Wednesday, February 27, 2013

LTUE Recap - Writing Memorable Characters

I wish I could credit this panel of authors, but I can't find description in my conference booklet.

Source: PowerPoint
The better we know our characters the better we can tell their stories.

1. Choose a name that fits. Don't give similar character names or only in a situation where there's no way they can be confused--an example might be a young male child and an old man. Last names suggest ethnicity--if that's not your intent, you may want to reconsider. Be careful of the baggage names can bring.

2. Know your characters in and out--you should know how they'd react in any given situation. What are their food likes and dislikes? Do they obsess about anything? What motivates them to do something? Be careful with speech patterns. A lot of heavy phonetic language is hard to edit and to read. Slang and colloquial terms go out of date quickly. Unique mannerisms, attitudes, abilities, and capabilities are options but be sure you provide good descriptions.

3. Flaws - life altering attributes

4. Strong sense of purpose - your main characters should have solid belief and value systems. Those can be flawed. Have to want/need something badly.

5. Smart, tenacious, perceptive, dedicated, and tough--but they need to be sympathetic when appropriate. Readers want the characters to be capable but not perfect so the reader can relate to them.

6. Characters should have emotional baggage so they'll have something to overcome. They have to grow.

7. Relationships - family, friends, acquaintances. Do their relationships drag them down or support them? How different do they act depending upon who they're with? Are the characters surprised when something new is foisted on them?

8. Give the characters something the readers can identify with. Whatever emotion the story is invoking should be relatable. What commonality could they all have? The character could be the readers' best friend, next door neighbor, etc. But your characters should also be uncommon enough to be interesting. Protagonist shouldn't be perfect and the antagonist shouldn't be perfectly evil.

9. Give your character a phobia and play on it.

10. A talent, definite tastes or knowledge--show this early on and play on it throughout the story. 

11. Work against stereotypes.

12.  Give habits or patterns that make your characters unique. Is your character a slob or a clean freak? Make sure you stay true to those characteristics throughout--unless the changes are part of the characters' growth.. If they deviate, it should be a sign that something's afoot.

13. Write what is going underneath--when the characters act out of sync, there should be a reason for it.

What do you do to help flesh out and make your characters three dimensional and believable?


  1. Those are all great things to consider when developing your characters. I think it's the sum of all these type of things that makes a character memorable.

    Lucky you can go to LUTE. I'd love to go to see all of you bloggers I know who live there.

  2. Excellent tips. I like to know my character's complete background, which helps to explain why they are the way they are.
    No worries about last names - my characters don't have any.
    And definitely dumped the baggage on Byron.

  3. Having it be on real life helps for me.

  4. One of my favorite elements of creating stories is developing characters: people who'd do and say the things I've always wanted to.

    I love naming my characters. I usually get the idea for a story, which stirs up a few names for the MC. Then, I give that MC some quirky characteristic and purpose. Eventually, a name just fits! Great post!

  5. Phobias are fun to play with, I really like throwing in as much as possible.

  6. Great notes! Thanks for sharing with us. I particularly like this:

    "But your characters should also be uncommon enough to be interesting."

    That's why we write their stories, right? Or should be. :)

  7. I'm bookmarking this page. This is awesome!

  8. For starters - I love the new look.

    Second, but maybe more important these are some great tips. I work hard to know my characters so well, that sometimes I think of them as real.I particularly like #13

    Thanks for the tips.

  9. Really good tips. Often I write a short story about my MC that never becomes part of the novel but informs who they are and how they got to be that way.

  10. Wonderful post! Fully developed characters pull me into a story, make me want to spend time with them. When I am writing, I keep character files in which I ramble on and on about each character. This helps me to know and develop each of them.

  11. I missed this panel so I'm so glad you shared! I daydream about my characters for months before I start writing. I think it helps me get to know them better :)

  12. #13 can be hard to do, but when pulled off, I love it.

  13. Great post, Donna. I spent A LOT of time getting to know my characters. That's why they feel so feel to me. And apparently to my beta readers. They're fighting which of them gets the love interest. Um, I do!!!!

  14. My characters evolve as I write, but I always ensure they have a skill and a flaw.

  15. Great advice. Sounds like LTUE was very productive.

  16. Aptly put! Especially those first three points, I think that says it all. Great post:)

  17. Great list. I need these reminders and tips. Thanks for sharing these.

  18. Great tips Donna. I think I might need to print this out.

  19. Oh, these are all so good. I personally really love flaws, both physical and emotional. No character should ever be "perfect" - unless obsession with perfection is a flaw!

  20. I love everything you have listed here, don't have anything to add. But I wish that dog in the picture was real so I could keep him!

  21. Great reminders, Donna. Thanks.


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