How to create memorable characters
There is nothing to match the love we have for our horses and the relationship we have with them. The best thing about a book is the relationship the reader has with the characters human and equestrian. The reader should become involved in every aspect of the character’s lives, their hopes, fears, needs and flaws. When the author creates a really memorable character they will stay in your imagination forever.
One of the most important things a writer can do when creating their characters is to know them inside out. When I write my books my characters are so clear to me that I would recognise them instantly if they were made real. I could pick out the horses from a field and know what they are like to ride and handle. But more than knowing the character’s hair and eye colour, an author need to know everything about them.
Before you write the story it is important to fill in the back story of each and every character, even minor ones. A writer needs to know what has happened to them before the beginning of the story. Once you begin to write the physical description of the character followed by their likes and dislikes, hobbies, interests, education, ambitions, flaws, idiosyncrasies, childhood you will find the character comes to life.
Even the biggest literary rogues have some likable trait that hooks the reader. Don’t be afraid of letting your characters be unusual, or to act against expectations. A mass murderer who cares deeply for his cat, the sweet naïve young girl who hides a shoplifting habit.
A writer can take one particular trait and use this as a starting point for building the character. A villain who for instance has a love of silk ties, you can use this character trait and just let the creative juices flow. He is always beautifully dressed, fastidious even when he is bumping someone off. When writing about background characters don’t overload them with unusual traits and be careful not to make them into a cliché.
Just as in real life heros sometimes have flaws, just as villains will usually have good point. Humans are very complex; we are all mixtures of good and bad. Don’t make your protagonist so perfect that no one will be able to relate to them. None of us are perfect, we love our friends for their problems and flaws, that is what makes them interesting – and the same applies for our characters. Be cautious though about making the character too flawed, or have too many bad, or negative characteristics you don’t want the reader to lose patience with them. A reader, to be gripped by a book, has to be living the plot alongside the protagonist.
Readers relate to flawed characters more. Their imperfections often mirror our own or those of people we know. A character who turns to alcohol to dealing with a terrible tragedy is someone a reader can relate to, whether she is an alcoholic or not. The same for characters who somehow things never work out for. That’s human nature, and a good, well-rounded and interesting character will be made of the same stuff as we.
Be cautious with names. Not only should you never give the same name to two people in a story, you shouldn’t even start the names of your characters with the same letter. In order to not confuse your reader don’t give characters names that confuse their gender. Giving a female character a male sounding nickname – like Nick for Nicola can confuse and irritate readers. Use names that are distinct and for ease have different first letters and sounds.
One way you can really make your characters come alive is through their dialogue. Because we each have different backgrounds and histories our accent, word choice, syntax and use of slang will differ. This is one of the easiest ways to differentiate characters is to give them a unique voice. When characters talk in the story what they say should mirror their character. If the writer has done this well the reader should be able to tell which character is speaking without needing , ‘ so and so said’ on each line. If the reader can’t tell who is talking without attribution the writer hasn’t done their job properly
Before you even begin to write the book make a chart to detail your character. Here you can have a detailed description of your character, their hair and eye colour etc, but also write down their likes and dislikes, their history, aims and ambitions, go into great detail, you need to know everything about them, their favourite food, television programme, even the name of their first pet, so that you know them as well as you do yourself.
I have character description sheets that I fill in when I begin to write a book. It is fun to sit and just ‘open’ your mind and let the character tell you all about themselves. Much of the stuff that you get down will be irrelevant, but most of it won’t be. When it comes to writing the book you don’t need to keep referring to the character’s physical description. Good writers will drip feed small pieces of information about the character throughout the story. Avoid constantly referring to the colour of someone’s eyes, or their height. Once you have done it once, leave it at that.
A good writer will know how to create characters that change along with the circumstances of their lives. They grow and develop as they tackle the challenges they face. A really great character is a balance between flaws and redeeming values.
Just as the people you meet can be fascinating as their life stories and problems unfold, so must your characters be. Give your readers a trail of clues and insights into who they are, make them interesting enough to care about, and you’ve succeeded in creating wonderful, original characters.
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