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I know I've recently asked a lot of questions. But I do have a lot of questions, I'm a curious kid who wants to do things right...

How do I make the character similar to the one I like, but not so similar I'm stealing?

I get motivated by my obsessions. Some people have obsessions of sweet treats, singers, or hobbies. I usually get obsessed by characters. And I might sometimes add a character like that character to my story. Some of the characters I add seem a bit too close to what I'm getting inspiration from. Like, if a character had white wings, mine might have white wings. (Just an example)

  • Why not just change white wings to webbed feet? What's the problem you're having? – Ken Mohnkern Jun 21 '17 at 19:58
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Learning is copying.

As Erin pointed out, writers tend to go through a fan fiction stage. I did. A crucial difference, however, is that I did not start my "writing career" with fan fics. I always told stories. When I was a kid that had just learned how to write, I invented my own version of Atlantis and wrote a story about a girl that had to find her parents. (My mother had type it into our computer, because I was too young to do it myself.) After this, it was a story about an native American girl that was, by magic, transported to medieval Paris. That was in 2001 and this very weird story about cross-Atlantic communication produced a set of characters that I still love today. Only afterwards did I start to write fan fictions. I loved Harry Potter (and, yes, Dragonball) and was so curious about the characters I had to invent my "own" stories about them. Characters, for me, are the essence of a story, so it was natural for me to tell my stories with "stolen" characters.

And that's where things finally went wrong. At some point, I realized that the characters I loved so much were not suitable to tell my stories. On the contrary, they severely restricted my stories. I remember the last fan fic I wrote, a kind of bridge story -- it was about a Harry Potter character that got Shanghaied into a (literal) mirror world and had to find his way back. And guess who populated the mirror world? The characters I invented for my Paris story, and a bald priest suffering from cancer. (The things you remember ... If I could free up all the space in my brain that is occupied by useless knowledge, I'm pretty sure I could win a Nobel prize.) When I wrote this fan fic, I realized: Hey, your own characters are much more fun to work with, and your stories are not limited by the rules of external worlds. You can make up your own rules and craft the world you use exactly to the needs of your story.

You won't believe how liberating this was.

In a more abstract sense, what happened to me is this: I always had a craving to tell stories. During my "learning stage", I shamelessly "stole" the characters that I loved and explored what kind of stories I liked. At some point, I had developed my own style, and that was when "stolen" characters were not sufficient anymore to tell the stories that I love. I think, writing fan fics was an important step for me to learn how to use and harvest my individual creativity.

To answer your question: Keep writing. Find out what it is that fascinates you about the characters you are obsessed with. Distill this fascination and put it into into your own stories. With time, these stories will become ever more genuine -- and at this point, you will learn to love your own characters better than external characters.

Additionally, keep in mind that characters don't pop into your head fully fledged. You need to get to know them, and that requires work and a lot of time. The more you work with your characters, the more distinct they will become from characters that are external to you.

(Side note: I've noticed that there's certain archetypes of characters that keep recurring. Remember the Paris characters I mentioned earlier? One of them started out as the chief of a band of gypsies. In later stories, he turned into a sailor, and these days he's the bosun of a cruise ship from the 1960s. I radically changed his background and surroundings, but he still, in essence, is the same character. And the fun thing? He turns up in other stories, too, especially from female or gay German authors. The first time I noticed was in Cornelia Funke's Inkheart. I needed two sentences about Dustfinger to be absolutely sure: Hey, that's actually my character, but with a different name. I never had to revise this statement, because it turned out to be true, even after three volumes. I haven't understood yet, why this is, but I swear that I developed my character 100% independently from Inkheart.)

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    It's possible that Funke read a piece of your work. A short story posted online may have sufficed to inspire her! We don't always remember by what we got inspired! – Ludi Jun 23 '17 at 12:40
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Practice makes perfect. And right now, that's what you are doing. Your practice might develop into viable stories, but for now, just give yourself over to the creative process.

Only if you are selling or presenting the work in an academic setting as original should you be worried.

It's considered good etiquette to acknowledge inspirations if they are close. You can do that in the beginning outside of the story.

Many authors start with Fan Fic as a jumping off point (which definitely steals characters outright).

As to how to "make the character similar to the one I like, but not so similar I'm stealing?"

That's a tough one--you are saying you get obsessed, so it's going to be similar by definition--and similar enough that it will look like a copy.

I like to play the what if game, and then lift them into a different setting. "What if Beast from the X-men were a ruthless businessman instead of a scientist? And he was the main character? And there were no X-men? And what if it was 1910? And what if his skin were purple instead of blue?"

Once you completely remove them from the setting AND OTHER CHARACTERS IN THEIR OLD SETTING, make the plot different, also throw in as many what-ifs as you possibly can, and you make sure and change the name--then you have a different character.

Plenty of comic book heroes follow this. The similarities are...well... more than striking. Character templates are one thing, but know when it crosses the line--like having the same origin story or something.

Some of these are out-right total and complete rip-offs, like Deadpool. But because Deadpool has an element that the original Deathstroke didn't (the 4th wall awareness) Deadpool is more remembered.

  • This does help, but I don't know why but it doesn't really answer my question for some reason. It is written well and gives good information, but it hasn't helped. – A.N.M Jun 21 '17 at 2:22
  • @A.N.M That is because your question is too broad. It can have two kinds of answers---either someone's thoughts on the problem in a wider and more general way or the short one (that is what I would say): "the only way not to steal characters is, well, not to steal characters." Most of the authors manage. – Lew Jun 21 '17 at 14:35

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