Memorable characters can make a great story iconic. Think about Harry Potter, James Bond, Mrs. Marple, Inspector Poirot, or Huck Finn…just to name a few. These characters are vivid. If you asked readers, they could tell you what made them special. Maybe it’s a physical trait or special ability. Maybe they’re funny. Memorable characters make the plot of a story come alive, and they stick with readers, making those books stand out. How will you create memorable characters in your own manuscript?
Distinctive Speech Patterns
How does your character talk? Do they have regionalisms, impediments, or quirks? Why? Is it from education, upbringing, where they were raised, or age? As we all hear in writing, “Show, don’t tell.” When you make use of speech, you’re able to reinforce information you’ve already told your reader about your character. The way they communicate with other people is revealing.
For example, I’ve been reading Delia Owens’ 2018 bestselling novel, Where the Crawdads Sing. The main character is known as the Marsh Girl because she was abandoned by her family in the marshes near the Carolina coast when she was a child. Owens’ reinforces the girl’s lonely upbringing when she limits the Marsh Girl’s speech. She uses fewer words than other people, but as she learns to read and write, she becomes more articulate (though still reluctant to talk much). She has a Southern accent. Try to incorporate the place, time, and personality of your character into their speech.
And They Say Looks Don’t Matter…
What does your character look like? Is there anything distinctive about them? If not, what is an outfit, haircut, or other trait that will distinguish them? Sherlock Holmes has his pipe, James Bond has his tuxedo, and Lis Salander is the girl with the dragon tattoo. These physical traits reveal something about the character. Holmes puffs on his pipe while he’s making observations, Bond is dangerous but has savoir faire, and Lis is a rebel.
The way your character looks is more than skin deep. Bond’s devastating good looks allows him to blend in with the rich and criminal when he has to, but it’s deceptive because he’s dangerous. Holmes puffs on his pipe while he thinks, and he’s always thinking and observing. Lis Salander will not play nicely with society’s rules, yet, she is distinctive. That concept is reinforced by her giant dragon tattoo. How can you use appearance to make your characters memorable?
What Do They Think About?
What do your characters think about when action is occurring? How do they see their world? How do they frame it? Do they have a sarcastic running commentary? Dry observations? Do they have a chip on their shoulder? Past trauma? Special skills or education?
It’s well known that when multiple people are eyewitnesses to an event, they can come away with different impressions of what happened. Everyone has unconscious biases because people tend to view events through the prism of their own experiences. For instance, a dog owner might notice their pup seemed upset when the criminal approached. A person without pets wouldn’t see that detail. What does your character see? What do they notice? Readers like to see things from your character’s eyes, so be sure to include it.
Person of Action
Finally, the unique way your characters respond to events make them memorable. What do they do in the face of the adversity you’re about to throw at them? We know Bond is a man of action. Holmes is contemplative. Salander is skittish yet cerebral. The actions characters take makes them memorable too.