3 Simple Tricks to Create a Character OH SO Different From YOU

Characters

As some of you know I am still recovering from the flu. Also, the holiday season gets more than a little insane so it is always a joy to run across fresh talent to share with all of you. The bad news is that Alex Limberg lives in Vienna so taking him as a hostage? Can you tweet #logisticalnightmare? Good news is, apparently Austrians work for compliments and candy cigarettes #littleknownfact.

So, with my Amazon Prime Account, I was able to secure SWEET blog content and all of us could avoid any sticky international incidents with the Austrians.

Which is best for all because, well who doesn’t dig their pastries?

This is another guest post by copywriter Alex Limberg. To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season until he makes his New Year’s resolution to kick his candy cigarette habit *rolls eyes*.

…and then we’ll just have to catch him when he relapses.

His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you create intriguing novels and shorts. Have you ever written a character you thought you couldn’t portray well because he was too different from you? In this post, Alex lays out three secrets on how to make a character like that come to life. Please give him a hand once again!

****

The situation feels so awkward for you: This guy, you just can’t understand what he is all about.

You have really given your best to make it work.

You wanted to discreetly overlook his annoying sense of entitlement (from his perspective, you won’t ever get anywhere, because you are way too modest).

You tried not to judge his ridiculous uptight correctness (he thinks you have no manners).

And you really made an effort to explain that you don’t enjoy small talk and you feel happiest when you are alone with a book (to him, you are too withdrawn; he seems to even get a kick out of chatting with the sales assistant).

But you absolutely don’t understand him. It’s just that the two of you are so different.

The worst part is, you have an important project together and you will have to work with him for months and see him almost on a daily basis.

You have no idea how you will be able to work with somebody like this. Seriously, this will be bad.

But there is also good news: The guy just exists in your head.

He is one of the main characters in your newest novel. If you want to make that novel work though, you better get to understand him on a level as intimate as your very best friend.

Here are three highly practical tips on how to connect with a character who is very different from you:

1. Find the Perfect Template Person in the Real World

You would never step on anybody’s toes, but in your novel you have to deal with a very bold character?

For sure you know somebody who doesn’t shy away from collecting ten free samples at once or “accidentally” taking the hotel towel with him when he checks out (my brother even tried to take the sheets with him once, true story). How would that real life person feel in your scene, how would she act, react and express herself?

Some writers have used their husbands, siblings or parents in a dozen different books, in a dozen different ways.

It’s a lot easier to imagine how a person you know very well would act. All the experiences you have had with that person will tell you. Your intuition will speak to you. Just transfer that gut feeling onto your character.

Most of your characters will not be exactly as their real life prototypes, because after all you are writing fiction and not a biography. Instead, your figures will rather be hybrids of people you know; for example, as brilliant as your sister and as restless as your best friend.

Take from everybody just what you need. The more life experience you have, the more characters you have met over the course of your life– great! Society around you is just a big, yummy, neverending buffet of character traits. Feel free to feast at your convenience.

Funny Tree

2. Don’t Act, Be!

In some way, writing is like acting– the difference is that you have to be all of the characters at once. Being able to switch between so many different shoes from one moment to the next is a major point that distinguishes great writers from not-so-great ones. Fiction writing is a bit like puppet theater.

Have you ever heard of “method acting”?

In method acting, you don’t try to pretend you are a different character. Instead, you just ask yourself: “If I was that cheerful/vain/sneaky/dumb, how would I act?”

The moment you are answering that question, you are already in a different headspace. You are doing what the best actors in the world have a gift for: They don’t act, they are for a brief moment. They are just for an instant as the character does his thing, but they are with all of their being.

It’s a step in between pretending and naturally being.

“Method acting” is actually an excellent way of auto-suggestion. Imagine you had a hypnotist make you believe that you are your protagonist. And that you are the antagonist. Plus that other really cool main character. And his wife. And a couple of supporting characters… you would be in the lunatic asylum for schizophrenics in no time, but you would write excellent prose.

That “self-hypnosis” is basically what you are doing when you suggest to your subconscious you are that character.

Ask yourself: “How would I act, if…?”

Cat 1

 

3. Remember a Situation That Brought Out the Opposite in You

We all have multiple sides to our personalities. The sad ones are sometimes joyful, the mature ones can be childish, and yes, even the dumb ones are smart sometimes, because there are very different types of intelligence.

So that trait your character embodies but you think you don’t, is hidden somewhere deep inside of you.

Here is how to bring it out: Think back to a situation in which you really, really felt that way. Maybe you usually don’t feel so confident, but that one time after you got your promotion or passed that exam in university, you felt on fire and were just invincible for the next couple of days.

Close your eyes, go back to that situation: What did the scenery feel like? What did you see, hear, smell? And how did you feel?

Try to tap into the feeling you had back then with your entire body. Yes, this might sound overly esoteric, but give it a try and see if it helps you. Breathe confidence when your character is very confident on paper– and take it from your emotional memory!

Adorn Yourself with the Most Beautiful Borrowed Plumes

So there you have basic advice on how to be somebody else. Don’t become schizophrenic, but keep on practicing your talent for wearing unfamiliar skin.

If you do this well, you have taken a huge step towards becoming a great writer. People love stories because they are fascinated by their characters. And if you can create intriguing characters, you readers will desperately have to know what happens to them next and will devour your stories.

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thanks, Alex!

Now it’s your turn: How do you handle a character whose nature seems very alien to yours? Did you ever run out of patience with one of your figures? Are all your characters like you and you can hardly distinguish them, so there is never any trouble? Do you sometimes have long discussions with yourself in front of the bathroom mirror? Who wins?

Roses are red, violets are blue. I’m schizophrenic and so am I….and THAT NEVER GETS OLD!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

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  1. #1 by blondeusk on November 23, 2015 - 4:29 pm

    Not leaving a trace of you, the author, in a fictional character is one of the hardest things to do. I have learnt over the past 18 months that all my characters have a tiny piece of me inside them. Even the ones who are completely nuts🙂 Great post!

  2. #2 by tracikenworth on November 23, 2015 - 5:00 pm

    I don’t think any characters yet have been like me. They’re all so different. I recognize traces of them in individuals I know. Thanks for the info!!

  3. #3 by GWalden on November 23, 2015 - 5:28 pm

    Love your blog. I have a question. Any tips on writing a character’s that are a different ethnicity, age, or even sex than you? For example, lets say a writer is creating a character that is a 90 year old Asian man and the writer is a white female college student. How to write a believable character experience that will not offend anyone.

  4. #4 by Jean M. Cogdell on November 23, 2015 - 5:38 pm

    Love this post! And much needed. I fight showing myself in my writing every day.

  5. #5 by Deborah Makarios on November 23, 2015 - 5:44 pm

    I’ve been struggling with this lately – thanks for the suggestions! I feel I should point out, though, that schizophrenia is not the same thing as multiple-personality disorder.

  6. #6 by weathervaneandcupola on November 23, 2015 - 5:57 pm

    Good read.. now if I could only do this for my real-life personality🙂

  7. #7 by aurorajeanalexander on November 23, 2015 - 6:26 pm

    Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    Kristen Lamb, experienced author and blogger, has published a new blog post I find very educating for new authors (which includes me of course). I’m always getting the best advice on Kristen Lamb’s blog and appreciate her support, experience and wisdom. Thank you Kristen!

  8. #8 by morgynstarz on November 23, 2015 - 6:53 pm

    Freaking awesome. And spooky true.

  9. #9 by Alex on November 23, 2015 - 7:38 pm

    Yes, Kristen, it’s true, I do run on compliments like a Tesla runs on sunbeams.

    And of course, like any respectable writer, I do function with candy: Bars, cigarettes, liquid fondue, cocoa powder; swallowing, sniffing, injecting it raw, whatever it takes. And writing on an excellent blog also keeps me going. So please keep it coming!

  10. #10 by The Meandering Matriarch on November 23, 2015 - 8:28 pm

    Thanks again for a very useful blog and link. I can DO this stuff, damn it! I can really do it… 😮

  11. #11 by Jeffrey A. Gartshore on November 23, 2015 - 8:31 pm

    Sound suggestions. Finding EL models is something I have been doing from the start.

  12. #12 by andfreed on November 23, 2015 - 11:31 pm

    This has been so helpful, thank you. I am just starting to write a new story and I will keep this in mind.

  13. #13 by ariefarnam on November 24, 2015 - 2:17 am

    The three tips here for characters are good. Yup. That’s what you do.

    I’d love to get the supposedly free ebook mentioned here and in the last post. I signed up for the mandatory newsletter. Now more spam comes but no ebook. This happens constantly on the internet. It’s sad though because that makes people less likely to go for a free book when serious authors want to offer one in order to build a base. If authors deliver what they claim they will for free and if it is good content, it can actually build a base over the long term.

    • #14 by Alex on November 24, 2015 - 6:18 am

      Hmmm, sorry about that. If you want, you can leave me your email here or write to alex at ridethepen dot com, and I will send you the ebook.

  14. #15 by Helene Pulacu on November 24, 2015 - 4:38 am

    Alex, your “step in between pretending and naturally being” is totally dionysian –in the sense that Dionysus was god of dramatic performances, of re-presentation, of this “stepping into” a personality that would “normally” be distinct from his own everyday self. (Allow me to be introduced: native Greek, student of the Classics etc., INFP, writer / translator.) Spot-on, author!

    • #16 by Alex on November 24, 2015 - 9:37 am

      “Dionysian,” that sounds almost indecent, ha ha. Excellent!

  15. #17 by sharonhughson on November 24, 2015 - 9:32 am

    I totally LOVE feeling like I am in a character’s head. Unfortunately, producing that experience from the writing angle isn’t nearly as easy as stepping onto a stage and acting (as I did so many years ago).
    It’s easy to point out the blah dialogue, unrealistic reactions and head-hopping in other people’s writing, but finding it on the pages of my own story (when I dreamed these people and scenarios from nothing) is much different and not at all simple.
    Thanks for the tips.

  16. #18 by Lola Karns on November 24, 2015 - 10:38 am

    Another great post. I sometimes use a writing exercise where I look at a piece of art or object I personally love but write a paragraph or two about how the character responds to it. When I can’t figure out how the character would respond to a situation in the book, I go back to that piece to ground myself in the character.

  17. #19 by thelonelyauthorblog on November 24, 2015 - 11:35 am

    Great post. Thanks for sharing it.

  18. #20 by Redonna Guthrie on November 24, 2015 - 2:57 pm

    Awesome post. Really liked the idea of making myself the protagonist and picturing what I would do as that particular character.

  19. #21 by gretchenwing on November 24, 2015 - 7:43 pm

    I’m actually using the idea of understanding my oh-so-different-from-me character to help me understand people I disagree with in the real world. Did not plan to do it this way, but I’ve noticed that, from struggling to see the world through this rather bigoted (in my opinion) character, I now feel less judgemental toward “different” folks in general. Kinda cool side effect.

  20. #22 by emilyardenauthor on November 26, 2015 - 7:03 am

    Reblogged this on Emily Arden, author and commented:
    Great suggestions. Sometimes it’s hard not to imbue your characters with your own way of thinking…

  21. #23 by Matt Bowes on October 11, 2016 - 10:57 am

    How funny. I get Alex’s emails in my in box telling me about new blog posts, so I pop on to the link (from Alex) and I’m looking at his blog, which looks just like Kristen Lamb’s. So, I start reading, and Alex is talking about himself in the third person, with a weird comment about taking him hostage.

    Scroll up.

    Viking helmet. Check. Cheezy grin. Check.
    “Kristen Lamb’s Blog.” Check.

    Now it all comes together.

    Or does it…? Back to that hostage comment. What, exactly, were we thinking there, Ms. Lamb? (adjusts spotlight) Where were you on the night of the 27th, exactly? Please answer clearly for the recording.

    • #24 by Alex on October 11, 2016 - 11:18 am

      Ha, yes, I should have clarified what’s going on here, Matt… I realized about 3.5 seconds after sending out that email…

      And I can tell you, being Kristen’s hostage really is a very cool thing..!

      • #25 by Matt Bowes on October 11, 2016 - 11:27 am

        I’ll worry, Alex, if you start appearing with a viking helmet. Stockholm syndrome! She’s changing you into a bigger version of her! (I’m going with bigger. You’re probably taller than her. Since I don’t know your heights, yeah, bigger. Plus, she knows authorjitsu and can put you in thumb-locks and stuff.) Or you could do morse code to let us know if you want out. Just add extra periods and dashes and someone here will figure out what you’re saying. Poor guy, hostage to those Texans. “Y’all wahnt anuther ste-ack while we wayit for tha rahnsohm money?”

        Everybody, everybody, we need to start a gofundme to ransom Alex out of Kristen’s basement!

        I think I’m officially off topic, here.

        • #26 by Alex on October 11, 2016 - 11:49 am

          Being off topic is fun though. We are witnessing an author’s imagination going full speed here.🙂

          • #27 by Matt Bowes on October 11, 2016 - 12:00 pm

            See that reply? This is how we know you’re under duress, Alex. Ha ha, tra la la, he says. Smiley faces. Not buying it. RELEASE ALEX!

  22. #28 by Margie on October 11, 2016 - 12:10 pm

    Thanks for the ideas Kristen, and all those who have contributed comments.
    I like to base my characters, physically, on someone I know well. That way I can see the funny walk, the flick of a ponytail, the insincere smile or the naughty twinkle of the eye. The personality will be different, and I need to put my writer-self into that body, and keep working at it till they develop their own voice. At that point the character sort of takes over, I just have to provide the situation they find themselves in.

  23. #29 by lalouziane on October 11, 2016 - 1:01 pm

    Reblogged this on Swamp Sass and commented:
    Yes, I’m reblogging another Kristen Lamb post. I really like this one.

  24. #30 by lalouziane on October 11, 2016 - 1:02 pm

    I think I leave bits and pieces of myself in every character.

  25. #31 by PHS on October 11, 2016 - 1:11 pm

    Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:
    These are three excellent tips for developing characters. It’s also a great discussion about how to think about characters – and how tough that can be…

  26. #32 by Shiloh Saddler on October 11, 2016 - 1:28 pm

    The method acting technique is really fun and works. If you’re a bit too shy to actually act it out try having an interview and writing out questions and answers as your character. I think authors always leave a bit of themselves in all their characters even if they do not realize it.

  27. #33 by kimwrtr on October 11, 2016 - 2:48 pm

    Reblogged this on Kim's Author Support Blog.

  28. #34 by nathaliemlromer on October 11, 2016 - 6:52 pm

    I constantly look at people I know or know of for my “character mashups” (that’s what I call them… really!!!). And reading this article just made me realise that I already do all three points and having fun with mixing up personalities to get unique characters for my books.

    There is one character in each of my books that is entirely based on me and I am doing a “Stan Lee” there in essence (i.e. my personality makes a cameo appearance in each book I write).😀

  29. #35 by Benison O'Reilly (@BenisonOReilly) on October 12, 2016 - 4:45 am

    There is some great writing advice here but I’m a health professional as well as a writer & have to have to say that schizophrenia has nothing to do with multiple personalities. It’s a devastating, mental illness where people suffer hallucinations and delusions, and sufferers frequently suicide. It is really not something to joke about. The cat image would be quite offensive to families affected by mental illness. I’d suggest you’d be wise to remove it.

    • #36 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 12, 2016 - 10:00 am

      We are not here to be PC. If we danced around everything that might offend others we would never write anything. There is such thing as context and this is not a mental health site.

  30. #37 by Julie Holmes, author on October 12, 2016 - 7:17 am

    Excellent post! I find I leave bits and pieces of myself in my main characters. Supporting characters, not so much. Still, true about using people you know to help build characters. What better way to exact revenge on someone who pissed you off last week😉

    • #38 by Alex on October 12, 2016 - 8:16 am

      Yesss, recycle everybody you know in five different stories, I’m all for it.🙂

  31. #39 by Rachel Thompson on October 12, 2016 - 7:29 am

    I don’t know about schizophrenia, I’m bi-polar. I hate bi-polar, it’s awesome.

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