Friday, April 22, 2011

The Don'ts of Character Creation

So last time, I dealt with should be done when creating characters.  Today, things that should be avoided.  I'm also going to issues the Zeroth Rule of Character Creation.

0.)  If you can get away with it, ignore all of this.  It may sound odd in a list of things that shouldn't be done to say "ignore this," but there are times when creativity demands it.  Sometimes it just fits and feels right, and other times it simply makes the statement the story demands.  If it works, do it, but be warned that it doesn't always.  Which brings us to the first don't.

1.)  Don't ignore these rules simply because they can be ignored.  Every choice in a character's design MUST be justified by more than "it's my character, I'll do what I want."  Otherwise the character will come out as shallow as their creator.  If the design simply violates these rules simply because, then the character is a joke by design and will be ridiculed as such.

2.)  Avoid basing the character design on a single physical trait.  Specifically things like race, gender and sexual orientation.  Characters should always built as characters first, then given that major trait.  It should never define the character, how they react or whatever.  Starting with these traits often means building on a set of stereotypes, or even a distorted version of those stereotypes.  Homosexuals will be flaming gay, women will act like little girls and black characters will be gangstas, few of which are true in real life and will make the characters seem shallow and uninteresting.  Also, don't just put these traits on them to make a group of character politically correct.  It won't help and will be very obvious.

3.)  Don't settle for single ideas for a character.  The funny one, the smart one, the stupid one, the pretty one, etc, etc.  These are good STARTING points, but should never be the final definition of them.  They are handy during initial creation, giving a general tone to each character, but go beyond them.  Settling for these simple ideas is a sign of laziness.

4.)  Don't reuse body/head types and just change the hair.  Okay, there are exceptions here, like if the art style limits it, but given that webcomics are a visual medium, USE IT!  Simply swapping out hair between characters that would all be the same otherwise is lazy.  Make every effort to make the character designs unique.

5.)  No unrealistic relationships.  I'm not talking about romantic relationships, I'm talking generational relationships.  Sometimes having the villain be the father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roomate just doesn't work.  Relationships between family members is even more difficult to regulate than friendships, and need to be considered very, VERY carefully before implementing major changes.  Don't just do it for the shock value, the results will be confusion and disappointment.

6.)  Don't make the character perfect. Welcome to the Mary Sue section of this list.  A Mary Sue is a character that is "perfect."  They're never wrong, even when it seems they're wrong, they are loved by everyone, even their enemies.  They are exceptionally humble, to the point of ridiculousness, and the universe bends over backward to make sure it goes they way they want.  And the real scary part?  EVERYONE has made one, often more than one.  I know I have.  It's hard to avoid.  The old adage of everyone being the hero of their own story transfers easily into fiction, and everyone who creates fiction, creates themselves first.  Removing perfection is very, VERY hard, and requires a great deal of sacrifice and thought.  There are no right answers for doing it either.  Hard choices must be made, but the story will often be better in the end.

7.)  Don't make the character completely imperfect.  This is the opposite problem from the Mary Sue, and often the over reaction to being called out for creating one.  The result is a character who can't do anything right, is hated by everyone etc, etc.  A character with SOME flaws is good, one with ALL flaws is bad.  Redeeming qualities need to be natural though, so don't just tack them on.

8.)  Don't make a cast of jerks.  We all know what a jerk is, and a cast of them is a big no-no.  The reader needs someone to cheer for, and a cast of jerks fails there.  Yes, there can a couple of jerks, but a full cast of them is a bad move and will lead to a failed comic.  It should be noted that often the best character can be a jerk, but it takes a lot of skill and practice to do it right, and the rest of the cast must be decidedly not jerks to pull it off.

There are more, of course, not that I can think of them all at once.  It's better to stick with the do list more than the don't list, because there's more flexibility there.  Next time, I'm going to try to cover a more interesting dynamic that characters have.  Maybe.  We'll see, next time kiddies.

No comments:

Post a Comment