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Thread: Getting in the skin of a character

  1. #1
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    Default Getting in the skin of a character

    How does one go about handling writing from the POV of a character they don't resemble much? For example, let's take me. How would I go about writing a fanfiction from the POV of, say, Cynthia?

    Let's look at it like this. I'm a teenage male in high school, used to writing similar characters. Cynthia is an adult woman, in her twenties (or possibly even thirties, game sprites make it hard to tell age), who's a successful professional Pokemon trainer, and works with dangerous Pokemon/animals on a daily basis. How can I get under her skin to write a story narrated by her?

    This is only an example of course, not that I'm planning a Cynthia-based fic anytime soon. But the question remains: how can I write in such a style so as to make it more believable to the reader that a real live person is speaking? How to write so that readers will think, "Man, that's no character, that's a real live person,"?

    Your advice, tips, and two cents will be greatly appreciated.

    EDIT: Apparently, I've been misunderstood. My 'real' question can be seen more clearly two or three posts down.
    Last edited by Deadly.Braviary; 3rd February 2013 at 6:38 AM.


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  2. #2
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    Whenever I'm doing something like that, I try to realize in my mind their motivation, what they believe might try to stop them from reaching their goal, and if necessary, their past interactions that helped lead them to this place.

    For example, we know that Cynthia enjoys traveling, has less of a regard for the League rules than another might, and enjoys ruin sites; I don't think it would be a bad assumption that you could start a fic with her in the unown cave, for example. Further, she grew up in a smaller town, where most of the folks are of retirement age. We can thus assume that she has a lot of respect for her elders, and that she would never be impolite to someone older than her, even if we don't see evidence of this anywhere.

    The next step, of course, is to fit that known character into the mold of an actual story. Real people don't explain everything about themselves, so it wouldn't make sense for Cynthia to talk a lot as if this was all common knowledge. Maybe she will imply it with words at times, but like most, she would probably try and deflect conversation to things unrelated to her, personally.

    I wish I could be more specific in helping, but I'm not even sure I know exactly how I think this stuff through. I just get a good sense of what people might say, after I feel like I have a handle on their character.

    Edit: Small addendum; characters of canon can tend to have more 'character holes' in them than a newly-made character might. For example, Voldemort is a hammishly evil villain, and even his thrown-together childhood doesn't really stand up to a lot of scrutiny. At these points, I think it's just best to not scrutinize the character as hard, and simply try to emulate what has already been shown of them.
    Last edited by IJuggler; 2nd February 2013 at 1:40 PM.
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    In all honesty, Making your own character is easier than getting into a character's skin. Just what the responder said above, study her character is crucial. It just may be a matter on placing yourself to, Lets say, Cynthia. Respectful to elders, very curious, wise, and considers the hero as a friend. But if placed in unknown situations, place yourself in her current personality and imagine how she can response to this unknown scenario.

    I know it is hard at first but it gets easier the more you practice and understand this style of concept you are learning. Check the kinds of traits that characters will have here at TVTROPES if you need a guide [this is something that I do if I'm building my own characters or finding the definitive term for existing characters]. I know there will be tons that you could learn. But take small steps.
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    It helps to get to know the person through a third-person point-of-view first. Once you feel you've got a good hold on the person's character from what you saw, then you can start digging deeper into her mind, little at a time. In fact, you don't have to be able to look at it through a first-person view, you can just basically have a "camera" follow her around as she goes, and see what she does when she's not around other people, or the main character. And then you can start stepping into her skin by asking yourself questions like, "What would Cynthia do in this situation?" Slowly, but surely, you'll be able to fit into her skin, and be able to "become" her. It just takes time getting used to.

    It's said that people with Asperger's have a hard time empathizing with people, and it's true. As someone with Asperger's I find first-person POV to be a hard medium to control, but it depends on who I'm controlling. I go for the characters with whom I really like and feel I know well enough, and then I just take their character and roll with it. I've only done the first-person POV about twice, both times they were one-shots (one of them was present-tense, something that took time to get used to). But for the most part, I've been told I'm able to get down characters to a "T" through the third-person POV, so to take that and switch it to first-person would be the next logical step since I've proven I know the characters well enough to keep them from becoming out-of-character. But I'm not comfortable in that particular suit, so I don't use it very often.

    So guess what I'm trying to say is get to know the person like you would when you're talking to someone face-to-face, though for fictional characters, all of their information is laid out in front of you. You just have to be pretty observant, and always ask yourself questions about their actions, attitudes in various situations, so on and so forth. Eventually, you'll come to know them as well enough as the back of your hand--if you're not looking directly at the back of their hand in the process. Just try your hardest not to get lost in the character's head, and you should be fine.
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    Thanks, everyone. But I guess I must not have put my question across very clearly, because this is what I really meant. How would one go about making a character who they know next no nothing about realistic? Let me put this in context:

    I'm writing a Hoenn-based trainerfic, but the problem is, I can't decide whether to write Ruby/Brendan or Sapphire/May as the main character. For me, being a guy, Ruby was the obvious choice. I can relate more to a guy than a girl. But, speaking as a writer, I've never written as a female character before, and I want to take this as a challenge, so I'm going to use Sapphire as the main character. My problem here is, how does a guy write a realistic female protagonist? And it's not just the gender situation. How does anyone write a character that shares little to nothing in common with the characters they are more used to writing? I guess that's more of my real question. Of course, with Sapphire it's easier since she's a blank slate, so to speak. No personality, hardly any backstory, and she's basically a reflection of the writer/gamer since you decide the Pokemon she uses ... Basically, you project yourself onto the protagonist, so they're just who you think they are, or, more simply, they're a slightly different form of you. Looking at it from that point of view, the protagonists are basically the most complex characters in the entire series.
    Last edited by Deadly.Braviary; 3rd February 2013 at 6:43 AM.


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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deadly.Braviary View Post
    Thanks, everyone. But I guess I must not have put my question across very clearly, because this is what I really meant. How would one go about making a character who they know next no nothing about realistic? Let me put this in context:

    I'm writing a Hoenn-based trainerfic, but the problem is, I can't decide whether to write Ruby/Brendan or Sapphire/May as the main character. For me, being a guy, Ruby was the obvious choice. I can relate more to a guy than a girl. But, speaking as a writer, I've never written as a female character before, and I want to take this as a challenge, so I'm going to use Sapphire as the main character. My problem here is, how does a guy write a realistic female protagonist? And it's not just the gender situation. How does anyone write a character that shares little to nothing in common with the characters they are more used to writing? I guess that's more of my real question. Of course, with Sapphire it's easier since she's a blank slate, so to speak. No personality, hardly any backstory, and she's basically a reflection of the writer/gamer since you decide the Pokemon she uses ... Basically, you project yourself onto the protagonist, so they're just who you think they are, or, more simply, they're a slightly different form of you. Looking at it from that point of view, the protagonists are basically the most complex characters in the entire series.
    Now that you point out youre using a female protagonist ... that's quite tough to tackle. That's what I'm also doing now. Using a moother as the protagonist. No easy cake but possible to be done. The closest advice from my experience would be examining real life women and how the interact with:

    a. guys
    b. other girls
    c. Feminine things
    d. Masculine things
    e. children
    f. husband
    g. work
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deadly.Braviary View Post
    How does anyone write a character that shares little to nothing in common with the characters they are more used to writing?
    Ah, one of the most basic challenges every writer faces. How do you handle a character who's completely different from the kinds of characters you're used to writing?

    Since you're using Sapphire -- who you've pointed out correctly as being a blank slate -- the answer lies in figuring out who she is in the first place. The fun thing about Sapphire is that you can define who she is yourself. Do you want her to be a hyperactive Ash-like character? Do you want her to be arrogant and always serious? Do you want to lift her personality from the anime's May and Special's Sapphire? Do you want to base her on people you know? You've got options, but the very first step is just plain figuring out what you want to do with her character. There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to handling a character who's basically a clean slate (so long as you don't turn her into a Sue, which I don't think you would anyway).

    Once you figure that part out, the next step to writing a character who sticks out from your usual cast (so to speak) is basically what Kutie had to say. The thing is that writing a character who's different from your usual and writing a character who's basically your usual is basically the same thing. Think about their personality, skills, backstory, prior experiences, and so forth. Ask yourself what they would do based on that. If necessary, consult your experiences with people to figure out whether or not your answers make sense. Write what you come up with.

    Sure, character building may seem intimidating at first, but at its core, it's really something you do with every character. Don't let the fact that they're blank slates or the opposite sex or someone just plain different from you throw you off.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by JX Valentine; 3rd February 2013 at 7:00 PM.

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    Aaaand, Jax beats me to the punch. Let's see what else I can add on...

    Writing from a perspective you aren't used to can be tough, but when you really step into the character, you can start seeing things, not just things in the story, but in real life too, from different perspectives. Once you start and really get going, it will become easier to get the sense of who you are writing about. I guess the first step you want to do is figure out how you want to portray Sapphire/May. What kind of person is she? Once you've laid out that framework, the rest should start falling into place.

    Because she is, as you said, a blank slate, you have as much room to play with her as you want. You could make her a female version of yourself, if that's what's easiest though it would take away the challenge aspect. As a writer, I'm sure you've at least written about female characters before, if never having made them a POV character. Just go about writing her the way you normally would a character, but knowing that you'll have to pay especial attention to her. I honestly believe that once you get started on this, you'll find it's a lot easier than you think. While I'm not telling you to jump right into it, don't be afraid of feeling a little unprepared. If you take risks, some of them are bound to pay off.
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    Wow, thanks everyone. You've all been a huge help with this and I'll be sure to keep this advice in mind.

    The prologue of the fic in question is up at FF.Net here. /end shameless self promotion :P


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