A Beginning Writer's Guide to Characters

Discussion in 'Pokemon Fan Fiction' started by Lucario EX, Oct 12, 2009.

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  1. Lucario EX

    Lucario EX Moderator<br>Fanfic Contest Host

    What's one of the most important parts of any story? That's right, the characters. It doesn't matter how amazing your plotline is, if you don't have good, balanced, interesting characters, it'll look bad.

    I've noticed that too many fanfics here are plagued by Mary Sues, too many characters in one fic with the same personality, dull stereotypes, etc.

    That's to be expected! No one can write perfectly right away, and even I don't expect anyone to.

    But, if you want to learn how to avoid common mistakes, that's the point of this article. I can't guarantee that any of my tips will help you, as everyone has a different writing style, but possibly some good will come of this.

    This guide is designed to help you start from scratch with only a plotline planned. If you already have characters written, be prepared to consider changing them significantly.


    0. What's a Mary Sue? Balance and individuality.
    1. Goals.
    2. Motivation.
    3. Personality.
    4. Appearance.
    5. Peculiarities, quirks, and habits.
    6. Getting to know your character.
    7. Similarities, or lack thereof.
    8. Attitude toward other characters.

    0. What's a Mary Sue? Balance and individuality.

    This section is, in my opinion, the most important to read first, because if you don't, you might well end up having to rework an entire character, and you won't want to do that. It's also harder that way, because the first version will be stuck in your head. So, read this first, keep it in mind, and everything should go fine. I do recommend, though, that you also read it after you're done creating a character.

    A Mary Sue/Gary Stu is either 1: an unbalanced character, one who's perfect in almost every way, is good any almost everything, and who everyone either admires or is jealous of. 2: A character based on yourself, or who you pretend to be, in a way that affects your writing.

    If one of your characters does turn out to be a Mary Sue, don't get upset. Nearly everyone writes Mary Sues until they get the hang of creating characters.

    So, no biggie, just one simple rule of thumb: Flaws are good.

    1. Goals.

    This is nice and simple. If you're reading this, and plan to write a fanfic, you probably know the main plotline already. If not, go think one up!
    So, easy one. What is your character's goal? What is it that they're trying to do?
    Examples: Ash's goal is to become a Pokemon Master. Mario's goal is to rescue Princess Peach. Harry Potter's goal is to defeat Voldemort.

    With that in mind, you'll need to construct a character who's capable of this task. A two-year-old can't save the world believably under normal circumstances.:wink: That's a rather extreme example, but if your character needs multiple magical items, a lot of good luck, and quite a bit of suspended belief, then they're probably not up to the task.

    A particular mistake is making characters who are far too young. When you've got a situation where all the adults are too closed-minded to attempt something, can't think of a solution to a problem, or are outdone in every way by 11-year-old [character's name here], without an unusually good explanation, it's generally not good.

    In Pokemon, age isn't such an issue. But keep in mind that it should be taken into account, and plan accordingly.
    Most fictional children are astoundingly precocious anyway, so even with a predesigned character, it's easy to just make them a few years older, with no real personality change.

    2. Motivation
    Like it or not, not everyone's completely selfless and altruistic. If I came to your house and told you that the world would end soon if you didn't go risk your life on some incredibly dangerous quest, what would you do?
    Likely enough, you wouldn't believe me, and certainly not at first, and you might very well not do anything even once you did. No, that's not meant to be remotely offensive. Don't take it that way.

    So, why does your character set out to do whatever they need to do? It could be that they were offered large sums of money to attempt something. Or maybe they just got caught up in some disaster. It's a lot easier to decide to risk your life on some stupid adventure if you're already stranded on another planet, for example.

    Maybe they tend to be reckless, overconfident, proud, greedy, emo, rebellious, foolhardy, or just plain dumb, and this character flaw enables them to be tricked into doing something.

    Maybe someone they care about was killed, hurt, or kidnapped, or something like that, and they're out for revenge.

    So, figure out exactly what motivates your character to do things, and make sure it's realistic.

    3. Personality

    So, you know your character's motivation. Now, build on it. Have that motivation become the framework of your character. For example, a character out to avenge someone can't be completely selfish and uncaring. A character who's being paid can't give away their possessions all the time. A character who's reckless and overconfident can't be thoughtful, analytical, and practical. Of course, real people are sometimes contradictory, but let's keep things simple for now.

    An important thing to remember is that personality traits should connect to interests, and should occasionally manifest in odd ways.

    (I am using a particular character as an example here, but I won't say what character. It isn't relevant. The descriptions I've posted are just to explain what I mean, and should be enough information.)

    Description of example character:
    She cares deeply about everyone close to her, and has a relentless dedication to duty. That's what I'll be referring to as the core of her personality.

    Apparent contradictions are that she continually attempts to emotionally distance herself from people, and she often does the exact opposite of what she's instructed to do.

    But these aren't contradictions at all. She distances herself from people because she doesn't want to be hurt by it if anything happens to them, and vice-versa, and she considers it her duty to do what she feels is right.

    To have a believable and realistic character, you need connections like this. The first thing you need is a core personality that works with your character's motivation. Think up 2-3 traits that are the base of everything your character stands for, then think of how it would affect them.

    A good way to think about it is to write everything down like this, one for each core trait:

    ----------------------------------------__Reliance on proven information
    ----------------------__Hatred of lies__|__Constant honesty
    ----------------------|----------------|__Strictness about rules
    Quicky trusting others-|--Naivete
    ----------------------|-------------------_Inability to cope with solitude
    ----------------------|_Love of teamwork_|
    ------------------------------------------|_Tolerance of crowds

    (Yep, another example character. This one I just made up.)

    Then, you can figure out what your character's skills are, and work them into the story. This example character would probably work well in an organization, so I might add one to the story for them to be a part of.
    Probably, at this point, you have a realistic personality for your character, so I'll leave it at that.

    4. Appearance.

    Okay, you know who your character is inside, but who are they outside? It's time to figure out your character's physical traits and favorite clothes.

    I'll bet that you didn't expect to have to use more logic, did you? Too bad, the fun easy parts haven't started yet.

    First, if you did a good job on your character's personality, maybe you can figure out, say, whether they prefer to be inside or outside. Whether they would be fat, anorexically thin, or somewhere in between. Whether they would work out and get lots of exercise, or sit around and read.
    Try to think of how their lifestyle would affect their appearance.

    Then, figure out how they want to look. An extremely cheerful character probably won't wear black all the time. A paranoid character won't dress in a way that makes them stand out. A careless character might have wrinkled clothes and messy hair. A silly, lighthearted character might be a fashion guru. Your character should dress almost exactly the way they want to, even if you want them to look cool or whatever.

    Once you've established everything that can be affected by your character's personality, then you can go ahead and slap hair, skin, and eye colors on them. Make them whatever height you want. Have fun for a change. Just don't make a Martian character look Japanese, or something stupid like that.

    5. Peculiarities, quirks, and habits

    Okay, by now you should know a fair bit about your character.
    But, real people do strange things sometimes. Your character should too.

    What do they do when they're nervous? Do they tap their fingers on a table? Smooth their hair? Bite their lip? And isn't there anything they do that just seems really weird, like a tough-guy character liking to eat chocolate chip pancakes with blueberry syrup every morning? Do they pick their nose when nobody's looking? What if they have an expensive hobby that they just can't give up?

    While hardly any main protagonist has time to be goofing around while they're off saving the world, they all have weird things that they do back at home, right? And everyone has habitual movements, like swinging their feet or crossing their arms.

    Adding a few idiosyncratic quirks, bad habits, and odd motions to your characters makes them more real, and it's not complicated, so why not try it?

    6. Getting to know your character.

    You know who your character is and what they're like by now, right?
    But do you feel like you really know them? Most likely, you know what words your best friend will use in a particular situation, how they feel about their parents, where they first lived, etc.

    This'll seem incredibly weird to you, but, try answering all of these in your head, see how many you can figure out right away, and what you would have to make up. Pretend that your character's answering the questions themselves, and answer the way they would, if you can. Just play around and get a feel for who they are.

    1. Full name, including middle name?
    2. Birthday?
    3. What kind of sense of humor do they have? Normal, morbid, dry, none, etc.
    4. Parent's jobs?
    5. Childhood influences?
    6. Talents, skills?
    7. Weaknesses, vulnerabilities?
    8. Introvert or extrovert?
    9. Optimist or pessimist?
    10. What was their family like?
    11. Jobs?
    12. Education?
    13. Favorite food?
    14. Personal hygiene habits?
    15. What do they do for fun?
    16. Pets?
    17. What movies would they like?
    18. Most treasured possession?
    19. Hangouts?
    20. Favorite saying?
    21. Rivals and enemies?
    22. Reactions to stress?
    23. Favorite quote?

    7. Similarities, or lack thereof

    Almost certainly, your main character won't be the only one in your story. And just because the others won't play as big a part doesn't mean they deserve less effort and careful construction. Before you continue, go back to the beginning, and design some of the other characters that you'll need.

    Done now? Good. None of those characters are similar, right? They don't have overlapping personality traits? Physical traits? Because while a shared hair color, relatives looking alike, a similar personality trait, or the same nervous motion is okay, anything more, and you might have a problem.

    The most important 2-5 protagonists probably shouldn't share more than two personality traits, two physical traits, and one peculiarity, without a good excuse. You want lots of very different personalities. If two important characters act alike, its dull.

    8. Attitude toward other characters.

    What? I thought we already did this?
    Nope, that was just personality. Your character might behave a certain way by default, but occasionally someone else in the story might bring out the goofball in an otherwise humorless character, be trusted by a paranoid character, or just plain drive your character nuts.

    Every character has to have an opinion of every other character. Every character has to act slightly differently around every other character.
    Maybe Joe suddenly gets less talkative when Bob's in the room, because he respects Bob and doesn't want to look like an idiot in front of him, for example. Maybe when Bob and Jessica are both there, Joe laughs more than normal. Maybe when Jessica is around but not Bob, Joe talks too much, because he has a crush on Jessica. Interactions between different characters are essential.

    Start with your main protagonist, the character you've been working on first. Then, for each other character you made in the previous step, write down their opinion of that character, and a slight change in behavior. Remember, as always, make connections and use logic.

    Deciding two characters who act relatively similar should get along isn't really realistic. Two bossy people wouldn't get along well, they'd both try to order the other around. Two cynical people wouldn't get along well, there would be no one to lighten the mood. But the opposite doesn't work either. Two people who liked jokes would probably get along quite well, not taking other factors into account.

    Think about how real people you know in real life act around each other, then apply it to your characters. When in doubt, act out a dialogue between characters, out loud.

    Well, congratulations. You've made it to the end. :lol: If you still have more questions, feel free to shoot me a PM. I'm always happy to help aspiring writers. :biggrin:
  2. Pikamaster

    Pikamaster Active Member

    And where was this when I wrote the junk I call the first 11 chapters of my story?=P

    Hopefully people will read this and stop spitting out trash that spams the forum.
  3. jonathan1995

    jonathan1995 New Member

    I want to write one fiction does not know how to use the application. do you know?
  4. JamesCarl

    JamesCarl New Member

    Good information with useful info ,Yes you are right first parts of any story is Characters.like your details.

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