Updated: Sep 26, 2020
All readers have experienced it at one time or another — that deep, resonant connection to a character in a book who, for a time, can seem almost more real than the people around us. The best of these characters stick with us long after we’ve finished the book, informing us, lingering like an old friend, and impacting how we process the world.
When I write, I always hope that the characters I create will have an impact on my readers. All writers hope for this, I believe. But the truth is that unless your readers connect with your characters to some extent, they are unlikely to care enough to finish reading your story. Vibrant, memorable characters are the heart of storytelling and the window through which you are able to access your readers’ emotions. Characters can — and will — make or break a story.
Here are 5 of my top tips for How to Create Memorable Characters
1. Go Deep
Some writers worry about bogging down the story too much with character introspection, but the most memorable characters are those the readers feel like they know. Yes, your story needs movement, but your characters will feel far more developed – and be remembered far better – if you spend time exploring their internal thoughts and emotions. In plot terms, this means you need to be sure every Scene has both a “scene” (where the plot moves forward in some way) and a “sequel” (where your character processes what just happened and then comes to a decision that will lead into the subsequent scene. Without these sequels, your characters risk coming across as poorly-developed or flat.
2. Hit the Feels
Not only should your readers know what your character is thinking, and why he or she makes certain choices in the story, they also need to see your character feeling. Your character’s feelings should make sense based on their unique backstory, personality, and experiences. Even if the character himself doesn’t understand them, you as the writer must, and conveying that to the reader will help them connect with your character. You can go beyond just a character’s introspection with this. Physical responses, involuntary reactions, and nonverbal cues can all be used to convey a character’s emotion.
3. Give Them Quirks
Readers quickly get bored with predictable, stereotypical characters. The bad boy with a heart of gold? Been there, done that. But take that bad boy and give him a secret motive for maintaining his bad-boy rep – like his sister’s life depends on it – and now you have a character readers are curious to know more about. Use details and unexpected idiosyncrasies of personality, backstory, and appearance to your advantage in creating a character whom readers aren’t likely to forget.
4. Give Them Each a Struggle
Every person has a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and personal struggles, and so should each of your characters. Giving your character a specific internal struggle can help to define your story’s theme, deepen your character’s arc, and make the character more relatable to the reader. Often a character has one major, long-standing struggle that – even if he or she isn’t conscious of it – drives their actions and reactions in the story. This struggle, sometimes called the “Lie,” is vital to creating an overarching theme to your story. When your character’s major obstacles and failures stem from this lie, then the quest for truth becomes inherent to the protagonist’s struggle, even if it’s happening beneath the surface. By taking your character on a journey where he is confronted with his lie again and again, you open up important possibilities for character growth throughout your story and deepen the impact of your story’s ending by weaving the external plot climax together with your character’s triumph over his personal lie.
5. Make Them Grow
Your character should end the story as a different person than he was when he began it. While there are stories which contain a flat arc (meaning the character doesn’t really change), even in those stories, the experiences of the story should have helped ferment the character into being even more staunchly who he was in the beginning. Most stories have an upward or positive arc, one in which the character grows and overcomes both internal and external struggles (see point #4 above). Others have a negative arc, where the events of the story actually lead the character to spiral downward, becoming somehow less or worse-off than he was before. In all of these arc types, however, the reality is that the character does grow. He can grow stronger, weaker, or more firmly who he was at the start – but he grows. If he grows positively, your reader feels the joy of triumph. If he grows negatively, your reader feels the sting of tragedy. If he remains the same, your reader feels the frustration of stagnation and wasted possibilities. All are valid plot arc choices, and they each have their benefits. But all of your story’s events and plot points should be weaving toward the thematic expression of this arc, whichever one you’ve chosen. This movement, this growth, is what keeps the story interesting and helps your character create an impression on the readers.
I hope this was helpful! To further aid you in character development, I’ve created a worksheet, which you can access here: and an infographic along with this article. You can find them below.
Let me know what you think!
Click here to download the How to Create Memorable Characters CHECKLIST (Pictured below).