Friday, April 20, 2012

Rebecca Writes About: Memorable Characters


by Rebecca Forster

One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from a reviewer who called “Josie Bates (heroine of my witness series) one of the best characters ever”. For an author, that is the highest praise.

Think about the millions of words written about thousands of fictional people, and then ask yourself how many stuck in your mind, reside in your heart, or continue to haunt you years after reading the book? If you’re like me, there are a handful of such characters in your memory.

My list includes:
Gone With the Wind: Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler and Miss Mellie.
 Princess Bride: Buttercup, Inigo Montoya, Westley 
The Hunger Games: Katniss
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Lisabeth Slander
Johnny Oops: Johnny Oops (a fine Indie book)

Analyzing these characters helped me become a better writer, and here’s what I have learned. Memorable characters are:

Spiritually Unique: Villain or hero, each one has his or her own demons and desires, strengths and weaknesses. Strength on its own is uninteresting without weakness.

Physically identifiable: A great character manifests his or her uniqueness in dress, mannerisms, and speech patterns. Imagine an actor tackling your character on screen. Can you hear them? See them? Are they so real you would know them walking down the street?

Logical: A character with a unique speech pattern may amuse your reader for a while but if the words coming out of that character’s mouth aren't appropriate to story, plot and core of that character,  the affectations is illogical.

Unapologetic: Readers may not always embrace your vision, but if you give a character an unusual life, let them live it. Do not be swayed by fear of political incorrectness or tempted to take the safe route. Writing is about nurturing your bold voice.

Purposeful: A character’s journey is guided by principles born of experiences. In Josie Bates’ case, she is formed by her mother’s abandonment (personal) and her belief that the law and justice are two separate things (professional). The author’s objective is to create a passionate character willing to go to great lengths to protect what they believe in or secure what they desire.
For Example…

                Katniss’s (Hunger Games) and Scarlett’s (Gone With the Wind) fight for basic survival.
                Westley’s (Princess Bride) relentless search for his lost and true love.
                Salandar’s (Dragon Tattoo) desperate desire for self-determination.
                Rhett Butler’s (Gone With the Wind) code of honesty.
                Melanie’s (Gone with the Wind) passionate belief in Scarlett’s inherent goodness.
                Johnny Oops’ (Johnny Oops) wry but heartfelt search to define his teenage self.

Don’t be afraid to refine your characters. We are not born the people we will become; neither are those who populate your books. Nurture them, define them, polish them and they will live in the reader’s memory for a very long time.