In a previous article I wrote about creating characters for your story. I mentioned in that article that your characters must be as unique as possible. I also illustrated two lists of characteristics a writer can use to create characters. I am going to list them again here as a reference for you. There is a good reason, I promise.
- Eye color
- Hair color
- Ethnic heritage
- Birth date
- Religious beliefs
- Favorite color
- Physical description
- Political beliefs
- Favorite music
- Style of dress
- Educational background
- Description of home
- Contents of wallet (this can say a lot about a person)
- Strong character trait
- Weak character trait
- Best childhood memory
- Worst childhood memory
- One line summary of their personality
- What triggers certain moods
- What is their ambition
- Sense of humor
- What is his/her greatest hope
- Character’s paradox
- Character flaw
- How does he/she see himself or herself
- Philosophy of life
My goal in this article is to discuss HOW to use these traits to make your characters memorable and standout; to make them real. First, it’s one thing to describe in a story what a character’s traits are. It’s quite another to put this description to action. See examples below.
eg. 1. John had brown hair and blue eyes.
eg. 2. John swept his fingers through his brown, sweaty hair. He had been running the better part of an hour. His breathing labored, so he bent forward, leaning his hands on his knees. He blinked his blue eyes as sweat seeped into them. No matter though. The runners high is what he strove for, and he accomplished that.
As you can understand, example 2 gives a clearer picture of John. It makes him stand out as a human because we “see” him, and we come to know that he enjoys the sport of running. We readers can identify with him and how he’s feeling. Here is another quick example. Say your main character has a habit of cracking his/her knuckles. Don’t just mention in the story that they do this. Use this habit in an action. Maybe he/she cracks their knuckles when their nervous, or maybe it helps them think more clearly. Hey, you never know.
Another way we can use character traits to make characters real is to make one of those traits part of the story itself. Take religious beliefs for example. Maybe your story is about two people who are at odds with each other because of their religious beliefs. In the end they make it work somehow. Or, your main character may have a unique sense of humor. Work this into the plot. Use it to distract the antagonist at some point. Again, you never know.
Lastly, I’d like to hit on character flaw. THIS is a trait that every protagonist (and antagonist) must have. It’s what moves your main character forward and helps with their inner growth. I’m referring to the character arch here. The protagonist could have a character flaw such as being severely stubborn, to the point that their stubborness gets in the way of them accomplishing their goals. Yes, your MC will learn how to overcome this by the end of the story (that topic is for another blog post). BUT, it also makes them more real, allowing he/she to stand out.
In closing, how well we depict our characters in our stories depends on how we use their information to their advantage. Rich, well “seen” story people will give your reader a reason to come back to the story and want more. So, let’s give them something they will never forget.