Tag Archives: character building

Fleshing Out Characters Part Two: Behaviors and Quirks


Another thing that can help a character feel more real is having a consistent behavior when reacting to situations.  Behavior in this context is not just a single emotion or reaction; like angry, jovial, blunt, polite, or quiet.  The character’s attitude is an overall guiding way they react which is normally a mixture of emotions or styles depending upon what they are reacting to.  Like the idiosyncrasies we covered earlier sometime aspects of their behaviors can seem to conflict, but if you know the character more fully then it is consistent to who the character is.

One example of a characters behavior is someone that reacts to events in a Patriarchal manner.  This definition was first broadly used to define the relationships that often occurred in Rome, and still has some influence on how people see fathers in general.  Someone who reacts Patriarchly tends to be stern, but protective to those below him as long as they are given proper respect.  They even show moments of warmth and kindness sometimes to unexpected behavior from their subordinates, but have no tolerance for rebellion.  They tend to try to create orderly environments, and are resistant to change.  This combination of attitudes creates a fleshed out behavior pattern that makes it so in hypothetical situations one could say, ‘I am pretty sure (insert Patriarchal character) might act this way,’ or, that reminds me of something that character would do.   Of course keeping in mind the tips from the first article you will want some inconsistencies, or a person will be completely predictable.

To get ideas for behavior patterns you can look at both basic archetypes that are in all sorts of stories (like the hero, the wise woman, the soldier, the trickster) or even modern types, the wall street power monger, the dilettante, the activist, etc.  You can even take the basic behavior patterns of one type of character (like a Robin Hood), and then add additional attitude or tweak basic concepts like this Robin Hood type only works alone when doing her job  of taking from the rich, but prefers to be surrounded by people in her time off.  Overlay that with the fact that she is very calculating, and does not like to make snap decisions and you get a twist off of a well-known behavior type.

Another thing that can flesh out your character is quirks.  These are small random likes and dislikes that are less about a personality, and more small things that identify what a character is like without being necessarily as meaningful. The character who tugs on a lock of her hair when thinking, or prefers his music to have heavy drum beats, the person who can’t stand reading but wants to hear stories told by bards constantly, or the woman who loves spicy food.  Random small things like this can be simple likes and dislikes (music, food, hobbies, fashion, etc.)trademark physical patterns (has a limp, closes eyes when thinking, whips hair around when enters a room), odd preferences (likes to be surrounded by dogs, talks to self when making decisions, etc), phobias (bodies of water, pigs, etc) , and so on.

Adding both meaningful consistent guidelines (through the behaviors) and more surface attitudes (the quirks) combined with the tips from before (motivations and inconsistencies) will give you three dimensional characters which will be more engaging.  If people would like, I could also do some more blogs on this, but the above is a good way to get started.

Not a Poll Exactly, but Close:

I am not technically doing a poll this time, but I would love to hear from people there favorite character types, and even characters in literature or other media.  My favorite type is probably the trickster.  Character wise it’s too diverse for me to pick just one but some favorite characters in various media include Wally West, Perrin Ayabera, Coyote, Walter Slovotsky, Silk, Tim Drake, Jamie Lannister, and Monk Kokkalis.  Quite a mix of media types, but some similar strains in many of those characters.

Book Update:

The book is still moving but very slowly, due to my upcoming cross country move (that starts in a week).  I hope a week or so after I move to fit into a regular schedule, and it is still possible book two of the Allmother’s Grace will be ready for publication in December (I can’t guarantee it but the first half is already being edited and it depends on how quickly I can catch up after my move whether the book is ready late December or early 2013).

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Fleshing out Characters Part One: Motivations and Idiosyncrasies


If characters are little more than excuses for scenes to occur a reader will quickly tire of them.  Sometimes this is not true, as some horror oriented genre stories have little time to flesh out characters before killing them.  The rest of the genres however can keep people hooked by having characters that are more than stereotypes or archetypes, and behave like real people with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies.

One of the first steps to a fleshed out characters is for each one to have their own motivations.  Notice I used the plural of that word. If they only have one, then they remain a stereotype.  For a short period of time the knight who is motivated by his code of honor, the swordsmen who wants revenge for his family, the mother who wants to protect her kids, etc, can be entertaining.  Over the course of a series or even a novel that can make a character seem one note, like they only exist for the single motivation.  To make a character better give them at least three or four motivations.  If possible, have at least one of them be set up for the sole purpose of clashing with the rest, so the character is not entirely predictable.

For example the person who wants revenge for his slain family may also have drives to protect his new (unrelated) family that might put him at odds with revenge (is it worth putting the new family in danger?)  Add a few motivations that are not directly connected to the clashing ones (he also wants to run a successful business, and to charm as many women as he can) and you have a more fleshed out character that in some scenes may have all four of his motivations at odds, and readers won’t be absolutely sure which way the character will go when faced with a challenge.

It helps to not make these completely random (they built a new family to replace the old one, running a business makes them feel accomplished like their father who they will never know, charming the ladies gives them a closeness they will never have with their new or old family, etc) but they shouldn’t all be slight variations on the same theme either.  Often when starting a novel you as the author may only know one or two motivations.  However if you pay attention to the scenes you are writing you may see small nuances in a characters dialogue or reactions that hint at more buried drives, or a even a flashy surface motivation (be the center of attention at all times!)  that stop your protagonist from being just another revenge/protective/heroic protagonist.

Those clashing motivations also underline the another important aspect of a  fully fleshed out character: Idiosyncrasies.  In many ways it’s the things that DON’T fit the stereotype about a character that makes them as memorable as the things we are used to.  Batman, unlike all the other vigilantes DOES NOT USE GUNS.  This sets him apart from the rest and is natural within the character (guns killed his parents) but don’t fit the other modern vigilantes at all.  Some idiosyncrasies happen so often they become a stereotype of their own (fierce large warrior who won’t hurt kids) but still have more depth than if they did not have those aspects that go against the grain of their core concept.

Much like motivations, to make it more real, let the idiosyncrasies flow from the rest of the characters motivations and back story.  The gentle merchant’s daughter who goes crazy and violent when animals are hurt does this because she spent more time with her dad’s horses and the hunting dogs than most people.  The normally taciturn blacksmith who in a bar can’t stop singing loudly with no shame might have had a father who blew off stress every night at the local ale house and have fond memories of when passing it hearing his father do the same.

As important as it is to have these aspects that make a character more than two dimensional it is just as important to have all the “layers” fit.  If the things that make them different flow out of actual events in their life it feels better than just to make a character “quirky”.  In a later blog I will talk about adding quirks to characters, but things like motivations and idiosyncrasies work best when coming from logical outcomes from a characters environment.

My next blog I will talk about a contest several GenreUunderground authors are having.  It will culminate in a blog swap, where other authors are writing for each other.  Whoever guesses the most wins!  There will be prizes involved including an really awesome grand prize from Bookbaby! (more on that next time!)

So with that little bit of information in mind, we come to our poll”

Poll

Will you check out some of the other blogs to try to win prizes this October?

1)Yes.

2)No.

3)I’ll wait until I get more information next blog.

World Info about the Allmother’s Fire series:

Adulthood comes at a time we think of as early in our modern lives.  People (men or women) can own property around the age of 12 or 13 (depending upon whether or not they have “come out” as an adult if noble, and if other commoners are willing to sell to them if a commoner).  Commoners tend to embrace adulthood younger, starting families often at age 15 or so, in order to have more people help on the farm quicker.

Nobles on the other hand have a formalize ceremony where they are first considered adults, and can be heir to a house (normally this is around the age of 13).  After this ceremony, they then either run the affairs of the house, or some women start learning at the Questionary for a like in the church.  After a few years (normally 2-4) they decide what they want to do, and start courting suitable mates.  This often leaves them a few years behind in family development then their commoner counterpoints.


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