Hi everyone! I haven't introduced myself yet (due to being an awkward penguin), but I've been lurking in these forums for a couple of weeks.
A little about me: I've been writing a web serial as a hobby for about three years now. I'm not looking to become a professional author, but still try to publish high-quality, enjoyable writing. Due to school (but mostly procrastination), I only publish a chapter a month on average. I write mostly light-hearted stuff. The main project I work on is an episodic comedic adventure, while I frequently work on side projects that end up being fantasy adventure with an extra-heavy dose of non-mature-sickeningly-sweet romance.
I've been quite impressed with the thoughtful and helpful responses people have posted to other people's questions, so when I encountered a problem in my own writing, I thought I'd post it here:
How do you write realistic characters whose personalities are significantly different from your own?
I'm not asking for a simple 1-2-3 set of instructions, of course. I'd just like to know if people have ways they approach this problem or any tricks they can share.
To specify the exact problem I've run into:
Most of my characters are patterned after facets of my own personality, sometimes mixed with those of people I know very well. This generally works out pretty well, as my characters have strongly rooted thought patterns and traits that are consistent with their behaviour throughout the story. I generally have enough to work with that my characters aren't all identical, though one of my more insightful readers did leave a complaint that all my characters are variations on the standard good guy.
The main kind of character that I can't write is the socially skilled extrovert (because I'm an awkward penguin). You know, the kind of person that can strike up a conversation with a stranger and have that person relaxed and smiling within a few minutes.
The main ways I pick up insight into characters who are different from me are from reading tons of books by authors who are skilled at such characterization, observing people (in a non-creepy way) in real life, and reading Psychology Today (though that's mostly just for fun, not research).
The first way is out because socially competent extroverts are never the main character in books that I've read. Observing such people and reading Psychology today has allowed me to somewhat understand how extroverts differ from introverts. However, this understanding is insufficient to get me through a dialogue scene where I have to generate small talk.
I'm definitely not the kind of person who initiates small talk in real life. I'm not satisfied with generic topics such as the weather because the people who are truly good at conversation don't bring those up. Someone who's truly good with people will create a naturally flowing conversation that sensitively mixes observations and insightful questions in a way that allows them to learn about their conversational partner without ever feeling intrusive. Like an idiot, I stuck a character like that into one of my projects; I've been stuck on a dialogue scene for that project for weeks now.
I tried asking my sister about this, because she's almost my exact opposite and is very socially competent. She said, "They share things about themselves and ask questions to try to find a common point and make people feel more comfortable." That seems about right. I feel like I'm about 60% of the way there to being able to write the scene.
Wow, this was a long post. If anyone has any tips on how they approach the psychology of characters not based on themselves, or is actually really good at small talk, I'd love to hear your thoughts.