The question I get the most is how I write characters that feel like real people.
Generally when I’m designing a human being, I deconstruct them into 7 major categories:
1. Primary Drive 2. Fear: Major and Secondary 3. Physical Desires 4. Style of self expression 5. How they express affection 6. What controls them (what they are weak for) 7. What part of them will change.
1. Primary Drive: This is generally related to the plot. What are their plot related goals? How are they pulling the plot forward? how do they make decisions? What do they think they’re doing and how do they justify doing it.
2. Fear: First, what is their deep fear? Abandonment? being consumed by power? etc. Second: tiny fears. Spiders. someone licking their neck. Small things that bother them. At least 4.
3. Physical desires. How they feel about touch. What is their perceived sexual/romantic orientation. Do their physical desires match up with their psychological desires.
4. Style of self expression: How they talk. Are they shy? Do they like to joke around and if so, how? Are they anxious or confident internally and how do they express that externally. What do words mean to them? More or less than actions? Does their socioeconomic background affect the way they present themselves socially?
How they express affection: Do they express affection through actions or words. Is expressing affection easy for them or not. How quickly do they open up to someone they like. Does their affection match up with their physical desires. how does the way they show their friends that they love them differ from how they show a potential love interest that they love them. is affection something they struggle with?
6. What controls them (what they are weak for): what are they almost entirely helpless against. What is something that influences them regardless of their own moral code. What– if driven to the end of the wire— would they reject sacrificing. What/who would they cut off their own finger for. What would they kill for, if pushed. What makes them want to curl up and never go outside again from pain. What makes them sink to their knees from weakness or relief. What would make them weep tears of joy regardless where they were and who they were in front of.
7. WHAT PART OF THEM WILL CHANGE: people develop over time. At least two of the above six categories will be altered by the storyline–either to an extreme or whittled down to nothing. When a person experiences trauma, their primary fear may change, or how they express affection may change, etc. By the time your book is over, they should have developed. And its important to decide which parts of them will be the ones that slowly get altered so you can work on monitoring it as you write. making it congruent with the plot instead of just a reaction to the plot.
But most of all, you have to treat this like you’re developing a human being. Not a “character” a living breathing person. When you talk, you use their voice. If you want them to say something and it doesn’t seem like (based on the seven characteristics above) that they would say it, what would they say instead?
If they must do something that’s forced by the plot, that they wouldn’t do based on their seven options, they can still do the thing, but how would they feel internally about doing it?
How do their seven characteristics meet/ meld with someone else’s seven and how will they change each other?
Once you can come up with all the answers to all of these questions, you begin to know your character like you’d know one of your friends. When you can place them in any AU and know how they would react.
Title: The Miskatonic Project Rating: PG-13 for horror themes, death Summary: Abraham Erskine may have invented something new with the Serum – or maybe he re-created something very old. Something…Elder. Notes: I should be working on like three other fanfics but I had a TERRIBLE DREAM this afternoon and anyway this only took about half an hour to write.
Steve came out of the Vita-Ray machine…different.
Of course he looked different – taller, thickly muscled, skin gleaming. But it wasn’t the change in his appearance so much as the…sensation people felt around him. Howard claimed not to feel it, and Erskine died before he could weigh in. Peggy felt it, but not in the way others did. To her, he seemed otherworldly, but like an angel or a religious vision – comforting under a layer of unreality. She even liked the strange black pupils he’d developed, so big and dark you could hardly see the whites of his eyes at all.
She didn’t see him pull the Hydra agent out of the submarine after Erskine’s assassination. Only three people did – a cab driver, a little boy, and the boy’s mother. The cab driver wouldn’t say a word, and the boy’s mother stuttered and stammered so badly they finally gave up. The little boy just said, “Well, he got him,” and looked admiringly at Steve.
Steve wasn’t wet, but the submarine lay on the deck of the pier, and the man next to it was dead, a rictus of horror on his face.
Person A, the resident punk of the school and Person B, the ultimate goody two shoes get paired together for a class project. Person B reluctantly goes along with the pairing, thinking A won’t do much work. Person A however is head over heels for Person B, and takes every chance they can to work up to A’s standards.
Time for me to blabber about Mutsuki some more because #whynot I see a lot of people saying he’s too far gone to be redeemed, and while his actions are certainly disturbing and someone needs to stop him soon (and he will face consequences for them), I just really, really don’t think “too far gone” fits with the themes of the manga, or with Mutsuki’s character. I could of course be wrong, but we’ve seen plenty of other characters come back from similar acts. (This isn’t to bash any of these characters, because I pretty much love almost all of TG’s characters–except for, like, Tokage et al–and it isn’t to say that people have to like or root for/can’t be mad at Mutsuki; it’s fine for people to have their own opinions.)
We have seen several characters try to kill a main character’s human best friend or romantic interest for purely selfish reasons and go on to be redeemed:
We’ve also seen Kaneki use Shiono against Eto in a similar fashion to how Mutsuki’s using Yoriko, and Shiono actually wound up dead. It is terrible and not okay in any of these circumstances, but it didn’t make Kaneki past the point of no return.
We have seen a violent, sadistic murderer character romantically obsessed with Kaneki to an unhealthy point go on to recover:
Hell, Shuu even helped plan Kaneki and Touka’s wedding celebration for them. Good job, Shuu.
While I desperately hope Mutsuki does not kill Yomo because I love Yomo and the idea of him dying makes me feel sick (and I’m honestly not sure Mutsuki will kill Yomo; if he does I’ll be mad at him but still root for him), we have seen someone who killed a loved one who sacrificed themselves for a main character be forgiven by that character and work alongside them:
Kaneki deliberately chose to ensure that Karren would sacrifice herself for Shuu in order to spare Shuu and Ui. Shuu forgave him for that, and it’s also worth remembering that Amon and Akira forgave Touka for killing Kureo, and Hinami helped Kaneki save Akira even though she knew her father killed her parents.
We’ve seen characters who suffer from mental disturbances engage in acts of extreme violence (including against former friends) and go on to grow:
Takizawa (and Tsukiyama actually) I never thought would get any kind of redemption, and look at him (them) now. You could argue that some of these situations are framed slightly differently by the narrative, but many of them are not. And I haven’t even brought up all the things characters like Kaneki, Amon, Ayato, and Touka have come back from (Touka and Ayato were my original favourite murder children in this series). One of my favourite things about Tokyo Ghoul is how morally gray every single character is–no one is fully evil and no one is fully heroic.
I kind of think the fact that characters are never beyond the point of no return is one of the points of Tokyo Ghoul. Characters who are narratively beyond that point (Furuta) still have shades of gray in them and complex motivations, and the story makes clear it’s their choices that are paving their paths to destruction (which seems to be exactly what Furuta, for example, wants anyways, as he’s essentially given up on ever receiving any kind of love). Characters who want love and a place to belong and prioritize finding it–however messed up, counterproductive, and downright wrong that prioritizing might be–usually do find it eventually, even if it’s not where they expected to find it. Additionally, characters who have people who care about them in particular tend to recover. I’m not saying I see a happy ending for everyone, or even for Mutsuki specifically, but I do expect him to find some peace even if he doesn’t survive the manga, since that’s most consistent with the manga’s themes.