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)
This Is a Towel: Unusual Names
Anonymous asked: Can you provide a list of uncommon yet meaningful names? For an example, like Halycyon and Vern?
Here, I made you a list of links!
- Babble: Uncommon Baby Names: Separating the cool from the are-you-kidding
- BabyNames.com: NSI: name scene investigators
- BabyNames.org: Names Dictionary
- BabyNamesWorld: Uncommon Names
- BabyNamesWorld: Unusual Names
- Babynology: Uncommon Baby Names for Boys and Girls
- Babynology: Unusual Baby Names for Boys and Girls
- Buzzle: Unique Baby Girl Names
- FitPregnancy: Cool And Unique Boy Names
- HuffingtonPost: Weird Baby Names And The Stories Behind Them
- Nameberry: Really uncommon names (forum)
- Nameberry: Unusual Baby Names For Boys That Are Ready To Make A Comeback
- Nameberry: Unusual Names
- Nameberry: Cool Unusual Boys’ Names: A Guide to the Best
- Nameberry: Unusual Girls’ Names: A Guide to the Very Coolest
- PopSugar: 100 Unusual Boy Names
- SheKnows: Weird baby names (we secretly like)
- TheBump: Unique Baby Names
- TheDailyBeast: 100 Cool Uncommon Baby Names
Be sure to check out our Towel on Naming Characters for more links and tips on creating strong character names.
Thank you for your question! If you have any other writing-related questions or any comments about this post, hit us up!
Writing Racially and Culturally Diverse Characters (short answer)
Anonymous asked: Do you have any advice for writing racially and culturally diverse characters? Ones that are from other countries or areas, as well as characters that are mixed? How would that affect them and how would you describe them physically? That sort of thing.
A few links for you off the top of my head:
- Language Creation
- Skin Deep tag (race, skin color, etc.), and especially A Few Tips and Resources for Writing POC Characters and Gee, I don’t know how to research writing Characters of Color tastefully
- Worldbuilding Series: Religion
- Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede
I’m not sure what “mixed” means to you (clarification would be awesome there!), but as far as how race and culture affects characters, you could pretty much do this:
- Research a place/time/culture, the people who live there, the stereotypes you are likely to have about that place and those people and why those stereotypes are crap.
- Create a character from that place/time/culture.
- Think about how your other characters would interact with that character (both from a societal standpoint and a personal standpoint) and how that character would interact with your other characters (both societal and personal standpoints).
- Think about how that character would handle being in a new place among strangers or else how that character would feel about having strangers from outside of their culture arrive at their doorstep.
- Proceed with story.
Thank you for your question! If you have any comments on this article or other questions about writing, you can message us here!
Writing: (Psychopathic) Villains
No villainous action is random. Nothing they do is out of nothing. There will always be a human issue that drives them to be villains in the first place. Sometimes villains don’t even consider themselves to be villain-they might actually see themselves as the hero. Some villains are sadistic psychopaths, others utter narcissists. Whatever they may be, there’s always a reason behind their actions. Even if it just for fun (although this can sometimes end up being a poorly developed, cliche villain).
However, sometimes villains don’t commit their actions out of pain or an uncontrollable need. Sometimes they just do it because they like to. Johan Liebert from Monster, Norman Bates from Psycho, Moriarty from Sherlock.
How do you write these villains?
Writing the physical description of the character
While I was redrafting my piece for my controlled assessment, I used these sites to help me with the description of the character. I hope these are helpful. ((You’re free to add any more links!))
In every story you write, you’ll most likely have to describe the appearance of your characters. I know after a while it can get tedious and maybe even a little boring. Even though how your character looks is up to you, I still think there are some basic “rules” you should follow. There are ways of describing appearances that won’t bore your readers or have them rolling their eyes. There are ways to keep it fresh.
You don’t have to tell us everything about your characters in the few opening pages. Your readers don’t need to know everything about your main character’s appearance right away, especially if it doesn’t add to the story. Telling us that your main character is handsome or beautiful over and over again is a waste of time and it doesn’t do anything for your WIP. Telling us that your character is nice to look at doesn’t allow us to really understand your character. If you tell us about a scar they possess, however, we’ll begin to wonder why they have it. It pertains to the story.
You also need to describe your characters differently if you want your readers to remember who they are. I know sometimes people look alike, but all your characters can’t have blonde hair and blue eyes. I KNOW this all depends on what sort of story you’re telling, the location, and the time period, but you need to have some variety. We don’t want to picture all of your characters looking the same.
Planning out how your character will look should be just as important as everything else you plan out. The details of your character shouldn’t be tedious, but they should offer some sort of important information about your character. Make it exciting. Make your character descriptions worth reading. Whenever I read a weak character description, I think maybe the author didn’t even know what they wanted their character to look like. I know whenever I haven’t properly described a character, it was because I didn’t put enough time into it.
You can use more than sight to describe appearances. Using more than one sense can really help you out and make your descriptions more interesting. I’m sure most of you are well aware that writing is not just a visual process, but made more interesting when you use your five senses. You can say that someone has brittle hair or smells like bacon. This will add to your character descriptions and make them more realistic.
The most important advice I can give you when describing your characters is to avoid info dumping, like I mentioned in the beginning. We can learn about your character’s appearance over time and it does not have to be the first thing you write about. If you’re starting your novel with an action scene, for example, you don’t have to break to tell us what your character looks like. That can be mentioned later.
Writing Eating Disorders
So, I was sitting here thinking about what I could possibly write up a post about. Then it hit me: why not write about something personal/near and dear to my heart. Reading many stories that have dealt with the issue of eating disorders (mostly fanfiction), I have noticed that sometimes people don’t completely grasp what eating disorders are or the differences between them. So I’m here to help.
This was longer than I thought it would be, so I’ve placed it all under a ‘read more’.
- Apparitions are supernatural manifestations of phantoms, ghosts, wraiths, specters, etc.
an academy of apparitions
- a banshee is a spirit that appears in the form of a wailing woman.
a racket of banshees
- Ghosts, beings prevalent in Halloween tales, are the souls of those who are dead.
a shroud of ghouls
- Phantoms are simply apparitions or specters that cause a noisy or violent disturbance.
a rumpus of phantoms
- Poltergeists, according to paranormal and parapsychology experts, are neither spirits nor ghosts. They don’t appear to haunt places or people; they just seem to want to cause disruption and scare people.
a blanket of poltergeists
- Spirits are supernatural beings.
a penumbra of spirits
- Spooks is another way to say ghost.
a mystery of spooks
- Wraiths is the Scottish dialect for ghosts or spirits.
A degradation of wraiths
Character Writing TipsReaders won’t care about characters unless they are believable. So how do we make our characters realistic? Why do the most celebrated characters seem so real? How have some writers managed to render animals, aliens, and even inanimate objects into characters that we embrace emotionally?
The answer is simple: the best characters are realistic. They come with all the flaws, quirks, and baggage that real people possess. They are not just names on a page. They have pasts, personalities, and they are unique.
Here are 12 character writing tips to help you develop characters that feel like real people:
- Backstory: we are born a certain way, but our life experiences continually mold and shape us. Each character has a life before the story. What is it?
- Dialogue: the way we talk depends on the language we speak and where we live (or grew up) but there’s also something unique to each person’s style of speaking. We repeat certain words and phrases, inflect certain syllables, and make certain gestures while we speak.
- Physical Description: our primary method of identifying each other is the way we look; hair and eye color, height and weight, scars and tattoos, and the style of clothing we wear are all part of our physical descriptions.
- Name: Esmerelda doesn’t sound like a soccer mom, and Joe doesn’t sound like an evil sorcerer. Make sure the names you choose for your characters match their personalities and the role they play in the story.
- Goals: Some say that a character’s goals drive the entire story. He wants to slay the dragon. She wants to find love. Goals can be small (the character is shopping for a new car) or big (the character is trying to take over the world). Come up with a mix of small and large goals for each character.
- Strengths and Weaknesses: Villains sometimes do nice things and heroes occasionally take the low road. What are your character’s most positive and negative behaviors and personality traits?
- Friends and Family: these are the people in our inner circles, and they have played important roles in shaping our personalities and our lives. Who are your characters’ friends and family before the story starts? What new friends will they meet once the story begins?
- Nemesis: a nemesis is someone with whom we are at odds. This character doesn’t have to be a villain, but the goals of the nemesis definitely interfere with your character’s goals.
- Position in the World: what do your characters do for a living? What are their daily lives like? Where do they live? What is a character’s role or position among his or her friends, family, or coworkers?
- Skills and Abilities: a character’s skills and abilities can get him out of a tight spot or prevent him from being able to get out of a tight spot. Skills can be useless or they can come in handy. Does your character have an education or special training? What can he do?
- Gestures, Mannerisms, and Quirks: One character chews her nails while watching movies. Another runs his hand through his hair when he’s trying to figure something out. Give your characters identifiable quirks and behaviors, like real people.
- Fears: An old fiction writing trick is to figure out what your character is most afraid of, then make the character face it. We all have fears. Characters should, too.
5 Tips on Character Descriptions
by Darcy Pattison5 Interior Character Traits to Explore
As you profile your fictional characters, consider these traits:
- Intelligence. Intelligence is shown through the character’s vocabulary and the brilliance of his/her scheming to get his/her own way.
- Intuition. Does your character understand things without having it explained? Intuition is a grasp of events, people, situations or puzzles without detailed explanation or exploration.
- Curiosity. A main character which constantly questions the world and setting of the story is curious. After an event, this character will be seeking more information.
- Honesty. Got a dishonest character? The contrast between inside thoughts and outside actions will reveal how much the character values honesty.
- Spirituality. When a character reacts by appealing to God, or by invoking destiny, s/he reveals her spirituality. This character trait can dominate a fictional character, or it could be used as gentle asides. Either way, spirituality has potential for characterization.
Character Tips #4 - Names
Your characters’ names may seem irrelevant, but they’re extremely important to the story. There are a few reasons why your characters names are important:
- They say a lot about your character”s traditions and beliefs. If your character’s parents are Christian/Catholic, you may want to give your character a biblical name, like Maria or Magdalena. Derivations of those names or the English equivalents are fine too, like Mary, Abigail, etc. If they’re Muslim, names like Abdul will be fine.
- The meaning of your characters’ names is important too. While many readers will not look into the origin or meaning of your characters names, others might. That being said, if your character is Italian, make sure their name has its origin in the Italian language or at least in Latin. If your character is a villain, don’t call them Benita, which means good person.
- They can say a lot about your character’s families or the people they admire. If your character’s grandmother was an amazing person, it would be a good idea to name your character after that woman. If your character’s parents admire James Dean, your character’s name may be James, Dean, or one of those names could be their middle name.
Some things to keep in mind when choosing a name for your character:
- Don’t make it too obvious, because it gets cliché. If you’re creating a wizard, don’t name it Potion. Give the reader some credit. They will get your point without you needing to make it so obvious. If you want, you can search a certain word in other languages and use it as a name to your character, which would catch the attention of some people, but would appear random and somewhat magical to others.
- Don’t use a name that is too trendy. Now that the Twilight saga hype has died down, it may be safer to name your characters Bella or Edward, but, nevertheless, it would be safer to choose names that couldn’t be associated to other works that easily.
- If you use an uncommon name, explain why. If you want to name your character Pennsylvania or Lilac, explain somewhere in your work why is that person named like that. It may have been because they were conceived in Pennsylvania or because the father offered a Lilac to the mother on the first date, but explaining the name of your character gives it depth. In Looking For Alaska, Alaska explains why that is her name and I fully recommend you to do the same.
- Even if it’s not that uncommon, explain it. It helps to build the back story of your character. If your character’s name is Caroline, it may have been because their parents’ song was Sweet Caroline.
- If you use a common name, go for a not-so-common spelling. It makes your character memorable. But beware: it’s better not to go for a spelling that can be susceptible of different readings. This website can be a useful tool.
- If a character isn’t too important, give them a common name. Don’t give a secondary character a name that could be more memorable that the main character’s. The most important characters need to have the names that would be more easily remembered.
Character Tip #1
Even the most evil and uncaring of characters have a good side. Heartless people will cry at something and those who are apathetic will get worked up about something, even if they don’t show it. On the other side of the coin, even the most wholesome and kind characters have a bad side. A selfless character will be selfish about something and someone who is “nice” all the time will reach a point where they can’t be anymore. Never forget the common literature lesson, we have both darkness and light within us all.
Tip of the day #2.
Basing characters on people and issues that arise.
1. Basing a character on someone you know can be a huge deal, especially to the person. Whereas you may see it as an innocent gesture, whomever you have used may think that it is a sign of how much you care about them or a gesture that you love them. Its a big thing to put someone down in writing, so be careful whom you use and in what context. As well as this, you must be careful who you leave out of your writing. If you write all of your friends bar one into your story that will have repercussions on that person. Just be mindful of peoples emotions as you are writing them.
2. Name taking. If you use someones name, even if you’re not planning on basing that character off of them, it will still become an issue. Psychologically we associate names with faces, so even if you’re just planning on using a name for someone then it will still cause you to subconsciously write the character to fit with the name. This also applies with looks. Using just the looks of someone will cause you to write them differently to how you would if the character were completely original. Using your friends ace will make you write that character as your friend, as you can already picture them reacting to things in certain ways. In other words, use names and looks if you wish but be mindful of how you write that character.
3. Killing the character off. If you base a character on your girlfriend or boyfriend or best mate or mum or dad or brother or anybody then you will face problems if it comes to killing them off. My number one rule of writing is that you only control what happens to an extent. Once you get in the zone of writing then the writing takes you, you catch the rhythm and if it fits it fits. I’ve done it before when I didn’t mean to kill a character off but as I was writing they just died. If you base a character off of someone, even if it fits in the story for them to die, then you will be less likely to want to do so. Remember, its all about your story and, if it fits, it goes. While it may be a lot easier to base your character off of someone, and could be a massive gesture, you have to remember that the plot comes first.
Overweight Characters - How to make it relatable
This isn’t really a research but I didn’t know what to put it under and this isn’t a guide on how to write overweight characters cause you write them how you write everyone else, but this how it actually happens in the real world. To help you understand it.
OOC: Basics on how to make a good RP/courier character
There are good characters and bad characters. Canon characters (House, Yes Man, etc.) are exempt from these guidelines, as they are the way the are supposed to be.
- NO Supernatural abilities (invincibility, super strength, flying, etc.)
- Good background story. No NCR/Legion super mega general badasses.
- Unique personality. No heartless, soulless, badass John/Jane Doe people.
Having a character with supernatural abilities, such as not being able to get hurt, make it generally not fun to RP with. A good background story tells exactly WHO your character is. A detailed story makes your character more fun to use to RP, too. I don’t think I need to explain the third one.
An example of a good character is: Jack Anderson, NCR trooper. He is medium built with brown hair and eyes. Jack was born and raised in Shady Sands with a drunk, abusive father. He enlisted in the NCR military to escape the hell that was his life.
Summarized background story, average job, nothing too special about him. This is good.
A bad example: Dr. Major General Sgt. Captain Invincible 10 foot tall guy with laser eyes! Who is also a vampire!
Please try to make characters you would see in the real world.
Half assed report by Dimov.
10/28/12 - Naming Your Character
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;”
As nice as this sounds, it isn’t necessarily true in writing. Character names are highly important. Think about it - even people who have never read Twilight know who Edward Cullen is. The name Romeo has become a term for a man in love. But how should one go about naming their character?
Some authors use names where the meanings portray a part of the character’s personality. Edward Cullen is a good example. Edward means “protector” and Cullen means “beauty”. Throughout the Twilight series, Edward protects Bella, and all of the Cullens are described as beautiful. It fits.
There are lots of ways you can find out name meanings. There are books, and apps for “baby names” that have names, origin, and meanings. Many of the apps have the ability to look up a name through a meaning. I suggest looking through these to find a name you like.