Thursday, August 5, 2010

What "Making Characters Memorable" Means to Me

As writers we have heard over and over that our characters should be memorable. After pondering this while creating many different characters, this is what it means to me.

One of the things I keep in mind when writing the first draft is that the plot doesn't happen alone. The plot happens to the character from page one. Every scene, every incident, every chapter, advances the plot but it also advances the development of the MC's personal character.

How the character behaves in each scene depends upon inner tension and conflict as well as what's happening in the plot. The character's reaction has a direct correlation to this inner conflict. Isn't that what real people face every day?  Two similar examples:
  • Mrs. So and So had a rough day at work, her boss is unhappy with something she did or didn't do, and all she wants to do is sit down and relax. But the minute she walks in the door, her daughter reminds her it's Meet the Teacher night. What will her reaction be?
  • Then there's Mrs. Such and Such down the street. She has had a fabulous day in real estate by selling the largest home on her list, she walks in the door and her daughter tells her it's Meet the Teacher night. Will her reaction be the same?

 When I get to the end of my first draft I want to see that not only does my plot have a satisfying resolution, but my MC has grown, resolved some of the conflict and tension in his/her life, and have become someone my future reader identifies with like a good friend. In order for the reader to feel that way about the character I've created, I have to make the MC someone to care about, who is believable, and has enough inner conflict that my reader carries a touch of anxiety throughout the novel hoping that things work out all the way around.

 I like to think about my main character as a person I just met who later becomes a friend. The first time I meet a future friend, I usually like her by what she says, does, or reacts to a given situation. I don't really know much about her, but gradually over time I learn how that person feels about things, what kind of temperament she has, and what she likes and dislikes. If I learn she has problems, I worry about her. I watch, listen, and encourage her. By the end of one year I can honestly say the person I met twelve months ago is not the same person I have come to know and usually I like her even more. I sure hope my reader feels the same way about my MC.

What does creating memorable characters mean to you?

14 comments:

  1. What a great analogy--your main character as someone you just met who later becomes a friend. It's making me look at my MC from a different perspective. Ooh, thanks, Catherine!

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  2. Hey, Catherine, take a look at my blog—I've got an award for you!

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  3. Thanks for the Circle of Friends Award! I'm tickled to get it. I just love receiving Blogger awards and this one, Circle of Friends, is what we all seem to be in the blogging world. Thank you!

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  4. Great post, Catherine. I'd like to create (and am trying to) characters that I'd like to meet in real life. I guess that's not a stretch since a lot of my characters are a combination of many real people I already know.

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  5. In the SCBWI conference I just attended, Linda Sue Park talked extensively about how character-setting-plot are all intertwined, just as you are saying here! And I like your idea of having the character be a "good friend" especially for middle grade.

    Thanks for the great post!

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  6. Thank you, Rena and Susan.

    Rena, I base characters on real people, too. Usually the "minor" ones cause a particular person or two to come to mind. Once I see them in my mind, it's so easy to create the character.

    Susan, I would have loved to hear Linda Sue Park talk on that subject. It must have been a great conference!

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  7. I love your way of comparing the character to someone you just met, and how you know them better after time. That's a really great way of looking at it! Thanks for the great topic.

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  8. Great post! I have been working to beef up my characterization during revisions, so this is an excellent reminder.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. :)

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  9. Thank you, Anissa, your blog is really good. I enjoyed it.

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  10. Hello Catherine
    Thank you for visiting my blog. I'm now following yours and I can see already that I am going to enjoy it. What a great post!

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  11. Thanks, Christine. I'm so happy to have found your blog today!

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  12. You have great strategies, and I hope to be able to use them one day. I thought a lot about what you told me and I really would love to write. I'm thinking about working on a book this year and maybe putting it all together next summer when I finish my studies. I hope all is well with you, God bless!

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  13. Amanda, that makes me so excited for you. You are a very talented writer so I know it will be a successful project.

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