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Same or different?

When my oldest son was in second or third grade, we lived about two hours from my parents. Whenever we visited, my son would go from room to room pointing out everything that my parents had changed since our last visit.

My son is into the details.

I’m the same way. I notice the bumper stickers and license plate rings on my neighbors’ cars. I watch how people react to each other or how they talk about each other and form opinions on their relationship. I see patterns and logic in things, and often try to hang things on a recognizable framework even if one’s not there (which can be dangerous).

So, it’s always an eye-opener when others don’t look at the world the same way.

You mean you don’t know who I’m talking about if I tell you it was the guy down the street with the red station wagon? The one with the USMC sticker and the Iraq War Veteran plate? The one who apparently enjoys living off base where they don’t measure your lawn length?*

Tony Robbins goes so far as to classify people as sameness or difference people (and some combinations of the two). Here’s the gist as I understand it. Sameness people recognize the similarity between objects or people. Difference people—you guessed it—notice the differences. To make this more clear, here’s the example Mr. Robbins used.

If I throw down a handful of coins and asked people if they were the same or different, here’s what I might get.

Sameness-oriented person: “The same. They’re all coins.”

Difference-oriented person: “They’re all different. One dime, a 1999 nickel, a 2004 nickel, a Wyoming quarter, and an Arizona quarter. Plus a wheat penny and a Canadian penny. And this quarter's all beat up, but the other one is in mint condition.”

I’m betting that sameness people aren’t good with faces unless the variety is huge. (Try telling apart a bunch of men in the same uniform with the same haircut. No wonder they wear name tags!) On the flip side, it stands to reason that even twins might not look alike to an extreme difference person.

The reason I brought all of this up is because I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my characters and I’m trying to figure out how to show their unique personalities through deeper POV. Maybe sameness/difference orientation, or level of attention to detail is one more trait I can use to make my characters unique.

As always, the challenge isn’t in the knowing, it’s in the doing. Thoughts?

*Fictional compilation of real and imagined neighbors. Maybe.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Wow, perfect timing…I was just explaining to a friend that I ‘notice’ things….a look, a stance, a response. And they were completely clueless. (When really, their jobs should require they notice these things….) I notice the nuisances. It can get me into trouble, or save my life….and it’s an awesome trick to have when working with my characters!

    • Reply

      Interesting, Stacia. The funny thing to me is that it’s not always obvious who will and won’t be a “noticer”. My husband is an engineer and in the military. Details are his thing. At work. But in the neighborhood, or with people, not so much.

      I’m definitely going to have to explore this more in my MS. Thanks!

  2. KM Fawcett


    Interesting. Never gave it thought before. Do you have any information on how sameness people and difference people handle change in their lives?

    • Reply

      Hmm, interesting question, Kathy. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s all in how things are presented to them. Tony Robbins might have more on it somewhere. It’s been a while since I listened to him.

      If I come across anything, I’ll let you know.

  3. Reply

    Your post reminds me of the distinction paleo-anthropologists make between “splitters” and “joiners.”
    Spliters look for differences among the bones and create a myriad of species and complicated family trees; joiners do the opposite creating simple pictures.

    The distinction strikes me a common and important, but not universal. You should use it when it relates to plot and help to move the plot. But don’t overuse it.

    • Reply

      I hadn’t heard of splitter and joiners, mmarkmiller. Thanks for sharing.

      I don’t think I’ll have any problem overusing these distinctions. I’m more likely to fail to use them at all! 😉

  4. Ara


    I found the best way to create distinction in my characters (via POV) is to think of each on the way they perceive the world.

    Writer’s digest had a great article on this very topic back in June of 2010 –

    I’ve always thought of people in this way, and have had more empathy with my teams that span various cultures and languages. But WD codified it for me 🙂 Finally, what I’ve done, after I identify my characters world-perspective, I hear a unique speech pattern for them (I really do hear it, I’m not crazy!).

    • Reply

      Thanks, Ara. I’ll check it out.

      I don’t think you’re crazy! 😉 My characters speak differently in my head too. And they do have a different outlook, but I think I could be better about making it clear for each one. I’m always looking for better ways to do that.

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