Imagine your best friend is a monkey. You have fun together, squash bananas in each other’s faces, go swimming in fur bikinis, it’s great. One day, you meet another monkey, but this one has pink fur. You decide to be a disloyal asshole and make this groovy chimp your best friend. The only problem is, now you’re trying to give this new monkey the same personality as your previous best friend, because you’ve got monkey issues.
Did you get the metaphor? It wasn’t just a random story about “best friends”.
Today, I was rereading the bits of Necking the Duckling that I had written down (you should never do that, by the way- it conjures the demons of poor self esteem into your heart), and realised that my protagonist, Vic, was sounding incredibly similar to my other protagonist from Thingy with the Jiggy, Jay.
Don’t you dare say anything along the lines of polysyllabic issues- I just like short names. It’s not because of deep-seated long-name envy. And I don’t even have a penis, so don’t you dare say that I’m compensating for something.
So now I have to delete everything and start all over again. Isn’t it just wonderful? I did some reflecting, and I figured out a list of things to do so that you don’t have this problem.
- Figure out who your character is before writing about him/her. See, it was only yesterday that I realised that Vic has a low self-esteem, unlike Jay who believes that he’s basically a god granted not-quite-human form. That sets them apart considerably, don’t you think? So now, when I write about Vic, he can’t make jokes based on how shitty other people are, because he thinks he’s less than them; therefore, he has a self-deprecating sense of humour which masks his self-loathing. I know, I’m just…so nice to all my characters. Jay is suicidal, Vic hates himself, what a wonderful life.
- If step 1 doesn’t work, make a Venn diagram of your characters. In other words, compare and contrast, children! For instance, both Jay and Vic are selfish assholes, so “egotistical” would go into the middle portion of my Venn diagram. However, Vic is more of a liar than Jay is, so he would claim that the selfish thing he did was actually for his girlfriend. Thus, the trait “liar” would go into Vic’s side of the diagram.
- Write one paragraph in your new character’s “voice” and use it as a template. That way, when you lose their “voice”, you can just look at your template and remind yourself. Obviously, this doesn’t make writing any easier, but it might cut your editing job later.
- There isn’t actually a fourth tip, I just didn’t want to end with three. At any rate, if after all the time and effort you’ve spent trying to figure out your fucking protagonist, you can’t distinguish them from your previous protagonist; there’s only two things you can do.
- Have a torrid love affair with a different character that you haven’t created, and make your ex protagonist so jealous that s/he runs away, crying into the black hole of your imagination. It’s like killing your imaginary friend. Beware: murdering imaginary characters leaves you with a huge mess of glitter to clean up. Out damn spot!
- Maybe you’re writing a sequel instead of a different book? If that’s the case, cry. Just cry. Maybe try your hand at weeping for a while, but ultimately, go back to crying. It’s the catch-all method for alleviating or exacerbating eternal despair. I mean, I guess you could try getting a head transplant, trying out an alternate personality, but the technology isn’t great. You might just end up beheaded. On the bright side, I hear King Henry VIII has a thing for beheaded chicks, so you’ll get a sugar daddy out of it.
So, did I miss any tips? What do you do to distinguish old and new protagonists in your head? Or is this just a problem that I have?