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Writer's Block:
Character dynamics
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Character dynamics:

Lately, I've been puzzled on the nature of how to make a group of characters dynamic and interesting. It's not something that's actually covered in a lot of tropes - we have tropes about their functions such as Six Student Clique or Five-Man Band, but not why those individual character types work or don't work with each other.

The two recent shows that in my opinion both best demonstrate good character dynamics are My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (<Collective Groan> oh, shut it, I'm a casual fan at best) and Community. Within the Mane Cast and the Study Group, there's no repetition of character roles. Troy and Abed, for example, function well as a comic duo, but both are quite different people and can work fine on their own. You genuinely get the feeling that you could have any two or three characters interacting as a plot, and it'd work very well.

Similarly with Friendship is Magic, I think Lauren Faust said one of her design maxims was that "there are so many ways to be a girl", and all the main character ponies demonstrate that admirably.

So, does anyone have any idea how to replicate each shows' runaway success with characterisation?

read
If just to help yourself, make a little web chart.

Have everyone have a string to connect to each and every character, and write how they feel and vice versa.

Then, use it only as a really vague guideline.
oddly
I've done that already, and mostly what I've figured out is 'those shows have good characterisation'. It's like, I know there must be a pattern to it, but I can't see that pattern.

read
No. I mean for your characters.
oddly
Rabid Fujoshi
Also you can look at this trope as well for ideas: Four Philosophy Ensemble
SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
Okay, thanks for those ideas.

Pronounced YAK-you-luss
The key to a good character is not to build them out of tropes, but to think of them as a person. Take into account their backstory, their current situation, and their particular values and interests, and consider how they, not their particular character archetype, would react to a given person or situation. Draw from the people around you and your own experiences. "If I was in this situation, what would I do? How are they different from me, and how might their differences affect their reaction?" Building a character is an organic process, not a mechanical one.

Hope that helps.
Freedom of speech includes the freedom for other people to call you out on your bullshit.
Rabid Fujoshi
Just think about real life people. Make everyone different, no two people are the same, but there will probably naturally be 'subgroups' people in the group that get along or don't get along better than they do the rest. I'd try to make the group balanced, because if all the characters are on the nice/shy/doormat end of the spectrum stuff probably won't get done, and if all are on the hotblooded/take-charge/stubborn end of the spectrum they'll be fighting and arguing all the time. have a healthy mix of both types. Try to think up characters for which different people could relate to.

People get too hung up on saying "people aren't tropes!" I don't think there's any problem with starting with tropes as long as you flesh the characters out from that niche to the point where they are people and not just a label. After all, characters might be people, but they are also plot devices.

edited 18th Dec '11 4:40:40 PM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 9 JHM, Sun, 18th Dec '11 4:45:43 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up] Or, alternately, you could even see it not as a character being a plot device, but performing the role of a plot device. You start with the device like you start with a role in a play; you end with someone playing that role, but putting a life into it all their own.
 10 Noir Grimoir, Sun, 18th Dec '11 4:50:41 PM from San Diego, CA
Rabid Fujoshi
[up]Yes, and if you start out, as many people do, imagining a role for a character to fill, that's basically starting with a trope. And I don't see anything wrong with that. That's the same as saying, "Okay, I need to think up my protagonist." Sometimes you think of characters and assign them a role later, sometimes you have a role and need a character to fill it. Both processes are valid and most writers probably use both.
SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 11 USAF713, Sun, 18th Dec '11 5:24:58 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
Tropes are useful for starting out on worldbuilding; not so much for characters.

I mean, obviously, you're going to use ideas that we have a trope for. There's so many now that it's functionally impossible to do so. However, you shouldn't think about it like that.

For example, take the oft-(over)used Badass Longcoat. Why would a character wear such a thing? Are they concealing something? Is it period-appropriate? Could they actually do half the things they do, physically, in it?

Even then, you shouldn't think about it like that. Think about it in terms of environment. "Character X grew up in a home with (describe family, friends, and other influences here) and took away these lessons (describe). That is why he/she is like how he/she is now."

Tropes, I've come to decide, are alright for an initial prompt, but you should move beyond them after that, when it comes to characters. Save them, if you must use them, for the worldbuilding, where things actually kind of need to be compartmentalized and heavily segregated.
I am now known as Flyboy.
 12 Aniventerie, Mon, 19th Dec '11 3:45:57 PM from Imagination World
Detective Extroadinaire
[up] Badass Longcoat is used because it's quick shorthand for a character that kicks ass and takes names, to use the vernacular. Yes, it's better to reveal a character through action, but drawing on the reader's associations (longcoat = badass, glasses = nerdy, etc.) is a good way to paint a portrait with a minimum of unnecessary description. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think what you're really getting annoyed at is cliches. Tropes Are Not Bad, remember?

As well, it's not bad writing to forsake probability for artistic effect. Yes, MeaningfulNames are unrealistic, but when done well they can let a reader get a feel for character by drawing upon their cultural knowledge and aesthetic reactions.

edited 19th Dec '11 3:46:44 PM by Aniventerie

Need a tall, brawny fella to come by and inspect your pickle? Perhaps I may be this fella.
 13 nrjxll, Mon, 19th Dec '11 4:05:28 PM Relationship Status: Not war
I despise meaningful names. There are better ways to let your readers know something about your character then by smashing them over the head (note that I mean the "blatant" type of meaningful names here - the more subtle Genius Bonus kind is personally irritating, but I wouldn't call it bad writing).

And really, I think you're missing the point. Regardless of the specifics of any given trope, it's best to develop it from the character and not the other way around.

 14 USAF713, Mon, 19th Dec '11 4:15:46 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
...the more subtle Genius Bonus kind is personally irritating, but I wouldn't call it bad writing...

wink

This is what I do. Don't draw any attention to it, don't mention it, nothing. Just put it in and move on.
I am now known as Flyboy.
read
I like names that fit with the person. You're not going to name your bruiser Eugene Atkinson, and you shouldn't have to.

Meaningful names are just an extension of that.
oddly
 16 nrjxll, Mon, 19th Dec '11 4:41:12 PM Relationship Status: Not war
[up]Apologies for the double negative, but you shouldn't have to not do so either, though.

 17 JHM, Mon, 19th Dec '11 4:55:49 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up] Get off your high horse. No-one's telling you to write with that device, so why complain of other people use it, especially considering the low likelihood of you reading their work anyway?

Also, in the case of the Genius Bonus version—(to which I am personally rather attached, for better or worse)—what's the chance that you will recognise the reference in the first place?

*...*

And what any of this has to do (directly) with character dynamics, I know not. Let us move on...

edited 19th Dec '11 5:05:00 PM by JHM

 18 USAF713, Mon, 19th Dec '11 4:58:54 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
Eh.

One of my other favorite character dynamics in my own works is the relationship between my protagonist and his primary antagonist. Both of them are essentially villainous (although I indulge in a little Protagonist-Centered Morality to give the protagonist the sympathetic edge even if he might actually be worse than his antagonist is), and both do absurd things in the name of fighting each other in a grand personal duel. I try to focus on the incredible stupidity of it all, even as the people around them (for the protagonist, the revolution he sort-of-kind-of-maybe is helping, and for the antagonist, the military of her country that the revolution is against) attempt and recieve mixed success at getting their own goals accomplished.

That the two are former lovers and, although most of their lust and desire have shifted into simple hatred and malice, they still have a fleeting want for one another, merely makes the whole thing more interesting.
I am now known as Flyboy.
 19 nrjxll, Mon, 19th Dec '11 5:05:46 PM Relationship Status: Not war
[up][up]My reaction was specifically against the "You won't name your bruiser Eugene Atkinson, and you shouldn't have to" part - I resent the implication that it's wrong to give characters names that don't suit their personality. I will never like any kind of meaningful name, but I (try to) avoid attacking the subtle kind, and I'd prefer it if its proponents did likewise. I don't know if that's how Atticus Finch meant it, but that's how it came across.

I will go around criticizing people who name their pyrokineticist Blaze and things like that, though.

Edit: Whoops - somehow thought this was the "subtext" thread.

edited 19th Dec '11 5:15:08 PM by nrjxll

 20 loganlocksley, Mon, 19th Dec '11 5:07:44 PM from On the ceiling
Occasionally Smart
Tropes, I've come to decide, are alright for an initial prompt, but you should move beyond them after that, when it comes to characters.

Very well put. There's nothing wrong with thinking "You know, I'd really like to make a Badass Longcoat." It only becomes poor writing when that's all the thought you put into it. Go ahead and start with a trope, but don't leave it at that. Expand the characters. Explain the characters. Understand the characters. And then murder them horribly. (The last step is optional, unless you're Joss Whedon.)

Character Tropes are not characters. Character Tropes describe characters.

edited 19th Dec '11 5:08:33 PM by loganlocksley

He's like fire and ice and rage. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time. Rory punched him in the face.
 21 JHM, Mon, 19th Dec '11 5:08:10 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up][up] Former lovers are interesting to write. The initial, implied emotional dynamic is always there in the shape of the later one, but how is always different.

[up][up] I guess I was really more responding to your first comment. I don't disagree with the sentiment of the latter comment, but I do think that you were coming off as a bit... I guess "holier-than-thou" would be the operative term here, but that's a bit strong. It seems from some of your comments that you sort of look down upon writers who include any kind of nod to the character's (or the character's parents') nature in the character's name, which is curious to me.

But yes, obvious names are obvious, and indeed generally stupid.

[up] Yes.

edited 19th Dec '11 5:20:04 PM by JHM

 22 USAF713, Mon, 19th Dec '11 5:17:22 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
@logan,

Thank you.

Former lovers are interesting to write. The initial, implied emotional dynamic is always there in the shape of the later one, but how is always different.

Indeed. I also decided to make it less about fanservice and more about subtextual nastiness; when they say things and they seem like double-meanings of a sexual/romantic nature, it comes across less as that and more as just straight distaste and hatred. It's strange, really, how I've conceptualized it in my head.
I am now known as Flyboy.
 23 nrjxll, Mon, 19th Dec '11 5:22:00 PM Relationship Status: Not war
[up]I'm not sure where fanservice would even come into play there, really.

(The last step is optional, unless you're Joss Whedon.)

On an off-topic note, I've never understood where this stereotype that Joss Whedon is some kind of character-killing maniac comes from. I've killed off a larger percentage of characters then he has in a few works. His characters may be frequently miserable, but they don't really die as often as this site seems to think.

 24 JHM, Mon, 19th Dec '11 5:23:09 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up] Well, a certain amount of sublimated mutual hatred is essential to specific types of sexual and emotional relationships. Hell, I even have one of my characters go on a whole rant about how loathing is the key to seduction. (Granted, stable the man is not, but in his case, he's probably right.)

[up] Depends on the series.

edited 19th Dec '11 5:24:31 PM by JHM

 25 USAF713, Mon, 19th Dec '11 5:37:22 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
@nrjxll,

They have a way of seeming like they just had sex without actually having touched each other and without having removed a single article of clothing, and all while insulting each other along the way.

Well, a certain amount of sublimated mutual hatred is essential to specific types of sexual and emotional relationships. Hell, I even have one of my characters go on a whole rant about how loathing is the key to seduction. (Granted, stable the man is not, but in his case, he's probably right.)

Well, the basic idea is, he cheated on his wife with this woman (the antagonist). The Austro-Hungarian Empire (of which the antagonist is an aristocrat) then steamrolls the Kingdom of Serbia (of which the protagonist was an army officer), and his wife dies in the process. He goes on a revenge-motivated series of spree killings dedicated to killing everyone in the Austro-Hungarian nobility, but then she finds him, goads him into coming after him, throws the fact that he wasn't faithful to his wife in his face (he deeply regrets this), and then leads him on a destructive game of cat-and-mouse through the Balkans in the midst of the Great War...

edited 19th Dec '11 5:38:12 PM by USAF713

I am now known as Flyboy.
Total posts: 36
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