Once again, the comments section of last month’s article sparked enough ideas to inspire a whole new article. In this case, someone asked how you let your characters’ cultures shape who they are without creating stereotypes – slow-moving southerners, taciturn Yankees, or excessively polite Canadians?
The obvious answer is that culture isn’t the only influence on your characters. Just show these other elements — education level, childhood trauma, various accidents of birth – at play as well. We’re all a mishmash of all sorts of different influences, and how they work together or against one another is what makes us unique.
But this raises the larger question of how you balance all these elements, showing how they reinforce and undermine one another? How do you turn all these variables into a single, plausible person? I’ve seen too many characters who are the product of a single source — psychopaths with childhoods filled with sex and violence or emotionally needy characters who lost their parents at an early age. While a single influence might occasionally predominate – psychopaths often have abusive childhoods – all your characters need some balance to be individuals.