We all want to create impactful, well-rounded characters. For many writers, this is the most important aspect of a story; a fantastic character that a reader loves to follow. In this post, I will discuss how you can make a memorable character, using proven techniques. By the end, you will have a great idea of making your characters believable, relatable, and engaging.
With that said, let’s get to it!
Pin for Later!
How to Define Your Characters
All characters start as unknowns, a blur to the reader which only becomes apparent after a few character interactions. As the reader learns their backstory, motivation, and personality, they get a better handle on the character and can reasonably assume their role in the story and the actions they will take in certain scenes.
So, let’s talk about those elements and how they define your characters.
First, backstory and motivation. Their backstory is their history, the events that shaped them. It includes their family, their upbringing, education, and other past experiences. You as the writer need to have a grip on what your character has experienced to write them consistently, but also when conveying that history to the reader. That history helps to explain their motivations and the choices they make in the story.
A popular example of backstory being the driving factor behind a character’s actions is Harry Potter. It is crucial to understand his backstory as it is the source of his motivations throughout the series. He had the Batman experience growing up, but before he even reached the age to know his parents, but that still played a hand in his upbringing as he was raised by his cruel aunt and uncle. This traumatic event and his difficult childhood helped him understand the kinds of people he didn’t want to be, and the kinds of people he wanted to protect.
After backstory and motivations, we have their physical appearance and mannerisms, which are also important in creating distinct characters.
A character’s physical appearance is not the most important element in a character’s creation, as looks are often deceiving. However, they can still play a part in great storytelling, giving the reader and other characters a reasonable chance of judging a character by sight alone.
For example, a character might dress sloppily, giving a reader at least a subconscious understanding that the character doesn’t care much about how they look or are perhaps a lot more disorganized than other characters. These are details that further define a character.
As for mannerisms, they can be anything from the way a character speaks to the way they move or the gestures they use. These details also reveal information about their personality. For example, a nervous character might be fidgety or make speech mistakes. If you are writing this in a mystery novel, a reader might be quick to assume the character has something to hide!
Finally, there needs to be some inner conflict for the character to overcome, or at least try to overcome, during the moments of character development.
For example, in George Orwell’s “1984”, Winston Smith, the main character, struggles with his desire for individuality and freedom in this horrible dystopian world, in a society designed and enforced by an oppressive government. Like more serious novels with a message behind the plot, Winston’s inner conflict is the driving force in the story, two forces within clashing, trying to decide whether to rebel against the government or to conform.
I recommend all writers at least consider these elements for themselves before writing these characters. You don’t need to touch upon everything, and some aspects you can touch upon lightly in your novel, but it makes writing this character easier for you. If you do include these details in your novel, the reader will have a better grasp on the character, immediately making them more than lines of text; it makes a unique and believable character.
How to Add Depth to Your Characters
When you add depth to a character, you are adding many layers to their personality and making them more complex. When we say a character is two-dimensional, we know that character’s personality is flat and simple. Yet, the more realistic characters will have personalities that change depending on certain situations as well as their likes and dislikes.
You can do this through dialogue and action. It is the most effective way to reveal a character’s personality and also the most effective way to show their depth. When a character encounters a situation or participates in a conversation, you have a chance to reveal their beliefs, fears, and desires. By paying attention to the words and actions, you can create a sense of authenticity and depth.
Next, we have inner thoughts and emotions. You can reveal this much through narration, or inner monologues. By giving the reader access to a character’s inner thoughts and emotions, a reader can better understand that character and perhaps form a greater attachment to them.
For example, in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the reader is given insight into the main character’s thoughts and feelings. As the reader, we understand Gatsby’s longing and obsession for Daisy a lot better, which helps us understand what is driving the story forward.
Now, while you are adding layers to your character’s personality, you need to be careful with your consistency. Your character’s primary personality traits and behavior should be presented a lot more than the range of emotions and thoughts that they feel in other situations. By keeping consistent, you create a more realistic and credible character.
To sum up, these are some of the methods for creating that essential character depth that makes characters believable, relatable, and engaging. Use their dialogue and action to reveal their personality, but confront those values and fears in certain situations so we better understand their emotional range. If you do this in key scenes, but largely remain consistent with their primary personality traits, you should have no problem creating an in-depth character.
How to Use Conflict and Tension
Lastly, conflict and tension. Those of you who are familiar with my videos and blog posts know that I always say, “Conflict is the foundation of character development.”
Conflict can present itself in many ways in your story. Be it a clash of ideals between two characters, a physical fight, an intellectual one, a conflict between friends, or a clashing of values. Whether it is internal or external, conflict is essential for realistic character growth and plot development. Without conflict, a story stagnates and the reader loses interest.
To make a character memorable, you need to give them memorable conflicts. A hero overcomes their greatest flaw to defeat the villain, feuding lovers resolve their quarrel and find peace in each other, a detective outsmarts the killer, and so on. It all comes down to understanding the character's goal in the story and creating obstacles to make their journey interesting.
It is made more interesting when these obstacles are designed to test their fears and weaknesses. Such personal changes make for investing internal conflicts.
Of course, you can still stick to the more traditional external conflicts in fiction. Whether it be the villain working to stop the hero or the world space itself being hostile having many societal issues. Every facet of your story can include conflict that hinders the progress of the main characters, but at the same time, develops both sides with such encounters.
The problem with discussing conflict is that I often have to use such general terms because conflict differs from story to story. Action adventures have physical conflicts, but drama stories tend to have more emotional conflicts. You need to look at the genre you are writing as well as your story to figure out what works, but in doing so, don’t underestimate the importance of the conflicts you create.
Memorable characters require memorable conflicts.
If you are interested in learning more about creating memorable characters, I recommend my Writer’s Workshop. I have a variety of writing courses available and by purchasing any tier, you get lifetime access to all my writing courses, past, present, and future!
Including a specialized course on writing memorable characters. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, here is the Writer’s Workshop.
And if you are an experienced writer, I would love to hear your thoughts and advice on writing memorable characters. What aspects of the character should a writer pay more attention to? What are some key mistakes to avoid? Let me know in the comments!
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post and as always,
Good day, goodnight, and happy writing!