The Unforgettable Character

Characters can either live in your heart and mind forever or die on the first page. 

Okay…maybe they don’t lose you on the first page….maybe it takes a few chapters, maybe you make it through the whole book, but if they don’t shake the earth under your feet at some point….they are forgettable.

And I don’t want to create forgettable characters.  It is certain death!!

Tonight, I think back to all of the characters from books and TV and movies that etched their own place in my heart…not just protagonists…but all characters.

What made me love them?  What made them so memorable?  (not always likeable…but memorable).

None of them were perfect…not really…when you look closely anyway.  But that is the trick, isn’t it?

Making characters perfectly flawed? 

Think about it…

Holden Caufield…Catcher in the Rye…Flawed???  Uhm…yes.
Sherlock Holmes?  Scarlett O’Hara?  Don Quixote?  Yes, yes, and yes.  And more recent?  Katniss Everdeen?  Edward Cullen?  Lisbeth Salander?  Alex Cross?  Ralph Truitt and Catherine Land?

All flawed.

Now….granted…writers should guage character imperfections by what genre they belong in and by what place the character holds in the story.  There is a process here, people. 

Literary fiction will have a tad bit more liberty than romance for instance.  Characters can slide under the radar by the skin of their teeth by being intriguing.  Think Chigurh in No Country For Old Men.  You don’t like him…he’s a killer…big flaw..but you want to know what makes him tick.

In romance….readers want to fall in love.  The hero doesn’t have to be pristine…but he better be darn close to the fantasy man in the reader’s mind or at least capable of redeeming his transgressions…completely…with a full heart.  And the heroine?  Whew…I could write 100 posts on this topic alone.  Basically…she should never be the girl you hated in high school.  I will leave it at that for today.

In young adult?  Reader’s like characters that mirror the flaws they too experienced as a kid…or…as in Hunger Games, characters that exhibit flawed characteristics due to their struggle.  They love to see courage…Harry Potter…and insecurity…Twilight.

You get the point. 

Know the reader’s desires when you begin designing the characters you will serve them. 

And…remember…not all characters have to be able to be your best friend to be cemented in the reader’s mind. 

Lisbeth Salander would not be my best friend!!!  But…in her world…she kicked tail and I admired her genius, but not everyone that read the book felt the same.  However…I would bet my left leg they would have to say she is not easily forgettable because the author saw to it he didn’t leave her flat…one dimensional.  Instead, he balanced her…rounded her out. 

**For every flaw you give your character, consider which redeeming quality will balance it.

As I continue on with my WIP, I keep this in mind though it is not as easy as it sounds!  But I also know that the perfect balance can make the difference between my character leaping off the page and snoozing on it.

How do you balance characters?  What characters have you fallen in love with that weren’t perfect?  Which do you prefer…a memorable character or a likable character?  What is the difference in your eyes?

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  1. Hm. Well. I'm going to have to talk about Barrons here. You know. Cuz I just finished Shadowfever and he's my all time favorite character at the moment.
    He's an effing jackass, a BAD GUY – like a ruthless killer bad guy, and never mind that he's probably the hottest character ever written. But hell if I don't love him the moment he softens to the MC. The very second I saw it, I was in mad love with him. And when he softens to her, it happens in the blink of an eye and you want to hit him when he returns to being a jackass, but . . . GAH. It's frustrating to be in love with a jackass like that. Because those moments are worth every second.

  2. I tend to incorporate traits in my characters that I am all too familiar with then balance it out by giving them traits I wish i had. Having them say things I wish I had the guts to say.

    I like likable characters because I want them to be someone that I can relate to. They aren't perfect but at the same time they have admirable qualities. A memorable character can be likable also but not always. I think antagonists are the good at being memorable. Hannibal Lector? Hello?