good friend to talk it over with is up to you and to the scale of the trauma your characters go through.
A series that dealt with this well was Charles Stross’s Laundry Files where the main protagonist, Bob, is called upon to deal with everything from spy skulduggery to Elder gods that think he looks delicious. He experiences extreme violence from every possible angle and it all but destroys him. The only way he holds everything together is the organisation that he works for provides counselling and medication (not to mention a quiet safe place to stay) while he learns to cope.
It’s worth mentioning that while professionals who are trained to deal with bad things (soldiers, cops, doctors etc) cope better under pressure because they’ve been trained to, they will still need help dealing with major traumatic events. This is true even if your character is an absolute badass, in fact the only time it might not be true is if you’re writing a protagonist who’s a sociopath. Even then, sociopath’s aren’t superhuman and they will experience their own fallout from traumatic events outside of their control**.
Something else worth noting is that characters who end up killing other people during the course of the story are going to be changed by the experience. How they change is going to depend a lot on the character and if they’ve been trained and conditioned to kill. If you want to do some more reading on this then I can highly recommend Dave Grossman’s book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society for a closer look at the effects being trained to kill and the act itself can have on people.
For your fiction, the most important thing is to remember that you can’t have your character unaffected by the things they’ve gone through and the things they’ve done. Such characters are boring, not in the least because they’ve been done to death. Far more interesting is the character that get’s hurt, is terribly traumatised by the things that have happened to them but keeps going anyway.
* The three M’s
** They’ll probably be okay with traumatic events within their control
- If this is the only thing that makes your character change, you are using this as a plot device.
- If this is the only that that gives your character a character arc/narrative, you are using this as a plot device.
- If you are using rape for the sole purpose of shocking your readers, you are using this as a plot device.
- Not applicable to you, but if the person raped is a disposable character (i.e., one who only exists to be raped), you are using this as a plot device.
- If you are using rape to “punish” a character, you are using this as a plot device.
- If you are using the rape of a disposable female character to act as a motivator for a lead male, you are not only using rape as a plot device, but you are putting a woman in the fridge.
Give your character agency, make sure rape isn’t what “makes them strong”, and don’t use it to prove a point to another character.
misakikinomoto asked: Hey! I’m writing a fic in which one character spends a prolonged period in captivity and he is repeatedly raped by the woman who seduced him there. However, I’m having slight issues with getting that level of horror or pain in the flashback in which this is happening. Would you happen to have any suggestions for people writing fics where non-con/rape is a topic addressed and/or described?
(I am going to assume that you are not a victim of rape. Please forgive me if this assumption is in error.)
- Do not eroticize rape. Rape is about power. The sex act is secondary. Control is the most important thing. Moreover…
- Rape is torture. If you’re going to write a rape scene, come at it from the torture angle instead of the sex act angle. For me, at least, it makes it easier to use brutal terminology when I’m equating the actions of my characters to torture, a painful and awful experience, rather than to sex, a pleasurable experience.
- Write a sensory experience. The act of rape isn’t just about touch, about feeling pain. It’s about smell, taste, hearing, and sight, too. There is a lot of untapped horror in describing a rape scene through senses other than touch. It’s all there, trust me. Use all of your characters’ senses.
- Rape has long-lasting consequences. Not just for the victim, but for the rapist as well. Do not discount these consequences as you move forward in the plot and make sure to do your research to be able depict these consequences realistically.
Maybe there more or better tips I could give you, but I’ll leave it at that for now. I may revisit this post to add more advice later. This is a painful subject.
You might talk to people who are victims of rape. Do plenty of research beforehand, then ask questions that will help you write the kind of scene you think will best suit your story. There may even be a few fellow writers who come forward as resources for you as a result of this post. Watch the notes for volunteers. If any come forward and offer to be interviewed, remember to be respectful.
A few basic (and perhaps useful) resources for you:
- Articles about men raped by women
- Reddit IAmAs on Rape:
- Articles about writing rape:
By the way, this response should be the beginning of your research, the starting point, not the end.
There are going to be people who say that you shouldn’t write a rape scene if you haven’t experienced the act itself. Well, I am only one voice, but as a victim of rape myself, I am not one of those people who would wish to silence a writer because of their inexperience.
I believe that doing research about a subject and writing on that subject can inspire empathy and understanding. The dialogue between a writer and their audience is also instructive; a writer either hits the mark and inspires their audience to think and feel differently on a subject, or does not hit the mark, in which case their audience may help them improve their understanding and convenance on that subject.
Furthermore, I think it’s important to encourage writers to expand their limits. It’s okay if you don’t get everything right on the first try. What’s vital is that you learn from your own experiences, both in the life you’ve lived and in the research and writing that you’ve done.
Do your research. Edit your work. Write with empathy and conviction. Listen to your audience. Fight hard to grow as a writer. Good luck.
Thank you for your question.
Queer identities are gaining more and more ground in written and visual media. While this is splendid, portrayals often seem limited to gay people. Bisexuality is, in many ways, still an “invisible” queer identity. Way too often, I hear people who don’t know what it is, doubt its existence, or just plain don’t consider it when telling a story.
About the author: I am a bisexual woman in my mid-twenties who has studied gender and queer theory non-professionally for a few years. I’m by no means an expert on anything, but I do have an interest in seeing my sexuality represented well.
Let me start with a disclaimer: There is no one way to be bisexual. This doesn’t describe everyone by a longshot. The best way of learning is to go out there, listen, ask and listen some more. This article is just a starting point for knowledge and questions.
With that in mind, let’s start!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is bisexuality?
Being bisexual means you are able to be sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to more than one gender. Some people make a distinction between being attracted to both genders (bisexual) or being attracted to all genders (pansexual), but for most intents and purposes, bisexual is the term you want.
For some bisexuals, gender is a factor in the attraction, some are genderblind, some fluctuate between genders, some have a preference, etc. Point is, there are many different ways to be bisexual. The one thing they all have in common is the sexual attraction to more than one gender.
Isn’t it just a phase?
While it’s true that some gay people identify as bi before coming fully out, and that some straight people identify temporarily as bi, bisexuality is a completely legitimate orientation. Bi adults tend to stay bi.
Part of the “phase” idea comes from the fact that most bisexuals indeed settle down with a person of a specific gender. This doesn’t make them non-bisexual though. It just means that their perfect match happened to be male/female/whatever.
How and when does a bisexual person know that they are bi?
That differs a lot. Some have known all their lives, some figure it out through experimenting, some only realize when BAM they’re in love with someone unexpected. Personally, up until my early twenties I just figured everyone was a little gay until I realized that hey, maybe it’s just me.
How do bisexuals choose?
The same way as everyone else. We meet someone fantastic, and we decide that we want a relationship with them.
Aren’t you just greedy?
No, no and also no. Bisexuals are not attracted to everyone. We can be attracted to anyone regardless of gender, but we still have taste and standards. The specific standards depend on the bi individual, just like libido, faithfulness, etc. - all things that have nothing to do with the orientation and everything to do with the individual.
Writing a Bisexual Character
The top 6 most important things to remember while writing a bisexual character are as follows:
“Bisexual” is not a personality trait, nor does it say anything distinctive about the character apart from their shipping potential. Sexuality informs personality, sure, but just like you can’t base a character around their hair color, you can’t base a character solely around their sexuality. Flesh ‘em out.
Bisexual people face discrimination from both straight and gay communities. Bi girls are seen as flaky teases or “drunken straight girls”. Bi guys are seen as equally flaky, unable to settle down, or as gays in denial. All bi people are seen as more promiscuous and less trustworthy. Many people will avoid serious relationships with bi people because of this.
Since bisexuals are regarded as more sexual, bi characters (especially female) can skirt the line of Mr./Ms. Fanservice. It’s not fair, but know that a same-sex couple kissing will often be seen as shocking and/or pandering.
Most (Western) bisexuals live happy, well-adjusted lives at peace with our sexuality. The media has a tendency to depict queer characters in a very dramatic and traumatised light, and there is some truth to this (e.g. the suicide rate among bisexual teens is higher than for both straight and gay teens), but the angst is currently overexposed in media. The angsty queer story needs some spotlight, but it isn’t groundbreaking or edgy anymore.
Related to this, be careful about killing off one half of a same-sex couple. It has been done. A LOT. I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but it leaves me a bad taste in the mouth to see just how many storytellers don’t believe I deserve a happy ending.
If your bisexual character is the only non-monosexual person in the story, be prepared for extra scrutiny and criticism (as this character will stand as ambassador for your view on bisexual people). Avoid this by having a broader selection of LGBT+ characters.
How to Out a Bisexual Character
It can be tricky to out bisexual characters, especially if they’re uncoupled by the time of writing. Here are some easy ways:
Casual outing. Mention same-sex partners/exes in passing. “Yeah, my ex always did so-and-so. S/he was crazy!”. Date stories are also good fuel here. This is the most casual way of coming out.
Sexy outing. Let the character join in on “that person is so hot!” conversations, or have them hit on someone of the same gender. This type of outing may be at little ambiguous, at least to the other characters, and it emphasizes the sexual aspect of the identity. But it can be a fun way.
Explicit outing. Let the character explicitly and directly out themselves. This may be in response to some bigoted speech (“whoa dude, you know it’s me you’re talking about, right?”), during a relevant conversation point (“Actually, since I’m bi, I know so-and-so”), or it might be a bigger gesture (“Since you’re my friend, you deserve to know”). There are lots of reasons one might bring it up.
Forced/accidental outing. Someone else outs the character. This might be an enemy throwing it in your character’s face, a friend who slips up and mentions it, someone who comes across old love letters, etc. Depending on setting and other characters, this can be quite the drama fuel.
In real life, most bi people are acutely aware of how we mention our dating lives. We have made active decisions about whether we’re out or not, and who we’re out to. Very few bi people are careless about this.
That said, please out your bi character to, if no one else, then at least to the reader. Representation only matters if it is, you know… represented.
Tropes and Caricatures To Avoid
There are lots of weird and harmful tropes and stereotypes regarding bisexuals. Namely:
The sex fiend. Yes, some people like sex a lot, and sometimes those sex lovers are bisexual. But there’s nothing inherently promiscuous about bisexuality, and the world doesn’t need any more sex-crazed bi characters.
The straight-then-gay. A person who has genuinely enjoyed sexual relations with the opposite gender, then starts dating someone of the same gender, is probably bi. Don’t erase their identity, and the genuineness of their previous relationships, by proclaiming them suddenly gay. Or vice versa.
Crushing on the straight person. While this can make a compelling story, and it certainly happens in real life, it has been done to death. It also tends to cast queer love as inherently more tragic than straight love. Maybe not avoid outright, but certainly tread with caution.
Too Good For This World. While it is a nice gesture, killing off your queer character to make a point about the world’s cruelty has been done. To death, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The Tease. Especially common with female characters. It’s a bisexual person, often very sexy, but her orientation is never stated outright. It’s played with, alluded to, flirted with, but she never crosses the line of plausible deniability. Almost always overlaps with the sex fiend or Ms. Fanservice. Just… just don’t.
The most important part is: It’s not hard! As long as you build an interesting, three-dimensional person not relying on stereotypes (the way all characters should be written), you can’t mess it up. And the world sorely needs good bi characters, so you will be doing both the queer and the writing community a solid by including us.
Also: Please remember that there are as many ways to be bisexual as there are bisexuals on this planet. Sexuality is fluid, and complex, and just a small part of one’s identity.
If you’re interested in reading more, here are some good starting points:
Diversity Cross-Check, a tumblr introducing writers to marginalised people that they can ask questions (find the “bisexual” tag)
I will also be delighted to answer questions through my own blog or this post’s notes.
Now go forth, and write great bisexual characters!
Having trouble coming up with your own post-apocalyptic hero(ine)? Try out this generator! I tried to include options that would help with building both the character and their world. I’d love to check out what you make with this generator if you wanna tag it “characterdesigninspiration”!
To Play: click and drag each gif or take a screenshot of the whole thing.
Crap I accidentally had this in the wrong blog’s drafts. Here’s the newest generator though!
- Intelligence. Less than a human, obviously, but animals aren’t necessarily stupid. I just saw a gif of a snake who learned to open a door. A snake. Pets remember their feeding time, people’s faces and past treatment of them, and if they’ve been places before. Wild animals can learn to trigger traps without hurting themselves. Your animal won’t be able to derive, but it will know how to get around.
- Expression. You can skip over describing the animal’s emotions in great detail by using their body language and vocalizations. You don’t need to state the cat is happy if it’s purring. For that, you need to do some research.
- Needs. Animals need food, shelter, and water. If they’re domesticated, this makes them dependent on humans. If they’re wild, they’re going to spend a lot of time looking for it. Animals will also feel the need to mate seasonally/a lot (unless spayed/neutered), which a lot of authors don’t address.
- Instincts. If you aim a laser pointer in front of a cat, it’s going to chase it. If you smile at a chimpanzee, it’s going to think you’re threatening it and possibly attack. These instincts are bone deep for most animals - they can’t control them. Your animal will be doing a lot more than feeling than thinking.
- Personality. While there are stereotypes for every animal, no two animals are the same. Each animal has its own quirks, temperament, and reactions to different situations. Be sure to give your animal a few unique traits.
- Writing from their POV, Average Animals
Anyone in the roleplay community who knows me knows i am one hundred percent about one specific thing: religions. It pains me to see people only use religion when they are playing “religion freaks”. That term roughly translates to someone who’s obsessed with religion and takes everything about a certain religion to heart. While these people do exist, it is more likely that you’ll see people who embrace only certain parts of a religion but religion does surround us on a day to day basis and if you want a realistic character or roleplay in general, you must take them into consideration. Stop being afraid of religions.
RELIGION AND EDUCATION:
- If your roleplay is set in the United States of America then one of the first things that must come to mind is saying the pledge in the morning. “One nation, under God.” There are several ways people take the pledge: those who don’t pay much attention but say it anyway, those who say the pledge but emit the “God” part, and those who don’t say the pledge at all. Another thing you might want to consider is Catholic schools or any type of educational institution that takes religion into great consideration. It’s becoming rather tacky to see every single Catholic school girl hate religion in general, while yes, there is many Catholic school girls who hate their school simply because of how it is formatted, it doesn’t mean every single one of them is going to start hailing Satan.
- Another point, believing in Satan or some sort of underworld in general is a part of almost every single religion. While some may think of religions in general a simply a spiritual path towards heaven, hell is about 50% of religions. Why else would people be so intent on being good and getting into heaven? Because there’s the possibility of getting into hell.
- One last thing to consider regarding religions and education is the education of religions. You learn about religions in history class, in philosophy class, and in well, religion class if you attend a school/university that offers it. When talking about religion in a history class you only learn the basics because teachers aren’t allowed or have the time to go into depth with every single piece of a religion, religions are huge and complicated especially if you’re solely talking about the major ones (Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism). In philosophy class you’re taught more in depth about religions but still not 100% and when you take a philosophy class or a history class you’re not necessarily taking either to learn about religions but to learn about every subject offered in the class. However, when you take a specific religious class it has to be because you’re interested in the religion or the religion is yours.
RELIGION AND EATING:
- Buddhism: In Theravada and Mahayana schools many people do not eat meat or fish. Some are vegans and specifically in China and Vietnam, many do not eat onions or garlic. Buddha told people not to eat certain types of meats: humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, boars, and hyenas. This was due to self-respect and protection. Though there is no specific law in Buddhism regarding food, in the time of the Buddha himself, monks were expected to eat everything put in their begging bowl without discrimination.
- Hinduism: In this religion, meat, fish, poultry, and eggs are forbidden. People who follow this religion very closely also don’t eat garlic, onions, mushrooms, alcohol, and tea or coffee. In the Vedic texts, one should offer food as a sacrifice to God. Many references indicate that fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and dairy products are fit for humans to consume. The food offered to God is thought to bestow religious merit, purify the body, mind, and spirit. For this reason food has a close relation not only to the religion as a whole but in worship. The forbidden foods are considered ignorant and beef in particular is avoided due to respect for the cow. Bhishma, central character in a Hindu epic tells about how no sacrifice should be made without butter. Therefore, cows became essential.
- Christianity: Most Christians do not have a restriction when it come to eating meat though they refrain from eating it on Fridays or during Lent. There are only two biblical references regarding food: Genesis 9.1-4 and Genesis 1.29. The first allow people to eat meat under certain circumstances and the second states that vegetarianism was God’s original will. Most Christians will eat anywhere and don’t experience as many food restrictions as other religions.
- Judaism: The ingredients forbidden in the Jewish religion are several: emulsifiers of animal origin, glycerin, gelatin, shellfish, and prawns. Kashrut is the system of Jewish dietary laws. The Torah does not specify any reason for dietary laws but they are followed in order to show obedience to God. Leviticus 11:3 states, “Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.”
- Islam: Ingredients forbidden include pork, gelatin, meat not slaughtered in the prescribed way, blood, alcohol, carnivorous animals, and lard. Eating is a matter of faith, their dietary practices are also essentially about obeying God. You must recite the name of God (Allah) before eating and thank God after you are done. It is important to eat by the right hand in company and the name of Allah must be pronounced while slaughtering. It is also important to only eat when you are hungry and not to eat in excess. Essentially it is about thanking Allah for everything and keeping in mind that he is to thank for meals.
RELIGION AND HOBBIES:
- Books that are fictional but incorporate religion or religious aspects: The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, The Chronicle of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, House by Frank Peretti, and The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.
- Movies: Bruce Almighty, Life of Pi, Home Run, Like Dandelion Dust, Soul Surfer, The Kingdom of Solomon, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, Unidentified, The Da Vinci Code, The Passion of Christ, Heaven is For Real, God’s Not Dead, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Son of God.
- Television: Apparitions, Around the world in eighty faiths, the big questions, the heaven and earth show, sunday life, it’s a miracle, little men, sea of faith, the world tomorrow, little mosque on the prairie, salam cafe, tomorrow’s pioneers, a touch away, the god squad, the magic door, yiddishkeit, man alive, the message, give us this day, breaking bread, the cleaner, compass, and shaheed-e-kufa.
- Church Music: Kyrie (“Lord have mercy”), Gloria (“Glory be to God on high”), Credo (“I believe in one God”), Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), and Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”).
- Hindu: Aa Gaye Maiya Ke Navrate, Aaja Mahiya Aaja Sohneya, Aaye Sewadaar Maa, Bhawani Do Darshan, Chola Rang De Maa, Dhun - Jai Ambey Maa, Maa Murad Kar Poori, Chatari Mangalam, Jain Navkar Mantra, Bhole Baba Ki Kanwar, Bol Bam Kanwariya, Dhun - Om Namah Shivaya, Jai Babe Di Bol, Man Bhool Gayo Bhagwan Re, and Shree Vishnu Stuti.
- Jewish: Moshe Salyo De Misraim, Am Yisrael Chai , Birkat Hakohanim , Mi Ha’ish , Eifo At Hayom , Tidrechi , Ivdu Et Hashem, Barchi Nafshi , Zman Lehitorer , Lema’an Tzion , Chozrim Habayta , Mishehu Pa’am , Shma Israel , Tov L’hodot , Pitchu Li , and Kolot Halev.
- Islamic Poetry:
- What happened to my Youth?
- An Evil Glance
- Am I Grateful?
- Read the Qur’an
- Divine Wonder
- Muslim Only by Name
- Ahad Ahad!
- Evidently, I don’t know everything about every religion and this was very generic and basic. If you’d like more information on a certain religion then please simply let me know. What I wanted to show more than anything, was that religion is such a part of everyday life. You see it in music, poems, television, movies, everywhere. It has even such a great part in dietary habits. It pains me the amount of people I see who are Buddhists and don’t take their dietary habits into consciousness or even their schools or prayers. I’m sorry that the world has decided to create this idea that religions are something to be feared, that they are evil, but they play a huge and essential part of every day life! Don’t play a religious freak, simply be conscious of what you are doing and saying. As always, if you would like to add more to this feel free, any questions contact me, any mistakes let me know. And have fun creating characters!
Character Motivation and Consistency:
So lets take a moment to talk about character consistency. This is something that I find a lot of people have a hard time with and a lot of it has to do with the actual development of the character in itself. When making a character, we pick out traits and experiences that define our character. All of these things including flaws and talents are important but something that people tend to forget with picking out a character is what their motivation is.
Author Orson Scott Card reminds us “We never fully understand other people’s motivations in real life. In fiction, however, we can help our readers understand our characters’ motivations with clarity, sometimes even certainty. This is one of the reasons why people read fiction—to come to some understanding of why other people act the way they do.”
Why is Knowing Motivation Important in Writing?:
This essentially, explains to us why characters act the way they do. Choices are determined by the motivation of the character. They are a guide in the choices they make because where they want to go or what they want determines what choices they are going to make. Very very VERY seldom does anyone make a choice at random. By knowing your characters primary motivation, the choices that they make will remain consistent (Even if they are not the ‘right’ choices.
Basic External and Internal Motivations:
Bold-face is obverse aspect (stuff in parens = goals, effects, or other association)
- Survival/safety; Fear of the world (food, water, escape from danger)
- Physical comfort; gluttony (shelter, warmth, good food, health)
- Pleasure; hedonism (sex, great food, culture, games)
- Dominance; tyranny (power, social standing, competition, respect)
- Acquisitiveness; greed (wealth, materialism, collecting, excellence)
- Curiosity; voyeurism (learning, searching, investigating)
- Mastery; perfectionism (excellence, conquest, discipline, achievement)
- Reproduction; profligacy (children, creativity, family-building)
- Autonomy; isolation (self-sufficiency, freedom, non-confinement)
- Affiliation; conformity (security, cooperation, loyalty, clan)
- Love; lust/ownership (connection, passion, sex, mirroring, approval, giving)
- Revenge; justice (righting wrongs, recognition of grievance, vengeance)
- Guilt; denial of guilt (responsibility, shame, punishment, redemption, forgiveness)
- Identity; self-centeredness (self-esteem, self-knowledge, self-protection)
- Surcease; conflict avoidance (peace, escape from anxiety, death)
- Spirituality; fetishism (religion, transcendence, transformation)
- Growth; decay, aging (learning, maturation, wisdom)
- Ambition; insecurity/anxiety (fear of failure, inferiority, stress)
- Vindication; rationalization (success, proving self, apology)
The Difference in between a Goal and Motivation:
The goal is like the flower… the motivation is the roots.
The goal is the outward manifestation of the motivation. It is concrete, measurable, and specific.
You don’t know when you’ve fulfilled the motivation: “I want success” isn’t measurable– what’s success? But you know when you’ve achieved a goal: ”I want to be on the New York Times bestseller list–” That’s measurable. You’ll know when you reach it.
Just keep in mind that while the goal is the external manifestation of the motivation, the connection is not always a straight or clear one. You can have a goal that is destructive and against your true motivation– “looking for love in all the wrong places” is an example.
Or you can have a laudatory goal for a selfish or twisted motivation– “I want to be first in my class to show my father up!”
Motivation is the past; Goal is the future; Conflict is the present.
Distinguish between MOTIVATION and ACTION:
Remember that motivation exists to inspire the character to make choices and take actions. If you’ve been told your protagonist is “too passive”, it’s likely what’s lacking is motivation that leads to action.
Every action, however small, should be motivated. If the motivation is obvious, then you might not have to show it (we assume that she’s running from that tiger for survival).
Compare the external (obvious) motivation to the goal and/or actions. If they don’t match, an internal motivation is probably in force. What hidden desire or fear is influencing actions?
An alternative reason for motivation/action mismatch: You’re trying to make an original character act in stereotypical ways.
And keep this in mind:
Heroism and villainy are in the action, not the motivation. Heroes do heroic things, they don’t just intend to do them. And villains do bad things even if they have the best of intentions.
Taking all of these things into account, here are three exercises that I found a while back and use to help figure out character motivations:
1. Real People as a template:
Make a list of 5 people you know really well. Beside each, make notes about how they:
- react to stress
- experience happiness,
- treat other people.
After that, list what motivates each of these behaviors. Try to be as factual as possible, drawing from things you know; for things you’re unsure of, use common sense to hypothesize.
A person might make it their goal to treat others with respect because of religious beliefs, or maybe because they were disrespected in the past. Someone might react poorly to stressful situations because they have a deep-seated fear of failure, stemming from a past experience.
2. Characters from Literature:
List 5 characters from literature and what motivated their actions throughout their respective stories.
For example, Shakespeare’sHamlet. His thoughts are motivated by revenge (because his uncle secretly killed his father), along with anger, sadness and confusion (because his mother married his uncle so soon after his father’s death).
Add to this a host of other factors, and you have a well-developed character you can understand.
3. Self reflection:
Write paragraphs to describe
- your most frightening experience
- your happiest experience,
- your most stressful experience, and how you reacted to each situation.
After, list all the factors that motivated your behavior. How is your personality shaped by your motivations?
During the story (Or role play) it is important to remember these character motivations when your character makes choices. That is really what this is about; identifying the motivations that make your character act the way that they do.
During the plot, motivations may change, and should actually shift for the character to develop, but never all at once and never out of the blue. Still the back story that drives your characters motivations will always be part of them.
For instance; I write a character whose past has made her a survivalist but over the course of a year she shifts to protection of the family that she has developed. However this took a full year to happen and her motivation of survival was never put on the back burner. Instead it just expanded to protection of the group and not just herself. Her fear of lose over this new family is what really drives her.
And there you have it: Keeping your character consistent through their motivation.
Quite a few people requested some form of trait/personality generator, and here’s the result! I wanted to keep it vague enough that the options could work for any universe, be it modern, fantasy, scifi, or anything else, so these are really just the basics. Remember that a character is much more than a list of traits, and this should only be used as a starting point– I tried to include a variety of things, but further development is definitely a must.
Could pair well with the gender and sexuality generator.
To Play: Click and drag each gif, or if that isn’t working/you’re on mobile, just take a screenshot of the whole thing (multiple screenshots may be required if you want more than one trait from each category).
I’m not a big fan of adjectives, but it’s food for thought.
- Character loves adopted parents. Often, the replacement guardians are just that: replacement guardians. More often than not, they’re abusive or neglectful. A guardian/guardians that the character has come to love as their own parent(s) would be a nice change from the usual “woe is me I am abused”. And avoid comparisons with how a character’s “real parents” would do something, e.g. “Go to your room!” “My real parents wouldn’t make me do that!”
- Parents aren’t super special. A lot of dead parents eventually play into the plot. The really trite version of this is when the orphan hero learns his parents were actually the good (and murdered) king and queen, so he must retake the throne in their name. Dead or missing dads are really prone to becoming important. Let your character have parents of average importance. Status is no replacement for care: the character should probably feel more loyal to their guardian (assuming they are loving) than their parent/parent’s cause.
- Recovering from loss. Many characters lose their parents in their early childhood. They probably don’t remember much about their parents - maybe a few memories. There’s no reason for them to be crying into their pillow every night as an eighteen-year-old. If anything, they might do some genealogy projects and try to find out what their parents were like, but they won’t do it out of obsession.
might look a bit weird in your search history, but it’s the most helpful and informative site i’ve found for naming characters. search by letters, meaning, nationality, and syllables, among other things. has intriguing name lists — from harry potter names to oscar winners.
helpful especially for characters in specific era’s, or in specific demographics. holds archives of the united states’ names dating back to the late nineteenth century. also charts the popularity, and other statistics, of names.
very, very helpful for last-minute surnames. wouldn’t recommend for any important, significant, or completely solidified characters, simply because there’s no telling the nationality or origin of the name that comes up.
tracks family names as well as given names through nationality, ethnicity, origin, and popularity, shedding light on the subject of why. huge insight on the origin of naming and what it really means for the individual
some more helpful links
Writing Quote – Robert Holdstock