I’m not talking about critique group groupthink, although that’s bad. If you pick up an anthology by a critique group and all the stories sound like they were written by the same person, you know that group is dysfunctional. The purpose of a writing group is to help each member find and develop an individual voice, not a common voice.
But that isn’t what I’m talking about today.
Hobart the Hero has gathered a group of six companions, and they’re all off on the road to
Morocco find the Mysterious MacGuffin and save the imperiled Whatever.
They should have at least seven different reasons for going, at least seven different attitudes about the quest, at least seven different hopes for the outcome, at least fifty-six different opinions of one another.
It’s a complex and difficult juggling act. And, yes, you’re right: dear Mr. Tolkien did it beautifully. It’s one of the many reasons his work — BORING AS IT SOMETIMES IS (~ducking and covering~) is classic and deathless. (Dear God, enough with the landscape, already!)
ANYWAY, yes, it takes a lot of sitting still and staring into space. It takes a lot of flirting with Multiple Personality Disorder. It takes character background notes and possibly even index cards, but each character must be moved through the plot as if the plot is all about each character.
Only four-year-olds are allowed to pick up a fistful of action figures, push them across the floor, and say, “Green Guy says, ‘Let’s go to the Dragon Cave.’ Everybody says, ‘Okay!’ So they go.”
You aren’t even allowed to do it if you’ve written forty-leven books in a series and all the characters have been together through it all. Dear Bob Aspirin, who I knew back when he was Yang of the Dark Horde in the Society for Creative Anachronism, began his series with strongly individual characters, but the longer the series continued, the more they thought and talked alike. I’m going to get all iconoclastic again and say that dear Terry Pratchett, whose work I adore, tended the same way. When Nobby started thinking like a copper, I wept.
Kids, don’t let your characters grow up to be sock puppets. Or, worse, start out that way.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write a scene where two characters cooperate on a project for two different reasons. Or have each work for the same reason, but self-focused (each wants the attention of the same person, for example). Now write a scene with three characters and three motivations. Remember that they also each have attitudes toward and relationships with one another as well as toward/with the project and observers.