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Message Board Topic For 4/16


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I think it's safe to say that a vast majority of the stories you read, online or anywhere else, are going to have more than a few main characters in the foreground. Adding other characters can add depth to your protagonist through interactions, conflicts, motivations, and dialogue. It's a tried and true method for building a three dimensional story and a well rounded main character. But, with the exception of giving the characters different 'names', how does an author go about making them seem like different people entirely?


Is it the way the speak? The way they act? What is it that separates one character from another on the page, when you can't actually 'see' them? Have you read many stories where everyone acts, walks, and talks a lot? Uses the same words and phrases, or has the same reactions to a certain situation? Whether you're reading or writing, tell us what you think about splitting up some of those personalities to give us the impression that all of your characters aren't all just talking to clones of themselves. :)

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I have a mental picture of each of the characters in my mind. This is more a personality picture, than appearance, and when I'm writing a scene I will try to imagine how that person acts and reacts -- and that's how I make the characters unique. To make it easier for the reader, I tend to give the main characters distinct personalities, such as the larrikan, the laidback person, the shy person, the hyperactive person, the intense person, etc. This means that they come over as different people when they appear in scenes, because they are doing what people expect from that character -- they'll notice if the character does something that doesn't seem natural for that person.


Physical attributes can also be used. In my first story, two main characters were physically abnormal -- one was very skinny and the other was exceptionally tall for his age. Physical difference can also play into their personalities -- the large boy was also very self-confident to the point of being over-confident at times.


Giving characters a passion also helps distinguish them. People have different interests and working those into a story helps distinguish the characters -- the one who will talk cars until everyone around him has fallen asleep from boredom, or the one who is a strong vegan and expresses disapproval everytime someone talks about going out to get a hamburger.

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I think you hit it right on the head, Graeme. Definitely. I know that a lot of my own characters speak and act a lot alike, and it's hard to really separate them with a personality trait or a manner of speech that doesn't sound like a 'gimmick'. The last thing I want is for someone to read my work and have them say, "Oh this is the one thing that is supposed to make this person different from all the others." It's supposed to be subtle, and almost invisible, and yet....it has to be noticeable enough for it to make a difference. That can be a hard trick to pull off sometimes.


Since I always write in the first person, it's easier to tell my main character from the story's love interest. And in my 'mind', I can see everything the way it's supposed to be. I know what everyone looks like, I imagine what their voices sound like, and what their gestures and movements are. Basically, my mind fills in much MUCH more than what I'm writing down for other people to read. So when I go back over the story to make changes and all, I have to try to see if someone else would be able to see the characters and what they're doing the way I imagined it. If not, then I have to add certain details, or insert some more dialogue to explain it. I'm always hoping that getting readers to visualize the scene the same way that I did will give them a clear enough picture to know which character is which. Especially with so many stories going on at once, it's important that I try to keep them as 'visible' as I can so they don't get lost in that confusing shuffle of cute teenage boys! Hehehe!


It's never easy, but I know there's a secret out there somewhere that'll allow us to get it right every time. There's just gotta be. :)

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