Thursday, February 9, 2012

Creating Memorable Characters

Tip of the Day: Check out Literary Agent Kristin Nelson's vlog on the difference between YA and MG.

I've been researching how to create memorable characters and finding snippets of information that I think would be useful to share. 

Easy on the Names

Like from this site the author Lee Masterson says, "The name must not only suit the character, but must also be easy on your intended readers. If you decide the name Xzgytgml is the only name that suits your character, bear in mind that the reader is forced to stop and stumble through the unfamiliar word, which means he is no longer engrossed in your story." And, yeah, this happens to me all the time when I'm reading. I can't get past some of these crazy names and they pull me from the story each time.

Use Tags

Glen C. Strathy says we should use tags to make our characters stand out. "Tags are things which identify a character and set him or her apart from other characters."

"Tags can include physical traits, clothing preferences, hairstyles, habitual mannerisms, facial expressions, speech habits, noises the character makes, or even scents - anything, in fact, that a person interacting with the character would notice about him. The combination of a character's tags should set him or her apart from all other characters in the novel."

This is a problem I've seen in various novels (including my own) where the characters might talk too alike or use the same lingo or have the same ticks. It confuses the reader and might pull them from the story to backtrack and see who is talking.

Show, Don't Tell

Author/Agent Mandy Hubbard wrote a great blog post about creating memorable characters here. In it she talks about how we need to discover a character like pulling back the layers of an onion, a little at a time. " For instance, if your character is shy/awkward, please, please do not have her think, “I do not feel comfortable in crowds. I would like to avoid them. I am a shy person.” Instead, have her wipe her sweaty palms on her jeans. Let her stomach lurch when the teacher calls on her in class."  I ran into something like this just the other day when I was compiling a reading list. I was reading the first few pages of a particular book and the main character said on page two, I have ADD and that means I have a hard time sitting still and paying attention to the teacher and so on. I gave up on the book right there. I knew I wouldn't be able to sit through a whole book with a character just telling me things about himself.

Make Your Characters Three Dimensional

Susan Denard makes a great point that we must not forget about our bad guys in our books. They need to be memorable too. "The key to crafting a good villain is all how 3-dimensional he/she is–the villain isn’t simply bad to be bad. He’s bad for a reason, and readers need to understand what that reason is."

Avoid Cliches

Libba Bray talks about avoiding the typical stock character everyone's seen a million times. "Question assumptions, stereotypes and stock characters. Round characters aren’t black and white. Villains don’t think of themselves as villains. They aren’t all good or all bad."

Know Your Characters Inside and Out

Lucia Zimmitti says, "If your readers don't care about your characters, you're sunk. Readers don't necessarily have to like all of your characters, but they have to care about what happens to your main character, or there's no reason for them to keep reading." And it's the truth. It doesn't matter how awesome your plot is, if the reader doesn't care about your character the book won't be memorable. That's why it's important to work on the backstory of your characters and know as much as possible about them. There are character charts all over the Internet but Lucia has some interesting exercises to try once you're tired of the charts.

Kristina, Miss Author in Action


DeenaML said...

This is a great post! Some really good reminders here.

Emily Marshall said...

Excellent post. Memorable characters are definitely a must.

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