1. JEH
    Offline

    JEH Member

    Joined:
    May 10, 2015
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    1

    How do you write people that are completely different to you?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by JEH, Dec 22, 2015.

    I remember reading an interview where a person whom was writing for Sherlock Holmes (I think it was the popular Benedict Cumberbath series) "How do you write for a genius character like Sherlock Holmes? Someone who's much smarter than you or almost anyone else. How do you know what he thinks like?" The answer was interesting about manipulation to make him look smarter in a situation than perhaps in real life. For example when Sherlock makes deductions, they're so elaborate and complex that realistically, loads of those can be wrong, but by always making him right, it sort of manipulates his fictional status as being abnormally intelligent ect. Thought I'd share that because it interested me, but it still does make me consider the difficulties.

    How do I write for people who have had different lives? Sherlock's a larger than life character, but what about when writing for ordinary people? I did ask this question before, but hopefully I'm wording it better this time. I'm a 26 year old guy from a middle class background so how do I know what an old man thinks like or an old woman or a mother or a teenage girl or a guy who grew up in a rough place and maybe was domestically abused or a person from a different culture or a person who grew up in the country or someone whom suffers a mental illness ect ect ect. I suppose I should wing it, I just still wouldn't mind some feedback :)
     
  2. KhalieLa
    Offline

    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2015
    Messages:
    669
    Likes Received:
    390
    Location:
    United States
    The first thing to do is get inside your characters mind. You need to know what they are thinking and feeling. The next step is research.

    I'm a woman with two teenage boys. I have no idea what it's like to be a gay man or suffer from impotence. And yet, I think I write my characters well. I'm fortunate that I live in an area with two state universities only 7 miles apart and several community college besides, so I can generally find an expert in whatever I need.

    Though, when I asked a friend in the psych dept. if I could borrow some books on sex therapy that specialized in impotence he did stop to ask why. Try explaining to someone that you have severely depressed impotent dwarf who hasn't had sex in 15 years and you desperately need to get inside the characters mind in order to write the next chapter. Thankfully my friend just smiled, handed over the books an said, "I hope he feels better soon."
     
    Haze-world, Cave Troll and Lifeline like this.
  3. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    1,131
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    It's about putting yourself in the proper state of mind of your character.
    If he is sixteen, about to be crowned king, think on how you felt when you were sixteen and use all the knowledge you have of the world now and see how it could color his impressions, how his attitude could be internally and externally, and what he could logically be going through.

    You'll never know what it feels like to be a girl, to be from a different family, or to truly hold certain beliefs to heart.
    But you can extrapolate.
    If you need a character who believes in infecting people to study symptoms and develop a cure, even if you don't, you can dive in and entertain and excuse/logic the belief into your character.
     
    Haze-world likes this.
  4. Inks
    Offline

    Inks Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2015
    Messages:
    655
    Likes Received:
    167
    There is a difference in intelligence that cannot really be faked by those who are legitimately unaware of the situation. Most of this I chalk up to a combination of perspective and insight, there is just a difference in states of mind that is ever-present. Be aware that an author's intelligence can be detected in numerous ways and a fake "genius" is terribly obvious....
     
  5. Ben414
    Offline

    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2013
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    785
    While it may seem counter-intuitive, I've come to believe the best way to write other people is to trust your own POV in writing them. For myself, trying to imagine myself in someone else's shoes leads to flat, one-dimensional characters. I think this is because there is an entire lifetime's wealth of experience in my own viewpoint but only a few hours of experience (or however long you're brainstorming) in a character made completely from scratch. Instead of trying to get in their head, I've found it's better to create them as if from my own POV. A lot of human experience is universal; if you trust your own experiences' universality, you can transfer them and then you're most of the way there.
     
    xanadu likes this.
  6. huntsman40
    Offline

    huntsman40 Active Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2013
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    4
    I'm a big fan of writing what you know. And often we know more than we think we do. You have been alive for twenty-six years, and I'm sure you have met and spoken to a lot of people in that time. All of different ages, sex and personalities. This provides a huge pool of knowledge to base characters on.

    I'm also a fan of doing some of my work in coffee shops, at least in some stages of it. It gives me a chance to watch people, meet, and of course talk to them. But to a degree you can also just wing it. Knowing how one girl thinks in any given situation does not mean they all would do the same. One girl may stop and smell every flower, and the next may hate flowers. One may fawn over a new baby and another will look at it like it is some weird alien thing to be avoided at all costs. So you can really decide how they act if you build the character well.

    I will say this though. You asked about smart characters. This is very hard if you are not smart. I see countless writers say their character is a genius, or highly intelligent, but then they fail to see things the reader has worked out long ago with the same information the character had. So the difficult part is rarely about a smart character, but a plot that isn't a simple thing that a half-wit can solve in five minutes but the character somehow doesn't see until the last page.

    Highly intelligent people though can have flaws and weaknesses. For example they may struggle with emotion, trust, or general interaction with "normal" people. But again what flaws they might have is down to character creation and what you want them to struggle with.
     
  7. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,826
    Likes Received:
    7,352
    Location:
    Scotland
    A lot of help can come from imagining your characters (at least at the start) as being somebody you actually know. They don't have to be exact matches, of course. An old woman might be somebody you know who has prenatural wisdom (if that's your old woman's character) or perhaps somebody who is cranky and gets away with it because people make excuses for her behaviour (if that's your old woman's character) or somebody who always sees the fun in everything, no matter what ...if that's your old woman's character.

    The fun in this approach is that you not only can swap ages around, but you can swap genders as well. And professions, hobbies, talents. What if the fellow you know down at the local eaterie who can cook your burger to perfection every time while remaining cheery and approachable ...is actually the brain surgeon who saved your life? What if the middle-aged female librarian who helped you find the research you wanted—but treated you as if you were too stupid to find it yourself—is actually the guy who has just asked your main female character to marry him? You can have TONS of fun with this approach, and nobody will be the wiser.

    There isn't any stock way for a genius or a sexually abused victim or a person who has traveled the world to behave. Every person starts out as an individual. Their experiences will shape their characters, but they won't all be the same. So take a character you know and imagine what they'd be like if certain things happened to them or they had a completely different life. Not what YOU would be like, but what they would be like.

    Many of the characters in my novel started out with personalities gathered from people I know. Nobody who knows these people will recognise them in the story, because they've evolved a great deal ...and some have swapped genders. But it was a great place for me to start. It's a good idea to recognise that everybody is an individual, and that good and bad things can happy to anybody, rather than just creating a stock character to fit into every circumstance.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2015
  8. Sack-a-Doo!
    Offline

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2015
    Messages:
    2,234
    Likes Received:
    1,512
    Location:
    [unspecified]
    To do this type of characterization, I learned about personality styles (there are only four, so it's not a mountain of research to get through). If you Google 'behaviour styles' you'll find stuff that's similar. It's oriented toward bosses tricking their employees into working harder, but the basic personality stuff is there.

    Sorry I can't point you in a better direction, but contrary to popular belief, the Internet doesn't have everything.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2015
  9. JEH
    Offline

    JEH Member

    Joined:
    May 10, 2015
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    1
    Thank you ever so much for all the advice. I think it will be very helpful :)
     
  10. Simpson17866
    Offline

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    1,758
    Likes Received:
    1,298
    My favorite tip:

    1) look for as many ways of describing people as possible. D&D Alignment, MyersBriggs, Hogwarts House...

    2) Figure out what you are like on as many of these as possible. I am a Chaotic Neutral INTP Ravenclaw.

    3) Look at your favorite characters on as many of these systems as possible. Walter White from Breaking Bad is INTJ, Slytherin, and goes from True Neutral to Neutral Evil over the course of the series.

    4) Compare and contrast as many characters as possible, both with yourself and with each other, to see how the different aspects can combine in different ways.
     
  11. Samurai Jack
    Offline

    Samurai Jack Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2010
    Messages:
    167
    Likes Received:
    101
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    I've never seen writing characters as any more difficult than describing myself. Once you break down an action or an emotion to its simplest terms, no two people are really that different.

    I have done stupid things with money, and I have watched a friend do stupid things with money. The two of us feel entirely justified in our actions. The two of us each think the other is stupid for doing what we did, and for not listening to our advice to each other. We will probably get defensive, even angry, at our opinions.

    So if I dwell on situations like that long enough, I understand what is necessary to write about someone who is taking an action they KNOW is right, and I understand what is necessary to write about someone else who KNOWS they are wrong.
     
  12. Sack-a-Doo!
    Offline

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2015
    Messages:
    2,234
    Likes Received:
    1,512
    Location:
    [unspecified]
    I just found this link for behaviour styles. It doesn't have a lot of detail, but does give an overview. It helps to take a print-out with you and go observe people interacting with each other (much harder to do since the advent of the cell phone) and try to figure out which style they are.

    http://courses.cs.vt.edu/cs3604/support/Groups/First.Characteristics.html
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  13. Aster
    Offline

    Aster Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2015
    Messages:
    81
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    Melbourne
    A large part of writing is observation, research and application.

    Draw from your own observations. Research what you don't know about (living in poverty, abuse, different cultures, mental illness). Apply what you know and what you learn.

    I really dislike how "Write what you know" has come to mean that you should only write from personal experience. If that is the case then I guess George R R Martin has actual experience brutally murdering people and Suzanne Collins knows what it's like to kill children because she's done it before. And JK Rowling is actually magical.
     
  14. R.P. Kraul
    Offline

    R.P. Kraul Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2015
    Messages:
    60
    Likes Received:
    19
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Agree, there's a lot of imagination involved in writing. I find it satisfying to create characters who have beliefs different from my own. On the other hand, some life experience is important, because it teaches us how people interact, how they talk, how they behave. No one is going to learn to write dialogue by reading fiction. There has to be some reference to the real world. That and a lot of imagination and research.
     
  15. Aster
    Offline

    Aster Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2015
    Messages:
    81
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    Melbourne
    I wouldn't dismiss our capacity to learn from other authors entirely. Reading other fiction books will give you ideas on how to write engaging dialogue. Watching tv will expose you to all kinds of dialogue. Not always quality dialogue but representations none the less.

    If a certain show has dialogue and characters you find compelling or otherwise interesting, pay attention. They might be representations of someone else's observations but you're not trying to produce a documentary. You can absolutely learn your craft from the works of others.
     
  16. R.P. Kraul
    Offline

    R.P. Kraul Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2015
    Messages:
    60
    Likes Received:
    19
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    There are some fiction writers skilled with dialogue, but Elmore Leonard is the exception rather than the rule. Television and film are better sources, meaning there is a greater chance of encountering quality dialogue than in fiction. I certaintly don't underestimate our capacity to learn, but to learn dialogue from a typical novelist--I'm not sure it's all that useful.
     
  17. Aster
    Offline

    Aster Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2015
    Messages:
    81
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    Melbourne
    Musicians learn from other musicians.
    Artists learn from other artists.
    Doctors, nurses, teachers, architects, plumbers, carpenters, engineers...they all learn from the ones who came before them.

    To say that learning how to write dialogue from other writers is not useful is to deny yourself a wealth of experience to draw from.

    You're right that not every published writer is good. But if you think they are not good, then recognizing where they fall short is as beneficial to an aspiring writer as recognizing brilliant writing.

    Besides. There are a gazillion published novels out there. I don't mean to sound like a smartass but have you read them all?

    Every book you read, good or bad, is beneficial to your own writing.
     
  18. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,668
    Likes Received:
    5,162
    I think the key, at least for me, is to realize that the characters AREN'T completely different from me. Look for the similarities, rather than the differences, at least to start with. Does the character get frustrated sometimes? I get frustrated sometimes. How does the character react to frustration? With anger? Okay, good, I get angry sometimes. But maybe the character takes it further than I do. I wonder what's going on there?

    Look for the similarities first, and they'll help you understand the differences.
     
    HistoricalScience and Aster like this.
  19. R.P. Kraul
    Offline

    R.P. Kraul Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2015
    Messages:
    60
    Likes Received:
    19
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Just to be clear, I was talking entirely about dialogue. Of course a writer can learn a lot from reading other authors, that's a given. But if a writer wants to improve dialogue, there are better ways. The films of Woody Allen, David Mamet, and Martin Scorsese, to name just a few. Those three fellows write dialogue for a living, and they're among the best at it in their field.

    And at the risk of sounding caustic, no I haven't read every book, but I've read enough to know that most fiction writers--even really good fiction writers--are not great with dialogue. Heck, it's not tough to find literary agents complaining about dialogue in fiction.

    As to how write characters who are different from the writer--I agree with BayView. Explore the similarities first. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone has a collection of memories and experiences that shaped who they are.
     
  20. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,243
    Likes Received:
    1,001

    Yeah, both of these things. Get their base emotions down in your head and then run those emotions through a research filter to layer on things like culture, religion, effects of any medical issues or addictions, etc.

    The other thing I'd add is - if possible - see if you can't get readers who come from whatever group your writing about it. They'll pick out your inaccuracies or subconscious biases. You cant do this for everyone but you can do it for ethnic groups, occupations, etc.
     
  21. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,243
    Likes Received:
    1,001
    Actually writing geniuses can be somewhat easy. Their brains move really fast, but you as the author have the ability to slow down their brains, deconstruct what they're thinking, then write it down and speed them back up. Really what separates a lot of "geniuses" is just their ability process information quickly and/or store large amounts of it in their head. You don't have to store it in your head, you can store it in notes and then write it into their head.

    The other thing is that your in-text genius really is just someone who is really good at figuring out how a certain aspect of the world works....you as the author already know how that aspect of the world works because you designed it. It would take a smart person inside the story to figure it out - but from outside the story, knowing the end and knowing the logic needed to figure out the problems, you just have your genius see all the pieces you've been hiding from them.

    That and, dare I say, there's not exactly a shortage of tortured creative minds in the creative writing community. So, most of us have at least an inkling of how to write tortured creative minds that run too fast. The characters that scare me as a writer are the ones who aren't that smart.
     
    Haze-world likes this.
  22. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I play to my strengths. I may not have been a mother but I've done childcare. And at one point I was with a child more often than the mother and built up a bond. I may not know what it's like to be a mother but I know what it's like to have a bond with a child and to love a child. I've also had experience with a odd variety of people that helps me create rather offbeat characters. The slight drawback is that most of my character are never quite 'normal.'

    Developing a character for me is taking from my own storehouse of experiences, feelings and observations with research and imagination to fill in the blanks. If I find I won't do the character, or his experiences, justice I regulate him to a minor character rather than a main character and continue to focus on things that I can relate to, in order to keep him real.

    And reading helps. I read varied stuff too - bios, blogs - just to get a feel for people. It's good to take notes on interesting things that capture your interest, that way you can have lists of fresh details to make your character more interesting. Because sometimes as long as the details are interesting it doesn't matter if you're capturing the preconceived notion of a mother - instead you're capturing a woman who likes to make dresses from recycled material who happens to have children too.
     
  23. Toomanypens
    Offline

    Toomanypens Member

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2015
    Messages:
    53
    Likes Received:
    25
    WWJD
    Do you remember the what would jesus do acronym?
    Just establish some outlines for different types of people or characters.
    - what would a bully do
    - what would a girl/guy do
    - what would a coward do
    - what would a dog named jack do

    Then whenever you are stuck, just go back to your guidelines and sort it out :)

    Sherlock imo can be written by
    a) establishing what genius traits are
    - social awkwardness
    - neurotic behaviour
    - talking in ways people don't understand
    - fascinated by the mundane
    - bored by the interesting
    b) establishing what his tastes are
    - maybe he hates a certain type of person
    - loves to be challened
    - is dependent emotionally
    c) establishing his strengths
    - certain girls really like him
    - he is bold and strong in pressure situations

    etc
    Then you look back over those notes, and get them to work as best you can
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2015
  24. Inks
    Offline

    Inks Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2015
    Messages:
    655
    Likes Received:
    167
    I totally agree with those points! It is fun. Also, unsuspecting characters... Jar Jar. Yeah, but there is a point when it does break the realism and I guess that was it.
     

Share This Page