In my middle grade science fiction novel, I have two primary groups of characters. There is my protagonist and her two brothers. That’s the main group. Then there is the second group of young characters. Like the first group, they are siblings and there are thee of them.
This shouldn’t be too many characters but I find myself having to make certain that I don’t have only two basic characters, each sporting three names. It would be easy to do because I’ve got my elite group and the group that has had fewer opportunities. It would be so easy to have one group react to everything in one way and the other group react in another way. Three and three. No differentiation.
Fortunately, there are things we can do as writers to keep that from happening.
The first step is to develop a character sketch of each character. Yes, I have three siblings from the same socio-economic background, but they are different ages. They have different hobbies and interests. They have different personalities and strengths.
It might seem like a lot of work to do these things for secondary characters but I want to avoid stereotypes. To do this, I need to know each of the six young characters as individuals.
Knee Jerk Reactions
As I get to know these characters, I will develop a feel for their knee jerk reactions. How do they react when a glass of water is knocked over at the dinner table? When an alarm goes off? When things suddenly go sideways?
This may seem like a strange group of questions but this was something I discovered watching the tweens and teens gather around my dining room table to game. When someone opens a two-liter of soda and it sprays out from under the cap, each one of them reacts in a unique way. One girl puts her hands on her head, mouth and eyes wide open. One boy starts barking orders. Another girl cracks up. One of the boys reaches out, grabs the bottle and cranks the lid back down, ending the spray. Four kids, four reactions.
Now that you’ve considered knee jerk reactions, think about how your character expresses a range of emotions. How would each of these kids express joy? Anger? Confusion?
We tend to think of each emotion as having a fixed expression. When people experience joy, they laugh. But do they? My husband almost never laughs aloud but he stands and nods. My brother-in-law claps. Me? I tend to laugh like a loon. What can I say, my laugh has been described as “unique.”
Reach this point and you may not have all of the answers but you are well on the way to creating unique characters who go beyond the two-dimensional.