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Creating characters (and distinguishing them from one another)

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by TheokinsJ, Dec 6, 2015.

  1. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

    A while back when planning my current project, I quickly latched onto the idea of multiple POV characters. I invented two characters, however... I seem to have run into a bit of trouble as I've made them far too 'similar'.

    Now, before I speak about them a little, I'd like to say I meant for them to be similar- I wanted the reading to feel that these two characters mirror each other in a way... but that they are completely different people.


    Both characters are the sons of lords. Both of them live in different kingdoms, with different cultures. Both are around the same age, both are male... you get the picture- pretty similar.
    Now that I've begun writing them, however, I've found that when I'm writing a chapter with character A, and then begin the next chapter with character B- I'm not really feeling like I'm writing them differently. They both act very similar, they both think very similarly, they both do/feel very similar things- I suppose its the way I'm writing them- I'm not really getting my head around getting inside them and making them feel like completely different people with completely different personalities and feelings and goals; despite my aim to have them sort of mirror each other in their status/age/gender.

    How do you distinguish between two characters and make them feel unique and different to each other?
  2. Mark

    Mark Scribe

    Mirror images contain some differences — some things are the other way around.

    Think about their personal/family/educational history. Where is it different? From these differences find something unique about your characters. How would the different cultures have affected their outlooks? Are the political systems the same? Would they both view the role of the lord the same?

    Are they physically the same? If one is disabled (for example) then they would have experienced life in a very different way to someone who was not.
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  3. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    How about their confidence level and how extroverted or introverted they are, can those be different?
  4. Velka

    Velka Sage

    What is your motivation and end goal of having these two characters mirror each other? Will one accept the responsibility of this birthright, while the other runs away and joins the circus? Will one become a kind and fair ruler, while the other descends into corruption? I'm assuming they both won't just be mirror buddies following the same path to the very end.

    Ask yourself where they will be at the end of the story, and then determine what character traits (strengths and faults) they need to get them there.

    Is one humble and uncomfortable in his station, while the other is entitled and snobbish? Is one a dreamer poet, while the other an analytical tactician? Can one be patient and benevolent, while the other is impulsive and selfish?
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  5. arboriad

    arboriad Scribe

    Without knowing more about your story, your characters will have their own cultural expectations and responsibilities, will be in charge of certain areas in their kingdoms, and probably have different life goals. Ask yourself what makes these two people unique in your mind and work on focusing on their differences from there. :)

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G920A using Tapatalk
  6. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    What you are describing is very common among characters that have not been fleshed out enough.

    One way to get around this, is to write a very basic rough draft of both your characters and then go back and focus on getting to know just one of them.

    It can take some time, but when you have stretched one character to the limits, you will feel it physically. Like spending a long weekend with family for the holidays, or a relationship that could benefit from space.

    You will be full of that character and then you can make the switch to start anew with the next one.

    True intimacy with a well fleshed character, is like a love affair. Thrilling but brief.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2015
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

    Status, age, and gender are things that can be common. How many 24-year-old men are there in the world in the middle class? Or, upper class? How many Hollywood actors could fit that description, of men in their early twenties?

    I suspect that when you are writing them, you do something I often do: You become them. Or, rather, they become you. So when you write them, you are writing from your own perspective, as if you are them/they are you. This is why they become alike when you write them.

    This might sound odd but my suggestion is that you search within yourself for your own different personalities. I don't mean that you need to have a split-personality disorder! But surely there are many things about which you feel ambivalent, and you will react differently to the very same stimulus on two different occasions, depending on other factors. Then split off one set of reactions/feelings from the other and give each of your two characters one half–and adhere to that half much of the time.

    An example. I can feel both, helpless and angrily impulsive when I run across a type-A bully type of personality. Helpless, because when the person in question has a lot of authority, money, status (say, a boss), there's really no point in reacting outwardly against him; he's not going to change, or at least I can't affect him meaningfully. Angrily impulsive, because...you never know. I might say, "Take this job and shove it up your...!" Or, perhaps that type-A bully type is just a co-worker or even a stranger and I'm more motivated to do something about the situation. So now, if I have two characters of the same gender/age/status, I might make one the sort of type who avoids those type-A bullies or doesn't confront and I might make the other the sort who can't help but react in a way to put the bully down. And of course, either set of habitual reactions will lead to very different outcomes, setting each character on different courses.
    TheokinsJ and arboriad like this.
  8. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Maester

    Finding a voice for different characters can be made a little easier if one remembers that each of us has more than one voice. We have a different voice (words, tone) that we use with co-workers versus friends or family, spouse, your children, other children or strangers. The same event could happen, yet depending on who you are with or speaking to the voice you use will change.

    We also have an alternate manner of speaking at different times in our life. As a 3 year old, 6 year old, 10, 16, 19, 25, 40, 65. At the various stages how one speaks become tempered by our knowledge and experiences.If you can remember these times it can be drawn on for your writing. This same understanding can be used to create a voice for your characters. At times there will be characters and situations you have no context for. This is where you can do so research into the mindset or make it up since it is fiction and your story. Start with what you know and then branch out.

    You could have each character have their own common phrase, they could have specific words they always use in tense or fun situations, you can have characters speak with certain inflections such as a stammer, use text speech, use nicknames for people. I have also seen where a character is shown to have an accent by having some of their words misspelled to show how it sounds when they say it.

    The key is in the attitude the characters show during their speech and actions. Think of a situation, such as your characters come across a group of merchants being robbed by a gang of bandits. What would each of your characters say to themselves, say to each other, say to the bandits, say to the merchants? If words fail what would they do? If you can think of the response for each character, then you know them well enough and it will come through in your writing.
  9. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    When you say the two characters are mirror images of one another and then proceed to describe how they are very similar, to me that may be a sign of where you're not exactly in the right head space. When I hear someone say mirror characters, I picture foils, or opposites, like Superman and Lex Luthor.

    The way you're describing them, to me at least, they're not mirrors of each other. They're more like carbon copies.

    I get the feeling you're going for the two people from the same place and background taking different paths, maybe one dark and the other righteous. If you want them to be different, then focus as much on their differences as their similarities.

    For example, they may both love chocolate ice cream, a similarity. Then find out why/how they each love chocolate ice cream differently. One may love it because his mother use to feed it to him all the time and now it brings him warm and fuzzy feelings.

    The other may love it because, his parents use to punish him by taking away dessert, but when they went to sleep, he'd sneak down and eat his fill of chocolate ice cream. So now when he eats chocolate ice cream, he remembers how he escaped punishment and defied authority.

    What's similar between them and different will depend on what you hope to achieve with this comparison in your story.
    TheokinsJ and arboriad like this.
  10. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    I have to kindly disagree with Penpilot.

    Mirror image, means exactly the same, not opposite.
  11. bgmyhan

    bgmyhan Dreamer

    adding to what crooks was saying, sometimes the easiest thing I do when I encounter that is figure out who i would cast for that part. Anyone in hollywood or your friend it doesn't matter. What matters is getting that voice in your head. Hearing their words instead of the voice that always talks back to you when you think. That secondary voice will give you the slang and dialect you can expect from each character. Sure they do the exact same things for the exact same reasons. But what kind of flare does one character bring contrary to the other. One might cuss a bunch more and the other wont. Eventually you'll curve the character to your needs and the new voice will flow better, but using the base of someone familiar helps chip at this version of writers block.

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