Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Same Character?

I feel like I'm caught in a trap that many writers face - are my main characters really just the same person with minor variations?

One of the oldest pieces of writing advice is to "write what you know."  Though I think that such a sentiment is often garbage - not many of us have gone to Mars or are endowed with the powers of a witch - there are times the phrase has meaning, and it's usually when you put yourself into your characters.  Most of the folks I write are exaggerations of myself and how I might react in a situation.  I do that because I know my own mind and motives better than I do anyone else's, so it makes the character more easily believable(for me).

Of course, the danger here is that the characters in a series of novels can end up being pretty similar, and that's frustrating.  I want to branch out into more interesting people, but my lone attempt - the first draft of Wrongful Death, where I tried to make the main character a high school girl - went so poorly that I had to start over.  It turns out I have no idea how to realistically portray a high school girl, but I remembered what I was like in high school, so I changed the main character to a high school boy with little difficulty.  Was that a cop out?  Sure, but it was also the only way I could produce what I needed to produce in a compelling way.

But how do we fix this issue?  Once a writer gets into a groove, it's tough to shift.  I think the solution is to ask your beta readers to look at your characters and figure out if they're the same person.  Do my scientist and my vampire hunter do things the same way?  Can I distinguish between the historian in my science fiction and the vigilante in my war about a new American Civil War?

It takes outside eyes to look at a work and figure out if, compared to other works by the same author, the main characters are the same person.  This critique can be crushing for a writer, but the sooner you figure it out, the better.  After all, while I love Jack Torrence, I doubt he'd have been as compelling fighting Pennywise.

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