Thursday, March 30, 2006

What kind of character is hardest for you to write?

I guess I would divide my world of characters into five:

My protagonist is usually smart, or smarter than the surrounding characters in some ways. At the same time s/he is far from perfect and is struggling with internal problems. Can be tormented, but doesn't have to be. Strong and weak.

Perhaps it's because I'm mostly into science-fiction and literary fiction that I tend not to have antagonists per se. My conflict rises from within usually or from problems with the science. Sometimes I have an antagonist (usually smart) who is more of a troubled character - not all bad, but certainly not good either, especially their actions.

Support Cast
The good - I almost always have a conscience character. Don't know why, but my protagonist needs a compass. Why can't s/he figure things out on their own? I'm not sure. Maybe because that's life? Maybe because when we're so involved in things we can't see them clearly from the inside? These support characters are usually the tormented or sad ones.

The ordinary - Very problematic these ordinary characters are. I work hard not to make them too boring, but they're just fillers. Necessary with small parts. Or are they necessary?

Finally - the funny ones. Everybody (fictional and real) likes these characters, and for me it's the light, funny characters everybody likes that I can't write worth a damn.
I don't know how to do comedy and despite having sense of humour (I think/hope/believe I do anyways), I can't write it.
I remember how my writing group used to ask me if I had written one thing or another just to be funny, and I would redden and nod. They would then mumble something along the lines that it's okay then, but that I should otherwise delete it.
I just can't be funny or have comic relief characters. And I really wish I did because they really are so lovable and add another dimension to fictional works.

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redchurch said...

Writing my villains is the toughest part. I'm at home with my heroes. I know them inside out, because I've spent so much time embodying their conflicts and values.

Villains are hard for me, because I generally think of villains as people who lack values, or have corrupted values. I can think of attitudes I hate. I can also think of positions political or philsophical topics that I hate. But that is not 'villainous' by default.

So then I try to embody the villain as an ordinary human. Just and ordinary person. Ok, so what makes them a villain? Well, they have to take something too far. Ok, but what?

What is the entire collection of views, beliefs, agenda, that they will put into action within the story and truly define themselves as a villain?

For me, that's tough work. The hardest thing is trying to avoid cliche. I don't want the mustache-twirling guy with a short temper and a maniacal laugh.

But oddly, a lot of villainry boils down to that, doesn't it?

So how much of the raging irrational nazi-like villain is too much? Is there such a thing as too much?

Benjamin Solah said...

I find writing female characters extremely hard. As well as funny characters, maybe that's why I don't put them in.

Jennifer said...

You know I sat here thinking about it for way to long (I should be working :)) and I've come to the conclusion that I don't have any one 'formula'.

I think I write for the situation. Usually I know my protagonist inside out, because usually it's character that hits me and story for that character that follows. Since i write mainly for children the characters have the sense of innocence still in them. (I think I'm drawn to characters like that).

I have done a few sci-fi stories and oh wow I've got a range of characters. They show a variety of emotions. The one sci-fi novel I wrote which I had SO much fun writing (and I really have to go back to it and fix it up cause it's a salvagable (sp) story that I think could be really good...)

Oh Melly you've got me thinking about the characters from that novel. I've got a variety of them and they were so much fun to write...emotions and actions for all over the spectrum...

Bryan D. Catherman said...

I really find it tough to write a funny character. I don't think I'm alone in this, which is why people who write these kinds of characters into their stories, and write them in well, are in a class of their own.

Melly said...

I totally understand what you mean about villains, redchurch. I guess I would have a hard time trying to write "pure evil", probably because I find it so hard to comprehend too. I believe most villains have their good sides as well and don't necessarily know they're doing evil. Fanatics.

Benjamin, me too I used to be afraid of my male characters, but then discovered I almost prefer writing them after I noticed they were received much better than my female characters.

Jennifer, what are you doing? You must go back to that novel because it sounds like you're totally into your characters :)

Melly said...

Oh, Bryan, I absolutely agree with you.

s.j. said...

I do find villains tend to get a bit hammy. I sometimes have a tendency of letting them "monologue" (as coined by The Incredibles). But since I have a tendency to write silly stuff anyway, I just let the ham pile up. If you're going to get hammy, get way hammy, you know? Comedy is about excess, or at least exaggeration.

I guess then it's tough for me to write a serious villain. They end up being quite tired and melodramatic. Maybe it's just that I have trouble writing "serious" characters, period, for fear of being too maudlin. So I'm trying to be profound through silliness...(yeah, that's my excuse)

Cavan said...

I can't write funny characters to save my life and my supporting cast tends to be weakest, since they sometimes blend into one another.

Although I don't usually write villains, when I do they're the characters I tend to spent the most time working on. I love to make the reader really like the villain, despite whatever nefarious deeds they might be doing.

Deborah said...

The sidekick for my novel has a mean and sarcastic sense of humor. I've never tried to write full-blown humor.

As for villians, even the vilest in humanity cares about something.

I find that it's harder to write about the protagonist because there's the risk of making the character too weak or too strong.

Jennifer said...

Jennifer, what are you doing? You must go back to that novel because it sounds like you're totally into your characters :)

I LOVE the characters. Enough to have started to rough out an idea for a second novel, which is a novel on it's own right, but also kind of a continuation of the first novel. There are 4 main characters (so to speak, really it's two, but the other two play a big part in the story). The story in the first is about two of them, and the second story would be about the other two, but still relate back to the first novel.

Yeah I've fallen love with those characters. Can you tell. My problem is I just don't have time to write it right now. I can't wait to get these exams out of the way. I feel like my entire life has been put on hold.

Melly said...

S.J., if only I could be prfound through silliness. It's a great excuse btw - stick to it :)

Cavan, that's a good tactic/strategy. I have such ambivalent feelings towards villains I like. I almost hate the author for making me like them. It's a mark of good writing, I think. Well, IMHO anyways.

But of course, Deborah :) If that isn't half the fun in writing. Creating the "perfect" protagonist. Not in terms of perfect personality, but in terms of the right personality for the story. Too stressing at times.

Jennifer, you'll be back in no time. I can "hear" how much you miss your characters and your writing.
Oh, and I love this - changing character focus in the new novel.

Karen Lee Field said...

For me, it's the funny ones. They tend to come over lame and stupid, instead of funny. That might, of course, have something to do with my lack of sense of humour (or so I'm told by my sons). :)

Anonymous said...

Writing villains is the easiest thing for me. My villians tend to be more interesting than the other characters. The plus side to my fantasy is that most of the characters in the story are villains to some extent. The hardest characters for me to write are the supporting characters. I am trying to flesh them out during my rewrites.

Pat Kirby said...

Well, funny is my schtick, even when I'm writing something serious. I tend to think that the world is absurd, so it's hard not to let the funny (snark) sneak in.

I also like villains, although they usually get fleshed out in the revision process and start off flat in the first draft.

I usually have a sort of "wise mentor" type of character, someone who's been there, done that, etc. In the case of my current WIP, I have two, one for each character.

Everybody, including the villain has a sense of humor. When my characters lose their sense of the absurd, I start having a hard time writing.

redchurch said...

Pat said:

"When my characters lose their sense of the absurd, I start having a hard time writing."

That's an interesting comment. I haven't given much thought to what all my characters have in common, if anything.

I guess they all know how to push buttons, and get on each others nerves. Maybe this is overflow from my own personality. Sometimes, I know exactly the right thing to say just to piss someone off. Not necessarily smart or witty, but a gift for belligerence. ;-)

However, the danger there is the characters may seem too alike?

Buffy said...


Jack Slyde said...

I've got a couple of complex, not villains but certainly not heros, running around in my stories and they tend to be the hardest to write because they are the most complex, but interestingly, they are also the most rewarding to write about.

Melly said...

Karen, you and me both :)

Fred, doesn't it also depend on the supporting character? If it's more villainous, or whatever it is?

Pat, I didn't expect anything else. Your blog writing is so funny that it made sense to me your fiction writing would have some of these elements as well.

Eric, doesn't it seem from reading all the comments that while we don't write all characters to be like us, we certainly emphasize one aspect or another in almost all of them depending on our own character?
I noticed I mentioned smart a few times (not that I am, but it's something important), your characters push buttons, Pat's have a sense of the absurd, and so on.

Buffy, that's interesting, probably the least expected answer :)

Jack, I compeltely understand. That's what I meant when I say I don't have villains villains. I also find them most rewarding to write.