Comic Talk and General Discussion *

What makes a well written or poorly written character?
bravo1102 at 8:52AM, March 24, 2015
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I don't like passive characters but I like characters that struggle with what to do for long periods of time.  They seem passive when they are just in a situation that they don't know how to deal with.

AND as someone who has been in amazingly stressful situation there is NOTHING such as “Too glib” It is called gallows humor.  The rush of adrenelin for some of us allows a flow of one liners because you are so scared. If a writer can portray that feeling of living all your life in a handful of minutes then the glibness becomes believable. If not then it does fail and come off as forced and silly and too glib.

The guy with the blank stare, the shaking hands and funny string of one liners is a real person. Portraying that is hard because not a lot of people have been there. How do you show the longest three seconds of one's life?  It comes back to the writer again.  It can be most easily done in film with good direction and cinematography like the first half hour of Saving Private Ryan.  That scene wasn't in real time. All that probably only happened in ten minutes (If that) of real time.
Genejoke at 11:44AM, March 24, 2015
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KimLuster wrote:
Genejoke mentions that Batman under Grant Morrison was ‘uninteresting’ - I've never read that but I suppose I'm one of the few unwashed heathens that's not impressed with Christopher Nolan's Batman, esp. in movies 2 & 3.  
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(*mild spoilers*) Joker steals Batman's thunder so many times.  Batman can't decide if the people of Gotham are strong or weak-willed.  He lauds them for not giving in to Joker's game in the Ferry-Bomb-Standoff but then doesn't trust them to handle the truth about Harvey Dent (they have to believe a lie to have hope!).  And in Dark Knight Rises I can't shake the feeling the Gotham would've never been taken hostage, never suffered so much death and destruction, if Batman never existed to begin with - the City suffered because of Batman much worse in comparison to how much he ever helped them…  Batman should've flown off with that bomb and gone out with it!
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Yeah I'm sure I'm missing all the subtle nuances that make this the greatest Batman ever *shrug*
Funny you should say that.  I think batman begins is the best of the 3 as there is more character to bruce wayne/batman.  And lets be honest, he isn't that interesting a character anyway. he is too good, the best martial artist in the world… ever. the greatest detetive on the planet… ever…  he is rich and has a tragic past and shags lots of women.  Not that interesting, but there are some fantastic stories written about him. Go figure.
as for dark knight and dark knight rises..  TDK was a good crime flick with batman added in with a great villain.  TDKR…  meh! is all I have to say.  
tupapayon at 7:28PM, March 24, 2015
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Hey! Who's dissing Batman… XD…  I find hard to think iof the badly written characters, because i just tend to dismiss and forget… bur=t as mentioned before, it all comes to the writter… I love James Bond, but some versions of him (usually by Roger Moore, and Daniel Craig, but not always) are not as good, but that's just my personal judgment and opinion. Genejoke already mentioned one I was thinking about: Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings. From the same series i kind off disliked Frodo. Being judgmental is hard work… i loved that story, I understood his strugle, but I just wanted him to just die and let Sam complete the quest… again, my personal POV… And still we haven't actually answer the question; What makes a well written or poor written character? (besides the writer, of course)….
the_beav at 12:07AM, March 25, 2015
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I think batman is a batly written character.
Does the character succinctly fulfill its purpose in the narrative? Is the purpose of that character integral to the plot? Is the plot sound? I think these are the fundamental questions we must ask of our characters. A character that is a blank slate can effectively be strung along by a series of interesting events or obstacles; conversely, a well developed character can be mired down by a series of uninteresting events. Then it comes down to how they treat their obstacles: how do they approach, how do they react, how do they overcome?
One test for a good character is to ask what adjectives describe that character…
Let's take Paul Atreides: noble, intuitive, understanding, observant, obdurate.
Why is Paul a good character? Because the book is about subtext. All the supporting characters have an overt voice and a covert voice. The main character needs to see, rather “feel,”  through their illusions. It's also a hippy book so anything “feeling,” “sensing,” “emoting,” is good to go.
Skibby-Doo-wah Bahp-doo-wah-skah! A shiggy diggy doo way skiddly doo wop bah wah skah! a-huh-a-huh-ahuh-hoo-wah~! cha-cha-cha!
last edited on March 25, 2015 12:10AM
bravo1102 at 12:31AM, March 25, 2015
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There all kinds good exercises to test your characters besides filling up pages with character traits. 

There are interviews or discussions with your characters. There is merely asking the character why does he/she feel or think that way?  Everyone has reasons why they are who they are, but they don't necessarily have to be aware of them. You could psychoanalyze them or simply jot down all the reasons why.  And yes they can be totally random if that randomness is a trait of the character. (see Lon the Grey Guy in Tales of SIG)

I was once told that a good way to desing a minor character is to pick the one trait that defines them in the story. The one thing that makes them matter or be memorable in the story. In Tales of SIG Rickover is a sexist rake that uses women. Yeoman Grace is defined by an earnest openness. It can be just a simple phrase that defines them in the world of the story.

A lot of times this can be the starting point for creatng that more developed character.
 
Who is this person and why should I care about what they do?  Answer those questions and get the reader to care about what the answers are. Those answers can work in many different ways in the context of different stories. There is no one answer. It's a process. It is a process of creation as well as one of convincing the audience that they should continue reading.
strixvanallen at 12:14PM, March 25, 2015
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I guess I'm a little late for the train? Life's busy these days. xD
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I'm reading the answers and getting a little worried. Am I the only one that only worries about giving the characters… a life? I'm like a mother with my characters and I will lovingly craft their lives from the craddle, deciding what is part of their personalities since they were born, what became part of it because of the life they had and what is just a social mask. More often than not, I even go as far as giving them some past incarnations. Y'know, for characterization. Not for any obsessive need for detail, noooo sir.
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My take on well-written characters is that they aren't symbols, they aren't devices, they don't have to prove anything nor they have to be models for the audience, or people that the audience should identify with or whatever. They are people (in the context of the story, that is). They do what people do. If they are convincing enough as people, human empathy will make them relatable.
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(Just to be clear, I don't have anything against characters who are supposed to be personifications of ideas - heck, I run a comic with personifications - but those characters aren't supposed to be relatable by themselves. These are the ones who are supposed to be devices, like animals in a fable. The thing is, when someone talks about well written characters, those aren't the type that pop in your mind.)
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Everything else about characters comes to what kind of people you like: if you don't like hot-headed people in the real life, chances are that you won't like hot-headed characters, it doesn't matter how well written they are. Personally, I don't like characters that whine and mope too much about their tragic problems (especially when they aren't thaaaat tragic), even when this character is Hamlet, but that's because I don't like to see people doing it in real life. I'll let them do it for a while, becaue everyone needs some mourning time, but if that goes on and on, it's intervention time instead.
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And then, there are those characters that are all flawed and boring and/or plainly evil and people love them, since they get their way despite their flaws and even their downfall is portrayed a tragic and glorious. Why we feel ourselves represented in those characters and their fates can fill whole psychologic treaties.
last edited on March 25, 2015 6:09PM
strixvanallen at 12:30PM, March 25, 2015
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I mean, I read all the discussion about Batman and the Joker and that's something that always baffled me when I was younger and with less reading in psychology. Every time I see the Joker, my first impulse is “someone gets this guy PUMPED with antipsychotics and treat him until he can get a happy and functional life, PLEASE”, not a “what delightful interesting atrocity will he do next?”. Why would people even like him to stay all broken as he is for their amusement?
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That is simply a reflection of my outlook in life: I don't believe that people can see irredeemable monsters, it doesn't matter how much they had already fallen. I don't think that some people have to be killed because they are so dangerous that they shouldn't be alive. Sure, redemption for some people can take more time than we have in a human life, but that's why reincarnation is there.
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I also can see - at this point of my life - why some people like him. Some people may like the Joker because they see him as a nod to their belief that there are men who are so twisted that they become real monsters, some people may like him because he breaks the law for the hell of it with very little consequence (I mean, his stays in Arkham Asylum look more like vacations than anything else), and there are lots and lots of other reasons to like him.
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My point is, depending on the comic writer, the Batman and the Joker can be well written characters or not, but it has anything to do with the fact that you like them or not, because it's highly subjective (and a list of favourite characters can be very telling about someone's beliefs, if you know the person at least superficially). I guess a good question to ask ourselves to make sure if a character is well written or not is “is there people like this out there or is it just a gross caricature of a human being?”.
last edited on March 25, 2015 6:10PM
KimLuster at 1:27PM, March 25, 2015
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strixvanallen wrote:
… I guess a good question to ask ourselves to make sure if a character is well written or not is “is there people like this out there or is it just a gross caricature of a human being?”.
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 After reading your posts I had to stop and think for a sec…  At how hard it is to define things like ‘a good character’…  
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It seems, despite any combination of names, attributes, and personalities a character may have, from Plain Jane to Wonder Woman, from Popeye to Sherlock Holmes, that anyone of them can be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ character, and it really does all seem to depend on the writer (as many have said already…)
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Is that really all it is…?  And for every writer who tells you what NOT to do, some other writer has done that exact thing and made a ‘good’ character with it…
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Is it like any other art?  We just know ‘good’ when we see it?   Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Norman Rockwell all made ‘good’ paintings and we often have a hard time defining why theirs are good and others are not…  We just… know!
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lol sometime I hate art!! :D
  
last edited on March 25, 2015 1:39PM
TheDeeMan at 3:03PM, March 25, 2015
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I HATE the tv show “Gotham”. But it's a great example of a well written and a badly written character on the same show. Penguin is a well written, well thought out character. Everything that is revealed about him fits him as a character from his crazy Norman Bates relationship with his mother to his Napolean complex of being the little guy pushing back against the bigger guy and that old adage that “the strong steal from the weak, but the smart steal from the strong”. Detective Gordan on the other hand is a poorly written character. He is all motivation, all blunt force object with even less background then Eastwood's “Man with no name”. All we know about him is that he had a father who was in law enforcement and has a grilfriend who exists just to justify her own flimsy existence. He has no friends, no extended family, no army buddies, nothing. He seemingly exists just to motivate the other more interesting and better thought out characters on the show into action in response to whatever he does. Which is probably why everyone from Penguin, Fish Mooney, Bullock, hell, even Ed. Nigma is more interesting as characters then he is. GOD I HATE “GOTHAM”! :) Dee - The Continentals/Chevalier writer dude  
last edited on March 25, 2015 3:04PM
strixvanallen at 6:07PM, March 25, 2015
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KimLuster wrote:
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Is it like any other art?  We just know ‘good’ when we see it?   Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Norman Rockwell all made ‘good’ paintings and we often have a hard time defining why theirs are good and others are not…  We just… know!
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lol sometime I hate art!! :D
   
This whole “Art doesn't have rules” thing can be a harsh mistress. xD
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Personally, I believe that art is an externation of your feelings, of what goes in your inner self. It's you - all plastered in a canvas, or in the pages of a book, or in a comic page. Good art is when you look at some piece and you feel a connection with it. You wish you had made something so beautiful because you see yourself there, either some part of you that you like and is proud of or some part of you that you fear deeply.
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In my view, the technique is a means to get that, but not an end. The more you make an effort to develop your technique, the more you imprint yourself in it, and that can be made with ANY technique. Spend some time in it and it's you. At the very end, writing well, drawing well, painting well are not things that you can measure by which technique is being used, but in how much do you dedicate yourself to what you do. Those ‘prodigies’ that can do masterpieces in 10 minutes either had this work for YEARS in their minds before executing it that quickly or are simply people who LIVE in art. Every time they have a chance to learn and to train, they do. When it's time to produce an actual piece, it's quick because they already have all they need.
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That's why a good writer can pick something as bland as a “chosen orphan who must save the world” and make it compelling and fresh: they won't just use blindly the tropes, oh, no, they will sit on it, polish it, mix it with something else… They take their time so their ideas mature before releasing them to the world. Some writers do it all in their minds and then write, others write 30 drafts before even aknowledge that they are writing a new book. I see the creative process pretty much as a pregnancy, in this regard.
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Young writers usually have problems with shallow characters, mary sues and such because they are learning. They are eager. They do one or two drafts and naïvely think that it's enough. I can say by personal experience that, if you sit in a story for two or three years, you will inevitably think that your first draft is stupid. Yet, I don't think it's bad that those people put their first drafts out there. 9 out of 10 times, they will get to perfect their skills if they get the right kind of support, and who knows? The writer of the cliché sue-fic of today may be the good writer of tomorrow.
ozoneocean at 8:25PM, March 25, 2015
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I agree with Strix about the Joker.
Characters like that are outdated now- “madness” isn't the mystery it used to be anymore, we view people like that differently. He might have made sense as a character type in the past, but now he's a relic. It's like having James Bond as an extrememly sexist womaniser in stories set in the present day- it just doesn't work anymore. for some things you HAVE to keep up with the times.
-Make a retro James Bonde set in the ‘50s or ’60s though and that attitude would still work.
 
And that is key actually- characters have to make sense within the rest of the writing, they have to be a good fit. They don't really work independantly, they're like lead singers in a band: the visible star of the group but still only a part of the whole - (though they can go on to have a life outside their original works later, like a lead singer going solo).
How do they fit with the rest of the story? Are they supported properly?
With badly written characters sometimes it's because they're too big and bold for the story to support, and sometimes they're simply lost as the rest of the writing overwhelms them. Sometimes they “sing” too loudly for their fellow band memebers to keep up with.
Sometimes they're singing jazz lounge music while the rest of the band is playing death metal… Looking at you Joker. -_-
 
last edited on March 25, 2015 8:27PM
Genejoke at 12:35AM, March 26, 2015
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Not quite ozone, sure I part agree…  but a personality can fit regardless of setting. Jams bond can work just as well today as in the 60s, but the way he is perceived by those around him will be different. Look at Jeremy clarkson, 20 years ago no one would have bat an eyelid at his behaviour, now he is causing more outrage than child abusers. 
As for Stixvanallens comment about giving characters a life, i think most assume that as a given. The level of detail requierd?  optional. I try and sum it up in a sentence of two, sometimes that will lead to fleshing out.
ozoneocean at 4:52AM, March 26, 2015
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That's not the thing though- James Bond is supposed to be suave and smooth, but if he bahaved in a 1950s manner but in a modern setting then he would not be believable as that sort of character, instead he'd seem like a stiffly formal, old fashioned throwback who gets very lecherous and slimy whenever he talks to a woman…
So, basically ozoneocean instead of a stylish British spy.
 
bravo1102 at 6:57AM, March 27, 2015
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strixvanallen wrote:
 (I mean, his stays in Arkham Asylum look more like vacations than anything else), 
Arkham Asylum is to psychology what the village of Arkham is to touristy Salem Massechusetts.  Great horror and really twisted through a dimension not unlike the Twilight Zone but little or no resemblance to the real thing. 

Characters like the classic sexist womanizer Jame Bond or the psychotic killer Joker work or fail in the context of their stories whatever the setting. There are tons of sexist womanizers in the modern day. Some guy is doing a comic with one as a supporting character and it might give you a smile if you read it (which none of you have other than Kimluster).  Two recent examples of modern day sexist womanizer characters: Two and a Half Men's Charlie Sheen and How I met your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris and there were two more in those law firm shows played by Alec Baldwin and William Shatner. Of course they're the brunt of jokes now, but context is everything.  It can be fun to play with the trope of the sexist womanizer brought into the modern day through the love of the right woman. You guys should watch more sappy rom-coms or read mainstream romance novels.
bravo1102 at 7:03AM, March 27, 2015
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And I think this thread is reaching the saturation point as all the most recent posts are merely repeating things said on the previous page.  Read the previous posts and you'll find most of what you want to say has already been said. A lot of it by that stupid guy with the dolls and boobs and silly Ed Wynn voice. So there don't you know. Fiddly diddly seventy years without slumbering. 
ozoneocean at 11:31AM, March 27, 2015
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Bravo- my example of Jame Bond as the sexist womaniser has been misunderstood:
 
In the ‘50s and ’60s having him that way was fine. We still saw him as smooth and debonaire regardless because that behaviour was the norm in the context of that time. HOWEVER, you cannot have James Bond in a modern day setting behaving in that way and still have him thought of as smooth and debonair. In a modern day setting that behaviour puts the character in a different light. So the modern actors play him differently from Connery, Moore and Lazenby.
 
So context and setting matter massively. Characters are never, ever independent no matter how big a rock stars they are.
 
last edited on March 27, 2015 11:33AM
bravo1102 at 6:57AM, March 31, 2015
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bravo1102 wrote:
 
Characters like the classic sexist womanizer Jame Bond or the psychotic killer Joker work or fail in the context of their stories whatever the setting.
 
Ozoneocean wrote:
Bravo- my example of Jame Bond as the sexist womanizer has been misunderstood: …
 
So context and setting matter massively. Characters are never, ever independent no matter how big a rock stars they are.
    

Yes we are in agreement about that.   As far as James Bond look at Never Say Never Again and see how Connery's version of the character changed in the context of the times.  For the Joker look a the story The Killer joke for a great update on the character. It can be done.
 

And as far as Joker goes there have been a few modern historical total psychopaths in the world of organized crime who make Joker look sane. So it's not so easy as pumping in some anti-psychotics and that they just can't exist now in our era of enlightened psychological pharmacology.  See Martin Scorsese and Joe Pesci's work in Goodfellas and Casino. That psychotics Joe Pesci played were based several real people.
last edited on March 31, 2015 7:00AM
ozoneocean at 3:59AM, April 3, 2015
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I can't accept that. No, no,no,no, NO!
Your character “Bravo1102” is too poorly written. It needs more flaws! It should be more emotional. You should make it reminisce over a lost dead pet from childhood and seethe with rage about how it was snubbed once during a teen dating incident. Also it needs an easily encapsulated psychiatric disorder: maybe something on the autism spectrum? ADD? ADHD? Asspergers? OCD? Those are all sooooper popular right now. I'm also thinking a social anxiety disorder and chronic Lyme disease topped with a mild case of Hep C.
 
Physical flaws are important too! One leg will have to be slightly shorter than  the other, nostrils slightly uneven, and a slllllllliiiiiighttttlllly weak bladder. Oh, and bad gas! That's crucial!
CRUCIAL!
 
OK, now that's sorted, just a few more things to check off:
- You need to be recovering from a drinking problem.
- You're obsessed with Camembert. OBSESSED.
- Your car breaks down with an almost clairvoyant talent for the worst possible time.
- Astrology guides your toilet visits.
- You have no pairs of matching socks and all your trouser legs are 4 inches too short so this ensures that everybody is aware of that fact. Constantly aware.
- You wear an eye-patch although you don't need too.
- You carry a very large sword with you everywhere you go, although you never use it.
- A small squirrel rides on your shoulder at all times. It frequently laughs at your daily misfortunes and celebrates your successes with exaggerated glee and many finger gestures.
 
I think that's enough to round out your character. ^_^
 
last edited on April 3, 2015 4:02AM
bravo1102 at 7:49AM, April 3, 2015
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That's a really great satirical post about the Anti-Sue. Loading down a character with so many flaws they shouldn't be really capable of getting out of bed in the morning.  Unless that is the story you are writing. Look at the poor but quite real depression ridden main character of Welcome to the N.H.K.  

I've met people where it really is torture to get out of bed let alone leave the house. Group therapy is a facinating place to observe the paths of human misery.
MagickLorelai at 4:32AM, April 5, 2015
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Somewhat skimming the topic a tad, but there's a lot of interesting discussion about what makes a character well-written or poorly developed. I agree that often, a ‘well-written’ character is something that transcends the time period they're written in, someone that can be empathized with even outside of the context of the culture they were in.
Reading classic stories is often harder because what made the characters so relateable and interesting to the audience at the time that it came out may not be relevant in the present. But there are a few characters where we understand what they're feeling even without societal construction to inform us how to feel.
My two cents; a well-written character is someone that is believable. Someone that you feel you can have a conversation with. Someone who you believe lives, breathes, and thinks even when they're not visible. This could be anyone from a slice-of-life protagonist who has the same struggles you do, to the superhero who stops the planet from blowing up; it doesn't matter how entrenched in fantasy they are, so long as you can believe their motivation and who they are.
I give a lot of thought into my character creation. In fact, I try to play with expected tropes just to give one impression, only to break it down another moment. I find it's a lot easier to create complex and interesting characters when I incorporate very real attributes of either myself or people I know. So there's a slice of me in every character I create; yup, even the jackasses. I mix it in with fictional attributes, of course, but there's always an element of a very real person behind every face.
(That said; my older comics may not be the best representation of the best character-writing skills, but then, I've done a lot of growing as a writer over the years).
 

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