Sometimes it can be difficult to create a vivid, memorable characters who are all individuals in their own right. A cast of characters that comes from a single brain is going to feature the writer’s own personal preferences and bias–and this repetition can easily make each character seem very much like the last.
We often look at characters in a story as individuals, but I think it can be helpful to consider them as a whole, with each character a part of the “machinery”, with a defined role and purpose. Defining their purpose in the story is very important. Throwing in people willy-nilly creates a very confused background that can obscure the story you are trying to tell.
In the real world, people do not exist in a vacuum. We are all different things to different people, filling a multitude of different “roles”. Spouse, sibling, child, teacher, friend, boss, unrequited love… When creating the “hero” for your story, consider the other roles that this person fills. Does your hero have a sister or a brother? A best friend? A rival? An old flame? Answering these questions, and defining the relationships that exist there (perhaps your hero is always looking after his little brother, even now that they’re all grown, and he’s constantly trying to get his best friend to loosen up and have a little fun) will fill out your character and give them those traits that make them unique and interesting.
When putting together a cast of characters, carefully consider their roles and the impact they have not only on the story, but on the other characters. One character’s personality can serve to highlight another by way of contrast.
One of the main characters of my Chaos project is named Gideon. He’s a man of action, but rather reserved–even reticent. This can be difficult to write, because either the reader makes no connection with the character, or the character simply comes across as dull. Enter a secondary character: Tay. He’s much more colorful and effusive, constantly “poking” at Gideon and and eliciting emotion and response that might not otherwise be shown. Gideon is still fairly reserved in most company, as is his nature, but his unique relationship with his friend Tay serves to illustrate a depth of character the reader would otherwise not be privy to.
To balance the characters, give each of them something the other one does not have, but needs. Gideon is a natural leader who will act once he puts his mind to something, but he has a hard time emotionally engaging with people or causes. Tay is a bit more open to things, and easily driven by his emotions, but lacks the focus to really follow through. Tay can help Gideon get invested in something, and Gideon can help Tay act on it.
Duos are relatively easy to put together, but really good, synergistic ensembles are more difficult to put together, so we’re going to throw in another character: a love interest for Tay. Tay is a secondary character–a sidekick, if you will–but I’m really quite fond of him, and he’s a blast to write. His love interest puts a the lighthearted, somewhat childish Tay into more grown-up situations that force him to make serious choices and progress as a character.
There are many archetypes that often show up in stories: the hero/ine, the sidekick, the love-interest, the mentor, etc. While alot of writers shy away from following this formula, having a character fill the “mentor” role does not automatically make that character cliche. It is relegating the character to only that role that makes them seem one-sided. Who else is this “mentor” character? Do they have a spouse, child, rival, best friend, friend-turned-enemy? These are the things that will elevate your character beyond the archetype.
In essence: The nature of our relationships with others is what defines us.
We can illuminate different facets of each character’s personality through the interactions they have with each other as they fill their various roles. Rather than attempting to create each of our characters in a vacuum, or merely relying on their archetypes, we can establish their personalities specifically as they relate to each other. This will help us create solid casts of characters that are each unique individuals, and also valuable parts of the story in their own right.