Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Create Memorable Characters

Memorable characters are crucial. They will ensure that your book stays alive through the ages; we take it for granted, but it is an achievement that characters such as Odysseus and the giant Polyphemus in Homer’s The Odyssey are remembered after thousands of years. It's a HUGE achievement (punny).

Now image one of your characters surviving until the year 4,000. Pretty insane, huh? That's what Homer did.

Literally, and logically, your character won’t live on if they aren’t remembered. Plain and simple. I tackled the how-to's in this post. And this one. And this one.

So if you want to know the HOWs of creating memorable characters, take a gander at those three links. This post will be all about the WHY.

It's like in math; once you understand the concepts, the details come to you. If you try haphazardly to memorize the details (insert quirk here, with a dash of fatal flaw -- or was that a helping of description?)  you'll end up floundering.

Memorize your favorite character. Learn every bit of them.

Once you KNOW your favorite character, basically 'discover' the rules on your own, and learn the methods the author used to create that character. Why do you love him/her/it so much?

My first and foremost favorite character is Albus Dumbledore. Yes, I even have a picture of him as my desktop wallpaper for the past few years; no sentimental family picture or pretty nature scene.

I don't own this.
(And this isn't the same picture as my desktop wallpaper.)

My second favorite has got to be Sydney Carton. I don’t want to spoil A Tale of Two Cities for you, but he is FANTASTIC. I love him, and I’ve studied him intensely for my own book.

(Sorry, no picture, because, well, I wasn't fond of the black-and-white movie, probably since I'm not used to black-and-white films, haven't seen the color one, and don't want to do injustice to Sydney. So enjoy this picture of a musical panda. I don't own this picture either.)
 I love, love, love, LOVE characters like Professor McGonagall and Ms. Pross. They’re old and strict, but, heaven help the man who threatens their loved ones. That kind of love and sacrifice is amazing to me.

I don't own this. But she looks so awesome!

I love Jay Gatsby as well; he’s tragic, and I love tragic characters (as you get tell by my choices).

The point of this is to try and inspire an in-depth study of your own favorites; what makes you love them so much? How can you use this knowledge in your own books? And, most importantly, what will make your character memorable enough to be talked about in year 4000?

There is a thing in painting (I paint) where artists basically copy a painting. There is no way this copy would be allowed in a contest or be allowed to sell the piece as an original. However, these studies help the artist master a skill they are weak in. Copying can incredibly helpful, but not profitable; don't call them originals.

Learn from the originals, but don't expect to send out queries for a book with a MC that is a carbon-copy of a famous character. Learn about characterization from the masters, not copy.

JK Rowling and Dickens are two of the greatest characterizers (dictionary, please?). With Rowling, we remember Professor Sprout, Snape, James and Lily Potter, the Malfoys, Umbridge, Lupin, and so, so many more. Same with Dickens (maybe on a less pop-culture scale in the present). We take it for granted, but in other books, we get confused if there are even a dozen characters. Rowling had hundreds (there's a list). Both of their secrets are revealed here.

Who are your favorite characters? How can YOU learn from them?


  1. My favorite book character is Preston and Child's Agent Pendergast - he's The Man, always solves the crime, but is very flawed.

  2. So true - some authors create books chock full of amazing characters! For me, the first book I remember where the characters exploded from the pages into my brain and were real is Anne of Green Gables. Every character in there is memorable too. Great preparation for my love of Tolkein, Christie, Rowling, Lowry & so many more!! :)

  3. What a COOL post... really. I'm off to check out those links! Fun, fun, fun.

  4. I'm technically doing this now with I book I love. It's not the girl pov character I loved. It's the guy.

    It's a great exercise. :D