Memorable Characters – December Round Robin

I knew this girl once who used to smell her soda whenever it got to the table. Pepsi, Coke, Root Beer, whatever it was, once it hit the table her nose was dipping down to get a whiff.

When I finally couldn’t stand it anymore, I asked her why she did that and she turned an interesting shade of pink. Her answer?

“I’m trying to smell if the server spit in it.”

Aside from the fact that you can’t really smell spit in a Pepsi – which I pointed out – this quirk was bizarre enough that I have never forgotten it. However, a quirk does not make a memorable character – or person – because I cannot for the life of me remember her name.

So what does make a character memorable?

In thinking about the characters that I remember the most – Jem Carstairs and Will Harindale from Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy, or Nathaniel and Elizabeth Bonner from Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness, or Laurence and Temeraire from Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon – I realized that all these characters come in pairs.

I understood Will because of Jem, and I loved reading about their trials together. They’re closer than brothers and their friendship was what made them who they were as individuals. I remember them not only because of their quirks – and they both had several – but because of the things they did for each other.

As authors, we tend to hunt for that one special ingredient that will help pop the character off the page. Some illusive trait that might endear – or estrange – our created people to our readers. We’re told that faults and quirks and pitting them up against challenges they aren’t prepared for will all humanize these characters for us.

While all those things certainly make a character interesting and could keep a reader turning pages, they don’t necessarily make them memorable.

I think it’s the relationships that define them. Just like in life, how our relationships help shape and define who we are as people, the relationships on the page are what can make our characters really shine.

We remember Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities because he made a deep and noble sacrifice, but that sacrifice was born from his relationship with Lucie.

Or, to go the movie route, we know Luke Skywalker because of his relationships with Han and Leia. Sure, the force is neat and we get to see lightsabers whoosh through the air, but the heart of it isn’t so much what he can do as why he does it.

We all have complex relationships built on history and experience, and all the tragedies and triumphs we have endured together help make us who we are. It’s no different for the characters on the page.

Thanks for visiting! Check out what some of my fellow authors have to say about what makes a character memorable in this month’s Round Robin…

Skye Taylor
Marci Baun
Dr. Bob Rich
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Anne Stenhouse
Rhobin L Courtright

12 thoughts on “Memorable Characters – December Round Robin

  1. It’s a struggle to write characters that are memorable. What makes them memorable is entirely up to the reader, although some tropes are nearly universal.

    I enjoyed your post.


    1. I would love to say that I’ve held this belief for a long time, but honestly, I only came to terms with it while writing the post for this month. In looking at my current works in progress, I can see how I might be able to improve if I go through and focus on those relationships.

  2. Excellent comment – it’s the relationships! Without relationships it’s hard to judge a person’s goodness, badness or memorableness – it’s the same with characters in a book. It’s how they relate to those around them that brings them to life.

    1. I think it goes hand in hand with the idea that a character doesn’t live in a vacuum, that there’s a whole world behind them… I just think that for myself at least, I always concentrated on making that world more interesting and might have foregone the relationship aspect.

  3. I hadn’t thought about it before but I agree the relationships are an integral part of a character and memorable characters. They help round out the character and show more intimate qualities. Beverley

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