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Interesting Characters (1 Viewer)

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EternalGreen

Senior Member
Right now, I'm not talking about deep or well-developed characters. I'm talking about first impressions. I'm talking weird habits, strange or interesting manner of dress, uncommon or interesting physical attributes, speech patterns. (This is "showing" territory. While I love you, too, "telling," this is not a conversation for you.) Does your character tend to repeat a word or phrase? Is their personality grating and forceful? Do they poke you with the spotty end of their cigar? That kind of thing.

Let's start a conversation. I think I'm bad at this.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I love a personality. I have a character who is confused by small words like "it" and "is", substituting them all with "er". I have another one who is over-the-top scathing, condescending and snobbish - he's also a reader favourite. The idea of work sends him into a vitriolic hate spiral; the idea of working for someone else precipitates his eventual downfall.

Ooh, I have another: a chap named Noddy Stock who is so masculine (not toxicall, but just, manfully) that he calls everyone "men"; mixed groups, women, individual females, actual men. "You men," he said, pointing at her. "Get over here on the double." And then there's Humpty Doughty, who had been dropped on his head as a small child and since then had taken to carrying an egg around.

Are they interesting? Hmm. You probably couldn't take them out in polite company.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
When I start reading I want to immediately be able to 'get' what the character's problem is, how their feeling, what the thing that they want is made of. I want someone, whether I like them or not, who I can care about what happens next with them.

What I don't like is feeling like I'm being gamed to like a character. Generally I feel that way if I'm told that "Jenna had bright green eyes, blue shoulder-length hair, and liked to play the ukulele when she was tired" and so what. Why is Jenna tired? "Jenna had difficulty threading each arm into her jacket after work. Twelve-hour shifts on her feet were no joke."

I'm not saying that it's not endearing to have quirky characters but quirks aren't as important as getting to what's driving your character.
 

bazz cargo

Retired Supervisor
Hi Ete,
I had a trawl through my memory picking over the many characters that I have passed my time with. Some are caricatures, some are cyphers, but the good ones have a strange stick-ability. Right down deep inside they have something driving them. Anger is a good one. Raging against injustice. Weird habits are just window dressing. What pushes your emotional buttons, pulls your psychological levers? What do you have to say? What makes a good character? You do...
Right now, I'm not talking about deep or well-developed characters. I'm talking about first impressions. I'm talking weird habits, strange or interesting manner of dress, uncommon or interesting physical attributes, speech patterns. (This is "showing" territory. While I love you, too, "telling," this is not a conversation for you.) Does your character tend to repeat a word or phrase? Is their personality grating and forceful? Do they poke you with the spotty end of their cigar? That kind of thing.

Let's start a conversation. I think I'm bad at this.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
Hi Ete,
I had a trawl through my memory picking over the many characters that I have passed my time with. Some are caricatures, some are cyphers, but the good ones have a strange stick-ability. Right down deep inside they have something driving them. Anger is a good one. Raging against injustice. Weird habits are just window dressing. What pushes your emotional buttons, pulls your psychological levers? What do you have to say? What makes a good character? You do...

Oh I agree. But I'm talking about the window dressing right now.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Yes, I have an excel spreadsheet I use to track character mannerisms, speech patterns, and favorite phrases. It also covers appearance and history.

I prefer to write in Close POV, and so stay away from filtering words:
He frowned, wondering if he should ask what filtering is. (filtered)
He frowned. What's filtering? (not filtered)
 

druid12000

Senior Member
This is an interesting question that really got me thinking about the characters I have created. I don't currently have any with what I would consider overt personality traits. I tend more toward subtleties, though I have a novel in mind, possibly a series, that is going to have a much greater number of characters involved than what I usually write. I'll have to see what happens with them when I get there. They tend to form themselves almost organically over the course of a story, so anything is possible.

Good topic to ponder.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I have a secondary character in my fantasy series (series being two books so far ... but at least one more coming) named Vard Thessard. He's a towering, muscular warrior type whom everyone else regards as inappropriately jolly. Even during serious discussion or tense situations, something will strike him as amusing and laughter rolls out of him. None of his comrades ever knows why, though I'm typically inside Vard's head when it happens so the readers know what amused him. He also rides a flying horse the castle's stable hands are never comfortable handling.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Window dressing is the manifestation of the deeper self. My approach is always to decide on the bigger characteristics first, and then extrapolate out to the 'window dressing', those small idiosyncratic things people do in lieu of revealing their deeper self. A shy person for instance might grow his fringe longer to give himself a physical barrier. The idiosyncrasy that person may have then is fiddling with his hair to disguise pulling the fringe further across his eyes. He doesn't know he's doing it, it's his deeper self sneaking through and revealing it with body language.

Clark Kent is shy. When he wears his glasses, it's supposed to be a disguise but by having him push them up his nose occasionally, it shows that discomfort, shyness. The need to hide.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Okay, sorry, I'll try to think about actual quirks and window-dressing.

I created a character who was basically a mercenary and came from a hot climate so she always wore running shoes instead of combat boots (speed and stealth being important to her style) and wore a pendant at all times which didn't look impressive but contained a single clue to a mystery she will never give up on until it's solved or she's dead. As serious as that sounds, she's a cheerful person who can generally get people agreeing with her as she sort of rushes them along instead of having to force them to her will.

Thinking of Stephanie Plum (written by Janet Evanovich) the series is pretty comedic and lends itself to quirks. Not only are the books fun to read but they might illuminate this subject a little bit. Stephanie herself considers herself to be 'normal' in a sort of boring sense though very little that she does is boring even though she's a bounty hunter...who captures people by sheer luck and determination than by any skill. She likes peanut-butter-and-olive sandwiches mainly because she's not a good cook. Her sidekick, Lula, is wonderfully quirky in how she presents herself (she's a 'ho turned file clerk/bounty hunter assistant) and a lot of her quirks are driven by this wild sense of optimism that the character has. She's impossible not to like.

Jack Reacher, an entirely different sort of character, travels all over the U.S., usually with no particular destination, carrying only what he can put in a pocket and buying new clothes when he needs clean ones and disposing of the ones he had been wearing. A large man, he loves coffee but is very particular about what makes for a good cup which includes avoiding "finger-trap" handles. All of this speaks to and is shaped by his life experience, almost like it's been encoded.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I think it's best to treat 'window dressing' type characters as scenery rather than characters. It's sort of an unpopular view, because a lot of times we get blasted with EVERY CHARACTER MUST HAVE A MOTIVATION AND ARC and there's a bunch of humanism emphasized and... it's just simply not true. What is the motivation and arc of the Oompa Loompa? They don't exactly have one. Yet they are sort of compelling if you think about them not as *characters* but as *things*, objects that have relevance in terms of what they bring to the world and the Real Characters Of The Story rather than as individuals.

I think creating them as one would a setting works, too. What makes an interesting setting? It's usually something that plays on the prior experiences or fantasies of the reader, right? The surface of Venus makes for an interesting setting because we all have some concept of what it is or might be like (even if we're vastly wrong, it doesn't matter). That would be a fantasy setting. The streets of New York City is a setting that triggers sensory memory for most people (a fantasy for others) and it doesn't really matter if the prior concept is super clear or not so long as it is there and results in some interest for the reader. If the conceptualized setting is not interesting to the reader, the fictional setting doesn't work, which is why most stories are not set in office cubicles.

The window dressing character, then, must be evocative. I think that's a good word. Interesting, sure, but perhaps they aren't around long enough to really inspire 'interest'. But they must be easily visualized, easy perceived.

One of the underrated pitfalls of writing is having repetitive background characters. I recently read a story that was quite good, but it was set in the Victorian era and every man wore a top hat, most had a handlebar mustache, and all the women seemed more or less pretty similar. Contrast that with the kind of characters Charles Dickens creates -- also set in the Victorian era, obviously -- and the difference is obvious.
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
My lead character tends to get written off by people at the start; one of those quiet, awkward types that keeps to himself and blends in with the wallpaper. At the point he's introduced he's just lost a fight (not for the first time) and he's not happy about it. He's got a sullen, stepped-on air that I'm hoping keeps the reader - doesn't matter if they like him out sympathy, are curious about his motives, or are horrified about what he might do as a result.
 
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