Third Day of Class
Once again, a lot of time had passed before the professor decided to have another class. The students had been wondering if they were ever going to see KRenee again when she issued a call for them to come together in the classroom.
Today, she walked in with a sixteen ounce mug of coffee. Her laptop was, as usual, tucked under her arm and her hair was pulled back into it’s usual messy ponytail. She set down her laptop and coffee, swiftly taking attendance. She took only a moment to add the newest student to the attendance list and to take a swig of her coffee.
“Okay, let’s get started, shall we? We’re going to continue on with personality, since it’s such an important part of your character,” KRenee stated, clasping her hands in front of her. The chalkboard was writing “HABITS” on itself.
“Habits are little ticks that show things about your character in an absentminded sort of way. When someone is tapping their foot, what kind of impression do you get?” She asked. There was a pause before a girl with red hair raised her hand. KRenee nodded towards her, looking excited to see that someone was finally willing to try answering her questions.
“I’d think they were nervous or impatient,” she said, her voice crisp and clear. The professor nodded enthusiastically.
“Yes, and it would depend on where you were, too, right? For example, if you were at a bus stop and the man next to you was tapping his foot insistently, you’d think he was impatient.” Professor KRenee stated, looking around the room to make sure she was being understood, “But, if that same man was tapping his foot in the ICU, you’d think he was nervous, or even frightened. Right?”
A chorus of nods told her that she was understood, and KRenee beamed before continuing, “The habits of your character are just as important as the base personality traits.” She explained, “Both of those things also compliment each other. If you have a character who’s base personality traits is “recklessness,” he should probably have a habit of doing dangerous things without thinking first. Likewise, if you have a character who’s personality trait is “angry,” people should expect to see that this character is often scowling or irritable.”
“Can some of you give me some personality traits, as well as the habit that would go with them?” KRenee requested, “Think about it carefully. See if you can find something that’s not overly obvious.”
A young woman with aquamarine hair raised her hand immediately, and KRenee indicated her with a smile. The student said in a bold voice, “A depressed person might have a habit of shutting people out.”
KRenee grinned knowingly, “Very good, Harumi. Anyone else?”
A scowling man with black hair raised his hand, and KRenee looked to him. He thought for a brief moment, as if recollecting his thoughts, and said, “A tenacious person would have a habit of never throwing anything away, which would in turn indicate that their house is probably a wreck, or at least very cluttered.”
“Very well thought-out, Aegis. Perfect, you two.” She paused thoughtfully for a moment before shrugged offhandedly, “This unit on habits is extremely short, so we’re gonna move on to the next one. This part is going to be pretty long, as it is one of the most important things about a character.”
“A character’s history or back-story is one of the biggest factors of their personality. A person’s history will decide how they react to things, it’ll decide how they handle stress, it’ll decide their likes and dislikes, their fears, their sources of joy and anger.” KRenee explained, her expression serious, “Your character’s back-story is also the easiest way to ruin them and the entire story for the reader. I find that most people like to make character’s with really tragic stories behind them. Having their family murdered, or having them be foster children who grew up in an abusive foster home, or giving them some trait that’s going to make the entire village, city, country, or planet be frightened of them, or hate them.”
“I’m going to tell you this again and then I’ll probably say repeatedly for the rest of the time you guys spend in this class: your character doesn’t have to be ridiculously unique in order to be interesting.” KRenee chided severely, “The fact that the story is about your character makes them unique enough by itself.” She said, looking around the room. “You don’t need to give them the most tragic possible back-story, you don’t need to give them some terrible secret or trait that will turn everyone away. You don’t need to make them a victim or a survivor.”
“You can literally make your character as boring as is physically possible, and they’ll still be interesting because the story is about them.” The Professor paused, sighing. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you’re not allowed to write a character with a sad story or a tragic secret, or even that doing that is bad. What I’m saying is that you don’t need to do that, and you shouldn’t unless the reasoning behind it is more than “I want my character to be tragic” or “I want to endear my character to a tragic character by making them tragic.””
KRenee’s eyes slid over each face in the room, eying them to gauge how well they were understanding her. “Your character can have a great home life and still have a personality defect or five. Your character can have a normal, average Joe existence, and still be depressed or angry with the world. Your character can be fun-loving and great as a person and still be attractive to a tragic character.”
The students seemed to be catching on to what she was saying, and that was a bit of a relief. KRenee was having a little bit of trouble piecing together what she was trying to tell them. She looked around the room again, pausing briefly, before she continued, “I have a couple guests coming in today to show you a little bit about what I’m talking about.” She smiled, walking over to the wall, which grew a door before everyone’s eyes. She pulled it open nonchalantly, inviting a strikingly beautiful woman into the room.
“This is Khrai,” KRenee introduced her with a gentle indication. “She’s a character of mine. I want you to take a moment to look at her and tell me something you notice about her.”
Immediately, a student raised her hand, and KRenee nodded her head towards her. The redhead from before looked very serious as she said, “Her hair is ridiculously long.”
Khrai snorted, and KRenee was obviously holding back a laugh. Indeed, Khrai’s hair was longer than anyone else’s in the room – it reached her knees, even in it’s high ponytail.
“Okay, anyone else?” She indicated a man with silver hair sitting in the middle row as he raised his hand.
“She’s an elf,” he stated matter-of-factly, “Unless those ears signify something else.”
The professor beamed, “No, you’re right. She’s an elf. Anything else?”
A brunette seated in the very back of the room raised her hand, looking uninterested. KRenee looked to her next, and she said, “She looks pissed off about something.”
“About time,” Khrai muttered sourly, earning an elbow from KRenee.
The professor grinned, “Yes, that’s the one I was looking for. Khrai’s angry because of something that happened to her in her back-story. Any guesses as to what that might be?”
Several hands went up, and KRenee called on the girl with aquamarine hair first, “She was raped?”
“She lost someone precious and she’s out for revenge now?”
“No, that’s not it. Next?”
“Her brother murdered her entire clan?”
KRenee openly laughed at that, “Haha, no, no, she doesn’t have any siblings.”
The remainder of the student had no idea, and finally KRenee smirked, “Okay, I’ll admit it. That was a trick question. Khrai is the spirit of a dead elf who’s over 950,000 years old in the fanfiction she originates from, and she’s been furious for that entire time. But, in the fanfic, you don’t get to find out the whole of her story, because she doesn’t remember. It happened such a long time ago, she’s forgotten the event. Because of this, there’s no way for her to ever really get over her anger.
“That’s an example of a back-story influencing a character, even though that back-story is unexplained. I leave it to the reader’s imagination, and it doesn’t really matter anyway, in the context of the story. I’ll be honest – I don’t even know her back-story. I haven’t written it down or figured it out or anything. I just know that, whatever happened, it’s left her angry with the universe – but, at the same time, it didn’t change her core personality. Khrai comes across as an angry, hateful being, and she uses that tough exterior to hide the fact that she’s actually very compassionate. It’s a defense mechanism she’s developed to protect herself.”
KRenee looked around the room, noting with a smile that most everyone seemed enraptured by her explanation. She smiled broadly, glancing over at Khrai, who looked bored and irritable, before turning back towards the door – which hadn’t vanished for some reason – and walking over to it. She opened the door then, revealing a teenaged boy. He wore a dark, blood-stained hoodie and ratty looking jeans, and his mop of dark brown hair was covering the upper part of his face. When he walked over to stand beside Khrai, the front row was able to see a pair of bright green eyes hiding under the shadows his hair cast.
The elf glanced down at him, raising an eyebrow briefly before turning her attention to KRenee, “The fuck is this?” The teenager shrank away from the woman he stood beside, glancing towards her as he did so.
“I’ll tell you in a second,” KRenee replied easily, returning to the front of the room to stand beside her newcomer. “This is Dal. His full name is Dallas R. Easton, but he always refers to himself as Dal in the story he appears in, Something New. Now, Something New is a fanfiction set in the universe of Left 4 Dead 2, and with that bit of information, those of you who’ve played the game can tell immediately that I’ve designed him with the Hunter in mind.”
Dal visibly stiffened, but didn’t make a sound. He only lowered his head slightly and shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. It was obvious that he wasn’t comfortable being called a Hunter.
“Now, for those of you who don’t know the game, Left 4 Dead is set in a world where an outbreak referred to as the “Green Flu” has taken hold of, at the very least, America. It is never specified what exactly the Green Flu is, and all you know about it is what you can see. The infected behave like rabid animals, basically, and spend the entire game trying very hard to kill you.” KRenee explained, looking around the room. “The Hunter is a Special Infected that can jump an excess of 20 feet, climb buildings like a pro, and kills you by pouncing on you and eviscerating you. Once you’ve been pounced on, a teammate has to save you.”
Khrai let out a low whistle, looking mildly interested, “That sounds great.”
“Indeed. Dal is fifteen years old. He’s from North Carolina, where he lived with his mother, Kristina, and his father, James. Dal presents abnormal behavior when he’s in a room behind a closed door, is ignored or forgotten about, and when he’s being shown kindness. By abnormal behavior, I mean that he reacts in a way that you wouldn’t expect in a healthy fifteen year old. Now, do you guys have an idea what these issues might stem from?”
No one lifted a finger. KRenee smiled, nodded, “It’s a hard one, isn’t it? I spent a lot of the story not explaining why Dal was the way that he was, but I spent an equal amount of time thinking about his back-story and how it affected him permanently.”
She paused briefly, glancing at Dal for a moment before speaking again, “Prior to turning four, Dal’s mother showered him the kind of love you’d expect from a parent. His father worked all the time so he didn’t spend much time with Dal, and he didn’t really want to because he hadn’t wanted children. But that was fine because mom had it covered like a pro.”
Dal’s slouch seemed to be increasing with every word, his head dipping further down and his entire posture telling everyone that he didn’t want to be in the room at that moment. Khrai was eying him, her expression softened and her eyes betraying the compassion she felt.
“Shortly after Dal’s fourth birthday, his parents had a huge fight over whether or not to keep him.” There was a hushed, collective moment of surprise amongst the students – hadn’t his mother loved him like a parent should? Why would she want to get rid of him? “James, who was highly religious, believed that, as Dal was a gift from God that Kristina had wanted, they couldn’t just get rid of him, because that would be like throwing God’s gift back in his face. Kristina wanted him gone because, as she claimed, Dal didn’t love her anymore and he wouldn’t even let her hold him.”
“Now, here’s the facts: First of all, Dal did still love both his parents. Second, not wanting to be held is a normal thing for a four year old – he’s knows how to walk and is starting to develop a sense of independence, so he wants to go everywhere by himself until he gets tuckered out.” KRenee paused to take a breath, looking around the room at the confused looks on her student’s faces. “Finally, Kristina didn’t really believe what she was saying anyway. She only said that because she didn’t want to admit that she hadn’t wanted a child, she had wanted a baby, and now that her child had outgrown baby-hood, she didn’t want him anymore.”
KRenee let that sink in for a moment. Khrai had lowered her head, her bangs falling into her face and concealing her eyes, and every single one of the students could tell just by looking at her shaking fists that she was furious. Dal was trying to make himself as small as possible, as if he didn’t want to be seen, and the sight only raised the rate of incredulous anger and powerful sympathy rolling through the class.
“So,” KRenee continued, “His parents collectively decided to ignore Dal’s existence for what probably would have turned into the rest of his life. And he grew up like that, constantly trying to get his parents’ attention in any way he could – he tried everything from straight As to delinquency. When he was five, he would yell and scream and cry until they would pay attention to him, but all they would do was drag him upstairs and lock him in his room for hours on end.
“As he got older, he stopped trying to get their attention by way of noise-making, because he realized that it wasn’t working. And, as he got older and garnered their attention less frequently, the amount of time he could be locked in his room increased from several hours to several days. He started squirreling away food in his room so that he could avoid starving or dehydrating to death.” KRenee halted again, noting the classes reaction to her retelling of Dal’s story. They seemed just as enraptured as they had been with Khrai’s, but for a different reason.
“So, now you can see why he can’t stand locked doors and why being ignored is such a huge deal for him. His parents could literally forget he existed from time to time. He taught himself to be as quiet as possible so that he could avoid getting locked in his room, because his mother’s fuse got shorter as he got older. Finally, a week after he turned fifteen, he ran away from home. And his parents never filed a missing persons report because, as I stated in the story, they probably didn’t notice he was gone. Also, he was never shown any real kindness growing up – he didn’t have any friends because he didn’t really know how to socialize, because his parents hadn’t finished teaching him that, and they didn’t show him any kindness either. So, when someone was nice to him in the story, he’d cry with joy because he wasn’t used to it and it just made him so happy that someone cared about him.”
The silence in the room was deafening. KRenee smiled at all of them, absentmindedly wrapping an arm around Dal’s shoulders and pulling him over. He stumbled a little, but he allowed himself to be pulled closer to her. His shoulders were trembling, but the class couldn’t tell if he was actually crying or not.
“I already told you guys that writing a tragic back-story for your characters isn’t necessary to make them interesting. This is still true, and I firmly stand by it. The reason I got away with giving Dal such an incredibly sad story is that I put a lot of thought into it and the story itself. I didn’t just give him some horrible story of abuse and write him however I wanted without giving any thought to what that kind of abuse might do to him. I gave him a very specific life thus far, and every time something happened that was kind of a big deal, I thought for a long time how he would react to it.” KRenee explained, looking serious as she rubbed Dal’s arm to comfort him.
“That’s what a lot of writers on Fanfiction dot net do. I would bet you anything you like that a decent number of published authors have done the same thing.” She stated, her expression shifting into a very slight scowl, “It’s not just lazy writing, it’s lazy thinking. If you give your character a sob story, you have to commit to that sob story.
“You have to be willing to think of that back-story every time you write something happening to them. You have to be willing think about possible triggers. You have to be willing to think about potential personality defects.” KRenee’s voice had taken on a tone that was practically threatening, as if she was warning the students that they had been not write poorly, because she’d come and find them. “You have to be willing to think about what they might do if someone does trigger them, or how they handle their anger or their sadness, or how other people will react to them and how they’ll react to other people.”
“If you can’t write and think about all this stuff at the same time, you should rethink the story you’ve given your character. The best example of someone doing this that I can think of, is Masashi Kishimoto’s Uchiha Sasuke from the hit anime and manga series Naruto. Sasuke had his entire family, his whole clan, murdered. His older brother, Itachi, who committed the atrocity, went so far as to use a technique on him to force him to watch a a replay of him killing everyone.”
“What came of that night was that Itachi convinced Sasuke to chase him down and kill him one day. This right here is bullshit, okay? Anyone real in a situation like that wouldn’t feel hatred or anger. They would be traumatized beyond full recovery.” KRenee ranted, “Sasuke should’ve had PTSD. He should’ve been so traumatized by that, he shouldn’t have been able to become a ninja.”
“Masashi Kishimoto didn’t stop for a second to think of the real-world ramifications of the things he was doing in his story, to his characters. He didn’t stop to consider at any point along the way if Sasuke should have triggers – which he should have.”
KRenee paused to take a breath, glancing at her guests. Dal and Khrai were staring at her, and she flushed slightly, “I’m sorry, okay? I’m passionate about bad writing.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” Khrai replied sardonically. KRenee glared at her briefly before turning her attention back to the students, almost all of whom were staring at her like she’d gone mad. She smiled sheepishly at them, clearing her throat and getting back on topic.
“So, actually, with that little rant of mine, we conclude today’s lesson. Hopefully you’ll see me a little sooner next time. Probably not though, with all honesty. I’m just really bad at budgeting my time.” She turned back to the chalkboard briefly and waved a hand towards it. It immediately started writing up the assignment notes, and while it was doing that, KRenee led Khrai and Dal over to the door and saw them out. She paused for a moment to speak to Dal in hushed tones that no one could hear, and he nodded mutely before following after Khrai.
“Okay,” she briskly walked back to the front of the room. “So, you have two different bits of homework this time, because we covered two units in one day.” There was a collective groan, and she smiled, holding up a hand to silence the class, “It’ll be fun, if you find writing at all interesting.”
“For the habits part of the homework, I want you to come up with five different habits and what they might indicate. Try to be as thorough and thoughtful as you can, and don’t use the examples given in the class. If you’re feeling extra motivated, take the personality traits you came up with for the last class and try to think of at least two habits that might go with each personality trait.”
The class scribbled down notes for the homework quickly, and KRenee politely waited until all of them had finished before she continued, “For the back-story portion, I want you to first come up with a detailed back-story and, using the back-story as a base for everything else, put together a character personality profile using the fill-out that I made on the chalkboard.” She watched as the students wrote down the second assignment, smiling at their enthusiasm. It seemed that they were getting more interested in the class as time wore on. That made her feel a little better.
“On that note,” she said as the last person to finish writing lifted their head. “Class is dismissed. Make sure you check out the chalkboard on your way out.”
There was a chorus of nods as they started packing up, and KRenee walked around the table in the front of the room to grab her laptop. She peered into her coffee mug, expression shifting into dismay.
“Oh no, my coffees gonna be all cold! God damn it.”
The Chalkboard (Character Personality Fill-Out at the bottom due to length)
– Reminder: KRenee is happy to provide feedback on all homework assignments if you want her to! If you want to get your assignment(s) looked over by the professor, send her a PM and she will give you an email address where you can send them to. All assignments must be in either .doc or .docx format. If you don’t have a word processor, go get OpenOffice. It’s free.
– Do not use a back-story that already has a character attached to it! Make up something original on the spot. It doesn’t have to be tragic, it doesn’t have to be happy, it doesn’t even have to be particularly interesting.
– Please be sure to briefly explain your reasoning behind each field (except the back-story field) in the Character Personality Fill-Out, especially if you plan to give it to Professor KRenee. Also, if you are unsure about how to fill in any of the fields, just leave it blank.
Character Personality Fill-Out (! DO THE BACK-STORY FIRST !)
Personality flaw(s)/defect(s) (if applicable):
Trigger(s) (if applicable):
Fear(s) (not necessarily phobias):
How does your character behave when…