Saturday, June 27, 2015

Top Five Tips from the Pros: How to Create Memorable Characters by Tina Radcliffe

with guest Tina Radcliffe

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.

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.


  1. Love this post and great tips for creating characters that live and breathe and become very real friend as we read a book and often live in our memory long after we read the final page. Great post, Tina!

  2. Hi Natalie and Tina!

    I'm editing my WIP for the umpteenth time and ready to start thinking about my next story.

    Thanks for sharing these great tips, Tina.

    Don't add my name to the drawing because I've read the book and love it!

    Have a great weekend!

  3. Hi, Jan! Long time no see! And I am now hibernating. Done with summer already! Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Jackie!! Thanks. Still smiling over your Genesis final!

  5. Great tips! Thanks Tina and Natalie!

    Tina, Safe in the Fireman's Arms looks delightful. I just love that cover. :)

  6. Pam I really got a great cover. I was thrilled.

  7. Thanks, Tina and Natalie! This will be a great list to refer to as I develop characters. I want to check out some of those craft books you mentioned also.

  8. Hi Donna! I am a total craft book hound. Even if you only get one nugget. It's worth it.

  9. Hi Tina:

    I really, really, like #2, by Screenwriter Linda Seger:

    “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.”

    This is why you can learn so much from screenwriters. They think visually. And man is a visual animal. I think the most memorable characters are the ones who face difficult and very unique conflicts. Cliché conflicts make it hard to make memorable characters. You probably have to rely on quirks to make them stand out.

    I'd also like to add a quote from Adli Stevenson which I find very useful in showing character in just a few words.

    "You can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad."

    Imagine your waitress, who upon being told a steak was not cooked correctly to order, just picks the steak up with her hand and throws it across the dining room right thru the window behind the counter and into the kitchen where it smacks the cook in the head. "Get it right this time, turkey!"

    You know a whole lot about that waitress and you'll remember her a long time!

    In short, use lots of physical proxies. : )


    P.S. I like the heroine in "Safe in the Fireman's Arms," because she wears glasses (!) and is a very intelligent college professor. But then I married a woman just like that. I think it helps if a character is our 'type'.

  10. WOW, Tina, LOVE the link to the most memorable characters, although once I got above #20, I don't remember many of them. Not sure if it's my memory at fault or that I don't watch a lot of TV or movies!!

    Great post!


  11. "You can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad."

    Or what scares him...

    Love it Vince.

    Hello to your college prof, wife!!! Waving.

  12. You and me both, Julie. My husband and I have a standing joke about that. B12 is all we say as we head off to take our B12.

  13. Tina! What fun to 'see' you here. Thanks for the super resources.

    Two of the most memorable characters I've read are Atticus Finch and Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Movie-wise two of the most memorable are Capt Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin in "Master and Commander."

    Don't enter me in the drawing. Read the book and loved it. In fact, I'd like to know more about a few characters ... :-)

    Nancy C

  14. Hi Tina:

    Like your heroine, my wife chose to teach the younger kids in high school and elementary school. Now me, I've always taught adults. The older the better. Tired night school community college students were the best behaved. : )

    BTW: I just thought of another way to make characters memorable. While this is not easy to do, it really works well.

    Have the characters say something very memorable!

    For example:

    "If there was one thing Josie Miller knew, it was the smell of a rich man. And whoever had just walked into the diner smelled like Fort Knox."


    "Sisters are overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it."

    I bet you can remember these two characters.


    P.S. I like the way you added 'scared'. Who do we know that is scared of mice? I just read a book where the character was very afraid of snakes and wound up having to eat one because of extreme hunger. I won't soon forget that book. : )

  15. Thanks for sharing all these, Tina! A very nice summary of each.

    Natalie, I love your banner photo on your blog! That's gorgeous!

  16. HA!! thanks, Nancy C. I love Atticus!

  17. Vince, are you quoting Missy Tippens and Julie Lessman?

  18. Missy, I was staring at Nat's banner photo too. It's beautiful.

  19. Whooie, I'm skidding in here on one foot. So excited to have gotten some editing done.

    Hi, JAN! Welcome to the Sweet South Blog! Don't you love those kinds of characters that seem like family? I'd heard of people putting fictional characters on their church prayer lists, but didn't believe it until I picked up a prayer bulletin in Arkansas and read "Jim Bob, Elizabeth, Mary Ellen, John Boy, etc." No kidding. :)

    JACKIE!! I know how you feel--I'm almost to the point where I can say "done is
    done" and hit "send" on this MS.
    How did I miss that you're a Genesis finalist?! CONGRATS!! :) That's awesome!! I was on the road 13 hrs that day and knew I'd miss something! Maybe I'll get to meet you at the ACFW conference in September?

  20. Hey, PAM! That cover is adorable, right? Makes me wish I were nerdy-cute like Maggie! And there ain't nothin' wrong with the handsome, kittycat-rescuing fireman. :)

    Hi, DONNA! Someday I want to get a list of ALL Tina's favorite craft books, but I'm kinda scared, so I haven't asked yet. LOL. :D Thanks so much for coming over!

    Great to see you here, VINCE! Thank you so much for the Aldi Stevenson quote. I love that. "Showing" at its finest. And so true about the character's saying something brilliant. The characters belonging to your quotes popped in my head right away. And we'll forever remember the face behind "Go ahead, make my day," and "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!"

  21. Haha, JULIE! I looked at that Top 50 list, saw Rhett Butler wasn't on it and canceled my IMDb account. :D Not really, but I was super shocked to see Indiana Jones wasn't SOMEWHERE on the list. I mean, with a face like Harrison Ford...right? At least they had Han Solo on there. #41--really people? *wink* Great to have you here, Julie. Thanks so much for coming over.

    Hey, NANCY C! To Kill a Mockingbird is on my shelf, and I'm pretty sure I won't ever feel like a "real" reader until I've read it, but someday soon! I heard conflicting opinions about the plot of Master Commander when it first came out, but I'll have to go see it now! 'Cause #russellcrowe :)

    Hey, Missy!!! Great to see another "belle" here! :) Thank you for the compliment on the banner! I've gotten mixed reviews about it in my "Improvement Questionnare," LOL. But your comment means a LOT. I think I'll keep it for a while. Used it as a header for a one-sheet and the agent liked it, so we'll see. Thank you for being here, lady!

  22. I looked at that Top 50 list, saw Rhett Butler wasn't on it and canceled my IMDb account. :D


  23. Hi Tina:

    Yes, you got it. But I knew you would. : )

  24. hehehe, Vince!

  25. Thanks Tina for the tips. What you said about "The key is to make your characters so real, that readers are invested and care" is so true.... I got hooked on reading the O'Malley Series by Dee Henderson because each of the O'Malleys seemed so real to me, they became my friends and we continue to "catch up" with Dee's current books. Since then, I've been reading other books including some of yours Tina, Missy, and Julie and I love them!

    Have a great summer!

  26. Hi, SUSIEQ!! The O'Malley Series is WONDERFUL. She's great at creating memorable characters, and I love her trademark family dynamics. Can't go wrong with Dee Henderson or any of the Seeker books! Best wishes in the giveaway!

  27. Sounds like a great book. Karenskrayonsatgmaildotcom

  28. “A person’s appearance consists of two different aspects: those he has chosen and those he has not. “

    Does Kress go into the id, the ego and the superego, that sounds along those lines? In college I argued there was a fourth aspect to Frued's psyche that he missed....forget what I named it.....if I had time I'd go look in my paper file, but I don't.

  29. Hey Tina,

    Awesome post! I am in the process of writing a novel, and these tips were exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you so much!

    Also, I love the Love Inspired line of books. The historical line is one of my favorites. :)

    As far as a favorite character goes, it has to be Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy. :)

  30. Hi Karen! Glad you stopped by. It is a great book! LOL

  31. Melissa J, I don't think so but will check this weekend and my ID will let your EGO know.

  32. Thanks, English Mysteries Blog. Yes. Darcy is in my top ten too!


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