I’m happy to post the following guest blog by DiAnn Mills, the wonderful author of 16 novels and 14 novellas. As I mentioned in my last blog, DiAnn has graciously provided this interesting article on memorable characters and will be moderating this blog for the next three days (February 11-13) and making comments and answering questions on this topic. Then on Thursday morning I will draw a name from all those who comment about her article and DiAnn will mail the winner an autographed copy of her latest novel, Awaken My Heart, so be sure to leave your email addy for contact information. You will also be entered in my February drawing (see last post) so you’ll have two chances to win a copy of this book. Now, on with the show…
Memorable Characters that Rival Scarlett and Rhett by DiAnn Mills
Sit back and close your eyes. Who are your favorite book or movie characters? Are they Scarlett and Rhett? Perhaps Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia? Sam and Frodo? Ahab and the whale? The Lone Ranger and Tonto? The list goes on and on. Why are these characters unforgettable? What about them causes us to laugh and cry and wonder if they are all right?
The key is that the writer defined the characters with believable traits and clear motivation. We care about those characters. We live our lives vicariously through them. To many readers, their favorite characters must be real people because they live in their hearts and minds.
How does a writer create memorable characters? She establishes wants and needs that lay the foundation for critical motivation. If I asked you to take a moment and write down all of the things you wanted, the items might fill a book. But if I asked you to compile a list of what you needed, the project becomes a little more difficult. We don’t always know what we need, but finding out becomes a process of soul searching and experiencing life. But when needed items become goals, we are motivated to go after those things vital to our survival.
Character sketches provide great help to laying the foundation for our characters. They force us to think—brainstorm about what motivates the character. And there’s that word again: motivation.
The roots of motivation are unmet needs. How these needs are fulfilled depends on the character’s integrity, established over time through life experiences, inherited factors, and environment. No wonder we humans are flawed characters! No protagonist is perfect. No antagonist or villain is completely evil. But some characters have more flaws than others, and out of those flaws come weaknesses and room for character growth. Out of the admirable traits come our heroes and heroines, who have the stuff that gives us hope and help us to believe again in the goodness of mankind.
All of us have a need for relationships, significance, and security. These critical needs are supposed to be filled by God, but we, as flawed “characters,” look for fulfillment in other areas, and those areas become our weaknesses. Examine your character’s struggle. Does he/she have a need for sex, for material goods, power, work, education, or the arts? How are those weaknesses manifested? Does your character seek to satisfy his basic needs in ways that honor God? In short, what motivates the character?
My suggestion is to study your character from every angle to determine the underlying factors shoving them out of bed each morning. Interview them. Live with them. Go to dinner with them. Place them in settings that are unlike the previous scenes. Would you take a vacation with them? How a character reacts and responds to the events surrounding him determines who he is. Steer away from predictable behavior but stay within the perimeter of the traits you have assigned.
The next time you are reading a dynamic novel or watching a movie that has you sitting on the edge of your chair, take the time to discover the characters’ motivations. This article has just touched on the volumes of information about writing memorable characters. I hope I’ve given you inspiration to discover the techniques behind the scenes.
Scarlett and Rhett are unforgettable. Now you know why! Here is my question for you. Who are your favorite book or movie characters and why? I look forward to your response.
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I am looking forward to hearing from readers!
Tahn Dorn and Lady Netta Trilett! I can’t ever remember reading a book and wanting to see a good movie version made of it more. The first book in the trilogy is named after the hero, Tahn. When I saw it was a book about a man brought up to be a mercenary killer who “wants out,” I really questioned that I’d be able to get into it or relate to that character (especially when he jumps on a woman and pins her in bed on the second page; the first time I read it, I actually stopped and double-checked to be sure it was put out by a Christian publishing house and that he wasn’t about to do what it looked like LOL). But the Dorn has definitely become one of my all-time favorite heroes. He’s complex and intriguing and kept me trying to figure him out the whole way through. Very gripping. And Lady Netta, even though she’s a damsel in distress, proves herself to be very strong and loving as well.
Thanks for the tips, Diann. I’ve read several of your HP books and really enjoyed them.
kmorphy at comcast dot net
Kathleen, think about your characters for a moment. If they had not been unpredictable and reacted and responded to crisis in a manner that kept you reading, you wouldn’t have connected. The defining moments have impact because you were cheering for both of thenm.
I have a different type couple. But somewhere somebody mentioned the Lone Ranger and Tonto, so I thought I’d throw out something different than the normal couple, too. I read the book Modoc by Ralph Helfer last year. It’s the true story of a boy and an elephant. Bram is the son of an elephant handler for a circus. He is born at practically the same moment as the elephant, Modoc, and the two of them have an unusual connection throughout their lives. Bram never owns Modoc except in his heart, but their story is touching and dramatic from their days growing up together to a shipwreck and amazing survival and rescue from the sea to being parted by a vengeful man to being reunited again years later. It has all the elements of a great romance even if it is a man and an elephant instead of a man and a woman. So does that count?
Ann, it wouldn’t be considered a part of a romantic genre, but it does follow along the lines of devotion and commitment. If you connected with the elephant and the boy, then those are unforgettable and meaningful characters.
I guess I shouldn’t have tried to be different, huh? That’s a mistake I make way too often. But here at Valentine’s Day (almost) we should stick to the great love between a man and a woman. I’ve read many great love stories, but the characters’ names are lost in the great mix of stories in my head. Rhett and Scarlett are certainly unforgettable. A TV romance that I thought was fun several years ago was Remington Steele. They used a device that’s popular in TV series and books and movies. That is having the stars be attracted to one another but not admitting it openly or even denying it completely. At least till the final episode or scene or last chapter. Romantic tension is such a big part of the equation.