6 Steps to Crafting Memorable Characters

Hello Preptober!-3

Hello everyone!

Can you all believe that we have half a month left until Nanowrimo!? Who is freaking out right now?! *Raises hand*

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Because I just finished Shapeshifter early October, I am a bit late in prepping for my next Nanowrimo novel. I love my new idea, it’s different and ambitious and I can’t wait to give it a go. That being said, it is 99% out of my comfort zone so I am a bit scared but that’s what writing is all about… right? RIGHT!?

THE one thing that I love most about writing is the characters that I create. Without characters that I can relate to and care about, I wouldn’t feel motivated to write. Same for our readers! A captivating plot is important, but excellently developed characters may be just as important (and arguably more so) to keep a reader engaged. So, for this week’s Preptober post I want to focus on the 6 things I keep in mind when I am crafting my characters.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional writer – just a fellow blogger who loves to write and wants to “make it” one day. These are some things that I think about when I create characters for my novel, and in a sense this post is meant to be a discussion post rather than an instructional one. So……. Discuss away, people!

PS. I’ll be using Six of Crows as an example because it has a brilliant cast of strong and well-developed characters. In case you haven’t read this book- no worries, I’ll make sure you can still follow along (and of course, NO spoilers here.)

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1. Appearance

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You know what they say: don’t judge a book by its cover and it’s what’s inside that counts. I absolutely agree! Your characters don’t have to have a flawless appearance (in fact, I’m a big fan of characters who aren’t perfectly coiffed), however investing time in crafting your character’s appearance is important for several reasons:

  1. Your readers will have an idea of what your characters look like.
  2. You, the writer, can ensure your characters’ appearance remain consistent from chapter to chapter. It would be confusing if your MC has blue eyes on page 15 but green eyes on page 200!
  3. There is the opportunity to relate specific features of your characters’ appearance to their history or their personality traits, and vice versa.

Keep in mind characteristics that your characters are born with (hair colour, eye colour, height), as well as characteristics that your characters choose (make-up, tattoos, hair dye, fashion style).

In Six of Crows… Kaz had pale skin and short dark hair. His eyes were dark brown and appear amber in sunlight. He had a sharp jawline and lean build. He had two tattoos. He had a limp and carried a cane with a crow’s head as a handle.

(Credits to Grishaverse for this description, which I took the liberty to paraphrase.)

2. Goals and Motivation

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Everyone wants something. What do your characters want? It is important for characters to have motivations and goals, so that us as writers and readers can understand them. The one thing that disengages me from a novel, whether I am writing one or reading one, is when I don’t understand a character’s motivations.

Motivation is a general direction of a character’s desires. For example, a character may be motivated by wealth, power, status and/or the adoration or company of others. Meanwhile, a goal is a target that is more specific and concrete. It could be a long-term goal, such as becoming the President when they grow up, or a short-term goal, such as robbing a bank next week. A character may have more than one motive and more than one goal.

All of your characters’ actions in the novel should be in line with their goals and motivators. Characters can be unpredictable; in certain cases we do want to generate a sense of mystery by keeping a character’s goals and motives hidden from the readers, however we as the writer should know these!

In Six of Crows… Kaz was motivated by wealth, which gave rise to his goal to plan the ultimate heist on the Ice Court. Perhaps even more so, Kaz was motivated by his thirst for revenge.

3. Strengths

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We all have strengths, and characters should have them too. These may be superficial: A character may be exceptionally beautiful, they may be physically strong or super smart. They may also have strong personality traits: perhaps they are sociable and can fix any awkward situation, they may be charismatic and a natural leader, or they may be fiercely loyal to their friends and loved ones.

Just like how we are drawn to people with these traits in real life, readers are drawn to characters who are #$%@*&% awesome. Giving each character one or few strengths will make them likeable. Don’t we all love reading about characters who kick butt?

In Six of Crows… Kaz was superbly intelligent and cunning, capable of calculating and predicting others’ behaviours and crafting elaborate schemes around them. He had charisma, allowing him to successfully motivate a group of very different people to accomplish a singular goal.

However!!!! Even more important than strengths are…..

4. Weaknesses

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Yup. You heard me. Your characters got to have FLAWS. For the longest time I was afraid to give my characters flaws, because I wanted them to be likeable. But the thing is, perfection does not equate to likability. The truth of the matter is that everyone has flaws, including ourselves and our readers. Giving your characters flaws will make them more human and more relatable.

By the way, these “flaws” don’t count:

  • Clumsiness… because it usually has no impact on the storyline.
  • Self-consciousness about their own appearance, when in fact they are beautiful to everyone else (cue eye roll please).
  • Mental or physical illness/disability: Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when books touch upon these, but they should not count as character flaws.

So what kind of flaws should our characters have? Is there a key to choosing our characters’ flaws? Here are a few things that I like to keep in mind.

  • Flaws should be apparent to the reader. Does our character fear public speaking? Well, there better be many speeches in our plot!
  • Flaws should impact the plot. Perhaps it is because of a character’s flaw that they make a crucial mistake which has a devastating impact on their mission.
  • Flaws may or may not improve. If our character begins the story as an addict and ends the story as an addict, that is perfectly fine. Or maybe they recover, that’s fine as well.
  • Flaws may be related to or resulting from a character’s past, though this is not always the case.
  • Certain character traits can be viewed as strengths or weaknesses, depending on the situation. A sensitive character may be a great listener and always willing to help a friend, however they may be prone to overthinking and take criticisms personally.

Remember that strengths and weaknesses should be a balance. Too many strengths and your characters will seem too perfect, too many weaknesses and they might just be too sad to read about. Balance is the key!

In Six of Crows… Kaz’s weaknesses were his fear of intimacy, lack of trust and extreme secrecy about his past and his motivations. Although these traits allowed him to create schemes with cold, calculating precision, they were not always beneficial to himself or his group as a whole.

5. History

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This is everything that happens before the main plot of our novel. Think about how your character grew up, how they spent their childhood. What were their parents like? Who were their friends? What did the characters learn from their upbringing that made them who they are today?

In Six of Crows… Kaz and his older brother sold their family’s farm and moved to the city, leading to events that would shape Kaz’s character and motives.

6. Story

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This usually is not a problem for our MC(s)! After all, the story is their story. However, let’s not forget our secondary characters. How do they view the events in the novel? Your secondary characters shouldn’t revolve around the MC, they should have lives of their own. After all, everyone is the star of their own movie.

In Six of Crows… the main story was about planning and executing the heist on the Ice Court, but each character faced their fears and came to terms with unresolved questions in their pasts.

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What are do you keep in mind when you create characters? What is one character who you will never forget, whether it is one of your own creation or from a book that you’ve read? How do you get to know your own characters?

29 thoughts on “6 Steps to Crafting Memorable Characters

  1. the crazy reader says:

    I love it when we get to see the flaws of the characters! it makes them so much more relatable and real. Although it can sometimes be quite frustrating to see them make disastrous mistakes due to these flaws, it can usually lead to the development of friendship and other relationships. Good luck with NaNoWriMo!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. J.W. Martin says:

    Great post. All great points.

    I struggle a bit with appearance. I’ve always built my own idea of what a character looks like, and sometimes to get a conflicting hair colour will pull me out of the story a bit as my brain struggles with the info vs. my initial vision.

    Also, I’m one of those people that feel like most information provided should be plot related. Unless the colour of a characters hair or eyes connects to the plot somehow, I probably won’t mention it. The only example I can think of is the Wheel of Time:

    Book after book, Nynaeve is introduced with a long braid draped over her shoulder, but she also constantly tugs on it when she’s angry. Rand’s hair colour is mentioned quite a bit, but it’s directly related to his lineage which becomes a major plot point.

    I think my main issue with character descriptions is that it’s a slippery slope. An author can start just by mentioning a detail or two, but before you know it, they’re navel gazing. And as a reader, that’s a BIG pet peeve!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hi JW! You made some good points about appearance. I agree that descriptions with appearance should be kept to a minimum or else it would interfere with the flow of the story. In my own novels I struggle to find the right spot to insert character descriptions so I tend to provide them on an as needed basis. When I read a novel I get annoyed with long and unnecessary descriptions of how beautiful a character is!

      On the other hand I do like it when there is a bit about how a character looks like in a story that I am reading. Although I’m with you in that sometimes I end up putting my own spin on the characters’ appearance which is different from the author’s description anyway.

      And of course if an aspect of a character’s appearance is important to the plot, then it should be included!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

    When it comes to creating my own characters I always start off with the plot (if that makes sense). I need to know what the story is because then I build up the characters from there; their journey, their motivation, their end goals. For some reason strengths and weaknesses are always the last thing I develop. I think it’s mainly because once I have my story and the characters stories down I come up with the weaknesses that will impact them the most. Like you said there’s no point giving a character a weakness the readers never get to see.
    The one thing I always struggle with is naming my characters. I feel like I must have mentioned this to you before but a lot of the time my characters have names like UMC or UFC (Unnamed Male/Female Character) because I just can’t name them. That’s the hardest part of character development for me.
    Great post Sophie, and I can’t believe how close we are to NaNo either, but bring it on right?! 😀 ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      That’s a good point that you bring up. You’re right that it helps to have a plot in mind when we are developing the characters to make sure that they fit within the story! I tend to have a general idea of the plot before starting to think about my characters. Now that I am using the snowflake method, I develop the plot along with the characters, which helps because sometimes I notice that a plot point is incongruent with a character’s personality, then I have to change the plot or change the character haha.
      Yes I do remember when we talked about naming characters before! Usually I end up giving my characters random names from the top of my head haha. If I’m really stuck I google common baby names. However i think it works for me because most of my novels have been in the contemporary/ low sci fi setting. I can imagine the difficulty in coming up with names in a fantasy setting, since they would have to fit in with your world 🙂
      Hahahaha I realize that I have sooooooo much research, world building and plotting left to do!!! I am freaking out!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

        I’ve just always developed the plot before I have the characters, I’ve never tried the snowflake method before but that’s what works for me. I’ve have changed small plot aspects because of characters before, but they’ve always been small. I guess I just find it easier to develop the characters around the plot than the other way around.
        Oh I google common baby names too, but I spend hours searching through them and still can’t find anything.
        Same here, I feel like I should be way ahead than I currently am.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Marie says:

    This is such an incredible post Sophie, thank you so much for writing it and sharing all of your tips! ❤ I was wondering (and maybe it is a stupid question, but): do you have any specific file where you list all of these character information, to come back to every time when you write, or do you use that only for when you're actually editing your story, to make sure everything is good according to your previous descriptions? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hi Marie! To answer your question, I write a separate document for each character and place them in a folder. I just started doing this for my previous novel and I found it extremely helpful to be able to look back at my characters (especially the secondary characters who might not come up as often) and get to know them again, or just to find out how many siblings they have or their eye colour haha. I find that it really helps for me since I don’t always remember these facts about my characters 🙂 thank you Marie ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Zoie says:

    “Everyone is the star of their own movie” — I love this! 🌟 And I also love how you used Kaz’s character as an example for this post. I feel like SoC is such perfect book to study & gain inspiration from in terms of how to build complex, lovable, but flawed characters. Kaz’s character is so well-developed already, but it’s even mind-blowing the think about how there are 5 other just as well-developed characters to study in the duology.

    This post gave me a minor freakout about how quickly November is approaching… but it also gave me the inspiration I needed to keep outlining my novel! Thank you for this post, Sophie! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      When I think of a book with great characters, Six of Crows come to mind right away. I love how all the characters are well-developed in this book!
      Haha I am definitely in freak-out mode for nanowrimo, so no worries we can freak out together 🙂 Best of luck!!

      Like

  6. Sieran Lane says:

    Hey Sophie! Sorry for disappearing for a while, been so wildly busy lately, and I got sick!! D:

    Hmm I find that I don’t need to be deliberate in doing these things. I just need to treat my characters as real people, and their strengths, flaws, histories, motivations/goals, physical appearance, and secondary/minor characters’ stories will appear automatically.

    For physical appearance, I know many would disagree with my approach, but I try to be minimalist with my descriptions. Usually hair and eye color, sometimes height, are all the reader gets. We may see from a character’s POV that they find so-and-so gorgeous, but it’s up to the reader to imagine what gorgeous looks like, as we all fancy different things. Put short, I prefer to have the reader imagine most of the picture. When describing clothes, I usually don’t care about anything aside from the color, e.g. turquoise robes. I know many others would care, but I just don’t give a hoot what they’re wearing, unless it’s unusual (e.g. thick jacket in the middle of summer), so I can’t bring myself to describe something I feel so indifferent to!

    Oh yeah I love it when we wonder why a character is doing what they are doing. It generates a feeling of mystery and suspense, and I love mystery and suspense! (E.g. Why the hell was Bethany, who is usually so sweet to people, so rude and disagreeable towards this person she just met?)

    I know some people have trouble refraining from writing perfect characters, but I have the opposite problem. My characters tend to reveal their flaws too readily, and I feel the urge to omit some things to make my characters look more likable. XD

    Sometimes a reader will think that a character is flawless when they’re not, though. I still laugh at the readers who think Peeta Mellark from the Hunger Games is a perfect moral paragon. Were they even paying attention to the book? Didn’t they see all the morally questionable things he did and said throughout the series?? Don’t get me wrong, Peeta is my favorite character in the Hunger Games. But he isn’t a saint at all.

    So it’s frustrating when your character is obviously flawed, but some readers disagree with you. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hi Sieran, no worries! Life happens! Hope you are feeling better now though.

      I am not surprised to hear that your characters come to you naturally as your stories unfold since you are a pantser 🙂 For me, I also find that no matter how much I try to plan out my characters they end up at least a bit different than my original intention (which makes it more fun!) It’s a good idea to think of our characters like real people as you mentioned.

      I like your approach when it comes to physical appearance! I agree that less is better, and that readers should have the liberty to imagine what the characters look like in their eyes. I like to know what my characters look like in my mind, though I keep physical descriptions simple. I find that there isn’t always the chance to insert physical descriptions without it intruding on the story! As a reader, i get annoyed when there is too much focus on describing what the character looks like. So long story short I agree with you!

      I get what you mean when a character does something unpredictable and this generates a sense of suspense. It raises questions and makes me want to read more! However I dislike it when the character’s action is so out of character and isn’t explained later on in the novel (which makes me wonder if the author is using the character to advance a plot point).

      Looks like you have the opposite problem as me when it comes to character flaws! I need to remind myself to give my character flaws and to reveal them to the readers lol 🙂 As for hunger games, I would have to reread the book since it’s been a while! However I get that perceptions about characters can vary from person to person!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    Hey Sophie! Love this post, you are quite good at inspirational how to posts even if that wasn’t your intent, I also like to think about a character’s growth. Personally I read for growth more than anything and my favorite books are partially due to the fact the characters grow. So that necessitates something that needs growing.

    So to take Kaz… a fear of intimacy is a place he needs to grow… whereas he will probably always be secretive at least to some point. Flaws is a great general way to look at the most complex part of character development.

    Also I love how you shared with Marie about saving your character info in a file! I like using Evernote so I don’t have to have a ton of files open and can include a slew of pics and switch between everyone with ease. I also write out their history and make little edits if I change something as I write. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hi Dani, you make a good point. I also love to see a character grow throughout a novel. Kaz’s development in Six of Crows is one of my favourite aspects of the book 🙂
      I use Scrivener to keep all my character sheets in the same place as my manuscript, though it sounds like Evernote works in a similar way. Yes I also like to write out character histories. Sometimes just the act of having to write them down prompts me to think more about the character.
      Thank you Dani ❤ are you doing Nanowrimo this year by any chance?

      Like

  8. meandinkblog says:

    Character developed is so important. Loving the characters is usually what makes the book so strong when I’m reading them. I loved the bits on the flaws– excellent advice to creating characters.
    I think a characters I loved reading was Cress from the lunar chronicles and Adam from the raven boys.
    To get to know my own characters I properly try to get a really good idea of their past, flaws and goals. And how they would each react to different situations (to help them have an individual voice and I think sometimes I give them too many similar qualities and this can help me see this and where I need to develop/change) 😊 Great post!!

    Liked by 1 person

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