1. ranjit23das
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    ranjit23das Member

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    Why all my characters are similar

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ranjit23das, Oct 6, 2012.

    Wow! I had a moment of clarity today. I wondered why all my characters look and sound the same - female, male, young, old. I realise that I have a certain personality style (logical, structured planned etc) and so I am portraying the same persona onto all my characters. I guess great writers are able to 'step out of their skin' and allow their characters to take on different personality types.

    How do other writer's in the community manage to stop their personalities and preferences from seeping into their characters?
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    One method I use is to focus on traits I have seen in others that I know I don't possess. Sometimes I base a whole character on someone I know, but it's usually a conglomerate of people I know.
     
  3. cogitatio182
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    cogitatio182 Member

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    I struggle with this as well, even mentioning it here in the forums last week. People posted some great thoughts as to how to let your characters develop on their own. Personally, I find that giving the characters some of their own features and written characteristics helps me as I mentally consider what they would do in a given situation.

    Just remember to treat your characters like real people. You have a background, worldview and mentality that effect your everyday decisions (good and bad), and so do your characters. This is hard for me to remember when my character makes mistakes or the wrong decision. I know it's wrong, but they don't or they wouldn't make it. Remembering that helps me to distinguish my characters from each other.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's not hard for me, as i've met and observed so many different sorts of people...
     
  5. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have also have met a wide variety of people and feel (perhaps I'm deluded :) ) that I can create a wide variety of characters. But, I have real trouble making their dialogue distinctive. They're all different types of people, but speak the same. Recently I read an example from a "how to write" book where the author was writing English dialogue that would in reality have been spoken in German. And as the "how to write" book's authors pointed out, the dialogue did sound like German. I'd like to be able to do that.
     
  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dialogue is one thing. Who talks more? Who uses what kind of words? Who can think fast? Who really means what they say? From what perspective is the character offering his opinion?

    Another thing to consider, beyond dialogue, is how a character will react, emotionally, in a dramatic situation. One thing I've noticed in my own work, is that sometimes characters might say or do what I think makes sense for them to do in a given situation, but how they respond emotionally is far off from the responses I've seen people give in real life.
     
  7. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Don't be afraid to hate one of your characters, you are creating characters that you like as such they will be similar. There is nothing wrong with having a likeable character, it just gets a bit dull if everyone is like that. Perhaps throw in a wild card character. Think of something you don't usually do, and write it. You may not use such an extreme of a character but, you can always adapt them to fit whatever the situation is.
     
  8. Mark_Archibald
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    Mark_Archibald Active Member

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    As you go through your day to day business think of how your characters would handle certain situations. Maybe you will be watching the news and hear a story about a thief who stole a school bus and crashed it into a department store. Would your characters laugh at this? Would they be worried, and hope nobody was hurt? Its developing these small traits that will add variety to the characters.
     
  9. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I have a way of getting around the problem of multiple characters acting like you - while still having characters that might be similar to you and each other (i.e. justifying it). Actually, two ways, rather.

    The first method is to "distribute" your traits to different characters. As a quick off-the-top-of-my-head example, say you're both extroverted and idealistic. You can have one character be mainly extroverted, while the other is mainly idealistic. If you have more quirks or attitudes or beliefs, you can distribute them even more so to other characters. The way I'm describing it here makes it sound mechanical, but it's not really - some characters, from my experience, will better lean towards certain personal traits, others will lean towards others over time.

    The second method is to think of different consequences and/or variations of the same trait. Just because people have the same traits doesn't mean their lives are exactly the same, or that they would even do things the same way. For instance, say you consider the hypothetical characters William and Edward to both be cynical and snarky. However, maybe William's cynicism makes him introverted and distrustful of most people save his closest friends, while Edward's cynicism has the opposite effect - because Edward believes since the world is corrupt there isn't a point in getting hung up about it, so he's pretty outgoing but shallow. Or, maybe William is a highly educated upper-class Asian-American from the big city while Edward is an "average" America from a small town, so the things they snark about may be different - so William may snark about his Asian heritage or people's perception of it, or academia and education, or city life, while Edward might snark about conceptions of "average" America. Or, perhaps William became cynical after bad experiences with romance, while Edward became cynical because he keeps up-to-date with the news and realizes how bad the world is - in this case William might snark more so about personal relationships and romcoms while Edward snarks about politics and international relations. In yet another example, maybe William doesn't try to rub his cynicism on his friends and loved ones, instead gently reminding them to keep on their toes and not be idealistic, while Edward openly laments about the world to everyone in a way that annoys there. So here, there are many ways we can try to make two very different characters who are yet both "cynical and snarky" . In all of these examples, we have the foundations for two very different characters who, while displaying similar traits, actually act out pretty differently.


    Hope that helps.
     
  10. ranjit23das
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    ranjit23das Member

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    Thanks all for your contributions. I have some great suggestions about character development. I like cybrxkhan's idea of spreading my personality traits across different characters in my writing.

    I love Mark's idea of how different personalities would react to watching a news article - will try that out for sure.
     
  11. ranjit23das
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    ranjit23das Member

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    Hi 1234 (hope I can use your first name and not your full name). I understand your first point but am a bit lost on your second point. Can you rephrase please.
     
  12. streondj
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    streondj New Member

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    A fairly standard thing in character development
    is that each should have an issue that they may not be aware of,
    and a goal which through the course of the story lets them overcome their issue.
    Also, for some flavour each character can have a virtue or unique ability.
    When they are speaking, it must always be furthering the plot,
    and thus be related to either their issue or goal,
    perhaps reacting to others with their virtue.

    For instance, if you have two characters:
    Bob
    issue anger
    goal beating frankenfoods
    virtue healthy eater

    Lily
    issue overweight
    goal be beautiful
    virtue patience

    Bob: It's so frustrating how monsanto is poisoning the food supply.
    Lily: I think it'll be okay, it sure doesn't taste like poison, I can't seem to get enough.
    Bob: They layer it with fat and sugar to addict you. Their evil ways must stop!
    Lily: So they addicted me and made me fat? But don't they want us to be beautiful?
    Bob: To become healthy and beautiful, you can make your own food decisions and eat vegan organic food, now,
    Lily: So what specific of beauty foods could be in my diet? I've done long diets before.


    and so on, it also helps to keep the plot moving.
    In this examples the characters had complementary sets,
    i.e anger balanced by patience, overweight balanced by healthy foods.
    Also you could be more subliminal with showing their character traits,
    I was emphasizing them for examples sake.

    Hope that helps :)
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Hmmm...must be an acquired taste.
     
  14. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sure, all I meant was people can behave very emotionally under high pressure circumstances in ways you might not expect based on their daily personalities. People who are generally quiet and controlled might become explosive, other people who are generally friendly and gregarious might turn out to be a coward. A regular jerk might turn out to be a hero. I think that if you're writing characters who are fundamentally like you, this is the spot where you might slip up, because its hard to know how other people would react in hard situations, let alone your own self. Bear in mind that a person's reaction is not the same thing as a decision.
     
  15. Mikewritesfic
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    Mikewritesfic Senior Member

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    You said it in the initial post. It's all about stepping out of your skin as an author. Spend a day or so just people watching and/or listening. You could find some useful insight. Or, a more structured approach would be to do some hands on research and interviews regarding a character. For example, if one of your main characters was a police officer in a big city then find out all you can about big city police officers, their backgrounds, attitudes on and off the job, etc.
    Good luck
     
  16. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    Because your imagines are similar
     
  17. ranjit23das
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    ranjit23das Member

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    Thanks 1234, I get it now. I agree, I am a different person when stressed to when I am not stressed. Hidden away is that golden nugget, a person's reaction is not the same thing as a decision. Good point

    Love Mike's idea! Think I will post this as another discussion thread.
     
  18. Roger Morris
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    Roger Morris New Member

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    Based on my experience, every time I write a story, I always put myself in my character's shoe and I can't help it. I am always drawn to my characters...
     
  19. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Study the people around you (family/friends) - listen to what they say and take note of their body language; what makes them tick. No two people are the same.
     
  20. Mikewritesfic
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    Mikewritesfic Senior Member

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    Feel free. Please send me a link if you do.

    Regards, Mike
     
  21. remiojones
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    remiojones Member

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    I read recently that a great way to develop your character is to write a page of them going about that their day. The characters interactions were of other people or just eating lunch and in a restaurant. Let the character take over what he/she notices or behaves. Flesh them out so to speak.This would be an exercise not to be included in your story.
     
  22. robertpri007
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    robertpri007 Member

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    My method is not new, but very effective. I frame my characters from acquaintances or movie roles. So, Margie might be a mash up of Diane Keaton from, The Godfather. But nobody reading the ms would ever be able to recognize it. When my Margie responds to something, I see Diane Keaton talking and write it accordingly.

    All my primary characters have been variations of people I know or have seen on the screen. Not an original method, but I never have a problem with character overlap.
     
  23. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rajit, surely there are situations where you feel or act differently. Think about them when you try to imagine how your characters feel and act.
     
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