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Submitted on
November 30, 2012
Submitted with Writer


26 (who?)

Your characters aren't real.

Fri Nov 30, 2012, 12:48 AM
One of the most popular discussions among writers on any website has got to be some variation of 'what's your relationship with your characters like?' And especially on a site like here where a lot of people are coming from an RP background, people start in on these long conversations about how their characters run around and do things and would love to tear 'em one for that scene where they lose their whole family.

And you know what?

I can't participate in this conversation because I don't see characters like that and I'm so jealous I'm going to rant about it now

Okay, I was just guessing how you'd feel after reading this rant. I swear I have a serious point to make, though.

First things first. It confuses me when you talk like your characters are people. I just don't get it. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. I start with the plot and setting and then come up with characters, so anything I make is tied to the story.
  2. How can I create an independent existence for something that was created to work best with a specific plot? They're intertwined. Also, I'd rather write a good story kthxbye.
  3. I never had imaginary friends, so the concept of wanting to do this is foreign to me.
  4. I have no imagination.

Again, I'm sure that last one is where you've gotten by now. And it's what I used to think: maybe I can't do this because I'm just not imaginative enough. What's wrong with me?

And then I decided y'all crazy.

What prompted this?

Well, I don't know. It might have been this:

Yeah, I was just writing my story and Xenophon Jr decided he didn't want to go fight the werewolves! LOL!

Or, I dunno. Maybe it was this one.

Guys, I cried like the whole time I wrote this scene because I could not believe I was doing this to Jeremy IT'S SO SAD T_T

I don't get it. And yes, guys, I know you all don't talk like this and it sounds condescending when I put it this way. The point is that it's how it comes off to someone who is completely outside the whole thing. I'm sure I come off as a cold bitch when I say I don't see characters as people. (You insightful bastard.)

Anyway, look. I don't care if you want to say your characters are doing stuff by themselves. But I do care when you say it's all them, not you, and you go completely helpless and don't know what to do. Self-respect, have it.


For fuckssake, pat yourself on the back when good things happen and take responsibility when you write yourself into a hole or can't make a scene convincing enough.

I just cannot repeat enough how much it bothers me when people, I don't know, have low self-esteem and can't give themselves credit for planning something so good it spreads like jam on toast when they go to write it. Or when people cannot come face-to-face with the fact that they were so determined to write that setting and those characters that they kind of forgot to make sure it would work coherently with the plot.

Do not tell me you were surprised where your story went. I know it feels natural sometimes. I know other times, it takes forever and you get a thousand false starts. What I didn't know, though, is that you could completely miss those words that you just typed with your own two hands.

And if you were too busy having emotions all over this character inside your head that we're only catching glimpses of, I doubt I will have half the feelers you did. The fact is, people who write assuming their readers are on the same page as them when they have a huge invisible backstory—are wrong.

Now please excuse me while I do some furious backpedaling and maybe even calm your (righteous) rage a bit.

No one has ever accused me of writing bad characters (if you disagree, where have you been?! CRITIQUE PLS). So you don't need some gimmick like 'my character is right here talking to me' in order to write a convincing story. What you need is the ability to go, 'what would a person of this demographic do in this situation'—and if it's not what you want to happen with the plot, then why exactly did you pick that character in the first place?

And pretending characters are real can be fun. I like playing God (when I can actually think of a character for it—seriously, I don't have a ten-year-running OC cast I keep developing and developing). Some people need to imagine a talking, walking person in order to get a scene out. And, for a longer project, it keeps the tedium from setting in when you're in that horribly boring middle part or are low on ideas for what to do next, that kind of thing.

Okay. Fine. I don't get it and I think you're weird until you admit it's all in your head, but whatever. People say I'm weird for using German numbers as insults. Weird isn't always bad.

What actually bothers me is that thing I said above.


An exercise you use to make your writing easier/fun/better is not a valid excuse for a shitty scene or getting stuck because you can't figure out what to do. It is not an excuse for keeping characters alive for no reason, or drawing out their deaths because you can't let them go, or for being boring because no other person can relate to your headspace.

I don't care if you're just phrasing it like 'heehee, it's not me, it's them, now please can you help me figure out what to do' because it sounds fun or whatever. Language shapes thought.

As a writer, you should know that.

I didn't think this post had enough Eric, so have one more GIF.

You are not a monkey with a typewriter. Don't make yourself into one.

I know I'm firmly in the minority opinion, at least on this site, in worrying about people who talk like their characters are people. So have fun tearing this rant a new one! GUYS I LOVE OPINIONS. But read it first and please don't state the obvious. The GIFs are intentionally placed. Hit 'Esc' to stop them animating.

Thank you, Merry, for wanting the same things I want from a set of True Blood GIFs. Also—man I hate this so much—the skin isn't credited just because I made a few changes. The original is by =winnietehpoohie.

I'm not sorry for this. I'll have you know my imagination is just fine :stare: Although fine I toned down things just a little. You know I love you.
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To understand what a character means to a person, you have to be an artistic writer yourself. There are several types of writing styles, and creative or artistic writing falls under this. For an author to try and get their work published, one of the very few things they have holding their hopes up, is their characters. They understand you just as well as you understand them, because they are literally a part of you. They come from your heart and your imagination, be it based on your own personal struggles, a person you with you could be come, or simply just a design that has been drifting around in your head for a while. While I partially agree with what you're saying, it also sounds to me like you're saying a good story cannot be produced if the author is attached to their characters. Which I disagree with. Being attached to your characters allows for an even better piece of work, because you become more involved with your characters. You know their personalities like the back of your hand, and you understand whether of not they would or wouldn't do certain things. Characters do not exist physically, but they do exist in the hearts of those who create them. I this makes sense :)
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Critique by trainx3000 Dec 3, 2012, 9:03:53 PM
As an engineer, I understand what you mean when you say you must completely detach yourself emotionally from a project to make it truly great. The nice part about my job is that that's easy to do. There's hardly anything to feel in how much stress a block of concrete can take, and that is partially why we are so good at using those blocks of concrete in various applications. With art, it's a little messier. I like to believe all artists at least start creating art because a part of them wanted to express the emotions that their right half of their brain was making but couldn't get out on its own (all your speech and logic centers are in your left brain). The principal purpose of the characters they create becomes to exemplify what they feel, not entertain someone else, and so they are given long and winding back stories whose plot is built up around them, not the other way around. Analyzed using purely your left brain, though, we find that all that info about them is somewhat superfluous and since the plot is built around them, it will often either have a conflict that never gets resolved (because they want to continue to express the sadness in that), or one that contains no conflict to begin with (because they want to maintain the current state of affairs), leading to an incredibly boring and unfulfilling story from a reader's perspective. So yes, being emotionally attached to a character might make for a boring story, but it might be the writers only way of showing you what he feels and why. Not all art is meant for the sole enjoyment of others.
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Celvas Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014
I am my characters. To clarify: They are not me. I am them. I create them and shape them by putting myself in their shoes. I feel their emotions as mine, which gives me a better understanding of the character I wish to portray. I am often surprised by what information I get out of this. How they move, gesticulate, their facial expressions, temper, how their voice sounds, frequently used phrases and words, accents. I find out what makes the character tick. BUT... yep, capitals... I never. Ever. EVER... create a character that has no reason to exist inside my story. My focus clearly lies with the characters, but they never get in the way of the story. While I do all this, all this investment into their creation, I regard them as plot devices. It's not just characthers driving the plot, or characters being driven by the plot. The tone of the story depends on how well characters and plot are fused together. It happened once to me that a character's personality got in the way of the plot. I didn't go, "Oh woe is me!" I decided where to chop the arm off and moved on.

Now, the important characters do have this huge invisible backstory, and I feel it is imperative to my stories that I do not talk about it to anyone. It's just one more way for me to define the actions of my characters. Choose how past events shaped them, and more often than not I create past events by how I need a character to be. From backstory to character, from character to backstory. I do not tell anyone, "Annie sliced the cake in circles because reasons and she's a moron anyway." If through Annie's behavior I am unable to show you her personality, then what the hell am I doing here? It's with stories like it's with jokes: They aren't fun anymore when you got to explain them. I want people to draw their own conclusions. They may be starkly different from what I originally had in mind, but as long as it all works it's perfectly fine with me. Go ahead and take from my characters and stories whatever you like. Keep guessing. Keep wondering. Stay hooked.

Well, anyway. You got a point. There are people who go overboard with their affection for their mental products. I won't lie, I'm one of them. I love my characters. Each one. Then they grow up and I gotta let them go. They put some countries between the two of us, maybe a continent, and after a year I'm like, "Oh yeah, that one. Fun times. Anyway, Annie, what the god-forsaken heck are you doing to the cake?"

neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I start with the plot, but yeah, I do end up where you are. It's hard to write realistic dialogue if you can't plop into their shoes for a moment.

Hahahaha, but reasons and moronicness are so central to the plot or something ;p Sounds like a good magic trick to me.

Oceanblue-Art Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2013  Student General Artist
I think that there are three types of writers: the upper extreme, people (like me, heh) who have characters that are like their best friends; the lower extreme, people who have an emotional disconnect and see characters as merely the building blocks of the plot; and the middle, people who don't see their characters as their children but aren't completely disconnected. These types of people can write equally good and bad stories; one type is not better than the other. 
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
It's interesting that you would split writers that way; I go with simply people who start with characters or plot. Of course the end result requires work to be done on both sides: not having an emotional connection to characters doesn't mean they won't be real within the story, and caring about characters doesn't mean undermining the plot for the author's peace of mind.
rokulie Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2013   Traditional Artist
That's an interesting point of view, but it's got nothing to do with self-esteem. I don't even know how to describe it because I didn't think the concept could be so foreign to another creator. I guess it has something to do with tapping into your intuition?

I've noticed that a lot of people on the nanowrimo forums do this, and I think J.K. Rowling has even admitted to doing this, but I don't remember the exact quote. It had something to do with the possibility of "letting" Harry Potter die. I didn't think it was just something roleplayers did, and you kind of make it sound like only fangirls/fanboys do this--but I bet you're right, it probably is related to them too. Just not solely those people.

I personally start off with characters, and then a universe and storyline sort of morphs around them. Come to think of it, I also prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven ones. If something has poorly written characters, then it's really hard for me to enjoy any other part of the story, because I connect to the story through dynamic and well-written personalities and their relationships with one another. I'm sure everyone's creative process is just different.
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
No idea :B I mean, I know people who make it work. but they will admit that the problem is them when something comes up, instead of giggling about it and then doing an abrupt about face and bitching about writers block.

Yeah, I know I do plot before characters. But at the end of the day, if they aren't equally strong, you won't have a good story.
MKGPro Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012   Digital Artist
Well to be honest, I understand my OCs and characters are NOT REAL. But I still get emotional, I cry and laugh at them and I mean it's good. As much as you seem to not understand that I'd like to explain my reasoning.

I'm not the biggest and baddest person out there but through characters and stuff I can create and do so much, but I can't NOT feel emotions towards the characters. They are in the story, living breathing beings and experience the ammount of emotion we would, what better way to express that than to be emotional yourself.

I get attached to my characters and creations, give them a little life of their own and there's nothing wrong with loving them and being emotional towards them. It's natural and very good.

My only issue with this is that you also state how you don't like it but you don't understand. Which in all cases seems to be a wrong assumption. Before even ranting try to find out more about the subject and understand it.

And I've seen things being thrown around like 'freaks' and 'crazy'. We don't have an emotional or psychological problem, please refrain from that it's rude.
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm not sure you saw this bit, so allow me to quote myself: "I don't care if you want to say your characters are doing stuff by themselves. But I do care when you say it's all them, not you, and you go completely helpless and don't know what to do. Self-respect, have it."

It's not something I can understand (not the same as comprehend, this is on a more intuitive level of 'just don't get it'), but who am I to even care how a good thing happens?

I agree that freak is not a great word, if you could point it out in the original post I'd like to remove it. Crazy is not appropriate to apply to a mental illness and I don't use it as such, though obviously it could use more context here. If I can think of an equally facetious alternative that I would also use to refer to myself (I do some pretty crazy shit and I don't think that's a bad thing), I'll change it. But, frankly, I don't think it's a bad word. Even if it did relate to mental illness, what's wrong with having one?
FieldsOfFire Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2012
I think you're...overreacting. For starters, when I see a lot of people do this, it's with tongue planted firmly in cheek, or with some indication that they in fact know that they're not talking about people who actually exist.

Secondly, when I see people talk about it, it's more a method of getting into character when writing than anything. Not really different from, say, drawing a brainstorm map or stream-of-consciousness writing. The authors who do this that I've seen, tend to think the opposite way you do: characters first, plot second. They determine the path of the story by figuring out what the individual character would be likely to do. In practical terms, I see it as a sort of safeguard against derailing one's own characterization, writing unrealistically neat conclusions, etc. One of the most famous examples of "I don't know how a story's going to end when I write it" is Stephen King, so...well, OK, maybe that's a bad argument against probable insanity, but my point is that it's not just something that 14-year-olds do when RP'ing Hetalia OC's with their friends. It's a tried-and-true tactic that some people find useful, not mass psychosis or a low self-esteem epidemic.

Now, maybe there's the occasional person out there who seriously earnestly thinks their character is a real person and that they talk to them in real life all the time. And you know...I find it hard to begrudge people an active fantasy life. It seems like there's so much else to worry about in the world, and I don't think it's terribly different from using recreational drugs and such in order to cope. I'm not one of those people who thinks that clinical insanity is no more than a colorful personality trait, but I also think it's a bit overkill on your part to say that people who think about writing differently than you have some sort of mental or emotional problem.

Honestly, you sound...way, way more concerned about this than you should be. Just think of it as a technique that some people find helpful but that you don't really understand.
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Doesn't make it any less strange to me. And I grew out of the concern. It is really only the people who use their characters as an excuse whom I have a problem with.

"to say that people who think about writing differently than you have some sort of mental or emotional problem." —where did you see this? It wasn't even vaguely my intention. Unless you think "y'all crazy" was meant to be taken seriously, in which case I'll pull it or make the sarcasm clearer.
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