Posted by: Phil Anderson | June 10, 2013

More About Creating People

Last week I wrote about my characters and where they come from. My friend Andrew asked, “Do you find yourself inadvertently duplicating characters (especially favorite archetypes)?” It’s a very good question, and it would seem very likely that my characters would easily fall into comfortable patterns. But I looked over my pantheon of created people and tried to evaluate them honestly, and I didn’t find many that I would consider duplicates.

As I mentioned last week, most of my characters are specific to their narrative. Since I like to write a wide variety of stories and don’t limit myself to a specific genre, it’s easier to keep the characters individual. For example I have only one book about pirates, but if everything I wrote was piratical I’m sure the characters would very quickly begin to overlap. David McNeely, the hero of Nothing But the Truth (set on an early-twentieth-century ocean liner), is inevitably very different from modern-day teenager-turned-pirate Dave Adams in Pirate Journey, despite their first names and the nautical nature of their adventures.

It’s also very possible that my characters seem distinct to me because I’m so intimately familiar with them. I know their backstories, their past and their future, and things that aren’t revealed in the narrative, so I know how different they are. Perhaps a reader who doesn’t know all the internals would think some of them very similar. In a related thought, some of the minor or supporting characters may resemble one another, but only because we don’t know them well enough to see how distinct they are. Just as real-life acquaintances can seem very generic at first, but become more distinct the better we get to know them.

Another help to individualizing characters is that I actively avoid cliché  archetypes. It’s funny how thoroughly you can describe a character without identifying them. For example: the wise, bearded mentor guides the young hero on his quest, but dies before seeing it through to completion, though he returns to celebrate the young hero’s success. Were you thinking of Gandalf, Dumbledore, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or someone else? In Pirate Journey, Captain Adams may at first seem to be this same bearded mentor, but he is actually just as lost and misguided as Dave, the young man he’s trying to guide. And in my current project there is no mentor figure, just three young protagonists all guiding each other with their distinctly individual perspectives.

So I honestly don’t think I’m duplicating or reusing characters. But each one does have a little bit of myself in them, so maybe we’re all deceiving ourselves.

Thanks for the question, Andrew. If anyone else reading has a comment or a question on anything in this blog, feel free to leave it below so others can join in the conversation.

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