13.8: Making Characters Distinctive

Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard

What do we do to make our characters distinctive? Often we categorize the distinctions as flaws or quirks, and in this discussion we use those as our starting points.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson. 


Who are the five people you know best? Make a list of their distinctions, as if they were characters in a story you’re writing.

Ink and Ashes, by Valynne E. Maetani

9 thoughts on “13.8: Making Characters Distinctive”

  1. Thank you for the cast, all. I contend that all characters, by the simple nature of their existence, are flawed. Even on the extremes. Think of the Wheel of Time. Even the Dark One is flawed (as well as the Forsaken) are flawed, else he wouldn’t have been able to be imprisoned. By that same token, even the gods, when portrayed, are flawed. One of the very reasons that the Greek Myths appeal to so many of us is not simply because they are fascinating stories of the mortal and immortal, but because the immortal beings often make choices and actions with the same imperfections as the mortals.
    Characters are, as the quotation goes, more important than plot. The landscape can be cool, but if it’s not peopled with beings of idiosyncracy, then you have Second Life, and it’s boring. But, conversely, you could have an absence of interesting scenery (i.e. desert, a black room, a field) and a superfluity of character, wit, humor, stupidity, or charm. If you have no communication, you have no story (arguably). Communication enters when one character has to convey something to another. Now we get into, “Well, how is it conveyed?” and on and on until we get to the essence of the character – the personality, the series of quirks which makes that person’s brain pump.

    You want a story,? Give someone a mission and show how they get to it.
    You want an interesting story? Give someone a story, not let them get to it, make them angry, make them yell and hit things, and then see what they do.

  2. Y’all are really smart. I love having Valynne on the podcast and it’s lovely to hear the guys saying different things because there’s a new voice there.

    @Coppershade: Character is one way to drive a story, but not the only way. I recommend reading David Gerrold’s “Report from the Near Future: Crystallization” for a beautiful example of a story with no POV characters.

    1. @Coppershade

      If I can toss in my two cents about stories not needing to be driven by character.

      Consider also reading “I, Robot” (Asimov). — It’s a collection of short stories (that are fantastic imo) where neither plot nor character are the driving force.

      Likewise, Philip K Dick’s novels do have rich characters, but they are not what make his stories great. Frequently it is not the plot either.

  3. In addition to writing distinct characters, I often struggle with conveying a character through the writing. In other words, how does a particular character see the world, and how does that affect the writing? Looking back at old drafts, every character sees the world the same way (through me eyes), and that’s a problem I’ve been trying to fix (with some success).

  4. This episode, we have the Utah four, Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard! A lively, quirky bunch, as Brandon assures us. And they are talking about character flaws, quirks, and other distinctive characteristics! How do you find flaws? What about tragic flaws? How can you practice flaws without breaking your main character? How can I keep from stapling random quirks to my character? And, as usual, lots of lively discussion! Check out the transcript, available now in the archives or over here:


    Then make your characters stand out!

  5. Example of flaws: I just re-read A Wrinkle in Time. When the kids were sent to rescue their dad, Mrs. Whatsit gave Meg her faults because they will help the kids in their mission.

  6. I didn’t know that Canada’s Worst Driver aired in the US but I agree that it’s a good example of character flaws. For your information, the same company produces a show called Canada’s Worst Handiman, and not does that have character flaws.

    1. We’ve watched that one too. The guy who just pounds screws in with a hammer was my hero. (By which I mean, I’m glad he exists because he proves the “when all you have is a hammer” proverb.)

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