Write Your Novel Step by Step (20) “Character Trait Swap Meet”

In the last step you made sure each of your potential characters had a vocation, name, gender, age and perhaps additional personal attributes.

In this step we’re going to swap around some of those traits to make your list of potential characters even more original, interesting and memorable than before.

Our creative minds tend to fall into the same patterns over and over again. As a result, our characters run the risk of becoming overused stereotypes. By exchanging traits, we can create characters that transcend our inspirational ruts and become far more interesting and memorable.

Don’t feel pressured to alter the original collection of attributes you had assigned to any given character if you are truly happy and comfortable with it. Still, mixing things up a bit just to see what happens can’t hurt and just might just turn out to build an even more intriguing character.

Task One: Swapping Jobs

In this section rearrange your characters’ jobs until you have created a new cast list with all the same information except different vocations for each.

For example, a Mercenary named Killer and a Seamstress named Jane are inherently less interesting that Seamstress named Killer and a Mercenary named Jane.

Swap jobs around a few times, locking in the combinations you like and reverting to the original arrangement of attributes for those you don’t. Then, move on to Task Two….

Task Two: Swapping Genders

Every culture has preconceptions of the kinds of vocations appropriate to each sex. Adhering to these expectations makes characters familiar but also makes them predictable and ordinary.

By changing the gender of at least some of your less interesting characters, you can breathe new life into them.

For example, a male Mercenary is typical, a female Mercenary is not. A character called “John’s Wife” does not necessarily have to be female, especially in this day and age.

Referring to your revised cast list including the new vocations, swap gender assignments among your characters to create even more interesting cominbations.

Task Three: Swapping Ages

We tend to write about characters our own age, or to assume a particular age by virtue of vocation. For example, an action character such as a Bush Pilot, or Spy is usually set as ranging between 25 and 50. An elementary school student is usually 5 to 12.

But what if you had a Bush Pilot in the range of 5 to 12 and an elementary school student of 25 to 50? In fact, these characters are not only more interesting, but easier to write, simply because the contrasts they express spur all kinds of creative inspirations.

Referring to your newly revised cast list from Task Two, swap the ages around to create a new list with these additional changes.

Task Four: Swapping Additional Attributes

Just as you have done with jobs, genders and ages, swap around any additional attributes you may have assigned to your characters to see if they make your potential cast members even more interesting.

When you have settled on the best possible combinations of attributes for each character, move on to the next step to audition these people for a role in your novel.

This article is drawn from:

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