I have a tendency to create novels with main characters that remind me of myself in many ways, however, the novel I am currently working on has a main character who I feel is very different from myself. She has a lot more emotional baggage than most of my other character, and rather than making the best of her situation, she is a lot more jaded and hardheaded.
It was a nerve-racking experience to submit my first chapters with this character to my writing group. I waited for my turn, fearing the worst, that they would find my character hollow and unbelievable. But much to my surprise, this was their favorite character so far. They really understood her and her motivations right from the start.
This came as a great surprise to me at first, but then, I took some time to think this puzzle over. I realized that this was the first character I had to really flush out. The others I understood entirely, as if they were an extension of myself, but this character was foreign and unpredictable. Each time a situation occurred, I had to ask myself, “what would she do?” or “what would she say?” I think the considerable time spent trying to understand someone so different from myself really helped to create a really complex and interesting character.
This experience also helped me to realize that there is a lot of good that can come from creating characters that are vastly different from myself. It helps to create a strong separation between narrator and character, and this allows the characters to stand on their own two feet even more so.
Writing certainly is a never-ending learning process.