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.