If you want to hook your readers, you’ll need a character that leaps off the page. A good character is believable and interesting. Firstly, be careful your character is not of music-hall-cliche stock (dumb blonde, greedy banker, uber-organized German, upper class twit etc…) – the problem here is that the reader will have met your character far too many times before to find them interesting now. As usual, turning the cliche on its head can be a good place to start getting ideas (chess-master page three girl, a banker who secretly gives away money etc…)
Also, don’t focus on describing what they look like from head to toe. In fact, their general physical appearance is not so revealing – the key is often in the interesting quirks and blemishes. Moreover, you ought to climb inside your character’s skin, get to know them intimately and let the reader see how they tick. It is good if there is something unusual about them. Here’s a sample list of questions you could mull in order to give your character depth:
Rather than describe the colour of their hair and eyes, write instead about their height, posture and walk.
If you first met this character, what would strike you most?
What is their natural scent or preferred perfume or aftershave.
What sort of diet do they have and what has been the physical impact of this regime?
What does their best friend think of them?
What happens when your character gets drunk?
What does your character have in his/her pockets/handbag?
What is your character’s favourite joke?
Also, to make your character particularly memorable, give him/her/it a singular physical attribute your reader will long associate with them. Think of it this way, if you were going to a costume party dressed as Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Havisham or Liesbeth Salander – what would you need? My guesses are, respectively: a lightening bolt scar, a deerhunter hat and pipe, an old wedding dress, and a dragon tattoo. Try to imagine what you’d need to be recognizable as your character.
September 6th, 2011 at 20:59
A Scottish accent and a tuxedo = James Bond.
September 6th, 2011 at 21:08
Does it for me every time, James. : )
September 6th, 2011 at 21:31
Can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying your blog. With each post I either learn something new or am reminded about something that I should be keeping in my thoughts while writing.
September 6th, 2011 at 21:36
That’s lovely to hear, Kym, and very motivating. Many thanks!
September 6th, 2011 at 23:44
I love your list, Sue. Sitting at the keyboard staring at the character form is my worst nightmare. What do I write? Why can’t I remember anything interesting about all the people I meet or have met. Your list will definitely set my thoughts racing along interesting lines.
September 6th, 2011 at 23:56
Hi Elaine, Really delighted to hear I’ve been of help. Someone once passed a list of such questions on and I find you can make your own up – we simply need ways to think more specifically about our characters – and plot ideas often spring from such exercises too, I find.
September 6th, 2011 at 23:53
Great questions. I’m going to apply them. (I thought this post was so good, I just tweeted it. Hope that’s all right. I must learn to ask first.)
September 6th, 2011 at 23:57
Hi Marlene, that’s perfectly alright. thanks for the tweet!
September 7th, 2011 at 01:01
Great post, Sue.
Your gentle reminder that characters are unique, not an overview of our expectations, is always timely to writers–and me in particular as I begin contemplating yet another WIP.
September 7th, 2011 at 07:35
Glad it came at the right moment for you – I love it when that happpens for me (usually a sign that I’ve forgotten to remind myself of something…)
September 7th, 2011 at 02:23
Wonderful suggestions, as always. I am more than a brunette who works at the airport. Just as there is more to me, there is more to my characters too. I just have to make sure the reader can see it.
September 7th, 2011 at 07:32
Yes, hard to do sometimes – ever notice how much we’re fed stereo-types?
September 7th, 2011 at 11:19
I’m really appreciating your blog. Your advice comes in gentle nudges but they feel solid.Thank you so much.