Guest Post: Writing Distinct Characters by Jennifer Rush

Today we have the pleasure of having Jennifer Rush, author of Altered and Erased from Little Brown and Bot Wars from Dial, gracing the blog with some great writing advice everyone can learn something from! Jenn is seriously one of my favorite people ever and when I asked her to write this for us, she was thrilled to!

Jennifer Rush lives in a little town on the shoreline of Lake Michigan with her husband and two children. She
grew up wanting to be an Egyptologist, but realized she hated the desert and declared herself a writer instead. She won her first writing award in the fourth grade (a Mickey Mouse pencil was the prize) and has been crafting stories ever since. In her free time, she likes to read, Photoshop, and consume large amounts of caffeine. Be sure to also keep up with her on Twitter!

Writing Distinct Characters (see also: Sexy And I Know It)

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive about Altered is: How do you tackle writing distinct characters?

I usually take it to mean: How do you keep the Altered boys straight? How do you make them different from one another? While I don’t consider myself to be an expert on writing awesome! amazing! characters, I do have a handy little character development secret. But it’s silly. I am forewarning you!

Silly, I tell you! The secret is astrology.

If you’ve spent any time reading about astrological signs, then you know that each one has a specific set of characteristics. For instance, an Aquarian is known for being compassionate, imaginative, but super sensitive, and self-pitying. Sagittarians are said to be extroverted, honest, generous, but reckless.

You can find these basic sign descriptions at a number of sites around the Internet. And, regardless of whether you believe in astrology, you can’t deny that just an hour’s worth of research into the individual signs will give you huge insight into the building blocks of human characteristics.

When I was trying to write the Altered boys, and give them unique personalities, I figured out what their birthdays were and immediately set about making lists of their strengths and weaknesses depending on their signs. But, at the same time, I certainly didn’t want to write themas their signs. Not all Aries are independent and controlling (though a lot of them are *raises hand shamefully*). Their signs gave me the framework for their characters, and then I was able to flesh them out even more depending on what their backstories were.

For instance, Nick has a dark past, and I knew that, regardless of whether or not he has the memories of the things he experienced, some of that suffering would remain. If someone was born with a wicked sense of humor, and a stubborn streak, would they lose that if they suffered from amnesia? Or would they always be funny and independent? I like to believe that, for the most part, who we are, is who we will always be. So, even though the boys from Altered have no memories of their past, I still had to make sure they had personalities, based not only on what they’ve experienced in the lab, but also on who they were before the Branch.

Now! Fun challenge time! I’m going to list the birthdays/astrology signs of each boy, and the basic characteristics of those signs. See if you can guess which boy is which sign!

December 28th — Capricorn

  • Loyal
  • Distrusting
  • Resourceful
  • Likes to do things for themselves
  • Believes there is only a right way to do things, and a wrong way to do things (no gray area)
  • Often mistook as cold because of need to be self-sufficient

October 18th — Libra

  • Likes being part of a group
  • Easy to trust
  • An excellent friend
  • Afraid of making the wrong choice
  • The glue that holds a group together
  • Unreliable

March 27th — Aries

  • Independent
  • Leader
  • Stubborn
  • Generous
  • Protects friends
  • Puts too much pressure on themselves

June 24th — Cancer

  • Caring
  • Generous
  • Adapts easily
  • Isn’t bothered by being wrong
  • Clingy
  • Unpredictable

Answers below…DON’T CHEAT!
December 28th/Capricorn: Nick, October 18th/Libra: Trev, March 27th/Aries: Sam, June 24th/Cancer: Cas

Don’t miss both Altered and Bot Wars, available now!

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Jeremy West

Head Designer at Red Creative
Jeremy is the managing editor for Novel Thoughts and head designer for Red Creative Design. To pay the bills, he currently works at a children's publishing house in NYC and spends his spare time setting up photoshoots, going to book events, and pretending he is a chef at home.
  • Josephine

    I got everything right and also Sam’s birthday is one day before mine. Love :)

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