What Makes A Character Memorable?

Hard drives involve one kind of memory, that's true. But it's not what I'm talking about here.... What makes a character really touch your soul and stick with you long after you finish a book?

Hard drives involve one kind of memory, that’s true. But it’s not what I’m talking about here…. What makes a character really touch your soul and stick with you long after you finish a book?

As a writer, it’s pretty safe to say I love my characters. It’s not that they’re expressions of me (though they are, each in their way); it’s more that they present facets of the person I’d like to be. My favorite characters of those I’ve written display courage, poise, faith, and confidence I really would like to say I have, but when I’m honest, I know I’m completely different. Where my first novel is concerned (because it has more reviews, having been out longer,) I’ve been surprised but excited to see that people really seem to be connecting to different characters than the ones I did. I think that’s amazing, because it shows how the art of fiction is such a vibrant, living creation. The author loses all control when the book enters the world. Everyone’s experience with the same book is different. It’s unique, it’s individual, and it’s something very, very personal.

So, then, as a writer I often ask myself, what makes a character memorable? What separates a run-of-the-mill character whose name you’ll forget a year or two down the road from a Scarlett O’Hara or Rhett Butler? A Michael Corleone? A Jean Valjean or Inspector Javert? And what about Don Quixote? Sure, he’s crazy, but there’s more to how memorable he is and what he stands for than wearing a barber’s hat as a helmet and tilting with windmills.

I’ve written before about creating characters with a quirk, but that’s more about distinguishing being characters within a work, especially when you’re working with a large cast. What makes a character truly memorable, years down the road?

Well, there are a number of facts:

  • Maybe the situation a character faces, and proves equal to, is striking.
  • Maybe a character is so well-written he or she jumps off the page. Maybe there’s something unique about the character’s dialogue, or wit, or physical condition/appearance.
  • Maybe a character undergoes a major transformation through the course of the work. This is a huge one for me: I love stories of redemption and second chances made good.
  • Maybe a character is a great example of something you wish you could be.

That last example really strikes at what I was saying before: how personal reading is. Different people will connect with different kinds of characters. I know tons of Harry Potter readers who love Sirius Black, or Harry, or Hermione, or Mrs. Weasley. (I must admit, Mrs. Weasley really is awesome.) I’ve always had a special and individual connection with Remus Lupin. I’ve thought about why that is, and I realize it’s because I really, really can put myself in the place of characters who feel broken and rejected and somehow inferior to other people. I’ve been there, and my heart always goes out to them. Though it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, I think the reason that sorcerers in my fantasy world of Herezoth are so downtrodden and despised is so that I could tap into an important aspect of other characters (like Lupin) I really love. I needed to feel for my characters, and I needed to respect them. The state of sorcery in Herezoth was an unconsciously easy way to make that happen.

So, what makes a character UNIVERSALLY memorable? I’m really not sure. I don’t worry about that when I write. I focus on creating characters that are memorable to me, with their own flaws and strengths and struggles. And I hope that others might find some aspect or other of their stories memorable as well.

THE PLUG:

I have a sale and free promotion going on right now. The first novel in my trilogy, The Crimson League, is only 99 cents through January 11th. The second novel, The Magic Council, is FREE from today through January 11th. Make sure to check them out if you’d like to. It’s a good deal!

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8 responses to “What Makes A Character Memorable?

  1. “Maybe a character is an example of something you wish you could be…”
    I like this, but being new in the craft, I’ve learned that I have to create flawed characters to make them more relatable to the readers. We can’t make them too perfect right?
    Are you referring to an aspect of their character that shines and we wish we had that?
    Great article Victoria

    • Oh, most definitely not. Too perfect isn’t good. In fact, it’s very, very much a problem. You are totally on target there, so thanks for bringing that up! Every character needs flaws and imperfections. That’s why I said “Something you wish you could be” and not “exactly the person” This character might have a job or a particular trait or virtue, or a particular talent you wish you could have. That doesn’t mean he or she is perfect.

      • Hi Victoria,
        This may be off topic but; I’ve heard the main character must change from what he is at the beginning of the story to what he is at the end. I didn’t do that very well in my first book.

        • I always say fiction is character-driven, and a tried and true to do that is to have a character who evolves and develops. But some genres can be more plot-driven. Think of thrillers and police fiction and action adventures. Sherlock Holmes and James Bond don’t do that much evolving, and those stories are great. It all depends on the tone and the plot of your individual story.

        • Good point of Bond and Holmes; thanks. So much to learn…

        • We’ve all got tons to learn. Just don’t let it overwhelm you. Step by step and word by word. Draft by draft 🙂

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