Beefing Up Character Coolness

What a stupid post title. Oh well.

Lately, the most writing I’ve done has been a sort of character study with the help of my hubby. The character in question is still very much in his “infancy”, which makes it all too easy to… over play him.

Every character needs to have some level of coolness factor. Maybe not every one, but it’s common enough. But some writers really overdo it. I’m inclined to see why right now. I have this exploration of a character that is still largely undefined in my head. And I have been reading Austenland, after a very long departure from Shannon Hale’s books.

Something I always forget about her work is that it’s like a good deal of nostalgic properties. She’s not a technically skilled writer. The word ‘juvenalia’, I think, describes it well. But I hesitate to actually call her writing childish. Possibly because her stories are actually entertaining and have heart. Sentimentality as a saving grace is no bad thing.

That wasn’t a completely unrelated tangent. One of Hale’s flaws as a writer (in my opinion) is characterisation. I could elaborate more on that as a topic, but just now. I’ll keep to a point. The main character of Austenland (Jane, as they are all inevitably named, if not Elizabeth) hops around a good deal in her personality. She stays mostly coherent, but it’s hard to miss the hiccups.

One consistent problem is that she keeps mentioning new details that are either extraneous or require more setup than they received. Sometimes she even contradicted previous statements. And by details, I. mean character coolness.

When she randomly leaned on basketball as an interest, it made me think of the character I’ve been playing with, whose name is Ari. Not because he likes basketball (he doesn’t) but because it reminded me of the thought I put in every time I wanted to reference an attribute or interest.

Perhaps when designing a character, it would be prudent to decide this kind of stuff ahead of time. It would certainly keep self-indulgence levels lower, as you could better gauge how many cool stickers you will put on it.

It would also prevent the character coming off as bloated or inconsistent, a problem I have occasionally been having with this Jane person.

Ari is the type of character that rather needs this treatment. He’s pleasant and culturally diverse, which can incite an unreasonably high coolness factor. He’s also a person who uses seduction and amiability to protect himself, so he’s got this whole manipulation and the mask thing going.

Stuff I’ve used so far that I think I will keep are an interest and history in community theatre, fear of abandonment, and a strong Chinese heritage. He’s also easily impressed by genuinely mature people, which usually means old guys.

Stuff that I’ve consciously decided against are mostly talents, so that he isn’t overloaded with awesome.

So yeah. Some planning ahead is definitely a good idea.

It’s half past midnight and I swiped this whole thing out on my mobile’s cranky keyboard input. My shoulder is sore and I wish I were sleepy.


One thought on “Beefing Up Character Coolness

  1. How about the cooking thing? Also, it might be a good idea to pick a coolness talent that he can do (quickly, before it becomes relevant), so you don’t get caught in a cycle of “never deciding” on something to make him cool.

    I’m not saying your prone to this (or even suggesting that you’ve done this), but I’ve noticed with some writers, an unwillingness to give a character something cool that they’re good at can mean the character is ultimately without talents.

    This turned into more a discussion topic than a comment, but oh well.

    One of the things that sets the majority of D&D characters apart is their willingness and ability to enter combat and commit violence. It’s noticeable (and usually either frustrating or obnoxious) when players decide their characters are puny, or weak, or cowardly, or in some other way a “non-combatant.”

    Part of this is ’cause D&D is a game of serial violence made against supernatural creatures, but it’s also ’cause combat is a hallmark of an action hero. Characters are modeled after Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker, Judge Dredd, or Batman.

    These characters all have violence in their lives – which is something they excel at (even if it’s just surviving long enough to escape), and which is both a source of tension/drama and coolness. Non-combatants stand apart from action heroes, and usually must have a pretty darn cool (or relevant) non-combat ability or they can very quickly turn into “supporting cast members” and lose their “star status.”

    Waiting too long to decide on that “talent” a character has, whether it’s talking to animals, having superhuman manipulation/seduction powers, or what have you, can lead to the character “missing the bus,” as it were, from a narrative perspective.

    Right, that stopped being a comment and turned into a tangent. ^_^;;;

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