Searching for Character Identity

Make characters distinctive and memorable
Make characters distinctive and memorable

One of the hardest things to do when writing, I think, is to give characters their own identities book after book, identities that people will remember and even identify with themselves.

Aarrgh! They're all the same!
Aarrgh! They’re all the same!

Sometimes I begin a new project and wonder who these new people will be that insist on telling me their stories. When I start to write their stories, I also begin to get that nagging worry What if this female mc is just like my last one?

Oh dear. She's doing something different but she's the same person...
Oh dear. She’s doing something different but she’s the same person…

The same for the male characters.

After a few days of panicking and second-guessing myself, I put the work aside and let it simmer. During this time, I think about me. That might sound very self-serving, but it’s actually key in helping me understand and develop my new characters.

In Robin Hobb’s Assassin series (which I love) one of the characters must carve his own dragon. To give the dragon life, he must give it everything. So, as he’s carving, he gives it his memories. His emotions.

I love this and use the analogy all the time to help me with my writing. I think to myself, what part of me can I give this new character? I choose a memory or an emotion or a character trait. Because I know this particular emotion or memory very well, I can explore it with the character and it helps to give the characters that bit of extra realism. It also helps me to get to know myself more. I love to study the whys and wherefores of peoples’ actions and reactions, and if I glean some understanding of myself, then I can give that to my characters. Not always, and not with every character. For some reason I find male mcs much easier to write than my female ones, but that’s another post some day.

I wrote a short story in the last few days where I struggled at first with Katie, my female mc. I couldn’t relate to her, couldn’t grasp who she was innately. I found it hard to write her, so I spent some time thinking, and came up with something from me that I could give her, that was relevant to her character and that I could also then relate to. It made the story much easier to write and I finished today, yay!
So the next time you find yourself stuck with a character ask yourself what part of yourself you can invest.


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