I feel I've got a huge obstacle, whenever I'm pretending" to be a character and trying to make out how he/she would react.

I feel strongly that the mentality of the creator is reflected in his work. And that's a problem when trying to write characters with different mentalities.

You don't want characters to be straw men, nor mouthpieces of the author, and not self-inserts. Characters should have their own reasoning, flaws and "human" factor; their ideals don't necessarily correlate with mines, and they can sometimes be the right ones.

I've read other authors who I feel forced the moral outlook on the story, to the detriment of the book. And that scares me; these authors set out with the intention of teaching something to us, I also have this intention with my writing. But I don't want to write something as alienating as those books were for me.

So, I have a hard time creating different characters, both good, bad, and morally ambiguous, as some aspects of me will seep into them. If I can't prevent it entirely, I want to minimize this seeping.

How can I write characters with ideals different from my own, without making them strawman?

I feel I'm constrained because I can't understand emotional decision making that well, or other people's logic for that matter. However, an overwhelming majority of my characters fall into the emotional category, with only a few exceptions.

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    Reading the "question" I have no idea what you are asking. Reading your proposition: How can the mentality of the creator not be reflected in the work? Did the author think it or not? You can't not project yourself in what you write, even if, for example, your narrator espouses views that are the opposite of yours. Feb 16, 2018 at 22:11
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    @S.Mitchell Can you clarify this a bit, I don't really understand it. Feb 16, 2018 at 22:23

4 Answers 4


The only way you can really pull this off convincingly is through humility. If you are to approach a person you disagree with with sympathy, you have to start with the notion that they are neither irrational, malevolent, or crazy, but rather a sincere and rational human being who has reached different conclusions from yourself.

This does not mean you give up your own views, but it does mean that you recognize that neither you nor they are infallible, that neither your reason nor theirs is certain, and that the specifics of experience, temperament, and even heritage color the evidence you see, the way you see it, the way you select it, and the way you interpret it.

There are certainly writers who are convinced that not only is their reason impeccable, they have so much insight that they can fully comprehend the mind of their adversaries and thus understand both the nature and the pathology of their views. While the pathology part is, of course, up for debate, I can say with assurance (having been on the other side of these debates) that they never get the part about understanding the nature of the other person's views right. They hear them only with their minds in refutation mode, never in appreciation mode. They refute only a pale imitation of the views they have neither the sympathy, patience, or humility to appreciate.

A polemicist can get by on arrogance alone. But a novelist needs both arrogance and humility. They need arrogance because no one would write with the kind of confidence and assurance that a good novel demands if they were not arrogant. But no one will write with the kind of sympathy for characters of every stripe that a novel requires if they do not also possess a profound humility. You cannot understand or describe a person justly if you only see them by looking down from above. You must see them from every angle. You must look up as well as down. A work of art is an expression of vision and you need arrogance to express and humility to see.

Of course, there is a large market for polemical novels. Such works tend not to outlive the period in which the views they express are fashionable, and they are despised by those who hold other view. But if you are an ideologue of a popular ideology, you can make good coin turning out such novels. You will be preaching to the choir, but a choir is an appreciative audience. Engage your reader in the spirit of polemic from the start and they will happily go along with any characterization of the opposition, no matter how garish or unjust.

But if you want to be something other than this, if you want to give an honest portrait of how people come to differing views and the consequences that follow from them, with a focus on the nature of the human experience, rather than a focus on hammering home your point, then you need to practice humility. But if you succeed, you may produce something that is read by people of all sides and long after the issues of the day have been forgotten.

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    Your final paragraph reminds me of OP's own question Weaving VERY IMPORTANT OPINIONS into a story without murdering it.
    – user
    Feb 17, 2018 at 13:06
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    @MichaelKjörling Indeed. The matter of the artist is what it's like, not who is right. And showing us what it is like is a far greater contribution to discourse than arguing who is right.
    – user16226
    Feb 17, 2018 at 13:14

Ah, this. I know what you mean. While I can't help you when it comes to keeping your own views out of the narrative, I do have advise on give your character's personality and logic different from your own.

For me, what helps is to give each characters a set of axioms which define them. For the book I'm currently writing, for instance, I wrote three chapters then in a separate document where I keep all my notes, wrote out explicitly how the characters view the world, deal with stressors, and the likes. Whenever I worry that a character may be doing what I want them to do because it's what I would do, I check that section of my notes and see if anything is violated.

For a more organic process, you can make a basic set of characteristics you want certain characters to have, and then as you write take note of how you have them react. I would then suggest reviewing each chapter after writing it to ensure that the characters are acting in a way you want, and then record that behavior.

So, to summarize, I suggest working out the characters before hand, and craft them to be different from you.

As someone who was a fan of The Sword of Truth series, I can understand your concerns, but I think that man has a few screws loose. Just because he opined his book series into the ground, doesn't mean you will too.

Also, for what it's worth, I actually like crazy characters whose moral compass points up. I find them easier to work with since I don't have to stop to think if their actions are consistent with a normal human's. I only need to concern myself with making sure that they are consistent with themselves. Also, I find them to be fun, and refreshing.


I reject your premise. For example, I am an atheist, 100%, to my last breath.

However, I live amongst people I love, my own family, that believe in God. My parents did, one was a firm Christian, one more of a deist. Half my extended family is atheist, half are religious.

I understand atheistic reasoning 100%, I have read the Bible cover to cover, blah blah blah.

However, I also have a pretty deep understanding of religionist reasoning (or thinking), especially the common variety of 99% of them (as opposed to Biblical scholars). I know what is wrong with it, where the rational flaws are, what the wrong assumptions are, and what they won't give up.

Now I get along fine with my family, we don't discuss religion and I don't (anymore) point out their bad logic or wrong-headed assumptions. It is not a topic.

That said, I know their arguments so well I can write a convincing religious character, because I can exercise self-control and NOT interject what is wrong with what they consider their "terminal" arguments, and NOT call out the irrational circular logic they always deploy.

I would say the same about Ayn Rand and her fool ideas. I've read them, I know what's wrong with them and every logical fallacy she employs and every deceptive trick she tries to use. But, I could easily write a character that truly believes in it, without interjecting my own criticism or knowledge of the fallacies they are using, because I DO know their arguments so well.

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    I think this is the key right here. You don't have to espouse an opinion to be able to understand it. You just have to be disciplined enough to write from that perspective without judging it according to your own. Feb 17, 2018 at 0:05
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    (Also, I am amused at the irony of an atheist with the username Amadeus, Loves God. ;) ) Feb 17, 2018 at 0:06
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    @LaurenIpsum Thanks. I'm stealing Mozart's joke, FWIW. His name was Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. His best friend was a female cousin, from his youth. As children they used to add "US" to their names as a pretentious joke, and in his letters to her, even as an adult, he signed himself as "Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus". I like that story.
    – Amadeus
    Feb 17, 2018 at 0:18
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    Isn't one of his other names Gottlieb, also 'love god' in a sense? I did not know the connection of Amadeus with 'love god' and wonder if he enjoyed doubling up.
    – SFWriter
    Feb 17, 2018 at 0:21
  • @DPT - Is that "love god" in the (verb) (noun) sense or in the (noun) (metaphoric noun) sense? The second sounds a lot more fun. Feb 17, 2018 at 9:25

How can I write characters with ideals different from my own, without making them strawman?

I would say that attempting to do so, LZP, is a worthy goal in and of itself.

(Also, I'd think that even those ideals we think define us perhaps do not circumscribe us as much as we may believe.)

You might define yourself as orange. But as orange, you are a color, like blue. To some people, you are the best color. Blue is the best color to other people. You and blue share that people love you.

You are a color that is associated with a fruit. So is Blue.

You are a color that sometimes is in our sky. So is blue.

Copper can be orange-ish, and it can be blue-ish.

Orange and blue are opposites, and as such are connected, as love and hate are connected, and war and peace are connected.

I think you can write the characters that you 'are not' (although I don't know that you truly are not, since humans are complex) by identifying those things that you share - even if it seems kat-a-wampus to your goal.

Maybe you are a pacifist and you are writing about a soldier. You both might be women, you both might have lost a child, you both might have thought of becoming a nun once. These are the elements you can focus into the character you do not find identity with - and build from there.

In the end, the exercise will likely be a good one. It stretches us to think about the human condition. I like your question.

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