Simple Tips To Put Yourself In The Shoes Of Characters Who Aren't You
Putting yourself into the shoes of your characters who aren't supposed to be you (or at least aren't based on you) is an extremely important part of writing a story, whether this story be a full-length novel or the backstory of an RP character. Otherwise, you run the risk of ending up with these characters feeling contrived and two-dimensional. Plus, it's also a great way to help keep protagonist-centered morality from overrunning the story - once you connect to your secondary and tertiary characters, you tend to start to thinking twice about having your protagonists exploit or bully them.
So if you're having trouble putting yourself into the shoes of characters who aren't supposed to be you or based on you, try out these techniques. They might just help!
Put a little piece of yourself into every character you write. Give each of your characters at least one of your own traits, be it a desire, preference, flaw, or whathaveyou - and this includes your antagonists and villains! Maybe one of your characters is easily annoyed by something that annoys you. Maybe another character shares a hobby of yours. Another character might be interested in the same music that you are.
Let's say that your main character is an elf, and your villain is a jerk who hates elves. Give your villain a crush on someone who is totally your type, and suddenly it'll be much easier to connect with him. Once you connect with him, you'll find yourself wanting to ask why he feels the way he does. Then you can ask yourself what might make you hate elves in a hypothetical scenario, and how you can apply that to your villain. Done correctly, you'll end up with a villain who has a real motive, rather than a two-dimensional mustache twirler.
Look for where there might be parallels between how you feel and how your characters feel. For example, if you're writing a character who is supposed to be passionate about something that you're not, try to think of something you do feel passionately about. Maybe it's a series you love, maybe it's creating art, or maybe it's a cause you advocate for or something else you believe in with all of your heart. Whatever it is, think about how it makes you feel - then, presume your character feels very similarly about the thing you're not passionate about.
For example, are you trying to write about a food critic, but have no particular interest in that kind of thing yourself? Then assume that the food critic might feel about bad food the same way you might feel about a disappointing turn of events in a story you love. Are you trying to write about a person who loves designing and building machines? Have your character get the same kind of satisfaction from it that you get from creating a good character, writing a good story, or worldbuilding. How do you feel when people tell you that something you believe in deeply is wrong or ignorant? That likely won't be too far off from what your characters should feel when others tell them the same.
Replace the the unusual and strange with the known and familiar. This is mostly a thought exercise to do - you don't have to do this for your actual story. Simply doing this in your head for awhile can be enough.
Are you using the word "pack" in your story? Replace it with "family." How about "palace guards?" Call them "security guards" instead. Do you have "healers?" Call them "doctors." How about "healing potions?" Refer to them as "medications," "balms," or whatever contemporary real-world term would be the most appropriate.
You can take it a step farther and switch out actual people, objects, and even settings, too. Do you have "city guards?" Imagine that they're simply police officers. Imagine your fantasy armies in something closer to real-life tactical gear rather than some kind of fantastic armor and weaponry. Do you have a character in a fantasy world planning to kill someone with a dagger? Imagine the whole thing playing out in a world like ours and replace the dagger with a small pistol.
Again, the real-world alternatives and analogs don't have to be used in the final product, but by simply switching them out in your head for awhile you might be able to identify with the characters' worlds and experiences a little more, as well as develop a sense of how they might regard these things.
Read, listen to, or talk to people who disagree with you and force yourself to hear them out without arguing. This one can be a challenge - it will try your patience and you might come away feeling very angry. However, by doing this you can gain a much better understanding of where these people are coming from and how and why they feel the way they do. Once you gain this understanding, you'll be able to write characters who hold the same views with much more authenticity, even if you disagree with them.With practice, putting yourself into the shoes of these characters should get easier. So even if it seems difficult or time-consuming at first, keep at it! The rewards of having characters who come across as having real motives and emotions is so, so worth it!
If you liked this, you might also be interested in:
Tips To Create & Write Better Non-Protagonist Characters (NPCs)
Building Better Backstories - Tips & Ideas
Quick & Dirty Characterization Tips & "Cheats"
The Case For Killing The "Blank Slate" Character
Writing Better Stories With Morals & Messages