I set out to write my first book based on a dream that I had. As a result, the main character was a younger, more awkward version of me. A couple of my friends ended up being in the book, casted in the roles they held in my dream. Since I had never written a book before, I thought basing the characters on real people would help me to give each one distinctive characteristics and responses.
I was wrong.
Feedback finally came in from another author. My characters were too same-y. Boring. Didn’t react realistically to danger. While I have also had good feedback regarding the characters, this response stuck with me. What is it that was wrong with my characters?
We’ll take the problems one at a time.
1. The characters were not different enough.
Well, these characters were based on three young men that grew up together. Myself and two close friends. We’ve known each other from birth. For the last two decades, we have been influencing the actions and character of each other. Of course we would act similarly. Now, each of us has our own personality and quirks, and these are reflected in my writing. The bigger problem was that there was little conflict between us. We were just not different enough.
2. The characters were boring.
I’ll own this one. Until I got about halfway through my first book, I didn’t know how to write interesting character motivation and conflict. I have made progress on this error in later edits.
3. The characters did not act realistically to danger.
I and my close friends, as I have said, have things in common. One thing that we have in common is the way that we cope with things that terrify us or threaten us. We tense up, ready to act, but continue to make light of it. Especially afterwards, despite any trauma that we might endure, I am sure that we’d treat it as something that happened, whether amazing or not. Even if inside our gut is churning with apprehension, and even if we cannot get a grisly image out of our heads, we would laugh it off and continue on. Not because we are tough, but because giving trauma the weight it deserves drags you down. We cope.
This is the way in which I wrote the characters, and since their actions drive the story, it has been difficult to edit. Finally, somewhere in my second book, I stopped writing ‘normal’ characters. No more laughing off the drama. No more stunned silence or self-awareness. My newest characters are eccentric, even if in the smallest of ways.
A character that feels guilt over opportunities that he did not take to save lives, thanks to a religious upbringing
A character that doesn’t fear death, and will use his own life to get what he wants: A legacy.
A character that has been broken by living an eternity in nothingness
A character that has the body and life of another, and doesn’t know what to do about it
A character that loves humanity for their evolution, their constant strides forward in technology
A character that hates and distrusts humanity, forced to cooperate with the one person he can trust the least
A character that uses his hatred to save mankind, riding the line between good and evil
You don’t meet these characters every day on the street. But, let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to be a protagonist or a villian. Not everyone has a life that is worth reading about. So take a trait that everyone can understand, whether it be guilt, fear, love, hate, trauma, or loss, and amplify it in strange ways. Make someone love something unloveable, or hate something that nobody else gives a second thought. Extrapolate the connections, from a specific hatred to racism, or narrow the focus down and define the way a character thinks. Make the characters strange in their own way.
Make them yours.
See you around!
As an aside, due to a careless error on my part, nearly every picture on this blog has been deleted. This will not happen again, but (at least for the time being) most blog posts before this one are now only text. It’s unfortunate, and is part of the reason that this update is late.