Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday PicNic ~ Unforgettable Characters

Have you ever read a book and after a week or two, found it difficult to remember much about it? Sigh…

As writers, we don’t want to pour our passion into a manuscript of forgettable pages. We want our readers to drink in our story, savor its flavor, and remember it. How do we do that? By asking questions.

Think of a favorite book you’ve read; a novel that stands out in your mind. Is it a favorite because it’s written with a unique flair? Do you cherish it for its exquisite scenery, crafty dialogue, shocking twist or ending? No—more than likely, you love the book because you love the people who dwell inside it. 

Characters make a book memorable.

As a teenager, I reluctantly began reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies for a school assignment. Soon after being introduced to Ralph and Piggy, I unsuspectingly became invested in this symbolic classic.

The British choirboys became real to me. I became sympathetic to Ralph, the protagonist. He tried to establish order and focused on the rescue of his fellow plane crash survivors; displaying humanness while others became frenzied, animalistic jungle hunters. I was also sensitive to the welfare of Piggy, an intellectual orphan boy, teased for his pudgy frame and thick glasses. He was an outsider to the others, yet became a confidant and sidekick to Ralph’s leadership role. They both shared their inner selves with each other, and developed a true friendship. They developed a relationship with me too. I shook in fear and cried with them; and now, decades later, I remember them.

As writers, we need to ask questions. We must explore the characters we create. What makes them different? What makes them vulnerable? What faults do they have? Are they happy, grumpy, smart, or overweight? Do they have particular goals? Do they walk with a limp? Did they have happy childhoods? Are they wealthy? These are questions, among hundreds of others, we should ask our characters. We need to learn their distinctive physical traits, establish their inward and outward personas, and share their qualities (good and bad) with our readers. The more we reveal about our characters and why they do the things they do, the easier it is for readers to connect with them, and the more memorable they will become. If we fall in love with our characters, chances are, our readers will too.



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