Creating Memorable Characters
Today, I’m going to talk a bit about characterization. This particular post has brewed in my mind for about a week. Characterization is one aspect on the craft of writing that I love! So, let’s dive in.
This article sprouted from a childhood memory.
Last week, my wife told me about a childhood memory, and I found it very interesting. The more I thought about her story, the more it became crystal to me that it had value to aspiring authors.
The story went like this.
When my wife was entering the 7th grade, she had to change schools. As the new kid in a crowd of old friends, she did what we would all do, she evaluated everyone and struggled to find her place within her peer group. One classmate stood out in particular. This girl was smart, funny, outgoing, friendly, slender, athletic. And, she had beautiful silky blonde hair, creamy white skin, and vivid green eyes. (true story)
She was the most popular girl in the class.
Now, in order for you to understand some of the irony in this story. You need to know a couple of facts.
First of all,
My wife is Argentine.
Argentina was primarily populated by immigrants from Spain and Italy. But, there were also a few Germans, English, and French immigrants along the way. And of course, there was the aboriginal population.
(Interesting fact- an Argentine invented the ballpoint pen!)
In northeastern Argentina, where my wife is from, 80% of the population has amber skin, black hair, and brown eyes. This meant… that the blonde haired green-eyed beauty really stood out in a crowd.
What began for my wife as the casual, and calculating, observations of a girl; quickly turned into a jealous obsession. This girl; (this “character”) had it all. My wife’s feelings of inferiority festered for two years.
Jump ahead to the fall of the 9th grade year
My wife’s entire class was in the lunchroom. She sat with her best friend staring at the green-eyed girl across the room. The gregarious beauty had a crowd gathered around her as she told a story. The children were laughing hysterically. Suddenly, the girl began waving her arms around in the air, and my wife’s jaw nearly hit the ground.
She turned to her friend, and exclaimed, “She’s only got three fingers on her right hand! When did that happen?” (of course she said that in Spanish.)
Her friend hushed her angrily, told my wife that she was weird, and pronounced that the girl had always been like that. How could she not have noticed?
It was in that moment that my wife came to a realization. In the two years that she’d known this girl, she’d been so obsessed with what she saw as unreasonably perfect attributes, she’d never noticed that the girl had a deformed hand. (and to her classmate’s credit, the little girl never let it hold her back) Realizing this fact somehow made my wife feel better, better about herself, and better about the other girl. Because…
as perfect as this girl was, she wasn’t completely perfect., and that’s good characterization.
A Pivotal Point – Give Them Something Memorable
When you’re creating your characters they should be well-rounded. They should have positive attributes and negative attributes. No antagonist should be completely malevolent and no protagonist should be completely pure. This includes personality, physical appearance, and emotional stability.
Consider my wife’s story. The blonde classmate (the character) became deeply embedded in my wife’s memory because of her deformed hand. A memory that brought strong emotional feelings along with it; so strong, that she was recounting the story to me two decades later. If this girl had been physically perfect; she would be nothing more than a vague memory. The Barbie Doll from grade school.
The Hit Man
Take a moment, sit back in your chair, and close your eyes.
I want you to imagine a story in which a hit man and his partner are conducting a hit, and they must collect an object for their boss. In the process things go terribly wrong, and they encounter dangerous situations around every corner. What would your hit man do? What would he look like? What kind of personality would he have? What would he like about his life? What would he hate?
I’ll give you a moment
Dum Dum Dum Dum… Dum Dum Dum… dum… da dum… dum… dum dum dum
Now, I would like you to consider this man.
Jules Winnfield is a character from the movie, Pulp Fiction. The movie is a critically acclaimed American crime drama written, and directed, by Quentin Tarantino. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. I personally believe that Tarantino is one of the best, and most unique, writers in his industry when it comes to characterization.
If you’re not familiar with Pulp Fiction, or the character of Jules Winnfield, you can see a clip here.
(warning- this clip does contain violence and foul language)
So, what did you come up with for your hit man?
Well, let me tell you a little bit about Jules.
He’s as hardcore, and violent, as they come (just as you might imagine a hit man to be). But, he’s also a man who quotes the Bible. He’s well-spoken and at times soft spoken, he dresses well, he’s concerned about the needs of his friends, he’s extremely loyal to his boss, he cares about what he eats, and he would like to travel to Europe. Even when facing the possibility of death, Jules grants his potential killers a second chance. He decides to let them go, unharmed, despite the fact they are attempting to rob him as he eats his breakfast. Jules has a heart: (although, he does ask for his wallet back before he sends the criminals packing. He claims the wallet has sentimental value.) A memorable statement from a cold-blooded killer, don’t you think?
Jules is a well rounded character!
I’ll hope that you’ll ponder these ideas as you proceed down your path to publication. We at NovelNook.com want to see well rounded characters with interesting plots in your submissions. We want our readers to be excited when they read your book, and I’m sure you do to!
I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.
You can follow me at
I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.
I’m currently reading, 3024AD, by DES Richard and edited by Corissa Poley
All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.