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.
Do you ever feel that there is too much demanding your attention? Do you ever wish you could pause and rewind? Do you ever wish you could mute the world? Sometimes your brain can go into overdrive from being over stimulated. This last week felt like that for me. I wanted to power off the time switch and freeze time for just a moment to be able to catch my breath. I had a migraine for over a week that would not disappear and left me in pain and feeling grumpy and frustrated. The migraine was my fault and the fault of modern technology.
You see I was simply doing too much and my mind was overheating which caused the migraine attack. So left with no other choice, I decided to take a day and night off from everything and everyone. I turned off the Macbook which meant that I killed a few birds with one close of my Macbook: Facebook, Twitter, WIP, Blog. I switched off my mobile phone. I did not have music or television playing in the background. Then I holed up with my long overdue books needing to be read. I read in the quiet. Wouldn’t you know? My week-long migraine attack is gone.
Yes I must admit there was a small part of me that felt guilty, ok a large part, and I kept on catching my closed Macbook in my eye line. I could hear the chatter on Facebook and Twitter calling, then there was this blog aching to be updated with a new post. Not to mention my WIP was aching to be molly-coddled. But I resisted. This was the best mental detox for me.
In this world of technology it has become very difficult to just switch off to rest and relax. I am as guilty of this as the next person. I am also a person who tends to pile on things on my plate that just simply have to be done.
I have a little troll on my bedside table. It has a scrunched up face and bright pink punk hair. But the reason I have such a creature on my bedside table is that he is holding up a bright pink sign that says “Nobody is Perfect.”. I need to have that within close viewing distance to remind myself to go easy on myself.
Today I realised that though I am always thinking there is never enough time in a day to get things done let along compartmentalise all my me’s, work me, writer me, daughter me, sister me, friend me, critique partner me; the problem and the fault is my own. I am not the Energiser Bunny as much as I wish I were. Instead lately I have been feeling like the White Rabbit with the clock running around in Alice in Wonderland crying, “It’s late. It’s late. I’m late. I’m late.”.
So today I decided to be like The Mad Hatter, The March Hare and the dormouse and just take a chill pill, let the madness of the world continue around me without me in it for a while. The world did not stop turning, the white rabbit is still running around but for a moment I actually enjoyed a day that did not pass me by in a blur. Best of all I feel refreshed and do not have an aching head.
So your Monday Muscle is to set aside 1 whole day this week for a mental and technological detox. Sit at the table with the Mad Hatter and laugh at his silly nonsensical jokes. Ignore the late white rabbit. Do not turn on the computer. Do not turn on the TV. Do not turn on the stereo system / iPod. Turn off your mobile. Unhook the landline phone. Make an appointment with yourself. Sit outside. Take a walk. Read a book. You have a whole day to do nothing. Believe me you may be looking at this blog post now in abject horror, thinking does this silly girl not know how much I still have to do. I do know but I am saying that it will all still be there tomorrow. Give yourself one day off. Just like the body needs a detox, it is even more vital that your mind needs a detox. Healthy and Rested Mind = Healthy and Refreshed Body.
Now enjoy doing nothing and you can thank me afterwards.