Creating Distinct Characters

Photo provided by Vasant Dave & Stock.xchng

Photo provided by Vasant Dave & Stock.xchng

Have you ever read a book in which all the characters were the same? You know, bland. Did you finish that book?

If I were to invite you to sit in a room filled with my favorite people in the world you would be introduced, not only to those people, but their habits, their speech patterns, their quirks and eccentricities. Some of those people grew up in the same region as I and while folks from the northern states only hear our southern drawl, we know who speaks faster than the others, who trips over the same word each time they say it, whose drawl is more pronounced.

Do you watch the television series Bones? What about Doctor Who? If you need guidance in creating distinct characters, these programs provide excellent examples.

The characters of Bones are a blend of cultures. Each one distinct. Brennan is very literal. Booth is intuitive. Angela is open-minded. Hodgins is a bug and slime lovin’ conspiracy theorist. The interns come from different backgrounds and express themselves with habits and mannerisms that reflect their individuality.

Doctor Who is a phenomenon. When he regenerates he becomes a completely different person with all the memories of the person that preceded him. If you look at the different incarnations of the Doctor you’ll immediately notice physical differences, but there are personality differences as well. Some are darker than others.

His companions also have distinct personalities and their adventures with the Doctor push them to discover things about themselves. They also manage to bring out parts of the Doctor’s personality.

In both Bones and Doctor Who the characters grow and change over time. No stagnation. For instance, over the course of Bones’ 10 seasons Dr. Hodgins has become less obsessed with conspiracy theories. He has softened. Angela is less of a free spirit, though still open-minded.

Photo provided by blulake and 123RF

Photo provided by blulake and 123RF

In the 50 years that Doctor Who has been around we’ve seen 13 actors play the Time Lord. Each one dressed differently, each had different temperaments, and they all grew emotionally as a result of their time with humans. The Tenth Doctor was fond of saying, “Allons-y” while the Eleventh Doctor preferred “Geronimo!”

I tell you this in hopes that when you write you’ll be aware of your characters’ personalities and take steps to let them shine. Think of well written books, movies and television shows and pay attention to what makes each character stand apart from the rest. Your setting may be in a region where ‘ain’t’ is a staple vocabulary word. Have one of your characters shun that word and see how others react to it. Maybe one of your characters has a nervous tick of some kind like scratching their chin or tugging on their ear. Body language says a lot!

Banish the bland and create well-rounded characters. Your story will be better for it.

  • mooderino

    Often it’s easier to make the secondary characters interesting than the central character who has to get so much done that they can get a bit lost.

    • That’s very true, Mood. The central characters are acting and reacting to situations, and it is in those actions that the writer must make them stand apart from the other characters.

  • mooderino

    Often it’s easier to make the secondary characters interesting than the central character who has to get so much done that they can get a bit lost.

    • That’s very true, Mood. The central characters are acting and reacting to situations, and it is in those actions that the writer must make them stand apart from the other characters.