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Author Topic: Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters  (Read 5818 times)

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TakaComics

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Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters
« on: January 20, 2010, 01:37:31 AM »
So you have decided your starting point, and are now at the stage where you have to create characters. Uh-oh. The problem with creating characters is making them believable, and most characters start from poor grounding. Let's go over some things I would avoid (keep in mind, this is opinion):

   DON'T base characters directly off of people in your life -

   This is where people start their writing career. It's not a big deal, I did the same thing. But we're here to talk about good writing skills, not beginner's writing skills. Why should you never base characters off you or other people you know? Because as people, we don't want to make our flaws public. Also, it doesn't stretch our boundaries enough. If you write your friends, you might not be able to take the characters in a direction that would create an interesting comic.

   DON'T write characters that are one dimensional.
   
   If you pick your characters based on one characteristic, you won't have any story options. Humor strip characters have less characteristics, but we've all made the jokes that Garfield is just a fat cat that eats lasagna and Blondie is a hot woman....who....

   DON'T create the female character just to add estrogen to your party.

   This is where most people screw up. I've read so many comics where the female characters are just walking breasts that talk. Women are tough for most comic artists to write, as many comic artists are male.

   Ok, but how do I counter that? What do you do instead of those things?

   DO create characters from your own life or based on realistic people.

   What you know and experience in your life adds to your comic writing skills. People you meet, whether it's a businessman who just had a kid and wants a raise, or a teenager who just got accepted into her favorite college. Do you have a friend who is a barfly? Add it to your idea stash. Do you know someone who plays a lot of video games? Ok, add that to your idea stash. However, this brings me to...

   DO create your characters like you create a story.

   Let's take that someone who plays video games. It's a great starting point, but that isn't going to hold up for an entire comic. Even Penny Arcade and PVP have moved from video games to pop culture in general, and their characters have some other grounding, whether it's the life of being married, or being an uncle, or even being a game designer. These things move your character forward in life. Much like you wouldn't look too highly on a person who sits around and plays video games all day, many readers won't look highly on your characters for doing the same thing. Perhaps one of them can get a girlfriend and then...

   DO write your female characters as if they were normal people.

   Many times, women in comics get put in as the "normal" character. Someone who rolls their eyes at how wacky the other characters are. Sometimes, they are the "girlfriend" character who is there to get the 18 - 24 male demographic with sex jokes. Sometimes, they are the anti-femme. A archetype that is the most unfemale character you can make, just with breasts. A few occasions, they are the crazy girl who is wackier and more sex-crazed than the men. MOST of the time, they have no development beyond eye candy. Write your female characters like you would a male character. What are their goals? What is their favorite thing to do? If it's get a boyfriend and go shopping, we have problems.



   Now that we've covered a few of the most common problems with writing characters, how should you start a character up? It's very important to start small, but think big. You don't need layers of exposition for your reader. However, it's good to have a place to pull information from. If I want to write a fantasy character, I may know exactly which town that person comes from in my world, who their family is or was, and why they are on the adventure. The trick is not to give all that away in the beginning of your story. You want to slowly give people a look into each character piece by piece. Having a plan for your character early on will give you a chance to foreshadow events, and keep your readers interested in the plot line, since they can guess where the character is going in your story. Perhaps they are wrong, but that's part of the fun. So here are some character styles and tips:

   Main Character: The main character should be a strong character in the sense that you have a lot of back story and/or a place for them to go within the story. The main character is usually in that role because their character will develop and change within the story, either leading to their greatest achievement or their ultimate demise. All supporting characters are just that: Supporting. They drive the main character to his final point in the story and can either be a direct or indirect cause of that change.

   Main Antagonist: An antagonist can be developed from one of many conflict styles, but the most common is Man vs. Man. When you have your antagonist, take careful precautions to avoid the "purely evil" character. While their actions may be evil, in their mind, they may think what they are doing is right. This angle is very important, especially if you want to bring your main to a point where they don't know who is actually on their side. The other antagonist that is common is the main character himself. This conflict adds more to the "which side is right" plot, and is great for giving the main character a bit more depth than "I am the good guy!" More into conflicts in a later part.

   Comic Relief: Characters who provide comic relief can either be separate characters, such as many of Shakespeare's supporting cast, or even the main character himself. The trick to writing characters that are comedic while still keeping the drama is to separate those two types of scenes. The comic characters should not be cracking jokes if they are genuinely scared, or if there is some dramatic scene happening. This hurts both the drama and the comedic characters.

   The Love Interest: Having your main character fall in love is a big plot changing event, but please don't write the love interest as a flake. They could be one of the other character types, as well, but they should be just as strong as the main character in either the same form or a different one. For many writers, the love interest behaves as a damsel in distress, but they should be able to hold their own to a point. If you need to have them captured, have them fight with words or wit, rather than pure strength. Having a strong character doesn't mean that they have to bench 300lbs. in your comic. There is the case for the "damsel in distress," but it's heavily used. If a character is not able to defend himself or herself, and the hero has to rescue them, at least let those characters struggle a bit to fight or run away. Nothing brings a character down more than someone who goes down without a fight, even if it's pointless. Does this have an exception? Yes. Sometimes even the strongest characters can become weak when faced with something they are afraid of. Whether it's a phobia or a weapon, this can bring an otherwise strong character to stand still. The weak-willed characters will cower and may be captured.   Even the strong ones may surrender. This doesn't mean they lose their strengths. The audience must know why the characters are backing down and avoiding their otherwise normal self.

   The Sidekick: Sidekicks have always been more of a comic relief, and they are almost always contained to the superhero genre. However, some sidekicks are there to provide a sense of friendship for the main character, or a sense of danger as the hero is forcing himself through it, even if they have no powers or witty lines. The sidekick could be a wingman at a bar, or a friend who is trusted with a secret. The sidekick also adds to what the main character might lack. The sidekick almost always supports the hero, and is able to get him out of a jam if need be. He or she should have his own strengths, and be able to use them to be a hero, but also have his own weaknesses that the antagonist character can exploit. The quickest way to someone is through their friends.

   The Extra: The rest of your cast isn't just there to fill the world, they are also there to build the world. If you have a character that says one line, they had better say something that fuels how the reader views that world. Extra characters aren't just extra, they push your characters in certain directions based on small interactions. The reader has to believe that there is more going on besides what they see. What happened before, and possibly what happened after, is just as important as what happened during, and those extra characters will help to give that sense to your reader.

Like I said, this is my opinion on the matter. I tend to write characters that are not traditional. However, the general rule for characters is that they must grow. Heroes, antagonists, and/or supporting characters in your comic must develop through the story. To return to the status quo is very upsetting for the reader, and even if the characters seem as if they have come back to normal life, their experiences should provide enough change so that they leave the story a little different than how they started.

Offline Pete

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Re: Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2010, 09:50:26 AM »
Excellent article.  I do want to add something about writing for a female character, though.  Don't view it as "writing for a female character", view it as "writing for a character".  Yes, there are fundamental differences between males and females, but if you're a good writer* you know what those are already and you won't have to struggle in writing for either sex.  If you focus too much on the gender of the character, that's where you'll start falling into stereotype and cliche territory.

* A good writer is a good observer.  Take some time to people watch, either at your school or at the mall or at the bus stop or wherever.  Really study how people interact with each other, and take note of how those of either gender act and react with each other.

Offline Dr. BlkKnight

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Re: Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2010, 09:59:45 AM »
Excellent article. It's practically the way I think when I develop my characters.

TakaComics

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Re: Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2010, 07:41:17 AM »
Pete, to take the counterpoint to my own article, there is something to be said for exploiting those stereotypes. But to do so, you have to be aware of what you are approaching and from where. A good writer can make sure the right stereotypes are written in a believable way to make the character behave in a manner which would fit the story. Let's face it, some people fall in those stereotypes without even knowing it. :D

Offline Pete

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Re: Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2010, 09:16:33 AM »
Mild exploitation is one thing; making your character INTO a stereotype is another, and that's what I was trying to get across.  It's basically why I had to stop watching Everybody Loves Raymond - I was tired of watching stereotypes on the screen.

Obviously USING the stereotypes to some degree is good.  Case in point - in my most recent strip, I brought into play the female stereotype of jealousy and used it to set up a humorous situation.  I didn't go over-the-top (I don't think, anyway), I just used the core idea of it to move things along.

Offline Rob

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Re: Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2010, 09:48:31 AM »
It's basically why I had to stop watching Everybody Loves Raymond - I was tired of watching stereotypes on the screen.

But.... but everybody loves Raymond! :'(

Offline Pete

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Re: Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters
« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2010, 12:12:51 PM »
It's basically why I had to stop watching Everybody Loves Raymond - I was tired of watching stereotypes on the screen.

But.... but everybody loves Raymond! :'(

Nah, everybody loves Peter Boyle.  He was why I kept coming back for a long time.  :-D

Offline Coyote Trax

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Re: Starting Your Webcomic: Part 2 - The Characters
« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2010, 06:07:51 PM »
Alternate suggestion: Do the "Don'ts" and don't do the "do's" and call it a parody.

Playing on stereotypes is tired, but if you're making fun of the use of them, or doing some patented anti-comedy for comic effect, it works a treat! :D
Webcomics are like dreams. There are good ones and bad ones. Sometimes there are truly, truly awful ones. But all in all, people don't like when you call them a titmound.