1. creativevomit
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    creativevomit Member

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    Having trouble writing different characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by creativevomit, Jan 3, 2013.

    It seems like all my characters are all very similar to each other. I can write characters that are different, but different to the point where they are barely believable. The problem is my normal characters all seem the same if you know what I mean. I can create a bunch of characters with strange things, but when it comes to normal-ish characters they all end up being very similar.

    Advice? not sure exactly what I'm asking for here.
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I find that characters goals can keep them separate because what one person wants out of life isn't
    what someone else wants -But if they do want the same thing,
    the way they go about getting it can also be what separates them.

    It's like two woman who both want to be wealthy. Michelle decides to keep herself fit and trim and
    giggle like a schoolgirl so she can land some rich old coot. But Rachel decides to work her way
    through business school.

    Add in some fears - Michelle hates sickness so that every time she lands a rich old guy her
    repugnance to his infirmities make her less than likeable, sabotaging each relationship.

    Rachel is afraid her past will interfer with her new standing among her colleges making
    her stand off-ish thereby thwarting her ability to rise in her new job.

    Give your characters goals, problems, opinions. Once you force them to
    react to a challenge they'll start to become more believable - especially
    if you don't make it easy.
     
  3. creativevomit
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    creativevomit Member

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    Good advice. Thanks!
     
  4. Gingerbiscuit
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    Gingerbiscuit Senior Member

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    Is there any chance you've got too many characters? Are you using character's to "pass the butter"? My advice would be that every character needs two things. Firstly, as Peachalulu suggests they should have some kind of a back story. They need something that motivates them and they should all experience some kind of conflict, especially if you're making them a focal point for large passages. Really, every character in your story should be lovingly created with a full set of likes, dislikes, hobbies and interests etc. Even if you don't use every little detail about this person (and you really shouldn't) knowing what makes them tick will make it much easier to write dialogue.

    The second thing they need is a reason to be there. Are they important to your protagonist? Are they driving the storyline forward? Or are they just hanging around in the periphery waiting for you to give them something to say?

    Everyone of us are different, it's your job to decide what makes your characters different and then decide if that's important enough to be included in the story.
     
  5. unluckyguardsman
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    unluckyguardsman New Member

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    As suggested by Gingerbiscuit, a backstory is essential to a character. Throw them into different circumstances in their past, and allow them to develop different quirks. The key to writing very diverse but realistic characters is to spend a lot of time in your writing developing the little things in their personalities. One character can be very practical, and another can romanticize about philosophy a lot. One can have a nervous twitch developed from an abusive childhood etc etc. Those are simple very believable things that can differentiate characters and start them on separate paths of development.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why is a back story important? Sure, you can assume a character has one, but does the reader need to know what it is? Does even the author?

    Before you answer, do you know the back story of all your friends? If not, are they necessarily boring? Could you write a story about such a friend anyway?

    A character's background can be a complete mystery, even to the author, and the character can be no less fascinating. In some cases, the mysterious character who has no past that anyone knows can be the most fascinating of all!

    Write story, not back story. And allow a character to be a complete enigma. T'ain't fatal.
     
  7. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a similar problem with several characters being similar to each other. Not sure if there's a solution, or even if there necessarily has to be. If characters in the same story are too similar, than maybe I have more than I need anyway? And if it's similar characters in different stories, maybe it's not as big a concern? How many authors write countless books with arguably interchangeable protagonists? Seems like a lot of authors do. While diversity is always good to cultivate, I think you just have to let it come naturally by exposing yourself to diverse stories (regardless of medium). I think that will naturally diversify your characters. Until then, don't force it. Write what comes to you. No use trying to be something you aren't yet.
     
  8. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Give them different voices. Think how each of them will describe and interact with other characters by their own words. If you want, write a note of how one of them speaks. I had a similar problem too for a multiple first person story. The readers suggest I should focus on one main character.
     
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  9. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    There's a million different ways to make your characters different from one another, and what some of the other participants on this website has suggested is good ideas in their own ways. Another thing you might want to consider though is not focusing so much on the characters. I know it sounds odd, but it really isn't when you think about it. Try taking a break from the characters and watching the people around you, or going places and watching people. If you want to find a way of making your characters different by doing little things, then maybe the best thing would be watching people in the real world. It's like Peach said, people have the same goals, but have different ways of approaching them, and it shows up a lot in everyday life. Just something to consider.
     
  10. Terry Turton
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    Terry Turton Member

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    You could give them all a diffrent trait.or some kind of background story thats simular to the other c. they could all share a common thing.[sorry i don't know what it's called when people have something they share like they went to the same school or where inmates at the same prison or they worked at the same place] maybe they all could have been part of a group like AA but for ocd or simular problem like a self help group or something.
     
  11. unluckyguardsman
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    unluckyguardsman New Member

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    It may not be fatal not to write extensive backstory, but what makes your friends the interesting people they are is their own backstory. Even though you don't know this, it is hard to create an interesting character that will last for a while without delving into their history for information. No story is complete without exploring the main character's past to some degree.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, I can't entirely agree with this. Many stories succeed quite well by dealing solely with the characters from the beginning of the story forward/

    But even if you do choose do delve into a character's past, you can create it on the spot. I don't believe in pre-generating characters' pasts. Why constrain yourself unnecessarily?
     
  13. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    I find that a character naturally retains his or her own identity through the face of conflict and drama. Kind of like in real life when a person shows their true colors. If somehow the characters are STILL the same after that, you have a problem. If you don't have any conflict or drama to derive identity out of your characters, you have an even bigger problem.
     
  14. unluckyguardsman
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    unluckyguardsman New Member

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    But if you begin with a rough idea of the background, you don't risk contradicting yourself later on (this much is true for longer form material and not really for short stories). I think that any good piece of writing must employ backstory and past happenings (even in small references); additionally this backstory must be well thought out and not invented as you go along because this gives it a greater chance for continuity and quality.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's not back story if it only grows out of the actual stories you write. As for avoiding contradictions, surely you can keep track of what you have written.

    I still see no compelling argument for creating back story outside the actual story. But to each his (or her) own.
     
  16. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    I regard the character's voice as much more important than backstory for establishing individuality. I never have liked the idea of character cards and that sort of thing. I have an idea of their background in general terms, but unless it's essential to the plot, I don't think knowing that they fell from the monkey-bars in kindergarten is terribly important. I get an idea of why they are where they are at the time the story occurs, but I always leave room for happy surprises. I think it's important to let the characters tell me who they are; the story feels more organic for it, to me, and room is allowed for creative inspiration, as well.
     
  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, in my experience, my characters are a lot more real when they have a back story. These back stories may or may not be included into the actual MS itself, but if I knew my MC was bullied severely as a child, naturally his insecurity or aggressiveness shows through in my writing without me even thinking. The nuances drop in all by themselves. Even if no one ever knows the MC was bullied in the past, it has helped towards creating depth for the character that thus has contributed to the quality of the book/story.

    But if I did not think of a single past event for my characters, they're still real enough, still personable etc - it's not a great disaster - but I find the character less complex, the nuances in the dialogue are gone, my character is more 2D.

    The exploration of back story could also be a gender thing - maybe - I love to hear about people's past, what made someone into who he is now, why he's acting this way, why is he so angry about this etc. And in a story, your MC usually harbours some past trauma in order to make him/her an interesting character - so if this trauma overshadows the character so much, it is necessary to tell the readers about it at some point, like part of a sub-plot kinda thing. Some stories might work better if the mystery is never revealed, but 9 times out of 10, it will be.

    And the reason why I say it could be a gender thing is because I've heard the theory that women come together to talk about relationships (how's your husband/child/pet? How was your date with so and so? Is everything ok with your grandma?) whereas men come together to talk about other things - the particular illustration I read had the men talking excitedly about concrete :D And back story is, as I see it, story about the relationships of the character in the past - something happened, someone caused it etc - which, if we go by the male/female stereotype, would make sense why you're less interested in back stories.

    It's just a theory :D
     
  18. Terry Turton
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    Terry Turton Member

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    I personally think that unless a back story is important to the plot it's unnecessary.
     
  19. Keiti Ryoko
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    Keiti Ryoko Member

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    I've run across the same problem, not only in personality, but maybe it doesn't matter. So what if all of your main heroines have dark hair? That doesn't mean you believe that blondes can't be the heroes.
    Personality is different. Someone with a wealthy family and wealthy friends who has been cut off from actually problems (not that this is true of all rich people) and who is too afraid to do much of anything cannot be the hero in most stories. In general fiction, maybe they can, but I'm more of a Fantasy writer, so...
    Anyways, the characters in your story will reveal their differences to you, I'm sure. Whether these varieties are because of back story or a sudden change of heart depends on the character and story. You may find it easier to write with the back stories or you may find it too long and boring. Either way, as long as the story makes sense, it doesn't matter. Just make sure your characters aren't grouped into red heads with calm tempers (who knows?) as side characters and sassy brunets as main characters, or anything too similar to this example, and you should be fine.
    If you do find that you have a hard time distinguishing one individual from another, just write a random chapter on scrap paper or something where those characters are under extreme pressure, and see what happens. Maybe you'll wind up combining two like characters into one. Whatever works best.
    P.S. I'm sorry for rambling, I just wind up doing that sometimes.
     
  20. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Making a characters entire backstory on the spot is the sign of an amateur writer imo, or at least a careless one. I like to write by the seat of my pants as much as anyone, but without even a basic idea of their history, you're going to end up contradicting past events, and said history won't feel integrated into the characters personality.
     
  21. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Every character I create I can think of someone I know reasonably well who reminds me of them. I try to figure out the essential qualities, how I would sum up that person in 3-4 words. Then derive from that. Or you can combine qualities of different people to get your characters unique flavour.
     
  22. empower
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    Hi, I haven't touched fiction for a long time but am now getting back into it. I think the idea of focussing on your main character is solid advice. Historically, a lot of good novels have been written in this way. I can't help but think of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury which changed my understanding of good literature in that it fundamentally challenged the way I view main characters. I thus moved away from the omniscient narrator to a more fragile individual perspective, warts and all.
     

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