Memorable Characters Part II

Welcome to Part II of my making memorable characters series.

Second task: make each character memorable. This was especially important for the lesser characters. The main characters are pretty memorable on their own—I just wrote their story, and their mannerisms and personality traits came out (okay, okay, so I wrote like 52 drafts to get here, but in some ways, it felt effortless XD ). I have to be more deliberate with the lesser characters. These are characters who still influence the MC’s story and arc (so can’t be cut) but maybe show up for only a few scenes.

Ways to make characters memorable:

  • Give them specific and unique mannerisms, gestures, and dialogue.

Again, for some of my characters, this came easy, like the one who always wears a hat (and gets in trouble for it) and the one who says, “oh my goodness” nearly every other phrase. I’ve had to work harder with others. For example, I have a character who talks a lot with hardly taking a breath. I mentioned that once or twice, but it wasn’t really evident. I’ve gone back through to make sure her dialogue is consistent with that description.

  • Give them unique backgrounds.

Unfortunately, one of the characters I wound up cutting was one of the more memorable ones. Everybody could remember Jeff because he was introduced as smelling slightly of sheep. He’d just come from his parent’s sheep ranch. It was a distinctive trait that readers could remember, especially if I referred to him as the shepherd every so often to trigger memory.

  • Give them a trigger or reference.

Only one of my characters is a medic. This is her unique position and can remind the reader who she is, especially as many of her scenes include her using her skill. If I mention medic, that can trigger the reader’s memory—Oh, yeah, I remember the medic.

A word on visuals.

I don’t think visuals work too well for remembering characters—at least, not for me. Every reader is different. To me, as a writer, it doesn’t matter so much how my readers see my characters’ appearances. I’d rather the character’s personality was memorable. General visual descriptors aren’t that memorable. So the character has brown hair and brown eyes. Great. So do three other characters. Which one is it?

Where I will use visuals is in deeper descriptions that affect mannerisms or other aspects. I have one character who has really long legs and has a tendency to fail about. This annoys other characters, who are constantly stepped on or whacked in the face. I also mention her freckles because it’s a unique trait to her, but what makes her memorable, I think, is her teasing nature and mile-a-minute conversation.

I have another character who is short. Really, really short. Since this affects her interactions with other characters (the POV characters are really, really tall) and her performance as a soldier (she carries lighter-weight weapons), I don’t mind bringing it up as a reminder of who she is.

But for most of my characters, while I think their physical descriptions are fun, their appearance doesn’t affect their interactions, their abilities, or the plot of the story. So while I mention them in passing, they aren’t really worth bringing up again and don’t make the characters exceptionally memorable.

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