INTRODUCING UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS–WITH FLAIR!

Hi everyone.  I know we’ve talked before about where our writing ideas come from:  Dreams, historical events, poetry or movies, or even from our own life experiences, to name a few.  As writers, we look at how our characters can be drawn from people we’ve known in our lives, whether we admire or despise them.

Have you ever gotten one of your characters from unusual places–such as song lyrics, or based them on historical figures of the past?  Characters can be born in our own imaginations completely–not based upon any actual person we ever knew or studied in a history book.  If you write futuristic stories, your alien creatures must be created entirely within your own flights of fancy.  If paranormal writing is your bailiwick, you must create your otherworldly characters from legends, lore, and once again, your own imaginings.

But let’s take a  look at what makes up a character’s basic framework, beginning with the external elements.  These will include all the components that have made our character who he or she is, from the most elementary choices of physical appearance to the limits of cultural and societal dictates that have been imposed upon the character.

One tried and true option that I figure most of us have used at one time or another is to design your own “character chart” for each character, assigning basics such as hair and eye color, and delving into as much detail as you want.  Age, birthday, even astrological signs can be included.  Did your character lose a parent?  Is he an only child, or the eldest of ten children?  Every detail you can assign is like the stroke of a paintbrush.  We are  artists, creating the picture of this person for our readers.  If we don’t allow the reader to see the details of the character, she can’t know them “deep down.”  The reader must learn through your description, your inference, or through the observations of your other characters.

This leads us to the internal process of your characters’ lives.  Again, as in the physical description, as writers we must delve into the characters’ minds and decide what we can allow  readers to know, and when to reveal it.  Our characters’ emotions, reactions, yearnings, and thoughts are all an integral part of developing them into people we are going to remember.  Will we like them?  Empathize with them?  Root against the villain?  Most importantly, will we care–one way or the other?

Defining your characters’ motives and feelings must be detailed, leaving nothing to assumption.  This is a key element in creating believability.

But physical and emotional character creation is only a part of the whole “ball of wax.”  Our characters have to have a world to live in–a plot to carry out. These components include the conflict (what makes the story exciting and why do we care?) and the point of view.  Point of view is extremely important, because this is the character who will be telling the story.  The setting can be a huge factor as well, at times, becoming a character in its own right.

How do you introduce your characters with enough flair to make them interesting, and to make your reader emotionally invested in them?

What books have you read with memorable character introductions?  Can anyone forget their first glimpse of fiery Scarlett O’Hara?  Or of the handsome scoundrel, Rhett Butler?  Grab a copy of “Gone With the Wind” and study the way Margaret Mitchell introduces her characters.  Her physical descriptions are matchless.  Interestingly enough, she doesn’t delve into deep point of view as much as she lets us learn things about the characters through their dialogue and what others say/think about them.

Another example of an unforgettable character entrance is Jack Schaeffer’s “Shane.”  Written in the late 1940’s, it remains a classic today.  This is an example of how very important the viewpoint character can be.  Though the story is about Shane, a mystery man who shows up and helps the homesteaders out of a jam against the most powerful landowner in the valley, seeing it through the eyes of young Bobby Starett gives us a poignant understanding of the other characters–Shane in particular.  Telling the story through Bobby lets the tension build to a climax that would be unattainable through any other character’s “voice.”

Another way of introducing a character is through dialogue.  Giving the reader a titillating bit of conversation that leads us to

a) the storyline, or

b) discovery about the character’s personality or circumstances

is a sure-fire way to garner interest in the character who delivers the line.

Circumstances can also be the means to provide the introduction of a character who is unforgettable.  In Thomas Eidson’s “St. Agnes’ Stand”, the main character, Nat Swanson, is in a dire predicament.  He’s been shot, and is being pursued by two men whose friend he killed in avenging a woman’s honor–a woman he barely knew.  He just wants to be left alone, to make it to California where a ranch he won with the turn of a card awaits–along with a new life.  However, he comes upon a group of orphans and nuns who are sure to be captured and killed by a band of Apaches if he doesn’t intervene–and he can’t walk away.  Again, he steps in to do the right thing–and it may be the death of him.

This is just my take on some of the different ways we are able to introduce unforgettable characters–with flair! What are some of your favorite characters?  Those characters that just won’t leave you alone to have their stories read–or told?

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
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16 thoughts on “INTRODUCING UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS–WITH FLAIR!”

  1. Wonderful subject, Cheryl. My favorite part about writing is creating my characters. It’s like I take a ball of clay and mold and shape them as I want. I love it when I stumble across their secrets just out of the blue. And I get so emotionally tied to my characters they become like family to me.

  2. The whole creative process is so interesting to me. I love these little peeks into how all the nuts and bolts come together to form the finished product.
    As a reader, I know the thing that usually endears a character to me are his or her flaws.
    A beautiful, perfect heroine usually comes off as one dimensional to me and I have a hard time getting emotionally invested in her story.

  3. The character that came to mind for me was Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. If you’re a fan of that movie, you’ll remember him in the Christmas tree lot buying drugs as an undercover cop. The madness ensues.

    That scene perfectly defines his character. Crazy, suicidally reckless, funny, cute.

    A great intro to a great character.

  4. Great insights, Cheryl. I tend to create my characters as I write about them. They step on stage and I learn about them as I write. Sometimes they surprise me. Don’t think I could do a character chart if I had to.
    Hard to name a favorite character, but my favorite intro is the narrator in Moby Dick who begins simply, “Call me Ishmael,” and then proceeds to tell the story. You never know a lot about him, but you see everything through his eyes.

  5. In my own books what comes to mind is this most recent series. I really tried to have fun with the hero characters in all three books.
    The women were defined before I started, Doctor, Wrangler, Sharpshooter
    But with the men I could test the limits of what makes a man ‘hero material.’
    And what I did was, because I knew the woman, I made the men in one case almost a patient for the doctor, in one case an opposite, a sensitive artist for the rough and tough cowgirl and finally a short tempered cowboy for the tough and cynical sharpshooter.

    It was fun bringing all of them to life.

  6. Hi Linda,

    I feel that same way. And sometimes, I just start with one scene and it triggers everything about that person. When I was writing SWEET DANGER, the hero and heroine had a chance meeting in a deli that was taken over by the villain. I was thinking, Yeah, this is bad, but what could be worse? Then it came to me–the villain was someone that had, in his own eyes, been wronged by the hero who was an undercover cop. From there, the whole story took on a new dimension for me. Not just the plot and the villain, but the hero–who suddenly has a whole lot more to lose than anyone thought in the very beginning.
    Cheryl

  7. Judy,
    I agree! I don’t like reading or writing books that have “perfect” characters because they aren’t real. No one is perfect. I’m reading a book right now called The Diamond King by our own filly, Patricia Potter. The characters are all so real–even the secondary characters. Both the hero and heroine are flawed in some way physically, and their spirits are wounded as well in different ways. I truly do love this book–it’s a page turner, and Pat has made these people LIVE on the pages. She just did a fantastic job.
    Cheryl

  8. Oh Mary, yes!!! I love that scene–I love that whole series of movies. Mel had so many great performances, didn’t he? The Mad Max movies–a lot of people didn’t care for those, but I really did like them–it was the beginning of a whole new sub genre, really. And remember Tina Turner’s performance? MG, she was unreal! Loved Russell Crowe’s portrayal of the villain in 3:10 to Yuma. That was a short story, actually, that really didn’t even start until they were in the town, going to the hotel to wait until time for the train. I loved the way Crowe portrayed his character–you had no idea what he really was thinking, and you talk about a twisted psyche! Love thinking about all these movie performances, because that’s what the stories are all about–making them REAL. I wish I could write a short story that would be made into two blockbuster movies…LOL
    Cheryl

  9. Hey Elizabeth,
    When I first started writing, I tried using a character chart. I found I really didn’t need it for my main characters–I already knew them. I sometimes used one for the secondary characters just to remember eye color, etc. But personality traits, I knew, for all of the characters.

    Oh, yes, what a great example. “CALL ME ISHMAEL.” A line that nearly everyone will recognize. Do you have a favorite character of your own from one of your books? I know, I realize that is like asking if you have a favorite child. LOL
    Cheryl

  10. Hey again, Mary,
    You know that is such a great idea–making the H/h opposites. I think in most of my writing, my characters are NOT opposites, and that’s why they clash sometimes–they are so much alike. LOL (Kinda reminds me of me and my hubby.) LOL
    Cheryl

  11. Hi Cheryl, I think most of my characters are based in some way on real people. Opposites do work, because similar personalities like my hubby and me get boring LOL.

    Some of my favorite fictional ones are Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, Rhett Butler in GWTW, and Meg in Little Women. Didn’t we all want to be a belle of the ball (I never was) like she did…then it turned out so badly for her LOL.

    Good post. oxoxox

  12. Hey Tanya!

    Oh, yes, Miss Havisham! What a study in character! She was something else, wasn’t she? I will never forget reading that and the picture in my mind of that wedding cake and the room left just as it was all those years past. And Rhett, he was so real to me–as was Scarlett, Melanie, and even the milktoast Ashley. I was never the belle of the ball, either. Poor Meg. Yes, you could just feel how all these characters felt and know why they acted as they did. Great examples, all, Tanya. Thanks so much for stopping in and commenting. Yahoo has been acting up today!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  13. Hi Cheryl,
    Great post, and it brought back memories of literary friends I’ve enjoyed through the years. Jo was my favorite. She was a writer and that’s what I wanted to be. I love writing about couples who are opposites. At first only the differences are apparent, but gradually the similarities are revealed and they turn out not to be so different, after all.

  14. Margaret,
    I like that, too. I like writing stories about couples who are wanting the same end goal, but have different approaches and maybe even different reasons for wanting it–until they have to work together to achieve it–and then, of course, they fall in love. SIGH. LOL

    Glad you enjoyed it, Margaret.
    Cheryl

  15. I have read so many good books. Of the top of my head, one that comes to mind is one of the first romances I ever read, THE WOLF AND THE DOVE. The way they are introduced to the reader sets up the type of people they are. The initial scenes with Aislinn, the heroine, show us her strength and devotion to her people and her family. We meet Wulfgar, the hero, first in comments made about him and then when he first appears. The “relationship” is a bit different than we usually find in romances. I like the way the character of the hero is revealed and the relationship is developed throughout the book.

    Thanks for an interesting and revealing post.

  16. Oh Patricia,
    I LOVED The Wolf and The Dove. That was one of the first romance books I ever read, too, along with Sweet Savage Love. I agree, the way we were introduced to Aislinn and Wulfgar really stayed with us throughout their developing relationship. That was really a wonderful book, wasn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks so much for commenting!
    Cheryl

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