Writing Tips: How to Keep Your Characters From Sounding Alike

I’ve had nothing but good experiences with my writer’s group at the Houston Writers Guild. The comments and feedback of peers is crucial to the process and great for real time writing tips. If you need real time help on how to write and other writing tips, this is highly recommended. During these circles, one of the comments I find myself giving most is that the characters in the story all sound alike.

This is to be expected, as only one writer is burdened with providing every voice from the main character to the bartender taking a drink order. But how can one person wear so many hats without some repetition? As with any problem in writing, imagination is the answer.Writing Inspiration keep characters from sounding alike
One technique I like to use is the “divided self,” which is one of the few writing tips I remember from college. It is the concept of dividing a person into categories of their personality, a technique seen for one of the first times in “The Faerie Queen,” in which the three characters acted as ego, superego, and id. Of course, my favorite usage of this technique happened in Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (No need to be familiar with the show, but it is a great source of writing tips)

A short breakdown:

    • Buffy – The ego
    • Giles – The superego
    • Willow – Intellect/curiosity
    • Xander – Humor/innocence
    • Cordelia – Buffy sans the slayer title
    • Faith – The id

No matter what you are writing about, I bet your characters can fit into at least one of these categories, which can be expanded to include just about anything from vice to virtue.
Since we’re on the subject of vices, why not use the seven deadly sins as writing tips for how to make characters unique:

    • Lust
    • Greed
    • Pride
    • Sloth
    • Wrath
    • Envy
    • Gluttony

Which of these leads to your characters downfall? Which is your villain motivated by? What if your character can make one of these into a virtue?

It probably isn’t a sin to feel lust for your spouse, to be proud of who you are (as long as you don’t classify yourself as better or more deserving), envy of something worthwhile can drive someone to achieve it, while wrath over an injustice can drive to correct it.This type of inner conflict makes for a great character from secret agent man to horny journalist in the city.

And there are many other writing tips to keep your characters from sounding alike that are chock-full of diversity. We will discuss again soon.

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