authors, creativity, Editing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

7 keys to creating unforgettable characters

Along with making sure your book has all the element s of a great story, you also need to make sure your characters are interesting, consistent and an element of your book that draws readers in and keeps them interested. Good characters or poor ones will often determine whether your readers stay with you to the end of the journey or get off at the first stop. If readers lose interest in your characters, they usually lose interest in the story.

So how do you develop memorable characters? Here are some ideas to keep in mind as you write

Create a history for your main characters

The Davinci Code is one example of a book that has all the elements of good characters..

Past experiences help make us who we are and explain many of the decisions we make. So even if you don’t reveal everything about the lives of your characters in your story, it is still very helpful to write a biography to use as a guide for your writing. Identify key events in their lives and key people who influenced them. Answer questions like where did they live, where did they go to school and what jobs did they have. Who helped them along the way? Who hurt them? Knowing these things about your character will ensure you have them act consistently and help you understand what drives them. If you don’t understand a character, your readers won’t either.

Make sure your characters act consistently

Inconsistency in your characters will confuse your readers and make them lose interest. Once you develop a character in a certain way, readers are expecting that character to behave in accordance with his or her personality and motivations as you have revealed them. If that character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, your readers will notice. Be consistent in even the small things, such as hair color, to big things, like the character’s manner of speaking.

Avoid stereotypes

Shrek is not the stereotypical ogre, which is one of the reasons readers are drawn to him.

A good story surprises the reader and rewards them for reading. Sometimes that happens with a plot twist, but it can also happen with what I call a character twist. One of my favorite examples is the children’s book, Shrek. Even though Shrek is an ogre, he is actually kind and helpful. He is not the stereotypical ogre roaming the forest wreaking havoc in people’s lives.  Make sure there is something unexpected about your characters, but that it aligns with the biography you wrote for them and they act true to themselves throughout the story.

Develop secondary characters that are interesting  

Sidekicks can be some of the most likeable and interesting characters in the story. In some cases, readers can like them as much as the main characters.  They can help or hinder the main characters. They can provide comic relief or threats.  The key is to make sure they move the story along and not just there to take up space on the page. Here again, you may want to consider writing a biography of the character before writing he or she into the story.

Reveal your characters as the story unfolds

Often times, because we love our characters so much we want our readers to know everything about them right away.  So there is a temptation to tell the reader everything about our main character right at the start. We want to give a full physical description, tell the life story, and reveal the innermost thoughts of a character as soon as he or she is introduced. But that can create a very lopsided story and get bog down the reader in too many details.  Introduce your characters, but let your reader get to know them better as the story unfolds just like they would do in a relationship in real life. It will make your book much better.

Have an antagonist

Life has struggles and sometimes we don’t really learn who a person is until we see them in a conflict. In some cases, challenges can come from nature, but usually the most common and interesting struggles are with other people. Good versus evil is the oldest story line there is, but it still works. So make sure as you unfold what the main character is driving towards, it is clear who is creating resistance

Use all the senses

One of the ways you can keep a reader interested in your characters is engage all the senses as you reveal them. Sight is the most obvious sense to use because you can describe what the character looks like or what they are wearing, but don’t neglect the other senses of sound, taste, touch, and smell. Aroma can tell us something about a character. For example, you don’t need to tell the reader your character smokes. Instead, you could say the jacket he wore had a hint of cigarette smoke. It still conveys the idea that this person likely is a smoker, but it does it in a more interesting way.

Hopefully, you have found these suggestions helpful. If you have other keys you would like to share, please use the comment section to provide your tips.

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2 thoughts on “7 keys to creating unforgettable characters

  1. Hi Keith,

    I enjoyed this article. It gives some great tips on how to establish characters that will draw a reader in and keep them coming back for more. Particularly, I liked the bit on revealing characters and their motivations as the story itself unfolds. This is an important part of making sure the reader isn’t oversaturated with too many characters and backstories to keep track of from the get go.

    Thanks,
    Sam

    • keithogorek says:

      Glad you found it helpful. Too many authors neglect the development of their characters and it causes readers to lose interest.

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