The Career Author Podcast: Episode 102 – Creating Characters Who Aren’t Like You

Creating Characters Who Aren’t Like You

Creating characters who aren’t like you is key to making your story world feel real and lived in. Our world would be a boring place if every person was exactly the same. As such, so can the worlds in your books if all your characters are. It’s natural for us to write about our own experiences and worldviews but in order to tell an engaging story that resonates, you have to be able to see through the eyes of others in order to build real characters with broader viewpoints.

The Career Author Podcast is a podcast where co-authors J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon share their struggles and successes as full-time authors, advice for improving your writing craft, and honest discussions of what it takes to build a successful career as an author.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

  • Why it’s important to create characters who are different than you
  • The different types of characters you should consider writing
  • How to determine what kind of personality you have
  • What kinds of questions to ask real people who possess the traits you want to write

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Leave us a comment: Who is the most unfamiliar character you’ve written and what made them different from you?

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21 thoughts on “The Career Author Podcast: Episode 102 – Creating Characters Who Aren’t Like You

  • Morning guys. Great hack Zack. I’m with both of you, 3/33 sounds like a lot of clothes to me. 3/3 might be nearer the mark 🙂.
    Interesting topic. In my first two self published books my main characters were female teenagers. Not sure why, but I didn’t want to write a character like me.
    To answer your question; my most unfamiliar character was the protagonist of my second book; a female teenage ghost; I am not female and I am not a ghost, although I was a teenager once. It depends what the writer wants to write. I wanted to write about a ghost looking for a parent ghost; a teenage female fitted the story perfectly for me.
    Some writers start with a character others with a story. If one wanted to write a story about an itinerant ex military character always getting into trouble and having lots of fights, would a writer choose a single parent woman or a brute of a man? One could choose either BUT the story would be different depending on which character the writer chose. The character must fit the story. Would a female Jack Reacher be believable? Not as a direct substitute, but a skilled writer might be able to make a go of it and it would be a different story.
    I think the important thing is to write what one wants, and not to pander to the pc brigade. The BBC is constantly criticised for not catering for this or that minority group in its programs, which is fine because they are a public service broadcaster. But as writers we should not be concerned by those issues we should write the stories we want to write with the characters we want to write about and not try to squeeze characters into a story to satisfy a quota. Down that road lies drab cliche tick box characters.

  • The most unfamiliar character I’ve written to date is my current MC—a middle ageD divorced female who is an expert in AI. This is because I’ve never met anyone in that career field and I know next to nothing of software development or programming. Quite the challenge. Great episode guys.

  • WHOA WHOA WHOA. Zach, what’s your Enneagram number???? You left me hanging. The test tries to decide between a 7 and a 9 for me, but I land on 7 in the end. I’m very much both, as odd as that is.

    I actually did a blog post on Ennegrams for my characters once: http://rebekahnbryan.com/2019/03/__trashed/

    The character that’s least like me may have been in a story I wrote about this little person man who used to come into the grocery store I worked at. I submitted that story to the Author Strong short story contest back in the day actually. Memorieeeees.

  • Hey guys! Know I usually try and beat Chris, and FAIL, wanted to take a bit of time and listen to it again.
    And as I said in Slack, Zack, SAGA is freaking amazing and now we have another thing to geek out over together. 😝
    But I have tried this with my writing. There is a novella out there, part of a series I still want to continue because I think it’s great—yes not the best career mindset but you got to have some hobby writing too—is a Raypunk story featuring a trans male character. I tried to talk to trans men and get their feeling on it. It was fun because it was very different and felt great to go outside my comfort zone. Granted I fretted and worries the entire time, you can ask two friends of mine how many times I bugged them about it. But after doing it, I know I want to keep writing that character and other characters that are WAY different than me.

    Awesome episode.

  • I’ve been listening and lurking for a while now but I had to comment and tell you how much I liked this episode. Super refreshing to hear the thing we all see more and more: you can’t win.

    As for the topic: Each character I write has some aspect in common with me, but the one that is the most different would probably be a juvenile dragon hatched into slavery who has not, as far as she remembers, seen the outside world or left the room she’s forced to work in.

      • So true. I’d decided long ago to throw winning out the window and just write diversity. I have friends and coworkers who are queer, disabled and/or not white. Why would I not include them in my work?

        The people in my writing group have discussed this before but you guys were just the first I heard this from “out loud.”

  • Hey, guys!

    Regarding your question for this week’s podcast, my most recent book THE PALE WHITE is a female-centric coming-of-age story that deals heavily with sexual trauma. This was a real challenge for me, particularly with one of the girls who is a 9-year-old mute who finds solace in a houseplant. Getting the reader to empathize without the use of dialogue AND being a female while suffering something I can only relate to through others made for some scary writing. Readers seem to feel I pulled it off, but that was definitely the character least like me.

  • Sweet another podcast to hear J’s evil laughter on.
    However: when I go to the player FM link on the writer’s ink podcast site it gives me this error:
    Error type ID: https://player.fm/errors/not-found
    Incident ID: ppash-GJrfrh-idW1IKXXe7c
    Sorry we couldn’t find a series identified by writers-ink
    It might just be that it isn’t published yet. Too bad cause I would have liked to put it preemptively into my player before it released.

    So I think we need to explore the fact that J’s current writer group liked his manuscript and thought it was great and then J.D. came in and provided real insight. If that isn’t a reason behind doing a mastermind I am not sure what is. 🙂

    Most unfamiliar character? How about my academy grad noreweigen heritage MC who is on a colony planet and has to unite the world before the Imperials get there. It is a bit of a stretch. Oh and his helper is an AI which I am also not…that you know of.

    • Thanks for the heads up. I’ve got an email into Player FM.

      I had some folks who liked the manuscript, but it wasn’t really a writer group so not exactly how it went down but I get your drift 😉

  • Zach, I totally agree about Saga. It’s excellent!

    Thanks for the episode, it was great. The main character I’ve written who is most different from me is a young man born in the 10th century. He is taken as a slave in a raid as a child, ultimately escapes, and then, at eleven, joins a trader and his crew. For years, the boy travels all over from the Arctic Circle to Scotland to Kiev and ends up in Constantinople.

    Since my books take place in the Viking age, I have quite a few male characters. When I get stuck or have questions, I ask my husband for guidance.

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