Writing Exercises: "Creating Memorable Characters"


When writing we, as writers, always put a lot of weight on the effectiveness of our characters and the level of impact they have on our stories. Its a challenge creating great characters because we nurture what begins as an idea, and develop what becomes a full-fledged person with an entire life story, set of morals and motivations that drive them through the stories we write.

For non-fiction writers, characters are real-life portraits instead of invented concoctions. Although this is true, the challenge that exists in non-fiction characters is that the non-fiction writers must bring their real-life portraits to their audience. For fiction writers, the characters we invent come from somewhere, whether they are based on someone we know or simply have characteristics derived from different people we know.

Overall, there are several things to consider when it comes to giving your characters life. There is, of course, no real secret to writing great characters. The only real way to write great characters is to practice getting familiar with a method in which to give your characters life.

This will be an occasion where you start to entertain my quirky method of dating your characters, or, let it inspire you to develop your own method of creating your characters. The most important thing is that you start seeing your characters as actual people, regardless of whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

A great way to start figuring out your method to writing great characters is getting to know your, well, people. A few of these suggestions can go a long way when starting out on creating your own cast:

Fall in love with your characters

This probably seems obvious but have you ever heard a phrase along the lines of: "if you can't convince yourself you won't convince anyone else?" The same rules apply here. It doesn't matter if it is your protagonist, your protagonist's sidekick or your "antagonist" (parenthesis are present because the word "antagonist" is slang for a second protagonist that is counter-pointed to your main character--this topic I will focus on at a later time).

Refocusing on the topic at hand, you need to be in love with each and every one of your characters. If you're not in love with any one of your cast members, your audience won't be either.

Give your characters physical traits

This is not limited to hair, skin and eye colors. Giving characters physical quirks offers great opportunities for your readers to connect with your characters. An example of this is writing in habits, like your character having a nervous habit of gnashing at the inside of their cheek when they are nervous.

Give your characters distinctive speech

A great way to give your characters a sense of individualism is giving them their own speech patterns. Maybe you have a character who boasts an impressive vocabulary (while sparing the audience from confusion), or maybe your character stumbles on a particular word, or even humorously uses words incorrectly. Either way, the toolbox here is bigger than you think so have fun with it.

Avoid clichés in your characters

This can be tricky advise because the truth is, every character alway starts out as a cliché Mary Sue...until you invest more time and detail into the characters. The trick here is to work your way out of the cliché you inevitably start with. So let's try working out of this cliché:

Man sells his soul to the devil.

Let's take out selling the soul and the involvement of the devil and turn it on its ear: Man lives in a future where slavery is instead a transaction and selling one's self into enslavement does provide benefits to the man's family and future generations of his choosing. Instead of a devil being in charge of the transactions, you can utilize this opportunity to critique your own take on the concept of slavery or tweak this a little more and make the man's world a world where the devil is actually revered and godly. Again, the toolbox is huge so go nuts!

There are plenty of things you can do to prepare your process of creating characters and working them out of the opening stages. The process can be a bit overwhelming but once you figure out your way of executing it, your characters will become living, breathing people before you know it.

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