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Party With Your Characters:

I was watching a great interview Neil Gaiman did with the PEN/American Center. (Full link here. It is a bit long, but worth it.)

When he was asked about his process for creating characters, he had this to say:

The only thing that’s important to me about my characters—and especially important about villains—is that I want to spend time with them. I might not wanna do what they do, but if I met them at a party, I would not be bored.

Honestly, the “Meeting Them at a Party” rule is a really good rule for any kind of character creation. If I met this person at a party, would I want to stay and talk to them, or would I say, “Just gonna go and get something from the kitchen…” and flee? It was the rule I came up with halfway through a novel by somebody who I won’t name, because she’s an incredibly fine novelist. I was halfway through this novel, and I suddenly thought, “You know, if I met any one of these people in any kind of social context, I would do everything I could to get away from them. Why am I voluntarily sitting here with them?” That was the very first book I ever stopped reading halfway through; I don’t want to be with these people.

So that is my main rule for characters, and for villains.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? How important is it for you to relate or potentially socialize with your characters? Likeable or unlikeable, good or evil, do you characters bore you? How does your opinion of your characters affect your narrative, if it has any effect at all?

edited 27th Sep '11 9:16:52 PM by BetsyandtheFiveAvengers

I'd talk to my characters, and I'd find them all quite interesting; I probably wouldn't want to stay too long, though; most of them have serious issues.

edited 27th Sep '11 9:19:16 PM by tropetown

 3 Merlo, Tue, 27th Sep '11 9:21:32 PM from the masochist chamber
*hrrrrrk*
I like reading about The Joker, but I sure as hell don't want to stay in a room with him.

So I guess I disagree with Mr. Gaiman's rule.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am...
I like reading about The Joker, but I sure as hell don't want to stay in a room with him.

Hmm, I dunno... as long as there were armed guards watching, and he was in a straitjacket of some kind, I think I'd find The Joker interesting company...

edited 27th Sep '11 9:25:13 PM by tropetown

 5 nrjxll, Tue, 27th Sep '11 9:26:07 PM Relationship Status: Not war
I don't necessarily think about whether I would want to spend time with my characters at a party, and I think that if that was literally what was meant, it would be a pretty ridiculous measuring stick of character value. I do, however, agree wholeheartedly with what I think was the more general point Mr. Gaiman was making - the most important thing you want your characters to be is interesting.

How does your opinion of your characters affect your narrative, if it has any effect at all?

Now this, I do have strong feelings on. I am decidedly against letting one's opinion of one's characters impact the story in any way. From my strong Watsonian point of view, I get the idea that the writer should think of themselves as a chronicler of "real" events - in other words, I Just Write the Thing. This means that your opinion of your characters should not affect their fates any more then your opinion of some historical figure should be able to change the past.

From a less philosophical standpoint, either overtly liking or overtly disliking a character, and letting that come out in the work, tends to lead to poor writing - for instance, see The Wesley. I therefore think it's best to try and leave your feelings about your characters out of writing altogether. Let the readers decide for themselves.

That doesn't mean you can't have favorites among your characters - but don't let that influence the work in any way. And, of course, your characters can and should very much have opinions about other characters in the work. Just keep them distinct from yours.

 6 Merlo, Tue, 27th Sep '11 9:28:01 PM from the masochist chamber
*hrrrrrk*
Ah, okay. I was interpreting things overly literal.

Well, if you put it that way, seems like common sense. Of course you don't want to read about someone you don't find interesting.

I suppose the trick is to make them interesting to enough people. How does one do that...

edited 27th Sep '11 9:28:30 PM by Merlo

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am...
My teacher's a panda
Personally, that wouldn't work for me, since I'm a socially awkward type who doesn't enjoy parties. I'm probably that guy people would do anything they could to get away from. For me, I think a better strategy would be to imagine myself getting trapped in an elevator with another character and having no choice but to make conversation.

Over all, I don't need to imagine a scenario in which I am forced to interact with another character to know if they're a character worth writing about. If a character is entertaining for me, I would just enjoy watching them from afar in their own natural habitat. Basically, if I have a good time writing them in their story, then I know I've got a good character.

It's not supposed to be taken as, "Can you hold court with your hero and those other two guys over a bowl of chips?" It's, "Do you find your characters interesting enough to invest time to write and read for them?"

Personally, my opinion of my cast is very important to me. I do not, mind you, play favorites, judge them in the text, or let what I think and how I feel affect the direction of the story. Nevertheless, if I realize a character is uninteresting, unsympathetic, or unfit for a role, I take them out. Sometimes I demote them, alter aspects of their personalities, or delete them entirely.

 9 Wheezy, Wed, 28th Sep '11 1:02:42 AM from Tampa, FL. Again.
(That Guy You Met Once)
If I met my main character at a party, it would be pretty damn awkward. But I still enjoy writing her story.

Again, like I said in the "can't roleplay with my characters" thread, your characters generally lose a lot when pulled out of their natural environment.

Although, come to think of it, it could lead to a pretty funny Rage Against the Author moment if she found out I'm the one who made her life go shit-shaped just to add drama to the story.

edited 28th Sep '11 1:10:25 AM by Wheezy

 10 nrjxll, Wed, 28th Sep '11 1:26:28 AM Relationship Status: Not war
Well, if we're talking that kind of "meet your characters", then I wouldn't want to meet even my characters from comedies anywhere. It's hard to imagine a fictional character who wouldn't have some inclination to Rage Against the Author, really.

 11 Mr AHR, Wed, 28th Sep '11 7:48:28 AM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
I dunno. I'd be interested in the short term, but a lot of them would annoy me. Ignoring the one character, I know all of my character's flaws. I know what makes them grind against other people's nerves. I know why other people don't like them.

I'd probably be more annoyed with quite a few of them in the long run, but maybe that's just a sign of me being a horrible writer.

Then again, that could just be me. I am more likely to be bugged by people than I am to blindly like them. Maybe that's why I suck at characterization.

edited 28th Sep '11 7:51:02 AM by MrAHR

 12 Cakman, Wed, 28th Sep '11 8:01:27 AM from whence he came.
READ THE 13TH SAGE.
The problem with this idea is that because WE create the characters, we feel a part of ourselves within them, and all of us here are way too full of ourselves to say "Nah. My character is boring."
My only goal in life is to ensure that Mousa dies of a stress-induced heart attack by the age of 23. READ THIS
[up] Yeah. It's hard to look at it objectively. I try to be as honest about a defective character as I can.

 14 Mr AHR, Wed, 28th Sep '11 8:51:00 AM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Cakman: Untrue!
 15 nrjxll, Wed, 28th Sep '11 11:56:24 AM Relationship Status: Not war
[up][up][up]Which is why everyone needs reviewers.

 16 Mr AHR, Wed, 28th Sep '11 12:01:32 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Which are, unfortunately, subjective. Especially when you consider genre mismatches and what else have you. Hence the whole Alternate Character Interpretation debacle.
 17 Bobby G, Wed, 28th Sep '11 12:12:48 PM from the Silvery Tay
vigilantly taxonomish
I'm not sure how far I agree with this. I think all my main characters qualify, assuming I write them well enough, but some of my minor characters are supposed to be shy or socially awkward.
 18 chihuahua 0, Wed, 28th Sep '11 1:56:45 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Well, even though Finn is bad in crowds, he would still be amusing in a way (I can imagine him tripping into the bowl of nuts and apologizing as he stumbles by).

Bryan would be interesting, as long as I trend carefully. Ian too, but for different reasons. Justin? I'll go with Landras.

 19 nrjxll, Wed, 28th Sep '11 2:26:28 PM Relationship Status: Not war
Again, I think the general point is "Do you find your characters interesting?" If he actually meant that good characters are literally those you'd want to meet at a party, then that would simply be ridiculous.

 20 Anthony H, Thu, 29th Sep '11 10:15:34 PM from monterrey, mex
Transformers 4?!
That's the whole point of my characters...they are the kind of friends I would LOVED to met, and they do the kind of stuff I would liked to do...most of the time

 21 Loni Jay, Thu, 29th Sep '11 10:27:25 PM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
As far as main characters go, yes. I don't have many 'villains', exactly, but there are quite a few characters that I would definitely not enjoy spending time with. They might be interesting, but that doesn't make them likeable.
Be not afraid...
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Total posts: 21
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