“I don’t give a shit what the world thinks. I was born a bitch, I was born a painter, I was born fucked. But I was happy in my way. You did not understand what I am. I am love. I am pleasure, I am essence, I am an idiot, I am an alcoholic, I am tenacious. I am; simply I am…You are a shit.”—Frida Kahlo, from an unsent letter to Diego Rivera
Guest Article from Elizabeth: Switching Up a Too-Perfect Character
nothingcanbegained asked: I have a character I roleplay, but I feel lately like every time I roleplay him, that I find that he’s just too… perfect? I mean he’s gentle mannered, polite, shy, honest, helpful, eager to please without being overbearing, easily embarrassed, and quite honestly, I’m finding him boring. How do I make a character more exciting without changing who he is? Should I try and add personality faults that can be directly related to his traits?
As writers, it’s easy to let our characters fall into the dreaded Mary Sue trope. But you’ve already realized the problem with too-perfect characters: they’re boring. They offer little conflict, they’re unrealistic, and they tend to drive everyone a little crazy.
Faults and vices are one of the easiest ways to add depth to your character. They make your character seem more like a person, rather than the stock character or flat character we see lining the edges of fiction stories. Here are some steps you can take to round out your character:
- Look at other characters that fit your description: Peter Pettigrew from Harry Potter, Mary Bennet from Pride & Prejudice, Iris from The Holiday, C3PO from Star Wars, etc.. What makes these characters well-rounded? What makes them interesting? Look at the way their faults build on their more positive attributes.
- Like you already suggested, pick a couple flaws that fit in with his established character. Based on your description, try something like self-doubt, inability to trust, or jealousy. Put him into a situation where the flaw comes into play. Maybe he overhears someone talking about him, or he is faced with a task that’s too much for him to handle. Play with it, and see where he takes you. Regardless of the positive traits he has, test drive your character making the wrong decision—a decision outside of his normal response or even outside of his moral code—in order to create more conflict for him and broaden his development..
- Take one of his attributes and make it “too much.” If he’s honest, does that mean that he’ll always speak his mind to the point that he offends others? Does he say exactly what others don’t want to hear? Take “gentle mannered, polite, and shy” and turn it into ”easily manipulated.” ”Easily embarrassed” could become “ashamed.” There is always a negative slant on a positive characteristic. The possibilities are endless.
- What is he passionate about? Give him something to fight for—maybe it’s a romantic interest, a place, an ideal, or even an opinion. What happens when that thing is threatened?
- Because you’re part of an RP, you have a unique advantage. Talk to your RP partner/group. Have them challenge you by putting your character into situations that are uncomfortable for him. Have them ask tough questions. How does he react to confrontation?
- Characters, like people, should change and grow. There’s no reason why he has to stay the way he is now.
Here are some other resources you can check out:
- Write World: Choosing Virtues and Vices for Your Character
- Write World: Layering Virtues and Vices
- TVTropes: Character Flaw Index
- TVTropes: Avoid Writing A Mary Sue
- WritePop: Character Flaws
- Superhero Nation: How to Make a Boring Character Interesting
- Clay Held: The Trick to Writing Compelling Characters (and How to Avoid Boring Ones)
Character Points to Consider When Writing Dialogue
Following on from my post yesterday about naturalistic dialogue, I wanted to talk a little more in depth about it.
Remember that naturalistic speech for one character is very different to naturalistic speech for another character. Everyone has their own way of speaking, their individual quirks and nuances.
There are many things about your character which will affect the way in which they speak, and the words they use:
- Who they are talking to. Someone older or younger than them. Someone of higher or lower status. Someone they know well or a stranger.
- Their age
- Their level of education (whether through an establishment, home-schooled, or self-taught)
- Their accent, or blend of different accents
- Any speech impediment, social or mental disorder, facial injuries or disfigurement, or recovery from illness eg a stroke
- If they wear false teeth
- Their hearing ability
- Their general upbringing
- Their level of self-confidence
- The person they view themselves as
- The person they want people to think they are
- Whether or not they are speaking in their first language
- Morality and beliefs
Writing Religious Characters as an Athiest
Anonymous asked: Hey, Write World, I love your blog! I have a question: I’m an atheist who grew up in a family of atheists, and I find it difficult to write religious characters. For example, one of my main characters is fervently religious, but when friends read the scenes she’s in, they tell me that there is a condescending tone surrounding her. This is unintentional, but I don’t know how to stop. Any tips?
I feel really strongly about this, so before I give my opinion, does anyone have any tips for the anon?
- Anonymous asked: For the anon with trouble writing religious characters - it’s hard to help when we can’t see for ourselves. Could be numerous things. Maybe the condescending tone even works for your character. I suggest sharing it in workshops to get other eyes on the piece and hear their suggestions :) There are lots of free online styled workshops available online!
- al-kalimat-jameel asked: Hey, I might be able to help the Atheist anon. As an Atheist who grew up in a family if fervorous Christians, I can say the difference between me speaking about religion and them is really big. Different words, tones, even emotions are expressed differently. So my advise would be to talk to religious people or watch videos when they talk about the subject and pay attention to their voice, words and movements.
- sidjaymarkinson asked: I guess even between theists there are different kinds. Some links their believe to very positive things (believing in a loving God) and some take religion very strict (stern God). Plus, of course, there are multiple religions, who all are different. I am a baptist christian, believe strongly, but do not really believe in church and rules. I believe in a very good God and my believe has helped me a lot through very dark times. If interested, I am here for any questions.
- claravoyant asked: Writing religious characters as an atheist requires deep exploration of religions in general. I’m an atheist, but I generally do not criticize religious people—it’s the institution, the societal norms that make some religious people do silly things. Look at what religious people write about their faith rather than what atheists write about religions. Especially when it comes to cultures you aren’t familiar with—stereotypes are dangerous. Remember that religious people are not a monolith.
- the-best-medicine said: for the writer writing a religious character:It really depends on the character and how much God (or gods if they’re polytheists) factors into their daily lives. You can have a fervently religious character that does not openly express their convictions because they do not feel the need to tell other people how religious they are. There are also people who fervently express their religious views verbally in order to sound more religious, when they themselves are feeling doubtful. Treat it as any other belief or system to follow. Being muslim in America, for example, I rarely discuss my religion outside of my family and close friends.I am very anxious and afraid of rejection, so that affects how I express my views. I do however try to act within my religion on a daily basis, from praying for people to helping when I am able.Religion is a system, not a character trait in of itself.Use the character’s personality points to bring out their beliefs, otherwise the written actions wont jive with the character.
Can you help?
Compare your character’s appearance at the beginning of your narrative to their appearance at the end of the narrative. Write or draw.
Consider: Have they gone through physical changes? Is their expression different? Has their style of dress changed? What has your story necessitated they change about themselves? How much was intentional on their part, how much was unintentional?
“Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.”—Katherine Mansfield, from The Journal Of Katherine Mansfield
Describe your character’s keys.
How many keys do they have? What do the keys look like, what are they for? Are they decorated or marked in any way? What kind of key ring or chain do they use? Do they have any charms or add ons? Do they carry something like pepper spray or a whistle with their keys? Where do they usually carry their keys, and are they good at remembering to take them places?