Top 10 Tips to Create Memorable Characters
Whether you write plot-driven or character-driven fiction, your characters are motivating factors in your storyline. Gone with the Wind would still have been a massive story without characters like Scarlet O'Hara and Rhett Butler, but it would have been more about the American Civil War than those who struggled and triumphed over catastrophe.
Characters are your story's lifeblood. Good characters move the story, add style and liveliness, and offer differing perspectives. George R.R. Martin does this well in his series A Song of Ice and Fire. Told from multiple viewpoints, each given by chapter, this fantasy series can alternately make a reader love or hate and side with or against any number of villains and heroes.
Characters are memorable for many reasons. Make the reader remember your characters.
How? Keep these 10 tips in mind when creating and developing your characters:
A character's clothes and grooming (or lack thereof) will help make that character stick in the reader's mind. Don't have your characters look into a mirror to describe themselves to the reader unless absolutely necessary, as in a Dorian Gray maneuver.
Give your character a memorable name or don't. Fanciful names can immediately let the reader imagine the character, their ethnicity, social standing, and even help to set tone in fantasy and romance genres. So can a generic name such as John Smith, serial killer. Names can contrast with the actions of your character's personality. Think Jim Jones.
3. Manner of Speaking
You can help show your characters through dialogue. Don't have everyone sound the same. Speech reflects the character's education and history. Use a character's vocabulary and sentence length to help identify where they are in life.
4. Realistic Believability
Establish the character's general reactions to situations so that when the character reacts differently, the reader will be on alert. If you're going to call upon your non-magical character to do something superhuman, gear them up to accomplish the task at hand. Train them; drag them around through smaller obstacles. Your character will lose credibility if uncharacteristic qualities appear out of nowhere.
Let your character have attitudes that drive them or have them develop drive. While Scarlet O'Hara was considered the belle of the pre-antebellum American South, it was her tenacity and spirit that made her memorable in the post-War aftermath.
Give your character depth. Make them more than a one-dimensional trait. People are made up of complex facets. Go beyond the single factors like easily-angered or quiet and brooding.
7. Character Counts
Characters need true character. Show what propels your character in the story, what they will and will not do to achieve their goals. What makes them say no? Yes? Where do they draw the line? Answer these questions within your storyline and your character's character will stick in the reader's memory.
Perfect characters are boring and many readers won't relate; others will envy the characters and dislike the easy road you've written for them. Shakespeare wrote numerous plays relying on faults. There would be no tragic Hamlet if this Danish prince didn't vacillate over everything.
9. Can We Relate?
If your character is too perfect, reader envy may outweigh interest and they might stop reading. Memorable characters are ones that readers will recall when facing similar emotional nuisances. Like Scarlet O'Hara, readers can relate to feeling despair and insurmountable odds.
10. Larger than Life
Heroes have it tough. They must be strong enough to rise against and defeat the odds, but they must be approachable. When creating a villain, make them the hero's equal, just as powerful or even more. Equally-matched battles are most memorable.
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