1. Ammagar von Schratt
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    Ammagar von Schratt New Member

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    Characters who are not the writer

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ammagar von Schratt, May 29, 2016.

    Now, I like writing and I also like roleplaying. And I have noticed that however different my roleplaying characters may be in essence, in personality, in everything, so you couldn't relate them even in the wildest of imaginations, they still remain me.

    In many ways, of course with different colourings and tones, they think like me and act like me. And now that I am trying writing something a bit more seriously, that starts bothering me. I always think that all the characters I create either
    1)to some extent all represent, be they dashing swashbucklers or elderly merchants, how I would think in a given situation.
    2)feel strange
    3)both

    And that is perplexing, because I don't know... will it alienate a reader? And will my quirks make the characters seem odd? For example, I am very shy to a seriously maddening amount, and that might show off in my characters not being so forwards, passionate, or "aggressive", or even if they are, not "realistic" because I have no idea how to write such characters.

    Furthermore, as I often find characters in books written by others exceedingly... strange, I am given more the reason to fear that, well, most people would feel just the same about mine. And I don't really know people well, either, which even more enhances this phobia.

    It is probably rather a mundane and pointless question - with little solution beyond doing what you feel comfortable at. But I ask anyways, and please, give me some advice. Even though the problem is so generic.
     
  2. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    When I began writing some ten years ago, I wrote down a list of my attributes and flipped them in order to conceive my first character. What I ended up with was a mouthy American gambler who put his life savings on a single turn of the roulette wheel just to feel his heart thud again. If you have a grasp on who you are, you can utilize this method to guarantee a different character from you.

    Humans, although spanning a world's worth of cultures and creeds do share similar thought patterns in that we are self-serving to some degree. Even the greatest humanitarians allow themselves to smile about their work so if your thought process for characters involves them doing something to help themselves then that's okay. Our differences stem from the ingredients in the recipe for individual happiness. What does your character want? How do they get it? If it sounds like you, cook a different dish. Study characters from stories you love and see how they operate, speak and differ from each other. Most importantly, talk to as many people as possible and find out what they want while observing how they pursue those goals. Take a Hunter and an Animal Rights Activist and analyze them. You'll see the differences in people. Then, when you understand the traits that characterize them you can apply that to you prose.
     
  3. Mocheo Timo
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    Mocheo Timo Active Member

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    I love that question! And I have pondered on it for quite a few times. Of course, with no objective answer.

    It always reminds me of J.D. Salinger's case with The Catcher in the Rye (it's #1 in my favorite books list so I think about it quite often). Salinger used to call teenagers over to his house to talk with them about their problems. Apparently he really enjoyed doing that. We can see then that his character (Holden) may not necessarily reflect his own personality but it surely stems from his well-versed knowledge of teenagers. He managed to escape this problem, which I think every committed writer eventually faces.

    In my opinion though, this is a lovely problem. This builds inside the writer a desire to escape and to know the outside of the self. That creates an incredibly humble character which tries to understand others' perspectives and opinions in a way no one else would. This experience is gold. However it is that you may try to do it, it will surely be of great benefit.
     
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  4. christinacantwrite
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    christinacantwrite Member

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    Sometimes when creating characters I do an MBTI test for them and read through the resulting character description, look up celebrities who allegedly are that type etc... I don't believe the test as any real life significance (the idea that all of humanity fits into sixteen neat little trait-boxes seems ludicrous to me), but what it does do is get you thinking about which traits go together and how they can manifest themselves in different people. You could even do it backwards - pick a type at random (or not), read the description, and do the test with the aim of getting that type at the end. I haven't tried this, but perhaps it could help you get into the mindset of different personalities? Just a thought.
     
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  5. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    Study people. Especially ones you are super different from you whose viewpoints you don't understand. Do it until you can replicate their thought processes - even if you disagree with them, understand how they get from A to B. Once you can see why, theoretically, someone would behave in a way you never would, it becomes easier to write. I have characters who want kids even though it's basically my worst nightmare because I've talked/listened in depth to people who love being parents (failing actual people to talk to, read blog/forum/social media posts and the like), and while you don't want to just exactly parrot the people you've learned from, you can incorporate the 'alien' traits into more familiar ones and see how they interact. So using my example, you decide to create a character who wants kids, and other traits you might find more relatable inform that trait - maybe they just like kids, maybe it's something their partner wants, maybe they feel a responsibility to carry on the family name, etc.
     
  6. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I second what @izzybot said: Study People
    I have a few characters that are good with children, and I am not. IDK how I did it, other than watching how others had done similar things. (Well I had to add in a few things, cause I don't think it is regular to have a 20cm reptillian that specializes in wet-work and algorithms. ) But I try to incorporate the things that I have seen and read of others to create characters that are unique to themselves. I have an MC that is way different from myself, and it makes it challenging sometimes to write from their perspective. But I have other works that have characters that vary widely across the spectrum of personalities. Try writing an entire species that is prim and proper to the letter almost all the time, the exception being that getting drunk makes them more normal and oddly enough much funnier. So it takes a bit of observing those around you, and trying to incorporate those traits into the characters to make them less like you. Now go out into the world and People Watch. :p
     
  7. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    I might be going against the flow here, and excuse me if I've gone the philosophical route when you wanted practical, but IMO it's impossible to create characters that aren't reflections of at least some aspect of yourself.

    When you say that your characters still 'remain you', how are you defining what you are? If you understand a trait well enough to portray a character with it, then isn't that trait (as part of your understanding) part of you? Even if you create a character to be the exact opposite of how you usually act, by being able to do that, aren't you acknowledging that you could conceivably act in such a way under the right circumstance? Or even if you'd never actually act that way, but only have the thought... is that thought not also a part of who you are? Along that line, it's always possible that your 'exact opposite' character is just you without one key trait, e.g. impulse control. Conversely, if some sort of character trait is completely foreign to who you are, it will never occur to you to write characters with it.

    People are complex and inconsistent, which casts the net even wider. I define myself differently all the time: sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, sometimes... etc. In my limited understanding of psychology, the brain is a processing unit that attempts to coordinate how effectively the body interacts with its environment. As the external environment (physical, social, financial, etc) constantly changes, so does the internal environment - so perhaps who you are changes as you accumulate experiences (including via People Studying). One thing the human brain is very good at is finding patterns (even meaningless ones), which probably contributes to why I can see myself in many characters - I notice the common ground and not the glaring differences. I imagine that's the basis of empathy, and probably also the reason why lots of people give horoscopes any regard.

    But then, everyone's different, and perhaps I'm only reflecting on people 'like me' because they're within my realm of understanding. There are a lot of paradoxes and circular arguments here...

    That's probably enough self-indulgence for now anyway. Despite implying I've disagreed, I think the posts preceding mine have a lot of good ideas for creating interest in your cast of characters! I think it's worth highlighting that most of your audience won't be nearly as familiar with 'you' as you are, but they will be familiar with themselves and likely to share a good number of traits with you (because hey, we're not all that different when it boils down to it).

    If I'm going to make any sort of point with this rambling and unedited debacle: don't try to stop your characters seeming like you (because 'you' has a lot of scope!); just try to stop them all seeming like each other. And your beta readers will be very capable of identifying when you fail at that, so my vote is 'worry about it if and when it comes up'. Good luck!
     
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  8. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    The best writers are incredibly empathetic people.

    They are able to view the world from many different and contradicting perspectives all at once. If you want a simple technique for creating characters that are not a reflection of yourself, write down your views, values, likes and so on down ones side of a table (not an actual table). Then in the next column write down the opposite. In the next write down something in between. Now build a character using a combination of traits from each of the three columns.
     
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  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    That can't be helped. All writers base characters on themselves whether they like to think that or not. Even when they try to make a character drastically different from themselves, those characters are (and behave) in ways the author imagines those drastically different people would act. Thus, those drastically different characters are still viewed through the lens of the author's own character and behaviour and pick up traits from the author.

    My suggestion is to create your characters to suit the story you're telling the way you're telling it. If they come out odd, that's fine. Embrace it. We're all a bit strange. ;)
     
  10. Ammagar von Schratt
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    Ammagar von Schratt New Member

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    I don't know if it sounds odd or illogical, but I don't even feel the problem is that I can't predict people. It is just that I can't write them. I look at the characters and ask of myself whether that sounds sane.

    Now, that may be a psychological problem. It may be that I am just writing characters I can't understand, and perhaps that is good - it might show that I am actually achieving what I wanted, writing characters whom I can't really comprehend. I just wonder whether that is wishful thinking and I am actually creating soggy characters or polarising them too much...
     
  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    No writer ever truly comprehends a character until they've lived with them for a while. The best we can get up front is a glimpse, a brief snippet of understanding.

    My advice is to write the story. That will reveal more of the character to you. And when you go back to reread the first draft, you'll see another glimpse you didn't see while you were writing. Incorporate that new insight into the second draft. And on and on.

    In my current WIP, Kelly (the main character) started off as a cardboard cut-out in the first draft. In the second, I thought he was a coward who refused to engage with the story. Now, in the 8th draft, I'm finally seeing his strength. And why did he refuse to engage during earlier drafts? Not because he's a coward. It's because the poor guy has a lot on his mind, is being pulled in multiple directions at once.
     
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  12. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I may:

    The point of the test is not "Are you 100% Introvert or 100% Extravert" (and so on), the point is "Where are you on the spectrum from 100% Introvert to 50/50 to 100% Extravert."

    Nobody is 100% of anything, so "putting people into boxes" obviously isn't going to work, but there's nobody on the planet who isn't somewhere on each axis. I, for example, am about 90% Introvert, 85% Intuitor, 65% Thinker, 80% Perceiver. Technically, this makes me INTP, but I am also closer to INFP than I am to ENTP, ISTP, or INTJ.

    Knowing that I am INTP helps me make sense of the fact that there are people in the world who are not INTP (in fact, the vast majority of the people in the world), and this helps me force myself to write characters who are different from myself by having something specific to point to.

    I also use D&D Alignment in the same way: MyersBriggs has 16 types, Alignment has 9 ("Where are you on the spectrum from Lawful to Neutral to Chaotic" x "Where are you on the spectrum from Good to Neutral to Evil"), but combining them gives 144 possibilities:

    I am a Chaotic Neutral INTP

    The main protagonists of my Doctor Who fanfic are (in order of most dominant POV to least dominant)

    Lawful Good ESFJ (32% of the text)
    Lawful Good ENTP (24%)
    Chaotic Evil ENFJ (20%)
    Lawful Neutral ESTJ (13%)
    Neutral Good INFJ (11%)
    And the lead protagonist of my new Urban Fantasy WIP is a Lawful Evil ESFP human whose friends get caught up in the schemes of a Chaotic Evil INTJ vampire.

    A lot of writers believe that being able to describe the core of a character quickly means that the character is two-dimensional and not as interesting as a character that can't be described quickly.

    I've always believed that this is too extreme. A character that can be described perfectly in a few sentences would certainly be boring, and you need to add a lot of details that can't be summarized quickly, but the idea of a character that can't be summarized at all always struck me as being an amorphous blob of random traits and actions that you can't distinguish from the other amorphous blobs in the same story.
     
  13. misteralcala
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    misteralcala Member

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    Sometimes I enjoy writing characters with strange habits, quirks, phobias etc. The cool thing about conjuring a character for a story is that anything goes - they can be as mundane or intense or as strange as you dare. You can also give them interesting back-stories to explain the behavior and reinforce the traits you want to stand out.

    Here are some characters I just made up as an example:

    1. Harlan was a mean-looking old man, with steely grey eyes that scanned for every detail and that perpetual scowl that most strangers would go out of their way to avoid. If a stranger were bold enough to face the scrutiny of his eyes and the scowl of disdain that must have been assigned to him at birth and actually try to converse with Old Harlan, they might be shocked at the high falsetto voice that came out of that scowl. High-pitched Harlan was what some brave souls called him, but the children simply called him Snow Cone Man. Every Sunday for the past forty years saw Harlan up at dawn, hitching up his gaudy snow cone trailer to his rusty old tractor. He'd set up shop right on the corner of Mulberry Street and University Drive and serve snow cones for a quarter until he ran out of ice. Then he'd tow the rainbow-hued snow cone trailer behind Merve's Tavern and soak up some suds until the sun started to set. As scary as Harlan seemed to most adults, the kids in town have always made it a point to have money ready for his snow cones, eager to toss their change into the big coffee can on the counter. Once they paid their quarter and were handed their paper cone of shaved ice, they were free to splash on the flavored syrups in what every child thought was sure to become some unique, magical combination of flavors that would taste as vivid as their colors appeared on the white ice.
    2. Marvin didn't play with the other children. During recesses, he would often be seen sitting behind the low hedges at the rear of the playground. He didn't mind the fact that he was virtually invisible to the other children - Marvin enjoyed the solitude. He never brought toys or books out to recess, because he always found something to play with in the bushes. For the past three weeks there had been caterpillars - fat green ones with red and black stripes painted down their sides. Marvin wanted nothing more than to take some home in his pocket, but he dare not. His mother wouldn't approve, and he wouldn't want to endure the beating that would surely come if the green-striped stowaway was discovered. So instead, he played with them and ripped them in half, leaving them to drag their sticky green guts in the dirt until they lay still and attracted the tiny ants that patrol the thick hedges. He didn't know why, but killing them made him feel better. Maybe this was how Mother felt when she punished him. He certainly felt like his insides were being ripped out after hours of sobbing. Marvin wondered if his insides were green and gooey too, and as the last bell rang he cast a final look at the day's carnage.

    If you can imagine it, you can write it.
     
  14. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    This is a good question and an important discussion, and I agree with much of what has been said already. To me, character development is as important to the story as plot and scene development and is best thought through (outlined for those more organized types) before you get too far into actually writing your story. Although I also feel the impulse to have a character do or say what I might do or say, I most often have someone else in mind (or a composite of people I've known) when I am writing a character. Or sometimes I use the 'what would I do/feel' as a guide to have my character do/feel something vastly different. Then, I try to show the character through dialogue, and behavior such as demeanor, quirks, habits, etc. interesting characters add a good deal to a story, and by the way, you can juice up your characters on revision if in the first writing you are primarily focusing on getting the story down.
     
  15. christinacantwrite
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    christinacantwrite Member

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    Ah, a fellow INTP, hello! And, of course you may :)

    The problem I see with it is, are the MBTI spectrums all-encompassing? Do the four scales of I-E/N-S/T-F/J-P take account of all the variances within human personalities? It wouldn't work very well if we eliminated one of the four (not just replacing it with an X but totally ignoring it), so is there a 5th scale which could be added to make it work better? Or 6th or 7th? Is it even possible to have enough scales for the MBTI to truly take account of of possible variances in human behaviour? That its usage can be improved by combining it with another personality test says nothing to me except that it is lacking. It shouldn't have to be combined with anything if it worked properly.

    The other issue is that many people who repeat the test get different results. I said I'm an INTP, but I've come up as INTJ just as much, as well as INFJ, and even ESFJ once (ok, idk what was up there haha). I have used a number of different tests, including ones recommended by (probably self-proclaimed) MBTI "experts", so, are the tests really reliable? Do they accurately measure where the person falls on each scale, or do they ultimately rely on stereotypes?

    The way people (ab?)use it is perhaps what irritates me the most. You say that it's not about putting people into boxes, but the way type descriptions are written implies that it is. INTJs will do this, ESFPs will do that, etc. etc. They are written with an absolute certainty which people embrace. I've seen some people assign TV and book characters (who aren't their creation) with the type they think they are, then assert that in X situation Y will do this, won't do that, no that's impossible because they're XXXX and so on. When I first found the test, I asked some of the above mentioned experts if it were possible to straddle two types (in my case INTJ/INTP), and the answer was always a resounding "no" - you were one or the other, because the two types behave differently. People use it as a means of predicting human behaviour, and whilst it can give an indication of how someone of a certain type may be more likely to behave, we can't use it to tell the future.

    I completely agree with your second and last paragraphs. Actually, I think MBTI applies much better to characters (of our own creation) than to real life people, because we have total control over the way their minds work. We know everything about them. For this reason it is possible to use the types as guides for their personalities, even though they don't have to be strictly adhered to. We can't use it in the same way for real life people, even ourselves, with any kind of accuracy, hence my scepticism.

    (editing to say to the OP, sorry for the slight derail!)
     
  16. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nope :)

    Stethoscopes aren't 100% comprehensive either, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't use them. That just means that people should be aware of what a stethoscope does measure and what it doesn't.

    If a personality system covered every aspect of the human condition, then humans wouldn't be able to use it ;) Hence the stethoscope.

    Different tests are biased in different directions ("Do you care about people? If YES then Feeler, if NO then Thinker" would make a non-psychopathic Thinker appear falsely to be a Feeler), so I've found it's best to take the average of the numbers you get from multiple tests: I've taken 4 tests that said INTP, 1 that said INFP, and 2 that said I was split perfectly 50/50 down the middle.

    Maybe you're a more mild INTP than I am (something like 70%-70%-60%-55% P against my 90%-85%-65%-80%) ?

    The type descriptions are written from the perspectives of the hypothetical 100% extremes, but just looking at the system as a set of spectra instead solves that problem pretty quickly.

    Ouch.

    You're right, the way those "experts" are interpreting the system would make the system useless.

    Not with 100% accuracy, but that doesn't make it 100% useless ;) I've found I've understand people in the real world more ever since MyersBriggs gave me something to point to and say "Just because I'm N and somebody else is S doesn't make me right and them wrong".
     
  17. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    If you create conflict in a story, you cannot really help but create conflicting characters. I understand it's difficult to create a unique voice, if you will, for each character but I think concentrating on the narrative is the most important bit. Find the conflict and you'll find character variety.
     
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  18. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    This explains an interesting flaw in my WIP. One of my characters is a Roman officer, detached for diplomatic duty, roughly the military and emotional equivalent of a modern pre-command Lt Col. Since I am myself a retired Commander, same Navy rank, he wound up looking and talking and thinking a lot like me. However, since at this point in life I am generally at peace with myself after putting up with me for 60+ years, HE HAD NO CONFLICTS. He started out looking like he would be the MC, then he never changed because he had nothing changing him. Everybody else had a conflict that changed them, some significantly: one went from double-dealing liar and scoundrel to psychopath (not modeled on me), one from scoundrel to hero (also not me), one learned about love and women, the woman in his life changed from submissive reticence to fighter, etc. But Gaius came out the end looking like he did when he came in, a lot like me, because that is who he was.

    I am working on his conflict now in Rev 5, to make him more interesting. He is frequently looking at a cameo of his wife that he didn't see before he left, hasn't seen in several years, and won't see for several more, his son and daughter (whose births he missed) were children when he left, they will be in their teens when he gets back... he has always put duty above his family and now he regrets never having done his duty by his family. What awaits him on his return?

    This has been a useful thread!
     
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  19. christinacantwrite
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    christinacantwrite Member

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    I think we are in agreement. It's just that most advocates of the system I've come across really do use it to put people into boxes, applying the descriptions to their hypothetical extremes, as you say. This obsessive categorisation of people seems to be on trend at the moment... or it's just a part of human nature - to make things simpler for ourselves. Or maybe I just spend too much time on tumblr :p But the way I see it, MBTI can provide some excellent insights into our own personalities and others', hence why I recommended it to OP. Because surely the key to writing a good book is to make the characters as real as possible. But in applying it to real life, there are major limitations that must be accounted for, even if it is still useful. I think we are arguing from different angles to get to the same point haha.
     
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  20. HallowMan97
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    HallowMan97 Member

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    This is an interesting question, but in my opinion, a simple one. This may not be a system for everyone but I don't create my characters on my own. That's because I know they'll resemble me somewhat. I draw inspiration from my own friends and family, or complete strangers sometimes. I record conversations quite often, even throwaway ones, and I write them into context. Makes for real dialogue and real personality differing from my own. I mix and match so I don't get a lawsuit, especially if the character being portrayed as a rotten apple is taken from a real person I know, but for me it is the best way to create characters and make sure they'll be different every time.
     
  21. Buttered Toast
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    Buttered Toast Active Member

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    It's strange but I never thought of this, I just ran straight in and made a load of characters but made them unique in different ways!
    I wanted one that was shy and would crawl out of her shell later on in the story and one that was hasty and got angry quick and one that was always chilled, I like a combo, it would be boring if everyone was the same.
     

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