Many authors turn their main characters into reflections of themselves.
Now, before I go any further, let me clarify that, yes, each and every character you write about will in some way reflect yourself. You can’t help it. You can’t stop it. Every experience you have had up till this point will imprint your characters, from how you view colors to religion. It is somewhat foolish to think you can completely detach your mindset from your characters.
Okay. So we know that wholly detaching ourselves from our character is impossible. What can we do?
Characters are limbs.
Think of characters as an extension of yourself. Your hands are nothing like your eyes. If you showed a hypothetical alien who had never seen a human a picture of hands and eyes, the alien may think they are two different organisms. That’s what you want to do with characters. They will have bits and pieces of you in there (even if your character’s views contradict your own, it is still a contradiction of you), so your goal is to make the characters developed enough to stand as their own being separate. You are the mind of these characters, and your blood will pump through them but they can look different and act different.
So how can we do this?
We certainly don’t want flat and uncomplicated characters whose stereotypical personalities become predictable, cliché, and boring.
We don’t want spaz-monkeys whose emotional development and decisions don’t make any sense.
Most (and I say most here because some authors have found success doing this, though I don’t recommend it) don’t want characters who are “empty shells” the reader gets to identify with and pour his or her own personality into.
There’s a plethora of suggestions on how to lift characters off the page. Why? Because readers want “real” characters who and come to life before their eyes and seem so real they’re like a friend (or enemy). In most cases, if you have a great character the plot doesn’t matter as much. Character driven stories tend to be more successful and stick with a reader longer. In the writing world, many will agree that characters are “king” (or queen).
As an author, you have to create another person. And, generally, multiple people because books tend to have more than one character. This person should think differently and view the world differently than you (at least some of them should). So, after you plan out your characters however you plan out your characters (mock scenarios, those charts people fill out (If NAME was a color, what color would s/he be?)), take a personality test for the character.
What? A personality test?
Yep. According to psychologist’s (really, one of the founders of the study of psychology) Carl Jung, everyone can be broken down into 16 different personality types. Each type reacts to situations and views the world differently.
So . . . take the test for yourself. See which of the 16 personalities you are. Then, take the test for your characters. First, make sure your characters have a variety of the 16 types (note: if they all got your type, you may want to revise your character). Then, read the breakdown of each type your characters got. This will give you a better understanding of how they think and will help fine-tune them from “flat” to “real”.
Taking these tests for your characters also challenges you and forces you to really get inside a character’s mind. Give it a try. You can find dozens of these tests online if you type “myers briggs personality test” or something of the like into Google (or the search engine of your choice). I do, however, recommend you take the same test for each character. All the tests will asks different questions and you’re more likely to get clearer results (speaking in terms of better understanding and differentiating your characters) if you use the same test.
Let me know how it works out!