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What are your thoughts on developing complex and multidimensional characters?

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Blandge, Feb 5, 2016.

  1. Blandge

    Blandge Second Year DLP Supporter

    Dec 24, 2014
    We discussed on IRC earlier how many fanfic authors write certain characters one dimensional with a exaggerated traits. Some examples being Hermione as the naggy bitch or Sirius as an airhead joker. This seems to be a common problem in fanfiction and for amateur writers in general. I certainly find myself committing this error from time to time, so I wanted to get some thoughts on that from you all. I've listed a few prompts that you can choose from that I thought might be helpful on this topic.

    1. What are your thoughts on the importance writing complex and interesting characters?
    2. Any tips or advice on planning and developing characters?
    3. What are some warning signs that you might be making a weak character with annoyingly exaggerated character traits.
    4. What are some tips for writing minor characters such that they don't necessarily deserve as much attention?
    5. Any examples of good or bad characterization in fics?
  2. Eilyfe

    Eilyfe Supreme Mugwump

    May 27, 2014
    The importance of interesting characters is rather self-explanatory. How complex depends on how much screen time that character is going to get – one end of the spectrum being the protagonist, who should be fleshed out as much as possible, and at the other end the goon that appears once or twice and has the complexity of a cardboard plate. Important to remember is that everyone has their own goals, that holds true for the protagonist just as much as for the goon. Giving a character agency, then, is a major factor.

    You could do worse than attribute a certain trait to a character, and only to that character, to make her easily recognizable (under the caveat that, if she plays a prominent role, it’s not the sole trait to define her.) Jim Butcher does this pretty well. Take Michael for example – the first you always remember about him is that he’s dependable and has a strong faith.

    Background stories of characters are important, because they influence how the character reacts in certain situations. They don’t have to be shown, but if the character has a lot of screen time, his history should be developed. A character who has seen war before reacts differently to the sensory impact of a battlefield than a total rookie who sees blood for the first time.

    If you want to create compelling characters with flaws, strengths, and multiple layers in general, you might want to take a few minutes and read through a few blog posts. I found those pretty helpful, and not just for character development but writing in general.

    Jim Butcher's livejournal
    Terribleminds - Characters
    Terribleminds - Characters II
    Terribleminds - Support Characters
  3. LinguaManiac

    LinguaManiac Seventh Year

    Dec 14, 2015
    High Score:
    Having recently re-read (almost) all of the books, I have to say I was surprised by how much of a "naggy bitch" Hermione truly is. Seriously, there were like three chapters a book when I didn't want to slap a bitch.

    Here's my thoughts on your questions.

    1. I'm not sure there's a single person who doesn't believe complex characters are better characters. Eilyfe touched on this but I wanted to make it explicit: 'complex' shouldn't mean that the narrative hopelessly explains every facet of the character's background and motivation. I think if the author knows why his characters are acting the way they do, if each character acts from his own motivation, then every character will feel true-to-life, which is all we generally mean when we talk about 'complex' characters.
    2. To make dynamic characters, I think the only truly necessary admonition is to remember that all characters are conflicted. Even fanatics; they're just the least conflicted or the most able to hide part of their conflict. For an actual write-up or quasi-template, I suggest pretty much everything HULK FILM CRITIC writes, but especially this: http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2014/03/06/hulk-presents-character-trees
    3. I think the two biggest warning signs are, 1) if your character can be made to do anything or never does anything unexpected, and 2) if your character talks the same way to everyone. To the first, every person does something unexpected (remember Hermione punching Draco Malfoy?) and everyone likewise has things that they simply will not do. To the second, we all talk differently not just to different people but to the same people during different days or times of days.
    4. I think the tips for writing the minor characters are exactly the same as the major characters, just less so. Even the minor characters need to have their own motivations and conflicts. Remember, just because the author knows what these are doesn't mean that the readers need to know. A true-to-life character in your mind will appear true-to-life to your readers, even when he only bounces about for three months.
    5. My favorite characters in any fics, ever, is Harry, Ron, and Hermione from Forging the Sword: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/3557725/1/Forging-the-Sword

      I also really like the Jasmine Potter in A Long Journey Home. What I find particularly enjoyable about her is how you can see a female/Harry Potter but through the changes she undergoes (which I'll dispense from elaborating upon just in case you haven't read it). Also, this fics Albus Dumbledore is exraordinary, if minor. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9860311/1/A-Long-Journey-Home

  4. Zeitgeist

    Zeitgeist High Inquisitor

    Dec 27, 2010
    Under the Staircase
    The more important the character is to the story, the more complex and/or interesting they should be. Your Parvati Patils can be relatively one-note without too much noise, but if your Ron Weasleys are a shoehorn one of character with the emotional depth of a kiddy pool, your readers won't feel as immersed in the story due to a lack of verisimilitude. The reader will suspend his/her belief, but even that has its limits.

    Allow the characters to drive the plot, rather than the plot to drive the characters. Instead of shoehorning a character's actions to what you require for plot movement, perhaps allow your characters to "speak" to you as authentic individuals. Let them be human: let them make mistakes, let them make the right choices, let them be emotional. Eventually, you will get a good grasp of your characters, who will provide the impetus of the story and will become fleshed out.

    A lack of character development and/or a lack of backstory. If we learn nothing new about them and if we see nothing new from them, the characters will feel static, which is a good sign that they're becoming one dimensional.

    Frankly, minor characters are minor characters. You only need to devote as much complexity to them as screentime dictates. Just try not to be too ambitious: not everybody can be the next Tolstoy or GRRM and juggle a ridiculously large cast. Conflate the extraneous minor characters into new, slightly more relevant characters when possible.

    Bashing, especially Weasley and Dumbledore Bashing. Dumbledore in particular has complex motivations in canon, and stories which disregard his humanising characteristics in favour of a more Machiavellian interpretation are doing their writing a great disservice.