Whether you’re a writer, actor, roleplayer or one of the many other types of storytellers, creating interesting and engaging characters that hold your audiences attention can be difficult, especially so if those characters are very different from yourself.
"Different Characters Can Be Challenging."
First of all, don’t forget to check out the accompanying video if you’d prefer to listen to me, rather than read this blog.
So, what is my opinion on this topic?
I believe that every person has the potential to be any type of character in real life – good, bad, scheming, direct…
It’s all to do with your particular set of circumstances and the experiences which help to shape you from being a child to adulthood.
Just think of Batman as a perfect example of this.
He had a cushy, loving upbringing.
However, a single, catastrophic event threw Bruce Wayne onto a completely different path – and that’s the way you have you think about your writing, roleplaying and acting too.
Therefore, in this article (and the video), I’m going to break down a few different tips and ideas you can use to help better embody characters that are very different from yourselves.
Let’s look at the very first steps of when you are building a character.
Do some research on figures that represent that kind of archetype – they don’t have to be like-for-like exactly the same, but they have to be similar enough that you can identify key traits that make them who they are.
You can use different kinds of resources for this, but I recommend to look at your favourite books, films and TV shows first, then look at writing and character specific books such as Elements of Fiction Writing, Creating Character Arcs and How to Write Great Characters.
"Break down the Character Traits."
Look at how their key traits could be or are similar to your life. That similarity can help to give you an anchor into writing and playing the character.
Here, again, doesn’t have to be like-for-like. Most people haven’t experienced the horrific slaughter of their family by a supervillain, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have experiences to draw upon that you could use to empathize with that situation.
Look into different areas of your life for that emotional connection of inspiration.
History lessons. Your childhood. College life. Failed relationships. Lost jobs.
All of these things can give you emotional ammo to get into the headspace of the character.
These threads will enable you to create characters that are a little more personal, believable and engaging in a way that gets the audience invested in their backstory. And here, backstory is key.
Essentially, you reverse engineer your character from their most obvious traits, beliefs, desires and flaws and figure out why they “could” be the way they are.
Having that context in your head also will make it easier for you to create, edit and act that character.
If you are confident in wanting to improve your acting skills for professional or roleplaying reasons, attending basic acting and improv classes can work wonders.
They’ll give you the dramatic muscle to be able to roll with the punches and be more readily able to work with the energy and story that other characters (read here actors and players) throw at you.
This will give you more skill in being able to bounce out ideas and to “feel out” a scene.
Again, this can be difficult, but practice here really does help.
"Mulling over things is one of the most powerful tools a writer has."
I often find myself just mulling over characters and the dialogue they have between them within different scenes I am working on.
This helps me to run through different scenarios and outcomes as they may arise within the actual story when I’m writing. It greatly helps me in figuring out how I think that character would act in a given situation.
However, if you feel uncomfortable in doing this or what I’ve suggested above, you can also just focus on a single trait.
Take a single trait that the character possesses that you could also realistically possess in the real world.
Make that one trait the point of difference between you the creator and them the character.
It will help you create that character more effectively as you’re mostly still writing in your “voice” but with that one change.
This can be super helpful in those early drafts where you just want to focus on getting words to the page.
An example here could be with how charitable the character is.
If you are charitable in real life, make sure that the character is not… or even selfish.
When they are in given situations where you know you would help out or give money or assist the downtrodden, the character wouldn’t.
This frees up the majority of the writing and improves your productivity.
"never forget the conflict."
Your character concepts should always consider conflict-resolution.
At the end of the day, conflict is the beating core that makes up all stories we’ve ever read, watched, listened to or experienced.
Writing, and to a greater scale acting and roleplaying, can be powerful educational tools.
While this is more of a sociopsychological concept here, one of the major functions of telling stories and experiencing the world through the eyes of different characters is to teach.
To teach us that people from different backgrounds, in different situations, with different political, social, religious and philosophical ideas all act in often very different ways to what you would expect.
However, as one final bonus tip for you:
"Enjoy the process."
Regardless of the art that you are choosing to pursue, just enjoy the process.
Don’t worry too much if you can’t disconnect yourself from the character. Don’t care if you can’t explore vastly different characters than what you know in real life.
With practice and time, you will get more experienced, in telling stories and in real life too.
They will feed a sort of feedback loop into one another and give you more ideas to pull from.
I hope this one was an interesting one. Don’t forget to check out my accompanying video if you’d like to hear a few more thoughts that I have on the subject.
And please feel free to follow me on social media, drop a like, share and let me know if you have any questions about writing, storytelling, acting or roleplaying.