The Trouble of Separating Yourself from Main Characters

I’ve been kind of in this writing block lately. I have a plot in mind, yet every time I try to write I just end up coming blank or not liking my own writing. I’ve been thinking it over, “Why am I in a writing block? What’s stopping me from working on this novel specifically?” There are probably lots of reasons, but I wanted to know what was stopping me from at least working on it. Then I got the first answer: The characters.

I’ve been reading more lately and the books I’ve read have had such vibrant characters. Each character, even the side characters felt like real people with their own morals and worldviews. Then the second question became: How can I create these vibrant characters in the books I love?

I think the characters are the most important to me when I’m reading and writing. I found it so cool how authors can make such vibrant characters. I then started to think about how they do that, what makes those characters in those books different from my own work, or work that I dislike the characters in? I think it’s because the author has taken a bit of a step back from automatically aligning themselves, and the perspective of the novel from the morals of the main character(s).

I notice this in YA books mostly, where we’re following the MC or MCs and we almost automatically follow their belief system without questioning it. It’s what makes us root for them. Even if they’re morally grey, we end up rooting for them either because we realize they’re doing something for the greater good, or because their belief systems are changing. When you look at other characters, if they’re well-written characters they are following their own goals and of course, have different personalities. But when you take a step back and attempt to look at the characters as a whole–it all just seems the same. You separate characters in your head by who are “bad guys” and “good guys”. But they all seem to be following the same system, they don’t truly seem like different people.

You have characters, and then you have people. People tell you what facets characters should have: They should have their own personalities, they should have goals, strengths, and weaknesses… and you definitely see that in novels. But I’ve only read a few novels or texts where the characters had this complexity, where it would be hard to call them one thing or another. It made you realize that even as a reader, you’re only seeing one perspective. You may be only seeing them from one lens, or from the way they view themselves, the way the author portrays them, or how the other characters see them.

In a lot of books I’ve read (mostly YA), the characters aren’t complex. You’re immersed into one perspective and you don’t ever analyze or question the characters. You don’t realize the different ways in which they can be viewed, because the author hasn’t given us any tools to see it. Just a flat page.

That’s the problem. Because I do this too. I’m probably worse than the YA books I’ve read because I don’t have much experience writing novels, or characters in general. Even when I intend not to, even when the plot follows a completely different story in my life, my characters are following my beliefs–even if I say I’m giving them different ones. But then again, it is hard to consider writing and embodying a completely different viewpoint in a character when you’re only ever following only one yourself (of course, we can see different perspectives, but we cannot just become completely different people at the drop of a hat-- that’s what I mean).

I think, then, to write complex characters you have to understand and see, the complexity of your own life and how you view the world. The different shades of your own experience. And after doing that, it seems you have to put it into a text. And then make it 3 dimensional, at least. It’s understandably difficult.

Do you enjoy books with complex characters? Do you have trouble writing characters as I do? What types of stories do you enjoy, and how does that influence your own writing process?

Let me know your thoughts, if you have any!


Yeah! I think characters are the best part of a story.

I tend to read stories where the characters are well developed, so I eventually learned to apply that to my own writing. If the characters are boring or annoying, the plot can only keep my attention for a few chapters.

I personally don’t struggle giving my MCs different views or personalities, but I do struggle writing the plot :sob: I can make 30 different characters for one story (and I have), give them all complex backstories, thoughts and motivations, but there’s nothing to write about aside from drama