People really only have one view of the world, and that is their own. Although as humans we have the rare gift of empathy, giving us an insight into the way others think, we can only truly know the world from our own unique perspective.
So, with this limitation, how can we as writers create believable, meaningful and interesting characters that are different to themselves?
There are a couple of exercises that I like to do to get me thinking about characteristics outside of my own. These can either be done in your head while you’re in the shower or written down.
Exercise 1: The opposite argument
Think of something you believe strongly. This might be climate change science, religion, the fact the sky is blue, communism’s inferiority, or that cats are better than dogs. Once you have done this grab a pen and paper (or keyboard) and:
- Begin to write a dialogue-based argument starting with your point of view. Call the characters ‘1’ and ‘2’.
- Continue the discussion/argument by arguing both points of view.
- Be convincing on both sides of the argument. Genuinely challenge your existing point of view and don’t use cliché arguments as they are too easy.
- Bring the argument to its conclusion. There may be a winner, or ‘1’ and ‘2’ may agree to disagree.
- Look at the dialogue you have written. Look at the way you have written the opposing argument. Do you have the basis of a new character?
Forcing yourself to consider opposing views can put you into the mindset of other people. This can be a powerful tool when writing characters.
Exercise 2: Write someone you know
Think of a person you know who has a distinctive character or style. It may be a fictitious character from a book or TV. Have a normal conversation with that person:
- Write out the dialogue for a regular conversation – about ‘lost keys’, a broken relationship or the new hardware store that’s opened up around the corner.
- Capture the voice of the known person or distinctive character in the dialogue. How would that character respond in this mundane conversation?
- Add a point of action – make something happen in the scene – someone breaks a glass or a horse jumps in through the window.
- How do the characters respond?
- Do you have the crux of a scene or character now?
By putting a character known to you into a situation they wouldn’t normally be in you may find yourself with a solid basis for a new character or scene.