Saturday, April 27, 2013

Writing A Novel - Xenogenesis

As an offspring of your own imagination, your novel is lathered in evidence of you - who you were, who you are at the time of writing, and the who you wish to become some day. However, if in writing your novel, some xenogenesis does not occur, your entire cast of characters will start to all morph into the same person.

As we write, we must produce characters that are completely unlike us, or the people we based them on. We must create beings that can move forth in a fictional world and have their own ideas, their own voice and even their own individual look. While they may begin as a perfect carbon copy of someone in reality, they must develop into their own unique identity as your story unfolds.

It is my impression that this happens naturally.  As I wrote in an earlier post on character development, I believe our characters develop through the conflicts they face. When we impose new and different conflicts upon characters that make be identical to a real life person, they automatically transform into someone new. However, there are some other things we can do to ensure a complete xenogenesis takes place:
  1. Listen. Always listen when you are with others - not just for the content of their conversation, but its presentation. Who uses "um"? Who uses "uh"? What does it take for someone to drop the f-bomb? What does it mean when someone says "Hi" versus "Hello" or "Yo"? How does an accent or culture affect speech? Pick up little twangs in speech from all over the place to sprinkle amongst your characters.
  2. Look. Examine eye colors - how does one pair of blue eyes differ from the other? Look at style, accessories, hair styles - who carries their cell phone in their pocket, on their belt, in their bag, in their hand? Remember what Forrest Gump said: You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. Look at people's hands, search for scars, freckles, beauty marks, tattoos and all the other things that make them them - which of your characters needs one of these things? 
  3. Connect. Make connections between the things you hear and see, then connect them to stories. Create back stories for strangers you overhear on line at the grocery store. Day dream of what their day is like and what they will be doing next. This practice will help you bring life to surface details you observe.
Once you have started making connections with strangers, you will start to develop your own internal reference for various characteristics you observe in the real world. When you come back to writing your novel certain features will just become obvious and necessary additions to your own cast of characters.
  • Maybe you don't have a tattoo and never will get one, but your MC has twenty: xenogenesis.
  • Perhaps you are prolific in your use of the f-bomb, but your MC not only avoids it, she apologizes when she slips out any profanity: xenogenesis.
The list can go on ad infinitum. The small changes here and there, combined with conflict, lead to unavoidable xenogenesis. That is, of course, if you pay attention to one other thing: how other people think.

Last, possibly most important step: Talk to people. I don't mean that you should talk at people where you tell them everything going on with you and then allow time for them to tell you everything that is going on with them. I mean you should talk with them. Ask questions, find out other people's opinions, maybe even have a deep conversation asking them why or how they developed such opinions.

The thing is, for true xenogenesis to take place, you character's must think differently than you, and that is the hardest part. Learn from others. Absorb.

Good luck!
Thanks for reading!
Do you think a COMPLETE xenogenesis is ever truly possible? Why or why not?
What are some techniques you use to separate your characters from yourself?


  1. Good post! I agree about the individuality of the character and the changes that occur according to how the pot devbelops.

  2. Whoops. That was meant to be 'plot'.

    at Welcome
    to she said, he said

  3. While your voice will always be apparent in the story, I do think it is possible to create characters completely removed from you. Within each fully developed character, I'm sure there will be some kernel of you or the inspiration, but that might be a movement of the hand or an expression, but those will take on a completely different spirit in the person you create.

  4. I absolutely agree. Every character I have created so far has held on to some piece of their original mold!

  5. Thanks, Nancy! And no worries about the typos - I make so many more of them now that I have grown used to autocorrect always trailing behind me. I keep expecting my computer to correct me the same way my phone does!!