Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
A writer asked me about how to avoid creating repeat characters. This is a great question, and it's something that most (I would venture to say all) writers struggle with at some point. You become fearful of writing the same sassy main character, the same witty best friend, the same overbearing boyfriend. I think there are two approaches to keeping your characters unique from each other:
The first way you can avoid creating repeat characters is by intentionally writing different back stories for your characters. Say you know five women who would describe themselves as feminists. I bet they each would define the word a bit differently, and if you were to press into their back stories, you would find five different journeys that shaped their brand of feminism.
Spend time getting to know your characters. You can do this with a bunch of different character exercises. Some will work better for you than they do for me and vice versa.
One of my favorite exercises when I'm struggling with a character's voice is to write a character journal, which I've explained in this post.
But the biggest way I unearth my characters is by spending time with them in the first draft. By the end of the first draft, I've discovered who the major players are in the story and who I need to invest more time getting to know. Don't underestimate how valuable the first draft is for learning more about how your characters tick.
In your regular life:
Surround yourself with diverse people, diverse entertainment, and diverse ideas and information and you'll notice a difference in the complexity of your stories.
Is everyone you know pro-choice? Do they all vote a specific way? Are most of them a particular religion? When I look back at old manuscripts of mine, I can tell a big difference between the characters I wrote during my days of high school - when most people I knew were at my church or at my Catholic high school - and the manuscripts I wrote a year later when I had been working as a secretary for a meeting planning company. When I worked in an office, I discovered there were people who I liked a lot, who I loved spending time with, and who believed very different things about the world than I did. Not only was I better for the experience, my stories were too.
By this I mean experiencing a variety of art, music, books, movies, and TV shows. I especially love going to art galleries where they talk about why something is a great piece of art. I'm not smart when it comes to art, so I love gaining that perspective on the way other people view beauty.
Diverse information and ideas:
I try to get my world news from a variety of sources. I listen to NPR, I watch Fox News, and I also watch The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. It's interesting to me to see how very smart people can disagree about an issue. It's also interesting to me how I'll think I know how I feel about something, but then I hear a news story that opens me up to a different way of thinking. This is a very valuable experience as a writer.
Is there something on this list you've done that has helped you to create original characters? Or is there something you want to try? Or do you have another suggestion to add?