Likely you’ve heard the phrase, “He’s quite a character.” While that can be said in such a way to mean either good or bad, it certainly doesn’t mean mediocre. Might I suggest compelling? Intriguing, maybe? Memorable. Yes, this is what we want in our characters.
But how do we go about creating quite a character? Let’s examine, shall we?
A compelling, intriguing, memorable character . . .
Has a goal.
What does she want more than anything? The promotion? A new life after the divorce? The hunk in the cube behind her? A burning desire adds tension and drama to the story. A hunger for what is just beyond reach but not quite attainable has the reader identifying with your character, feeling the frustrations and disappointments right alongside her.
Has a voice.
A certain way of speaking. A distinct vocabulary, pet phrases, tone. Does he have a commanding voice? Maybe he mumbles or has a drawl. And when he speaks, what does he have to say? His dialogue will reveal much about who he is.
Is she willing to put herself out there? Fight the good fight? Is he curious–to the point of doing something foolish as danger looms overhead? Your main character (MC) needs to grow, develop (character arc), or there really isn’t a story. Risk-taking, much as it does in the real world, produces growth.
Has something to lose.
Not only is the frustration and disappointment of being so close to gaining his goal important, but the threat of losing what he has, what he values most, helps to forge quite the character. And this, of course, adds even more delicious tension. Loss of life, love, reputation, fortune, or home–all are powerful motivators.
What are her character flaws? Is she socially awkward around her boss–the man she daydreams about? Does he have trouble expressing his emotions–comes across cold though he’s really kindhearted? Maybe she views the world through rose-colored glasses and doesn’t see her BFF is stepping out with her boyfriend. A perfect MC is boring. As readers, we want our characters to be authentic.
Likewise, anti-hero MCs can’t be the total picture of evil or they become two-dimensional. After all, these people function in society undetected. That means to some extent they know how to play by the rules.
Has unique traits, habits, and mannerisms.
This is the fun part of character creation. What makes him unique? What makes her stand out–whether in a good or bad way? What do his habits tell us about him? Does he wear his baseball cap to cover up his red hair? Why does she wring her hands? And what does it mean when she stares down at her left hand and twists her wedding band? How does he handle the slight limp in his leg?
A word of caution before you go about assigning traits: make sure that whatever you saddle your character with is not off-putting to your reader–unless you want it to be. A good point to ponder when creating character is this: How do I want the reader to feel about him or her? Let that be your guide as you design your cast of characters.
Cares about something.
I am reminded of the screen writing term “saving the cat,” which basically means in order to have readers (or viewers) bond with the MC, show him early on in the story “saving the cat” (or some other selfless deed) because that will endear him to them. Again, this is all about forming the relationship between reader and character–the thing that keeps people up at night, turning pages. And that is what we want, isn’t it?
Keep in mind the above list as you go about creating a compelling, intriguing, memorable character that stays with the reader long after the book is closed.
What makes a character memorable to you? Tell us about it in the comments.
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