Characters are the life blood of any good book. I say that when teaching all my writing classes and it is always the first place I start when developing a storyline. Without characters the reader cares about the story is going nowhere.
So how you go about making your characters different, especially when you are writing multiple books? How do you keep them all from sounding and looking alike, or heaven forbid, sounding like you?
1. Start with a good name. I always find that my characters begin to come alive as soon as I name them. I always love to tell the story of how my brother began writing a book, but he couldn't be bothered with naming his characters. As a result they all sounded alike. When I asked him what they looked like, he didn't feel the need to describe them either. As a result the story sort of died. We had all these shapeless lumps speaking, but they were all the same. That was fine if he was writing some sort of space adventure, but even then no one was going to read it if the only definition was Char (character) 1 or Char 2 with no sort of personalization. Names can define a character and as soon as you name the character, they will begin to become a person. Think of it this way a Frank is going to be different from someone named Franklin or Frankie.
2. Build a character profile. That can begin with the character name. From there you can begin to see that shapeless lump move from an anonymous being to a real person. Keep it simple if you want, but think of them as you might create a building. Start with size, and then become more precise. Color of eyes, color of hair will all make a difference in making your characters different.
3. Create a personality. No two people will face a situation the same way. Think of your story question and then consider how different people might handle it. Give the character something to go after--a goal--and then you can see what kind of character you want to tackle the situation. If you want the character to have a really hard time, make your character weaker in that area so they can grow and eventually succeed. Or perhaps you don't want them to succeed. Either way, the kind of character you put into the situation will determine how the story flows.
4. Teach your character a lesson. No one wants to read a story where the character is going to be able to accomplish everything they set out to do from the get go. If the character can't suffer at least a little and be tested in the story, who will care. We want our characters to struggle and we want the struggle to be worthy of the character.
5. Make your character individual. Remember no two people sound exactly alike or react the same way to situations. Be sure that the various characters within your story are very different people and make them unique in their own way.
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