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A problem I have when writing is that all of my characters behavior and speech ends up mirroring that of my own. As a result nearly all of my characters end up being practically indistinguishable from each other, they aren't unique in how they talk.

I want to give my characters individual mannerisms and different voices but I feel like I have a limited pool to pick from and they all end up sounding and acting very similarly.

I have tried 'Interviewing the characters' to find out more about them from their perspective, but I have the same issue of me ending up answering the questions nearly all the same.

How can I broaden my own understanding of my characters to better differentiate them from each other?

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3 Answers 3

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Your problem is that your characters aren't rounded. They don't have distinguishable voices because they aren't distinguishable people.

Do this as an exercise: Pick your favorite TV show, movie, book. Pick two or three characters from each. Interview them. For example:


What's your favorite book?

John: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Read it to tatters in Afghanistan.

Sherlock: "Favourite" would imply affection. I do not feel affection for inanimate objects. If you are asking which book I find most useful, that varies from case to case. A group of Chinese smugglers once used London A to Z as a cipher key —

John: Yes, let's not revisit that case, shall we? I ended up tied to a chair with a crossbow pointed at me because they thought I was you.


Wilson: I'm really enjoying Game of Thrones.

House: So am I. By which I mean the show, with all the boobs, not the big doorstopper novels.

Wilson: Boobs and politics.

House: Politics and boobs. Best of both worlds.


Go through your "interview questions" or find the email surveys which go around and practice interviewing someone else's characters. It's a bit fanficcy, but it will teach you how to look at a character and answer in someone else's voice.

Then you need to figure out the why. Why does Sherlock not have a favorite book he returns to? What does John get out of rereading something he knows by heart? Does House find the act of reading boring or too time-consuming? Does Wilson enjoy the soap opera or the intricate politics?

Once you've taught yourself to analyze an existing distinct character, you can use those tools to make your characters more rounded. When you have a character who feels like a real person, it's much easier to have that person speak in his or her own voice, which is not yours. Remember that your motivation and your characters' motivation are not the same.

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I recommend journaling as the characters. If you are a ways into a story (or even if you have outlined a story) you likely have a few events that they will experience in mind. Write journal reviews of how the characters felt about the situation, what they experienced, things like that. This will help identify what drives characters, how they feel about specific items/people/actions/scenarios and will help you differentiate your characters in your own head.

edit: A side note. Putting the characters in situations OTHER than what are going to appear in your story can be very useful as well. You can never tell the day to day story of a character's life, a story usually hits the big events...write a journal or two on a day where nothing of note takes place...I woke up, I went to the grocery store because I wanted to make tuna sandwiches for lunch. They didnt have tuna. I went to a different store because I was really jonesing for tuna... /edit

Mind you, writing characters other than yourself still requires a certain amount of mental discipline. Any exercise that we suggest still requires that you step out of how you would respond and think about how another would respond. It may be useful to use people you know as a basis for your characters...a sort of jumping off point to get started.

When it comes to speech, or voice, it can be tough to separate characters. One method can be to write in an accent or dialect...this is challenging though, being consistent with non-grammatically correct or spelling/pronunciation errors is a pain. The best and most reliable way is to make sure the characters' responses are different because the characters are different. If you can get to a point where people can identify the speaker based on WHAT is said as opposed to HOW they say it or even by plain telling people who is talking you can consider the process a success. This takes a lot of practice and rewriting...a lot. At least for me.

Good luck.

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Try making them ridiculously exaggerated in your first (zeroth?) draft. Then gradually dial them back as you revise. Call it "simulated annealing for writers."

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