Category Archives: character development

Different media, different voices

Outside of writing fiction, I play Larp. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a form of improvisational theatre without an audience. If you’re curious, more information can be found here, for instance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_action_role-playing_game. While my short story and novel writing was slowing down, I did write several characters for Larp, and some plot for Larp, for other people to encounter. It got me musing about the similarities and differences between both kinds of writing.

With both kinds of writing, I first write the backstory of the character(or imagine and fail to write down, sometimes, with short stories). How did the character end up there? What does the audience need to know about the character, and how does the character’s background influence their decisions. I try to make the character as realistic and vibrant as possible, without making the background so complex I can no longer work with it, either in the game or in the story.
Also, with both kinds of writing, I try to create as interesting a setup as I can. To put the starting condition so, that the characters have something interesting to deal with.

Which brings me to the major difference between the two. Players happen. So from the moment you send the setup into the game-world, how the players interact with it, solve the problem, is out of your hands. All you can do is hand them tools, if necessary, or try to put them on a path by what information you release when to them. Even still, if you come up with 5 or 6 possible solutions or courses of action, they will present you with a 7th. If you’re writing the entire story, you can steer your characters to the most interesting outcomes, determine exactly when what reaches them, and if the outcome is unsatisfactory, you can go back and tweak until it works better for you. You write the continuation of the story of the character you’ve created, and control all the aspects of the story. You are chained by your own imagination, though, if you are inventing all of it.

Thus, both have a lot in common, while they still differ significantly. They have their own challenges, but also a lot of potential to build synergy, the one helping you become more imaginative in the other. I am enjoying how doing both is expanding my horizons very much.

Achtergrond bomen Keukenhof

Contrast and cliché

A lot of writers merrily use cliché in their story. Using them might be obvious, but in that lie several benefits. People fill in a lot of information for those characters(and plotlines) themselves, because it plays into their expectations. It means you have to use less words to put down a character, less cues to create a plotline, leaving more space for other characters, other plotlines you want to include.

Personally, however, I love how you can use clichés best by how you can use them to lead readers on, to use their expectations to generate plot twists by having what at first glance appeared a cliché deviate from what people think it will do. When you have the damsel in the frilly pink dress clobbering giants in her spare time, or the vampire that loves his kittens – not to eat but to hang out with-, or the honest politician. It creates left fielders people do not see coming because of preconceived notions on how things are. Like starting a really gritty story set in a modern world with ‘once upon a time’.

By flipping the cliché, you can thus create a sort of emotional contrast, leading on with what’s expected and then turning it into something more exciting. Although its impact does diminish when it’s done too much. After all, if everyone turns the damsel in distress into a strong character saving herself, it will by definition turn into a cliché itself.

What is your favorite flipped cliché?

Writing Exercises

Last week I met with my writing group. We do something reminiscent of a write in every couple of months. It’s great fun and while I always write less than I expect going in, I always leave massively inspired. This was the first time we did a writing exercise in advance.

We’d agreed to all write a letter of approximately half a page from one of the characters out of one of our stories to another character from that story. It’s a great way to help develop your characters motivation further. It makes you think about what that character would say, how they would say it, and how they relate to that other character. This effect was what I’d hoped for, and pretty much an expected result based on the experiences several members of our group had at a writing event a couple of months earlier.

What I hadn’t expected was how excellent of a discussion starter it would be. I thought there was little left to learn about world-building, but we ended up having an interesting discussion about information distribution and character motivation that was both inspiring and educational. As far as I’m concerned it was a very successful experiment. It left me looking forward to see what effect other writing exercises have.

Which brings me to a question for other (aspiring) authors: do you have other writing exercises you’d recommend?

Character Identity

Recently, I ran into a snag with one of the stories I’m writing, and it got me thinking about character identity.

We humans all have ideas about who we are. I believe most of us have even consciously thought about why we are the way we are. We have stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves. Tales about where we came from, whom our parents were, what our background is. We also have beliefs about what we do, and what we’re good at, whether we’re actually good at it or not. Thoughts about what is right and what is wrong. These ideas shape who we are and who we want to be. They are part of our identity.

If you’re writing a three dimensional character, or a round character, your character also has a origin story. They’ll have a story or even multiple stories that they tell themselves and the characters around them about who they are and why they are the way they are. The character would have ideas about what they’re good at, who they should be and who they actually want to be.

This means that when developing a character, you’re not only thinking about who they actually are, but also who they believe they are and who they believe they should be. These don’t always overlap, and can create very interesting situations.

In the case of the story I was writing, the character is a competent person coming from a privileged background. But the story the character tells herself, is one of competition and struggle. Of working hard for what she has. Of fighting to be seen as a worthwhile person. And in her own way, she has.

For the writers among you, I’d like to challenge you to think about the question of who your characters believe they are?