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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Inventing Characters

   
Author Topic: Inventing Characters
LeetahWest
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Ok, so the subject title may not be the best explanation for my question, but it was as close as I could get without making it a whole sentence long.

I am trying to put together the bones of my story. I have my main character whose viewpoint I will be telling the story from and one other who is a close enemy/friend. However, I am having a really hard time trying to figure out what other characters I am going to need in my story that wont simply be walk-ons. Does anyone have any tips they use to come up with the other important figures in their stories? This has been a slightly frustrating quandary for me.

On the same, slightly altered note. Should I continue developing my plot in more detail and hope by doing so I will find the need for the other characters, or should I have the other characters planned out first and plant themselves in the story line, helping move it along by their presence?


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Natej11
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If the character isn't going to be around much, your best bet for them is to give them some attribute that makes them stand out just enough that their name is memorable. You'd be surprised how well it works for making readers remember them throughout the book.

A good example is in George R. R. Martin's books, where an innkeeper named Masha Heddle at a crossroads inn chews something called sourleaf and her lips and gums are stained red from it, as well as her spittle. With that one fact you always know exactly who he's talking about even when she's just mentioned offhand. And if you're wondering how well it works, I remembered all of that even though I haven't read the books where she's mentioned for years just off the top of my head.

[This message has been edited by Natej11 (edited August 20, 2011).]


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Crane
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I suppose it depends on if your plot is character driven or not. If you plot goes along just fine with only two characters, then maybe that's enough. If you find you need more characters, I would begin to question your walk-ons and see if they're more than that.
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LeetahWest
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My story is a milieu. I really feel like more characters would help move the story through the world, but I am so at a loss for them. Perhaps I will simply continue developing the storyline and think about the other characters as it progresses.
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mythique890
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I would maybe think of people who would surround your existing characters if they were real people. Family, for sure. And if these two are frenemies (ha), is there a third, more neutral or supportive friend that helps balance them out? Parents, siblings, teachers, yoga instructors, classmates, coworkers, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, fellow travelers, innkeepers, bartenders, beloved pets, their mailman etc.? Female characters are especially likely to be close to sisters, mothers, aunts, or other women, so unless your characters are reclusive or unsocial, they're likely to have a wider circle than just each other. What kind of story are you writing?
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LeetahWest
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I am writing a story about the spirit world. And not in a sense of someone trying to redeem their mortal lives, or trying to have any interaction with the mortal world. The main character is essentially the key figure in the war between heaven and hell. She is Satan's sister, but she is on the side of good. I know that isn't a great explanation of what I am writing. But I am heading out the door, so I will have a bit better summary later. Thanks for your willingness to help.
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MartinV
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I tend to invent characters when they are needed. Some characters are already there in the initial plot but I have no problems inventing them straight from nothing.

I had a story where my protagonist was leading an expedition of three ships. Naturally he would be commanding one but then it came to me that someone needs to commands the others two ships. So I invented two more characters. At first they wer cardboard but then it came to me that if my protagonist gave them such an important station he would need to know them. From this came the whole past of these three men and how they came to be leading this expedition.

Write too much of your initial plot and you will be bored by your own story. Allow some things to come to you when they need to. It is a great way to enjoy your story.

When it comes to names of my characters, I tend to give my important characters simple names since they will be used often. If their names need to be complex, I use nicknames. The side characters usually have longer names because they are used more sparingly and because their names work as a decoration to the story in general.


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LeetahWest
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I really liked this "The side characters usually have longer names because they are used more sparingly and because their names work as a decoration to the story in general." Its a great idea, I think I might implement.

And also, I think the inventing as they are needed is going to work best because I don't want to get hung up on it right now. I have been stuck on this for a couple of days now and I want to move on.

Thanks for your advice!


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Crank
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quote:
Allow some things to come to you when they need to. It is a great way to enjoy your story.

My tactic exactly. Not only does it keep my enjoyment level for the story alive, but sometimes finding myself in a position where the story requires back history that I didn't already account for motivates me to create a better scene or a better story arc than what I originally intended. Even better is when this tactic yields an entirely different dimension to one of my characters.

S!
S!


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MattLeo
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Short answer: read critically, the revise.

Long answer: sometimes characters come out believable and interesting, other times you have to work at making that happen. So get that scene out, then go back and ask for each character that played an important role, "Would the character actually do that? Why? What was he trying to accomplish? Is it consistent with the agenda he's had in the past?"

No believable character is a secondary character in his own view, even if he *is* a secondary character.

Sometimes you can slap the moral equivalent of an eyepatch on a minor character and leave it at that, but characters that play important roles need motivations that alter their style and manner.

For instance in dialog there are four levels that express a characters individuality. There is style. Can you tell who's speaking without dialog attributions? There is the character's ostensible agenda. What is the character say he is after? There's the character's hidden agenda: What does he think he's after? And there's his internal conflicts. How does he undermine getting what he thinks he's after. A lot of times all these things will be consistent with each other, but often there's conflict.


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LeetahWest
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Thanks for that! I really think taking those questions to each scene, perhaps after I have a bit written, will help me flesh them out a lot better and make them more relateable and believable.
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