Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Memorable Characters – Part 1

Readers remember characters, not plots. If they remember the plot, it’s usually because of the characters. In fact, strong characters can carry a weak plot, but weak characters can’t hide behind strong plots. 

Memorable characters should jump off the page, into your reader’s hearts and minds. The reader should connect to the character on an emotional level. It’s emotion that gives your character the breath of life. 

How does a writer create a memorable character? 
There are only 4 ways to present our characters to readers, since all we have is the written word: Physical description, character actions, dialogue and thoughts. 

Would you know what your characters looked like if you met them on the street? I must confess, I like to pin up photos of celebrities who I think resemble my characters. That way, at a moment’s notice, I have a good sense of their appearance, and it gives me a visual. 

It’s a good idea not to choose perfect, cookie-cutter cutouts of perfection. Remember, we don’t want perfection, we want memorable, and sometimes that means giving our characters flaws. I don’t mean a hunchback like Quasimodo--something more subtle, like a small overbite, a tattoo or a piercing. Something that distinguishes them from other characters, and makes them more real. 

And don’t forget your character’s closet. You should know exactly what you would find in there. Does your character dress for success? Or maybe they don’t pay much attention to clothes. Are their clothes hung in neat, color-coordinated rows, or are they lying in a messy, unwashed heap? Closets say a lot about a person. 

Finally, some writers write up a complete outline of their character’s physical appearance, and others find it unnecessary. What is your preference? As a reader, do you like to know every detail about the character’s looks, or would you rather imagine what they look like yourself? 

Next blog – I’ll discuss character actions.


  1. I do a mini "Bible" for my mains, and sometimes tear a snap from a magazine of an interesting face that reminds me of one of them. I mention clothes but always add a detail, like Nora Tierney's glasses she keeps pushing back up her nose, and don't forget that tiny little scar near her mouth from when she had chicken pox in second grade! I think I would know them if I met them outside~

  2. Oddly enough I met one of my characters at the Safeway on Nantucket in the chip aisle. I was with my niece, looking at the lobsters in the tank, looked up, and there she was. It was like meeting a doppelganger. She smiled at me, I wanted to follow her and ask her questions (and touch her to make sure she was real) but I couldn't leave my niece alone and "Addie" walked out of the store. I've never forgotten that feeling of "other-ness"!

  3. I've never met one of my characters at the Safeway. LOL. But I like to think I'd recognize them if I did.

  4. Actually, I've seen my character. He's a 38-year-old teen idol. I took the best feature of real idols and made him a man of perfection--except for a faint scar on his cheek he got one night when he was drunk and started a bar fight.
    Sally Carpenter
    "The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper"

  5. As a reader, I don't want to be told every detail about the characters appearance. I want to be given snippets here and there, but then I want to piece together my own image.

    As a writer, I again don't give my readers all the description. I give them enough, the main features and then let them go crazy with it.

    I like to surf the internet and find pictures that represent my characters as well. I like having the visual for myself. It's fun too.