//creating diverse characters

I was emailing with a friend the other day and she said, “What helps you write diverse characters? I’ve noticed recently that a lot of my characters are the same. One of the things that I’m always struck by, when reading your works, is how well you do characters. Do you have any tricks to getting in side a character’s head?”

I usually find a lobotomy works.

I’m kidding. I don’t recommend lobotomizing anyone, unless it propels the story where you want it to go. Ahem.

Characters are, for me, what drives a story. Plot is highly important and not to be overlooked, but characters are the most important, in my opinion. Something can be riddled with plot holes, but I’ll still love it if the characters are vibrant and interesting. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been reading a book or watching a movie or starting a show, and I can’t continue because the characters are cookie-cutter replicas of one another. (Another thing a lot of YA authors get stuck in is repeating themselves. They’ll finish one series and start another, but the characters are the same as the last series – just with different names and a slightly different plot.)

But how to keep characters from looking and sounding like they came off an assembly line?

• It’s the little things. One thing I notice authors – particularly YA authors – do is skip over the details and small touches. Does someone write a lot? Maybe they twirl the pen or pencil in their fingers, or stick it in their hair, or chew on it. Does someone have funky fashion sense? Do they hate a particular color? Do they always order the same coffee drink? Do they decorate their laptop with decals? Don’t skip out on the details. They’re important – they may seem small, but they help solidify the character overall.

• Cast them. One of my favorite things to do is find real people – usually singers or actors I love – and cast them as my character. Then I pay attention to their mannerisms, facial expressions, preferences, relationships, personalities, fashion sense, etc. and channel it into the character. It’s an excellent way to get a well-rounded, realistic character. (Note: there is a major side effect to this attachment. You will probably get inordinately attached to the human you cast as your character. I give you fair warning.)

• Give them distinct speech patterns. This may seem like a little thing, but overall, it’s huge. Many characters end up flat because the way they talk is boring. Fix that. Realize that some people would say ‘I’d rather not’ while others would say ‘Nah,’ or that some people might say ‘That’s incorrect’ while others would say ‘that’s wrong,’ or that some people might say ‘I hate that’ while others might say ‘It’s not awful.’ An optimistic person will try to see the bright side, a pessimistic person won’t bother. Personalities determine a person’s speech patterns – don’t skimp out.

• Use character bio worksheets. Write down lists of their mannerisms, their likes and dislikes. Having it solidified in your mind will really help, and you won’t struggle so much to get them down on paper. You have to get to know your characters and figure out what makes them tick before they’ll behave.

• Characters are people, too. Let them have a little slack. Don’t micromanage them. Sometimes characters are more in control of the story than I am. I’ll try to write someone, and he’ll misbehave until I change his name, for instance. (This has happened on more than one occasion.) It’s a symbiotic relationship, and if the character tries to tell you something, don’t ignore it. (Trust me – resistance is futile.)

 • Write down five words defining your character. For example, my character Hyde would be: sharp, brittle, perceptive, raw, kind. My character Leila would be: soft, intelligent, keen, active, caring. If you notice several of your characters overlapping characteristics, shake them up and change them around. Try not to let them have more than three similarities, at the most. You want their most obvious characteristics to be unique to them, not ubiquitous to the whole cast.

• Spend a day as your character. This may sound a little absurd, but it’s something I randomly do when I get really, truly, extremely stuck. Dress like your character. Talk like your character. Think like your character. Sure, it’s a little extreme, but sometimes it’s what I need to jump-start them.

• Sometimes, the character doesn’t belong in the novel. I do this constantly – I create a character who I love, but after a bit of plotting I realize they don’t belong in this novel. Remove them, save them, and put them in a novel where they can really shine. You’ll be glad you did.

Do you have any tricks for helping develop your characters? I’d love to know what works for you!

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22 thoughts on “//creating diverse characters

  1. Oddly enough, the best way I’ve found to write characters that I KNOW is to find someone I know who fits that character (or create a character based on them) and go from there. This usually happens more for side characters, strangely enough, but having that experience of knowing someone to use as a template (the characters always grow beyond my first conception of them) makes it easier to get them on the page in the early stages, which makes it easier to rewrite and revise them later because I have a better grasp of them all around.

    I don’t think I pat enough attention to speech patterns for my characters, though. That and small mannerisms are two of my weak points that I have GOT to work on moving forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This, Mirriam, was /brilliant/. (I’m finally getting back in the swing of things and reading and commenting. XD)

    YA novels. So many of them do this and it’s not fair to them, the character, or the reader.

    The distinct speech patterns is /so/ important. I mean, Angel vs. Alice? And even if there are some who speak a little similarly, the other differences will still keep them very separate as long as it’s been done correctly. Like if you’re in a specific era where proper use of language is something all your characters would have studied. Looking for the differences and playing up on them is half the fun.

    Characters are bossy brats and they /must/ have their own way or everyone’s lives are ruined. It’s true.

    The GIFs are THE BEST. XD

    Like

  3. //Love// this post! I’m definitely going to try out the list thing. I love lists. A lot. I could give you a list of reasons why I love lists.

    And this post is going in my special folder. Because I’ll need to reference back to it for sure.

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  4. First off, SO MANY AWESOME GIFS! Singing in the Rain and Merlin? Yes please. :D
    Second, this is so helpful. Becoming your character for a day is a fabulous idea, I don’t think I ever would have thought of that! Just everything in this post. <3 Bookmarking and keeping this page up at all times whilst writing…okay maybe not all the time.
    Thank you thank you thank you for this blog post. :D

    Oh, quick question, you mentioned character bio sheets. Do you have a particular one you love? I've tried them before but haven't been able to find one that fits.

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    1. I haven’t used them in so long that I can’t remember the best ones – but there are /TONS/ out there. You can do a search for them and if you add the word ‘extensive’ you’ll get ones from 50-100 questions long (or more)!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay, Mirriam, I love you. (In case there was doubt. …Nah, there never was.)

    I’m going to reread this and try to use it to help with my NaNo novel this year that I’m trying to plot. It’s a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling and I’ve got to make a dozen girls seem different. (It doesn’t help that I’m going to have a dozen guys, give or take… *shifty eyes*) I’m basically doomed. I hope this can save me.

    The thing about getting inordinately attached to the human you cast… YES. Except I tend to get inordinately attached to the humans you cast as YOUR characters. I have a huge love for people like Skata (I mean Dean Winchester, I mean Jensen Ackles; I always think of that face as Skata though) for example, and I haven’t even SEEN Supernatural. XD

    Moving a character to a different novel???????? O______O I have never ever ever ever thought of this idea. You’ve done it before? Does it work? :O

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      1. Yeah, I haven’t had that happen to me. If a character exists in a novel of mine, they’re there forever.

        I sincerely hope I never have to cut one because the editor says so.

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  6. This post is full of soooo much useful information, and You have done something which hasn’t been done by any other: you made me excited to find a biosheet that’s right for me! I now have to go though my characters, line them up and give them a deeper once-twice-thrice over. Hahaha…. I think I may have to share this everywhere. Thanks for loving us enough to share what you have learned along the way- and in such helpful detail! <3

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  7. I have never thought of moving character’s to different books, Wow.
    *Gets out pen, and writes all of these tips down* if there is one thing you are spectacularly good at, it is writing diverse characters. Thanks for the tips.

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  8. There’s some really good advice in this article. I often find myself feeling like I’ve created the same character several items over. I’ll be using some of these tricks to try and create differences in them. I’ve used character worksheets before, and find them useful. I just feel like I’ve yet to find one that suits my way of working, if that makes sense. Thanks for the advice. :)

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  9. This was so helpful, Mirriam! I need to write some of this down! Speech patterns are something that I’ve always struggled with. Most of my characters end up sounding the same as each other when they speak. Mannerisms! That’s another important one for me to remember. And this isn’t even the first time I’ve read advice talking about it, either!

    Where did my pen go?

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  10. Fabulous advice! I’ll be saving this for the future. If there’s anyone who’s good at diverse characters, it’s you. Those little things–I’m trying to notice them more in people around me, both those I know and complete strangers, so that I can use them in my writing. I’ve even started keeping a people-watching journal for this purpose. :)

    @Eli: I’ve had to cut out a character once. It hurts. A lot. But in the end, if it’s for the good of the novel, it is worth it. (And this poor charrie may wind up elsewhere, so there is that.)

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