When I was first starting out in fiction, writing what I knew because that’s what they say to do, I wound up with a lot of characters who seemed a lot like me. So much so, in fact, that I became confused where one doppelganger stopped and another one started. I liked many of the stories these characters were in, but they really needed to become characters in their own right, different from each other…and different from me.
I decided to solve this problem by writing a play I entitled “My Dinner at the Character Bar.” The scene was some wood-paneled tavern somewhere, not a dive but not uber-trendy, either. I invited all these characters to meet me there. The conventions of the piece were that we all knew each other and the stories we were in (myself included), but we’d never had a chance before to gather in one place. It was never my intention to do anything with the play but write it once…I had this feeling that as each guy arrived, reacting to the situation and to each other, the differences would begin to emerge, particularly as they made fun of each other and, especially, of me.
So, which one would arrive first…early, even? (I knew that wouldn’t be me.) Who would be late? What drinks would they order and whose opening gambit would get things rolling? I knew none of these answers when I began to write, but after several pages, I had a much sharper idea of how Jim was different from Michael, or Gary from Les…and I carried all that back into the works from which they sprang. It’s funny what a positive effect it can have on a story when you better understand one of its main characters!
So, that was my approach. I would love to hear others.