When writers create characters in a novel, they try hard not to populate the story with cardboard characters from Casting Central. To leave a lasting effect, a character must be not only unique, but memorable.
Writing Tip for Today: A cardboard character is like an extra in a grade B movie: could be anyone. To propel your fiction’s MC from anyone to every man (or woman), try these things:
- Fill Your Character with Attributes. Sure, you should know what your Main Character looks like, how she dresses, the occupation, likes and dislikes. But don’t stop there. According to Donald Maass (Writing the Breakout Novel), a MC with a strong moral code which includes honesty, forgiveness generosity, courage and similar virtues will seem larger-than-life to readers, and thus be memorable. Even rule-breaking MCs (such as Dirty Harry) maintain a moral code readers can identify with. A MC who cares only about herself and/or her stakes feels restricted and unsympathetic to readers.
- Sketch Attributes Quickly. Instead of forcing readers to learn (ad nauseam) how wonderful your MC is, act it out. A MC who is kind to animals, for instance, shows readers the character’s compassion for those least able to defend themselves. Taping a quarter to a broken parking meter displays generosity. By acting out the moral code, you instill confidence in the reader. Your MC is not giving lip service to goodness–she’s living it. But don’t make the character TOO perfect. Superman has Kryptonite to keep his ego in check. Give your MC a weakness–even if it’s only for jelly doughnuts.
- Make Concern for Others Paramount. A character should have personal goals, but the more the goals involve those around the MC, the more selfless she will appear to readers. Superman isn’t just concerned with impressing Lois Lane, although he does. Superman has to save the world, a role with perks (like Lois!) but incredible burdens. If Earth is taken over by reptilian aliens and S-man can’t stop it, we’re all doomed! The weight of the world is on this character’s shoulders. If you keep the character looking outward, you’ll be on your way toward a larger-than-life character who’s memorable.