Memorable characters are those characters that stay with you long after you close the pages of the book. They can be heroes or villains. We can love them or hate them. But they better be memorable.
You’ll know you’ve done your job when contest judges tell you they long to read more of your story, or a reader contacts you to say please tell me what happens to that secondary character in your book. The key is to make your characters so real, that readers are invested and care.
Since I am a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel, I keep my favorite writing tips for writing memorable characters close by whenever I start a new story.
1. Michael Hauge from The Hero’s Two Journeys:
“The audience becomes the character.”
Add two or more of these qualities to your characters to make your reader care about your protagonist.
a. Make the character the victim of some undeserved misfortune.
b. Put the character in jeopardy.
c. Make the character likable.
d. Make the character funny.
e. Make the character powerful.
2. Screen writer Linda Seger’s Creating Unforgettable Characters says:
“The more successful way of developing characters is actually to create a situation in which they have to react and the way they react is the way you get to know them.”
3. Gary Provost is one of my favorite craft book authors. Here are some insights from two of his books.
How to Tell a Story: "Bring your character onto the stage and let the reader see who she is and how she feels by how she acts when alone and with others, not by what she says or thinks."
Note the message here is show, don’t tell.
Make Your Words Work: “Think about one of your favorite characters from a book who is brought to life in a movie. We know those characters inside and out. We identified with them. …identification is why we read." That shared identity.
4. From Dwight Swain’s Creating Characters: Building Story People: labels are how you help your reader to recognize your story people. More than names, labels are those special and unique characteristics that make your character memorable on the page. We judge by first impressions. So think hard before you create your character’s first and possibly their most memorable impressions.
The four dominant impressions are:
1. Sex-male or female-Especially important with gender neutral names.
2. Age-in numbers or in descriptive features (gray haired, elderly).
3. Vocation- A special noun that describes vocation.
4. Manner-What’s going on inside a character.
Now put them all together.
Agnes Brown, the cheery waitress at the Sunset Café with the purple tinted, bouffant hair.
Can you see Agnes? I can.
Don’t let your character walk onto the stage without introducing these impressions.
5. Character, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. Nancy gives some great tips to consider when creating our character appearance.
“A person’s appearance consists of two different aspects: those he has chosen and those he has not. “
The first things to consider are what impressions you want your character to make with their appearance.
Character description of appearance should do the following:
a. Provide a strong visual image.
b. Imply personality traits and or personal background.
c. Intrigue us about what will happen next.
Here’s a little brain work for you. Check out this list of Top 50 Memorable Characters in Movies and TV.
Ask yourself what one thing makes each of them memorable? Can you see how the tips above were applied to create such three dimensional characters that in the reader/audiences mind these characters became real instead of fictional?
I hope these tips help the next time you sit down to create your story people.
I’ve got some real “characters” in my latest release from Love Inspired romance, Safe in the Fireman’s Arms. Check out the cover with Geek Girl, Maggie Jones and Mr. Macho, Jake MacLaughlin. Leave a comment to win a print copy. Tell us some of your favorite fictional characters from books or film.
Tina Radcliffe is a two-time RWA Golden Heart finalist, a 2012 ACFW Carol Award finalist, and a 2014 ACFW Carol Award winner, Tina has won first place in over twenty RWA chapter affiliated contests. Tina currently resides in Arizona where she writes inspirational romance for Harlequin Love Inspired and independently publishes sweet romances.