Character writing: avoiding self-inserts

People often say that in order to write a character, you should be able to answer just about any question from their perspective. This is good advice until it’s taken to the self-insert extreme.

There are worse things than writing characters that are essentially just self-inserts. After all, a well-written character is the most important thing, and some authors may write wonderful characters who take after themselves. But it is always preferential to write characters different from oneself.

Imagine you write multiple books which are not joined by a series. Your readers loved your first book, but when they begin the next, they start to sense a pattern. These characters all seem the same, and why?

The only time your characters should answer everything precisely how you would is if you’re a memoir author!

Luckily, the good news is that delving into your characters is a lot of fun. I know authors who take personality tests from their character’s perspectives once they’ve come to understand them fully. But before you start pulling up Myers-Briggs tests, create something like this:

A Very (Very) Abridged Character Analysis Worksheet

  • Physical Appearance
  • Favorites
  • Background/upbringing
  • Family
  • Occupation/passions
  • Attitude/mindset/outlook
  • Personality
  • Interrelation with others/perceived as…
  • Their goals
  • How they react to problems/crisis

These are the major headings I use in my character analysis, which are then broken down into subsections diving in much deeper. You can take it as far as you want; some of mine go as far as their favorite book and their name’s etymology.

To further show the detail I delve into with my own character worksheets, here’s the physical appearance alone of Avis Papley, the protagonist of my upcoming book Atrocious Immoralities.


  • Age: 18
    • What is their perceived age: 15
  • Eye Color: Green
  • Hair color: Light brown
    • Distinguishable hair feature: wavy
    • Type of hair: coarse
    • Typical hairstyle: Down to her elbows, roughly chopped
  • Height: 5’6
  • Weight: 117
  • Type of body/build: Thin due to undereating
  • Nationality: English
  • Skin tone: Pale
  • Shape of face: Heart, round
  • Distinguishing marks: Birthmark on her ankle, scar on her cheek (unknown cause)
  • Most predominant feature: Her striking eyes
  • Resembles (famous or not): Avis Magellan
  • Accent: Cumbrian English
  • Are they healthy: No                                                  
    • If not, why not: Malnourished

When you finish a character worksheet, read over it again. Do you see yourself in the details? If you relate too much, try again. Think about your character’s situation in life and the setting in the story. Does this make them more inclined towards a certain proclivity or appearance? What can you change about your character to make them more believable as a wholly different entity?

Thinking in these terms helps me to create unique characters with unique desires in my work.

Author: Brynne Stevens

Author of Atrocious Immoralities

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