Stuck on myself? (how do I stop writing characters that are ME)
By - Lucildor
Have you tried doing a character questionnaire or profile? There's many of them online and that usually helps me create someone different than me. I've found that I run into your problem when I create a character as I go.
I'm bound by the pact I signed with the Devil to say this every time the topic comes up, but character questionnaires are inherently superficial in nature, and aren't a silver bullet for "good" characters.
They're good for creating nebulous lists of individual *traits* but a character is more than the sum of their parts. Beginning writers especially are at risk of falling into the trap of putting a bunch of ostensibly interesting details on a character sheet and then utterly failing at using and/or showing them within the story itself, which makes the whole thing pointless.
Sheets and profiles can be very useful for authors who write large casts and who struggle keeping track of details such as eye or hair colour, but their utility as *reference* material doesn't transfer to making them helpful during the actual process of creating characters.
I'm still waiting for the blessed day on which I finally read an author who makes heavy use of character sheets and I'm impressed by the characters. Maybe then I'll be relieved from my oath
Yeah, they're definitely a reference and a writer shouldn't have to include every single little detail from one in a book. I think of it as a warm up; it's not the entire workout but it preps you for the real hard work.
Absolutely. It's just that a genuinely worrying number of writers do actually seem to think that making a DnD style character sheet *is* creating a character (just look at the majority of posts on this sub), so I always try to get in early and make a lot of noise to the contrary.
I've never done that before, I'll check it out despite the criticisms which I'm sure are completely valid - I'm just so new to this that it couldn't hurt.
That's the best thing to do. Despite my crusade, all I'm ever trying to do is offer a counterweight to the fact that *so so many* writers on forums like this offer character profiles are a panacea, when in reality they're a specialised tool at best.
What helps for me is thinking "what would be cool for this character?" Followed by "why would that character have that cool thing?" Which for me, often boils down to a gimmick and an excuse. For example, *one of my characters started off as wearing a grim reaper costume. Why? Well maybe he had something to hide. Maybe his face is scarred. Maybe he was stabbed in the eye by a close friend, which would make him close off and isolate. What if he wasn't always like that?* And so on. When in doubt, ask why.
This is a really interesting way to approach the issue...thank you I'm going to try this.
*Every* character I write is me, in at least one or two crucial ways. They work jobs I've worked, or they struggle with some emotional issue that I do, or they speak the dialect that I do.
They're all also different from me in several ways too. The big one is that I write overwhelmingly women ( r/egg_irl lol), but maybe their home lives are different, their relationship with their parents, or their sexual orientation.
The point I'm making is that your own life is the biggest well of resources you have to draw from, and not only is it basically endless, you can also pick and choose the bits that you want to use. You can write about your experiences and inner life without writing about *yourself*. There's nothing wrong with that.
Yeah I actually notice that my favorite characters on television/in books have parts of me but maybe just exaggerated in an interesting way. I try to start out doing this (taking a "part" of myself) but then I just feel so not creative and follow with everything else I know about me.
I think maybe another, more hidden, issue I have about this is that it feels incredibly vulnerable (and self absorbed?) I know this is a personal issue..hey maybe I can write a character about it ;)
What has helped me with this problem is to base them off of someone else, maybe a real person you've met or an another character in some show. First think of the kind of character you want them to be and then think of people/characters that are similar to them. Think of what the person you based it off of would do or say in certain situations. Of course do this while still making them your own characters. Ah I am bad at explaining things. I hope this made sense and could help you haha :)
Yes! I try to do this as well but then again run into this feeling that I'm not being creative AND putting someone I actually know on the spot.
Hmm maybe you could do this as more of an exercise rather than using it for bigger more important stories. Make up small stories using the method. Once you've done that enough I would think it would be easier to branch out more with your characters. Also mixing up multiple people into one can make some pretty interesting characters so you don't have to make them based off of just one friend of yours, maybe mix in some character from a show and/or throw in some of your own ideas. I also think forcing yourself to make many very different kinds of characters would be helpful. Hmm maybe write down things about yourself that you often copy into your characters and try to make the opposite of that.
These are just suggestions. I have no idea if these would help or if they're smart lol
Most importantly though have fun with writing :)
thanks, also...what is the method?
oh yeah sorry. I meant basing characters off of someone you've met or an another charachter.
Try making them you, maybe now they're the opposite gender version of you or anything between that.
Then you age them older or younger, now pick one aspect of your personality and tune it down or up and maybe even "mirror" it, then repeat with one or two other aspects.
Now think what this new you would do in their plot-wise situation considering their differences (if they're different gender maybe ask someone of that gender, you may be surprised by answers unimaginable for you).
Just tune some details here and there and not long after eventually you will have a completely different person for a character.
You can try the same starting from a person or character you like and know well, just change the "what would I say in that situation" to "what would Superman/James bond/my mom say in that situation" and work the changes from there.
You dont, theres no way to avoid a certain level of imprint evne if you purposefulyl try to do the opposite, because the only thoughts you have are yours.
That said try to circle around your character ,see how it would be in different situations (including day to die or things that happen to you dialy), read more to get inspired, etc
What I do is I take a pre-existing character (say, Hermione from Harry Potter) that has a similar personality to the character I’m creating and write them based on what they would do/say/think.
Then, I’d change some of Hermione’s traits so that the character in my story has hobbies/traits that match up with his or her backstory or story arc.
So by the end, while the archetypes for both characters the same, all the other details from Hermione I used as a model have been shredded for new characteristics for my character.
Edit: Decided to use an example to explain the process better
This is helpful thank you
Watch a variety of movies from different cinematic eras (classic westerns, film noir, blockbusters, etc) and study the characters personalities. It gives a good feeling for different kinds of persona but don’t in the same vein copy these characters, find ways to make them your own. 😬
Well start with a character who is the opposite of you in many ways (but is still a good person)
You can just use a real person that isn't you, but what I've been doing is splitting my physical appearance, hobbies and my head into pieces that I give to my characters.
One got my stoicism and silence, the other got my loneliness, the third one got my interest for locomotives, fourth interest in books and tea.
Then I develop them and their stories.
If you wanna good advice, then imagine what kind of role your character is supposed to have in your story. Then what do they need to do to qualify for that position.
Oliver, the character who got my loneliness. I imagined him being a close friend of my main character. I wrote why was he lonely. His family ignored him all his life, so he left and became homeless. While traveling, he by chance met Ryan (mc) while the city they were in was attacked by machines. After finding a gun they fought through the machines and escaped on a motorcycle.
While running away they met an Organization that was created to resist the man behind the attacks. They decided to join since Ryan's home was destroyed.
Oliver is afraid that Ryan will leave him alone, so he does everything he can to support him.
So, that's what I got from trying to humanize loneliness.
The one that got my interest in locomotives was separated from her parents at a young age and became something similar to a slave, people that shared her appearance were also turned into them.
While working for a family that adopted and abused her. She always dreamed of escape, she always looked at the tracks and thought that one day a train will take her far away from this cursed country.
When she ran away after the breaking point and got on a train, she left the country. she was adopted by the engineer who who saved her and later taught her how to drive the train.
It was amazing when my hobby turned into a backstory of a former slave, that's why it isn't a bad thing to put pieces of yourself into your characters. If you give some humanity to a piece of you, then the result will be amazing.
I had the same problem in the past, just start changing some characteristics, like age, and then start changing their personality, adding and removing some aspects of it, and than start changing their appearance