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Creating Interesting Characters: Part 2 By Tara Rane

interesting character

I love book and movie characters with surprising twists (see my latest blog post about this at www.tararane.com). In my opinion, the best kind of characters are complex and anything but stereotypical.

A common trap that writers often fall into is having one dimensional heroes and cardboard cutout villains. For example, the heroine is sweet/sassy nurse or teacher, while the hero is a stoic alpha male working in some branch of the military/law enforcement. The villain spends all his time harming innocents, and plotting the end of the hero. These characters (and the books they appear in) are often generic and forgettable.

My previous post provided some suggestions for developing interesting and believable character personalities. The next challenge is getting away from the default characteristics associated with the roles of our characters. In a recent writing workshop, Mary Buckham (a USA bestselling author of an exciting urban fantasy series and several outstanding books on the craft of writing), offered some tips on how to do this.

Mary proposed creating a list of characteristics often associated with disparate roles. For example, let’s take engineer, rock star, nurse, and escort. Below I’ve listed several attributes that came to mind when thinking about these roles.

Engineer Rock Star Nurse Escort
Nerdy Dramatic Caring Desperate
Analytical Self-Absorbed Hard working Risk taker
Antisocial Rebel Nurturing Materialistic
Intelligent Charismatic Generous Damaged
Focused Social Empathetic Uninhibited

engineer rock starnursesexy woman

The next part in the exercise involved flipping the roles. Also, if there is a stereotypical gender associated with the role, you can switch that too. What you end up with is a template for interesting and memorable characters. Who wouldn’t love to read about a nerdy, highly intelligent male escort or a desperate, risk taking female engineer?

Escort Nurse Rock Star Engineer
Nerdy Dramatic Caring Desperate
Analytical Self-Absorbed Hard working Risk taker
Antisocial Rebel Nurturing Materialistic
Intelligent Charismatic Generous Damaged
Focused Social Empathetic Uninhibited

Another exercise I enjoy doing (especially for my villains) is taking the stereotypical attributes associated with two (often) opposing roles, and mixing them. For example, let’s take the characteristics associated with clowns and psychopaths.

Clown Psychopath
Flamboyant Violent
Jokester Bold
Zany Cruel
Self-depreciating Lack of Empathy
Entertainer Amoral

If you created a character possessing both types of attributes you’ll have brought to life the nightmares of millions of children throughout the world. We don’t expect the evil villain to come cartwheeling into the room. Nor do we expect the bad guy (or girl) to wear a friendly face. There’s a reason why Joker in the Batman comics and the clown from Stephen King’s It stick out in our minds as the creepiest villains of all time.joker

You can create al kinds of  interesting character mashups. Stay at home mom and serial killer. Veterinarian and mad scientist. Sunday school teacher and cyborg. Play around. Mix and match. The combinations are endless and the results are unique characters that stick with readers long after they finish your book.

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1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on jdtcreates.

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