Advice on developing characters in attractive detail

ChrisFici

New Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2022
Messages
2
As I'm experimenting in writing in fictional styles (particularly sci-fi and cli-fi or climate fiction) I'm eager for advice on how to develop characters in an attractive and compelling way from your own experience.

I feel I have somewhat of a grasp on this in terms of what I find attractive from films and TV shows. I also find myself trying to be as detailed as possible when I introduce or develop characters in my writings. The details makes it feel lived-in for the writer and reader.

Your advice is much appreciated!
 

msstice

200 words a day = 1 novel/year
Joined
Mar 27, 2020
Messages
319
I refer to this.


I do try to plan my characters a little, like listing their internal and external conflicts and making notes of their arcs, but what I have discovered is that I am, heavily, a discovery writer. Things evolve. My characters do things, say things, encounter situations, react to them and I just write it down. Some of it doesn't work, and I delete or rework it, and some of it just fits together.
 

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
923
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
You may want to look at the Brandon Sanderson lecture on character creation. It is lecture 4 on https://www.youtube.com/user/WriteAboutDragons/videos The order is jumbled on the site, so check the full title of each to view in sequence. The total is about one hour, but I find him to be an interesting speaker and I found the ideas were something I could immediately apply in writing.
 

JS Wiig

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Dec 23, 2020
Messages
449
Location
SW WY
Attractive and compelling characters are in some way relatable to the reader (ie they experience generally human emotions, as I assume your readers are human) and make decisions that are consistent with their motivations in the context of the current situation they are in.

For example, a character driven by charity to others would not steal from an orphanage without compelling and understandable reasons. The reader doesn’t have to like what they are doing, just understand. Perhaps the character’s own child is dying of some strange disease and they need the money. But they don’t just walk into the orphanage, see the unlocked collection box and help themselves for no reason.
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,650
Location
Idaho
>...what I find attractive from films and TV shows
First thing I say is, start reading books. If you want to write films and TV shows, then watch films and TV shows. If you want to write books, read books.

When looking for ways to create compelling characters, find them in books, then study how the authors went about accomplishing that.
 

DLCroix

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
271
Read the book On Writing by Stephen King. Essential to quickly understand the aspects of characterization, dialogue, credibility, length of paragraphs and chapters, etc., and the best way to approach the writing process itself. :ninja:
 

Swank

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 25, 2022
Messages
314
Characters are interesting and attractive for what they do and say, not because the characters or narrators describe them a certain way.

Think of a sexy car - is it really going to be fun to describe why it looks great? Probably not. But talking about how it drives is much more interesting in text form.
 

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
3,201
What Swank says mirrors some of my thoughts on this (although another character's thoughts about them can really change the way we mirror them). They're the sum of their actions and thoughts. Thinking of how they can act, how they'll express their thoughts, will do you good.

However, one idea I very much like, is finding the character's defining fatal flaw or mistaken way of seeing the world, then building from there...
 

Peppers

Dreamer. Writer. Creator.
Joined
Nov 17, 2021
Messages
5
Attractive and compelling characters (which is quite subjective) are developed over the course of a story and especially series. It's a gradual process revealed through their actions, thoughts and behaviors and not all at once, although an important scene can shed significant insight. You essentially develop their personality the more "time" you spend with them through edit after edit; book after book.

It's important not to develop your characters in a vacuum, because that's not natural. Environment, upbringing, friends, society, all these things play a role in developing any character. That's why I think it's important to consider your world first, which in itself is a character, then populate it with the kinds of people who would thrive and struggle in it. Determine then who would be attractive/compelling in that world (or part of that world) based on the culture(s) present. My thoughts.
 

GeorgeL

Fantasy and horror enthusiast
Joined
Mar 13, 2021
Messages
13
Location
Greece
In my opinion, one way to create interesting and detailed characters is backgrounds, and especially important/tragic events that happened in their past before the plot of the book.
Especially those past events that make a character behave a certain way (It’s difficult for them to trust new people they meet, or it’s difficult for them to make new friends, or they are aggressive for no reason, or they drink a lot etc.) for a big part of your story, without explaining the why to the reader.
When this behaviour becomes finally explained to the reader by the revelation of the character’s background or past event that scarred him (maybe through flashback), it will be an Aha moment for the reader who will understand why this character behaved this way throughout the story.
Also when the character realises he has to accept his trauma (if you choose to go this way with his past) and move on with his life during a scene that contains a pivotal moment for the character (maybe near death situation), then the character grows and changes psychologically by having a character development moment, which makes him interesting, especially if he changes his behaviour after that moment (like he becomes more friendly and trusting of people, or quits drinking etc).
Also this character development moment is pivotal for the character because he realises he shouldn’t let his past shackle him psychologically anymore and decides to finally act upon something that limits him.
If a character’s parents let’s say lost their lives in an accident in the past, the character at the present will feel overwhelmed/depressed by the event if he haven’t dealt with the trauma yet. So it will be carhartic for him and the reader when he decides to deal with his trauma, because the reader will identify with him.
Also i believe if you write a character that is happy go lucky or is social, friendly and trusts people easily, and you show him interact with the rest of your characters this way for a long time in your story, when something tragic happens in his life during the duration of the story, if you manage to show the shift in his behaviour after the event, it will be interesting because the readers will see the change in his behaviour and his growth as a person when he overcomes the trauma.
I hope i helped even a little…
 

Swank

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 25, 2022
Messages
314
In my opinion, one way to create interesting and detailed characters is backgrounds, and especially important/tragic events that happened in their past before the plot of the book.
Especially those past events that make a character behave a certain way (It’s difficult for them to trust new people they meet, or it’s difficult for them to make new friends, or they are aggressive for no reason, or they drink a lot etc.) for a big part of your story, without explaining the why to the reader.
When this behaviour becomes finally explained to the reader by the revelation of the character’s background or past event that scarred him (maybe through flashback), it will be an Aha moment for the reader who will understand why this character behaved this way throughout the story.
Also when the character realises he has to accept his trauma (if you choose to go this way with his past) and move on with his life during a scene that contains a pivotal moment for the character (maybe near death situation), then the character grows and changes psychologically by having a character development moment, which makes him interesting, especially if he changes his behaviour after that moment (like he becomes more friendly and trusting of people, or quits drinking etc).
Also this character development moment is pivotal for the character because he realises he shouldn’t let his past shackle him psychologically anymore and decides to finally act upon something that limits him.
If a character’s parents let’s say lost their lives in an accident in the past, the character at the present will feel overwhelmed/depressed by the event if he haven’t dealt with the trauma yet. So it will be carhartic for him and the reader when he decides to deal with his trauma, because the reader will identify with him.
Also i believe if you write a character that is happy go lucky or is social, friendly and trusts people easily, and you show him interact with the rest of your characters this way for a long time in your story, when something tragic happens in his life during the duration of the story, if you manage to show the shift in his behaviour after the event, it will be interesting because the readers will see the change in his behaviour and his growth as a person when he overcomes the trauma.
I hope i helped even a little…
This can be very effective. It is also a bit of a potential trap, and shouldn't be used for more than one character in a given story - unless the story is mostly about characters' trauma.

Real people are quirky, irritable, irresponsible, liberal or secretive for reasons that don't necessarily connect back to a specific incident or relationship. Explaining away every personality trait with an origin story runs the risk of making your characters unrealistic and burdening the plot with layers of character exposition.

My opinion, of course. Just felt it was worth a counterpoint.
 

GeorgeL

Fantasy and horror enthusiast
Joined
Mar 13, 2021
Messages
13
Location
Greece
This can be very effective. It is also a bit of a potential trap, and shouldn't be used for more than one character in a given story - unless the story is mostly about characters' trauma.

Real people are quirky, irritable, irresponsible, liberal or secretive for reasons that don't necessarily connect back to a specific incident or relationship. Explaining away every personality trait with an origin story runs the risk of making your characters unrealistic and burdening the plot with layers of character exposition.

My opinion, of course. Just felt it was worth a counterpoint.

It’s true that this isn’t a strategy to use for more than one to two characters at a story (always it depends on the story you wanna write) as Swank said).
Although if used right it can produce very interesting and realistic characters that readers will probably love in my opinion.
I speak judging from the perspective of the (dark) fantasy genre, which is one of my favourite genres, and one that i have experience reading and some writing. It just happens that some of my favourite characters of the genre, that managed to make me care about them, have tragic incidents happening in their past or during the course of the story, and i love watching them to overcome them or fall victims to their flaws because of the incidents.
Good luck with finding creative ways to make interesting characters :)
 
Last edited:

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
6,463
I think "attractiveness" in characters comes from a mixture of them being moral, proactive and interesting.

"Moral" means that they want to do things that normal people would consider wholesome or sympathetic. Sometimes this is just "find out what's going on" or "be left alone", other times it might be "take down the entire drugs cartel". It tends to be stronger if they're motivated not just by general goodwill ("save the whales") but by specific ties to individuals ("save Benny, the whale who rescued me from pirates, and his family along the way") but this can vary.

"Proactive" means that the character takes decisive action or plays an important part in the story. Characters who just get pooped on are pitiful, but not engaging. Sometimes, the character can't do much, but still has an active mind. A character who is forced to work for a master criminal might have no choice but to do the work, but could still try to find out who the master criminal is, etc. Sometimes, you might have to fudge this a bit, where realistically the character would be laid low by terror, depression and so on but for whatever reason keeps going.

"Interesting" means that the character has some quirks that make them stand out a bit beyond his function in the story. Often these are things unrelated to the actual plot: a pet, an irritating brother, a collection of model spaceships, etc. Every main character I've written has one of these. Sometimes these could be strengths or weaknesses that the story might or might not exploit: vertigo, the stamina to run marathons, etc.

So you might have a character who is interesting and moral, but not proactive: a friendly scientist who tells the hero how to defeat a villain, for example. Or you might have a villain who is interesting and proactive, but evil. A lot of action movies have heroes who are moral and proactive, but not interesting - which works on film, but not as well in writing.
 

Juliana

Juliana Spink Mills. "No capes!"
Supporter
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
Messages
5,022
Location
Connecticut, USA
Lots of good advice here!

But also, I think there's a balancing act in creating characters where the author gives readers enough to make the characters feel real, but leaves enough gaps here and there so readers can fill in the small blanks, allowing readers to make characters theirs as well as the author's. If this makes any sense?

Anyway, last year I took an online course with YA author Maggie Stiefvater, who is known for very character-centric work. If I remember, she starts with very cliché basic characters, the writing equivalent of stock photos, and then fleshes them out over the first draft and subsequent drafts until they feel real. The idea is that, by starting with the bare bones of each character, she can make sure that as she builds them, they a) don't repeat themselves (as in, similar sorts of characters) and b) they develop organically, instead of just being a list of attributes. It's an interesting approach!
 

Swank

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 25, 2022
Messages
314
"Moral" means that they want to do things that normal people would consider wholesome or sympathetic. Sometimes this is just "find out what's going on" or "be left alone", other times it might be "take down the entire drugs cartel". It tends to be stronger if they're motivated not just by general goodwill ("save the whales") but by specific ties to individuals ("save Benny, the whale who rescued me from pirates, and his family along the way") but this can vary.
This is an interesting one, because a lot of good characters are only revealed to be or actually become moral rather late in the game. I think the reader can enjoy the interesting rogue and their selfish choices well into the story, as long as their are breadcrumbs of an eventual embrace of stand-up behavior that replaces whatever immoral flaw they have. Disinterest, cowardice, indecisiveness, greed, etc.
 

Devin

Member
Joined
Mar 23, 2022
Messages
7
for moral arc transitions the decent into wickedness can be compelling as well, but pacing is hugely important. Too fast and its abrupt, too slow and the audience doesn't notice until what should be the pay off is just out of left field.
 

mistri

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2006
Messages
120
What's useful for me, re. TV, is figuring out WHY I like the characters I like.

Also, something else that might be useful - when I look at the sitcoms I like, often the characters are so well drawn that it's possible to imagine writing an episode myself, in the right style, because I know exactly what that character would do and say. So I ask myself, what do I need to do or find out to write a 'book' character that I could know so well? How could that 'knowing' of a character translate to a page? What might it look like?
 

Top