Understanding your characters: You need to be able to tell them apart

I had this moment of panic the other day when I was thinking about three of the female characters I've developed and written most heavily about: Aeryn Ravane, Thystle Moran, and the newest addition, Shaun Grayson. I suddenly had to ask myself, were they too similar to one another? (I left Theo out of this, because her differences are pretty clear.)

There are the obvious similarities between the three characters, of course: they're all fighters of one kind or another, two sell-swords (Aeryn and Thystle worked together and are close friends) and one apprentice knight.

And, there are the obvious differences in physical appearance and background:

  • Aeryn: tall, brunette, born in The Fang (north)
  • Thystle: taller than Aeryn, sun-streaked dark blond, origins less clear, and a vampyre
  • Shaun: not as tall as Aeryn, nondescript brown hair, born in Riverend (middle south), not yet an adult

As writers, though, we have to be able to tell our characters apart beyond just where they came from, what their professions are, what religion they believe in (if any), and what they look like. So, when I had this moment of panic, I had to dig a little deeper and examine their personalities. To my relief, they are in fact very different.

  • Aeryn: Though her self-doubt is strong in Into the Darkness, she quickly realizes she must be a larger person than she thought she was capable of becoming. Although she likes to think of herself as having a black versus white view of the world, she actually sees many things in shades of gray.
  • Thystle: It turns out, upon examining Thystle's character, that she is very selfish. (Surprise, creator!) Everything that happens in both Into the Darkness and the as-yet-unnamed novella that centers around her post-Into the Darkness, are colored by how Thystle feels like it affects her. In Thystle's mind, everything really is about her. Own it, I guess?
  • Shaun: Due to her immaturity, Shaun really does see everything in black versus white. Her whole life has been centered on becoming a knight. When that eventuality is threatened, she becomes lost.

If you ever find yourself wondering the same thing I did - are they too much alike - I recommend, you do this same exercise. Start with their physical appearance, their origins, their professions, their beliefs, and just work way in as far as you can go. If you don't find enough differences, you know you have some changes to me.

Little known fact: Aeryn and Thystle were originally the same character, but then Thystle grew out of Aeryn (strangely) and became a totally independent character.