Creating Unforgettable Characters, Part 1

How to create unforgettable characters like Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler.Without unforgettable characters in a story, do you lose interest? I do. But how do you create these characters?

Today begins a series on that topic.

Let’s get real, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, we want to connect with story characters. We want to discover something about them that we share–their life goals, ethnicity, age, life experience, etc.

This shared connection draws us into the story and helps us care about what happens to the characters.

To Create Unforgettable Characters Give Them Depth

Humans are three dimensional beings—spirit, soul, and body. But we often fail to show all three dimensions in our story.

So, let’s start by analyzing your fiction work in progress (WIP).

What do you know about your protagonist and antagonist?

  • Do you know how do they look (body), think and feel (soul), and the condition of their spirit (godly or ungodly)?
  • Do you know their personality type, their goals, their motivations?
  • What are their flaws or vulnerabilities?
  • Why do they get angry, sad, or excited?
  • About what are they passionate and why?
  • What in their life history has made them the way they are today?
  • Why are they in conflict with each other and what are their internal conflicts?
  • How do your protagonist’s and antagonist’s characteristics play into the conflicts you’ve designed for your story?

These character features and more influence how they act and react as you throw obstacles at them on their way to obtaining their goals.

Give your unforgettable characters depth.

Values, Passions, and Goals

What are your characters’ values?

Those values underpin the character’s passions and guide their behavior. For example, if your character values friendship, then having that character treat people rudely is in direct conflict to her values.

Of course, this could be a point of growth or conflict in the story. If so, then you are intentionally developing that throughout the story.

Here is a link to a list of personal core values to help you (does not constitute endorsement of site). Do some brainstorming; let the list guide you rather than put you in a box.

The character’s values directly impact her passions. If your character values justice, a connecting passion could be to help the innocent by becoming a lawyer.

Create Goals that Match Passions

So, what is your protagonist passionate about? Your antagonist? These passions can serve as connection points for your reader as I mentioned above.

Remember antagonists are regular people with values, passions, and goals that they believe are good and pure even though they often come into direct conflict with the protagonist’s goal.

Is your protagonist passionate about:

  • unborn babies
  • the environment
  • nature.

Using the above passions your character may want to:

  • establish a pregnancy resource center across the street from the local abortion clinic
  • expose the local chemical factory’s illegal dumping of waste into the city’s river
  • convince town hall to create a local wildlife refuge out of the swamp on the edge of town.

Your character’s passions and goals will directly and indirectly affect her beliefs, thoughts, actions, and reactions. The reader will recognize when your character acts and thinks in a way that contradicts her ruling passions and goals.

Pro and Ant may both may be passionate about unborn babies, but have different goals in serving that passion–e.g. your protagonist opens a PRC, but your antagonist bombs abortion clinics.

The choices are as wide open as your imagination.

Give your characters passions that match their values, and goals that match their passions. 

Keep Track of Your Characters

All of the above is a lot to remember about your major and supporting characters. In order to keep track of these details I use a tool from The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith, Jr. I expanded on what Smith had to offer and call it a character profile.

If you are planning a series, this character profile is particularly useful. Believe it or not, your fans will notice when your protagonist visits her mother in book two, when in book one you stated she was an orphan. This profile will also keep you on track if your character begins to take over and lead you down the wrong path.

I’m all about making life simple. Download my character profile rather than creating one of your own.

Use a character profile to create and track the essentials about your unforgettable characters.

Part 2 of this series will take a look at how to develop your character’s personality.

Recommended reading: Unleash the Writer Within by Cecil Murphey and The Writer’s Little Helper by James v. Smith, Jr. (affiliate links).

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Comments

  1. sheriena1951 says:

    Thank you, Debra. I knew my storytelling lacked something. Now I know, at least in part, what is lacking. Thanks so much. Looking forward to the next installment. Sheriena

    • Sheriena, I imagine it is difficult to see where our characters are lacking because we, as the writers, know them so well in our heads. That’s one area where critique groups and beta readers can help.

  2. Kevin Ferrell says:

    Thank you, Debra. As a yet-to-be-published, I cherish solid advice and assistance such as you so generously give. I plan to pass that gift along once I am established. The character tool will be most helpful. My warmest wishes. Kevin Ferrell

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