How to Create a Cast of Diverse Characters


While 90 seconds is the perfect amount of time to refine your writing skills while multi-tasking, it’s not always enough time to explain more complex pieces of writing advice in detail.

As promised, we’re going to expand on some of the tips we shared in last week’s 90 Second Writing Lesson, starting with creating diverse characters in your stories.

The last thing you want to do is create a “cast” that has everything in common and behaves identically. Here are three ways to make sure your characters match people you might meet IRL—people who don’t always have the same way of doing things, but are (sometimes) okay to hang out with nonetheless.

They might even, maybe, turn an otherwise lifeless tale into a story that leaps off the page.

Mix and match their interests and hobbies

Not every character you write about should have the exact same set of interests. If you’re writing about a group of friends, it’s likely they all do have a common hobby—maybe they all like reading John Green. But think realistically. Some of them are also going to like sports, and some won’t. The more contrast you have between them, the more “interesting” your story will be.

One way to appeal to a broader audience is to create characters that more people can relate to. But the main reason you should mix it up is because, later, their varying interests might come in handy (and you don’t even know it yet).

Choose personality types that compliment one another

In your story, you need the quiet one, the obnoxious one, the know-it-all, the extrovert, the I-hate-everything—realistically, that’s what you’ll find if you direct a large mass of strangers into one room and keep them there.

Similarly, your characters are going to know or become acquainted with personalities they can relate to and those they can’t stand. Again, there’s audience appeal here: but also, it’s a good idea to highlight specific traits by providing foils—characters that represent the complete opposite of each other.

If you want to show someone is a total jerk, compliment him with a character that can literally do no wrong. This emphasis makes both of them stand out, and helps the reader pay more attention to whatever relative significance you have in mind.

Give them a common goal to work toward

Often, characters who display varying strengths and weaknesses unknowingly possess the qualifications to “team up” and solve a problem. This doesn’t mean you have to write about a bunch of superheroes to prove a point. Think of Alaska or Paper Towns (if you’ve read them). Those characters didn’t accomplish anything exceptional, but they found a task and went after it—together.

Each character should have something unique, yet equally vital, to contribute to the main plot points of the story.

Let’s say your YA novel takes place toward the end of senior year, and a group of honors students wants to join together to pull off the ultimate senior prank. There’s going to be someone good at logistics and planning, and someone who wants to stand back with the camera and record all the magic as it happens.

No one person can do every job, and even if your characters never become life-long friends, they need each other to make it work.

Simple examples here, but you get the idea. There’s a good reason stories don’t involve just one character. Especially if there’s a narrator, you need other incoming points of view, etcetera to make the story objective.

One person’s take on a series of events isn’t enough. You need other characters chiming in, reacting to things and “foiling,” if need be. It’s an element good stories simply can’t live without. To make a story real, to make it readable and entertaining, your characters all have an important job—and it’s up to you to make sure they do it well.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.