Saturday, May 18, 2019

How to Make Similar Characters Unique

My friend Katja asked me to write the blog post, and I love the assumption behind it: that we will write similar characters. This is normal--not everyone can be vastly different or polar opposites. But heaven forbid we confuse people. Here are some basic tricks to keep even similar characters unique.


Maybe you like to create characters on the fly, personality type them *cough*, or find a name and let them write themselves. There really is no one "right" way to create a character. But while variety is needed, what do you do when you have a sibling set with the same upbringing and home or

One of the most basic things you can do is give one a distinct something that the other doesn't have. This could be literally anything:
  • facial feature
  • catchphrase
  • habit
  • fear/struggle
  • condition
  • goal/motivation
  • cute pet
  • race/gender
  • clothing style
  • taste in music
This is not revolutionary by any means, nor does a single character need to have every one of these! A little goes a long way to making a character--especially a side character--stand out in a reader's mind.

On the flipside, there are some given things in life that people can't share without conflict. Like boyfriends or the last bite of cookie. Give multiple characters the same unshareable desire and watch their true colors come out.

Another option is to trace different means to the same end. In other words, explore how characters have different ways of reaching the same goal. Their motivation might be the same, but what are they going to do about it?

Or once again you could do the reverse of this. Characters who begin the same can take divergent paths. Maybe these are siblings with a similar past who lead vastly different lives. Showing different results from the same event (because it affected characters differently) can be very powerful.

In my mind, making similar characters unique comes down to reactions and interactions. This is where your plot and characters meld to make a story.
Any character tips to share?

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Why You Should Read the Genre You Write

I've heard some debate lately on whether it's safe to read books that your story could be compared to. I think you absolutely should read those books!! I even wrote a post about how I write what I read.  Here's why.


When you read inside the genre of your WIP, two good things can come from this: 
  1. you get familiar with the genre so you can be similar enough to fit the genre and 
  2. you get familiar with the tropes that are perhaps more overused than necessary so that you can be unique. 
In my genre of contemporary Christian fiction, my book Martin Hospitality was similar in that it had a redemption arc and was very slice-of-life. However, I think it had perhaps less of a key romance thread than many, the uncommon theme of hospitality, and some unusual characters. And a different cover. I also hope it wasn't quite so flat or preachy as many CF books!

I wrote the genre that I'd largely become disenchanted with the way I wanted it to be. But I didn't sacrifice all the elements or I wouldn't have met expectations.

I think a great genre to look at for an example is dystopian. All dystopian stories have so much in common!
  • Post-war (probably nuclear) America
  • Faulty new structure of government has arisen (usually with different facets)
  • Young adult female protagonist who challenges the government
  • She becomes a leader (against her will) for the brewing rebellion
  • A love interest and valued family member raise the stakes
Yet for all those similarities, we get different things like The Hunger Games, The Divergent Trilogy and the Out of Time Series. Two I loved, one I didn't. 

So yes. Read similar books to your own to help you make decisions! People will expect certain things from you based in your genre. But being imaginative with how you do those expected things is a big part of how you stand out.

When you read similar books can also matter. Preferably don't read them while you're writing the first draft. This will probably be overwhelming. Chances are you've read some of the genre prior to now to prepare you. And maybe you should read a few bestsellers after the first draft to gives you some more perspective going into revisions.

Now actually finding a book that's similar to yours may be an easy mission or not. I've always struggled with this, but it may be straightforward for you!
Do you shy away or enjoy reading books similar to yours? What book would you consider similar to your WIP?