Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Writer's Corner: One Small Voice

As a wannabe writer, one of my biggest challenges is to create characters that are both memorable and have a unique voice. At the moment, I'm finding it hard to disseminate one MC from the other. It's the same for my love interests. I think I just have too rigid an idea of what my perfect MC is and deviating from that formula even slightly makes me feel as if I'm betraying them somehow. Does anyone else have that problem at all? If I keep going the way I do, all my female MC's in every series I write will just be a clone with a different name and setting.
         There are many writers who will say that their MC is not based on themselves at all. These people are lying. Both to their readers and to themselves. Even if a character is the complete opposite in gender and appearance to a writer, the writer's personality, morality and opinion will invariably show through the character's beliefs and actions. I'm not saying that all book characters are a writer's wish fulfillment, I'm just saying that writer's will write what they know, what they believe and what they wish for themselves in some way, shape or form.
         Which is why my heroines tend to be small and on the very sarcastic side. I am also a huge believer in the strong female MC. This means that I am forever writing kick ass females who inadvertently have some kind of super power. Not that you need a super power to get out of trouble, but it helps. This leads me to think that I'm creating my own MC cookie cutter and I really want to break out of that mold. Alas, I don't know how.
        Has anyone ever had this same problem? I keep getting all these ideas for new stories but my MC remains the same. Ideally, I'd love to write a paranormal with a girl who is a bit scatterbrained and not at all got her act together. But at the same time, she can't be stupid. That's not too much to ask is it?


  1. I have a similar problem. There is a certain kind of heroine that appeals to me and wanting to write about her is what gets me writing. However, it's the sidekicks that make the writing interesting. They're the ones with the flaws. Writing the heroine from the pov of a more flawed character is fun. Especially if they start to see the object of their awe as more human than they had thought.

    What I want to suggest here is that giving your characters more depth and thought is great, but don't kill your inspiration in the process.

  2. Morva: I've never thought about it that way before. It's true that writing sidekicks is much more interesting. But I'm worried about writing a deeply flawed character because I'm afraid it'll alienate so many people. Thanks for the great advice. I will definitely use it.

  3. I love this piece. "a clone with a diff name and setting" ...and "they are lying" if they deny that their MC isnt based on themselves OR who they wish they were - really strike a chord with me. I havent started writing a totally diff series/book yet but I know that when I do, I will have exactly this same problem. On a separate note, I recently tried writing some of my novel from a diff characters perspective ( the male lead) and it was an eye opener. Almost liberating to step away from that MC who Im so tied to, so connected with - and be somebody else. Think like somebody else.
    Great post. I will be interested to read what other writers comments are on this one.

  4. I don't know I'd I could distance myself enough to write a bit from a different characters perspective. I read your snippet and it was so good. I'm seriously thinking about it.

  5. Oh my gosh, I TOTALLY did the same thing when I started writing too! (And I still think I do!) It's really hard not to because we as writers have specific things we like about our characters like regular readers do -- I like my heroines strong too! -- so it's really hard not to create one that fits what you like! x) Because that's how I write: I think about what I would love if I was reading a book and what I wouldn't, and that helps shape the story and characters for me!

    Awesome post, Lan! I love your writing topics! :) But even if you do write your character personalities the same, I'm sure we'll be able to tell them apart because of their stories & pasts! And I'll definitely read any book with a snarky MC because I LOVE snark! ;) <3

  6. I think you're right and wrong. Everyone loves a strong heroine. It's probably because of the whole "women are dainty and helpless" thing that society has in their brains and we try to combat that with a kick ass heroine. I do want to point out though that there are still some women that actually are dainty and helpless and shy and sweet/polite and (somewhat) weak. Writing a book about those women wouldn't hurt at all as long as they grow somewhow. In fact, it may help those women (like me) who tend to feel like they could never be a heroine in a book b/c they're too nice or are pushover's at times or whatever. Just make sure there's a balance between them and the person doesnt whine the whole book. No one likes a whiner.

  7. I enjoy this series of posts very much, Lan. You really get us thinking!

    An important skill for writers is the ability to empathize with other people, to project ourselves inside their skin and walk around with them for a while. I remember sitting in a busy coffee shop in town one day a couple years ago. I was in a very foul mood and was mentally sniping at everyone who walked by my table. Finally I got fed up with myself and said, Shut up, Mike, and really LOOK at them. They may be oblivious townies but they have plenty to say to you if you'd only listen. I started watching them and asking myself questions. What does this person do for a living? Why are they buying two coffees when they're here alone? You get the idea. I moved out of my own head and tried to move into theirs, at least as far as my imagination would take me.

    We need to open our minds to the stories that other, different people offer us. It's a skill, it takes practice, and it takes a certain mood sometimes. But ultimately it's worth it!

    The Overnight Bestseller

  8. I have to strongly disagree with the belief that writers make Main Characters after themselves. Good characters may have qualities that are universally likable, and others admire, even the author. Personally I have a hard time when the MC is too good in any story. I work mainly in fantasy, when I put things on paper it is out of my imagination, and these characters are so far from anything I know. Their situations are so far removed from anything I would ever have to deal with.

    On the other side to that I have two unfinished novels and one draft of another finished. All three have lead women. One is good to the point it makes my stomach turn, the other is defiant and ruthless, and my last one is just trying to stay alive with what she can. I think all three are very different.

    My side characters are another story all together.

    Beth ^_^

  9. I'm in the same boat you are. Every MC I come up with is a clone of me. When I realized that, I was a bit irritated. But I came up with a solution... even though they're all going to contain traces of me, I can control what amount those traces come in. In other words, qualities in me are going to be in my MC in varying degrees. Like, maybe one character is extremely stubborn, but another is only a little stubborn.

    That's why I printed out some character trait information, I need to distinguish the different aspects of each of my characters. There's got to be some way to make my character SEEM less like each other.

  10. Mimi: That's exactly right, I always think, okay what kind of character would I like to read about? She's gotta be small and with dark hair and not stupid and...wait hang on...I did that in my last three books and they all kinda look like me. ugh!

    Sherre: That's what I'm getting at. I want to write the shy dainty ones, but I can't seem to because when there's a plot point where they should be shy and back down, I want them to punch something and then there goes the whole thing. It's really difficult for me to picture in my head what I would do it I wasn't a crazily aggressive tomboy. I wish I could have some insight.

    Michael: I think you hit the nail on the head. I am zero empathy. Which is probably why I've been unimpressed by many of the books I've been reading so far where the MC does something incredibly stupid. I observe people too! I think that's a great idea. I'll try to put myself in someone else's shoes and see how that works out.

    Beth: Maybe I should qualify the point. See, this is what happens when I don't plan posts and just write a mile a minute. If you're a strong person and admire strong heroines the chances that you would write a strong heroine as your MC is much bigger. Even the ones that aren't necessarily strong will have your morals unless you decide to make them pure evil. Situations are understandably different because it's fiction, but I will maintain that your MC
    s reactions will probably be much the same as yours.

    Jessica: I'm doing some character trait worksheets today! Because I need to decide which of my MC's gets to be the biggest smart ass :) I'm really trying to write a nice, shy one but it's so difficult I'm going to need all the help I can get.

  11. I thankfully haven't run into this problem yet. When creating a character, I definitely use bits and pieces of myself, but I only use small portions for each character. For example in one story I use my shy, music loving side while in another story I use my take control and be the rock others can look to side. If you want to use some of yourself maybe look at some of your own personality quirks, and the way you are with different groups of friends or family members.

  12. Ang: That's a great idea. I really should try to just pick out key qualities. I think my biggest problem is how my characters react to situations and trying to make their actions genuine when really, I just want them to go in guns blazing.

  13. That's actually a good idea. Write a character that is very different from what you usually come up with, and see where it leads. Taking risks sometimes pays off really well, and it sounds like that's what you need to do. Sometimes characters can just write themselves...

  14. Great post, Lan! I try to spend time in the characters head so I can understand why they react as they do - characters (like people) are a result of their background, upbringing, and current needs...and how all those things clash with the world or circumstances they are in. The more I can think, "What would THEY do?" instead of "What would I do?", the more unique the character becomes...

  15. Lan, I'm so glad you said this! I've believed this for years. Every author is SO writing about themselves. They may say that the character created themselves but, you're right, they're lying! I would suggest thinking about the character and how they would react and, if you have to, make it the exact opposite as you.

  16. Great post! I've noticed that too and it drives me crazy - especially in YA! The heroines are not only generic, they even LOOK like the author. Luckily I've always identified with the male voice more (weird?), so my hero is like me, sure, but not too much. He's like my imaginary friend. Which is weirder.

  17. If my MC's personality is similar to someone's around me, I ask them what they would do. Or, I practice on writing just one major personality trait/ a different side of my personality and the character starts to develop on its own. I hope you'll be able to get through this! Lovely post!


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