When I was in Nevada I became kind of obsessed with seeing a bear. I guess in the same way that visitors to Australia seek out kangaroos and koalas.
Needless to say, I did not see a bear other than a stuffed one in a bar/gun shop who was quite willing to be photographed with me because well, it was stuffed so it didn’t have a choice.
I’d been having some trouble with my verse novel creating two truly distinct voices for my characters. Meeting Bernadine and Stinky got me thinking about what makes characters memorable, what makes them stand out from the crowd, not just each other?
I started thinking about people I know or have met, and what makes them stand out in my mind.
When we come face to face with people, we can see clearly what distinguishes them from others, but when it comes to a book, we have to create this distinction for our readers.
WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT A CHARACTER
So to me, the things that make a character memorable are the unique things about them. These can include:
- Physical appearance
- Personality – especially their key personality trait
- Their qualities and flaws
- Their emotional responses to situations
- The decisions they make and the outcomes of these decisions
- How they deal with the outcomes of their decisions
- The character’s ability to stick in your mind while you are writing them]
- Their name
- The way they talk – their speech patterns and body language – their vocabulary choices
WRITE A PARAGRAPH ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER
This helps to get them cemented in your mind. Pretend you have just met them. They are a real person you have found intriguing and you are telling your best friend about this fascinating person you have just met.
Here’s what I mean – I’ve taken these examples from my YA thriller WIP. These two characters are sisters and being the same gender and coming from the same family makes it even harder but more important that their differences stand out.
Mindy (older sister)
Mindy doesn’t like to let her guard down. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, and this can upset some people. She worked hard to get her life back after a serious childhood accident which left her physically and emotionally scarred so she doesn’t suffer fools or wimps. She doesn’t like to lose control, and sometimes uses sarcasm as her defence. Since her life threatening accident, Mindy has had psychic visions that she has chosen to ignore up till now.
The youngest, she has always been protected from harsh realities so she sees the good in everyone. She is artistic and sometimes distracted, which makes her accident prone, and vulnerable to screwing things up because she’s not paying complete attention. This can make her seem clumsy and awkward. Lia hasn’t found her own confidence yet. She’s easily influenced and a bit gullible. She’s always trying to fix things – wants everything to be perfect. She is quite shy and doesn’t like the limelight. She is in the background a lot so she sees things that other people don’t. She’s a keen observer and although her clumsiness can make her appear ditzy, she’s actually very thoughtful.
TEST YOUR CHARACTER
Once you’ve created these two characters that you want to be distinctly different, put them in the same situation and see how they react. If you have created distinct characters, their reactions should be completely different.
For example, how would these characters react if:
- A film producer came up to them in a cafe and asked if they would star in a movie
- An earthquake destroyed their home
- Their best friend told them they’d done something really bad
Different characters would react completely differently to these situations.
How do you create memorable and distinct characters? Feel free to share your tips in the comments section of this post.