Creating Unique Characters

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baabaa
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Creating Unique Characters

#1 Post by baabaa » Mon Jan 05, 2015 11:18 am

I'm in a predicament. What does one do when they have created somewhat stereotypical characters? An arrogant prince, a stoic gentleman, a kind best friend - I find myself dealing with characters which have been done time and time again!

What would you do to make these characters more unique and original? And another question, are stereotypical characters something that should be avoided completely or are they okay with changes and alterations to make them unique?
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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#2 Post by Dragonstar89 » Mon Jan 05, 2015 2:10 pm

No matter how much people yap about it - they love repetition. Whether they are a main character or not, stereotypical characters are a good asset to any story as they are something the reader has dealt with before and will feel familiar with it. But, this is why you need unique characters - specifically main characters (antagonist/protagonists)

I believe you don't have to make a main character unique to make a stunning story, but it is more than likely needed for creating a compelling story at that. This is why I take your stereotypical archetype character, but add "flare" to them. This can be done via the character's past, or their traits, or their hobbies, etc. For example, in my game's story the main character is a boy who has always been shy and such but forced himself to be confident to become a "player" with women, just to find how weak his confidence really is. (oops, spoiler). There, you have your typical women-chasing boy character who, to the reader's surprise, lacks confidence not just since when they were told but always.

That's a more meta way of making unique characters though...however I think it's the best way. So many characters in the world with different things added on their stereotypical archetypes - it's hard to make anything unique. Sad right? But when I read a book, in which the main character is a recycled archetype I've already seen, I still fall in love with them and somehow my brain thinks, despite how much they're the same old same old, they're a brand new character; something unique. :mrgreen:
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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#3 Post by RotGtIE » Mon Jan 05, 2015 2:48 pm

I am of the opinion that execution is more important than premise. To avoid repeating myself excessively, I'll go ahead and apply the principle to your specific issue.

You may think that something like an arrogant prince is an uninteresting premise because it is such a well-known stereotype, but what happens when you push through that worry and try to develop his character anyway? There is a tool used by improv actors called "Yes and..." which, in short, means that you challenge yourself to accept any premise introduced to you, and then expand upon it. Somebody tells you that they are actually an alien from a banana-shaped planet? Yes, and they are under an invasion from space monkeys, and they need your help to save them from extinction! It seems silly on the surface, but it gets you in the habit of approaching difficult problems in storytelling rather than just saying "no" and walking away to look for something else. It challenges you to take lemons and make some lemonade, and the more you do it, the better you get at it.

Another way I like to think of character and world building for a story is to treat every element - like a character - as a drop of blood which has just dripped onto a sheet of paper or a piece of cloth. You notice how it bleeds out by filling in crevasses and following set paths? This is how I envision the construction of a character when you use a vague premise or archetype as your starting point and then begin asking questions. Take your prince. You already know a few things about him before you even ask any questions. You know he is royalty, you know he is an heir, and you know that he has an arrogant attitude. Okay, so your prince is arrogant. Why is he so arrogant? You went out of your way to describe him as such, so is there such a thing as a prince who isn't arrogant, or at least not to the same degree as this one is? Why is he notably more arrogant than other princes in his setting? Or am I wrong, and are all princes arrogant in this setting? Why would they be that way? Are they all raised to believe they have received some kind of mandate from heaven to rule over their people? If they aren't all like that, then why only this prince? Are the queen and king deliberately grooming him to view himself as being above his subjects to an absurd degree? And if so, why do they raise their son in a way that not all other monarchs do? Do they think they are above even the other royal houses, as well? Why do they think that? Do they own particularly fertile land, and thus think they've received the blessings of the gods? Or are they just politically savvy, and realize that pushing propaganda about their supposed superiority will make their subjects and vassals actually see them in that light?

The more questions you ask of your characters or settings, no matter how archetypal they may seem at first, the more their development will "bleed out" across the sheet, giving them depth beyond the trope which defines them at a glance. And the more answers you give to these questions, the more questions those answers themselves can raise, and the more bleed-out can occur. And it doesn't only apply to characters - your whole setting, including things like towns, cities, countries, ships, religions, and political movements can all be treated like characters as entities of their own, which can bleed out through this process of question-and-answer development. Why does this country have fertile land? Does it have a river running through it which constantly deposits minerals from a nearby mountain range? Why is this city always so full of many different kinds of people? Is it because it is a major port city located in a critical position for trading fleets to pass through? Why do the people in this region worship many gods, while the people in that other region worship a single deity? Does it reflect their political structure? Does the terrain or weather influence the way they view the supernatural? Or are gods overt and obviously existent in this world, regularly stepping down from their mountaintops and clouds to screw around with the mortals below?

And when you're done asking and answering all these questions, you can just take the whole thing, put it aside, and do it all over again, giving different answers to your questions and bleeding out your characters and setting in a completely different way. If you like the second approach better, you can toss out the first. Or you can keep the old one. Or you can supplement it with bits and pieces from the new, making adjustments as necessary. The more you do this, the easier it becomes. It's a fun process once you get used to it.

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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#4 Post by baabaa » Mon Jan 05, 2015 9:46 pm

Thank you both so much for your inputs! I was worried that my characters were too stereotypical on the surface, but I'm definitely going to think about what you both said and flesh out my characters.
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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#5 Post by Lexer » Mon Jan 05, 2015 10:46 pm

Characters are only as memorable as the stories they are in. So to make unique and memorable characters you must write an engaging and memorable story.

A common pitfall among amateur writers is to focus on the characters and forget about the rest of the story. That's how the caricatures we make fun of like the half-elf, half-angel, half-human princess vampire pony are created. The bland scenario such characters are put in only serve to emphasize it. In contrast, the "cliche" fairy tale princess can become a memorable character if you put her, say, in a tense political power struggle where she must balance dealing with the nobility and fighting creatures of darkness with her magic princess powers.

Of course, as RotGtIE said, execution is important. None of this matters if you are unable to engage your readers. So, hit the books and remember to edit.

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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#6 Post by Akai85 » Tue Jan 06, 2015 6:17 am

There's nothing technically wrong with stereotypical characters. People irl are stereotypes of themselves.

People still fall over themselves for the snarky love interest in... pretty much every teen romance novel ever lol. We see these stereotypes being repeated again and again in media and why? Because it works. But there are the childhood friends you remember above all the rest and that's because the strength of the writing and the characterisation make the character believable. The important thing is to create a "well-rounded character" and by doing that you will naturally reward your audience by providing an explanation for the character's stereotypical behaviour instead of just shoving it down their throats because you can.

So if you were writing the childhood friend who loved protag for some crazy amount of years the audience needs evidence to show why they couldn't confess earlier, how they overcame the westermarck effect etc etc. One of the best ways to create interest is show tension so you could show things like the friends drifting apart, one of the friends starts hanging out with different people etc. Those are realistic things that happen in everyday life and the audience will be able to relate to the characters so much more than "childhood friend loves you because childhood friend" if you start with conflict/tension, events, resolution etc. And why is there always tension with the glasses or princely characters only, anyway? (Generalising.) And by tension I don't mean relationship drama but a clash of personality/ethics/motivations before the romance even starts or is starting.

Sorry, I think I went a little off topic there. But what's more important than the individual elements (or stereotyped characters) is how they all work together. When everything's working, you know you're doing all right! So yeah, tl;dr: stereotypes are useful writing tools - use them as a foundation and build on top. :mrgreen:
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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#7 Post by Applegate » Thu Jan 08, 2015 1:44 pm

It is impossible to create a character that does not fit into at least one stereotype or trope.

Rather than attempt to create something that does not fit a stereotype or trope, it is far more important to define why they are that way. A character can be stereotypical, and yet be interesting because the story surrounding the character is interesting. Why are they the way they are? Is the prince arrogant just because he's a prince, or did he grow arrogant because his mother, a concubine to the king, fed him stories of his own superiority when he was born? Maybe she pushed him by saying he was better than all other candidates to the throne until he believed it himself and acted on that. Maybe he treats his servants like dirt because he just doesn't know any better. Maybe he isn't even arrogant: maybe he just uses arrogance to buffet people away, because he realised his mother never really loved him and it traumatised him to the point that he doesn't want other people getting close and disappointing him!

A character can be more than just the trope or stereotype you assign them. Even the above is typical and has probably been done before, but it's in the minute details and the execution that a character truly shines. "Juniper's Knot" is a great work, but its characters fit several stereotypes and tropes. Some people'll say there's only creativity in creating something that no one's ever made before, but there's also a case to be made for being creative and giving a fresh feel to something that's been done before.

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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#8 Post by Mad Harlequin » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:30 pm

baabaa wrote:I'm in a predicament. What does one do when they have created somewhat stereotypical characters? An arrogant prince, a stoic gentleman, a kind best friend - I find myself dealing with characters which have been done time and time again!

What would you do to make these characters more unique and original? And another question, are stereotypical characters something that should be avoided completely or are they okay with changes and alterations to make them unique?
Honestly, everything under the sun has been done before. You need only refer to the myths and folklore of cultures around the world to see this.

Characters that happen to fit X, Y, and Z tropes are okay as long as they aren't solely defined by them---they shouldn't be caricatures, but rather real people. Applegate's given you some good examples regarding the "arrogant prince." I'm going to go ahead and tackle the "kind best friend." Maybe the best friend is too nice and ends up being used by people who get her in trouble because they know she loves being helpful. Then she has to learn to stand up for herself, even if it means somebody will probably get hurt. (I was like this when I was younger. To some extent I still am.)

Or maybe the best friend isn't actually a best friend at all, but someone who wants to play that role in order to achieve a hidden goal.

The same message applies to stories as a whole. There are countless tales of average Joes and Josephines, who---through fate or luck or necessity or choice---become heroes and villains and everything in between. The differences we observe in these stories boil down to the details, and to execution. Some stories are told from the beginning, for example, or in the middle of the action, and others are recounted after many years have passed.

Don't be discouraged! You can create something worthwhile as long as you don't devalue your work halfway through and quit.
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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#9 Post by Starshine » Sat Jan 17, 2015 10:55 am

[quote="Lexer"]

"A common pitfall among amateur writers is to focus on the characters and forget about the rest of the story."

Yes, i agree but sometimes you have to focus on the characters to get their personalitys the way you want them to be and then as you stated you end up forgetting about the story-line but imagine if you had written up the storyline before you had started to focus on the said characters?
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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#10 Post by Katy133 » Sat Jan 17, 2015 12:20 pm

Katy133 wrote:I also found this video on Gravity Falls that may be helpful (watch halfway in).

TL;DR: Basically, they're saying that it's the character that leads the identity, not the trait/politics/argument/cliché/etc. So as long as the character carrying the cliché is interesting and entertaining, you can get away with a surprising amount of stuff.
From: Writing - Are clichés sometimes inevitable?

In the animated series, Gravity Falls, you can argue that the character Mabel has stereotypical traits. She's a young girl who likes cute things, animals, boy bands, and wears pink a lot. But she's still a favourite character among the fandom because she's still an interesting character. She still has her own thoughts, emotions, and motivations. She's an entertaining character. She also subverts stereotypes (she's portrayed as physically stronger than her twin brother, and is the sibling associated with the grappling hook).
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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#11 Post by Rossfellow » Sat Jan 17, 2015 6:30 pm

Starshine wrote:
Lexer wrote:
"A common pitfall among amateur writers is to focus on the characters and forget about the rest of the story."

Yes, i agree but sometimes you have to focus on the characters to get their personalitys the way you want them to be and then as you stated you end up forgetting about the story-line but imagine if you had written up the storyline before you had started to focus on the said characters?
You forgot his first sentence.
Lexer wrote:Characters are only as memorable as the stories they are in. So to make unique and memorable characters you must write an engaging and memorable story.
Surprisingly, personality is not relevant to what makes a good character. Backtstory is the most common way readers place value on characters, but you're going to have to look past the fog and ask:

"Why do I care about this character's backstory to begin with?"

An Extra Credits video very clearly demonstrates this point. Watch how he compares Quantum Conundrum from Portal.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j1PXhkXJ2A

tl;dr, backstory is nice to have, but not as vital as you might expect. It takes a backseat to Context (What the character does in a story) and Characterization (How a character is presented in a story).
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Re: Creating Unique Characters

#12 Post by Starshine » Thu Jan 22, 2015 11:45 am

Rossfellow wrote:
Starshine wrote:
Lexer wrote:
"A common pitfall among amateur writers is to focus on the characters and forget about the rest of the story."

Yes, i agree but sometimes you have to focus on the characters to get their personalitys the way you want them to be and then as you stated you end up forgetting about the story-line but imagine if you had written up the storyline before you had started to focus on the said characters?
You forgot his first sentence.


Yeah, i was too busy emphasizing on that one line >_<
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