What makes a character deep?

Drathnoxis

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In the pirates thread most people are clearly in agreement that Barbossa is not deep. It seems to be very easy to tell when something is not deep. However, very few have offered up counter examples. What I want to know now is, what is deep? Is this a real thing, or just some intangible that nobody can actually pin down.

What makes a character deep? Give me an example of a deep character and explain what gives them their depth.
 

Squilookle

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Did you even read the thread? There were plenty of counter examples given. Here's more on mine:

Watchmen:
Ozymandias was a former superhero who was hailed as the strongest and most pure of his bretheren, retired and now pursuing an entrepreneurial life. I'm sure others can explain his motivations and complex character flaws far better than I can, but in a nutshell he is so distraught at the potential of nuclear Armageddon during the Cold War that he himself engineers a catastrophe so alarming that it would make the world forget the Cold War and unite against a common enemy. Not only does he see this as the only way to save the world, but he is wracked with guilt over whether it is truly the right thing- reportedly asking Dr. Manhattan if he has in fact done good. The very idea of a character causing a genocide in order to save a planet, in the pursuit of what he believes is the right thing, is what one could be called a deep motivation.

The Rock:
Hummel was a former U.S. Special Ops leader responsible for deniable actions in enemy territory. When the soldiers serving under him fall in combat, the U.S. denies their existence, leaves their families in the dark, and won't even give them "a goddamn military burial." Hummel has tried for a long time to have this injustice addressed through normal channels for years, always being thwarted by the bureaucracy, so in the end he decides on a course the Government does understand: the threat of force.

Here's the thing though- he's got highly toxic chemical weapons aimed at a major city, but has no plans to actually use them. His ransom demand is based on the threat of force. He knows he won't have his demands met if he kills people, and he'd never forgive himself if he did anyway. And a man with that payload could demand anything in the country if he so desired, and how does he choose to use that leverage instead?

By making the Government draw funds from it's own illegal offshore accounts, to pay bereavement packages to the families of those soldiers lost fighting for his country. That's all he wants. Nothing for himself, no recognition or martyrdom, he just wants what's right under his steadfast moral code. He is a classic example of a sympathetic, tragic villain.

Inside Man:
A bunch of robbers rob a bank. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. They disguise themselves as their hostages and eventually escape undetected, but leave without stealing anything. Why? because the ultimate goal wasn't to steal money at all, it was to bring police attention down on the criminal past of the bank's director, by getting the cops to 'follow the ring.' What initially appears as a straightforward bank heist turns out to be anything but- specifically by design of the antagonists. This subversion of what the audience expects to be a standard villain motivation is upended with an extra layer we didn't see coming. And when you add layers, you get deeper

The Usual Suspects: (seriously don't read this if you haven't watched it. Just watch it already)

Keyser Soze is a living myth of the criminal underworld. Nobody knows what he looks like. Not even those who work for him. But several guys find themselves in a police line up orchestrated by him, so that he can inform them that each one of them has inadvertently stolen from him in the past, and to make good they must all do a job for him. He has collateral on all of them. It's an offer they can't refuse. Their target is a boat loaded with cocaine, guarded by armed drug dealers.

It's dynamic enough that a villain would be crazy prepared enough to use the system to bring a specific group of strangers together to blackmail them into doing his bidding. What's even more intricate about it is the mission itself is a feint- there's no drugs on the ship at all. What it does contain is the sole living witness of what Soze looks like. Soze uses his 'suspects' to board the ship and cause havok while seeking out this witness and eliminating them. He then systematically kills the suspects and blows up the ship, seemingly closing forever the threat of anyone there revealing his identity.

But that's not even the half of it. The story is told to a cop in an interview under diplomatic immunity, by Verbal Kint, one of the suspects who survived. He tells him the whole story from start to finish. As more details come to light about the boat, the cop grills him on these details, and Kint has to explain these tangents as he goes so the cop will understand.

Thing is, Kint IS Keyser Soze, and he is weaving this story, adjusting it on the fly, to lead the cop into thinking Soze is a specific man- one he shot on the boat. He never explicitly points it out, but lets the cop use his own deductive reasoning to work it out, before letting Kint leave. In the end a living witness provides a drawing of Soze that can finger Kint, but by then he's already left. And like that: he's gone.

Maybe it's more an intricate plot than a deep motivation, but the intricate way in which Soze manipulates the usual suspects, and the cop on the fly as details keep arising, is masterful. His motive is simple: erase those who can put a face to his name. How he goes about it, however, is anything but shallow.

Silence of the Lambs:

Do I really have to explain this one? Does anyone really believe Hannibal doesn't have a complex character?

Hitchcock
You get the idea.
 

irishda

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When a character's motivations are more complex than twirly-mustached "because I'm EEEEEEE-VILLLL!" and square jawed "It's the right thing to do because everything I do is right and if I don't do it, it's not right" is the first step. But it goes farther than that. Motivations driving actions is easy. The hard part is shaping that motivation through experiences, matching why a character feels one way because of what they went through. Think more Hummel (from The Rock example) and less Broly (I hate this man because he cried when we were babies even though another man tried to stab me to death).

It goes even further when a writer compliments and clashes a character's motivations with their personality. To keep using Hummel, he doesn't use the typical channels other people might, like the courts or the press. Instead, he resorts to what he knows. He's a soldier, his motivation must therefore be solved with a military answer. But that course eventually conflicts with his personality. He's a soldier, but one with a moral code. When he must choose between his motivation (proving he's not bluffing to spur action for his goal) and his personality (not being a mass murderer of American civilians), he has to weigh and choose one.

Now let's look at Barbossa. His motivation? Be a captain. Now, we can argue about whether or not he'd have that motivation if Jack was a more ruthless pirate ("It's exactly that attitude that lost you the Pearl. Men are so much easier to search when they're dead."), but ultimately throughout the series his goal remains the same: captain a ship. To my knowledge (never saw Stranger Tides), he never wavers from that motivation. We don't get any information on why he feels that way or what his past experiences were before he became Jack's first mate. And we never see his personality conflict with his feeling towards being captain.

So, short answer: Barbossa's a one note man, and a deep character needs a combination of personality, experience, and motivation to all influence and conflict with each other.
 

PapaGreg096

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irishda said:
Now let's look at Barbossa. His motivation? Be a captain. Now, we can argue about whether or not he'd have that motivation if Jack was a more ruthless pirate ("It's exactly that attitude that lost you the Pearl. Men are so much easier to search when they're dead."), but ultimately throughout the series his goal remains the same: captain a ship. To my knowledge (never saw Stranger Tides), he never wavers from that motivation. We don't get any information on why he feels that way or what his past experiences were before he became Jack's first mate. And we never see his personality conflict with his feeling towards being captain.

So, short answer: Barbossa's a one note man, and a deep character needs a combination of personality, experience, and motivation to all influence and conflict with each other.
To be fair Barbossa motivation is to become human also I do consider Barbossa to be somewhat of a "deep" character but I don't find his motivations to be deep.

Also I would like to add Yoshikage Kira from Diamond is unbreakable as "deep". I find his need to have a normal life while killing women to be interesting and as the series goes on you seem him change a bit and adapt to his surroundings.
 

irishda

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PapaGreg096 said:
To be fair Barbossa motivation is to become human also I do consider Barbossa to be somewhat of a "deep" character but I don't find his motivations to be deep.

Also I would like to add Yoshikage Kira from Diamond is unbreakable as "deep". I find his need to have a normal life while killing women to be interesting and as the series goes on you seem him change a bit and adapt to his surroundings.
Yeah but that's pretty much under the one movie. Looking at it colored through the rest of the series, it's clear he just wants to be human so he can experience the perks of being an alive captain. Hell his first words when he's brought back are, "So what's become of my ship?"
 

Casual Shinji

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I think a good and simple barometer is whether or not you can imagine the character outside of their property. Can you imagine (classic) Kratos NOT being on a blood fueled revenge quest? Can you imagine him chilling out on a Sunday (or whatever the ancient Greek equivalent of that is)? Not that this immediately makes a character "deep", but it can function to at least give them some dimension, which is a good start.
 

Addendum_Forthcoming

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I've always seen depth of character, in this case a villain, as to be one of three things;

1: Explicit narration - The worst kind of deep.

e.g. "They want the thing because [insert reason here]..."

2: Allusion through protagonist agency - The best kind of deep.

e.g. She went to the apartments of where the suspect stayed over the last twelve months. Little nooks and crannies of the landscape, mostly dilapidated, and all with views of a city that one could only remark as monstrous. Encompassing its inhabitants within in its eternal hunger for money, land and people. Producing only iniquity and unbridled decay in its rampant consumption.

She didn't find anything concrete, but she felt as if she could get inside his head now. What he was thinking as he gazed out over a city he felt alienated from, that he would come to loathe, as he hatched that scheme of his in his head--or possibly even before it.

She was convinced she had her man, but now she had to prove it.
----
Basically presenting the above without directly telling someone...

3: A combination of 1&2 - The most difficult kind of deep, and can possibly be the best or worst.

e.g. "They still don't understand. Why can't they understand!?"

----------------

I'm going to give an example out of anime, to prove that I'm fair by giving you an example of an anime despite not liking it, and show you what I mean of no. 3 of a really deep villain...

And that is Patlabor 2 ... but actually both Patlabor 1 & 2 are really good movies with really good villains. One of whom is already dead before the movie even really starts ... it's brilliant. It's like a forensic examination of the mind of a madman, trying to piece together what they were trying to say about the nature of the world, and from that determine the motives of their activity and what they did and hoping to achieve.

It really really works...

In Patlabor 2 the villain ofthe piece is introduced right at the start. A Colonel Tsuge as part of the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force detachment connected to a UN peacekeeping mission 'Somewhere in Southeast Asia' ...

The mission is an utter catastrophe, and Tsuge is assumed to be one of the few survivors of that particular skirmish.

I won't spoil the movie, but from there through the orchestration of a couple of terrorist attacks, exploiting the corruption within the various branches of the Japanese police and shadowy connections between the military and government that date back to the postwar period ... Tsuge essentially 'brings his war back home.'

He orchestrates a no-win scenario through his strategic use of terrorism, technology, and banking on the corruption at the heart of Japanese government, and essentially creates a no-win political crisis event. Whereby the government will likely collapse under its own weight of deception.

No one wants to back down, no one wants to surrender, and no one wants to shoot and invite a catastrophe. And so the collapse of civil government by default.

A situation he himself felt betrayed to by his superiors in Southest Asia that saw some of his men die.

And fr most of the movie the protagonists are merely reactive to this plot, asthey themselvesare embroiled between a political stand off by the Japanese Diet, military who feel unjustly villified and persecuted for incidents they had no hand in, and the police who out of that corruption acted rashly and tried to arrest key members of the JSDF.

One that eventually leads to the concession of the Japanese Diet, a vote of no-confidence in the police (of which nearly all of the protagonists belong to), and martial law. It's a pretty good ... I won't call it a pure 'political thriller', but it's in that genre nixed in with 'cop drama'. There's very little action beyond the first few minutes, and the brief bursts of orchestrated horror and the finale ... It's just a good villain in a pretty good movie.

--------------

I will say that because of movies being a visual medium predominantly, that allusion is easier to create in videos than in books. You can present the scene from first person perspective as you navigate the ruins of a villain's childhood home without either the protagonist or a writer just narrating at you.

Through careful shot composition and good acting and direction, you can also create a dual visual narrative of a marriage between environment and the person that sells an indefinite connection between protagonist and antagonist as they feel an almost shared event beyond thestrictures of time and distance.

Which helps illustrate the differences between both character(s) in full.

With clever use of a soundtrack and muted background and speech, you can even almost construct an alien mindset in the viewer. Make them isolated and slightly uncomfortable in the process. Which is particularly difficult outside an audiovisual format.
 

Addendum_Forthcoming

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Casual Shinji said:
I think a good and simple barometer is whether or not you can imagine the character outside of their property. Can you imagine (classic) Kratos NOT being on a blood fueled revenge quest? Can you imagine him chilling out on a Sunday (or whatever the ancient Greek equivalent of that is)? Not that this immediately makes a character "deep", but it can function to at least give them some dimension, which is a good start.
Really? Why? I can hardly imagine a Catholic priest inside a Buddhist temple ... but if you could would that give you any actual inference of whether they are at all that well constructed? And even then, making the arguent that a character is 'deep' by removing them out oftheir environment, and yet exist in another without cognitive dissonance whiplash doesn't really tell you much.

If anything, that barometer could exist for incredibly shallow characters.

Take a background extra out of LotR movies and insert them in the modern world, you basically just have hyper expensive cosplayer. And I've seen enough of them to buy that type of 'character'...
 

Casual Shinji

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Addendum_Forthcoming said:
Casual Shinji said:
I think a good and simple barometer is whether or not you can imagine the character outside of their property. Can you imagine (classic) Kratos NOT being on a blood fueled revenge quest? Can you imagine him chilling out on a Sunday (or whatever the ancient Greek equivalent of that is)? Not that this immediately makes a character "deep", but it can function to at least give them some dimension, which is a good start.
Really? Why? I can hardly imagine a Catholic priest inside a Buddhist temple ... but if you could would that give you any actual inference of whether they are at all that well constructed? And even then, making the arguent that a character is 'deep' by removing them out oftheir environment, and yet exist in another without cognitive dissonance whiplash doesn't really tell you much.

If anything, that barometer could exist for incredibly shallow characters.

Take a background extra out of LotR movies and insert them in the modern world, you basically just have hyper expensive cosplayer. And I've seen enough of them to buy that type of 'character'...
Within the confines of their respected setting obviously, hence why I said 'the ancient greek equivalent' in regards to Kratos. If you have a catholic priest character and you can't imagine (or don't ever show) him wearing regular clothes and just doing some groceries it could mean he's pretty one-note. Same for a LotR character. If you can only imagine Gandalf doing grand wizard shit, and not, like, I don't know, washing out his beard or organizing his residence (if he has one), that would make him kinda one-dimensional.
 

Addendum_Forthcoming

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Casual Shinji said:
Within the confines of their respected setting obviously, hence why I said 'the ancient greek equivalent' in regards to Kratos. If you have a catholic priest character and you can't imagine (or don't ever show) him wearing regular clothes and just doing some groceries it could mean he's pretty one-note. Same for a LotR character. If you can only imagine Gandalf doing grand wizard shit, and not, like, I don't know, washing out his beard or organizing his residence (if he has one), that would make him kinda one-dimensional.
Do we really want to go down that road, however? Like let's take an inverse look of instead of Gandalf, Tolkien's incredibly problematic ideas pf the world and why the characters aredoing things in it.

If I took orcs from Tolkien's incredibly fucking racist ideas of the world ... I also don't buy his portrayal of orcs in the modern world. Any orc. Tolkien was incredibly racist.

Or the specific quote...; "The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; in fact, degraded and repulsive versions of the [to Europeans] least lovely Mongol types."

Yeah, that level of racist. Like, explicitly racist. In a way that would make Lovecraft blush. So basically visually recreating an image of all the fights that thecharacters got into with orcs, and how they're presented, do they suddenly seem so 'deep' a characterization of them now that we've ported in the world as is into the setting?

Kind of puts a new spin on heroic Caucasian types slaughtering hundreds of them for the sake of rebuilding a monarchy, right? And this is the guy that fucking hates allegory. LotR is basically a man with an axe to grind about that one time people like me kicked the shit out of Europe.

I swear ... you pillage your way across Europe once and you never hear the end of it...
 

Casual Shinji

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Addendum_Forthcoming said:
Uhm.. am I missing something? When did this become about racism? Maybe you just needed to get that off your chest, but I don't see how any if this correlates to what I said.
 

Addendum_Forthcoming

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Casual Shinji said:
Addendum_Forthcoming said:
Uhm.. am I missing something? When did this become about racism? Maybe you just needed to get that off your chest, but I don't see how any if this correlates to what I said.
It's not about racism. It';s about environment. Your argument as is was whether you can imagine the charactersdoing something else beyond the environment they had beencast in. Thatthey have been modelled in. And I think that's a broken idea precisely because that presupposes that they can exist as well rounded characters outside of their native realms to begin with.

Quite specifically, you brought up LotR ... on the flipside, I made an argument about the environment of LotR through the author's eyes and values of how he saw its environmental context itself.

This is why I don't think your argument works, because (hopefully) people with modern values and with modern ideas towards our own humanity can't actually imagine the environment as is in any of Tolkien's imaginings of his own books. Hopefully ixnaying, you know, all the incredibly awful stuff that would legitimately kill any of its own romantic notions.

In short ... I think you'rewrong about how important environment is to a character. Environment is everything. I legitimately don't want to read about Gandalf washing his beard. I also don't legitimately see Medieval-esque hygiene as being portable to our world, either. I can't seeTom Bombadil just nipping off to the shops to buy a packet of Pringles.

Gandalf does all Gandalf things becaue the books set up what Gandalf is precisely contained in its own narrative. Books expand what he does. Even expand on what wizards actually are. But Gandalf who is Gandalf can only be realized in his own setting.
 

Casual Shinji

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Addendum_Forthcoming said:
It's not about racism. It';s about environment. Your argument as is was whether you can imagine the charactersdoing something else beyond the environment they had beencast in. Thatthey have been modelled in. And I think that's a broken idea precisely because that presupposes that they can exist as well rounded characters outside of their native realms to begin with.

Quite specifically, you brought up LotR ... on the flipside, I made an argument about the environment of LotR through the author's eyes and values of how he saw its environmental context itself.

This is why I don't think your argument works, because (hopefully) people with modern values and with modern ideas towards our own humanity can't actually imagine the environment as is in any of Tolkien's imaginings of his own books. Hopefully ixnaying, you know, all the incredibly awful stuff that would legitimately kill any of its own romantic notions.

In short ... I think you'rewrong about how important environment is to a character. Environment is everything. I legitimately don't want to read about Gandalf washing his beard. I also don't legitimately see Medieval-esque hygiene as being portable to our world, either. I can't seeTom Bombadil just nipping off to the shops to buy a packet of Pringles.

Gandalf does all Gandalf things becaue the books set up what Gandalf is precisely contained in its own narrative. Books expand what he does. Even expand on what wizards actually are. But Gandalf who is Gandalf can only be realized in his own setting.
I never talked about them leaving their setting, I'm talking about if the character can be seperated from the story's main plot and still function. Not the setting, the main plot.
 

wizzy555

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Question, if a character is a metaphor for a deep concept, does that make him/her deep by proxy?
 

Addendum_Forthcoming

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Casual Shinji said:
I never talked about them leaving their setting, I'm talking about if the character can be seperated from the story's main plot and still function. Not the setting, the main plot.
That's not what you wrote though.

"Can you imagine them outside their own property."

How else is someone meant to interpret that?

I literally can't buy Gandalf as Gandalf without LotR. Generic fantasy Gandalf isn't the same. Like Elminster of the Forgotten Realms setting. It's why D&D Wizards are worlds away from Tolkien wizards. I also can't imagine Gandalf in FR. For starters, Ride isn't a class skill for Wizards 3.x.

I also refuse to pretend dehumanized, racist ideas of East Asians as any of the orcs in the trilogy or Hobbit. I will in fact ixnay Tolkien's ideas of his own property to make it more palatable.
 

Agema

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Drathnoxis said:
What I want to know now is, what is deep? Is this a real thing, or just some intangible that nobody can actually pin down.
Character development, or psychological depth, would mean expanding and explaining someone's personality and behaviours, usually with context of their past experiences (which determine current behaviour). This seems to be the sort of thing we're talking about here most. Movies are often not great for this sort of thing, because they are relatively short to be able to explore complex personality. Stuff like action movies tend to be very poor, because they have a lot of time that needs to be devoted to action scenes rather than character. If you want to see good character depth, you really need to watch a character study film - "Up In The Air", "There Will Be Blood", etc.

So to take The Silence of the Lambs (film), for instance, Lector is not deep at all. He's really just a in intelligent and socially sophisticated mass murder, but in personality barely more deep than the T-Rex from Jurassic Park or Michael Myers from the Halloween series. The most deeply detailed character of the film is Clarice Starling.

* * *

On top of this there might also be plot depth, or intellectual depth, of course. And I suppose depth in a sense of subtlety - leaving the audience evidence to work things out for themselves rather than just telling them, although that's usually more a thing for literature than movies.
 

sageoftruth

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A simple way to think about it is, try describing a character to someone as if they were an actual person. However, you can only talk about their character. Personality, desires, preferences, hangups... All internal stuff. Official titles, things they do in the story, things that happen to them, and their reputations don't count.

The longer it takes for you to properly do their character justice, the more deep they tend to be. A common criticism of shallow characters is that they can be described in a single sentence, or sometimes, even a single word.

Also, if you're the writer or creator, you'll have to keep in mind that you can only describe traits that are actually shown in some way in the movie/book/video game. Things you wrote in their bio don't count if the viewers/readers/players never saw them.
 

Casual Shinji

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Addendum_Forthcoming said:
Casual Shinji said:
I never talked about them leaving their setting, I'm talking about if the character can be seperated from the story's main plot and still function. Not the setting, the main plot.
That's not what you wrote though.

"Can you imagine them outside their own property."

How else is someone meant to interpret that?
Then I probably worded that phrase incorrectly. In that same post however I stated that it needs to be that setting's equivalent, and in subsequent posts its clear what I meant by that.
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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I've never seen any character as deep. But then again I dont see people as deep either.
People aren't that complicated, and it seems that a lot of what people think of as "deep" is just non sequitur personality traits clashing with others.
Ozy from watchmen. Hes a complete genius, and a complete idiot. Wow, how deep.
No, that's just bad writing.
 

sageoftruth

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Ah, now I see where this question came from. The problem there is, you're asking about what makes characters deep, when the discussion from earlier was about what made motivations deep.

Of course, the two could be linked, since motivations are a part of character. Some people summed it up pretty well. Often deep motivations mean having a goal as a means to achieve another goal, which is tied to something more personal. Often, the more complex the personal thing is, the more deep it can be.

The issue with the pirates from Pirates of the Carribean was that their personal motivation was to be able to keep enjoying the perks of being pirates. To be able to partake in hedonistic pleasures. Basically, the same motivations an infant would have if deprived of anything pleasurable.

If the captain wanted to break the curse so he could perish, and join a loved one in some afterlife he believe in, that would still be somewhat deeper than the primal desire to escape an eternity without pleasure.