Writing Unforgettable Characters

odd_spangles_1Fiction writers create characters who are as real as their next-door neighbors–to the writers. The challenge comes with inventing characters who are more than real–they’re unforgettable.

Writing Tip for Today: What are some ways to make your fictional characters more memorable?

Larger than Life

The most unforgettable characters often feel larger-than-life to readers. A writer who can tap into ARCHETYPES has a better chance of creating such characters. Study myths and legends, brush up on your Joseph Campbell reading or study Chris Vogler’s Hero’s Journey explanations. These archetypes are not only well-known, they are actually embedded into Western culture. Readers may not know they are recognizing an archetypal character, but that character will resonate with them on a subconscious level. If you’re not into archetypes, at least give your characters traits that people esteem, such as honesty, generosity, loyalty and forgiveness.

Intensity of Desires 

In order to make a character unforgettable, he or she must want something–desperately. Kurt Vonnegut has advised writers to make their characters “want something right away, even if it’s a glass of water.” You’ll no doubt want a slightly loftier goal for your fictional character, but be sure he or she doesn’t only want it vaguely,  mildly or ambivalently. No, your character’s intensity of desire must be strong and unyielding, at least at the start. A character who doesn’t know what he wants or “decides” to pursue something might be realistic but doesn’t usually make for vivid fiction. Readers want the assurance that the character is up to the challenge of defeating the obstacles put in the way of obtaining the goal.

Ripple Effect

Another way to make characters unforgettable is to make their personal goals also hinge on community or even world goals. For instance, a woman who struggles to be recognized as a brilliant eco-biologist in a near future world with limited energy resources is also the key to solving that energy crisis with her discovery of a type of algae that produces clean, renewable energy. A character who wants to save her mother from depression ends up saving the whole family and neighborhood through the music she and her sisters perform. If you can tie your character’s desires and problems to impact more than only the protagonist, the result is a character whom readers won’t soon forget.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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