Great characters make great drama, great fantasy, great adventure.
So where does the writer draw them from? For me, it’s from one of two places:
1.Copying them from other works of fiction.
This is — as I’m sure you’d expect me to say — not a good idea. And yet, how often do we see Indiana Jones and Bridget Jones dressed up in a different costume and given a different name? How often do we see cliches such as the expendable yet funny African American repeated over and over? This is, I believe, often unintentional; the writer simply saw a character they loved and reproduced it. Lazy writing.
2.Drawing them from one’s own inner world.
The characters I love creating are usually subconscious in origin but occasionally conscious.
The subconscious come from the real-world people/behaviours that make me angry (usually the abuse of power in some form); combinations of my own philosophies/flaws/strengths/aspirations; ideas I’d like to explore.
The conscious ones: I find myself more and more attempting to stretch myself. Say I want to write a story about a swordsman. I’ve done it. Thousands of other writers have done it. It’s a well-used character/type. But dammit, I have a good idea for a story about a swordsman. So rather than reinvent a Kurasawa or Martin character, I will try to find some points of difference for mine. He may have diabetes (though it wouldn’t be thought of as such back then). This will drive certain behaviour, create inner and outer conflict, create need in his routine. He may also have lost something he wants to get back — another common trope. Well, this time, how about I don’t make it his wife, or his son, or his magical item? What if it’s his horse? No wait. What if it’s his dog?! He loves that damn attack dog that the raiders stole. It’s not just great breeding stock; it saved his life as a boy; it’s his best friend. You’ll see, already, just by tweaking some things about him, I’ve created lots of scope for a deep emotional story. … And what if I made him a her? Or transgender?
Try it. Pick a character and tweak them. Make em different. See what you come up with.