Bad Habits

  • This is something I've always been fascinated by, but have found that it's not always the easiest thing to make up (at least for me). So I'm curious: what sort of bad habits, behaviours, and flaws do you tend to lean toward when creating characters, and where do you find inspiration for them?

  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    It's interesting. I've never thought about the bad habits I have when creating characters, and you've made me do that now. I think one of my biggest habits when creating new characters is to almost write their life story, and then get inspired and focus on another character. I once was unable to give flaws to any characters (yay Mary Sue!) but over the past 10 years I've finally gotten over that and learned to see flaws as a massive strength for a story. Flaws are one of the coolest plot devices out there in my humble opinion!

  • @josey I agree! And they're so much fun to play around with, especially when you get around to relationship building. It can be the point of drama, progress, comedy, and lots of other things.

    I do the same thing, though - I pretty much have a life story for each of my characters, especially the important ones. I feel like if I don't have that foundation, I can't really claim to know them, y'know? And then it just throws off a lot of my writing, because for everything they do, I'm always asking, "Why? Where did it come from?"

  • Like @Josey, I've not really given a load of thought to my character habits until now, but it is indeed an interesting topic.
    I don't know if this is a bad habit with my characters, exactly, but a lot of the time my characters come from various background types and multiple cultures/nationalities/ethnicities, perhaps to the point where I give myself far too much research to do and overcomplicate the character. Eg. As of writing this, Jake and Jenna are English/Greek, Shaan is English/Somali/Turkish, Fallon is Scottish/Irish, Izzy is English/Ghanaian, and Alex is English/Nordic. It's a smaller part of a bigger habit I've noticed, where I tend to not really figure out motivations and other really important things to a character aside from strengths and flaws until later, and instead almost hyperfocus on how they look and their general 'aesthetic'. It's a habit I'm trying to stamp out or at least tame to some degree x3

    As for inspiration, it's hard to say. I think the best answer I can give is that I've gotten inspiration from everywhere, although honestly I think most people can agree with me on that :3

  • Good question. I have no idea lol.

    A lot of the time habits exist without me trying to hard to think about them, they just come with the character as I start to form them in my head, or I slap them on when I think it may cause an interesting point of contention in a relationship or just make for an interesting point for a character in general.

    I will say that I don't usually think too hard about the flaws. Whenever I try to assign one to characters before I start writing it, they never really follow it, whereas if I've already been working with them and I've got an idea of their relationships and personalities, I can slap a random flaw or bad habit on that they actually follow.

  • I have a fondness for quirks and phobias-I used to hang around a community center where a lot of troubled kids would come to spend their days after school, and I got to know a lot of them and found the most interesting phobias and quirks that I didn't know existed.. I've found drinking and smoking can be a useful bad habit if it's treated properly and you show the tolls the characters pay for using such things. I don't like the idea of putting unhealthy things in a good light, but I also don't want to not write about something just because it's not considered "healthy". People do unhealthy things all the time, so it wouldn't be realistic to ignore something completely. Most of my family smokes and my oldest brother is currently in jail serving a short sentence for B&E and for possession of heroin, so I have plenty of material to draw from there. My mother is a recovering alcoholic, so I've also seen the dark side of that personally. I suppose seeing things in my life personally make me want to write about them to shine a light on them.

    As for flaws I noticed I like people having short tempers or being overly meek, or perhaps being oblivious to the world around them due to absorption in their own mind.

    To be honest I've always been a people-watcher. I like observing people around me and dissecting their habits and little tendencies. I think it helps me build better, more believable characters.

    I like varying up my bad habits, though, so I keep a list handy of flaws, habits, and phobias and whenever I give a character that habit I put their name next to it so I can keep track of who all have similar habits and how many times I've used a certain one

  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    See, the fact that I end up with almost complete backstories actually makes things a little difficult for me. I end up not writing what I set out to write. lol

    But you're absolutely bang on @Chickamau. Those flaws allow for fantastic interactions, not just with other characters but also with the world you're writing in.

    Wow @Shy_Not_Fly17! When I character create, I get a little like you. I actually spend a lot of time making sure I understand any culture I am writing in, or go full on culture creation if I am writing a fantasy, or sci-fi type story. Glad to see I'm not alone there! :D

    Ah, but do you have any habits you find yourself doing during character creation @typical_demigod and @Obsidi0nAngel ? :D

  • @josey most definitely. Like, I have this bad habit of killing off at least one if not both parents, or if they are alive there's some shitty aspect there(pardon my language).

    It's something I've tried to remedy by doing dice-rolling with lists. Sabine got two happy, alive, supportive parents mostly because I realized I had issues lmao, but everyone else, if they need parents, I roll dice and check the list for the outcome. So far it's been pretty good for randomizing that. I have the list split equally between good and bad traits and mixed up, and I do heads/tails for if parents are alive/dead. Helps me some.

    Also...during character creation I tend to also go ham and then change things later. It's ridiculous how much I've tweaked Sabine's backstory to fit better and seem more natural.My need to write something tragic in my MC's lives that while, it doesn't make them gloomy or angsty, affects them, is like a curse. I don't want to make things overly sad or angsty but as far as I've known in life most people have had something sad or even kinda bad happen to them at one point or another. Not everyone, and the younger they are the less likely it was anything severe or even that it had happened yet, but everyone goes through hardships and while I don't want the characters to be all about them I want them to have character and depth.

    Actually, my fear of making unrealistic/angsty/annoying characters is my biggest issue, because it makes me change everything so much to the point it's not even what I wanted to do before, and sometimes I have a less interesting character for it. So yeah XD

  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    @obsidi0nangel Omg. I do that to. That whole parent dead, or family member dead, or something. I wonder if I am coping out or if I just feel it's so traumatic that it helps inspire the type of characters I like to write about.

  • @josey I'm sure it says something unfortunate about me that I put my characters through such horrible things XD but I don't like to make them dwell on them unless it was quite recent or unless some painful remind comes up.

    I don't know about yours, but in Czarbuckz and I's world it's a hell of a lot likelier a family member has died. What with all the magical beasties not to mention the untamed wilds filled with possible dangers like bandits, fairy creatures, and the like things that'll kill you. So I suppose that's why I made the alive/dead thing H/T instead of something with odds more in favor of being alive. It's a beautiful world, but a dangerous one.

    As for coping out, well, as long as you're writing the characters dealing with said issue I don't think it's coping out. Trauma is just as valid a plot point as familial relations.Sometimes the two interlock.

  • I'm a planner at heart, and years before I ever managed to write a novel-length work -- a decade or more before I even attempted such a thing, actually -- I spent considerable time debating the best way to define characters. In the end, I concluded the best way to define a character was in story.

    As I've learned to hold the reigns lighter, that evolved in to "they're defined by what they do in the first draft." That's not always the best choice, though, because then you can look at a scene and be like, "Is that in character? I think that's in character. Isn't it?"

    So, I've grudgingly accepted that I need a little more character definition. It's not that the story needs it, but that I need it for when I'm performing the editing process. But my outlines themselves are pretty light-weight these days. (Bordering on "plantser" level of light-weight.) I have no time for complex character definitions.

    What do I have time for? A good old-fashioned "Dramatis personæ". Stage-plays and musicals have had to deal with concise character definitions for centuries. You get some that are just a list of names, sure, but you also get others that are one-line character definitions leveraging the shorthand of tropes.

    If we're talking about succinct language, "Evil Matriarch" or "Chosen One" are both succinct and convey clear base-line ideas for a character. Simple tropes are boring, sure, but "Evil matriarch with a hambone bludgeon." shows how you don't need to add much extra to turn a stock character in to something delicious. Further details of the character will come up in in the story as needed.

    I'm left with the conclusion that a color-coded cast is really about the same thing. If you have a group of heros, why would Sally respond differently than Molly? If two characters would respond the same, why not simplify things and make them a single character? The first draft doesn't matter, but how can you verify the right person said/did something while revising? Color-coding their personalities -- even when it doesn't impact their clothing -- means you're explicit about the perspectives of the characters. It makes it easier to go, "she totally wouldn't do that" -- even when the character's defined with just a few lines outside of the story.

    This, of course, is a long way to say that my character's flaws tend to show up based upon the needs of the story.

    In my NaNoWriMo story from this past November, I had a character who had been fairly minor go strangely logical when presented with stress and the prospect of physical violence. It was later that I remembered I once defined the character as "The Spock." Being logical might be helpful at times, but clarifying with potential attackers why they're attacking you so you can file a police report properly when it is over is turning that advantage in to a weakness.

    That's the thing, though. When a person's only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. People use the skills they're comfortable with, the ones they know best. Treating a situation like a problem you have the skills to manage comfortably is almost everyone's first response. Hulk says, "Can I smash it?" Spock says, "Can I understand it?" Both of these are assets. Both of these are flaws.

    If you know how your character's greatest strength is also their greatest flaw, it can help add depth while not requiring a particularly long or complex backstory. It may be depth-of-trait and not true depth-of-character, but given two or more of these deep traits and the character is as much defined by the space between them as the traits themselves.

    That's my perspective on the matter, at least. I'm very focused on anything that helps me stop planning and start writing. I need a plan, a map to reach my destination in a timely manner, sure, but the key is getting one that is as simple as possible to meet that goal.

  • I kinda have the same parent-issue as @Obsidi0nAngel. I've tried to improve upon that more recently so that there's a wider variety of parental figure-types in story, even if not everyone is graced with the luck of decent parents.

    Another habit I have, which I guess isn't necessarily bad, has to do with relationships. Usually, when a story starts, any romantic relationships that are supposed to exist, already exist. That is, I don't usually write X and Y into a relationship as the story progresses. When the story starts, X and Y are usually already in a committed relationship. Because it's easier for me. :|

    My worst habit is probably that I jump into a story without preparing properly for whatever I need to prepare for and then the story ends up gathering dust because I don't know whatever I need to know to keep moving forward. (It usually expounds as I write into several things I need to know to keep moving forward and then I have too many places to start to actually start.)

  • @typical_demigod said in Bad Habits:

    My worst habit is probably that I jump into a story without preparing properly for whatever I need to prepare for and then the story ends up gathering dust because I don't know whatever I need to know to keep moving forward. (It usually expounds as I write into several things I need to know to keep moving forward and then I have too many places to start to actually start.)

    Are you a discovery writer? ("pantser") Because you sound like a discovery writer. ;)

    Have you heard of The Snowflake Method?

    It's a method for planning stories. It focuses on iterative development. It's a good process to know about, even if you don't use it.

    Step 1 is a "one-sentence summary" -- I find these super handy when deciding whether to work on Project X or Project Y.

    Step 2 is "expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major disasters, and ending of the novel." Personally, I was never a fond of a "paragraph" form and moved straight to an outline, but that's me.

    Consider knowing this second step before you start writing. It's like a road trip. You don't need to know the rest stops you'll be taking. You don't even need to know all the roads you'll be taking. You do, however, need to generally know the direction you're heading so you don't end up staring at a ball of twine when you wanted to see a coast.

    Structurally, you would know the beginning, the major plot points, and the ending. Are you writing a 80,000 word novel? Aim the transitions at the expected spots (~25%, 50%, 75% of the story) and you'll have a complete story at the expected size.

    While I am not a pantser, I've known pantsers to successfully use this approach to write cohesive stories during NaNoWriMo.

  • @yam655 I phrased that badly; I meant in terms of things needing researched. My bad :/

    Personally I'm more of a plantser. When I sit down to start a story, I usually know how I want it to end, and might have a couple of major plot points in mind. When I outline, I build up to each major plot point in mind and it helps me brainstorm what I want and how I want to get there.

    (For my current story, I'm not doing an outline beyond a couple chapters ahead of whichever one I'm writing, but basing it off an unfinished manuscript + I know (for the most part) what ending I'm building towards.)

    I've never done the Snowflake Method, though I read through it a few years ago. At that time I was mildly confused by it and just found my own way to outline. It's kind of haphazard and varying levels of detailed, but historically, it's worked out for me.

    I love making one sentence descriptions of my stories though. It's fun to condense a plot into something tiny XD (The one time I had an opportunity to use one of these, though, I totally forgot it. Oops. :P)

  • @typical_demigod I identify as a plantser, too, at this point.

    I like to remember that the only measure of whether a process works or not is whether it produces finished stories. If it produces finished stories, it works. Period. It is the measure for whether the process works. There is nothing else.

    Now, can a process be improved? Only the author can say. Unless an author asks for help, all outside parties can politely sit down and remain quiet. ;)

    My preferred method of dealing with research:

    1. Research things I know I'll need before the first draft.
    2. Do the first draft.
      • When issues come up, pretend my preferred approach is viable.
      • Wave hands, as needed.
    3. Do additional research between the first and second drafts.

    This approach leverages the fact that I know I'm going to heavily lean towards whatever facts I have available that make my preferred approach work. If I accept this when I start, I can draft the scene I want and worry about rationalizing it with facts later.

    This process also works with my general writing advice: When in doubt, sprint. When a scene gives you trouble, write faster. If it still gives you trouble, accept that you will be writing crap that will be rewritten and write it even faster, still.

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