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    dadevvtsvre
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:11 am
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  • Section 1: What Makes A Character?
  • Section 2: Flesh and Guts - Developing Your Characters
  • Section 3: The Brave and the Bold - Creating Your Hero
  • Section 4: Building Memorable Bad Guys - A Guide to Villains
  • Section 5: Sidekicks, Love Interests, Minor Characters, etc.





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I’m not a pro writer or anything, but I’ve been studying and writing fiction for a couple of years. I’ve taken several classes on writing, have read more books than I can count, and have been seriously learning how to write for a long time. I’m working on writing a novel at the moment, and even though progress is slow, I’ve taken a lot of time to really learn fiction, from the inside-out.

Characters are a fascinating subject to me. They’ve been my favourite part about creating fiction for as long as I can remember. Although this workshop is written from a novel-based stance, the information in here can be applied to virtually any kind of fiction – be it video games, movies, short stories, comics, etc.

Most characters in video games are very two-dimensional, and rarely are they developed except in RPGs. Even in many RPGs, characterization is shunned, emphasizing graphics, gameplay and music. This is fine – after all, we make games for playing, not for reading. However, if you plan on creating a very plot- and character-heavy RPG, then there could be some good information in this workshop for you.

I’ve compiled information and advice for a variety of sources, including authors, scholars, and screenwriters. Take a look, tell me what you think. Not all of this is actually MY advice; some of it is derived from actual writers and junk.

Cool. Let’s do this.





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ImageFiction comes in a variety of forms. Most people think of fiction existing only as a novel or a movie, but anything, from comic books to video games, are considered works of fiction. For the sake of simplicity, this workshop will be focusing on the novel-side of fiction – but the concepts and information in here can be applied to other forms as well.

In novels, fiction has four main components: Plot, Setting, Theme, and Character (five components, if you want to be a weirdo and count Style.) They’re pretty self-explanatory, and you might remember them from high school English class. Plot, or narrative, is the sequence of events that occurs in your story; in other words, what happens. Setting is when and where your story takes place. Theme can be described as the “ultimate truth” contained in your story, which some simplify as a moral. And character, quite simply, are the people that inhabit your story and experience the plot.

It’s important to remember that different works of fiction will emphasize different elements. J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and China Miéville’s Bas-Lag novels are two examples of books that place notable emphasis on their rich and expansive settings. Aesop’s Fables and many stories in the Bible are well-known examples of stories that emphasize theme above all else.

However, in most novels, character is usually the most significant element of fiction. This comes as a surprise for some, who consider plot to be the most crucial, so it’s important to understand why.

When you think of memorable works of fiction, what stands out the most? Characters such as Harry Potter, Scarlett O’Hara, Dracula, Tom Sawyer, Elizabeth Bennet, Holden Caulfield and Sherlock Holmes are known around the world, and their legacies have endured for decades. Less often can people recall their plots.

Characters are the bedrock of fiction. Heroes and villains are far more memorable than plot, setting and theme any day of the week. As a result, the writer’s greatest challenge is character development.

Good fiction can have any subject, as long as that subject is about PEOPLE. When we are immersed in the lives of characters, and want to learn more, the writer has succeeded.

ImageSo what makes a character, anyway? After all, characters don’t have to be human beings. Some of the most beloved characters of all time include animals, machines, and appliances. However, most characters contain some of the following traits:

  • Characters are “larger than life” and may live outside social norms and conformity in some way.
  • They evoke reactions in others, often creating sympathy (or better yet, empathy.)
  • Characters have one particular dimension of their personality that is strong – so much so that it may make them single-minded and self-absorbed – yet they typically attract and inspire others.
  • They may have a passion and depth of feeling that they “wear on the outside.”
  • Overall, they tend to be unapologetically and unself-consciously themselves (this trait is less important in characters who lack identity, for obvious reasons.)

Most novice writers (myself included) often neglect characterization, instead focusing on the much easier component of fiction – plot. However, when writers forget that characters make for more interesting stories than plot, the result is a sloppy cast of boring, stiff, all-too-fictional people. Novices often forget that writing a story about war is never as good as writing a story about men AT war. The first thing to realize when choosing a subject for fiction is that you must write about people.

The most engaging characters in fiction are the ones who exist in our minds so vividly that we almost believe they’re real people. Bad characters are those that exist in our minds solely as works of fiction, who are forgettable and never leap off the pages. Good characters are those that seem so real, we treat them as long-lost friends or enemies.

Giving characters names and dialogue does not make them real. It takes a lot to build a memorable character, involving a process in which we learn who our characters are, and what they’re made of. I am of the belief that an author shouldn’t start writing about a character until they know them so well, they treat them as a real person. When you can sit down, have an imaginary interview with a character, and know exactly what they’re going to say, then you can start. When your character is no longer fictional, and is as real to you as your best friend or your worst enemy, then you’re ready to write.


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    dadevvtsvre
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:12 am
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When it comes to creating characters, most writers have their own tried and true methods to help guide them along this difficult, time-consuming process. No two writers will create their characters the same way, just as no two snowflakes look alike. However, when it comes to developing good, memorable characters, there are certain pieces of information it helps to keep in mind.

Anybody can create entertaining characters off the top of their heads. However, the charatcer that will move readers – make them laugh, cry, fear and exult – spring from deep inside their creators. To make these kind of characters, it often helps to use a process referred to as writing from the “inside out”.

ImageWriting from the inside out refers to making a conscious connection between your inner emotions, needs, and thoughts and doing the same in your characters. Character can’t live and breathe from now into eternity unless they feel, and feel deeply. Be their responses ever so small, such as a raised eyebrow or a verbal “yeah, right,” to be believable, your characters must constantly show their HUMANITY. Emotion is what moves most readers to care, but readers have sophisticated bullshit meters and will recognize and reject inauthentic emotions. The real deal comes from the inside out, and you are the source of your characters reality.

To write from the inside out, you must know your characters “ultimate truth” about self, others, and the world. Their “ultimate truth” is a perception that changes very little – sort of a literary raison d'être. This “ultimate truth” is usually constant for an entire novel, and acts as a sort of anchor to base the rest of your character around. Even if you have no idea what your story is going to be about, you need to know what drives him or her. Your character needs a desire (for love/truth/happiness/justice/success/etc.) that will be the driving force in their decision making. We all have this quest and the various plots in our lives come and go, adding or detracting from it. The importance here is that the personal quest – the “ultimate truth” – is clear.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet provides an excellent example. In the play, Hamlet is shown to be a character driven by revenge, but who is ultimately uncertain of himself and others, leading to his downfall. This aspect of Hamlet’s character never changes throughout the play, and acts as a basis for all of his actions. Little Red Riding Hood is a well-known fairy tale, and the Big Bad Wolf offers an example of a very effective, albeit simple, “ultimate truth”. The focal point of the Wolf’s personality is that he is sneaky, cunning, and willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. This doesn’t change throughout the course of the fairy tale – imagine how much more ineffective the story would have been if the Wolf had a change of heart halfway through.





Writing from the inside out is important, but won't develop your entire character. Traits such as personality, sociological and environmental factors, and physical appearance, to name a few, must be developed and taken into consideration when creating characters. However, your job as a writer is not merely selecting characteristics from a menu. Your job is to choose meaningful traits that contribute to a character’s overall yearning and desire. Giving your protagonist blue hair and three arms just because it’s cool does not make it a unique character. You must think of your character as a real human being and select practical personality traits that make them both interesting and believable.

Just as real people are not clichés, characters shouldn't be, either. Scientists are not always eccentric geniuses. Prostitutes don’t always have a heart of gold. Students are not always drunken layabouts. Soldiers are not always courageous. Real people don’t easily fall into categories; there is more going on for them than their participation in the plot. Real people have hobbies and interests, eccentricities and quirks, friends and enemies which have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. These need to be represented and taken into consideration to make him or her 3D.

It often helps, when developing your characters after determining their “ultimate truth”, to delve deep into their pasts and figure out the reasons why they behave the way they do. Asking questions about possible childhood traumas, their motivations growing up, and how they obtained their greatest fear helps in creating more realistic characters.

A writer should usually know more about their character than the reader ever will. Let’s say, for example, that you have determined that your female character has an irrational hatred of the colour pink. You may never include this particular piece of information in your novel or game, but it helps you, as a writer, learn more about this character. It shows that she rejects traditional gender stereotypes, and may even dislike overly-feminine women. Even if the reader is never aware of this fact, it helps you, as the writer, get to know your characters.

Below is a generic set of questions to ask your character that may help in fleshing them out. In the early stages of a character’s development, I always ask these questions and write detailed, descriptive answers, getting specific and making sure not to leave anything out. You can include as much or as little information as you like, but be certain that you feel it is enough.

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When you answer these questions about your character, you should have a much more rounded and deeper view of who they are as people. I’ll elaborate more on the specific types of characters and what their role is in a novel, but for now, focus on making your characters seem real to you.

ImageIf, at this point, you still don’t think you know your characters very well, try interviewing them. It sounds dumb, and in some ways it is, but you should at least attempt conducting an imaginary interview with your character. Ask them questions, such as “What is your favourite food?”, “What political party do you support, and why?”, and “What were your parents like?”. Above all, make sure that you’re answering these questions as the character, not as yourself. Try visualizing their little quirks and tics as you think; the distinct mannerisms and speaking behaviours that make them distinct.

Remember always that life is the richest source of characters we have. It may not be appropriate to kidnap a whole personality for your novel, but observing people at a deeper level will inform the choices you make. Quasimodo, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is supposedly based on a deformed sculptor who worked on the Notre Dame when Victor Hugo wrote his novel. Bram Stoker based his infamous character Dracula off of Vlad III, the ruthless Prince of Wallachia in the 15th century. The possibilities are endless.

Simply developing and fleshing out a character is not enough. Knowing your character’s role in relation to the plot, setting and other characters is absolutely crucial when writing a novel or making a video game. Now that you’ve fleshed out your characters, it’s time to learn the different types and how to tie them in to your plot. We’ll start with the protagonist.


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    dadevvtsvre
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:12 am
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ImageThis section of the workshop focuses primarily on protagonists and their role in a fictional narrative. Because they usually receive more attention and focus than any other character, it is extremely important to make sure you’ve created a well-rounded, interesting protagonist.

Novels are large undertakings, and heroes and heroines are their driving force. In most stories, the protagonist (the central, primary character) is the most memorable character, and the first one that comes to mind when we think of their plots. The reader must be able to identify with the protagonist more than any other character; the protagonist, in a sense, acts as a sort of “gateway” for your reader to access your story. Readers must be able to put themselves in the shoes of your protagonist, and see the story from their eyes.





Until you know a person’s past, you cannot understand him or know what he cares about or what motivates him. Until you give your characters a past, the same thing is true. They will remain a mystery to the reader. In most cases, they come across as superficial and two-dimensional. Put forth particular effort when developing the past of your protagonist; ideally, you should know more about them than anybody else.

In real life, we have a host of meaningful events that have shaped who we are. In fiction, each character should have only one primary event that underlies character yearning, what choices are made under stress, and the story theme. Because suspense depends upon conflict and suffering, that past event must be a traumatic one – a loss, a betrayal, an insult, an injury, something that deeply wounded your character. This wound should create two or three specific outcomes:

  • The wound should leave the character with a NEED so intense that he or she will be driven to fulfill it. These needs are universal, such as belonging, love, family, self-worth, or faith.
  • The wound should leave the character with a WEAKNESS, a character flaw that seems out of the control or beyond the full awareness of the character.
  • The wound may also gift the character with a heroic STRENGTH that increases his or her determination to fill the need and reach the plot goal.

Let’s examine Harry Potter, the boy wizard known around the world for his trademark glasses and wicked scar. Harry is a protagonist that fulfills all three of the aforementioned qualifications. The murder of Harry’s parents when Harry was a child left Harry with a large and obstacle-creating weakness – few role models in his life, often instilling him with a lack of motivation or direction. The death of Harry’s parents also leaves Harry with a powerful need to achieve retribution against Voldemort, and a strong desire for stable companionship in his life. Harry, growing up as an orphan, is also left with a powerful strength – a precocious disposition for independence, leadership and magic.





Casting the wrong character as your protagonist is a common and disheartening mistake among aspiring fiction writers. Protagonists need to meet at least three qualifications:

1. They must own the story problem.
2. The stakes must be high and worthy.
3. They must solve or resolve the story problem.

The protagonist of a story is the “mover and the shaker”, the character who MUST own the story problem introduced by your inciting incident and act on it.

ImageYour protagonist must also have to work with high and worthy stakes. What are the stake in your story? What will your character lose if he or she fails to solve the problem? What does he or she stand to gain? The higher the stakes, the stronger the situation and suspense. Obviously, life and death are high stakes; kidnapping and rape are worse than burglary and vandalism. The stakes must also be worthy enough to evoke the reader’s care and concern. Readers who care about what is at stake invest in the outcome and root for the protagonist’s success, because they realize what could be lost.

Don’t forget that emotional and spiritual stakes can just be just as high and worthy as physical stakes. A couple makes a last-ditch effort to save their marriage and keep their children from suffering the fallout of divorce. A woman who made a bad choice that ruined her reputation now has a chance to make a good choice that will redeem it. These characters stand to lose, or gain, their dignity and self-respect – high stakes for any person. And the emotional wounds if they fail could prove devastating.

Finally, your protagonist must be actively involved in the finale of your story. Your protagonist may have backup, he may have a buddy or partner at his side, but the protagonist must face the villain, and win – if you intend a happy ending. In the structure of conventional stories, and especially in a high proportion of commercial fiction, the hero acts alone to win the battle. It works will with developing the protagonist in depth and demonstrating through your plot how the story, the inner need, is resolved by the outer triumph. Think about it – if another character “steals the thunder” and solves the problem, then the reader may remain unconvinced that the protagonist has earned the personal growth representative of a full character arc. It’s nearly impossible to show convincing character change if the protagonist has, in essence, not finished the journey. Imagine how different you would feel if Sam, not Frodo, had dealt with Gollum and the ring. Imagine how different the story would have been if someone other than Luke Skywalker fought Dark Vader.

Likewise, avoid the rescue of your protagonist at the crisis, when his or her pain is the greatest. Deux ex machina is a phrase that refers to the intervention of the heavens (i.e. God) to resolve matters of humans. This robs the protagonist of the chance to overcome their own weaknesses, exercise heroic strength, and prove they can do what they once though was impossible.

That’s really the gist of creating a protagonist. If you find yourself stuck on how to develop your protagonist and tie him or her into the plot in a way that seems organic and believable, I’d recommend researching the Hero’s Journey. It’s more or less an examination of heroes from centuries of stories and myths, from the Greeks to present-day literature. Despite the time gap, a large chunk of protagonists in novels follow eerily similar steps in their development. The Hero’s Journey serves as a great jumping-off point for your pot, but be careful of relying on it verbatim.


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    dadevvtsvre
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:13 am
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You may be shocked to learn that the character who drives a story is the antagonist – the bad guy. Whoever you designate to oppose the actions and desires of your protagonist is a powerful character and demands as much careful development as your protagonist.

Novice writers often forget that villains and antagonists should not be written as two-dimensional caricatures. In fact, most antagonists in fiction can be shaded closer to human weakness than to unredeemable evil. Hayao Miyazaki, the animated film director, is famous for including antagonists in his movies that are not particularly villainous or evil, but whose intentions are understandable and merely oppose the intentions of the protagonist.

ImageTherefore, writers need to figure out their antagonists and create likeable and normal traits, behaviours, and relationships IN ADDITION to unlikable, immoral, and/or illegal behaviours and traits. Yet, remember that the antagonist usually has less on-screen development than the protagonist or even than some other main characters. The reason for this is that you don’t want to create empathy from your readers or risk divided loyalty to the protagonist and his or her story goals.

Truly horrific villains are particularly difficult to make believable. Insane psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter has become the archetype for this kind of villain. But even ultra-evil antagonists have a human side. You risk melodrama or unintended humour when your villain is depicted as excessively evil. The most chilling villain is someone the reader believes might exist, someone they can imagine as a threat to themselves or others. You can achieve the necessary high-wire emotions in your reader by the judicious use of specific detail that shows such a villain’s criminal nature and his human nature that is just like the rest of us.

Although the antagonist drives stories by his or her opposition, for good reason the antagonist is often left somewhat mysterious and far less defined than other major characters. The antagonist is usually not given a point of view, because you cannot let your reader become too sympathetic to the rationale this character offers or to the back-story trauma that made him twisted or weak.

For an authentic and believable threat to the protagonist, a writer must build solid motivations for the antagonist based on solid character needs. For example, a mother who married a doctor and then withered for want of his attention does everything possible to block her daughter from seeing a young intern. The mother isn’t a VILLAIN; she’s an antagonist with good reason to block her daughter’s desires.





- A NOTE ON ANTI-HEROES -

Holden Caulfield, the primary character in The Catcher in the Rye, can technically be considered a protagonist since the story revolves around him and his actions. However, most readers do not consider Holden to be a particularly likeable character; indeed, his overt rebellion and teenage angst is off-putting to many. Holden is a prime example of an uncommon type of character known as an anti-hero.

If the focus of a story is on a person whose lower or animal nature motivates them, then the writer might be intending to cast an anti-hero. Sometimes, the antihero starts out as a regular upstanding citizen and, through weakness and corrupting forces, sinks into perversity or criminality. Or maybe the antihero is already corrupt when the story begins and the story is meant to take the reader into the seedy or unseemly reality of this kind of person. Whatever the case, if you intend to cast an anti-hero as your protagonist, be sure to give them traits that will pique the curiosity of the reader, instead of making them downright ugly people – or your reader will stop reading.


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    dadevvtsvre
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:13 am
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The vast majority of stories contain far more characters than just a protagonist and an antagonist. Books, games and movies are filled with dozens of other characters that help advance the plot, develop your protagonist, and keep the story interesting. There are several different types of characters, and each should be treated and developed differently.





- ALLIES/MAIN CHARACTERS -

You will probably choose a main character or several main characters for additional viewpoints to your protagonist’s. This means that for these main characters, you must determine the story yearning and the steps in their journey. As discussed previously, one way to accomplish this is to create a traumatic past incident to explain the origin on their yearnings, weaknesses, and strengths. Only a portion of this information will make it into the game, because you’ll only have room for the full development of your protagonist.

Allies or main characters are directly involved in the external plot, but they may or may not be involved in a protagonist’s private life. They directly serve the protagonist’s goals of overcoming opposition and pushing toward resolution of the story problem.

In your role as a casting director, remember to create allies and main characters that are individuals, distinctive from your protagonist, yet do not make them so distinctive as to upstage your protagonist. If a main character is funnier, weirder, quirkier or more colourful than your hero, the player will want to see the main character rather than the protagonist.

The problem of major or minor characters that outshine the protagonist is a common one. It’s important to develop your main characters – but develop your protagonist even more so.





- PARTNERS/SIDEKICKS -

ImageConsider Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, who represent the quintessential model of investigator and assistant, protagonist and sidekick. This type of relationship is not uncommon, but takes a skilful balance of character development to maintain its status as “protagonist and sidekick”.

This type of duo typically features two characters, usually unequal in power or stature and often acting as each other’s alter ego. The partner or sidekick role is indispensable to characterization – especially for contrast and chemistry – and for advancement of the plot.

In these relationships, usually authors have worked to create contrasting characters – by age, gender, physical ability, race, job title, or species. Furthermore, in character development, the partners usually have strikingly different personalities from their protagonists. Sparks of difference, even conflict, increase rather than threaten the underlying bond and shared purpose.





- ROMANTIC INTEREST -

A protagonist’s romantic interest may be one and the same as a partner or sidekick, but need not necessarily be so. He or she may be a main character with a point of view or merely a minor character only known through other characters. The purpose of including a character in the role of mate or romantic interest is like that of every important character – to deepen characterization and advance the plot.

Yet, the special role of an intimate other is unlike that of other characters. With this character, you can show the most deeply personal sides of your protagonist – physically and sexually, but more importantly, emotionally and psychically. Fewer attachments run deeper than the ones we hold for a mate, although the depth of that bond will depend on the characterization of your protagonist and your story. As you consider casting the intimate other, include the following uses of this character.

  • To show the protagonist’s story yearning through the intimate relationship, bringing the inner story to the forefront
  • To show a private and personal side of your protagonist that would not otherwise become known
  • To create conflict or even crisis at times when the external plot is at a low point of narrative tension
  • To create a love bond that could be threatened by the antagonist to raise the stakes of the story
  • To show difficulty and crisis in the romantic interest to add pressure for change on the character

The intimate other, if there is a serious love bond, allows the deepest possible drawing out of your protagonist’s vulnerability.





- NEUTRAL/MINOR CHARACTERS

Nearly every RPG, movie or novel includes neutral or minor characters. They help writers craft realistic scenes that are peopled with characters in common social or job roles yet maintain focus on the point-of-view characters. These “bit characters” may appear only once, or dozens of times – it doesn’t matter. In fact, they shouldn’t matter. A common mistake is to make the waiter or sheriff or sister of the protagonist too noticeable. Make sure you don’t enjoy writing about a minor character too much that they upstage the important actions of the protagonist or another main character. The very fact that these characters are forgettable makes them useful for action or dialogue that might appear contrived or obvious if given to a point-of-view character.

You can use neutral or minor characters as messengers, obstacles to goals, motivators to action, or even comic relief. These characters and their interactions add colour and comedy as well as serve more active purposes in the plot.


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    dadevvtsvre
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:14 am
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    Juan J. Sánchez
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:18 am
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First post! I promise I will read this and put it into work (as I've done with the other workshops), but not today, since I've got a test tomorrow.


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    dadevvtsvre
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:27 am
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I didn't really include much in the way of participation unfortunately! If anybody has ideas on how to make this more "workshoppy" and easier for people to throw things up for critique I'd love to hear them. There's a questionnaire in Section 2 but it's more for personal use.


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    Eventing_Guy
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:44 am
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I favorited this... :grin:


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    glorious caesar
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 7:13 am
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EXCELLENT ARTICLES. dude i fucking love this. awesome formatting and great subject matter here.

all that stuff about the "ultimate truth" is all well and good (even though i don't really agree with the "ultimate truth" thing and i think you use the phrase a bit too much and in a vague way that gives too much focus on it), but imo the MOST IMPORTANT thing about creating good characters is so much simpler than that: what he/she wants. you talk about it a lot (and you do it well, bro—don't misunderstand, i like everything you have here) but imo you don't give enough attention to just how CENTRAL the "i want song" is.

you almost get there with this:

Quote:
Characters have one particular dimension of their personality that is strong – so much so that it may make them single-minded and self-absorbed – yet they typically attract and inspire others.


what makes a character? what defines a character? a character is defined by what he or she wants. figure out what a character's "i want" song is and then you have your character. that's everything. in fact maybe i'll write an article about it because it's so SO SO SO SO important to writing good characters and driving story conflict.

section one asks: "what makes a character?" you don't answer that question (well you do, but not directly): the answer is: what the character WANTS makes the character.

Quote:
And character, quite simply, are the people that inhabit your story and experience the plot.


"experience" the plot? don't be so passive, nigga: characters must DRIVE the plot. characters ARE the plot.

Quote:
In most stories, the protagonist (the central, primary character) is the most memorable character, and the first one that comes to mind when we think of their plots. The reader must be able to identify with the protagonist more than any other character; the protagonist, in a sense, acts as a sort of “gateway” for your reader to access your story.


i hate this definition of a protagonist—the main character and protagonist aren't necessarily synonymous. i COMPLETELY disagree with your suggestion that the protagonist is a "gateway", in fact this "gateway" role is VERY OFTEN taken up by side characters or uninvolved narrators.

You seem to think that protagonist is synonymous with hero and antagonist is synonymous with villain and this is not the case and imo we shouldn't be teaching that to the kiddies.

it's time to define protagonist and antagonist:

the PROTAGONIST is someone who WANTS something.
the ANTAGONIST is someone who WANTS something that is in CONFLICT with that the PROTAGONIST WANTS.
savvy?

(in fact, i caught a line where you actually make this mistake directly: "the protagonist must face the villain" wrong! the protagonist must face his antagonist (that's what the words mean by definition), but when we're talking about story structure and conflict (a word that you don't seem to use nearly as often as you should) we can't simply lump "antagonist" and "villain" together)

Quote:
In fiction, each character should have only one primary event that underlies character yearning, what choices are made under stress, and the story theme. Because suspense depends upon conflict and suffering, that past event must be a traumatic one – a loss, a betrayal, an insult, an injury, something that deeply wounded your character.


what? no. this is how you make one-dimensional characters. "WHEN I WAS A KID MY MOM WAS MURDERED IN FRONT OF ME AND IT DEFINES WHO I AM TODAY" bullshit. people are who they are because, well you said it yourself:

In real life, we have a host of meaningful events that have shaped who we are.

maybe this is because my background and specialty is in writing characters for television, but i try to avoid that cliche of a SINGLE TRAUMATIC EVENT THAT DEFINES THE CHARACTER.

in the end i think that this article of yours is VERY VERY GOOD and don't misunderstand the points that I raise here: it's clear that you know and agree with the things that i'm saying, but I don't think that the most important points came across as strongly as they could have.

that said, this is a great workshop and everyone can benefit from what you have here. :)


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    Jeronimus
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 10:45 am
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I approve entirely of this article, but I also approve of despain's comments on it, which are all correct.

I'm going to add a few notes. I apologise in advance if they aren't properly structured.

As I've taken from the couple of screenwriting courses I've had so far, the protagonist is the person who wants to reach a goal and the antagonist is the person who keeps them from reaching that goal. It really is as simple as that.
Of course an important word is CONFLICT. Fiction is DRAMA, drama is CONFLICT and CONFLICT REVEALS CHARACTER. A character's goals are driven by a strong, dramatic 'desire'. Every character is unique and has their own desire; a desire that they probably CAN'T fulfill. And the bigger the desire, the more likely it is for the character to end up in a situation of conflict. That is EXACTLY what we want.
Drama has characters at their most vulnerable, it puts them in a moment of crisis where their masks fall off.

I don't agree that this has to be based on some 'traumatic' event', though as you put it. Yes, a character is definitely shaped by his past, but there's no need for real trauma.
In film, one of my favorite character moments is from "On the Waterfront", a famous scene in a taxi where Marlon Brando's character explains everything to his brother Charlie and puts the blame on him. (His brother forced him to lose a boxing match, cue Brando's famous words "I could've been a contender, I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let's face it, Charlie, it was you.") This is what makes the character what he is, that moment he describes changed his entire perception of himself. Mind, it doesn't take place within the story, but it is what changes Charlie's mind and what drives HIM to make a change.
In a way, this is his 'traumatic experience', and I do understand what you mean. A past experience that shapes the protagonist.

The protagonist, or "main character" if you'd rather, is the essential basis of your story, regardless of medium. I'm speaking from my film coursebooks now, but it, of course, applies to novels and games as well. They are the heart and the nerves of your story. Know your protagonist and divide their lives up into two categories.
The inner, which takes place from birth up until the moment where the story begins. This is the process during which the character is formed, his biography.
The exterior, which takes place from the start of the story until the end of the story. This is process during which the character is REVEALED. This establishes their goal, and as we know action makes a character.
Your character becomes three-dimensional if you look, separately at his professional life (work), his personal life (socially, his relationships) and his private life (alone). But the dynamics are still determined by his GOAL. Know what your characters DRAMATIC PURPOSE is, because that will determine ALL of the dramatic tension. The essence of a main character is that he ACTS, that he does things. He IS what he DOES.
Driven by a great desire, ambition or inspired by his dreams or expectations, the character is faced with a series of challenges. The way he responds to those, make him GROW and DEVELOP. Change is essential, although the inability to change is dramatically interesting as well. Note that the character itself is NOT always AWARE of his deeper motives.

Example time! In the movie "Jaws", the three men each have their own goals. The coast guard wants a safe world for his children; the student is fascinated by the shark from a scientific point of view and the harpooneer wants to take revenge on the shark. These motives explain the character's actions. (e.g. The coast guard wants to call for help, but the harpooneer destroys the communication systems because he wants to take personal revenge)
Conflicting motives and conflicting goals provide CONFLICT. And conflict equals drama.

The antagonist prevents the protagonist from achieving his goal. However the main "opponent" for a protagonist could be nature itself (e.g. "Deliverance"), or an animal (e.g. Jaws). The 'villain' should be as strong, intelligent and refined as the hero, if not more. Look for the equal conflict, the "fair fight" with a worthy opponent. The bigger the resistance, the intenser the fight and the intenser the confrontation. It allows the protagonist to rise high above himself and to become a hero.
The antagonist, obviously, doesn't see himself as evil. He often thinks he's on the right end and can have his moment of humanity. His deeds are motivated by frustration, revenge, power, and so on. To avoid making cardboard baddies, consider a rewrite from the antagonist's perspective. IT SHOULD BE POSSIBLE.

To conclude, side characters. The function of a side character should never be too obvious. He/she often comes and goes throughout the story. A side character can have a specific relationship with the protagonist or influence the main character in some way. Sometimes his only function is to be the victim. The side character, however, always fulfills a certain role.
He could be an obstacle, he could provide an explanation, he could cause a sub-plot, he could serve as a contrasting point of view, or be a "Sprechhund", someone the protagonist can tell his story to, someone who can listen.
Side characters provide a necessary relief. They can distract from the main plot. Whenever it would be absurd for your main character to say something, that is indeed when a side character can be of use.

YOUR CHARACTERS MAKE YOUR STORY. Your characters determine EVERYTHING about your story.



There, that was me, quoting the part of my screenplay book that talked about characters.


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    Petros
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 10:50 am
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I'll have my own notes in a bit, but yeah, I agree with everything lucht pecht/despain said up there. I was considering writing something like this myself but couldn't really find the time. But yeah, the writer's at Square Enix as of late could take some hints from this article.

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    MagitekElite
  Fri Sep 02, 2011 9:16 pm
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This is amazing! :heart:

I'm only on post one though -- lots to read! Thank you so much for making this (I really love writing, and this helps!)! When I read it all, I will make a more satisfying post! :biggrin:

Thank you once more! :cry:

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    dadevvtsvre
  Sat Sep 03, 2011 4:30 am
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lucht pecht wrote:
words
i knew before i posted this that you were going to come in here and post about it. and i'm so glad you did

i will admit that i mostly wrote the article last night in a rush and didn't put as much time into it as i should've. i'mma look at your points and make this workshop BETTER.

Quote:
all that stuff about the "ultimate truth" is all well and good (even though i don't really agree with the "ultimate truth" thing and i think you use the phrase a bit too much and in a vague way that gives too much focus on it),
In retrospect I'm probably remembering too much stuff from high school English. I had one teacher that really drove the "ultimate truth" concept home so it just sort of stuck with me. I know where you're coming from. (also "ultimate truth" is a pretty badass combination of words)

Quote:
You seem to think that protagonist is synonymous with hero and antagonist is synonymous with villain and this is not the case and imo we shouldn't be teaching that to the kiddies.
It's funny that you mention this, because when I wrote this I had a whole tangent going off and explaining the difference between "hero" and "protagonist" and how the two aren't always the same thing. I thought it might be including too much info to an already bloated thread but I recognize its importance! Using the two terms interchangeably is probably not such a great idea.

Quote:
what? no. this is how you make one-dimensional characters. "WHEN I WAS A KID MY MOM WAS MURDERED IN FRONT OF ME AND IT DEFINES WHO I AM TODAY" bullshit. people are who they are because, well you said it yourself
I'm probably oversimplifying things and it's not such a great strategy to use unless you're developing incredibly simple and boring protagonists. i gotcha. i gotcha.

Quote:
in the end i think that this article of yours is VERY VERY GOOD and don't misunderstand the points that I raise here: it's clear that you know and agree with the things that i'm saying, but I don't think that the most important points came across as strongly as they could have.
i am PRETTY TERRIBLE at making points that come across strongly and tend to flounder in vast seas of vague generalizations (example: this sentence) so I'm really glad you told me this.

Jeronimus wrote:
more words
I'm not going to quote and pick this apart because I pretty much agree with all of it. You said it better than I could and tomorrow night I'm going to find a way to work some of this into the article while trimming some of the fat.

Thanks for all the comments guys!! I really didn't think that people would find this sort of topic all that interesting and even if this isn't really a WORKSHOP I'm super glad that it's generating such great discussion. :heart:


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    RavenTDA
  Sat Sep 03, 2011 1:08 pm
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This is a really good article. I liked the little drawing inside it too :3. I agree with pretty much what everyone said here but there's just one thing I'd like to point out.

A good character doesn't necessarily have to change by the end of the story. Some popular memorable characters NEVER change because it's the type of story they follow. I think how much change is dependent on what kind of story you're writing. Examples of unchanged characters: James Bond, Indian Jones, Sherlock Homes. The story is more or less the prime focus here and because they come from a series of adventures (or mysteries) it's the daily thing for them and we're just looking in on their daily life so there's really nothing LIFE CHANGING to them. Of course static characters are probably the exception to the rule, I just wanted to say change isn't an always, always the case that a good character needs to be a changed one.

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    Amy
  Sat Sep 03, 2011 1:08 pm
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Hey, first of all this is a great thread.

But something I am having trouble with, which I'm sure others do too, is getting storyline and character out of NPCs. Since my game is online, with the main character being customisable like a wRPG, it's hard to sort of push backstory and characters on the game; what I want to do is have quests follow arcs, each of which has it's own characters, but which are not playable. The player would be tagging along, much like in Guild Wars (incidentally, that is a great thing about Guild Wars - the player is NOT the party leader, that's Mhenlo the monk, who is a non-playable henchman (computer controlled party member)).

Well, basically, what I'm having trouble with is creating believable NPCs that have their own stories and are more than just background/instruction givers.

I tried, with books, to try and force a backstory on the game but that didn't really work; through quests I am trying to go along those lines, but basically with a character which is in the same game with hundreds of others, I'm finding it hard to give them their own backstory. I mean, would the players mind if every player's mother died when they were 8 and as such they became introverted and stayed in during the Great Fire War where all the great men were wiped out and thus they became the only suitable soldier to go on and fight the new army that entered the realm (not my storyline, just an example)? In an MMORPG, does it matter if everyone's following the same story?


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    Echo Magnum
  Sat Sep 03, 2011 2:20 pm
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I'm also having a similar problem, I was thinking of making the main protagonist sort of free-from where the player creates their own character but in game the protagonist wont have a very detailed back-story or a specific character as to let the player sort of imagine this for themselves, the problem is also with NPC's , a game like this would need the other characters and even NPC's to have some sort of depth otherwise the plot and game world seems sort of meaningless... However I don't think it would be "O.K" if every players mother died lol, that's the sort of dilemma I'm facing, with player created characters its actually better if you DONT build the character but sort of hint at it so the player can imagine whatever they want about their past, character traits e.t.c but I always have a feeling that maybe characters are better and I should leave character creation to games that have already so much depth in their game world that a character would spoil it. A class example is Fallout, the wasteland already has so much depth, so much character as a whole ( including the npc's, side characters, monsters and even just the scenery and environment/towns/e.t.c ) that if the game where to have a specific protagonist instead of a character creation system or a specific story/plot instead of wide free-roam it would have lessened the depth and atmosphere of the game.

For my case ( a non-online game with a relatively usual/generic game-world ) I think its best I go back to the drawing board and develop some characters from what I've learned here. Great thread by the way!

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    glorious caesar
  Sat Sep 03, 2011 4:38 pm
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Warnings: 1
don't try too hard to give westernrpg protagonist's character: the genre is better suited for giving your ENVIRONMENT character, while letting the hero character just be a standin for the player.


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    Jeronimus
  Sat Sep 03, 2011 6:36 pm
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MMORPG's obviously handle characterisation very differently. The history and geography of your world is very relevant to invent numerous different characters to inhabit that world as they make the world what it is - the way they look at life, the way they interact with you.
If you look at, say, World of Warcraft, each race starts in a different area and is told a short story before starting to play. The events of their starting zone are, in principle, shared events for all people of a race, but some people like to think of their own story on Roleplaying servers. However, what the game has been doing more recently is making lengthy quest chains that really make the player feel like a hero because quest givers have heard of them. The problems this causes is that every player is technically the hero who's done the exact same quests. But a player doesn't mind this, unless they're a roleplayer and then they'll invent their way around it. These games are an entirely different cookie.


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    MagitekElite
  Sun Sep 04, 2011 6:26 am
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Okay, sat down and started reading. I absolutely love it, very helpful. I decided to interview my character in my novel and found myself knowing more about her, her goals, her strengths, her passions and what drives her. She feels more like a human rather than a character now, so that's great! :thumb:

I'm on section 5 now -- reading about the protagonist and sidekick. I really like that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson was used for the example and to explain what you were talking about (I happen to love Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson very much), helps a lot, that is if the person reading has read about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. lol

I really like this character creation ship -- very helpful! I've been looking for something like this for a very long time and most of what I found, were small suggestions and advice that helped only a little bit. Thank you for taking the time and effort to make this for people, I know I appreciate it very much! :heart:

Though its wonderful help and I'm very appreciative of it, I just wish there was more! :cry:

Question;
Do you have any personal suggestions on what to read to learn more about this, or story development? :cute:

Thanks again! :biggrin:

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    dadevvtsvre
  Wed Sep 07, 2011 4:55 am
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MagitekElite wrote:
Okay, sat down and started reading. I absolutely love it, very helpful. I decided to interview my character in my novel and found myself knowing more about her, her goals, her strengths, her passions and what drives her. She feels more like a human rather than a character now, so that's great! :thumb:

I'm on section 5 now -- reading about the protagonist and sidekick. I really like that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson was used for the example and to explain what you were talking about (I happen to love Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson very much), helps a lot, that is if the person reading has read about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. lol

I really like this character creation ship -- very helpful! I've been looking for something like this for a very long time and most of what I found, were small suggestions and advice that helped only a little bit. Thank you for taking the time and effort to make this for people, I know I appreciate it very much! :heart:

Though its wonderful help and I'm very appreciative of it, I just wish there was more! :cry:

Question;
Do you have any personal suggestions on what to read to learn more about this, or story development? :cute:

Thanks again! :biggrin:
I'm super glad that you're finding this helpful! :)

If you want to learn about protagonists and plot structure from throughout history, I'd definitely recommend giving Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces a read. It's a well-known book that established a lot of ideas in modern character development, including the monomyth and character archetypes. (archetypes are something I considered including in this workshop, but thought it was too bloated already. google character archetypes if you're interested) (James Frey's The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth is also related to this subject)

I use the Hero's Journey as a reference probably more than I should. It's a fantastic tool for when you're truly stuck and don't know where to do with your plot. Be wary of relying on it too much, however, or you can end up with generic and simplistic plots.

I'm sure there are tons of books available when it comes to character and plot development. Probably too many, actually. There are several available on archetypes - I've only read The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes which was a worthwhile read, although it borders on oversimplification at times.

I own Writing and Selling Your Novel by Jack Bickham and use it as a reference all the time. One of the best books I've read in terms of a general novel guide that includes plot, character, dialogue, etc. Bickham also wrote Scene and Structure with particular focus on... scene and structure.


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    dadevvtsvre
  Wed Sep 07, 2011 5:33 am
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Amy Pond wrote:
words
MMORPGs are tricky mostly because of one reason - player interaction. Millions have played RPGs about the same characters, played the same backstories, without a problem. But in online games, because you're interacting with other players in real-time, a player's immersion can easily be broken.

Amy Pond wrote:
I tried, with books, to try and force a backstory on the game but that didn't really work; through quests I am trying to go along those lines, but basically with a character which is in the same game with hundreds of others, I'm finding it hard to give them their own backstory. I mean, would the players mind if every player's mother died when they were 8 and as such they became introverted and stayed in during the Great Fire War where all the great men were wiped out and thus they became the only suitable soldier to go on and fight the new army that entered the realm (not my storyline, just an example)? In an MMORPG, does it matter if everyone's following the same story?
I'd say that this is dependent on how much your players will be interacting with other players. If you can interact with other players in real-time and have conversations, do quests together, etc. then it could be a serious problem.

You need to ask yourself if it's really necessary to develop your player's character. What does it add to the game? Does giving your player a backstory truly contribute to the overall experience? Will the player's history make a tangible difference in the world of the game?

I think of the Elder Scrolls games, where your character has no backstory other than "you're going to jail/execution", and that's about it. Which is fine, because the player doesn't really care - they have an entire WORLD to explore, and a backstory for the player would simply make things cluttered and confusing. They care about the NPCs, the setting, the history of Tamriel, and the player's character is merely a gateway into that experience.

If you really feel the need to introduce a backstory and personality onto the player's character, seriously consider limiting their interaction with other players. I'm sort of against the idea because I think MMORPGs aren't really ABOUT the player, and shouldn't be in most cases. MMORPGs are about the WORLD your character lives in, the people that live in this world. When you shift the emphasis from the world to the player's character, you risk limiting how expansive and engrossing your game can be.
Quote:
A class example is Fallout, the wasteland already has so much depth, so much character as a whole ( including the npc's, side characters, monsters and even just the scenery and environment/towns/e.t.c ) that if the game where to have a specific protagonist instead of a character creation system or a specific story/plot instead of wide free-roam it would have lessened the depth and atmosphere of the game.
This, basically.

It's important to make the actions of the player feel IMPORTANT in an MMORPG. If what the player is doing doesn't feel like it matter, then their incentive to continue playing will dwindle. As long as the actions of your player MATTER and have tangible impacts, your player's character shouldn't need too much development. Remember: keep the stakes high and worthy!

Quote:
Well, basically, what I'm having trouble with is creating believable NPCs that have their own stories and are more than just background/instruction givers.
It depends on the importance of a particular NPC in the game. If you have a character that will reappear numerous times in the game, I would treat them as I would treat a main character in a novel - not giving them the attention of a protagonist obviously but still giving them a full backstory, personality, and character arc. If your NPC will only appear for a single quest, you can give them a very simple, watered-down history, and never need to go beyond that.

If your quest involves killing rats for a restaurant owner, you need to ask "What does the player NEED to know?" If the player never needs to know much about the restaurant owner beyond "he wants the rats dead", don't expand on him. If you want to do a little world-building, consider something like "these pesky rats are becoming more common in this town! they keep invading from the Dark Forest and are giving us a real headache". You still know nothing about the owner, but the player feels like he's in a more engrossing and immersive world.

tl;dr: If it feels like you're FORCING backstories onto your NPCs, don't give them any. If you feel there is a genuine need to introduce character development for these NPCs, then go with your gut and give them some. Don't even force more character development onto an insignificant character if you don't feel it's necessary.


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    Eventing_Guy
  Wed Sep 07, 2011 9:13 pm
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Shortly after reading this, I looked at my story , I realized that most of my characters have multiple personalities.

- oh Im a pissed off character...
- I'm a "help everyone character"
- Now Im a EMO
- Now..... Im Batman. (LOL)


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    MagitekElite
  Thu Sep 08, 2011 9:19 pm
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dadevster wrote:
MagitekElite wrote:
Okay, sat down and started reading. I absolutely love it, very helpful. I decided to interview my character in my novel and found myself knowing more about her, her goals, her strengths, her passions and what drives her. She feels more like a human rather than a character now, so that's great! :thumb:

I'm on section 5 now -- reading about the protagonist and sidekick. I really like that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson was used for the example and to explain what you were talking about (I happen to love Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson very much), helps a lot, that is if the person reading has read about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. lol

I really like this character creation ship -- very helpful! I've been looking for something like this for a very long time and most of what I found, were small suggestions and advice that helped only a little bit. Thank you for taking the time and effort to make this for people, I know I appreciate it very much! :heart:

Though its wonderful help and I'm very appreciative of it, I just wish there was more! :cry:

Question;
Do you have any personal suggestions on what to read to learn more about this, or story development? :cute:

Thanks again! :biggrin:
I'm super glad that you're finding this helpful! :)

If you want to learn about protagonists and plot structure from throughout history, I'd definitely recommend giving Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces a read. It's a well-known book that established a lot of ideas in modern character development, including the monomyth and character archetypes. (archetypes are something I considered including in this workshop, but thought it was too bloated already. google character archetypes if you're interested) (James Frey's The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth is also related to this subject)

I use the Hero's Journey as a reference probably more than I should. It's a fantastic tool for when you're truly stuck and don't know where to do with your plot. Be wary of relying on it too much, however, or you can end up with generic and simplistic plots.

I'm sure there are tons of books available when it comes to character and plot development. Probably too many, actually. There are several available on archetypes - I've only read The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes which was a worthwhile read, although it borders on oversimplification at times.

I own Writing and Selling Your Novel by Jack Bickham and use it as a reference all the time. One of the best books I've read in terms of a general novel guide that includes plot, character, dialogue, etc. Bickham also wrote Scene and Structure with particular focus on... scene and structure.

Oh wow! Thanks for the reply, dadevster! :biggrin:

I will definitely google it, and see if my library has those books and buy them if they do not. I have a lot of reading to do now. :)

Thank you for all the help and suggestions, I really appreciate it! :grin:

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