Character Ideas Through Substitution

Here’s another way to generate character ideas. Substitute one reaction for another. We all tend to make our characters behave like ourselves or like people we know. So let’s say I’m a computer geek who tends to be shy and reserved, except when I’m talking about computers. Then I’m talkative and outgoing. They say, write what you know. And if I can work these feelings into my character, the character will be more realistic. If I want a character who is different than me, I can feel these same reactions, but apply them in different situations.

For example, I could create a character who is passionate about horticulture or some other subject. He’s quiet and reserved, but ask him about plants and suddenly he’s a fountain of knowledge and amusing anecdotes of our green leafy friends.

Or I could create a character who is generally outgoing by drawing on my own outgoing side and by looking to people I know who are also outgoing. Think of the behaviors they exhibit. But this character has a different background, different passions, different fears, different needs than either I or my friends. She will behave differently than us in the same situations, and she’ll behave the same in different situations.

There are only a few different ways we respond to the world around us. But we each respond differently, with a different mix of these ways, depending on the context. There are only a few character reactions. And a character reaction only becomes a characteristic in a situation. By supplanting reactions and situations, you can produce different characters, each of which is a completely realistic new personality.


Hi there!

I just had to drop a line and say I’m loving your blog. Thanks for posting decent sites and helpful articles on good ideas for writing.

Do you have any ideas about how to incorporate backstory and the character’s thoughts into the story without interrupting the flow? 🙂

Thanks again and I’ll be reading!!!

Hi, Sara. Thank you for the kind words. That’s a great question, how not to interrupt the flow. I’ll write something about that soon.


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