First, thanks to Colin for last week’s blog. As he points out, there really is nothing new under the sun and today we’re still following the same ‘rules’ as writers were centuries ago. And they’re still helping us to write successful and gripping stories.
Long after readers have forgotten many other features of your book or short story, it will be your characters who will live on in their minds. And the stronger, the more striking your characters are, the more memorable they’ll be.
So, here are some tips for ensuring that your characters are unforgettable:
- Aim to create individuals who leap off the page, exuding energy and creating dramatic impact. They must be more exciting, and more attention grabbing, than the people we meet in our normal workaday existence.
- But they must still be believable! Even if you create characters as exotic as Mary Poppins, Count Dracula or Hannibal Lector, you must draw them so vividly and give them so much presence and personality that they come alive. Your readers will then be prepared to suspend their disbelief and accept that in the fictional world you have created these people could exist.
- To do this, give every character an individual personality, quirks, mannerisms and a clearly understood motivation. Make them three-dimensional and equip them with a full range of emotions and responses. Avoid stereotypes at all costs! The bumbling vicar, the beer-swilling rugby player – they’re great for a quick, cheap laugh but they aren’t realistic or believable.
- Make sure you know your characters intimately. Create a ‘character profile’ for each of your major characters listing their background, appearance, hobbies, habits, strengths, weaknesses and much, much more.
- But don’t give this information to your readers in a big ‘dollop’. It will slow down your narrative. Instead, feed in descriptions in small drips and let your characters show what they are like, rather than you, the author, telling the reader. Alternatively, show how your protagonist looks through the eyes of one of the other characters.
- Make sure you choose good names. You can suggest a great deal about a person’s age and background by the name you give them. It’s important that you select a name that accurately reflects the personality and background of the person you are creating. And remember, names can tie your characters to a particular age group. If a female is called Doris she will probably be elderly; if she’s called Chelsea or Brittany she will probably be in her twenties.
- Always ensure that your characters are distinguishable from one another so that readers won’t get them mixed up. Give each a unique personality and background.
- Never try to introduce too many characters at the same time – this will only confuse your readers. Give each character time to become established in the story before introducing the next.
- And as Colin said last week, don’t have characters that are either too good to be true or so evil that they have no redeeming features. Life’s not like that!
And talking of writing fiction, we’re now entering the final week of our Flash Fiction Competition. It costs £5 per story to enter (or £10 for three) and there are prizes of £300, £200 and £100. Plus all winners receive a Writers Bureau course of their choice worth over £350. If you’ve not already entered, why not give it a go? You can pay online and email your entries to save time. If you have already entered – good luck!
Author: Diana Nadin
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