Starting with TYPES as opposed to Characters



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  • Starting with TYPES as opposed to Characters


    One thing I've always found myself guilty of is to start with a cool plot and then start plugging in stereotypical types into slots.

    Later, people will love the idea and the writing as a whole, but will comment that the characters are flat and not sympathetic.

    How do you avoid this pitfall IF you are someone who always seems to get the plot first, not the characters.



  • #2
    Easiest thing is to start with the stereotypes and then twist them. Find a unique character trait that will work within the confines of the story you want to tell. My feeling is that if you can find that first unique trait, you can find others my extension. For example, if you find one for the protag, then by extension, you will know more about your antag.

    Of course, I always start with characters, so you gotta consider the source here.


    • #3
      I think it was Truman Copote or someone like that who said he recycles characters. He only has about twenty characters in his head, and when he writes a story, he picks the characters he needs from that group.

      I don't know if that's good or bad, but I've reused a few characters myself. I'm a plot-first writer. If I don't know the characters well enough, I tend to make them react the way I want them to (to advance the plot), instead of the way they normally would. This is where I get into trouble. But if I know the characters from a previous script or story, it's not as much of a problem.


      • #4
        I never begin to write now without an intimate knowledge of a character. Depending on the role they play I may go as far as knowing what scars they have, nervous ticks, little things that go a long way. My protag's love interest is just as described above...

        The opposite of how she looks. When we meet her she's dressed like a biker whore. But we find out later this is a ruse to LOOK tough. Inside she's soft hearted, unsure on high heels and speaks in staccato when she's nervous or excited.

        Unfortunately all things aren't that easy. My protag is a mess. He's more mixed up than I am. But the good thing is that came through into the script. He's fighting with a lot of devils inside and coming to terms with them slowly.

        What makes the perfect character? I think they all have their own way of being born in the mind of the writer. One I based on a friend's father. An old grump. Another mixed up cliches. Yet another I fabricated from someone I don't like. Unfortunately earlier scripts used a lot of cliche. It took time to learn to recognize them for what they are.

        I guess my best advice is find someone, or something about a person you like or dislike. Don't work directly from your mind. Find a guy at work who's a bit shy, swears even though he looks like a bookworm, has a little limp. Whatever differences you find that stick out. Then capitalize on them. It's the "differences" that make great characters. Not the similarities. Throw the protag out of his element. If he's afraid of heights make him a rock climber. If he's shy around girls, make him gorgeous. If he hates drugs, make his daughter a heroin addict.

        Characters come to life when they are presented with challenges. Difficult choices. Take the character you created, sit them down and ask them a few questions. What would you do if someone took your daughter? If someone punches you in the face how do you act? Ask a bunch and you might find your cliche character on the surface, may not be so cliche underneath.

        How do you avoid this pitfall IF you are someone who always seems to get the plot first, not the characters.
        You don't. Characters drive plot. If you haven't got the right character to drive a story all your left with is cliche to fill the holes. I had to come back and edit after missing that in the initial post. That alone is the problem. You'll have characters carry a story when it's THEIR story. Not yours.


        • #5
          I used to teach writing a while back and Rev's post reminded me of another little trick I used to suggest. This one's especially useful for writers who come up with Events before Characters.

          If you come up with a fantastic event, or sequence of events, the very next step should be to think about what kind of person would wind up in that situation. Your first thought will almost always be in some way a cliché, but you just have to work through that. You can also try thinking of the LEAST LIKELY person to wind up in that situation. Somewhere between those two extremes are the seeds of a well-developed main character that will put your name in the history books as the guy who wrote the next French Connection.

          Just my additional 2¢.


          • #6
            Stereotypes v Archetypes

            What I try to do is to identify the archetypes of the supporting characters in relation to the protag and use that to flesh out the character. Once you've identified the archetype, adding a stereotype/character can be fun and make for interesting characters.

            An archetype is to a certain extent a role a character plays in relationship to the protag's goal or quest. Such as mentor (for example the Oracle in the Matrix), or shapeshifter, or threshold guardians (Christopher Vogels book is a great help on this, although there are other archetypes not used in his 'mythic journey' that are equally useful).

            If you look at your life, the roles people play in your life are archetypal: your boss may be your mentor, or he could be the threshold guardian preventing you from promotion until you have proved yourself. Or he could be your shadow, forcing you to struggle against him and thus your own dark side. Or he could be your hero, someone you look up to and try to emulate. If you gave your boss any one of these four archetypes, this would produce completely different characters. Yoda plays the mentor role who challenged Luke's propensity to make judgements and not trust the Force. To flesh out this idea, Lucas characterised him as an irritating green gnome-like creature. If you think about it, Yoda could not have been anything else.

            Characters should reflect some aspect of the protag, either display traits he needs to overcome or traits he needs to adopt. Again this helps you decide on how to construct your character. You can add the quirky bits at the end - whether your character has a passion for chilli chocolate might help illustrate that your protag needs to be a little more adventurous in life.

            Hope the above helps in some way. Good luck


            p. s. Identifying the archetypes helps with shaping characters. But a warning on stereotypes. They've all been done, that's where they are called stereotypes (stereotypes = fixed conventionalised representation). The trick is to introduce characters that are fresh. By finding their archetype first you can avoid the stereotype pitfalls.