Cardboard Cut-out Characters

I read a lot of books and one thing I’ve noticed is that some of them have characters that all seem to be modelled on one person: the author. Whether the character is male, female, young and old alike – they all seem to share the same voice.

I was wondering what I could do to avoid this pitfall when writing my own characters. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Make use of regional accents and dialects. By this I don’t mean that you should go the whole hog and write impenetrable prose like: ‘eee bai yeck lass, that best bi sharp abaat’it if tha’ wants …’ etc. I was thinking of something more subtle like stick an on odd innit at the end of the London lad’s verbiage and make the Yorkshire bloke call everyone ‘love’ or ‘duck’.
  • Listen to how people speak. For example, when people are drunk, they say things in a very different way compared to when they are sober; there’s more laughter, volume and self-disclosure in a drunk person’s voice and this should come out in what you have them say on the page. Similarly, listening to young people talking amongst themselves is a real education. Accent-wise they don’t sound like they are speaking English and they, at times, say things that would cause their grandparents to catch fire. All this is grist for the writer’s quill.
  • Check how fast people speak. Some people talk so ponderously it is as if they are thinking about what they are going to say, whereas others seem to have no cover on their mouth whatsoever. This might be difficult to bring out on paper, but it’s worth experimenting.
  • Listen for clues as to the motivations and predispositions behind what people say. Some people have agendas that sit in their voice and words very clearly. Whether someone likes you or not will change what they say to you and how they say it. This might be subtle, but it will certainly make a difference.
  • Some people are just bonkers. They will say things that make little sense. Make the most of these people because even if they aren’t integral to the plot, they can at least provide comic relief.

The most important thing to remember about characters is that they need to have their own, independent life. They are not all aspects and extensions of your self. Get out there in the world and listen to people. Note how different they are to you. Get under their skin, into their tongue and celebrate their differences in your writing.

When you do this your characters cease to be cardboard cut-outs and start to sing and dance to their own music. This will make readers like me very happy.

I thank you in advance.

13 thoughts on “Cardboard Cut-out Characters

  1. I totally agree with you about that one of the protagonist of a novel is the author himself, whenever I read a novel I always felt this and those people are really lucky who feel characters in the author and know the importance of the author because that is the key to creative writing. I needed these tips alot and please keep sharing about what you learn about writing like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Other than that when I read my name is read there were several characters describing themselves, their experiences and secrets and the murderer gave hints of who is it? But till the end they all had a similar voice with a diffrent language.

    Liked by 1 person

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