How to create characters that aren’t you

Character scales

It’s very easy to create characters that only react the way that you do to any given situation. When a character gets in danger, they do the predictable thing, because all of the characters ultimately come from the writer.

To counteract this and to create a more believable world, you can use the following “cheat sheets” as a reference while you’re writing. Pick one reaction from each table to create a character table of reactions. Don’t forget that character reactions can and should evolve through a story.

Violence

Attitude Reaction
Scared of violence Freezes
Scared of violence Runs
Hates violence Tries to stop it verbally
Hates violence Tries to stop it physically
Used to violence Watches it happen dispassionately
Used to violence Joins the violence if necessary
Likes violence Cheers the violence on
Loves violence Joins in based on loyalty
Loves violence Joins in at random
Loves violence Joins in with whoever is winning

Sexual advance by same gender

Attitude Reaction
Homosexual and confident Flirts/Welcomes the advance
Homosexual and shy Blushes and gets quiet
Homosexual, taken and loyal Politely turns down the advance
Homosexual, taken and disloyal Flirts/Welcomes the advance
Heterosexual and confident Politely turns down the advance
Heterosexual and shy Blushes and gets quiet, maybe stammers out that they’re straight
Heterosexual, homophobic and non-violent Cold reply
Heterosexual, homophobic and militant Shouts, argues, and maybe shoves.
Heterosexual, homophobic and violent Attacks physically.

Sexual advance by opposite gender

Attitude Reaction
Heterosexual and confident Flirts/Welcomes the advance
Heterosexual and shy Blushes and gets quiet
Heterosexual, taken and loyal Politely turns down the advance
Heterosexual, taken and disloyal Flirts/Welcomes the advance
Homosexual and confident Politely turns down the advance
Homosexual and shy Blushes and gets quiet, maybe stammers out that they’re gay
Homosexual, heterophobic and non-violent Cold reply
Homosexual, heterophobic and militant Shouts, argues,                and maybe shoves.
Homosexual, heterophobic and violent Attacks physically.

Verbal confrontation

Attitude Reaction
Hates confrontation Gives up and concedes any argument
Dislikes confrontation Goes quiet and won’t voice their opinion
Wants consensus Tries to agree with all points of view
Likes debate Enjoys discussion, as long as it’s controlled. If it gets out of control, ends discussion
Likes confrontation Takes a strong stance in confrontations
Loves confrontation Will take an opposing view in order to create confrontations.

Friendship advance

Attitude Reaction
Antisocial Is cold/hostile to any new friendships
Disinterested Is polite, but curt to any new friendships
Neutral Is polite and pleasant, but not looking for deep friendships
Interested Is bubbly and pleasant, happy to make new friends
Social Actively seeks out new friendships

High stakes situation

Attitude Reaction
Bad with pressure Crumbles under pressure, makes hasty, poor decisions
Quite bad with pressure Has trouble finding the right decision, may freeze.
Stressed out Makes mostly neutral decisions, but becomes very stressed
Neutral Makes mostly neutral decisions
Quite good with pressure Finds a good decision (not necessarily the best).
Great with pressure Is calm, collected and finds the right decision

Boredom

Attitude Reaction
Hates boredom Will do anything to relieve boredom, including rash decisions
Dislikes boredom Looks for ways to relieve boredom, but won’t be rash
Neutral about boredom Doesn’t like it, but won’t complain
Likes boredom Likes inactivity and lack of action
Loves boredom Loves to have quiet time for introspection

Backed into a corner

Attitude Reaction
Passive reaction Submits entirely when backed into a corner
Thinking reaction Tries to find a clever way out of a situation
Action reaction Will take action to get out of a situation, after weighing risk
Violent reaction Will always take action, no matter the risk

Honourable action

Attitude Reaction
Very dishonourable Hates honour and wants to corrupt it
Dishonourable Thinks that honour is a waste of time
Neutral Thinks that the world is complex and honour has its place
Honourable Likes honour, but can ignore it for expedience
Very honourable Honour is more important than anything

Dishonourable action

Attitude Reaction
Very dishonourable Thinks that dishonourable actions are fun
Dishonourable Thinks that dishonourable actions have their place
Neutral Thinks that dishonourable actions are unavoidable
Honourable Dislikes dishonour, but that it happens
Very honourable Goes out of their way to prevent dishonour

Character: John Smith

The following might be a character that the average person would write. This can help readers to identify with him, but runs the risk of being boring.

Situation Attitude Reaction
Violence Hates violence Tries to stop it verbally
Sexual advance by the same gender Heterosexual and confident Politely turns down the advance
Sexual advance by the opposite gender Heterosexual, taken and loyal Politely turns down the advance
Verbal confrontation Likes debate Enjoys discussion, as long as it’s controlled. If it gets out of control, ends discussion
Friendship advance Interested Is bubbly and pleasant, happy to make new friends
High stakes situation Great with pressure Is calm, collected and finds the right decision
Boredom Loves boredom Loves to have quiet time for introspection
Backed into a corner Thinking reaction Tries to find a clever way out of a situation
Honourable action Honourable Likes honour, but can ignore it for expedience
Dishonourable action Very honourable Goes out of their way to prevent dishonour

John Smith does essentially what 80-90% of people in the world think of themselves as doing. He is a nice person who tries to do the right thing. That can be fine, but if your book is nothing but nice people doing the right thing, that can be boring.

Character: Malodious Stinch

This next character has the opposite problem. He’s too obviously evil.

Situation Attitude Reaction
Violence Loves violence Joins in with whoever is winning
Sexual advance by the same gender Heterosexual, homophobic and violent Attacks physically.
Sexual advance by the opposite gender Heterosexual, taken and disloyal Flirts/Welcomes the advance
Verbal confrontation Loves confrontation Will take an opposing view in order to create confrontations.
Friendship advance Antisocial Is cold/hostile to any new friendships
High stakes situation Bad with pressure Crumbles under pressure, makes hasty, poor decisions
Boredom Hates boredom Will do anything to relieve boredom, including rash decisions
Backed into a corner Violent reaction Will always take action, no matter the risk
Honourable action Very dishonourable Hates honour and wants to corrupt it
Dishonourable action Very dishonourable Thinks that dishonourable actions are fun

Malodious is equally boring because he’s weak and predictable: Evil for no other reason than being evil.

Character: Brian Brown

The following is a character that most people won’t agree with, but is a lot more interesting. He’s very much a mixed bag.

Situation Attitude Reaction
Violence Loves violence Joins in based on loyalty
Sexual advance by the same gender Heterosexual, homophobic and militant Shouts, argues, and maybe shoves.
Sexual advance by the opposite gender Heterosexual, taken and loyal Politely turns down the advance
Verbal confrontation Dislikes confrontation Goes quiet and won’t voice their opinion
Friendship advance Interested Is bubbly and pleasant, happy to make new friends
High stakes situation Stressed out Makes mostly neutral decisions, but becomes very stressed
Boredom Loves boredom Loves to have quiet time for introspection
Backed into a corner Action reaction Will take action to get out of a situation, after weighing risk
Honourable action Honourable Likes honour, but can ignore it for expedience
Dishonourable action Neutral Thinks that dishonourable actions are unavoidable

Brian is a much more interesting character because it’s difficult to gel the different parts of his personality together. He’s loyal to his partner, but homophobic. He loves violence, but hates verbal confrontation. He is interested in making friends, but loves boredom. He gets stressed out in high stakes situations, but takes action anyway. He is mostly honourable, but will ignore the dishonour of others for expedience.

Brian is someone whose actions you can’t predict in situations, because he’s not the writer, he’s his own character.

What to do with the cheat sheets?

Find an image on Google of a person that fits your character’s physical description. Don’t pick anyone famous that you might already have preconceptions about. Add this image under the character’s name and then print out or have the cheat sheets to hand. For every scene involving this person, try to think of it from their perspective. What would they really do? You don’t have to agree with it, or think it’s a smart decision, as long as it’s what they’d really do.


 




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