Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are Your Characters Unique

Are the characters in your novel distinctly unique from one another?

Over the last few days, as I've been dealing with the reality of life . . . and death, I began to think about the personalities of my cats.

Jordy (passed away at the end of December 2008) was my little lovebug, my little sack of flour, the boneless wonder that I could carry around like . . . well, a sack of flour. He was Mr. Gentle, with a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in him when I rough housed with him. He loved to spend hours in my lap or on my chest.

Tasmyn - well, she's my little bitch. She's been trouble from day one, and I love her dearly. The world seems to bow to her demands, and not the other way around. If she wants in your lap, she'll get up there on her own. If I picked her up to hold her, she'd growl the whole time. She did things on her own terms, thank you very much. For the most part, she lives in her own little world and allows me in from time to time.

Squeaky - the little stray I rescued, much to Tasmyn's dismay. Trust me, it took Taz about 6 years to adjust to Squeaky being in the house. Squeaky seems a combination of Jordy and Taz. She loves to be picked up and held, and likes to sleep between my legs at night. She squeaks all the time, and lord help me if I'm late getting her food in the evening. She sings up a storm. She's also mean as a snake and beats up on Taz just because she can. She also loves to play with the dogs. She's a trip.

So, each of my cats has their own distinct/unique personality. Each of the characters in my novels has their own distinct personality. This doesn't always happen. Sometimes, the characters seem so alike, that it's hard to tell the difference between them, thus, my question . . .

Are your characters unique? Is there enough noticeable difference in their personalities, quirks, hair, eyes, and everything else to make each one stand out to the reader in their own way? In each manuscript you write, do you write about the same character, or are the characters different?

There once was a famous author who did a series of books. His characters were very archetypal - the hero, the heroine, the knight in shining armor, the wise wizard, etc. This author wrote a book a few years ago and . . . I recognized every single character in the book. I knew he had just taken his well-loved characters from his series and given them different names, but they were the same characters.

Let me tell you, I was sorely disappointed. I had paid good money for this book and I found myself with the same characters from his other books. It was sad really.

So, as you create your characters, do you make each of them standout in their own way? Does each character have his/her own personality? Do you always write about strong, vibrant women with a take charge attitude and the only thing that changes is their names and hair color? Or, do you write about strong, vibrant women who are uniquely different?

I think it is so easy to fall into a trap of using the same archetypes in every novel. I think that, as writers, we need to avoid this trap. I don't want to read about the same characters every single time. I want the difference to be noticeable. I want Jared from Margarita Nights to stand on his own from Reed in Wicked Games. I don't want some reader to say, hey, this Reed, he's just Jared with a different name, shorter hair, and aqua eyes. I want the reader to think, gosh, Reed is so dramatically different from Jared.

As you re-read/edit/revise/whatever, pay attention to each character you created. Do you have a bunch of carbon copies? Or, do you have individual characters?



ElanaJ said...

Well, I really try to have different characters in each book. I think this is where your crit buddies come in handy. They can tell me "Hey, Gabby must be channeling Vi here, cuz she's a bit on the snarky side." And then I can look at it and decide if she (Gabby) is acting out of character.

ali said...

Hey Scott, nice blog! I found you through ElanaJ (she rocks, so, since you're on her wicked awesome blog list, you must rock too!) :D

I think usually I feel good about my characters being different. However, I'm keenly aware of this problem with one of my books, a sci fi middle grade adventure. The story features twin brothers and man, it's easy to slip into this carbon copy thing.

I'm revising right now and my biggest goal is to beef up the character differences between the two boys. It's tough! But I'm working on it, and hopeful that I'll be able to get it.

I totally agree though ... each character needs to shine in their own way to really bring your book (and its people) to life.

Thanks for the reminder! Loved the description of your cats btw. Hysterical.

Tess said...

I'm really struggling with this right now. I have five girls/sisters in the family of my novel and it's tough to make them all unique and have their own individual journey -- while not taking away from the MC. Especially when they are children.

Adorable kitty profiles, btw.

Litgirl01 said...

I would say your characters are definitely unique...Tyrone! :-D

Seriously, I think my characters are super unique. However, as I add in the different layers, I think they will become more so.

Great post!

T. Anne said...

I have a secondary character who's bland as toast at the moment. I'm trying to cure her but to no avail. But hey everybody like toast, right?

Michelle McLean said...

I'm also struggling with this at the moment (which is, as Elana said, where my awesome crit buddies come in). I think 2 of my 4 characters are okay...but two of them sound a little too similar (and also a little too much like me). So I'm working on it :)

Your cats sound hilarious. Mine likes to sleep in the sink and only gets cuddly in the morning. The rest of the time he's too busy for us ;-D