Creating Unforgettable Characters

From, posted April 18, 2016:

12 Ways to Create Unforgettable Characters #AuthorTips

Real people are complicated. We have desires, needs, and fears that sometimes conflict with each other, forcing us to make tough decisions. We may have characteristics we like about ourselves, and traits we wish we could change. Interesting characters are multifaceted too.

I love an anti-hero (a protagonist lacking in heroic traits) or a villain who is capable of both good and evil deeds. The woman who has no qualms about blackmailing the next-door neighbors, threatening their reputation, but who also loves her son and would brave hell to protect him. A man respected by his community who truly adores his wife, but justifies cheating on her.

A character I found particularly interesting was Big Jim from Stephen King’s book,Under the Dome. Jim Rennie is a successful businessman and community leader with strong religious convictions. He’s capable of all kinds of nasty deeds (including murder), and yet he abhors swearing, avoiding curse words by using socially acceptable alternatives. Flaws like this make characters interesting, memorable, and believable.

How do you create these kinds of characters? Here’s a checklist to get you started.

• In addition to the basic character traits, like age, gender, height and weight, and hair and eye color, what are your character’s physical imperfections? Is your character in good health?

• Sketch your character, or find a photo of someone who resembles how you envision your character.

• What facial expressions does your character use? How do they sit, stand, or walk?

• What habits does your character have? Does he or she have any pet peeves?

• Where has your character lived? How educated is your character? What is your character’s financial status? Do any of these things affect the way the character speaks?

• What moral boundaries does your character set for him or herself? Is your character religious? Does your character use curse words?

• What does your character want most in the world? What will your character do to get what is desired? What stands in the way of that goal, and who will the character harm to acquire what he or she wants?

• What does your character fear most? Is it a secret he or she does not want revealed? What would happen if your character’s worst fear came true? What will your character do to prevent that from happening?

• What regrets does your character have? When your character is under pressure, what emotions will the character show or hide? What kinds of social skills does your character possess? Are they street smart?

• Who are the most significant people in your character’s life? Are these people still alive? How have they influenced your character? Does your character have something to prove to these people? Is your character driven to make these people proud, or does your character want to rebel against expectations?

• What’s your character’s greatest flaw? What would your character change about his or her life, given the opportunity?

• How does your character change over the course of your story?

There are many other questions that could be added to this list to help you develop interesting characters. What questions would you include?

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


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