So, I have a little trick I do when I am having trouble with a new character. I cast one of "the Jaclyn Dolamore players". These are old, pre-existing characters that I know very very well, and I just ask myself to think "what would they be like born into THESE circumstances?" And then, hopefully, the character will grow from there and become their own person.
Of course, I do run the risk of writing the same thing over and over. So I feel kind of bad about it. On the other hand, I do think of writing sort of like making a movie. And if I was making movies, I might keep casting Colin Firth over and over in different roles. Or I might travel back in time so I could cast Rex Harrison. You know, when you see a Rex Harrison movie, that you're getting some arrogant British sexiness right there, you just don't know what role it will take. Will I pity Rex in "The Yellow Rolls-Royce", or sort of want to smack him but still find him oh-so-sexy in "My Fair Lady", or will it be darkly hilarious like in "Unfaithfully Yours", or...
Okay, this is not about Rex Harrison. I promise.
Perhaps what bothers me more is the recurring themes. Of course, there are certain themes I embrace as hallmarks of my work. It's no use escaping them, really. Like "outsider character finding their place in the world" or "the struggle between doing what you love vs. doing what is expected/practical/profitable". But then...there are just the little plot tics and weird things that insist on popping up, again and again, insidiously. If I compare any two of my manuscripts, I can easily spot one thing they each have in common, like a villain who turns out to not really be so bad but he has issues with his dad. Augh, I used it twice! Shh. Pretend you didn't notice. Or a big plot involving raising the dead. I'm always raising the dead in my books. Or the love interests bonding over a book. (I know books are sexy, but stop it, guys!) Or snotty intellectual family members. The list is really endless. Sometimes writing feels like a minefield of trying to avoid the same plots, but even when I try...they sneak in.
But then, I think, maybe this is okay. I like Colin Firth movies not just for Colin Firth, but because I can rely on them to be a certain kind of movie. That's the trouble, really, defining the difference between writing the sort of things that make my writing mine and giving my audience a comfortably Jaclyn Dolamore sort of book, and writing things that are just the same. I'm sure we all have that writer or filmmaker we checked out on because their work became stale. For some, it takes twenty books, and for others, just a handful. I hope to keep putting new twists on the stew in my brain for a long, long time.