Monday Musings: Three Tips for Writing Memorable Characters

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When it comes to characters, I like to interact with mine. It helps me get to know them better before I write them into my stories. Sometimes, I become my protagonist and develop entire scenes and chapters in my head.

It may be one of the insanities of being a writer that we create imaginary friends and allow them to speak to us. We instinctively breathe life into our characters by getting to know them as intimately as some of our real-life friends. Because characters grow through the pages and expose the events of a story, the more vividly we describe them, the more readers are able to connect to them.

So … how do we create these memorable characters?

James bond

James Bond

Here is what works for me. Most of my characters, if not all of them are based on people I have met. Some are friends, some acquaintances, and some I’ve met only virtually. Yet, they have one quality in common—uniqueness, or in other words, something that makes others curious about them.

Remember the last time you attended a wedding, dinner party, or some other social function? Who made an impression on you, and why? Did the person have an interesting profession or hobby? A facial tic? An annoying pattern of speech? Whatever the trait, good or bad, it is this oddity that makes a character memorable in fiction.

Whether we know it or not, we incorporate the personalities of real people into our stories anyway, but when we take the time to consciously look for unique traits, we heighten our awareness of characteristics we find interesting. This insight improves our characters’ profiles, and because they are based on real people, it lends an air of realism to them too.

edward scissorhands

Edward Scissorhands

It’s important to pay attention to these oddities since basing characters on established stereotypes robs them of originality. Stereotypes are like clichéd phrases. As they become repetitive and weary over time from overuse, they tend to drag down our prose.

How original is the dumb blonde, the cheating, alcoholic ex-husband, the womanizing bad boy? You know these characters because you’ve read or seen them on television—over and over again. They’ve become predictable.

In real life, we like to meet unique, interesting people. This is the same in fiction, so if you want your characters to be memorable, give them traits that are unique. It’s okay to exaggerate eccentricities so long as you can explain them during the course of the story. In real life, people are unbalanced and inconsistent, but stories have a finite timeline. If you highlight a peculiarity about a character, make sure you expound on the reason for it.

thelma and louise

Thelma and Louise

Here are three simple tips to remember:

1) Show us your characters by their actions. Your characters can be witty and spout interesting philosophies, but in the end, they are what they do. We judge people by their actions, so make them DO STUFF. This will allow readers to discover each character’s motivations as well.

2) Take your characters “out of character.” This goes back to eccentricities. Imbue them with contradictions. Just remember to explain these within the narrative.

3) Give them quirks, tics, and other oddities. Not every character needs to be peculiar, but use these distinguishing features to allow readers to tell your characters apart.

So … go ahead and write about the raven-haired beauty who’s smart as a whip but was born a blonde, the husband who cheated but refused to divorce his wife, the bad boy who loved women but had no clue how to get a date.

The next time you interact with someone, whether in person or not, keep an open mind for weird idiosyncrasies. If you write these well into your characters, your reader will follow them through suffering and celebration, love and heartbreak—every hurdle you throw their way. And your unique characters will stay in their memories long after they’ve finished reading your book.

~ eden

About the author

eden at benmcnallyEden Baylee left a twenty-year banking career to write and is now a full-time author of multiple genres. She has written three collections of erotic novellas and flash fiction—Spring into Summer, Fall into Winter, and Hot Flash, along with contributing to the anthologies: Allegories of the Tarot, Indie Authors Naked, and Triptychs.

In 2014, she launched the first novel of her trilogy with Dr. Kate Hampton—a psychological mystery/suspense called Stranger at Sunset. In addition to working on her next novel, Eden created Lainey Lee for the Lei Crime Series, a feisty divorcée who finds adventure and romance in Hawaii. Her novellas for the series—A Snake in Paradise and SEAL of a Monk can be found on Kindle Worlds.

An introvert by nature and an extrovert by design, Eden is most comfortable at home with her laptop surrounded by books. She is an online Scrabble junkie and a social media enthusiast, but she really needs to get out more often! Connect to her via all her networks. She loves talking to readers! 

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