re: Ways to Stop Copying Characters?

in Characterization by

Dear Editor…

What do you suggest for younger writers with more limited experiential base when it comes to letting go of copying characters (i.e., Harry Potters, Wimpy Kid)?

Thanks,

K.

Dear K.…

Encourage the copying. In fact, tell Young Writer to pick three of his favorite characters. Then, get sneaky: Have the writer choose the strength of one of those characters, the flaw of another, and a physical feature or two of the third, and then list those items. He’s now looking at an amalgam of three characters—and thus a copy of none. Now have the child write down what Mr. Amalgam wants more than anything in the world, making him a full character complete with a goal to strive for, a flaw that hinders his efforts, a strength to help him overcome that flaw, and a look that’s all his own. Voila! A unique protagonist with shades of the writer’s favorite heroes, making the child more eager than ever to write his story.

Happy writing!

The Editor

6 Comments

  1. This is an interesting phenom — in music, we are encoursged to ‘imitate the masters’ and many works are ‘variations on a theme by ____’ (you fill in the blank). Music schools usually, somewhere along the line, require us to do this. We are then charged to develop our own style, etc., from what we learned from the best.
    What would be a better exercise for those of us new to creative writing – this doesn’t work in tech writing – than to take someone else’s character and write a new story based on him/her? I am not suggesting we publish works based on someone else’s character, but it can’t help but make us better, can it?

    • Such an exercise absolutely can make you a better writer, ARGale. You hit the nail on the head when you say, “We are then charged to develop our own style, etc., from what we learned from the best.” And using an existing character is not wholly a whole unpublishable thing to do—as long as copyright and/or official permission allows. Take WIDE SARGASSO SEA, which turns a minor character from Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE into a lead character. Or PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which is a mash-up of Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. The difference here, of course, is that these are intentional uses of previously created characters. If you find yourself copying characters because you can’t seem to create original ones, the exercise above for that young writer will work just dandy for you.

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