Thursday, May 22, 2014

Creating Diverse Characters

Creating diversity in characters draws readers in. It makes them appeal to different audiences. And frankly, it's hard to do.

One problem I always had with this is that to know what someone is going to do, you have to be in their head, and the only person whose head you are fully in is my own. Even my friends who I know well still surprise me, so anticipating actions of people different than yourself can be challenging.

The easy way out of this would be to write characters just like yourself. The problem with that, though, is that no one wants to read a book about twelve people who all act the same. And no one wants to read one.

So how do you write characters not like yourself? One thing that helps is to look at the behavior of those around you. Look at how everyone in your environment lives, act, and reacts to everything and make notes of anything that surprises you.

Another process that helps is to mentally (or in a journal) interview your characters. If you find a lot of similar answers from different characters, that means you probably need to find ways to make them different. Similar to this process is using character journals, in which you write journal entries from the perspective of different characters. This can help you develop different voices for the other characters and get into their heads more.

One thing that I've used to evaluate my characters is a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It is similar to many personality tests, but I find it gives good information and things to think about for characters. Many different sites have this type of test, and a good amount of them work well. A website I have used in the past is If you're not familiar with MBTI, I recommend looking at it.

Using the MBTI, I recommend that your main characters aren't overly similar in their type, usually no more than two of the classifications being the same with two characters (i.e. an INTJ and an ISFJ are okay, but not an INTP). Now, in some cases I know there are characters who are similar, even to the point that they receive the same classification on an MBTI. This isn't always a bad thing, but make sure it doesn't happen too much.

Lastly, I recommend that at least as a starting point you use a part of yourself as the basis of characters. I've found this very helpful because I can use multiple different aspects of my personality to create different characters and from that point the characters grow and develop different personalities. I even use this method for creating my antagonists.

And as always, creating diversity in characters is a process that takes time to get used to. In my first few projects, all of my characters seemed mostly the same.  Now, my characters can be polar opposites of myself sometimes and more similar to me at others. After lots of practice, I've learned to get in the head of my characters.

How do you create diverse characters? Was this post helpful? Let me know in the comments.