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Creating Memorable Characters

One of the biggest keys to the success of a story is creating characters your readers will fall in love with. Ones they'll want to root for. Ones they'll cry with, laugh with, and remember long after they close the book.

Before you ever start writing the story, spend time getting to know each of the main characters, enough so that they become real to you. We're going a little bit out of order as Diana talked about moving on from creating characters, but this is still important stuff. What are some things you should be doing as you get to know these characters?

1. Learn their back story. What in their past effects who they are as your story opens? What kind of family did they grow up in? What is their happiest memory? What is the hardest thing they've ever been through? While you may not use all of this information in the book, your past influences who you are today and how and why they do what they do. This can go a long way into determining their motivations.

2. Figure out their goals, motivations, and conflicts. In other words, what's driving them? What do they want and why do they want it? What's standing in their way? Without GMC, you don't have a story. And you don't have well-developed characters.

3. Spend time with them. I like to spend about a day per each main character, just learning a little bit about them. Asking them questions. Figuring out their likes and dislikes, where they live, what they wear, what they do, etc. This is information that's in every basic character chart. But you can dig even deeper. Write a few diary entries for your character. That will really help you feel what their feeling. Interview them, and not just the why questions Diana mentioned. Take them through a job interview, a police interrogation, or a visit to a psychologist. Or have one character interview another. Great ways to really dig deeply into your character.

4. Don't be afraid to flip the stereotypical character on his head. When I teach creative writing, I like to take my class outside to watch the cars going by and asking who they think is driving each car. Then I take them outside of the box. Instead of a mom going to pick up her kids from school, who might be driving the minivan? And why? This will make a character more memorable and will keep your reader engaged and guessing.

5. Add quirks, idiosyncrasies, habits, etc. These little things really make a reader come alive. Does she always wear the same color clothes? Does he crack his knuckles when he's nervous? Is she a neat freak? Will he only drive American cars? Also, don't forget to add flaws to your characters. This makes them more real. No one wants to read about someone who is perfect, because those people don't exist. And also add redeeming qualities, even to your villains. What is it that is good about that person, even a sliver of something. A murderer who calls his mother every week to check up on her. A kidnapper who bandages the kid's scraped knee.

How do you go about developing your characters?

Creating characters? Where to begin.

Jen here:

Every good story begins with a character your reader wants to follow. You can have the most interesting plot, but if we as readers don’t care about your character, we won’t care about what happens to her, no matter how exciting or heart wrenching.

So how do you develop compelling characters? The answer to that is longer than one blog post (many good books have been written on the subject—see the bottom of the post). But it begins with a process of exploration.

You need some sort of form or structure to use while you are developing your characters. You need to write down your discoveries so you have some consistency in your character and you can refer to it while you’re writing. It’s amazing how much you think you’ll remember that you actually forget. So write it down! Scrivener is a great place to keep all of this information.

Character charts

There are a lot out there, just Google them. Character charts can help you figure out what you need to know about your characters. Some are broad, some feel irrelevant. Try a couple until you find one that seems to work for you.

Personality types

I always start here. Then you can move to different information to help you flesh her out even more. But this gives you information on how they like to function in the world, how they make decisions, what kind of structure they like, all of which will tell you what you need to do to make them uncomfortable.

Google Myers-Briggs and Enneagrams. You’ll find information, charts, and even tests you can take as your character to figure out what their personality is and how they relate to others and, most importantly, how the function under stress.

Character boards

For the more visual person, a board (literal or virtual) of your characters’ rooms, clothes, furniture, anything about their world that helps you step into it. Pictures of your characters can help you visualize them.

Character interviews

Interview your character about the things that could come up in your story. Keep asking why.

Different styles of interviews can elicit different kinds of information. Is it an interrogation? Therapy session? Job interview? Coffee with a friend? Note body language, nervous habits, speech patterns of your characters.

Have one character interview another. The information they relay is likely to be different depending on who is doing the interviewing.

Character diaries

If your character kept a diary or a journal, what would be in it? Give her some journal prompts that relate to the above information you are trying to dig up. How does she respond? Ask “what if” questions?

What does their normal day look like?

Character biographies

Write a biography of your character. Talk about important years, events, hobbies, family.

A twist on this is to write an obituary. What was their family background? Who did they leave behind? What did they accomplish? What were they known for?

These are a few ways to get started on fleshing out your character. Usually you’ll find a few surprises and a couple of gems that will get you started on building your novel.

Keep pressing on!


Margie Lawson classes www.margielawson.com

Jennifer's latest books~ Protective Custody: A cop burned by love falls for a key witness in a crime implicating the town’s rich and powerful.  Coming Home A strong- willed young woman must discover her brother’s killer before she’s the next victim. The prequelBe Mine, is also available. Can a simple thank you note turn into something more? Get the first chapter of Coming Home and Protective Custody by signing up at www.JenniferVanderklipp.com

Unpack Your Characters

Diana here:

Unpack Your Character and Let Them Be Real

Have you spent hours, days, even weeks filling out questionnaires about your characters? Most writers have done this when we first begin our careers. At some point, you have to stop. Pages and pages of data about your character from the time they started kindergarten, what their favorite color is, and who their favorite Disney princess is won’t move your story forward.

So what can you do?

If you already have the list, keep it, there are some gems there if you ask why.

Let’s unpack the mermaid example.

Why did she pick the mermaid’s name over the princess with enough hair to braid for a prince to climb? Perhaps your heroine has a desire to be a scuba diver.

Why hasn’t she tried?  She’s terrified of water because she once fell off a boat and almost drowned.

Why the desire to be a mermaid?  If she’d had been a mermaid, she wouldn’t have to be afraid to go back out into deep water.

Now, make this count. Your mermaid is up for a promotion at work, the new position will allow her to travel something she’s been dreaming about forever, but what’s this? She has to go with the client on a deep-sea fishing cruise. If she says no, it’s not going to look good, and Pushy Pricilla who’s been one step behind your mermaid since the day she started working at the company will be eager to take the job.

Now your readers have a reason to care, to cheer your mermaid onto that boat, and they'll stick with her as she falls off the boat--you know she has to get in the water right?

What if you don’t have a list?

Start with the why of your character. You probably have a name, a story idea and possibly a career picked out. From there start asking why this idea and job connect or don’t connect.

What’s reason for him/her to continue getting up and going to work every day?

Why is it important to your character to wear a certain item (is it an heirloom? Or a watch with a timer to remind her to take a life-saving medication?

Maybe she’s decided to stream line her life so everything in her closet and jewelry box has to coordinate—wait—if that’s the reason then ask why is that important to her and what happens if she can’t do that one morning?

Look at your best friends. Sure you could fill in a character questionnaire about them, but on paper would you recognize them? No. They’d be flat, could be one of the hundreds of people that like the color blue, have blonde hair, and watch black and white movies. Look closer though, and ask why?

Why do your best friends pick a certain restaurant?
Why does he only drive Chevy trucks?
Why won’t she eat shrimp?

Your friends are complicated; they carry around virtual suitcases filled with the answers to the question why and so do your characters—all of them, even the waitress at the diner who jumps every time a fork hits the floor.

Unpack your characters, and your stories will have readers flipping pages to find out what happens.