Power of Words

Here are some top mistakes writers make when creating characters for fiction:

  • Characters aren’t believable.
  • Stereotypical characters.
  • Too realistic.
  • Not developed enough.
  • Etc etc etc…

Why didn’t I finish that list?

That seems pretty lazy of me not to bother finishing the list. But the truth is that you can find a full breakdown of common character creation mistakes using a web search or writer’s self-help book. Where do you think I found those in the first place?

Perhaps I’ll write a full post about it later, but now I’m saying something I consider to be more important. Once you have all of the above under control, there’s still one crucial mistake you can make without even realising it.

Character diversity: the unexpected pitfall

This looks obvious at first glance. Of course you need to have diverse characters. If each person in your novel or short story had the same personality and behavioural traits, it’d be a pretty boring read. And that’s where you might slip up. As you consciously try to weave as much diversity as possible into your characters’ personalities, your subconscious bias is going to sneak up on you.

Let’s say that you, the writer, are a middle-aged Caucasian woman. That’s going to be your most likely go-to protagonist, just because it’s the sort of physical person you’re most familiar with. It makes sense and there’s nothing wrong with it. You already know how a middle-aged Caucasian woman thinks, speaks, feels and acts.

But fiction rarely has just one character in it and you can’t populate an entire story with white middle-aged women. I mean you could, but it would make an odd read. Of course, you’ll be aware of this and will try to diversify gender, age and race as you write. But to make a truly diverse cast of characters, you need to go even further than this.

Writing diverse characters

We can take a couple of protagonists that I’ve written. One is a young man and the other is a young woman. Already it seems like I’ve ticked the diversity box, but I haven’t. There are an infinite number of character diversity boxes to tick. In my head, both are the same age as me and have the same ethnicity, so that’s a red mark against my writing.

When you’re writing fiction you have to keep in mind that there is an almost infinite range of physical characters out there in the real world. The more of these that you bring into your story, the more interesting it will be to read.

Examples:

  • The elderly, children and infants (infants don’t do much themselves, but they can be powerful symbols or plot devices. Imagine how the reader would feel, knowing that a newborn character is endangered in some way).
  • European, African, Asian and Latin American.
  • Now think about how many different ethnicities are represented in each of these broad categories (southern European vs. northern European for example).
  • Able-bodied, sick, infirm and disabled (from characters that walk with a limp or have a running nose, to the blind and amputees).
  • Famous people, ordinary citizens, servants and slaves (each is capable of having a personality that doesn’t quite fit the stereotype, e.g. a celebrity who sneaks into a fast food restaurant every day wearing a wig).
  • Animals (our world would be utterly unrecognisable without them and their absence would make a fictional world appear alien).
  • Nobodies, extras (the people that pass you while you’re having a heated argument, blurs in the corner of your eye. Distant voices heard through your living room window).
  • Memories (characters who have died or gone away, living in the back of your protagonist’s mind).
  • Imagined people (an imaginary friend, the imagined sound of someone calling your name, a hallucination).

Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?

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10 thoughts on “Tip #8: Character Pitfalls

  1. People always say “Write what you know,” but it’s easy to slip into writing ONLY what you know – that is, people in exactly the same ethnic, cultural, social, physical, professional, and financial demographics as you, because that’s what you see around yourself all the time. Thank you for this reminder to step out of what I know and appreciate all the many facets of this world!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes! Good post! I’ve tried to branch out in my writing with secondary characters from other ethnic backgrounds, age groups and cultures. It’s rewarding to do the homework, too. Research is vital to avoid using stereotypes!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is a great list and very true. I always try to maintain a good sense of diversity in my characters by writing about people from lots of different ethnicities, backgrounds, age groups, and philosophies. My hope is always that my cast of characters comes close to reflecting the diversity of the real world and doesn’t seem like the same archetype repeated over and over.

    Liked by 1 person

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