Inexperienced writers sometimes find that their characters are all too like one another, and don’t know how to break the mould. Or that while the characters are all quite different from one another, none of them really comes off the page as a real person; they resolutely remain characters acting out a plot. Or that they simply aren’t sure how to go about creating a personality at all, and the characters are wooden dolls.
If you have either of the first two problems, it can be useful to use people in the public eye who resemble your characters. If you ‘cast’ your story in this way – remembering that unlike Hollywood directors, you can cast anyone in the world, dead or alive, at any stage of their lives - you'll find that you can see and hear them much more clearly. They will inevitably be different from one another, and they will become more real to you, and therefore more real on the page.
Some writers use people they know personally, but I never have, for two reasons. One is that these people might recognise themselves, and it is very easy to give offence without meaning to. The other is that I know too much about my friends and relations – all I want is a physical template on to which I can graft any personality I want. Using people I’ve never met, but whose faces and voices I know, gives me that freedom.
But if your problem is that you don’t know how to go about creating a personality in the first place – use personalities that are already created. Try one of the following methods, for example.
Buy a book on astrology. For every star sign, there’s a ready-made personality for you to play with.
Look at the characters in literature. Sidney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities; Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind; Hamlet, Pollyanna – any character you like. Ask yourself – what would he or she be doing in the twenty-first century, or whenever your story is set. How would Scarlett O’Hara get on with Pollyanna? What would any of these people be like at sixty?
Read about historical figures in a dictionary of biography. See what they were like, how they behaved. You don’t have to use them as they come; switch genders, nationalities. What if Billy the Kid had been born in Bermondsey? As a female?
Steal personalities, play around with them, and see
what you come up with. Because once you start writing,
it won’t matter what method you’ve used
to help you create the characters. As they begin to
interact with one another and react to the situations
in the story, their own personalities will emerge.