The Write Stuff #2: Creating Memorable Characters

Writing stories is a bit like cooking, you need all kinds of different ingredients to make a good story. For me, the most important ingredient are the characters. I am a writer who focuses heavily on character driven stories. While other writers might have a more narrative driven style, I really want to understand my characters, their lives, motivations. In other words I want to get into their psyche and explore their story, which is waiting to be told. The problem is, where do you start? This is a very subjective topic and I wrote about where I start a story earlier. A bit weird, but yes, I start with the ending of the story in mind and work towards that. But in order to tell a story you need characters and their stories start somewhere and that’s what this new instalment of The Write Stuff is all about!

The Write Stuff #2

So, what’s your story?

The door to outside opens. It’s raining again and a shadowy figure steps inside. A hood obscures much of his, or her face. Several other patrons in the bar look up only briefly before going back to their business. The figure sits down and pulls back the hood. It’s a girl with the bluest eyes.
“Pour me something strong,” she says, her voice coarse and heavier than suits her face, which seems friendly and kind, save for the scar running from the top of her left eyebrow all the way down to her cheek.
“A double whisky, neat, it is,” the bartender says as he turns around, grabs a bottle from the top shelf and pours it in a tumbler, then puts it in front of her.
“So, what’s your story then?” he asks.


Everyone has a story, even if some of us might feel that we’re filling in the roles of a videogame NPC and our lives are pretty nondescript. We all have our stories, and the above example is how I usually try to imagine characters I get to know. When I’m writing a story, I’m nothing more than a reporter who tries to record the story to the best of his ability. Part of that is getting to know the characters and diving deep into their psyches. A particularly handy tool can be to imagine what I did in the above paragraph. Imagine you’re someone who’s just meeting them for the first time and asking all kinds of questions. All the characters in your story have a role to play. Of course, there’s the main protagonist and you should be on a “best friends” basis with them. You need to know every minute detail about their lives. Besides them, there’s usually one or more antagonists and personally I think their stories are doubly as important as that of the protagonist. Because they need to have a very clear reason to attempt and stop the protagonist from reaching their goal. In a classic good versus evil story you can’t really have a character be evil just for the sake of being evil.

In my trilogy The Shaedon Resurgence the Shaedon are the antagonists. Being a race of incorporeal creatures they are largely misunderstood and hated because they need a vessel in order to manifest themselves in the corporeal world. Seeing as this is a very intrusive procedure for the vessel, it is no wonder they are so hated by all corporeal beings and seen as evil demons or spirits. But try and imagine things from their perspective and all of a sudden they’re not really that evil, are they? All villains usually have an interesting story and personally I think they even have the more interesting stories. The same goes for anti-heroes. Ordinary folks who just got caught up in the wrong events and have no choice but to survive and fight for their lives.

Minding the suspension of disbelief

What makes a story great and what makes it just okay? Of course, a lot of this is in the eye of the beholder. One key ingredient, however, is that everything a character goes through in the story is believable within the rules of the world you’ve built. Magic, technology and even miracles can happen, but in order to get away with it, it has to be within reason. People have to let go of the rules of our own world and trust that you’ll stick to the rules given for the one you’ve tried to build. So when a character possesses unnatural abilities in our world, they can have them in yours, but the reader has to be convinced that it is possible. That’s why Peggy Sue or the male equivalent Gary Stu characters should be a no-go. These are characters without any flaws and even though you can give your characters as much power as you want, they will also require flaws. I often find the most flawed characters to be the most interesting and if you look at it, you’ll find that these have the better stories to tell.


Bringing it together

So, what makes a character memorable? Think about some of the most iconic ones and it’s not that hard to figure out. Are they perfect? Very unlikely. Do they have a rich (hi)story? Probably! Of course you’ll also need to keep some things a bit mysterious, as plot twists are an important part of telling a good story. I think I’ve given you quite some insight in how I try to create memorable characters and hope this has been a helpful article for you!

Did you like this article? Then please consider sponsoring my work by leaving a donation in the form below! One day I’d love to live off of my writing and every little bit helps!

Happy writing!


2 replies »

  1. Jeffrey, I really enjoyed your discussion of how you create memorable characters. I relate all you said to my experience & recall reading your trilogy, “The Shaedon Resurgence.” Excellent chapter of The Write Stuff! Love the photo of Maraxi! Phil

    Liked by 1 person

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