Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Remember the Girl with the...?

Photograph by Hill.Josh
Have you ever had a conversation where you started to describe someone and the person you were speaking to knew exactly to whom you were referring? 

You didn't even have to finish your sentence. You just ran your hand over the spot where they had the tattoo, the scar, or the amazing eyes and your friend nodded. "Oh, yeah, the girl with the mole or the guy with that girly voice..."

The person didn't need explanation because they were memorable. In some particular way, that person left an impression on you. They may have appeared normal in every way save for their strange laugh. You might have forgotten the waiter if it wasn't for his incredibly deep and velvety voice.

Our characters need to leave an impression on the reader like that. Is your main character memorable? Do they stick in the reader's imagination so much that they need to know what happens to them?  Are they the kind of person who would catch your eye in real life, either for good or bad reasons?

I'm not talking about appearance only. Are they particularly benevolent or terribly greedy? Do they sweat when they get into elevators? Is there some secret that makes the events unfolding tense because it may be revealed at any moment?

Think about your favorite characters in fiction. What made them stick out in your memory? One of my favorites is the main character in Robert Ludlum's Bourne Series...not the movie dude, but the fictional Jason Bourne.  The one Ludlum wrote. Here is a guy that is just packed with memorable traits.

He is fished out of the ocean. He has amnesia...okay, unusual but...meh.

Then things get interesting. He has a plastic tube with a Swiss bank account embedded in his hip. He can speak several languages. He's blindingly fast and terribly dangerous in a fight.  He has no idea why. To top it off...people are hunting him.

Okay...uh, what? 

Jason Bourne could have been a stock assassin character, but Ludlum made him memorable by making him the opposite of a killer...he made him vulnerable. He made him loving. The Bourne Identity turned action and suspense in the Cold War era on its ear.

So now I take a look at my own characters. What is memorable about them? What draws me to their world to tell their story? What did I learn from knowing them...about myself and others? 

As I start to build my novel and character outlines *stop cringing you pantsters* I hope to truly understand the grip these 'people' have on my psyche. Mostly I hope to pinpoint it for the reader and entice them on the journey with me.

Until next time...Go Write!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like creating character profiles. You don't scare me, Raquel!

Raquel Byrnes said...

Hee Hee! Good to hear it , Alex! ;)

Hart Johnson said...

Great reminders, raquel! It is the unexpected that creates such memorability, I think (that, or quirky-but quirky, after a point, can be unbelievable.)

Erin Kane Spock said...

You do sorta scare me sometimes. But in a good way. I refuse to elaborate. ha ha.

I actually do outline my characters -- they do not spring from Zeus' head fully armored. They spring from my head in small bits and pieces that I can change on a whim. I outline using a basic list from high school drama. But I have never stopped and thought about how to make them memorable.
Frances is a country bumpkin turned MILF. Mary is constantly making a spectacle of herself. Jane will consistently hurt herself (she's clumsy, not emo). Are these memorable traits?

Eric W. Trant said...

You are on a character-building trip, aren't you!

That's good. It stirs the creative energies.

One thing I like to add, and maybe too much, are nicknames.

Anyone can be Jon. Not everyone can be Little Jon, or Jon-Man, or Jonboy (remember that one?).

Don't forget the nicks.

I also like to give them some vices, like cigars or drinking or something sinful. Everyone loves a good vice.

- Eric

Raquel Byrnes said...

Hart - so true about the quirky. Just a little makes for endearing.

Erin - Never considered the Mr. Potato Head approach to character building...hmmm.

Eric - I guess you are right about the character kick...that whole subject really seems to be hitting home lately. And you're right about vices...cigars are my favorite.

Nicole MacDonald said...

yay for plotting and outlines!! I LOVE them :)


Anonymous said...

I like character profiles, too. But sometimes the character tells me more about himself the further into the draft I get.

Elena Solodow said...

I think it's always a good idea to know what their quirks are. Not always good to overload the reader with them, but if you're internally aware as you write, they'll work their way into the draft in a natural form.

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Enjoyed both posts on character development. It's so easy to slip into bland, flat characters.

Thanks for the reminder and inspiration!

Raquel Byrnes said...

Nicole - I'm with you on the character plots.

Catherine - You'r right about the character sometimes making themselves known by just writing.

Elena - I fight your comment to be so true. If I know the character, really understand them, then their personality and quirks most certainly come through subconsciously when I write.

Cherly - Thank you for your kind comments. =)