Nobody likes a perfect character. Someone who is super good at everything and gets everything right is annoying.
Even the most suave secret agents of indestructible superheroes need to make mistakes in order to make the story interesting.
There are two parts to using wrongness in a story. There’s the actual mistake (which sometimes isn’t known to be a mistake at the time), and there’s the consequences of the mistake, usually forcing the character to deal with powerful feeling of guilt or regret.
In the constant battle of ‘showing vs telling’, describing your character’s emotions is one place that telling can sneak into your writing.
Think about the physical effects of emotions in order to show how your character is feeling.
Don’t say they are nervous - show them refusing food, or repeatedly going to the toilet. Show them tapping their feet, drumming their hands, pacing the room. Show them checking their watch over and over, playing with their hair, or biting their lip.
Don’t say they are sad - show them retreating to their bedroom, show them listening to sad songs, or not paying attention to the television in front of them. Show them hugging a pillow, hiding under the duvet, writing angsty poetry. Show them crying, wailing, shaking, rocking. Show them eating ice cream, chocolate, cake.
Don’t say they are excited - show them chattering away, jumping up and down, clapping their hands. Show them grinning, laughing, hugging their friends. Show them dancing, running in circles, doing cartwheels.
Don’t just tell your readers what your characters are feeling; show them the physical effects of the emotion - physical effects that your readers can relate to. It will make your characters more real, more animated, and it will bring your readers closer to them.
Character development thing.
Plot points on this chart to represent how important these different aspects of a character’s life are to them. By doing that you can help determine what type of things your character deems to be most meaningful in their life, especially compared to others aspects.
A brief explanation of each aspect is below in case you’re confused about the meaning of any.
- Strength: to have physical power and strength
- Sex: to have sexual gratification and satisfaction
- Possessions: to have objects and tangible things
- Health: to have physical health and stability
- Appearance: to have a good external appearance
- Love: to love and be loved, romantically or otherwise
- Appreciation: to be appreciated by others
- Attention: to be paid attention to
- Security: to feel secure emotionally
- Approval: to be approved by others
- Respect: to be respected
- Friendship: to have friends
- Intimacy: to be intimate with a partner or partners
- Belongingness: to feel needed and belonged
- Family: to be on good terms with/have a family
- Inner peace: to be content with themselves
- Purpose: to feel as though they are fulfilling a purpose
- Self-sufficiency: to feel that they are able to provide for themselves
- Growth: to feel as though they are growing and changing
- Acceptance: to be able to accept themselves without consequence
This is an absolutely amazing exercise and I certainly recommend doing it.
How to write Guilt. -C
Hmm, okay. Guilt is something I know a lot about.
Everyone experiences guilt differently. Like, for me, guilt is amplified and often misplaced due to anxiety and depression. I feel bad about really dumb pointless things.
There are different levels of guilt, too. A kid feeling guilty about a lie is different from guilt for hurting a friend or something.
A character may have differing physical reactions to guilt. They might feel nauseous or uneasy. People may become defensive.
One portrayal of guilt I really like would be The Doctor. (Ignoring the recent events with the 50th special.)
Aside from the pain of destroying his people, there are plenty of times when the Doctor fails to save someone. That guilt lingers and stays and you can see how it affects him.
Another character who shows guilt would be Aang from Avatar the Last Airbender. He feels guilt. He left his people because he was afraid, and his people suffered. He’s a really child-like character, but he’s someone who has a lot of regrets and has to grow up very quickly.
Feeling guilt is not pleasant at all, and people can be good at repressing it or denying their feelings.
People can feel guilty about things completely out of their control, too. It’s a really complicated emotion.
Thank you, Mandark!
More links for guilt:
Hurray learning things about guilt! *confetti*
Your readers are going to want to know about your character’s past and how it has shaped the way they are in your novel. You’re most likely going to have to explain some sort of past event that’s important to the current narrative. I’m not saying that your character’s past defines them, but there will be events that lead them up to the action in your novel or explain something that’s going to happen to them in the future. As a writer, you need to learn how to integrate your character’s memories or past stories into your novels.
Bringing up your character’s memories is not necessarily the same as writing flashbacks. Your character might speak of something from their past that has had a significant impact on where your character ends up. If your character brings up something in conversation with someone else, it’s best not to reveal everything all at once. You don’t want your character to say something like—
“Yeah, well, he’s probably after me because I accidently hit his girlfriend with a car when I was seventeen. That might be why he’s after me. Oh yeah, he warned me he was going to come after me about a year ago. I guess I forgot. That could explain why he’s so angry with me.”
Not only is this dialogue a no-no, but you’re giving way too much information at once that could have been explained earlier. This is not a good way to reveal memories and it will feel like a last minute edition to your story. Your readers will think you were stuck and came up with someone the spot. While it’s not a horrible idea to come up with something off the top of your head, you can’t do it when it’s an integral part of the story.
Finding a good way to weave your character’s backstory in your novel is of upmost importance. Take your time to make it feel natural and have information revealed over time, instead of all at once. For example, the paragraph up top could be fixed if the character had genuinely forgotten about the incident with the antagonist’s girlfriend. Maybe he has memory loss from the accident or there was something that had made him forget (he blocked it out, went to therapy, etc.) Find a way to make your story compelling and keep your readers interested in why something is happening.
Wattpad brings you a guest post from Bethany Myers, on creating great villains in literature.
You can read her novel “The Busgirl Blues” free on Wattpad:
Sometimes the best matches are the ones you least expect.
What Every Villain Needs
by John Hansen
Well, it’s time for a confession: I’m still in high school.
Yes, it’s true, and because of this I get a lot of questions about how one should go about writing a believable male POV. I wanted to add my thoughts here. Before you read on, I suggest you read Jay Kristoff’s post last year on writing outside your gender, because I agree with all of it
Good. That means it’s time to tell you the long-lost secret of writing a believable male character. Ready? Here it is:
There is no secret.
It’s annoying, I know, but that’s the secret. Just like with any adult, there are so many different types of teen guys that there is no real secret to writing one. Even so, there are ways to do it well.
My post for plot writing help got reblogged a lot and an anon asked me to do the same for character help, and so I ended up searching for links for character writing help.
Underneath the cut you will find links for:
- Novel/Fiction related content
- Character Names
- Character Personality
- Character Traits
- Character Quirks
- Character Flaws
- Vices and Virtues
- Character Hobbies
- Character Jobs
- Character Goals/Needs/Motivation
- RPH/C/A’s and Writeblogs How To Write a Biography
- Other Helpful Sites
Beware, there are a lot of links under the read more.
I knew we’d get some interesting responses from this post. Here are two responses from the discussion (still in progress, by the way) that I think are well worth reading.
Hey! I just wanted to say something in reply to your response to that “no POC”-anon: I think it very much depends on the setting of the story. If it’s set at an all-boys boarding school in 1820’s England… then writing in a POC will be quite a job. However, if you’re writing about a 2013 all-boys boarding school, statistics say that not having any POC in your story is very, very unlikely. Same goes with women at the front during WW1, or white people in 100BC Africa. Use statistics. Use common sense. If it won’t work, it won’t work, and forcing yourself to write people into settings where they don’t make sense is not always the best solution. (Though if you’re writing a modern setting or any sort of fantasy, you really don’t have much of an excuse).
I think a couple of things here. The first thing I think is: why do you ask? And the second is: what are PoC?
Look, here’s the thing. Other people have already said in the comments that it depends on the setting, because there weren’t a lot of PoCs in 1100s Scotland. And still others have said that YES THERE WERE so this is not an acceptable reason for not including them. I doubt somehow that there were a lot of people of African, Asian, or, say, Polynesian descent in 1100s Scotland - but I also doubt that it’s the best/most productive way to approach this question.
I’m assuming you’re asking because you have, somehow, identified this as a source of concern. You’re worried because it occurred to you, or because someone said “hey, what’s with all these white people in your novel?” and you realized you might be Doing It Wrong. Good for you. Let’s move on.
Here’s what’s up. Your novel, whatever it is, should show a richness and diversity that is appropriate to its setting(s). That’s not because it’s a political statement: that’s because it’s better writing. And while you are trying to show the complexity of this world you’re building, try to keep in mind that human beings have had radically different ways of constructing racial and other categories in different times and places. (I remember reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and being struck by the way it drew distinctions not between white/PoC, but between the “Gaelic race” and the English/Saxons.)
Racial categories are not god-given and immutable. They are socially constructed and contingent. So, who knows, it may not make much sense to include a character and call them “black” in the novel you’re writing. But it might make all kinds of sense to talk about that one guy from Ethiopia, and his interaction with a blue-eyed Slav girl at the house of this trader from, idk, India, who was friends with some dude from Ephesus, who had a British slave. That’s going to cover a lot of racial ground without embedding you in modern racial categories. It’s going to give you a challenge of a different kind: not to duplicate contemporary Western assumptions about privilege and who “naturally” has it in a given situation. It’s going to force you to re-think, or maybe just un-think, what constitutes power and racialization in the context of your story.
(Apparently I am setting your novel in the Roman Empire? Or something? I don’t even know.)
My point is: you don’t have to disrupt your setting by transposing contemporary Western categories of race developed through a history of colonization onto it in order to show diversity and complexity and the facets of the world you’re building. What constitutes racial difference isn’t going to be the same in every setting, and sometimes you’ll find in writing that racial categories aren’t actually the biggest differences between your characters. What you definitely want not to do is to exclude PoCs from your novel because you just don’t want to bother with including them. That’s both bad politics and lazy writing. Good stories are complex, and good writers accept the challenge of keeping them that way.
I might add more as time goes on. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the discussion so far!