Writing Characters

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PrettySammy09
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Writing Characters

#1 Post by PrettySammy09 » Fri May 04, 2007 8:57 pm

Hey there everybody.

Well, here I am, sitting at my computer, writing my script for my game, and I come to the first scene of a certain character. I've already got an idea of the personality and ambitions of this character, but something feels wrong as I write him. I find that I get this a lot with my characters. I feel like I know exactly what I want for them, and then I actually start writing and my creative juices fizzle.

I'm afraid that I'm not getting my characters consistent. I think this might be a flaw in their writing. So how do I wrote a good strong character I can stick with easily?

I've heard of people role-playing their characters in order to get an idea. Don't have anyone to role-play with... :) (Hint hint if anyone's interested) but does anyone else have any good ideas for writing characters?

Thanks!

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#2 Post by Recca Phoenix » Fri May 04, 2007 10:23 pm

I don't start writing anything for a character until I've established a general set of characteristics for them.
I do this by thinking stuff out when I walk places (hey, I need something to think about ^_^) and/or writing a character profile.
A profile can really help you work out the kinks in a chara before you write a lot for him/her. You know, writing down name, age, backstory, likes/dislikes, hair & eye color, relationships with other characters, etc.
Then I usually do some rough sketches of the character with the profile.
Really, though, just seeing the stuff on paper helps me judge whether he/she is a good character.
Don't worry about consistency too much the first run-through. You can fix that later when you edit. I didn't have too much of a problem with this on DtY because I wrote 80% of the story before I even programmed it...
whatever works for you.

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#3 Post by DrakeNavarone » Fri May 04, 2007 10:33 pm

This is a problem I'm no stranger to, though I get stuck more often when I need a character to do/say something to advance the plot more than develop the characters themselves. Thorough planning, outlining, and prewriting might help eliminate some of the difficulty (this is one area I should work on). You can also just try forcing your way through a rough draft of the scene, even if the creative juices aren't flowing, and then look back at what works and what doesn't, and think about ways to correct it. I think too many people believe it has to be perfect the first time (something I'm actually guilty of more often than I'd like), but that's simply not the case. You can always go back and fix it. In fact, you should always go back, whether a section needs fixing or not. There is no such thing as a perfect rough draft, so you really shouldn't be afraid to write down complete crap, be it awkward wording or flow, out of character comments, or things happen a bit too forcefully, since you'll go back to fix it.

Also, while not killing originality, it wouldn't hurt to throw a small number of cliched elements into your characters either. The one "good" thing about cliches is that you should be pretty familiar with them since they are used all the time, so you'll always think of something to say. A tsundere could always fall back up "Well, I didn't do it for you, I just happened to...". The angry types can always respond with a "Hmph!" and the energetic types with a "Ahahahaha!". It's something to help you keep going, and it does work, just don't overuse it. (Actually, one of the things I really like about certain characters and their authors is how they can turn a stereotype around completely. You start with a fairly generic/cliched character, but in the end, things turn out completely different. When done effectively, it something I really like in a story.)


I also recall someone on this forum (chronoluminaire, maybe?) mentioning that they hold mock interviews with their own characters, and I thought that was a good idea. It sounds like a great way to give your characters life, and once they have that, the story will pretty much write itself. I myself sometimes write short scenes featuring my characters that I know won't be a part of the story. It's just something I can use to get a stronger feel for my characters, as well as the setting and plot. Sometimes these little scenes even take place in a non-canon "alternate" universe, which doesn't matter since the characters themselves are still the same. It's also a good way to experiment how your characters would handle different situations, even those that won't appear in the actual story.

The role-play idea doesn't sound like a bad one either. If there's other people involved, then you'd get a chance to see how your character interacts with others, ones of varying personalities not of your creation where you can't control responses. It'd be an interesting thing to see. It's also a chance to show your character to others, so you can collect opinions and advice on how to improve. Maybe there should be a thread where you can just role-play with characters from your stories and projects to help hammer out the details. I think it could prove to be a useful tool.
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#4 Post by chronoluminaire » Sat May 05, 2007 7:44 am

DrakeNavarone wrote:I also recall someone on this forum (chronoluminaire, maybe?) mentioning that they hold mock interviews with their own characters, and I thought that was a good idea. It sounds like a great way to give your characters life, and once they have that, the story will pretty much write itself.
Yep, that was me. See five posts down on this page.
I myself sometimes write short scenes featuring my characters that I know won't be a part of the story. It's just something I can use to get a stronger feel for my characters, as well as the setting and plot. Sometimes these little scenes even take place in a non-canon "alternate" universe, which doesn't matter since the characters themselves are still the same. It's also a good way to experiment how your characters would handle different situations, even those that won't appear in the actual story.
That sounds cool, and the same kind of idea.
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Re: Writing Characters

#5 Post by absinthe » Sat May 05, 2007 12:41 pm

I generally find that when I can't think of a way for a character to do what I want them to do, it's because the way I want it to play out isn't what that character, were he more than a figment of my imagination, would do in that situation.

Not to subscribe to the "my characters are free-willed" fallacy or anything, but sometimes if the actions I'm having the character take aren't in character, my subconscious won't produce or produces poorly.

This usually means going back to basics, and trying to see it from the character's perspective instead of the plot's... which can mean slight detours from Plot As Planned. But I find those detours are usually quite rewarding, and often better than I'd originally planned.

Or you can put in a more specific motivator for the action. If someone's going to act out of character, it's usually because they have a really, really good reason for it... so make one up for the character. As long as it's resolved properly, it'll just add depth.

As far as roleplaying goes, I've never tried it (well, I've used characters in modified form as NPCs in my D&D campaign, but that was more 'inspired by' than anything else). I've tried the interview format, but it made me uncomfortable for some reason.

What I've found works for me is to open up a blank text document and write down everything about the issue that occurs to me, pretty much as I think it (even the "okay, what do I do..." and "this is so stupid!" and "I'm never going to figure this out" parts), until something brilliant (or at least workable) shows up on the paper.
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#6 Post by PrettySammy09 » Sun May 06, 2007 10:14 pm

DrakeNavarone wrote:T
The role-play idea doesn't sound like a bad one either. If there's other people involved, then you'd get a chance to see how your character interacts with others, ones of varying personalities not of your creation where you can't control responses. It'd be an interesting thing to see. It's also a chance to show your character to others, so you can collect opinions and advice on how to improve. Maybe there should be a thread where you can just role-play with characters from your stories and projects to help hammer out the details. I think it could prove to be a useful tool.
You know, I think you've got a good idea. Maybe we should have a thread for roleplaying characters. :3 That way, if we're stuck on characterization, we can just drop them in there.

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#7 Post by monele » Mon May 07, 2007 3:28 am

But that would spoil a lot? ^^;

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#8 Post by mikey » Mon May 07, 2007 7:09 am

PrettySammy09 wrote:I'm afraid that I'm not getting my characters consistent. I think this might be a flaw in their writing. So how do I wrote a good strong character I can stick with easily?
Ah, but... do you need a good strong character? That's the question I'd ask first. You have your concept, something you want to express, an experience you want to give to your player.

So maybe just take a step back and look at their purpose in your story. I know I say this everytime, but I just think that a lot of the time people spend "desiging" their characters and figuring out their personalities (likes, dislikes) when actually they are not needed for the effect that the game wants to create.

So maybe if you're stuck and don't know what the character should do, ask what the game would need the character to do and let the effect/vision form the character, not the other way around.

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#9 Post by DaFool » Mon May 07, 2007 8:47 am

mikey makes a good point.

There are times when I play as a strongly-described character, and then a menu choice pops up, and I'm thinking...

"Heck, wouldn't it be obvious that this character will pick this option above all else?"

And then I scratch my head and say screw it and play as myself rather than as in the character's shoes...not bothering anymore with 'What would this character do?'

It goes back to the gameplay versus story argument. Focus on gameplay and player choices and you sacrifice story, and vice versa.

That's why I am not aware of any Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books that won any literary awards. (There might be some award-winning interactive fiction though, but I am not aware of any that won beyond its genre).

If you really make a convincing character, its story will write itself and give you little room to maneuver any gameplay elements in. To do otherwise will be to create an industry standard...

...the spineless bishoujo game protagonist :D

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#10 Post by absinthe » Mon May 07, 2007 12:09 pm

DaFool wrote:If you really make a convincing character, its story will write itself and give you little room to maneuver any gameplay elements in. To do otherwise will be to create an industry standard...

...the spineless bishoujo game protagonist :D
While I agree that you do need to make sacrifices while designing a game -- although I tend to see those sacrifices as between breadth and depth as opposed to between story and gameplay -- I don't think a strong, convincing character necessarily means you don't have any room to maneuver with the gameplay elements.

The key is the designer's skill. If you're skillful and use the gameplay to illustrate the main character instead of straightjacket the player, it's entirely possible to have strong characters with strong motivations and multiple reasonable actions.

For a very basic example, take an angry, brooding character; if he's confronted and the three options presented are "scowl", "smile happily", and "laugh", it's pretty obvious which is the most likely. If, on the other hand, they're "stare angrily", "storm off", and "start yelling", it's a little harder to decide, even though all three actions lend themselves to his fundamental character. And each illustrates a person with a different method of dealing with conflict -- a good game will store that response and use it later in the game.

Is even this going to make the player who prefers a vague, formless character happy? Probably not. But I would rather play a strong, well-defined character with his own motivations and goals than the traditional blank sheet loser protagonist. And I don't really consider having to follow a relatively shaped path through the game to be lack of gameplay... it very much depends on the medium and genre you're working in.
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#11 Post by DaFool » Mon May 07, 2007 12:48 pm

absinthe wrote: -- although I tend to see those sacrifices as between breadth and depth as opposed to between story and gameplay --
(from Ask John from AnimeNation)

The Air television animation is attractive looking and periodically very well animated. But I don't believe that it's an exceptional series because it may have a great deal of narrative exposition (back story), but it doesn't exhibit a great deal of characterization or depth of character. The cast does not consist of characters with three-dimensional personalities that naturally interact with each other and grow and change. The cast consists of artificial characters who exist solely to fill roles and participate in an emotionally manipulative drama. Considering the fan following for the Air franchise, this artificiality isn't a bad thing. It's simply a literary format that appeals to a select audience.
His criticism of Air is another matter, but the mention of 'artificial characters who exist solely to fill roles' really does remind me of a lot of visual novel characters. In other words, they're just highly glorified NPCs designed to hit it off the Player protagonist. The worst visual novels will even have the protagonist seem like a retarded NPC himself like mentioned.

I like absinthe's example of how to write good choices consistent with a character. The challenge will be to make every choice as good as that example, all throughout the game. In addition, the love interests must also behave realistically and respond appropriately according to their character. I wouldn't be surprised if one discovers that two or more characters that have been created don't really belong in the same game / story after all! (It has happened to me often enough hence I'm making very slow progress as a writer :?). That's why I've been thinking about A.I. and other ways to give the illusion of real flesh-and-blood personality.

Maybe this is exactly why the grizzled veteran Japan industry have created template characters...the tsundere, the megane, the silent silver-haired girl...that way they can save themselves writers' headaches. At the same time, veteran players already know what to expect from the character type from previous experience. Then of course, their expectations will be fulfilled, customers are happy, the softhouses are happy, and the VN industry is further entrenched in mediocrity :wink:

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#12 Post by mikey » Mon May 07, 2007 2:26 pm

DaFool wrote:In addition, the love interests must also behave realistically and respond appropriately according to their character. I wouldn't be surprised if one discovers that two or more characters that have been created don't really belong in the same game / story after all! ... That's why I've been thinking about A.I. and other ways to give the illusion of real flesh-and-blood personality.
I've often wondered what that "realism" actually is - my beloved wife is real, so her behavior is realistic, but to be honest there isn't anything completely predictable and often not even logical about what she does (sorry my love :oops: ). One day her favorite animal is a spider, the next day it's an elk. Sometimes she is quiet and sometime she can't stop talking. It's all about her mood, what the day has brought and a lot of other things. Does she have a significant stand-out personality feature? Not really - she's kind, mean, funny, caring, calm, competitive... the list goes on, and so do the contradictions.

So, "according to character" is really hard to define. Even though this is not really what "gamers" want to see - in reality, there isn't a lot of stereotypical girls around, maybe none at all.
DaFool wrote:Maybe this is exactly why the grizzled veteran Japan industry have created template characters...the tsundere, the megane, the silent silver-haired girl...that way they can save themselves writers' headaches. At the same time, veteran players already know what to expect from the character type from previous experience. Then of course, their expectations will be fulfilled, customers are happy, the softhouses are happy, and the VN industry is further entrenched in mediocrity :wink:
Well, it's hard to disagree. The best the Japanese VNs can or will do is give the initially aggressive character a softer side, and the shy type a lively side. It's real depth. :? But then, it probably fits in well with the whole concept - dating sims are there to be played and won. You can't really play RL like this - and it's probably the simplicity that has this escapist feeling and attracts so many players. Women aren't that simple, and to be fair, neither are men.

But to be positive, commercial VNs need to sell. Ours don't. So.... at least we have a choice.

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#13 Post by lordcloudx » Mon May 07, 2007 2:52 pm

hot thread.

When I write, I like to think of my characters as facets of myself. Even if that character comes out having a personality totally opposite to mine, it will still be my interpretation of what someone totally opposite from me would be like based on my own memories and experiences.

I also believe that characters should always be working towards advancing the plot (making an event happen, or adding something even just mildly significant to the story) though not always in obvious ways. Just as long as you have a rough idea of the character's personality, you can always add little habits or mannerisms that help the reader to identify him/her.

Another simpler solution would be to add personalities of people that you know in real life, change their names, and place them into the story's setting. That way, you can be sure that the characters are distinct even if no one else notices.
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#14 Post by Counter Arts » Mon May 07, 2007 10:21 pm

lordcloudx wrote:When I write, I like to think of my characters as facets of myself. Even if that character comes out having a personality totally opposite to mine, it will still be my interpretation of what someone totally opposite from me would be like based on my own memories and experiences.
Hehe... facets of yourself? That's interesting.

Taking the AIR example, I think the main characters are kinda like components of the same person. A few versions of the jaded side, logical, naive, and the side that hides all their troubles from the world bottled up inside.

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#15 Post by PrettySammy09 » Mon May 07, 2007 11:34 pm

You all have really good input. Your ideas are interesting.

My problem, I should note, is not with the protaganist, but one of the supporting cast. This character doesn't make any choices, it's really the dialogue that I'm having trouble with.

I agree that a protaganist should have a personality, but one that does vary and has many facets that are not always explained in order to make room for player interpretation. And each choice should have a valid explanation.

For instance, Protaganist has a choice to walk home with either A.) Hot Girl From Swim Team; B.) Childhood friend; C.) Nasty Class President

Now, many would think, "Well, I get the first two, but why would he ever want to walk home with the nasty class president who does nothing but yell at him?" You, as the creator, have to come up with a good solution. "Why, because they've got to do a school project together!" or something of the like.

I guess my problem is this:

I want my character to give off a certain affect and to fulfill a certain role in the plot. But right now, in his first scene, as I have dialogue that shows his character to the player, how can I give off that feeling that I want? How can I make the player say, "Oh! I get it! This guy is kind of (insert characteristics here). I can remember that for whenever I see him in the story!"

For example, Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. From the second you meet her and read her first scene, you think, "Smart girl, a lot of self-confidence, very mature". As you get to know Hermione, you see variations of these characteristics, and even some exceptions, but they are an integral part of her character none the less. These are the characteristics that you think of when you think of Hermione. (At least, I obviously did!)

So how can I achieve that affect with my character through his dialogue?

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