The Mad Hatter, Alice, Gollum, Samwise, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter…
These are all characters we feel we know as well as our own loved ones. They are characters that we grew up with or came to know and love. The authors of these characters may fade with time but their creators – the memorable characters – will live on in our memories.
So what makes a memorable character? Why do some characters just creep into out hearts? What makes a character jump from the page of black and white words into a fully formed 3d character that lives, breathes and acts?
Rachna Chhabria guest posts today and tells us how she comes up with memorable characters and what the secret ingredients are.
Creating Memorable and Enduring Characters
As readers, long after we finish reading a book, the characters remain with us. These are what we call memorable characters. Many times we put up with dull books because we have developed a fondness for the characters, especially the main character. We put up with the story because of our affection for the characters.
When we start writing our own stories and books, we strive hard to create memorable characters that will haunt readers for a long time. I have had quite a few readers telling me that they identified with Leo-the lion, who was the protagonist of my first book ‘The Lion Who Wanted to Sing’. Leo’s passion to learn singing from a singing bird, was something everyone identified with. We all have plenty of desires that we wish to fulfill. Achievement of a Desire, forged a bond between the readers and the character. Leo’s sacrifices: giving up meat, roaring gently instead of loudly to enhance the musical quality of his voice and few other sacrifices struck a strong chord with readers across all ages.
Memorable characters are created when a character comes across as a believable character. Readers easily identified with Leo; bored with the monotony of his life as the king of the Jungle. His desire to learn singing to infuse a fresh lease of life into his dull life resonates with every human. We have all tackled boredom and monotony at some stage or the other in our lives.
There has to be a sense of oneness in situations, between a reader and the character’s life. Leo had to endure the taunts and jibes from small creatures who use to tremble before him, this is something we all can identify with. Time and again we encounter detractors who try to dissuade us from activities that they consider out of our reach. After that it’s up to us to prove them wrong.
It’s a completely false notion that for a character to be memorable they have to be perfection personified. Imperfect characters brimming with fear of failure, battling insecurities, harbouring frequent doubts about their abilities are more realistic than characters who breeze through life whistling a tune. Perfect characters or characters who have very few flaws have an artificiality about them. We immediately detest such superior than thou creatures as they hold a mirror that reflects us in poor light.
Characters who are not scared to show their emotions appeal more to readers than characters as closed as a clam. If a reader is getting acquainted with a character and following him page after page, he/she needs to see the character with all its flaws. The reader is literally making the journey with the character and a journey has its fair share of sorrows, joys, fears, success, failures, frustration, strengths and worries.
The lion’s frequent questions regarding his ability to carry a tune echo the doubts that often crop up in our minds when we start a new endeavour. This brought about a sense of identification with the character’s emotions: anxiety and doubts.
Characters who encounter both success and failure are ones readers identify with. Isn’t life all about both the highs and the lows? The lows the protagonist undergoes makes us rejoice when they experience a high. If characters keep tasting failure without a bite of success, then the readers label them as complete losers. And when characters constantly meet with success, they are labeled as overachievers and the readers start resenting them.
To hide his insecurity and doubts from his family, Leo often secretly practiced the singing lessons inside a cave so that the next time he sang before his teacher he would be a little better than the previous session. Leo’s constant battle with the thought that carnivore animals could not sing is as realistic as it can get and becomes a mirror image for all of us. Isn’t life all about conquering fears, both internal as well as external. We have as many inner conflicts to overcome as external conflicts to battle. And our fights with our inner demons is a constant one.
Characters who arouse our sympathy, definitely wriggle their way into our hearts. I need to clarify that I don’t mean weepy or weak characters get our sympathy. Characters whose circumstances close in on them, are more sympathy evoking than characters who are caught in a sad state because of their deeds. When we empathize or sympathize with a character, concern for their well-being creeps in a reader’s mind. It’s this concern that sees us enduring the story despite its flaws.
Thanks Kim, for giving me this opportunity to guest post on your lovely blog.
Find Rachna on her blog: Rachna’s Scriptorium
Lose yourself | Find Your Character (kimkoning.wordpress.com)
Character Recipes | Spices & Secret Ingredients (kimkoning.wordpress.com)
Get Your Fighter On | T. G. Ayer (kimkoning.wordpress.com)
- Character Development (diamondpublicationz.wordpress.com)
- On the Naming of Characters (undiscoveredauthor.wordpress.com)
- And the starring role goes to… (usaukwoods.wordpress.com)
- Writing Wednesdays: Creating Sympathetic Characters (margaretdilloway.com)
- She’s No Mary Sue: Creating Characters People Care About (omnivoracious.com)