My characters are just warped versions of myself

by Dorathy Chambers (D.C.)

Question: My characters are cheesy and unrealistic. How do I make them believable and unique. I'm not very good at observing people and describing their personalities. Do you think you can write something on that?

Answer: I'll assume you read the article on making characters believable and memorable, as well as the article on archetypal characters? They're both on the "Write a Novel" tab.

So you know that the key to believable characters is consistency. And that uniqueness comes from giving them unique tags and traits, which can come from your observations of real life or your imagination. If your characters sound too much the same or too much like you, give them individual speech rhythms, mannerisms, ways of speaking, etc. that are consistent with their backstory.

Beyond that, it also helps to develop each character's backstory more fully.

There are different ways of approaching this. Some writers start with an idea of who a character is - his/her traits, appearance, aims, etc. Maybe you get an image or hear the character's voice in your imagination. Sometimes you get lucky and a character will simply pop into your head fully formed. The thing to do then is to imagine asking the character questions about him/herself and write down the answers.

Even if you don't have much to go on at first, keep asking yourself questions about who the character is and why he/she is that way. Jot down possible answers until you have a sound explanation for every aspect of the character.

You can also start with the dramatic function you want a character to play (e.g. Guardian) and flesh out the character by asking questions about who this person is and why until you know everything about him/her.

In fact, a great exercise is to simply ask random questions about any character, and write down random answers. Edit the answers for consistency afterwards.

On the other hand, some people start by imagining a backstory for a character, and then invent personality traits that could believably have evolved out of that backstory. This method may give you a lot of characters you must discard later because they don't fit the dramatic needs of your story. (But you can always use them in another story.)

Unfortunately, it does take time because you have to get to know each character intimately in order to write them. But it's time well spent.

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