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I made lots of characters, though I put more focus to some than others. This is because of how at the base of these characters they have concepts that they revolve with. And I want to make sure I can incorporate them in the story. However since I focus on these characters and their concepts too much, it prevented me from further developing them, and eventually other characters as well. Come to think of it, I think it's because of how there's too much concept in them.

For example one of my characters started off with the idea of stoicism and then I added more to their character: a backstory, their skills and lore. However I sometimes focus too much on the lore and backstory, such as adding some ideas for their story to be more interesting. Though I sometimes believe that they can be convoluted, as such I've focused too much on this one character instead of others. A Discord member pointed this out:

I don't think you can make a character too unique. I think the problem you've ran into is that you love the idea of the character than the character themselves. You've built up the uniqueness of a character so much that now you're tasked with making them tangible people in your story, as well as satisfying the parts of them that make them unique.

I'd like to ask for help on what exactly I should do. As I came back and forth with their concepts and prevents me from developing others.

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    I'm not sure what you're asking. You can either simplify the character(s), or try to somehow incorporate them all in a story (do you have one?), which would be very restrictive, and difficult to do. Best to simply starting writing the story. The characters can then take on character of their own, based on your needs.
    – veryverde
    Sep 3, 2022 at 12:12
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    Sounds like the character version of worldbuilding disease. It's ok to go through this creative phase and push archetypes to their logical limits.
    – wetcircuit
    Sep 3, 2022 at 19:55
  • I don't see any problems with one character being central to the story. Characters are like the pieces of a chess games. You can have pawns but also kings and queens. It is up to you. Sep 4, 2022 at 5:52

3 Answers 3

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Too Much Backstory?

It sounds to me like you might be putting too much effort into building your character's history. Often, it's good for you as the author to know all this history, but to only hint at it to the reader.

Because they aren't reading for the history.

The Writing Loop

The gameplay loop for writing (to steal a concept from video game design) looks like this:

  1. Character wants something
  2. Something opposes the character
  3. Character takes a risky action
  4. The results of the risky action play out (success, failure, etc.)
  5. Character is changed by their experience

That's it. That's what a scene looks like. That's what a whole story looks like - boiled down to the essentials.

Character backstory is an optional feature that you can use (sparingly) within this structure. You should give only the bare minimum backstory that is required to understand the steps in this loop - and no more.

Weak Steps

If you spend too much effort on backstory, you might not notice that the steps in the Writing Loop are weak. If the thing the character wants in step 1 is not actually important, then the scene is going to feel weak. If the risk that the character takes in step 3 isn't actually risky, then the scene will feel weak.

If the character isn't somehow changed by the experiences they had (step 5), the scene will feel weak.

Maybe try to separate your current work into "things in the Writing Loop" and "Backstory" and see how much of the later your can cut out.

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  • There's such thing as Writing loop? Wow I have long way to go. anyways, I appreciate the help. sometimes my problem is , that I believe this character deserves this better than this. And Im not sure if there's any sort of advice for this issue, but your advice is really helpful. I shall take this with me. :)
    – Crimsoir
    Sep 9, 2022 at 16:27
  • @Crimsoir - In Video Game design there's a concept called the "Gameplay Loop" which describes how the gamer approaches the game world - eg, first kill all the bad guys in the area, then explore to find loot, finally solve a puzzle to get to the next area, and repeat. I think it's useful to think of writing in a similar way: first the character wants something, then something prevents them from having it... etc. If a scene is missing some part of the Writing Loop, I've noticed the scene often doesn't work for me. So the Writing Loop is not a Universal Law - I made it up. :-)
    – codeMonkey
    Sep 9, 2022 at 16:35
  • @Crimsoir - I'm not sure what you mean by "this character deserves this better than this."
    – codeMonkey
    Sep 9, 2022 at 16:40
  • @Crimsoir "...I believe this character deserves better than this." Great! Kick 'em harder. Readers sympathize with characters being wronged, being persecuted when they don't deserve it, suffering undeservedly. As an author, being too kind to your characters is boring; it is writing a "wish fulfillment" story. Heroes are not very interesting or relatable when they succeed too easily; that is just not a real-life experience for most readers. It takes hardship, failure, and tragedy for us to sympathize and root for a character, and to cheer at their eventual triumph by risking it all.
    – Amadeus
    Sep 9, 2022 at 17:48
  • @Amadeus No no no no, read my quotation again. It's "i think this character deserves this better than this" Meaning what im trying to say is that i have decision making issues when giving characters certain concepts, features, or upgrade in planning .
    – Crimsoir
    Sep 10, 2022 at 6:41
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I don't think your approach to character building is effective. You might make it work; different things work for different people, but I think (because you asked this question) this approach isn't even working for you.

All of the following, of course, is my opinion and my approach; so I will dispense with caveats and waffling for the sake of brevity.

An idea of "stoicism" is a result, it is not where you start. Characters are formed by their upbringing. In real life, this consists of thousands of events; in fiction we focus on a few unique "catalyst" events for our character. Now many such events depends on the "depth" of the character, how many scenes they may be involved in.

If it is just one, you may not need any; you can use a "walk-on" stranger with any personality you like to portray the shopkeeper, a waiter or random customers at the bank.

The more scenes they are in, the more justification you need: Your main character needs a backstory.

But a backstory is a story, the reasons why they are who they are; the formative events that turned the blank slate of an infant into the character before us.

Why are they courageous, or cowardly? Why are they promiscuous, or chaste?

A character is not a list of random traits you assign. They are the result of shaping forces in their lives, their hardships, their losses, the praise they received or were denied, the emotions that were encouraged or ridiculed, their attempts to excel that succeeded or utterly failed. The behaviors that were beaten out of them, and the behaviors that brought them praise and delight.

A friend of mine once observed, "Parents can dislike other people's children and love their own, because they have beaten out of their own children all the behaviors they don't like."

So if you want "stoicism", you need to come up with the how and why this person grew up to be stoic.

If you want a ruthless assassin on the side of justice: What key events in her life brought her to this state?

Don't just assign her the trait; what made her this way? Obviously it has to be something that doesn't happen to most of us growing up, but somehow, her past lets her pull the trigger when she is personally certain the world would be better off with a person dead, without being emotionally bothered by this at all. Perhaps she uses seduction and sex as well, but that may need a justification in her life as well: She was a virgin at some point, so what happened, and when, that made sex become a tool for her? Specifically, what is the scene that made her that way?

If you have a woman with a husband that openly cheats on her and brags about it, what in her past makes her tolerate this?

I may begin with an assigned trait: The ruthless assassin. But I don't stop there, I do not let myself use traits unless I can imagine a plausible set of turning points in a life that led to it. And then the other traits, consistent with those same turning points, become evident, for a plausible character with multiple traits.

I don't afford myself an unlimited number of these "shaping" scenes, maybe three or four for a main character, and one or two for secondary characters. Characters that have only one or two appearances in a story have no backstory at all; like all strangers we meet, they are who they are.

So my characters seem realistic and complex, but they aren't really. They are always consistent with their life-shaping events, which inform their beliefs and actions.

Usually the story is, in fact, about another such life-shaping event, that will change them (and perhaps some secondary characters) yet again.

My final advice, on stories in general, is we must learn to truly hurt our characters. These life-defining events are often traumatic, dealing with death, injury, gross misjustice, violations and loss. Although love and kindness can be a shaping force in our lives, the most awful events are typically those with the most negative emotion. Somebody they loved died. Or they themselves were victimized and helpless.

Stories are about heroes being knocked down but getting back up, again and again, against daunting odds but refusing to give up. That's what makes them a hero.

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    That's quite the advice. Since you're a much more experience writer, I can see your suggestion. I'll take this advice with me, for my story. While this won't 100% solve my current issue, I think this is still one worth to keep and to consider.
    – Crimsoir
    Sep 9, 2022 at 12:26
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From what I'm reading the problem you're having is that you're worried that your character is becoming so convoluted that it's distracting from the other characters and that you need to come up with plausible explanations for why the character is the way they are such that they feel real.

There are two famous pieces of advice in writing:

  1. No line is worth a scene. No scene is worth a movie.
  2. Kill your darlings

It's fine that your getting really deep into writing a character. However, if start to find yourself adding or changing stuff simply to show off the character building you've done behind the scenes your story is going to be worse of because of it.

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