First, I’m going to send you to this link. This is a great article by Write World about how to make sure your characters are each unique with their own set of personality traits. I’m sure you’ve run into this problem before, where your own characters are starting to all sound alike or – oh geez – the characters in the book you’re reading are all starting to have the same personality. Needless to say, it’s not a lot of fun to write or read.
I do it a little different than the way WW does it, however, that’s mostly because I’m lazy. When I’m looking to create a character and I don’t have their personality set in stone, I like to do the initial five-part personality and stop there. From what I’ve learned, their smaller personality traits will come out as you write, but it’s those main five that serve as their driving forces. I don’t like to just pick whatever I want, though. A lot of the time, I’ll choose completely random personality traits and try to find a way to make them cohesive.
Let me give you an example using Belkor from Death Defiant. Now, Bel is an old character that I’ve had for awhile, so they sort of had a personality, but since I hadn’t written with them in a while, I decided I needed to flesh them out. I opened up WW’s list of Virtues and Vices, as well as a random letter generator. Bel is a good character, so I decided to make sure they have three virtues and two vices. I generated a random letter for the first Virtue (“O”), so I went to the list of O’s and decided on optimism. Then I did the same for the Vices list, picking a vice that began with the next letter the generator gave me. Once I had three vices and two virtues, I stopped.
While I was doing this, however, I was also thinking about Bel’s role in the story. Bel is a fallen angel, so one of their vices needs to be something that could lead to their fall, but not something that could discredit them as a good person. I kept this in mind as I was picking their traits, and eventually I ended up with: Optimism, Rightness, Bluntness, Aggressiveness, and Playfulness. Most of these were traits that I’d already had in mind, but being forced to write them down and choose allowed me to create a more well-rounded, flawed character.
Suddenly, I was finding it a lot easier to write Belkor and be satisfied with the way I was writing them. I had these guidelines, and since they were written down, I could more easily identify when they were acting out of character.
I’ve even used this with characters with more concrete personalities. Vincent from Antanama is a very vivid character in my head, but I wanted to make sure that I had his personality down pat and that I could easily describe him. Laziness is his number one attribute, since it defines everything he does in life. However, he’s also inventive, haughty, nonviolent, and caring. Once I wrote this down, it really helped clarify his character for me because I could see the conflicts within himself. He’s caring, but he’s lazy, so while he might want to help you, he might not feel like it. He’s inventive, especially when creating weapons, but his nonviolence causes him to destroy what he makes and not share it with people.
Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into each character, but this exercise serves as a good way to get started and to make sure you have a grasp on who your character is before you start doing too much with them.