I think one of my greatest struggles in writing is creating entirely unique characters – especially when it comes for supporting characters.
My main characters aren’t quite as big an issue; they have background and context that lends them their own unique traits and habits. However, I have noticed I can tend to lean towards similar characteristics – in that all my leads are strong-willed, independent bad-ass women with dark pasts. Sure, they have their own stories and all, but sometimes I struggle to feel the difference between writing, say, Olivia (Tiger’s Eye) and writing Alessandra (Demon’s Run).
Worse still, my supporting characters… well… Some, as in those who I have yet to fully develop and invest time in, almost feel like a copy+paste of someone else. This was never intentional, and I think part of the issue is in having drafted different concepts months apart without further developing any of them. That is to say, I realized I have three male characters for which my mental images are identical. I’ve created Megan (Forbidden) 6 or 7 years ago; Marianne (Tiger’s Eye) almost two years ago; and this year invented Nova (Demon’s Run). I can’t really say how it happened, but when I began working on Demon’s Run, I came to realize, uh-oh, Nova is an opinionated witch who hates my MC – and so is Marianne… and so is Megan. I guess you could say it’s an archetype I developed, without ever realizing, and now need to shake.
The issue is, I now need to completely reinvent at least two of them, and I’m not sure what kind of people to turn them into. I seem to have this dynamic across all three of my WIP’s: female MC + supporting character = male love interest + supporting character = disapproving / hateful female witch. And don’t ask why I’m hating on the witches – I really don’t know. I don’t really do love-triangles, even if I thoroughly enjoy reading them, but rather dysfunctional trio’s.
Perhaps this stems from not having fully explored and developed the archetype yet, and thus still feeling the need to write her, as I jump across stories. I want to write the witch that doesn’t get along, but because I’m not confined to one story – neither is she. I’m kind of hoping this is the case, because I’ve never lacked for ideas before. I have forty-something novel concepts waiting for me, and I know for a fact that these dynamics – the dysfunctional trio as well as the witch archetype – are not present across them all.
The other theory is that each of these repeated set ups, these characters that I’m drawn to write, represent parts of myself… It is said, after all, that there is a little bit of the author in all their characters. Again, it would mean this is a dynamic I need to fully explore, hopefully come to understand, end move beyond.
I know I try to be inclusive and diverse in the details of my creations. Olivia is not “white”, Marianne is asexual, Marianne’s daughter (Tiger’s Eye spin off) is to be either lesbian or bisexual, Jasmine (Forbidden) is bisexual, Olivia has CPTSD and maybe a personality disorder (yet to be decided). Celeste (Forbidden) has anxiety, and I’m developing a transgender character for Demon’s Run I think. I want to be inclusive to these minorities – however, I also want to be sure I do it properly. I can’t identify with many of these labels, so I want to be sure I accurately represent them in my writing.
One thing I need to work on is ethnic diversity, including characters that go beyond ‘mocha-skin’; where are my Asian employees? Where are the Arabic cultures? Where are the people with skin the colour of rich coffee blend? I want to include and honour all these beautiful identities in my writing, but I think one of my biggest hesitations is that I don’t personally know anyone of these backgrounds, at least not well enough to discuss the topic with them. Because if I’m going to include these people, I want to be sure it’s in a way that doesn’t cause them to cringe or roll their eyes at an ignorant representation of them or their culture. I don’t know what language to use to describe dark skin, I don’t know what terms are offensive, I don’t know the best way to describe a woman’s headscarf without coming across as ignorant. And I don’t know who – or how – to ask to learn the language people want to see in books; all I want is to make a young African-American reader or Arabic woman to see a positive representation of their identity in a book and for them to feel beautiful and accepted and ‘mainstream’ for being who they are.
The issue comes from writing personalities that aren’t… me. That I don’t identify with. I try to do it, but it’s hard to put myself in that head-space, to know what it’s like to be this completely different person.
Let me know how you create unique and diverse characters across your books. Do you use character worksheets? Archetypes? Real-life inspirations? How do you write authentic and unique personalities?