Writing Characters?

#1
Basically I'm toying around with an idea for a novel, but I can't really can't do character traits well. Lets say for example there's someone I'd like to be 'ruthless'. I could in third person write on how X begged for mercy still got chopped up, or something of that note, but how would I define someone as X in first person? Dialogue is also something I'm having a bit of trouble on, most guides  I consulted says to 'imagine being your character', but how does one relate to a foreign mindset? Does it come in as you get more involved in creating your stories or when? Thanks for the help!

RE: Writing Characters?

#2
If you're going for a ruthless first person then it's better to have a bored mindset, like everything doesn't matter to him and it's just routine to chop off someone. Sociopath would be better than psychopath if you're doing a first person. 

For better effect of ruthlessness, then I would go third person limited of the victim. 

For getting in your character's mindset, hmmm, that's a bit hard. Maybe picture yourself interviewing the character first if jumping into his head is hard?

RE: Writing Characters?

#3
10/03/2016 00:03:29 Wrote: [ -> ]If you're going for a ruthless first person then it's better to have a bored mindset, like everything doesn't matter to him and it's just routine to chop off someone. Sociopath would be better than psychopath if you're doing a first person. 

For better effect of ruthlessness, then I would go third person limited of the victim. 

For getting in your character's mindset, hmmm, that's a bit hard. Maybe picture yourself interviewing the character first if jumping into his head is hard?


I disagree with this advice on the first two points.

First, there is no explicit 'better' mindset for a ruthless character. The idea of favoring a bored mindset or a different mindset is a matter of personal opinion (what you as an individual like and dislike), and not a matter of what makes a character well written. A character can have any mindset or set of traits and be a fully-developed, functional character; it's a matter of executing and implementing those traits and ideas rather than simply having them exist. A bored mindset is only good if you can implement it, the same as any other idea.

To tackle this question, I propose always asking yourself two questions: how and why. It's one thing to establish how they are ruthless. They savor the deaths of his enemies or they are cold and calculated, acting with extraordinary efficiency. It's another to establish and develop why they act that way. Do they not value the lives of humans? Do they hate everyone because of a traumatic experience in their life? Do they value completing a job over the life of another? Are they just insane due to poor mental health? The more defined your answer is to these two questions, the better idea you will have at portraying your brand of ruthlessness to your audience.

However, to fully flesh out a character, I argue that even this is not enough. We must keep asking 'how' and 'why' until we get to the core of the character. Ruthlessness is just one character trait of the possible many a character can have, cannot have, or also have. The traits and personality a character exhibit are an extension of who they are as an existence, something that has been shaped by their experiences, environment, and birth. You can work backwards or forwards, it matters not, but the idea is to continually develop the idea of 'who' is your character. Reverse engineer why this character has those specific traits or build your character from the bottom and those character traits should come naturally. 

Example:
Let's say as there is a boy. He lived in the slums. The way he speaks may be crude and to the point. If they survived by sweet-talking or verbal bouts, you can make it so he talks like a snake, adding some cunning to it. Perhaps he had a lack of education. His speech may be slurred, use incorrect grammar, slang words, and so on. Maybe if he developed a compulsion to lie or tell half-truths as a result. Perhaps he often got into trouble because of his sly manner of speaking, getting bullied on or picked on as a kid (too much sass, acting like a smart-ass). As a result, he may have grown distrusting of others. Often hides his true intentions. Or, based on his personality, he could have took the beating experience and gotten stronger. Tired of getting picked on, he developed himself so that he could be the one bullying. Experiences shape a character and their personality and environment can dictate in what way that experience develops them. It is when you portray these ideas, that character traits will naturally emerge. From the way they act, think, and talk, it should be more natural the more you develop your character. Always ask how. Always ask why.


As for point of view, I would say that is your personal preference. You can portray different things with each, or the same thing, depending on how you go about it. You could use first person to demonstrate the internal working of a character, creating a link for the audience to see just how this person is ruthless, how they justify it, what they are thinking. Alternatively, third person can be used to detach the reader from the character. When you are outside looking in, it's easier to mask your character, their intentions, and their feelings. You can make them seem less human or more cold with this detachment. But, of course you can do the same with either POV. It's all execution.

On the note of mindset, I do not personally envision myself as them often. I just, again, ask 'how' and 'why'. There is a reason people say or do things. You just need to found out why that is, even if there is no reason they act the way they do (an interesting perspective in of itself).

Please feel free to ask any questions if you have any.

RE: Writing Characters?

#4
Research, research, research.

Let's start with the dictionary definition of "ruthless": without pity or compassion; cruel; merciless.

In your example, you did "merciless". If you want to change it to a 1st person perspective, add the emotions, or in this case, lack thereof, that go with "without pity or compassion". Someone who is truly ruthless doesn't just do cruel things, they don't feel bad about doing them.

In terms of writing characters that are very different from yourself, that is certainly an area where all writers have some trouble. The key is to observe and research. Analyze the ruthless characters you've seen in video and read about in stories; try to figure out what made them ruthless. Figure out their motivations. I personally enjoy reading about psychological and sociological models of personality, but you certainly don't need to do that.

Sometimes, creating a character who is different from yourself is a game of "What If?". For a ruthless character, it might be like, "What if I didn't care about other people's feelings?" Logically, that would make your own personal goals more important to you, and the methods you would be willing to use to achieve those goals would become more extreme.

Hope that helps!

RE: Writing Characters?

#5
10/03/2016 00:42:47Z107288 Wrote: [ -> ]
10/03/2016 00:03:29 Wrote: [ -> ]If you're going for a ruthless first person then it's better to have a bored mindset, like everything doesn't matter to him and it's just routine to chop off someone. Sociopath would be better than psychopath if you're doing a first person. 

For better effect of ruthlessness, then I would go third person limited of the victim. 

For getting in your character's mindset, hmmm, that's a bit hard. Maybe picture yourself interviewing the character first if jumping into his head is hard?


I disagree with this advice on the first two points.

First, there is no explicit 'better' mindset for a ruthless character. The idea of favoring a bored mindset or a different mindset is a matter of personal opinion (what you as an individual like and dislike), and not a matter of what makes a character well written. A character can have any mindset or set of traits and be a fully-developed, functional character; it's a matter of executing and implementing those traits and ideas rather than simply having them exist. A bored mindset is only good if you can implement it, the same as any other idea.

To tackle this question, I propose always asking yourself two questions: how and why. It's one thing to establish how they are ruthless. They savor the deaths of his enemies or they are cold and calculated, acting with extraordinary efficiency. It's another to establish and develop why they act that way. Do they not value the lives of humans? Do they hate everyone because of a traumatic experience in their life? Do they value completing a job over the life of another? Are they just insane due to poor mental health? The more defined your answer is to these two questions, the better idea you will have at portraying your brand of ruthlessness to your audience.

However, to fully flesh out a character, I argue that even this is not enough. We must keep asking 'how' and 'why' until we get to the core of the character. Ruthlessness is just one character trait of the possible many a character can have, cannot have, or also have. The traits and personality a character exhibit are an extension of who they are as an existence, something that has been shaped by their experiences, environment, and birth. You can work backwards or forwards, it matters not, but the idea is to continually develop the idea of 'who' is your character. Reverse engineer why this character has those specific traits or build your character from the bottom and those character traits should come naturally. 

Example:
Let's say as there is a boy. He lived in the slums. The way he speaks may be crude and to the point. If they survived by sweet-talking or verbal bouts, you can make it so he talks like a snake, adding some cunning to it. Perhaps he had a lack of education. His speech may be slurred, use incorrect grammar, slang words, and so on. Maybe if he developed a compulsion to lie or tell half-truths as a result. Perhaps he often got into trouble because of his sly manner of speaking, getting bullied on or picked on as a kid (too much sass, acting like a smart-ass). As a result, he may have grown distrusting of others. Often hides his true intentions. Or, based on his personality, he could have took the beating experience and gotten stronger. Tired of getting picked on, he developed himself so that he could be the one bullying. Experiences shape a character and their personality and environment can dictate in what way that experience develops them. It is when you portray these ideas, that character traits will naturally emerge. From the way they act, think, and talk, it should be more natural the more you develop your character. Always ask how. Always ask why.


As for point of view, I would say that is your personal preference. You can portray different things with each, or the same thing, depending on how you go about it. You could use first person to demonstrate the internal working of a character, creating a link for the audience to see just how this person is ruthless, how they justify it, what they are thinking. Alternatively, third person can be used to detach the reader from the character. When you are outside looking in, it's easier to mask your character, their intentions, and their feelings. You can make them seem less human or more cold with this detachment. But, of course you can do the same with either POV. It's all execution.

On the note of mindset, I do not personally envision myself as them often. I just, again, ask 'how' and 'why'. There is a reason people say or do things. You just need to found out why that is, even if there is no reason they act the way they do (an interesting perspective in of itself).

Please feel free to ask any questions if you have any.


I meant better in the sense that easier for the one that asked the question. He/She seemed to plan to write a first person pov of a ruthless guy and has problems getting in a character's head. So my answer to that would be the easiest ruthless "type" would be the bored sociopathic type. Hence, the better choice. 

Going for a psycho ruthless type (as a lot of stories here in RRL do) in first person pov would be very hard and will more likely just become tons of superficial rage to the point that if would become "cringey" to read. 

Of course, the writer needs to have deeper exploration for the motives, personality, etc of the character. But that would require experience in writing and some time to get a knack for it. So I provided the type of ruthless guy that would be easy to write while looking cool and ruthless. I do agree that the writer should flesh out, research, brainstorm, etc. But my answer was more for practicality, given the writer's current position what would be the best choice for a ruthless character written in a first person way. A first person psycho is hard, at least for me. Third person psycho would be fine for me. 

For a sociopath, killing someone to achieve his goals is just the same as washing dishes, and  looks scarier and ruthless without much effort. When writing that in First person pov, then you won't require the background anger and rage internal monologue. It would be something like "huh, i need to pick up my dry cleaning, better chop this person's body faster," rather than having a flashback of his tortured past or something.

I should have used easier instead of better. lol. This is simply based on my own experience writing characters. 

Hmmm. Maybe a sociopath is harder to do than a pscyhopath. I dunno. I just find it easier to write a sociopath; the MCs of my two stories are sociopaths.

RE: Writing Characters?

#6
10/02/2016 22:02:25Night Wrote: [ -> ]Basically I'm toying around with an idea for a novel, but I can't really can't do character traits well. Lets say for example there's someone I'd like to be 'ruthless'. I could in third person write on how X begged for mercy still got chopped up, or something of that note, but how would I define someone as X in first person? Dialogue is also something I'm having a bit of trouble on, most guides  I consulted says to 'imagine being your character', but how does one relate to a foreign mindset? Does it come in as you get more involved in creating your stories or when? Thanks for the help!


I found your question quite muddled. You use the example of 'ruthless'  but focus on the reaction of not the ruthless person but the person begging for mercy. I can see why, but it's messy and it takes focus off the character. You say 'X begged for mercy' so X is presumably a person, let's call him Dave. But then you say 'how would I define someone as X in first person'. Now X is an emotion (I assume ruthless). But because you've already defined X as a person it reads as 'how would I define someone as Dave in first person'.

I'm not trying to belittle your writing ability, I'm trying to figure out how you think and I would guess (so take with salt) you make things more convoluted than they need to be.

Let's say you want to write a ruthless person. Let's call this person Mike (you should probably avoid using algebra when writing). What does Mike want? Not in general terms (money, power, happiness) I mean specifically. He wants to be President, he wants his bosses job, he wants his friends wife... Pin it down.

Next, what's stopping from getting it and how can he get around it. This is where his character comes in. A non-ruthless person who's likes his friend's wife might flirt with her, a ruthless person might kill his friend and drug his wife... It's the actions of the person that reveal the character. You can have inner monologue, but people don't always act the way they think. Actions are stronger, and more interesting.

If you focus on what the character wants then show how he goes about getting it, that should convey the character just fine.

RE: Writing Characters?

#7
Something I have found really helps me with my character development and keeping my character consistent is 'character mapping'. Take a separate document, write your character's name on top and start listing everything you know about the character. I tend to subcategorize into the following categories:

'physical' - basics like hair/eye colour or even scars or what they wear etc.

'personality/character traits' - e.g. I have a character who is very neat and precise and he always rolls up his sleeves before a fight

'heritage/family - every character has a backstory. This is important when considering why a character is the way he is and what his motivations are for doing things. For example, my neat/precise/sometimes slightly OCD character grew up to be the way he is because as a child he needed to take control at a young age. He was forced into growing up very young and the way he coped with that was to very deliberately choose the 'right' things.

For some (not all) of my characters, I also have another category; 'POV peculiarities' - this is because I switch POVs a lot and I wanted to make each character's chapter different. For example, my neat character is hiding a lot of inner turmoil and hides it with his formal appearance. The reader gets an idea of this different because his dialogue is very blunt but his inner thoughts are often very poetic/slightly mad.

I really like using this technique because I can constantly check back to see what eye colour a gave them or that this character hunches his shoulders a lot.

Hope this helps!

RE: Writing Characters?

#8
Oh good. Constructive comments! Pretty decent ones too. :D

I'm going to summarize my thoughts, since others have said it already in more words.

Ruthless does not simply take the form of physical harm. A person can be ruthless in business, using people as mere tools to advance their own goals.

I'm also not a fan of 'ruthless' characters. At least, not how I've seen them done on RRL in the past. They are usually built for the specific purposes of the audience to hate them as an antagonist to the protagonist.

They are built more as a psychopath then a sociopath. A very,very simplistic psychopath at that.

Oh, just to clarify how I use those two words:
A pyschopath has a mental disorder that may not allow them to function 'normally'.
A sociopath is self aware of the rules of society but actively chooses to regard or disregard rules.

Also, what opposing force is trying to get or find this character traited with 'ruthless'?

Is it the police? a mob?
Perhaps a personal grudge from a friend/family member of this 'ruthless characters' victim wants revenge or justice and is actively hunting this person down?

Character motivations are important to both sides. Without one, the story just wanders with no progression.