One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from a reviewer who called â€œJosie Bates (heroine of my witness series) one of the best characters everâ€. For an author, that is the highest praise.
Think about the millions of words written about thousands of fictional people, and then ask yourself how many stuck in your mind, reside in your heart, or continue to haunt you years after reading the book? If youâ€™re like me, there are a handful of such characters in your memory. My list includes:
Gone With the Wind: Scarlett Oâ€™Hara, Rhett Butler and Miss Mellie.
Princess Bride: Buttercup, Inigo Montoya, Westley
The Hunger Games: Katniss
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Lisabeth Salander
Johnny Oops: Johnny Oops (a fine Indie book)
Analyzing these characters helped me become a better writer, and hereâ€™s what I have learned. Memorable characters are:
Spiritually Unique: Villain or hero, each one has his or her own demons and desires, strengths and weaknesses. Strength on its own is uninteresting without weakness.
Physically identifiable: A great character manifests his or her uniqueness in dress, mannerisms, and speech patterns. Imagine an actor tackling your character on screen. Can you hear them? See them? Are they so real you would know them walking down the street?
Logical: A character with a unique speech pattern may amuse your reader for a while but if the words coming out of that characterâ€™s mouth aren’t appropriate to story, plot and core of that character, the affectations is illogical.
Unapologetic: Readers may not always embrace your vision, but if you give a character an unusual life, let them live it. Do not be swayed by fear of political incorrectness or tempted to take the safe route. Writing is about nurturing your bold voice.
Purposeful: A characterâ€™s journey is guided by principles born of experiences. In Josie Batesâ€™ case, she is formed by her motherâ€™s abandonment (personal) and her belief that the law and justice are two separate things (professional). The authorâ€™s objective is to create a passionate character who is willing to go to great lengths to protect what they believe in or secure what they desire.
â€¢ Katnissâ€™s (Hunger Games) and Scarlettâ€™s (Gone With the Wind) fight for basic survival.
â€¢ Westleyâ€™s (Princess Bride) relentless search for his lost and true love.
â€¢ Salandarâ€™s (Dragon Tattoo) desperate desire for self-determination.
â€¢ Rhett Butlerâ€™s (Gone With the Wind) code of honesty.
â€¢ Melanieâ€™s (Gone with the Wind) passionate belief in Scarlettâ€™s inherent goodness.
â€¢ Johnny Oopsâ€™ (Johnny Oops) wry but heartfelt search to define his teenage self.
Donâ€™t be afraid to refine your characters. We are not born the people we will become; neither are those who populate your books. Nurture them, define them, polish them and they will live in the readerâ€™s memory for a very long time.
Josie is a character to remember, and someone I'd like to know. Which is actually how I end up thinking about my favorite characters. Who wouldn't want to lift a glass with Harry Dresden, as long as he's not being chased by someone?
Sometimes when I want to have a visit with "friends" I'll run my fingers along the book backs and "listen" to my favorite characters. Simon and Jaelithe from Andre Norton's "Witch World" come visit at least once a year.
"Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
What a blog! It's got me thinking about my own characters, as well as some of my all time favorites, and what aspects of them make them stand out.
The character that's affected me most viscerally, that I remember most, is John Steinbeck's Cal Trask from East of Eden. And Cal Trask played by James Dean in the movie – man, oh man. Talk about memorable! There could have been no better casting for the somewhat cocky, deeply tortured teenager desperate for his father's love.
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