Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Creating Catchy Characters
We've had some great guest posts on the blog this month talking about character development (like this post and this post) but today I wanted to add my two cents. I am by no means an expert on what it takes to create a great character, but I have read a lot and along the way I've picked up some tips about what makes a character stick to you. That is, what makes them "catchy". I'm mainly talking about main characters here, but some of these can apply to all characters in a book. Let's take a look...
Creating Catchy Characters
Make them real
Yes, I am taking about fictional people, but to a reader that character will be as real as the person next door if the book is well written. Can I get an amen? You don't want to let the reader down. This doesn't mean crafting your characters after that same next door neighbor, but it does mean that you've thought through a lot of things when creating the character--and not just for the sake of the plot. Your characters all have motivations (even the secondary characters) and you need to know those.
I think David Baldacci is a fabulous example of a writer who makes all of his characters real, whether it be the mailman he uses to find dead bodies to begin the story or his main character who is motivated by a tragic past.
Help them stand out
No matter if a chracter is shy and introverted or wild and raucous, they still need to stand out in a readers mind. This is a combination of all of the things mentioned (as well as the authors voice and the plot) but creating a solid character is the first step to making them "memorable". Usually, the thing I remember the most about a character is their transformation (talked about more in the next point) but it either personally affected me or changed them so much, and so "real-ly", that it seared that character forever into my mind. This happens by creating real emotions on the page, sharing them through Deep Point of View, and getting at the heart of who they are as a person.
A good example of this to me was Eliyana from Sara Ella's novel Unblemished. She stood out in my mind not because she was so "notable" in her surroundings, but because of how I was able to experience what she was going through in her thoughts. I rooted for her because I knew what struggles she was facing mentally.
Give them a purpose
This seems simple enough, but if a character's purpose is simply to "accompolish this goal" or "be happy" your character will fall flat. They need external and internal things they desire (their goal), the impetus to achieve those desires (their motivation), and then the issues that arise when they try to accompolish this (the conflict).
Take a character named Sally. Let's say Sally loves playing piano but she has terrible stage fright. First, we must know that she desires to become a world class pianist because her mother was one and, though her mother is now dead, Sally want's her mother's memory to live on in her achievements (goal and motivation). But, Sally has debilitating stage fright (the conflict). It's not enough to simply have another character tell her to get over her fright so she magically does. The reader must experience Sally's stage fright through her internal thoughts, see the reaction to her piano skills (let's say they are exceptional), and then see why she eventually over comes that stage fright.
A great example of this is Nym in Mary Weber's Storm Siren trilogy. Nym is powered by some pretty incredible motivations (no spoilers here) that make her end goal and the achievement of that goal a wild and thrilling ride - but also one that makes her a catchy character!
Make them flawed
Oh boy! This is imperative! Your characters must have flaws! And, as you get to know them, you'll start to see those flaws and, what's better yet, how those flaws affect the characters end goal. I would recommend giving your character two types of flaws (or you could call them a flaw and a quirk). A larger flaw (or flaws depending) that affects their character deeply and then a smaller flaw (or quirk) that makes them stand out.
For a flaw, I think of Haegan from Accelerant by Ronie Kendig. Haegan, though a fabulous character and filled with a lot of good things, also suffers from some pride issues which greatly affect him and those around him.
For a quirk, Riden from Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller immediately comes to mind because of his "quirk" of liking things neat and orderly. Such a great little quirk that made me laugh and was used well to affect the plot without making it seem contrived.
Give them a strength
Though I am sure there are characters out there (probably in books that I've read and have forgotten) who go through the whole book without showing true strength, but personally that's not a type of book I find joy in reading or one that (I would assume) sells well. I believe the worthiest, most memorable characters, are the ones that either have or gain a strength by the end of the book. Whether that be a supernatural strength, a personal strength, or a combination of both, it doesn't matter. They have something that makes them/helps them/pushes them to accompolish their goal. In some cases this strength is realized throughout the course of the novel, or it's bestowed on them (or they already have it) in the beginning and they have to learn to rely on it, but in all cases it's what gets them to their goal.
Ok, examples are plentiful in this area but I think of Frodo getting the ring to Mordor - this strength was not only his determination but also his friend, Sam. Then there's the Beast from Beauty and the Beast who learned that his strength wasn't in anger but in love. And Katniss from The Hunger Games who's initial strength comes from loving her sister and sacrifice, and then morphs into a responsibility to use her situation to save her people (still a strength born by love and sacrifice).
Those are just a few things that make catchy characters. What are some other things that make characters stand out? Who are some of your favorite characters? Why are they your favorites?