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In my story, I am writing a side character for my fantasy epic. Originally, she was going to play a very minor role, but now she has more character and interaction. Unfortunately, I fear she may be too similar to the character Amity from The Owl House, which I had not yet watched while developing this character. For the similarities and differences:

Similarities:

  • They are both witches
  • They are both lesbians
  • Their names are very similar (the character's name is Amethyst)

Differences:

  • Amethyst is WAY older, and is in her early 20's
  • Amethyst's design is more gothic
  • Her personality is greatly different than Amity's
  • Her arc is also very different (it is mainly Amethyst wanting to see the world outside of her kingdom, and realizing how a lot of it is not as accepting as her home)

In the end, how could I write the character so that they appear more original and not ending up seeming like a knock-off of another character?

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  • Ironically, I'm watching The Owl House currently, and my first thought when Amity was introduced was that she was a knock-off of Diana Cavendish from Little Witch Academia.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 9:06
  • @F1Krazy Where as when I watched her intro episode, I got thought, "Oh, so now we're doing "Harry Potter and the Mean Girls." The hero who has lived their whole life in an exotic land meets the nerd girl bestie who used to be friends with the image obsessed bully girl.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 12:20

3 Answers 3

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Stock characters look like stock characters

Genre is filled with stock characters, I guess you could say the closer you stick to genre expectations, the more 'stock' your characters probably become.

At a school for witches, every character is a witch. But if there is 1 witch friend among the group they are going to look a lot like all the other 1-witch-in-a-group-of-friends stock characters.

In a small ensemble of friends even their 'diversity' can fall into stock tropes. The lesbian friend falls into lesbian-signal tropes, but rarely has healthy relationships/friendships with other lesbians and no support network of lesbian friends. If a love interest is invented for them, it's really easy to kill off that love-interest for cheap feels as so little was invested by the author. An under-developed romantic subplot for a secondary-character will amplify lazy writing because there isn't enough else going on to hide the clichés.

Now swap 'lesbian' for Vulcan or Klingon or Elf and you immediately recall well-known characters who started as (and arguably rarely rise above) embodying their 'alien-ness' for the ensemble. These alien teammates gain character depth for one TV episode when they return to their own people and don't neatly fit in there either, thus giving them a reason to stay with the ensemble –– this only works when you get full seasons of television that have the time to explore that 1 episode where they go home, and genre tropes are so strong that story is going to follow very stock conventions to return that character to the group –– it's not a 'lesbian' thing, it's a having-one-alien-in-an-ensemble thing. The more their role in the group is about displaying the 'alien', the shallower and trope-ier that character becomes.

well-written characters always feel unique

There are many techniques for writing better characters, specifically:

  • giving them agency and wants
  • positive friendships among their own kind
  • a life independent of the story
  • a way to earn a living

Samuel R. Delaney offered several rules for writing better female characters in an essay I summarized in this answer, which should work for any character. The method was designed to address poorly written female characters (a chronic problem even today) but the solutions seem applicable to any secondary or tertiary cast member.

As Delaney puts it, the structure of most novels gives ample opportunity to show these aspects in the (stock male hero) lead character, but with a little effort the supporting characters can be just as rich as the MC by relying on the readers' extensive knowledge of personality cues associated with their approach to career/money, friends/family, and what they choose to do with their free time. None of these aspects need to take up a 'whole episode' to explain a backstory (backstories are lore, not character-building). What should happen is that we see each character embedded in their own everyday lives and routines.

Once these aspects are built up for the character they cannot be reduced to 'lesbian witch with a similar name'.

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If you know your character is a lot like a existing one, then, to make them unique, you want to do the following.

Deconstruct the Other Character

Deconstruct what made the other character work. Keep any traits you like. Improve upon what you don't.

Superficial traits like "lesbian" or "witch" don't get at the core of what makes the characters tick.

In her first appearance of the Owl House, Amity was the stereotypical popular girl who politely but snobbishly put down other people's feelings. Not too complex, but we learn a lot more about her as we go on.

For starters, even though she's arrogant, she's still above cheating. The thought of defeating our hero, Luz, by cheating is absolutely disgraceful to her.

She's also got a softer side, spending time at the local library to teach kids and share her favorite stories with them. Sweet stuff.

Underneath that all though, the core of her character is a deep-seated drive to always be the best. Perfect. Eclipse Lake is a great example of this because even after she's been accepted as part of the team, Amity still worries she's not perfect enough. A deep-seated insecurity that drives her every action.

Once you know the essentials of what makes this character tick, you can then say, "What do I like about them? What do I hate?"

Amity's arc in Season One is learning not to be a bully, and her arc is Season Two is learning to make amends but you've already mentioned you have a different plan for your character. She wants to see the world.

Great. How is that anything like Amity's arc? The farthest Amity's wanted to go is to see Earth, and that's mostly because of Luz, not because she's an explorer by nature.

That's a significant difference in character right there. Amity's mostly a shy book nerd with a gruff exterior. She's not the explorer type per se.

What Would You Improve?

Do you like Amity's personality? Her arc? Her character development?

If the answer is yes, try to incorporate some of those ideas into your character. Things like personal insecurity, the weight of expectation, a love of books, a need to achieve, etc.

Do you dislike any of her personality traits? What would you change? Did you think her development was rushed? Did you think she was too overbearing at times? Too controlling?

Then you can take those as lessons for what not to do with your character.

Characters Don't Live in a Vacuum

Lastly, even if your character was an exact copy of Amity at the start, she'd still end up a different person if she met different people and had different experiences.

Luz changed Amity because she was a spark of joy and freedom in her life. What if she met someone else or Luz had a slightly different personality?

Imagine Luz was quiet and shy rather than outgoing and fun. The dynamic between the two characters would shift into something completely unique.

If Luz was a less outgoing, befriending Amity might be a lot harder. Or easier.

But that one change would change the whole relationship. For example, if Luz never spoke up for herself, Amity might grow even more protective of her than she already is. This could push her personality to be more gruff and serious.

Which could lead to an arc about learning to relax, or lead to her character doubling down.

Then that dynamic changes how both Luz and Amity interact with anyone else.

It becomes a butterfly affect eventually making all the characters unrecognizable and thus fully unique.

That's the power of making a slight change.

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  • "Amity's mostly a shy book nerd with a gruff exterior." I would say that Amity's problem isn't being a bookworm, but that she's a perfectionist, to a degree that she let's "Perfect be the enemy of good" as it is said. Most of her initial personality is from her mother's Tiger Mom dominant personality, which we learn is the cause of all the Blight family's unpleasantness' (Her father is largely detached and is miserable when she brings him back to focus on the present. The twins seem to escape Mom's wrath, but it feels like she's given up on them at this point.).
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 12:12
  • @hszmv I touched on the topic of her perfectionism. "The core of her character is a deep-seated drive to be the best. Perfect." Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 19:13
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A very "mechanical" suggestion: keep a character roster with a brief description for each. You have done much of the work already for at least one character as part of your question.

The amount of info a character gets depends on how central the character is. You probably don't want to put every single character in the roster, just the ones that enter the story several times.

It also lets you do mundane consistency things like keeping the spelling of their names the same. Or if they have family that is mentioned keeping that straight.

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