Creating Memorable Characters

imagesIt’s hard to overstate the importance of strong characters in a narrative. Think of all of the characters from fiction that you never forgot (Scarlett O’Hara-Gone With the Wind, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Dorothy-Wizard of Oz).

Our goal is to have our characters stay with the reader for days after they finish reading. Characters who readers think about as though they are real people, as though they know them…or wish they did.

Know your characters before you introduce them in your story.  J K Rowling spent 5 years doing complete biographies on all of the characters in her Harry Potter series before she even started writing the novels. It’s that important.

  • What does your character look like?
  • What are your characters thoughts?
  • What actions and deeds are typical of your character?
  • How does your character talk?
  • What is your character’s name?

Love your characters, but don’t be afraid to let one go if he or she isn’t working for you. When you lovingly create a character, warts and all, it shows. Take your time and be thorough. Chances are if you fall in love with your character, the reader will too.

Make every character unique. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it’s important that even minor characters have something that distinguishes them from everyone else in the story-something to make them more than a name on a page. This distinguishing trait or tag could be anything, and as insignificant as chewing a toothpick, or always saying, “exactly!” Perhaps the character has flaming red hair or grins like a Cheshire cat.

The minor characters only need one distinguishing trait/tag but your main characters need to be more complex. The main character should have 4-5 distinguishing traits and at least one on the negative side. You need a negative trait so your character seems believable rather than someone out of a child’s fairytale. The negative trait doesn’t need to be a serious flaw, just something that makes the character seem like a real person that people can relate to.

Writing a novel can take a long time and it is important to be able to quickly remind yourself what traits a particular character has without having to thumb through pages and pages of work. Creating character profiles can save you huge amounts of time, prevent you from creating inconsistencies, and really help you build upon their individual journeys. I  had to thumb through pages and pages of my manuscript during my first draft and then I got smart and started cheat sheets for each character.

QuintessentialEditor recently posted a blog on Character Arcs. The post offers great insight on building your characters, and showing their growth as they journey through the world you’ve created for them.  Check him out for more information on character development.

I would love to hear any comments you may have or suggestions on how you handle character development. I would also like to request that you consider following my blog. I post on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You will receive an email informing you whenever a new blog posts.

-Jan R

Creating Memorable Characters

5 thoughts on “Creating Memorable Characters

  1. I definitely agree that every character needs something unique, ideally both a physical and mental/emotional unique characteristic.

    But I’d be reluctant to devote years to character development before writing the story.
    Much like world builder’s disease, I’ve sometimes found myself developing details about a character that have no relevance to the story.
    I think a few main characteristics are fine, but I’d be in favor of establishing the essentials and then diving into the story, and letting that inform much of the character creation process.
    I may suddenly realize that I need someone to have sleight of hand skills, so I add that to a character’s repotoire and start developing a background behind it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. QuintessentialEditor says:

    Another great post! Character development, like you mentioned, is such a huge part of the process. It seems like so many of the greats (Rowling, Tolkien) spent years developing their worlds and characters. It’s a hard balance to strike – productivity versus world building.

    I think what you mentioned, having character profiles, is a smart way of striking the balance. You can always add information over time, and it prevents you from writing stacks of a paper on a single character. I do this myself and when I write keep them in a place where they are visible. If a piece of dialogue is jarring me, or I’m having trouble moving the story forward, just going through the character profiles and thinking about how they would react helps the words flow.

    Thanks for the shout out in your post too (I’m flattered). Keep up the awesome work!


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