Creating People AMA - Writing characters that feel, act, and react as people.

Virgil Allen Moore
May 30, 2018

Have you ever wondered how to come up with a good character for your story? What makes a good character? What traits should you give them to stand out as a protagonist? Should them be young, old, short, tall, or green? What are the things you should think about when thinking about them? What should your readers think about them? I'll be covering all that and allowing everyone to Ask Me Anything on the subject. Anything from your specific ideas to what should you add or subtract from a character concept. 

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Do you ever find it difficult to write within those strict guidelines and yet stay true to your creative vision?
Jun 5, 12:27AM EDT0
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your characters?
Jun 4, 2:54PM EDT0
What is the greatest change in romance publishing that you have seen since you began writing?
Jun 4, 12:18AM EDT0

I have to admit a bit of defeat when it comes to this question. Or at least a substantial about of negligence. I haven't kept up with romance publishing as a whole for about six years. 

However, when it comes to vampire romance. I'd say that the biggest change has been Twilight and the Fifty Shades of Grey that it spawned. Thin vampire romance used to be laughed at instead of sold in mass paperback. It was an eye-opener to read the likes of Amanda Hocking and ask myself when the plot was going to show up.  But that's how it usually is. If you immerse yourself in something, you can be over critical of it very easily.  I'm sure everyone has thought out loud and said that they'd love to have the ear of a producer that made a predictable vampire film.  It can be painful to see a poor idea made into a well-promoted movie or show. And I must admit that I've always wanted to have the ear of a Manga Artist or Director to give them a few things to think about producing. But so far, that hasn't happened.

Jun 4, 10:16AM EDT0
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say about your characters?
Jun 3, 9:51PM EDT0

I have three dire hard fans named Kathy, Nora, and Amy that have always stuck with me in my times of review need. They've been a great help and I wouldn't have made certain changes to my book if it weren't for them. Kathy even helped set up one of my book signing events in Deleware. I have awesome fans.

Of course I do get questions and suggestions from readers, but usually, they're single Q & A sessions. As a consensus, everyone loves Demetrius Del Marin. That's the biggest single response I usually get. outside of that, most ask about Kyli's attitude towards Zack. I usually have to explain what a Tsundere is and that explains it all.

Jun 4, 10:00AM EDT0
How difficult is it to write characters from the opposite sex? How do you get into the mind of someone who may have different views from you?
Jun 3, 6:19AM EDT0

It depends on the character. If I've had the time to go through the "interview" process of meeting my character, then their gender doesn't matter. But if it's a generic background character, yes, I have a hard time writing their action and dialogue. I find myself defaulting to a valley-girl from the movie Clueless and just substituting one-liners from Silverstone when needed. But thankfully, I don't usually have one off background characters that I don't know anything about.

  The "interview" is my main tool in tackling that. It tells me everything I need to know about the character to a point where I can see things from their perspective and could easily argue with myself with them being the other person.

For greater detail on that interview process, read below to a question asked by Nunnally. 

Jun 4, 9:46AM EDT0
What has been the best character ever written in your opinion either by you or another author and why?
Jun 2, 10:17PM EDT0

Normally, I'd have to say LeStat, by Anne Rice, but that's too easy of a thought for your answer.

There's a book titled Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton. In it, the main character is a screw-up kid. One day his older badass brother comes back into town and everyone talks about all the stuff the brother did when he was the kid's age. There is a scene that I will always remember. One night the main character gets drunk and has to be picked up off the floor by his friend and the older brother. On the way home, he offers his brother a drink and is refused. He asks why and the older brother replies, "I like control." Or at least something that effect. It was a powerful line that stuck with me throughout my life. It displayed a resolve of choice of will that was absolute and unyielding. I never remembered that character's name, just the awesomeness of that line and the way it made me feel as a reader when I came across it. 

Jun 4, 9:37AM EDT0
Have you ever struggled with the ending of a certain character?
Jun 2, 7:34PM EDT0

Yes, I have. In one of my short novels, I had a vampire character named Eada fall for a human man that didn't believe what she was. I enjoyed their interactions and the conversations they had. When the book was about to end, I realized that both characters wouldn't be involved in my main story for a long time. It was a somber moment that made me think of them as people I knew and not as just fiction. 

Jun 4, 9:18AM EDT0
What makes a character a good villian? Can you write a villian character that people end up liking? How can it be done?
Jun 2, 6:29PM EDT0

I believe that ErikOcaya below asked a similar question and that I may have already answered your question in answering his. 

With that said; A relatable goal; yes; and read below.

Last edited @ Jun 4, 9:12AM EDT.
Jun 4, 9:07AM EDT0

What is your opinion of writing a story from the perspective of the first person (main character) as opposed to the third person as a means of capturing (and holding) the readers attention?

Last edited @ May 31, 7:16PM EDT.
May 31, 7:02PM EDT0

I started writing in the first person originally and quickly found out two things. It's really hard to stay in the first person and it limits the events you are able to narrate.

However, I will admit that a great example of it done well is in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. Several of his books are written in the first person and when he switches to another scene, the character narration changes. It's a beautiful solution to the issue. On the other more pressing problem of remaining in character narration, the words "I said" can get repetitive very quickly. It can be an eyesore to the reader and a turn off constantly reading what the character is thinking about when they view the world around that. One of the advantages of the third person is the fact you can hide things from your characters while still writing about them to the reader.  The third person allows for easier flow of a story. And a hybrid of the two can be accomplished by changing a chapter to switch from direct narration to the third person to describe an event from another perspective.

Jun 4, 9:03AM EDT0
Are antagonists characters antiheroes or are the latter another type of character?
May 31, 6:09PM EDT0

Antagonists are the characters that spur the progression and goals of your protagonist main character. Antagonists can be antiheroes, but if your antihero is your main character, they can't be the antagonist of your story. 

Antiheroes are the characters that undermind the normal idea of a superman or white knight hero as a protector on the right side of the law. An antihero will usually have several vices that are against what a normal hero would do, say, or think. The character Hancock in the movie of the same name is a perfecter example of this. He's an asshole, but he does the right thing overall by saving people. And then turns around and knocks a kid that was irritating him into the clouds. 

Sometimes an antagonist can be a place. In the movie Castaway, the environment of the island is the antagonist, inflicting hardship on the main character. In Rambo, it's everyone that isn't Rambo for nearly all of those movies. And in the Sandlot, it's the dog and in some ways the fence itself.

I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. I'm glad to help.

Jun 4, 8:47AM EDT0
What type of characters are your favorites to write? Antagonists, villains or main characters?
May 31, 3:53PM EDT0

I love to write characters with overpowering bravado. Most of the time they end up being the main character, however, they can end up being villains as well.

For example, I have had a character in a game of Dungeons and Dragons that started off as a noble elven wizard. He was just and stern and desired magical knowledge above personal attachments. Naturally, he became the face of the group. He was very sure of himself and his actions. Often burying his enemies only to salt the earth where they lay. He stood up for the mistreated, and develped a community outreach program for the local villiages to build and provide training for the poor. And eventually he was asked to become a champoin in a tournament to gain a wish to resurrect a young halfling boy. He gladly accepted. And in the course of one evening, he was made to drink a wine that suppressed his arcane magic for five hours. A complete total of only five hours. In an outrage, he took the rest of his party, left the teritory. Through the course of a year in game and in reality, he eventually fought in that same tournament and used that wish to erraticate the substance used to surpress his magic. Which distabled the ecomomy, caused an uprising in that kingdom, and as a final measure of insult he pinned an evil deed on their rulers. All this, because they took away his magic for five hours. But in his eyes, the transgression fairly punished.

A good character that can do bad things is something I enjoy writing. So to classify them as only one, wouldn't feel right to me. It's only when a character can transition themselves into another role that I can truly enjoy them as a person.

May 31, 6:29PM EDT0
How hard is it to make a charismatic and interesting character?
May 31, 12:18PM EDT0

Not incredibly hard. However, it does depend on your narration. If you tend to describe every small detail, then that will be a difficult task. As you will have to actually come up with many examples of clever actions for your character to take. If your character is a genius at math, then having them solve a real math equation is a good way to show this to the reader. 

On the other hand, if you tend to gloss over small details. This should be as easy as writing that the character simply walked into a midterm test with 200 questions and 15 minutes later they walked out after handing the paper to the teacher with a large "A" already written on it. 

Also having other characters comment on the cool, awesome, and bold things the main character has done is another great way to do it. If the other characters in your story are swooning over the actions of your main character, then all you as a writer need to do is have the main character show a small example to back all those other feelings from the other characters up. Reinforcement can help a long way in reminding the reader of what you want them to think without actually telling them what to think. Remember that having your character be a badass is having them act like a badass, not telling the reader that they're a badass. I want to quote the old adage "show, don't tell," but I have never liked the way that sounds.  I like to think of it as, "write actions, not backstories." Even in a flashback, actions define the way a character looks and feels to the reader. Never tell them how they should feel, and you should be able to write a pretty interesting character.

May 31, 2:00PM EDT0
If you could have written one character created by another author, who would it be and why?
May 31, 10:49AM EDT0

I can honestly say that no one has ever asked me such a question. Thank you for making me think on this one.

There is a book that I read as a teenager titled "The New Girl" by R. L. Stine. It was short for a novel and it wasn't that impressive overall with its twists and delivery. But the main antagonist and love interest Anna was purely haunting to read about. That character gave me a goal to have a character strive for. In this case, the story needed a mysterious unknown that was able to draw the protagonist and the reader into wanting to know more. The character was the plot device and I loved that about the book and the character as a whole. There is an elegance to having a character serve a perfect place in a story. It's something that I admire and constantly strive for. I would have loved to have come up with the idea for her, but I'll gladly settle for learning by example. 

May 31, 1:44PM EDT0
What is the worst mistake a writer cam make when developing characters?
May 31, 9:29AM EDT0

Not considering the character's feelings as if they were a real person.

To make your character believable, they need to sound and read believably according to how you've presented them in your story. A strong-willed woman that sees her boyfriend cheating on him isn't going to break down into a depression and not know what to do for the rest of her life.  If the story thus far presented her as capable and intelligent, then it stands to reason that she would be able to deal with the situation in a reasonable and smart way.  

The same error can be said for a character that always screws things up in life and then suddenly has perfect luck. That doesn't happen outside of a RomCom. The character needs to learn something that changes the way they act or think to justify the good outcomes. Having them essentially receive a training montage goes a long way in this. If the reader can understand why something has changed without you writing it, then the world will continue to turn and hopefully, the pages will as well. 

May 31, 1:26PM EDT0
What attracted you to write vampire characters? What do you think makes them so popular with the YA readers?
May 25, 3:43AM EDT0

I grew up on Anne Rice and love the world she created. Monsters can be a powerful story device if viewed with human emotions. Power, endless life, and forbidden vices are of course the icing on the cake.

Since vampires tend to be emotionally charged, Young Adult readers can easily see them as a proxy. Reading about how LeStat rebels against his world and builds a vampire rock band is a fun way to live vicariously through another. Even if they are a fictional character, what the reader feels when they read is real to them.

May 28, 2:51PM EDT0

What is it that makes a good villain?

May 25, 12:25AM EDT0

Goals that if taken out of context can be highly relatable to the reader.

The idea of "I want to bring peace on Earth and goodwill towards men" could be taken to a vile extreme by wanting to take over the planet and install a male-dominated slave society.  A beautiful goal that everyone can relate to can always be Hitler-ed into a perverse and dark series of events.

Besides having your villain kill Bambi's mother as a shock and awe plot point. There's the idea that they did everything for a better overarching reason. In the hunter's world, deer could be destroying the ecosystem and need to be dispatched. Or the hunter's family could be on the edge of starvation with only one bullet left. Turning Bambi's mother into a much-needed solution to a dire situation.

This is why the questions that you ask every other character in your story also need to be applied to your antagonist. Knowing them will help you find out why they want to stop the protagonist and why they are not on the protagonist's side. It's perspective most of the time, but it can also be skill sets as well. Someone really good at coming up with doomsday devices wants to change that world for the better, they're not going to run for office locally and join the Rotary Club. They'll use the skills they have to accomplish their goals. The separation in this could be that your protagonist wants the same thing as your antagonist, but since their skill sets are so different, it divides them on their views of how to achieve that goal. 

May 28, 2:43PM EDT0

How do you build the back-story of a character? How do you decide on what their background should be? Is that something you go into a book knowing or do you develop it through the course of writing?

May 24, 11:00PM EDT0

I love your questions. Thank you for asking several.

Flashbacks are key to how I like to convey what happened in the past. It's a way to show more than tell and it helps me to define that character's actions and who they have known in the past.

I decide on what happened to them after I "ask" them who they are. In the previous series of questions I mentioned a response to Nunnally, you should refer to that question down below for greater detail on this part. Beyond that, having them "answer" where they grew up?  If they knew their neighbors? Or if they had a pet when they were younger helps determine their background.

I almost always know the character and all that happened to them before page one is written. With one exception being my main characters. I tend to leave them with only a goal and a mindset on how to accomplish that goal. Whereas the other characters in the book will be heavily researched and "interviewed" as it were. I do enjoy the journey of the main character as a writer and that is why I leave some of their elements unknown until the last moments. 

May 28, 2:26PM EDT0

How do you know it is the right time in a book to change the character's behaviour or view on a certain issue without making it forced or rushed?

May 24, 9:15PM EDT0

It depends on the stimulus. If your character has been well defined up to that point, you will know how they will react to anything thrown at them. Think of an event in your childhood that changed the way you thought about something. The idea of a child that "kissing is bad and leads to cooties" later develops into "kissing is good and leads to other bases." The perspective of the child is betrayed by the perspective of the now adult. The same thing can happen as a soldier that experiences a traumatic event. A calm and collected individual might develop nervous ticks and be prone to fear a certain type of sound the rest of their life. It's the same with characters. If you introduce something that will change the way your character behaves, then your character will behave differently. However, if your character isn't phased by what you introduce them to, they have no reason to behave differently and therefore any change would look out of place and forced. Let the character decide what they would freak out or change over, not your writing. 

May 28, 2:11PM EDT0

What has been the most difficult character for you to develop and why?

May 24, 7:19PM EDT0

My main character, Zack Giver. I've always used him as a stand-in for myself and the reader. As such I've always had trouble defining him as a person. Every other character has a well-developed timeline and personality. However, I've found myself changing Zack from time to time and inevitably rewriting him. It was only in my current version of the book that I was able to flesh him out as a stoic tragedy that ends up losing everything to time and having to piece it back together again. 

May 28, 1:58PM EDT0
What would make you cut a character out of a book you are writing?
May 24, 6:13PM EDT0

Their placement in a timeline of events. I had to cut a character named Orhn out of the current version of Demon Vampire entirely because of when he should encounter my main character, Zack.

Also, if a character doesn't help another character show something about them, I tend to cut that character. However, I like to write character-driven stories and that rule only applies to those types of stories. With plot-driven stories, a character could be useful to establish the mood of a scene. But usually, I tend to use adjectives provided by narration for that. 

May 28, 1:53PM EDT0
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