3 Ingredients to Crafting Unforgettable Characters

23 Feb

Those quirky characters of ours can sometimes be hard to nail down. A character is more than just dashing good looks. Although a pair of beautiful eyes and a great smile might make a person ‘fall’ in love, without more depth, your readers won’t ‘stay’ in love with your characters. The last thing you want is for your reader to want to put down your book!

When it comes to crafting great characters, there are several ‘must haves’:

  • Conflict
  • Change
  • Depth

Conflict is what makes your book exciting. That’s what drives the plot forward and shows what your characters are made of. This is where your characters’ goals meet obstacles. How they handle conflict gives greater insight into your characters and makes them more real. In life, we all have to deal with difficult situations. If there is no conflict for your characters, there isn’t really much story to tell. Even in the Bible, we are told to be overcomers. How can that happen if there is nothing to overcome? It’s the same in fiction, only compacted into a hundred or so pages, give or take a few. Conflict can be simple or complex. It can be as simple as stepping into a mud puddle with a pair of favorite shoes on or as complex as dealing with disease, death, or a killer stalking your character. You can even use little conflicts to slowly build up to bigger conflicts. In my book, Violet Miracle (coming soon), Violet’s first conflict has to do with dealing with going from a tiny, country town to a huge city. From there, the conflicts go back and forth from little to big. The big ones keep growing in intensity until I hit the climax of the story where she has to decide whether or not she will let go of her fear of losing the people she loves. It’s a kind of impasse, where she can’t move forward emotionally unless she’s willing to change. As writers, conflict is your friend. Conflict and how your characters handle it will determine whether or not your story has a happy ending.

Change is what you use to show your character’s growth or ‘character arc’ over the timeline of your story. Your character must change in some way by the end of your story. It can be simply that good feeling the character gets in overcoming (or not) the bad guys. Or it can be a much more significant growth over the course of your story. In my book, Annie’s Adventures: The Chemistry Calamity ten-year old Annie grows up a little. She learns to forgive her little sister and brother and, though she faced some major and some minor setbacks, she accomplished her goal (finding that perfect Science Fair project). The timeline for your book will somewhat dictate just how much change can happen to your character. For Annie’s Adventures my timeline was just over a month. Though I packed quite a bit of conflict into that month, and had several obstacles for Annie to overcome, she’s still only ten years old. On the other hand, she learned some major life lessons by the end of the book.

Character Depth means more than simply description. Here, you want to show what makes your character tick. What’s going on inside that no one sees. This can also be a lot of fun. For instance, with your ‘bad guys’ you can have everyone think they’re wonderful, but show an inner dialog going on that can be downright disturbing. Do give description, i.e. eye color, hair color, height, weight, etc, but don’t stop there. Give your readers more. Show us your characters through interaction, and dialog. Show us your characters through other character’s eyes. Don’t just give visual descriptions, include sounds, touch, taste, and smell. Make your characters come alive. Show your readers what drives them.

Crafting unforgettable characters can be a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. Watch out though! Your characters just might get ideas of their own and gather around your bed at night, bugging you to keep writing!

In the comments below, let me know how your latest book is going. I love meeting new friends in books. My favorites are always those books that I don’t really want to end.


Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Author in the Trenches


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10 responses to “3 Ingredients to Crafting Unforgettable Characters

  1. dicy123Dicy McCullough

    February 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you Christina for your tips on crafting unforgettable characters. Each point of the blog was easy to follow and yet in-depth at the same time.

    • ChristinaLi

      February 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks, Dicy!
      In this world or little to no time I wanted something that was quick to read, easily grasped, but more than just fluff. 🙂

  2. Donna

    February 27, 2012 at 2:19 am

    Christina your tips are truly the best I have read. Doing unforgettable characters is so important and by following your lead that was so well written makes it easier. Thanks.

    • ChristinaLi

      February 27, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Thank-you, Donna! For me, writing is easier when I have a specific plan in mind, a goal. It’s like getting from point A to point B on the highway. You can get there by the highway or through the city, but if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost! 😀 For writing, if I take it scene by scene, knowing exactly where I want my characters to get to by the end of the story it is so much easier, but plenty free. Those crazy characters can even throw some funny curve balls at me, but I can still get to my end goal. Does that make sense?

  3. cjanasdreams

    February 28, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Thank you it was very informative for me. I appreciate the way you broke it down. Sometimes simplicity causes confusion unless we know what to do with it. best of luck on your writing.

    • ChristinaLi

      February 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      You are absolutely right! Sometimes, we have to try something first before we know the right questions to ask. For me, I like to take something that I’ve learned and rewrite it (or at least think about it) and break it down into ‘lowest terms’. If I can make it smaller, or at least clearer to myself, then I can more easily use it and apply it to my own life and work. God bless you in your own writing! 🙂

  4. J.L. Manning

    February 28, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Thank You Christina, my new book that should be published this spring has too many characters, but they are well developed. The book I’m working on now will have a team of characters with relationships out side of the story. I’m trying to make the characters more interesting, but will that take away from the story? Just a question that I’m sure other authors have had.

    • ChristinaLi

      February 28, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      Great question. I’ve got several scenes with multiple characters and that is tricky. You want the flow of the story to stay but you also have to let your poor reader know who’s saying what. Recently, I read that a more seasoned author will keep conversations mostly between only two characters at a time. That makes a lot of sense. One thing to consider is not developing all of your characters in one story, but having hints here and there which can carry over into other stories which change focus onto different characters. The books can all be ‘stand alone’, but still refer to other characters from other stories. God bless in publishing that book in the spring!


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