Making new characters good characters.

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by Altima, Oct 20, 2001.

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  1. Altima

    Altima Jedi Youngling star 1

    Oct 20, 2001
    As of late, I've found myself working on some of my old fics that revolved around EU. Young Jedi Knights, new threat, new characters, all that jazz. However, I know that quite a few people despise it when a new character is brought in that's even remotely as powerful as some of the new Jedi/Sith/blah, and that tends to ruin the character for them. Looking back over my fic, there's plenty of reason for the aforementioned individuals to hate it. <=)

    So I'm asking for a bit of help- how would you make a new character a good one? Naturally, when a new character is brought in, not a lot of people are going to instantly care about them. I'm not asking for that, but rather how I can introduce a new character that the reader would gradually begin to care about as the story progressed. How would you (or how have you) go about writing that in?
  2. CloneofPhanan

    CloneofPhanan Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jul 20, 2000
    Well, I may not the best person to advise on this issue seeing as how my fics are not at all widely read. But all of my fics center around an entirely new character with minimal connections, if any, to the more established characters. I find it easier to write this way because it gives me more freedom.

    If you want readers to gradually come to care about a character stop and think about a few things. Most important among them is what makes you care about characters in books. Not established characters, mind you, but brand new ones. Get a feel for what makes you like a character then use some of the criteria you came up with and test your own character against them. Caring about a character when you're writing that character is another matter entirely from when you're reading about him or her.

    Hopefully this is helpful, if not, I'm sorry.
  3. Casper_Knightshade

    Casper_Knightshade Force Ghost star 6

    Oct 18, 2000
    Well with any character that will be a good character, that character must have character.

    It boils down to a few things, Altima:

    1.) Of What importance will this character be in the story? How essetial is his/her/it role?

    2.) How will this character impact other characters?

    3.) How much story life will this character have? Is he for one chapter, one story, or for one saga?

    4.) How well will this character relate to at least one person in your target audience?

    5.) Is the character unique in some way?


    1.) This of course is the key point. A good character is in the spot light, or shares center stage with the other characters. A good character cannot be a bit guy/gal/it and they must be essential to the story. And as always the best way to determine that is what the plot is about.

    2.) It's not a matter if this character is a good guy or bad guy. A good character, in some way, is involved with your better characters. They do something, and thus gives validation for their existence in the story.

    3.) ALWAYS PLAN LONG TERM WITH ANY CHARACTERS. A good character, again, has a good character description; in other words we get to know something about the character. Now if you have the character only for one story, then it becomes very hard to make him/her/it a good character folks can relate to. Somehow you have to tell this character's story within the story and unfortunately one story does limit you.

    Think out the character's past history if they have one story life. You'll be surprise what story ideas may develope from it.

    4.) This goes back to the character's story being told within the Main Story. If there is one thing as a reader that bites me is that folks honestly do think of terms of 'Light Side' and 'Dark Side' story telling.

    What I mean is they tell ONE SIDE of the story. It's all right sometimes, but sometimes it is the reason why I don't read some fics as soon as it is totally one dimensional to me. Tell the story, with the new characters, from different points of view.

    5.) Another Key point. Everybody and their unborn cousin can write dark Jedi's now. And Siths........what can you say they can't dance.

    But thank the Force for Qui-Gon Jinn; a Jedi with character AND character flaws. I think a character should have one flaw. And if the character is a new alien species, give good detail. Make us see the creature.
  4. Mistress_Renata

    Mistress_Renata Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 9, 2000
    I guess, if we're talking about Jedi characters, my feelings are:

    1) all Jedi have flaws

    2) the Force doesn't always work perfectly every time.

    That's my main beef with the EU authors (KJA especially). You can use the Force to fling starships into black holes, cure terminal illnesses, read people's minds? Sorry, kids, I don't buy it.

    Simply make the characters' use of the Force more realistic. And if you're writing YJK, then as students, their ability to use the Force is NOT going to be all-powerful. They're going to fail, sometimes, right? Even Luke's training as a Jedi was shaky and incomplete, he had, what, a couple of weeks on Dagobah, maybe some stuff out of scattered books & records, and he's making the rest up as he goes along!

    What you need, now, is a way to ensure the "bad guys'" credibility. If they are Force-users, where did they get trained? Who trained them? Why? And what are their motives in being bad guys? "Oh, no, another
    megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur!"

    Good luck, Altima! It's a good question to ask!
  5. Nahema

    Nahema Jedi Youngling

    May 20, 2001
    What everyone has said so far is excellant! I totally agree with it particularly with flaws.

    The other things I would mention are having characters that have a weakness too. For an example one of my new characters had a weakness for chocolate....that sort of thing.

    MAKE THEM HUMAN (I don't mean species) In other words, make them have feelings, make them react to things badly (not everyone can stand and watch someone die and scream 'nooo', others would be rooted to the spot unable to move that sort of thing).

    There are a lot of other sorts of things that you can do. If you like, you can e-mail or pp your posts with the new character to me and I'll read them for you. I do have quite a bit of experiance with new characters who aren't cannon and aren't established as most of my stories seem to revolve around that sort of thing.


    P.S: If you want to PP the thing to me (but only if you want to) then please PP it to the name Kit'. My boyfriend has left his own name up this morning, and I didn't notice until after I had posted!
  6. Melyanna

    Melyanna Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jul 19, 2001
    Well, I've have a stash of original characters waiting to be used, but the real key is just that: they're waiting to be used. I don't throw in original characters every chance I get. In places where I could use original characters, I'm more likely to use cameos. This saves me from having to think up more names.

    In "Change of Heart", I created a character who became, among my readers at least, more popular than the canon and EU characters whom I've used. The reason for this is quite simple. Nadia Montaigne quickly had a personality, an appearance, a major role in the story, and a backstory. The last two are probably the most frequently overlooked when authors, and not just fanfic authors, and creating new characters. No, I'm not suggesting that you only use original characters as main characters, but if you want your readers to react somehow to a character, the character needs to have a purpose in the story.

    As for a backstory, the character needs to have a past. If you've ever read any of William Faulkner's writings about a fictional county, Yoknapatawapha, in Mississippi, you may have noticed that he occasionally mentions a person and goes off ona tangent about that person's history. It can be quite fascinating to read, because you see how real Faulkner has made these characters. While the meticulous planning that Faulkner did isn't really necessary most of the time, that's the idea. Nadia, the aforementioned character, had a past, which gave her a level of interest.

    So, in conclusion, I'll say this: Don't make your characters with cookie cutters, don't make them out of cardboard, and give your readers a reason to be interested in the characters. That's my two credits.

  7. Altima

    Altima Jedi Youngling star 1

    Oct 20, 2001
    Wow. Thanks for the great insight, all of you- this really helps more than you could imagine. I don't expect to have too many problems now. ^_^

    Nahema, I'd gladly send what I've got to you if only it didn't have so many holes in it. <=D All I have complete is the prologue, which I'm actually going to be posting here soon (*gives a sparkling grin as his decimals- and decimals- of fans scream in delight*), and it doesn't really include the character I'm having the most trouble with. But once I've filled in all the gaps, I'll gladly send it to you for comments/suggestions.

    As before, to each one of you- Nahema, Melyanna, Casper, everyone- a big great thank ya. *gives you each gold-laden concubines* :D
  8. JediGaladriel

    JediGaladriel Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 3, 1999
    A lot of this is good stuff!

    My record with originals is mixed. I've been known to walk right up to the edge of the Mary Sue (the author stand-in who can do just about anything), and occasionally, I've tripped myself up pretty well and landed on my... er, face. So, here are some things I've noticed about the territory in the process:

    1. If your original character is with the heroes, let the heroes do their thing. Yes, there might be a better lightsaber fighter than Luke Skywalker out there, or someone who knows more about moisture vaporators. But if someone knows all about vaporators, can beat Luke in a fight, and has managed to rehabilitate both his parents and an errant sister, and now runs a facility for recovering Dark Siders... well, that's going to make Luke look smaller (though it might be a funny parody...) Let him (or her) be stronger in one area, even one that will surprise people (though having Han run across a better pilot or Leia meet a more sarcastic princess I think would be cliche even without having read one of them), but don't make the established characters, the ones your readers had known previously, look stupid in comparison.

    2. Don't linger on physical descriptions. "Linger" is a subjective word, but several paragraphs describing the tight fitting green spandex and how it sets off each perfectly formed muscle are going to put readers off, or make them anxious to see this person made ridiculous.

    3. Don't make the person seem like someone on contemporary earth. Avoid popular Earth names (especially if you know anyone who has that name, which has problems totally unrelated to the story), or names that are clearly related to an Earth religion. Granted, most are, including, of course, Luke and Ben, but those names mean "Light" and "Son," respectively; I'm talking about names like, oh, "Christenson" (Christian's son).

    4. Consider your time frame and setting -- a native Corellian during the Civil War is going to have very different issues than a Naboo at Amidala's coronation, or a padawan at the Jedi Academy, even if all of them are sixteen year old girls with nice singing voices. They'll sound different. Two of them might use their voices in the plot, while with the third it would just be a character quirk (please don't have her sing a Sith to death).

    5. You can come up with new uses for the Force -- GL does, why shouldn't a fanfic writer? -- but all magic has some kind of price. Maybe it's low; it just tires you out a little. Maybe it's high -- using this power sells your soul to the Dark Side... is it worth it? Maybe it's just hard to use and you need to escape the battle to find a quiet place where you can concentrate. Whatever it is, it stops being interesting when it's totally free. (To me, one of the better scenes in EU is the Rogue Planet scene, which I won't spoil, where Anakin realizes that a power inside him is coming up... and he can't stop it. That's another issue to consider with any power you give someone; the more of it is present, the harder it often is to handle, and that can really help put the brakes on a character who seems to have an overinflated talent.)

    6. Normal rules of characterization apply -- lots of books on the subject at the public library; I highly recommend Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint.
  9. Altima

    Altima Jedi Youngling star 1

    Oct 20, 2001
    O_O Whoa. Thanks for the gold mine of advice there, Galadriel. =D Man, I gotta write this stuff down...
  10. JediGaladriel

    JediGaladriel Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 3, 1999
    You're welcome.

    For proper attribution, I think number 5 (about the price of magic) was something I learned from a specific source, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. It's been awhile since I read it, but I think that's where that one came from.
  11. Daughter_Of_TheForce

    Daughter_Of_TheForce Jedi Padawan star 4

    Sep 1, 2001
    Yep, that's where it came from. I consult that book and Characters & Viewpoint frequently.
  12. JediGaladriel

    JediGaladriel Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 3, 1999
    I forgot to pack mine, and it's been two-thirds of the country away for a few months. :( Very helpful books; Card's a good teacher. (So, btw, is Stephen King, whose On Writing is another terrific book, though not specifically about characterization.)
  13. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Mar 26, 2001
    Thanks for the advice, JG. I just read your article "New Faces" at the Fanfiction Archive and found it very insightful and well-written. Thanks for writing it.
  14. the-Ewan-Pixie

    the-Ewan-Pixie Jedi Youngling star 1

    Jul 12, 2001
    If you ever need some kinda not Earth-ish name, consult mythology, history, or word-root books. Also, some name books have some pretty cool ones.

    I just found Eras, coming from Eros, the greek root for Love, or passion. Ya learn something new every day! :)

  15. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Mar 26, 2001
    I am well-schooled in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and other languages so a lot of my characters' names are derived from those languages. In The Other Half, I was very careful about choosing names, especially when I named the Solos' first daughter--Kaiya, which is Japanese for forgiveness. It just worked.
  16. JediGaladriel

    JediGaladriel Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 3, 1999
    DI -- thanks for the comment on the article. :)

    I agree with what you said about languages. They're a terrific source (and certainly a source for the names of the established characters). Sometimes, it needs to be tweaked, if it's too recognizable, or just doesn't sound like a name for your universe. (In an original story that I'm working on, I was using the story of the captive Mary Jemison as a basis, but it was a fantasy setting; to name my heroine, I tweaked Jemison to Temison then Temisa, which I think sounds good, and still means something to me, if not to anyone else.)
  17. Ty-gon Jinn

    Ty-gon Jinn Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jan 12, 2000
    A couple of points I have...

    1) Show, don't tell.

    2) Work them in.

    3) Consider the name.

    4) Keep the character's future in mind.

    5) Diversify.

    6) Milk back stories for all they're worth.

    7) Push the envelope.

    1) One of the edicts of fiction writing, as my literature teacher would point out, is that you show how a character would act, rather than telling ahead of time. "He tended to be sarcastic most of the time, but could have very violent outbursts" might be fine for a character description in a round-robin summary, but in writing, it's better just to put your character in a given situation and showing how he'll react.

    2) One way to get a new character noticed is not to give him a grand entrance, but rather work him in. Once he's a big part of the story, he can become a newsmaker.

    3) The name you give your character has a significant impact. People can picture characters based on their reactions to things, and just as people can say "You don't look like a Sarah," they can say, "She doesn't act like a Jaina."

    4) Just as you have to keep a character's past in mind so his actions are consistent, you have to keep his future reactions in mind, as well.

    5) Make sure your characters are unique from each other- if you have a really original character idea, you still don't want 20 carbon copies of that same original idea running around your fic. And make sure your characters have more than one facet for each personality, too.

    6) The back stories, as Casper said, can be useful tools. You can try connecting your story to several others, so that everything has a lot of depth.

    7) Don't be afraid to make you characters weird or extreme! Even the most exciting stories can be dragged down by boring characters.
  18. LittleJedi

    LittleJedi Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jun 4, 2001
    Another great place for finding names is Star Charts. Either use the names straight out or twist them a bit. (Did you know there's a star called Alderban (or someting along those lines) which sounds an awful lot like a certain SW planet... hmm) And atlases, check out the index. Or, use different languages, even mix them together.

    -Little Jedi-
  19. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Mar 26, 2001
    LittleJedi, Alderaban is the "torch star" or one of the Royal Trio. Given its fate as well as the fact that it's the only place that has royalty mentioned in the OT. Hebrew is an excellent source for all names. Like Mara is "bitter", Naboo is an adaptation for the Hebrew word for beautiful, etc.
  20. Melyanna

    Melyanna Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jul 19, 2001
    Actually the star's name is Aldebaran.
  21. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Mar 26, 2001
    Thanks for the correction; the book I read it in listed it as Alderaban.
  22. Gandalf the Grey

    Gandalf the Grey Jedi Knight star 6

    May 14, 2000
    Thinking of names from the real world, did you know that in Tunisia (where Tatooine scenes are normally filmed) there is a city called Tataouine?
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