March 28, 2017

5 Must-Have Ingredients for Writing Memorable Characters

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com.
When I run into a friend after a long absence, I feel a joy of reunion. We hug, we chatter about what's gone on in our lives, and we attempt to settle into a new normal of existing together. This past week, I experienced this while traveling for work. I've spent many years with my "training project" family, and I loved catching up with the ones I've known for years.


Creating Beloved Characters

The same emotions happen when I revisit a great character or characters in a book. My Kindle decided to move a book I'd purchased sometime ago to the top of my Most Recent list. I'm not sure why, but since I was traveling, I decided to read it. It's been a few years since I've read anything in this series, but immediately I felt the same joy of reunion with these characters. I love them!

Why?

To answer that, we need to consider what makes a great character, or more precisely, what makes us love a character. I'll admit, I'm not the expert in this area as a writer, but I do know what I like as a reader.

I can relate to them.

Even though I tend to read fantasy, I do relate to the lives of the characters. It doesn't matter where or how we live, it's our experiences, our emotions, our actions that people find attractive. The series my Kindle set before me offers a very wide range of characters. I don't remember all of them well, but I do have strong connections to the main characters (about twenty people). For most of us, we won't have that many characters in our entire story, so it should be even easier to make your characters relate-able. Readers want to look at the character and feel that connection with them. They don't want a perfect specimen of life because we are not perfect. They want to read about them and say, "Yes, that's what I would do."

They have flaws

They are not perfect. They make bad decisions. They hold grudges. They withhold information. They eat too much or play too much or drink too much. Whatever flaw unbalances your character, it needs to fit into their life in a way that we understand.

They have strengths

Just like flaws, we need strengths. What is your character good at? How do they use it? Do they even know they're good at it? We need to see those strengths surface and grow over the arc of the story. Looking back at the need for flaws, one great technique is to have your character become overconfident about a strength resulting in a flawed response to a situation.

They need thoughts and emotions

We need to know what the point of view character thinks as the story unfolds. Most books use a close point of view with at least one character which means we can go inside their thoughts and experience their reactions to events as they unfold. (More on Point of View here.) If we don't provide this information, the reader feels distanced from the character and less likely to care about them.


They need to be caught up in something unusual

All stories require conflict. If you don't have conflict, there is no story. Conflict can be an internal conflict, an interpersonal conflict, or a group conflict. Whatever the conflict, it should throw your character into a place of discomfort. It should not be the norm. Stories thrive on characters facing issues they haven't anticipated or chosen. It keeps readers turning the pages.

I've listed five ingredients to a lovable character, but the list is endless.  What would you add?

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