Tell Me What a Blank Character Is Already
Sometimes known as the everyman, the blank slate, or the silent character, a blank character is one that’s generic. Blank characters lack the distinctive personality traits that, as are we are all told, make great characters.
There’s a good chance you have written a blank character, and just don’t know it. Look through your characters and ask yourself what actions they take in your story that you would never take. If you can’t find any for a character, that character is either the identical twin* you never had, or blank.
Examples of blank characters
Harry Potter is just generic enough that most readers can imagine being him. Despite early emotional abuse, he’s a confident person – except in situations where people are usually nervous. He’s good at schoolwork but not too good like Hermione. He breaks the rules – but only if it means being heroic in some fashion.
Bella is a romantic stand-in for female readers. She’s pretty in the movies, but in the book her appearance isn’t pinned down. She has many of the same worries as a typical teenager, but so much time is spent on them that she comes off as whiny. Her other distinctive trait is also negative – clumsiness. As a result, anyone who can’t relate to her finds her annoying instead.
What’s-his-face is bad with women and has a dead end job. Luckily, destiny is calling for him to trade his hum-drum life for one of adventure. When the villain tempts him, he’ll resist without effort, because he’s a decent guy who always does the right thing. When the world would go kablooey, he’ll save it with his bravery and common sense.
Are Blank Characters Really That Weak?
Yes. A strong, memorable character has to stand out. That means having unique, defining traits that differentiate them from other characters. Once those are in place, the character is no longer blank.
There is some room within this. It wouldn’t break your blank character to make him dislike peanut butter. Everyone knows what it’s like to hate a particular food, the only difference is which one. But if your character obsessively buys jars of peanut butter, only to throw them away without opening them, he isn’t blank.
Similarly, it’s possible to make your character so personality-less that it becomes distinctive in itself.
But They’re Relatable, Right?
That’s why books with blank characters are popular. They have a broad appeal because people can imagine being them. Once the reader steps in their shoes, the blank emptiness is filled with whatever the reader wants to imagine. This makes them very effective as the hero in games – the player also chooses actions for the character, bringing the audience and the character even closer.
Many people consume stories just to watch the protagonist overcome the challenges she faces. If she’s relatable, it’s very likely all those people will stay interested. That’s huge.
But it comes with some risk. If your character is blank, but for whatever reason, NOT relatable, then he will burn in the fiery pit of Mount Doom.
So Can I Put a Blank Character in My Book?
Writing a blank character has significant upsides, so I call it a valid choice. After all, what’s the point of storytelling, if not to provide a compelling experience? Blank characters can do that. The important part is that it’s a choice, and not something done on accident.
Make sure your blank characters are relatable:
- Make the character your hero or supporting protagonist (like Watson). The reader is already primed to identify with these characters, and even with a strict perspective, they should know what the character is thinking. A side character that’s blank is just boring.
- Give your character spinach – you want her to be humble. Her desire to increase her status, get the love interest, or save the world, should be similar to what a person on earth would want. Don’t make her the savior who is crowned by the fawning populace until the end of your story. Until then, she should bear all her burdens with good grace.
- The character’s most distinctive features should be virtues, not vices. Pick a trait that everyone likes and many could believe they have in the right situation. Bravery is ideal, unusual kindness can also work. That way if your readers see something in your character that they can’t identify with, he at least won’t be annoying. You want Harry Potter, not Bella.
Can I Roleplay a Blank Character?
No. That would be boring for your whole group. Only you are meant to strongly identify with the character you roleplay, so your character would just be you. If you want to play your real self, with your real name, in a world that’s like present day earth… then nevermind. Go to town.
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