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Writing Books/Creating characters who are individuals

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Question
Dear Sir,

Do you have any tips for writing characters with a distinctive sense of humour when it does not come naturally to the author to be witty/jokey themselves? More broadly, how do you give characters their individual "voice"/personality without letting too much of yourself bleed through into the writing? Are there any guidelines/rules that one can follow as a safeguard against making all of one's characters the same?

Thank you for your help, and I look forward to your reply.

Regards, Dominic

Answer
Dominic:

Writing humor when it doesn't come naturally to you would be, I imagine, quite difficult.  Especially when you want the sense of humor to be, as you put it, distinctive.  You could always study a particular person who has the sort of sense of humor you want for your character, then try to model it on that.  I don't know if that's the best approach, but it's certainly one you could use.  It wouldn't have to be a famous comedian, either.  It might just be a friend you find hilarious.

A character's voice, much like your authorial voice, will come with practice.  This is something many instructors fail to mention: even if you have a natural talent for writing, it's going to take a lot of writing before you actually develop the proper skills.  I can create individual characters that are quite distinct from each other very easily, today.  But when I first started out, that was much harder to do.  It's something that comes with time.  You can't really rush it.

That being said, I'll share with you the single most important piece of advice I can give you about character development (including voice): Get to know them!  By this, I mean that you need to really KNOW your character.  You need to know FAR more detail about them than you're ever going to reveal in your stories.  A character doesn't fall into your head fully-formed.  You begin with an idea, maybe a set of traits.  But where did those traits come from?  What events in the past led to their development?  And what events led to those events?  You should know about a character's childhood, what school was like, who his friends were, when she first had sex and with whom, what religion he is, how she feels about political and social issues, and so on.  Most of this stuff is unlikely to have anything to do with your plot.  But believe me... the better you know your characters, the more authentic they will seem on the page.  

Hope that's helpful!

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Vincent M. Wales

Expertise

I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.

Experience

For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

Education/Credentials
BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

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