How do we avoid making our characters stereotypes?
Begin by making them real people in their own right. Make them unique, not copies of me, not copies of characters I see in movies, television or other books.
Give them different belief systems and values from mine, different outlooks on life, different perspectives, different personality types.
The more different I can make them from me and from each other, the more likely I’ll create the potential for tension and conflict.
Especially, if they are attracted to each other on one level but conflict on another. In my historical novel, Journey to Riverbend, the protagonists, Michael and Rachel were attracted to each other physically and also shared spiritual beliefs.
But Rachel fiercely holds on to her independence. She will be dependent on or beholding to no one, especially a man. She came out of a life of sexual abuse and prostitution and won’t let anyone control her like that again.
Michael struggles on two levels. Because of his background, he doesn’t see himself worthy of someone like Rachel. At the same time, her independence frustrates him because he expects her to be a typical woman of the 1870s—a good Christian and obedient to her husband.
In my current WIP, a speculative novel, the female protagonist, Lia, and the male protagonist, Fallon, share a physical attraction and mutual respect but he can’t accept her devotion to the One and she can’t accept his rejection of the One or his refusal to see religion being important.
As Randy Ingermanson says, I must tell the whole truth about my characters.
Good fiction is truth about people.
To get there, I have to dive deep into my characters.
Randy says it’s my job to become my character, even when he’s wrong. I must understand my character, to see the world through her eyes, not mine.
When people ask what I do, I say I’m a novelist and jokingly add that I get to lie for a living.
In reality, every novelist deals with truth. We simply make up stories to convey that truth.
And that truth is played out through our characters.
When I’m crafting my stories, I need to let my characters have their own ideas about the story world, the plot, the other characters. They need their own views about politics, religion, and other issues. The truth of my story comes out as my characters strive to achieve their story goals, overcome obstacles, and deal with external and internal conflicts. Conflicts that force them to choose between foundational values and in which they face some form of death: physical, professional, emotional or spiritual.
What are some ways you have found helpful to make your characters unique?
Good point about letting each character have their own truth. I like to find out what they fear most. It helps me understand their motivation and makes their thoughts and actions different from other characters in the story. It also helps me see through their lens.
Knowing what they fear the most is a great way to get deeper into my characters, especially when they surprise me with it during the story.
I’m learning how to use characters’ “baggage” to support or explain their current needs / goals. As Tina mentions, their fears are often a key part of their motivation.
Thank you, Janice.
You’re right. The character’s history/backstory can tell us so much. I like it when my characters reveal a piece of the past I didn’t know about.