Character Development – Writing a Memorable Character

Recently some stories out there have made me think about the characters.  Which ones have  left me thinking of them for years, or which characters can I not even name.  Hate then or love them you can’t forget them: Harry Potter, Ron and Hermine, Bella Swan, Gollum,  Luke Skywalker, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy , Anne (of Green Gables), Stephanie Plum, and so on.

For me the Characters in my story are easy.  I know them. I see them.  I think I am actually friends with them.  Maybe that is a sign of insanity?  Hmm….

Still knowing the character is only half the battle.  I have to be able to come up with a description of them.  I have to be able to summarize who they are and if I can’t I realize that that character isn’t really a person that you can relate to.

What truly makes a great character?  What makes a character someone to love or hate enough that you follow their story?  I do  think there are some very flat characters out there, and even with that you still finish out the story. Only later you realize you have no idea who they were.  Let’s pretend they don’t exist for this post.

First things first.  Stereotype your character to get their top layer – like an onion.  This is the layer everyone sees right away.  Next ask some basic questions.  What is it your character fears?  What is driving them to their end goal?  What would make them turn away from their goal?  Those should be the easy questions.  You character has to struggle with the conflicts you throw at them.  Keep asking questions until you know your character. You may already know them so this could be short for you.

The next thing though, is using your plot to drive out those other layers.  Let your characters traits come out by actions and reactions.

Remember Hermione in Harry Potter – She was smart.  We know this from the stacks of books she carried to her constantly trying to answer every question in class.  We know she was resourceful because she could pull a spell out of nowhere.  These were all shown through the plot from her being in the library to her being in the classroom.

Elizabeth Bennett was a strong willed woman.  The plot showed us that by putting her in front of lots of men and doing what  exactly opposite of socially acceptable.  She was also a person that jump to conclusions and judged people. (Your likable characters aren’t perfect).  Her story forced her to face the fact her first impression of Mr. Darcy was wrong.

So make a mental note of your characters archetype, ask some hard questions about your character that will show up in different places of the book.  Make sure they have a flaw that will be turned around later but will help move along the plot- assuming this is a main character anyway. Make sure the character has a clear goal and stumbles through a few obstacles to help them grow as a person.

How do you create character depth?

8 thoughts on “Character Development – Writing a Memorable Character

  1. Katherine Checkley says:

    Very well put. I never looked at quite like that…the plot as a means of developing character. I agree…to an extent, every character is a ‘stock’ character. Then as time goes on they break down. Jane Eyre is my favorite character of all time. I love how right in the first chapter she jumped out of her reticent, ten year old self and spewed this fire all over her nasty cousins. She got fed up with the way they treated her, and she never turned back. But it’s like you said, her situation brought out her character.

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I agree that the plot isn’t everything. Your character still has to be who they are to react a certain way. I think my point is to “show” instead of telling – such an overused phrase. But instead of saying “I would prefer to not go into the dark,” you can show the fear of dark by a reaction. Pausing to enter, widening eyes, rapid heart beat. I dunno. Any number of reactions really. When I figured this clue out I think it helped improve my story. Good luck!

  2. Quanie Mitchell says:

    Creating character depth. Hmmm… I think what I typically do is give my characters something that they want really badly, and it’s in pursuit of that goal that the character is revealed. How bad do they want “the thing they need above anything else”? And how far will they go to get it? Good post.

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I do the same thing. I know what they want. I recently started to write out a character sketch though with some basic questions to make sure I understand why it is they want the goal. My characters seemed to be missing something which is why I changed directions. Thanks!

  3. Cara Cooper says:

    Hi Michelle, I tend to give my characters a backstory to give them depth. We all have internal conflicts which mould the way we are. Perhaps a woman whose ex-partner ran off with all her money will have problems with commitment. You are quite right that characters have to want something but often their past will get in the way of them achieving those goals. Harry Potter, young though he is has a backstory concerning his parents which shapes the whole series of books.Great post!

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I very much agree backstory is important. It’s who your character was before they were who they are. They area person -something had to make them be what and who they are in our stories. Thanks for the insight.

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