12 Questions To Help You Create Memorable Characters

    create memorable characters

    Would you like to create memorable characters? Of course you would!

    But where do great characters come from?

    Are they great because of what they do, or because of what they say?

    Suppose someone walks into a store and asks, “May I see what you have in a nice .30 caliber hollow point?”

    If this character is a combat infantry squad leader or deer hunter, if his greatest achievements are his marksmanship and taking a life here and there, you’d expect that he’ll think of buying bullets and shooting something.

    But what if it’s 87-year-old Sister Agatha, who’s had enough of the bishop’s meddling with her side business in the communion wine trade?

    She’s someone I want to know more about!

    What makes Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice interesting?

    It’s more than just her clever observations as a woman who won’t be treated with disrespect by a rich man; she is a clever woman wearing blinders, who discovered that it was she who was proud and prejudiced.

    As for Monsieur Dantès of The Count of Monte Cristo, he sought (and got) revenge on those who buried him in the Chateau d’If, but didn’t know when to stop, becoming as bad as the people he hunted down and ruined.

    Both became classic characters because the resolutions of their stories came with their realization of how wrong they had been all along.

    They turned out to be different than who they, and we, thought they were.

    They also turned out to be people that we think, deep inside, we could be.

    This is a good place to restate the classic rule of character development: no hero should be without a flaw, no villain without a bit of good in his heart.

    But to make them memorable, each must have something in their character that is different than our expectations, and theirs.

    How do You Create the Most Memorable Characters Ever?

    By making them real people.

    Each character worthy of being in your story must be more than just a lawyer, computer whiz or gunnery sergeant.

    The distinction is ‘who they are’ rather than ‘what they do for a living.’

    To get the most from your main character, your main villain, and every character whose role advances your story, you need to ask them a few questions:

    1. What is your most valued possession?

    Hint: Think Gollum, and ring …

    Or Elizabeth Bennett’s pride in Pride and Prejudice.

    Okay, Gollum isn’t a person, but he is a character.

    2. To whom would you give your prized possession? And who mustn’t be allowed to have it?

    Gollum? Wouldn’t give it to anyone. No way Frodo can have it.

    Miss Bennett? She hasn’t found the man worthy of being her mate. Not Mr. Darcy, for sure.

    3. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

    Tony Last, in A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, has done only one thing in life worth doing – fathering his son, John Andrew.

    4. What is your greatest failure?

    Tony thinks his greatest failure was teaching John Andrew to ride to the hounds, which results in John Andrew being thrown and killed.

    As it happens, Tony’s greatest failure was learning to read.

    To get away from his cheating wife, Tony goes on an expedition to the darkest Amazon jungle, is lost, and is rescued by a tribal chief who makes him read Charles Dickens’ novels aloud for the rest of his life!

    5. If you suddenly became wealthy (or impoverished), what would you do?

    As we saw above, the Count of Monte Cristo would set about taking revenge.

    6. Whom do you credit or blame for being in your current position?

    Enid Lambert, the long-suffering wife of tyrannical, puritanical Alfred, believes that her life will change if her estranged children would all just come home for Christmas before Alfred does her a favor and dies.

    That, and if she can get some more Aslan to relieve her depression. That’s what she believes.

    (From the book The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen).

    7. Which event has brought you to where you are now?

    Prior Phillip, in The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, believes that he is where he is because he and his brother secretly raised a baby who was abandoned in the forest.

    But actually, Phillip is caught between the larger forces of churchmen and nobles fighting for power after the loss at sea of the White Ship, that carried the prince and heir to his death.

    Note that many of the questions you’re asking are answered one way by the character but differently by you, the author.

    8. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

    Tony Webster, in The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes, wrote a letter to his friend Adrian Finn, who then committed suicide.

    Much later, he would wish that he hadn’t written it—or sent it.

    But did Tony’s letter cause the suicide? Or was it inevitable? Does anyone ever know, really?

    9. If you could save / take only one life, whom would you save or do in?

    In Black Box by Jennifer Egan, the anonymous character becomes a spy—not for her country—but because doing so might save her husband.

    Might.

    10. What is your greatest secret?

    Jake Barnes’ greatest secret–along with losing his generation–is losing his manhood (a.k.a. ‘private parts’) in Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises.

    11. Who would you want never to learn your secret?

    In Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Pi doesn’t want himself to learn his own secret, the true identity of the tiger with whom he shared a life boat.

    And, finally, perhaps the most important of all:

    12. What do you brood about when you’re alone at night?

    “Mother liked him best,” Mr. Minot broods when he thinks about his brother in John Lanchester’s A Debt to Pleasure, a form of self-reflection that has unfortunate consequences for the family maid, the parents, a few girls along the way, and … the brother.

    What now?

    Now that you have the answers to these twelve questions, will you use them in your novel?

    Probably not. At least, not as scenes within the story.

    However, just like the rest of us, characters who are shaped by their beliefs and experiences become real. A lawyer who lies is a liar, not a lawyer. A computer whiz who steals from online accounts is a thief, not a computer whiz.

    When you write a scene, your intimate knowledge of your characters will come through.

    Their dialogue will reflect the language and speech patterns of a real human being. Their actions in the story are what they would do if alive, despite being entirely imaginary.

    About Sister Agatha: I think she’s about to make a mess at mass.

    What questions would you like to ask her? Share in the comments!

    About the author:

    Jack London is the author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book) and the award-winning books, French Letters: Virginia’s Wars and French Letters: Engaged in War. London earned degrees at the University of Texas and West Texas State University and studied creative writing at Oxford University.

    About the author

      Jack Woodville London

      Jack London is the author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book) and the award-winning books, French Letters: Virginia’s Wars and French Letters: Engaged in War. London earned degrees at the University of Texas and West Texas State University and studied creative writing at Oxford University.

    • Kelvin says:

      I do think that we should try to have the best character possible, no matter the situation we find ourselves.

    • We should work hard to make a memorable character. They should know how to make a good character with relevant theme

    • Kelvin Wale says:

      Very thoughtful piece on character. Almost had tears in my eyes when I think of people whose Character was shaped by life experiences

    • Nina C says:

      This is my first visit here (came from facebook) and I’m impressed by your write up and most especially your site’s design.

      Now to the topic of the day,

      I think that sometimes , situation also affects one’s character, how they do things , and their approach to life. So people had it rough when growing up and so that affected their behaviour and mindset.

      However, I do think that we should try to have the best character possible, no matter the situation we find ourselves.

    • Nina C says:

      Very Thoughtful article. Made me had a serious think of the kind of character I want to be!

    • Lodz says:

      This is very helpful article. I like It.

    • This is such a beautiful post ! I love your blog!!!

    • Wonderful articles in this post it’s very beneficial for me. Thanks to share this post.

    • This was great. What are some other, more in-depth character exercises that a writer can do?

    • Effective article for blogging. I believe, for business these blog tips helps me a lot.

    • It is not that much easy to make a good character. From our experience we will learn lots of things to become a good person. I like all these questions you have asked. When we answer for these questions we will come to know about our character.

    • Micheal A says:

      Creating a memorable character is not easy. in most cases, I just have to assume I’m the master planner, and create a wonderful character with imagination.

      Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

    • Thats a wonderful writeup

      Thanks 🙂

    • Amar kumar says:

      Hey Mary,

      Before you begin your new story, take a little time to create fresh new characters that are your own. Using someone Else’s well-established formula will only brand you as a hack with potential editors.

      Think of yourself as the Master Planner– this is your story and only your characters are going to fit in it. Custom build them to suit your unique story-world. If you really must use real people you know, then try to disguise that person’s identity as much as possible. Eventually, you have shared twelve amazing question to help us to create memorable character.

      With best wishes,

      Amar kumar

    • Quote: “But what if it’s 87-year-old Sister Agatha, who’s had enough of the bishop’s meddling with her side business in the communion wine trade? She’s someone I want to know more about!”

      Actually, if the author is hinting that this elderly nun is actually a psychopathetic killer, I’d stop reading at that point.

      There’s a great divide among readers. Some are like me. We have seen enough of the grim side of life, we get no satisfaction reading fictional dramatization of it.Others, who’ve lived a bit too sheltered, confuse goulishness with excitement. They’re the ones who’ve made James Patterson rich. I never want to join the ranks of that second group, either as a reader or a writer.

      There’s also this: “This is a good place to restate the classic rule of character development: no hero should be without a flaw, no villain without a bit of good in his heart.”

      It may be a writing rule, but it’s not realistic. There are real people good enough, it’s rather pointless to dwell on their flaws. And there really are sociopaths who’re not only totally lacking that “bit of good,” they have nothing but contempt for those who do. I’ve know some.

      —Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia

    • Tayde Rodríguez Gabarrón says:

      HAY TANTOS LIBROS CON PERSONAJES TANTO FICTICIOS COMO REALES, ¿QUE PODRÍA HACER, PARA CREAR UN PERSONAJE NUEVO? SIN EMBARGO ES CUESTION DE PENSAR QUE SI ES POSIBLE Y DEBE LLEGAR. GRACIAS POR SU ATENCION AL ENVIARME INFORMACION. ESTOY PENDIENTE.

    • Adda R says:

      Thanks for sharing nice post on memorable characters!!!

    • Nikhil says:

      Thank you for the quality word of advice. Also I would like to contribute to this regarding some important rules in writing from George Orwell.
      http://nikhilbhoskar.blogspot.in/2016/09/george-orwell-and-six-cardinal-rules-of.html

    • Mark says:

      Food for thought in how to go beyond the facade of character creation

    • Walter says:

      great read mate! I just asked these question to myself and i was confused in some question, need to still work on myself thanks for this amazing Post 🙂

    • Lynette says:

      This is SO great. I was just asking myself this question the other. “What questions would I need to ask my character in order to get a deeper understanding of who they are?” Very timely article for me. Thanks for sharing!

    • sesan says:

      Another classic post from writetodone. Great.

    • Sheraz says:

      Thanks for sharing this memorable post with us.

    • Annamarie says:

      Great advise, taken thank you so much.

    • Generally speaking, if you base your characters on real people, you can’t go wrong.

      Just embellish a bit. 😉

    • “Food for thought” – – LOVE all that you present here – – never know where or when a ” tidbit” of something in the back of the brain – – will shower down – – just the questions you need to ask – – to form the finished product – –

    • Lee Allen says:

      Sister Agatha,
      How did you drum up the courage to do this? If you could erase the immediate past, would you? And if so, how would you replace it, if you could?
      Your answers will be kept confidential, because I am an attorney asking that I represent you in court. It will be completely at my expense, or “pro bono.”
      Thank you for your help. Sister Agatha.
      Sincerely,
      L. A. Legaleagle


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