Nov 03 2009

How to Write Distinct Characters

Published by at 6:57 pm under Character Development

Your readers have probably read about heroes with any given positive trait, particularly if the trait is commonly associated with a protagonist in your type of book.  (For example, a detective is almost always more cunning than a barbarian).  However, this is not inherently problematic.  If you’re writing a detective story, your protagonist is probably (at least somewhat) cunning because it wouldn’t be much of a detective story if he just bumbled through it Magoo-style.  It’s not a problem that he’s cunning as long as you do something else to make sure that he feels fresh. 

1.  One way to make a character with a conventional trait (like a cunning detective) and take the trait so far it almost becomes a flaw.  For example, Captain Kirk is so brave he’s reckless, Charlie becomes so smart he’s alienated, many lawyers are so slick they’re oily, etc. 

2.  Another way to make a character feel fresh is to give a trait or background that’s an unexpected match for the other.  For example, we’ve probably already seen a few cunning detectives, but what about a cunning philanthropist?  Daring soldiers are pretty common, but what about a daring archaeologist?  A pensive boxer? 

3.  Make sure he has at least one flaw, a trait that brings him to a low point in the story and makes us genuinely wonder whether he will actually succeed.  One possibility is a flaw that comes from a conflict between the character’s defining trait(s) and his background.  For example, Captain Kirk’s low points often come when he leaps head-first into a situation that’s initially too much to handle. 

4.  I would recommend giving the character a voice that flows from his traits and his background.  A pensive boxer shouldn’t sound like a cunning philanthropist, or even a pensive professor.  If you want your protagonist to sound like a cunning philanthropist, you probably shouldn’t be writing the boxer.  If the voice doesn’t come from either the traits or background, at least try to explain it in-story.  (However, tacking on an unexpected voice may feel artificial– unless the character is supposed to feel unusual and/or alien, I’d recommend caution).

One response so far

One Response to “How to Write Distinct Characters”

  1. Luna Jamniaon 06 Nov 2009 at 9:42 am

    I almost thought you meant Charlie from Numb3rs and then I clicked on the link.

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