View Full Version : Writing Discussion: Characterization

08-01-2008, 10:39 AM
I'm trying something new. Does that send a shiver of fear down your spine? As well it should XD

Seriously though, this is the first in what I hope to be a series of threads discussing specific topics to do with writing. Discuss your thoughts on the subject freely. How it's done well, how it's done poorly, and maybe even reference published examples of it done particularly well so struggling writers have something to help them along. Also post in these threads for help in your own writing. Just about anything is allowed, so long as it relates to the topic at hand. In this case, it's all about characterization! This means all things character-related.

See this thread (http://www.animeforum.com/showthread.php?t=74702) for other writing discussions.

08-01-2008, 10:44 AM
Allow me to kick this off with my somewhat scattered thoughts taken from a blog entry I wrote a while back ^^ I'll contribute more later when others have had a go.

I recommend to writers struggling with characterization that they read Anne Tyler's work. I've always maintained my belief that she writes characters better than any author I've read, but it isn't until now, having just read two of her books in a row, that I've attempted to give definition as to why. It's something I've never been able to pin down in the past because I think I was looking at the wrong things.

I've been taught that characters should be multi-dimensional, be detailed in their dreams, hobbies, traits, and all manner of day-to-day minutiae. And most great authors I've read do just that, including Tyler. So what separates her? What makes her characters superior?

Answer: Their lack of direction.

Someone who prefers light, fluffy stories will probably not like her books, but should have a look anyway. They aren't sad, not in the traditional sense, but raw, realistic in portraying people as sometimes feeling worn out, lost, aware that while their life is moving along there's something missing. And who hasn't felt that way in their own life? Who hasn't struggled to decide what path to follow, and later wondered if they made the right choice? Who else finds a lack of realism in a character who seems too well-suited in his or her life?

What I find particularly brilliant about Tyler's stories is that the "self discovery" aspect that all of them have to some degree is very rarely featured strongly in the plot. It happens quietly, in the background, in what the character says and does, the choices he or she makes, the people around and who is and isn't there from beginning to end. Tyler's characters often stumble, much like in the real world, and don't always have someone there to pick them up. She portrays a very flawed world, consistent with her endings (which have improved with time) in that they don't always end the way you would expect. In not having the lovers come together at the end but having them separate and return to build on their previous lives, Tyler is not shutting the door on "happily ever after" so much as showing the real path that would have been taken.

Her books show real people, living very real lives. The fantasies can be found elsewhere.

08-07-2008, 01:09 AM
I know I had this question when I read that post but I don't know why I didn't leave it as a comment. =\

Anyway, if the brilliance lies in the lack of direction, does this mean that as long as we write down everything they're doing, we can make them do anything and everything? Or is there something we have to be building on that only us as authors know?

08-07-2008, 06:30 PM
I believe you can make a character do just about anything, provided the motivation is given. Take an anime example, Usagi. Without adequate motivation, it would be out of character for Usagi to kill someone in cold blood. In character she strives to heal and save, not kill. However, were someone to kill in cold blood everyone she loves, she could be driven to it, and thus in character. What people sometimes mistakenly assume is that any deviance from the norm constitutes as out of character. And wouldn't life be boring that way? Nice characters/people can never do something mean because they are inherently nice? No. I say again, with the right motivation, characters (and people) can and will do just about anything.

Also, by lack of direction I only mean her characters don't stand at point A and look to point B. Their road is often muddy, and the path is far from straight. And, what I like most of all, they don't always make it to point B. As much as I will follow her character and expect them to reconcile with a loved one, or come to a greater understanding...they don't always. Much as we don't in real life. It's not that her plots are non-existent, or her characters lack motivation. It's just that you get the sense it's a very real life you're following, one that will end as it should, even if it negates the "happily ever after."

08-16-2008, 10:22 AM
There is a series of books called "Redwall". It's about a great sandstone abbey and all the creatures who live in it. All the characters are woodland animals; mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, moles ect are the good guys and the stoats, foxes, rats, weasels are the bad guys.

What I love most about these books is that each type of animal is given such a strong, I'm not sure of the right word, but I'd say it was 'character'. For example, the hares are always long, lanky, hungry and speak with a posh English accent.

And the most amazing thing in all of the books is the presentation of Martin the Warrior. He is the founder of Redwall Abbey and a hero. He also a mouse. I think it's awesome how Brian Jacques can make such a small creature have a presence like that of a hero. Martin isn't physically in most of the books, he just has a presence in the main character. So basically, what I like about the Redwall books' characters is the way each hero has a piece of the original hero (Martin) in them.

Saiyan Destroyer
08-17-2008, 01:41 PM
I've been writing for almost 8 years now, and I've learned a lot in those eight years.

To make characters believable you MUST make them human. Superman for example is EXTREMELY over powered, even his weakness (Kryptonite) is losing effect on him making him more and more broken. However someone like Batman is VERY believeable. Why? Because Batman has WEAKNESSES.

Superman has no weakness except for Kryptonite which even a shard of it will COEMPLETELY incompacitate him. However he slowly builds a tolerance to Kryptonite.

Batman on the other hand is trained in Ninjitsu Style Martial Art, his costume is tear resistant, so a knife won't go through, it'll resist anything but a straight shot bullet, he can be hurt with needles. Batman is also HUMAN. He can die from an intensive fight, lava/magma, shot to the face, beaten to death, and he has emotions which do affect him. Superman does have emotiosn, but they're not true human emotions. Don't get me wrong, he'll do whatever he has to save Lois Lane and stop Lex Luther, but with Batman he'll contemplate his next move, think it out thoroughly (assuming he has time) to save his girlfriend and stop The Joker.

I've named two American character icons. I'll name two japanese character icons that I know moderately well.

Goku is VERY over powered. The guy always comes back to save the day and win the fight. Anytime he is beaten, he dies just to beat the enemy. Look at Frieza, Cell, Buu, Baby, Super Android 17 and Omega Sheron. Broly is included in that. Every time Goku is at a weak point, he finds some magicial source of energy and comes back to open a can of whoop @$$ and of course, save the day. Goku may have emotions, but his weaknesses are real weaknesses and won't stop him. He's only given up ONE time in the DBZ/GT Series (didn't see Dragonball), and that was against Perfect Cell (which he later tried blowing himself up, Goku sacraficed his life to save everyone, which was in vain but still remained the tragic hero).

As for a not so broken Anime character, this may sound sterotypical, but Sailor Moon. I cannot remember her Japanese REAL name for the life of me and I'm too fat (or too lazy, which ever one you think applies the most) to find out her name. But her dub name is Serena for those who somehow don't know. Serena is just an average human (even though she's from the moon, how lif exsists there in this show has eluded me) who has human problems like getting to school on time, eating, worries about family, friends, future and she has a boyfriend. Her "alter ego" Sailor Moon is just her, nothin special except she can take attacks from her enemies A LOT better than her normal self. Now both are still feminine, their slaves to their emotions. I don't know the name of the movie, but in one her friends and boyfriend were captured. In order to save them, she had to drop a weapon that would help her defeat the enemy. Now I don't remember most (I suck, I know) but she manages to get close enough to him where he thinks she's attacking him with kindness. But Serena is legitimately nice person and cares for others (kind of a motherly love) and was showing her enemy kindess, he thought she was pullin a cruel trick and ended up stripping her of her powers (and nude in the process, don't forget Japanese are more lenient on their nudity laws, they show a lot of butt and cleave and crotch lines with smoking and drinking). He eventually (after slaying her) realized that she is truely a good person and wanted to help him. From my assumption (I saw it YEARS AGO, sue me) he sacraficed his life to restore hers. Now you saw her as a human, a mother and namely a woman. She showed mercy to her adversaries in the show as she was able to use her Moon Scepter to turn a once evil heart into a good heart. She destroyed her enemies who couldn't change or didn't want to. She showed affection to the man of her life as well as her friends and daughter.

Sailor Moon by far is VERY believable because the authoress understands what it takes to make a character believeable. You have to connect on a persons thinking level and make them believable.

When I write my own characters into stories like Kingdom Hearts or Dragonball Z, I try to do the same: Make them believeable.

In my .HACK//SIGN Fan Fiction Closer Than Friends (not linking too at this moment). It may be smut, but nothing is impossible. I don't have chacaters flhying around, I base it in their virtual reality world. My character David Seeker is an American who works in Japan as a wrestler, his character on the game they play The World has his class weaknesses. He jokes around, he's serious. He connects to the other chatacters, since the character are in Japan and not american, he speaks Japanese but no terribly well (don't worry, the story is written in english).

I read on characters OC and .HACK smut fiction where the person assumed it was real. Clearly never saw the show or played a game. It helps knowning about what you write. ANother thing I have with people.

Not to continue being egocentric. Look at my Avatar Fan Fiction. I have a Chracter Krucifix (pronounced Crew-Shi-Fi, different pronounciation on intention) or Pema (means Lotus). He's an Avatar (A real Avatar is a God or Goddess in a mortal body) that has connections with Aang (main protagonist) previous life when the Avatar Spirit Line in him was once a woman named Kyoshi. Pema explains at one point they knew each other VERY well, and he followed her on her journey to learn and master the Bending (think of it as telepathy of an element) of Earth, Wind, Water, Fire (HEART! GO PLANET! BY YOU POWERS COMBINED! I AM CAPTAIN PLANET!). Something happens to them (he thinks she betrayed him, she thinks he betrayed her, the truth will be revealed) where he's become very corrupt and angry at Kyoshi for betrayhing him despite how he was ready to give up his immortality to live one human life with her. Now over 400 years passed (keeping with storyline of hte show) where Aangs friends are kidnapped (including his love interest) and told to compete. During the build up to their eventual show down, I'm writing in Pemas weaknesses and strengths to make him more beliavable.

I've read so many OC inserts in stories where characters are ubelieveable. I have to write my ente Kingdom HEarts fictio nbecause 1: IT'S WAY TOO LONG and 2. My friends OC IS OVERPOWRED. He's undefeatable. So I gotta restart FROM SCRATCH. If I chose to continue, I might just stop and abort it completely with how messed up he made it. You have to make an OC appear realisity. The more the better. They have to know love. loss, defeat, and victory in order to seem real. When Spoc died in Star Trek II: Khans' Wrath, EVERY SINGLE person leaving that theater was CRYING. Spoc may have been emotionless, but he was able to connect on a level with people with his thinking and how real he seemed when he willingly gave his life for the lies of his friends. "The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few". You might have heard of that.

I'm taking a break for now.