Category Archives: Characters

The Evil Protagonist

There’s something that has intrigued me for a while. When we read or write books, we usually have a protagonist who is sympathetic, someone who we can identify with and cheer for. The main character should be someone we like, right? But what if it’s the opposite?

Imagine a novel where the main character is not good. It could be an antihero, though they usually have good in them, and we can sympathise with them. But what if the protagonist is your typical antagonist from fantasy? The one we always perceive as evil and never get to see what goes on in their mind. What if the main character is that evil overlord? And this time, we know what they’re thinking, we know their motivation, and we know how they feel.  Could we actually start to sympathise with them?

In a way, when we read a book, we are travelers going along with the protagonist. Not exactly kidnapped, but we are passive observers. But if the protagonist is evil, can we develop a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, and actually start liking and supporting the evil overlord? I wonder how a book like that would do.

So, my questions are:

  • Would you read a book like this?
  • Would you write a book like this?
  • Is there a book like this?

I’m very interested in your answers.

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Who Do I See?

I’m on the train right now. It’s only a short ride. But who do I see?

A woman standing across from me looking at her iPhone with a Minnie Mouse cover. Two young girls about 6 and 8 years old are standing and wearing hats. A man is sitting and doing some kind of number puzzle I’ve never seen before. Next to him is a woman doing sudoku. There’s a man standing without holding onto anything while reading a book. Two men sitting next to each other are complete opposites, one is rather large and balding, the other is really small and has a full head of hair. A woman is standing nearby with a shirt that says “Manhattan Brooklyn New York.” The mother of the children I mentioned before is wearing a yellow Minnie Mouse t-shirt.

Any one of these people could have a fascinating story to tell. I wonder about each one.

Do you ever watch people and try to guess who they are or what they do?

Myers-Briggs Is not Absolute

When creating a character, using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test is a useful tool.  However, after my previous post, I got to thinking, thanks to a comment, that the MBTI personality test does not dictate absolutely how someone behaves. It’s more of a general guideline.

For example, when I did my test, I found I was an INTJ.  But I also mentioned in the post that my ratings for each aspect were between 25 and 75%.  My strongest was the T (thinking), as I am rather logical and analytical in my decision-making.  I rarely let emotion decide for me, but sometimes I do, usually related to food.  If it has bacon, my emotional side takes over and tells my usually dominant rational side to shut up and eat.  Bacon has incredible powers.  But back to the main topic, although I do love bacon.  My weakest category was the N (intuitive).  This doesn’t mean that my intuitive side is weak, it’s just that it’s more balanced with the S (sensing) trait.  What this means is that while I am good at planning, seeing the big picture, and able to predict outcomes, I am also getting some influence from the sensing side, which means I do see the details and focus on the present.  I get the best of both worlds in that case.

When the percentages are below, it’s far less certain about what behaviours you or your characters will do.  If it’s closer to 100%, they are strongly following that aspect, but anything under, and especially closer to 0%, it’s highly unlikely that they will firmly be the type you determined them to be.

So what I’m saying is that even if you have figured out your character’s personality type, you don’t have to rely on it to dictate your character’s behaviour.  You can fudge it a bit.  Or a lot.  It’s up to you.  Just don’t rely on the indicators, because humans are flexible.  I may seem unflappable, but tempt me with bacon (or chocolate ice cream), and I will let go of my 75% thinking brain and let that 25% feeling brain take over.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Character Creation

Last year, I posted about my personality type, analysing it in detail.  I am an INTJ type personality according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  What’s interesting is how incredibly popular that post is recently.  It’s the most popular post most days so far this year.  So, I thought I’d revisit the topic.  It’s given me an idea.

When creating characters for fiction, it’s important to know their personality.  The MBTI is a useful tool for that, and can help you keep your character’s personality consistent.  There are 16 personality types, each with their own quirks and behaviours.

Click to view the full sized image.  It's quite large.  Source: Wikipedia user Jake Beech.
Click to view the full sized image. It’s quite large. Source: Wikipedia user Jake Beech.

One thing I’m going to do is test each of my main characters and see what kind of personalities they have.  It’ll be interesting, but also useful.

What I also plan to do is write posts about each personality type, describing what kind of person they are, as well as mentioning any famous people who are that type.

Head on over to this page and you can take a simplified version of the test to check out your own personality type.  But also, think about how your main character thinks.  So, in addition to yourself, answer the questions as if you were your main character.  See what kind of personality he or she has.  I’d love to see everyone’s results. Share your and your character’s personality types in the comments below. This should be fun.

Quick Character Notes

Writing character profiles is a very useful thing to do if you want to maintain consistency in your characters’ background, personality, likes, appearance, and pretty much everything.  In the writing course I’m doing, we had to make very brief point form notes about a character in our notebooks.  I decided to do this on one of my characters in Journey to Ariadne.  I’ve already done a character profile in a different way, but I thought this was quite thorough.

So, I’m going to share it with you.

Paolo Fernandes

Physical

  • Age: 51 (born January 7, 2112)
  • Height: 176 cm
  • Size: slim
  • State of health: A bit of stress, but healthy
  • Assets: Good physique, full head of hair
  • Flaws: Lower bone density due to Mars gravity
  • Sexuality: Straight
  • Gait: Confident, long stride
  • Voice: Middle, pleasant sounding

Psychological

  • Intelligence: very high
  • Temperament: Kind and understanding, but has a sense of control, good charisma
  • Happiness: Family, job, swimming
  • Unhappiness: Stress from Earth situation and long work hours
  • Attitudes: Dislikes capitalism, loves peace
  • Self-knowledge: Knows he gets worked up about intrusion into his projects
  • Unconscious aspects: Constantly checks his hair

Interpersonal/Cultural

  • Family: Wife Irina, no children
  • Friends: David Martin, Mari Watanabe, William de Boer
  • Colleagues: Ben Taylor, Gianni Marino, Mari Watanabe, William de Boer, Jean Fourier, Malika Said, Gary Fitzsimmons, Carol Parent, Jan Goerz
  • Birthplace: Manaus, Brazil
  • Education: PhD in geology from Brasilia Academy of Science
  • Hobbies: Swimming, guitar, reading
  • Beliefs: Atheism, democratic socialism
  • Values: Equality for all, fairness
  • Lifestyle: He works a lot, but spends time with his wife and does a lot of swimming.  Reads on his breaks.

Personal history

  • 2130 – Graduated high school
  • 2138 – PhD in geology
  • 2142 – met David Martin
  • 2144 – Went to Mars – geologic survey
  • 2147 – Joined Ariadne Project, geologist
  • 2148 – War in Brazil, father was killed
  • 2153 – Principle geologist of Ariadne Project
  • 2158 – Married Irina Kuznetsova
  • 2159 – Chairman of Ariadne Project

This was done in about 10 minutes.  In the exercise, it was recommended, that many of the attributes should be thought of quickly, rather than spending a lot of time dwelling on it.  This way, the character will be more realistic, and the character’s personality starts coming through.  The character helps create him or herself.

I’ll be doing this for the rest of the main characters and some minor characters, but I won’t be posting them.  How do you develop characters?

Also, just a reminder that the second What Will You Write? has begun! Check it out if you haven’t done so.

Choosing Character Names

One of the more difficult aspects of writing fiction is choosing character names.  It’s easy to choose a common name.  It’s difficult to choose a good name.

I recently chose the first name of the protagonist of Ariadne: Origins Book 1, and I like it.  I didn’t want something common, so I did some searching for names based on the meaning.  I found one I liked, and it turns out it’s a Greek name.  Sometimes I look for meaning in main characters’ names, but not always.

When it comes to fantasy, it’s quite likely you may want to make up something completely original.  Or you may choose a more classic name that was used long ago.

How do you choose character names?

Observing and Writing

One of the major focuses of the writing course I’m taking is observing.  It encourages taking notes whenever observations are made of people.  I’d also say it’s great to take notes on scenery, but the most important things are the characters.

Today, I observed people and took mental notes about how they looked and behaved.  Living in Japan, one thing I observe a lot is how many people wear masks when they have allergies.  I notice how teenagers all tend to wear school uniforms.  I see people staring at their cell phones while sitting on the train.  These are all very common things that people do in Japan.  When writing about a society as a whole, you need to figure out what behaviours are common.  If writing fantasy, it’s very important, as you’re creating an entire culture.  What do the majority of people in your fictional culture do?

On a more personal level, each individual person has their own behaviours that they do.  Try watching someone in public and see how they behave, particularly if they’re with friends.  You can see body language, habitual behaviour, how the person talks, how they walk, how they tilt their head, if they touch other people, and so on. Look at how they dress.  Maybe someone has a unique style or a small feature that’s easily overlooked.  There’s so much to observe.

A teenage girl wearing a frilly lace dress with platform shoes, lots of makeup, and very curly hair may be very individualistic and independent.  This is not a common thing here in Japan.  These people often go to places with like-minded individuals.  If they’re on the train, they may be on their way to Harajuku in Tokyo.

If the teenager is wearing black and has dark eye makeup here in Japan, you can be sure they’re fans of the visual kei style of rock music.  They seem rebellious, but that’s not always the case.  I’ve known a teenager who’s like this, and she’s actually a very friendly person.

A middle-aged man slumping down in his seat on the train holding a can of beer is likely to be a businessman who’s just had a long day and had to endure a couple hours of drinking with his boss.  He could be very moody and prone to outbursts of anger if provoked, or he may be clumsy and not really care what he’s doing.

A young man in his early twenties with somewhat long hair that’s styled in sweeping waves and spikes may work at a host club.  That’s where women pay plenty of money to just talk and drink with these men.  They’re always fashionable and have impossible-looking hairstyles.

A young woman with a backless top and short skirt sporting a giant dragon tattoo on half of her back and down her arm is someone you don’t want to get involved with.  She’s a yakuza girlfriend.  You can be sure that everyone avoids her.  Talk to her and you may end up meeting her yakuza boyfriend.  Not a good idea.

These are just some of the people I’ve observed in Japan.  They each have their own story and could make great characters.  Just keep looking around you and think about how they could fit into a story.