Today, we will be talking about the 3 keys to unforgettable characters, a topic I go in-depth into in the course I’m producing right now.
If you want to create unforgettable characters, those characters that will grip your readers and the characters they will remember, this is a must-listen episode. Of course, there is so much more that goes into creating great characters, but those three are great tricks and fundamentals that you can always use to give your characters depth and more dimensions and make them stick in readers’ minds.
If you enjoy the show, you can support me on Patreon for a coffee a month, and I want to give a huuuge shoutout and thank you to my new patrons Jennifer Oaks and Kate Findley! Your support is so precious to me!
- You have only two weapons against the relentless scroll of news feeds: a headline and an image.
Before they can even read your story’s first paragraph, they must answer a question. It’s the same question that we all ask ourselves every day: is this going to be worth my time?
- BuzzFeed headlines are an example: they’re filled with hyperbole and fear-of-missing-out.
Also, The more emotional (positive or negative) a headline is, the more likely people will click it. Headline analyzing tool.
- Images should not be too generic, and attentive.
- Don’t waste time with intros or updates — start making points and telling your story immediately.
- Figure out a way to establish your credibility within the first few paragraphs. Reinforce your credibility throughout your story. Support your arguments with data and research.
Professionals don’t wait for inspiration. They act in anticipation of it. — Steven Pressfield
- I love this quote! I’ve been talking a lot about faith during my last episodes in terms of dreams and finance, and I love that we can also apply it to inspiration and our creative work if we come with anticipation, with faith that the muse WILL strike once we start typing.
- Don’t seek validation, develop good habits and routines, master your craft, stop waiting to be picked.
Inspiring Creative Minds – a blog by Jennifer Harris
I loved her article on how short stories help us become better writers.
There is a corresponding article on Medium where she talks about how she wrote short stories about returning characters in her novel to get to know them better and improve her writing – it’s also an amazing bonus for fans on your email list!
I really want to start writing short stories myself that are connected to my trilogy universe. The first draft stage can be daunting and exhausting, and I think this will bring back the fun.
I spent 10 very inspiring and stressful days in Austria last week and I’ll be writing a more extensive article on that one soon. We went to Salzburger Land and the beautiful swimming lakes nearby, and I just loved the nature and the atmosphere! I’ve never seen such a turquoise colour in water, they were just luring you to take a bath, and those lakes are the warmest in Austria. This was our last vacation with my husband where it would be only the two of us before our baby girl arrives in autumn, and it was a great time for us to get closer. I intentionally turned off the internet while at the lake to focus more and spend more time listening and breathing, not being distracted all the time. A thing I can totally recommend!
I took part in a workshop to become a Kanga Trainer. It’s basically a cardiovascular and muscular workout for new mums and also for their babies because they are worn on them and are essentially part of the training.
This was such a useful and great workshop where I learned a lot about anatomy, pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, the body during and after pregnancy, children and carriers and I especially enjoyed the part about marketing. Nicole, who invented the concept and built the company from scratch, is a highly inspirational woman with a great story to tell!
To sum it up, she had never ever invested in paid marketing. Her whole marketing philosophy is based on one single concept: asking for a favour. She is unafraid to do extraordinary stuff and ask people for favours because honestly, all they can do is say no. She is persistent, polite and believes in what she does, she has principles she built three companies on already, none of them ever investing into paid marketing.
Also, I decided to produce only 2 shows a month, so every two weeks, because I felt exhausted to produce weekly and was missing out on many other things I wanted to do like simply write articles and work on my fiction side of things.
The 3 keys to unforgettable characters
The 3 keys you’ll need to create unforgettable characters are not necessarily self-evident, and many authors miss them or don’t work on them intentionally. But if you think about all the great characters that we remembered for years and years – all of them have those three keys developed.
KEY #1 – Transformation
Character is always about transformation. In fact, a story is in its core transformational.
Your hero cannot be the same in the beginning and the end, a change has to happen – in worldview, character traits, outlook on life a.s.o.
The character has to change through ACTIONS. So the plot of your story has to trigger this actions, it cannot happen in and of itself. Still, plot is something that organically has to revolve and result from well-developed characters – when they have a backstory, motivation, desire, moral weaknesses. There is a great free questionnaire of 100+ questions to interview your character about by K.M. Weiland, which is an amazing exercise to get to know your character and dive deeper into the backstory.
The change has to be plausible – for this, you must hint at it from the beginning, you must use clever setup and payoff. It cannot be an unrealistic change, it has to happen through a self-revelation at the very ending of your novel, a revelation that is carefully set up and prepared through the course of your novel.
The transformation is something that has to flow organically from the story you carefully set up and a character you prepared. It has to be a change the character needed in order to complete his task and reach his goal, but a change he never saw coming and never realized until the end and the self-revelation.
It’s also very powerful when your audience does not foresee it either, at least not in detail. They know something is wrong with your character. But if they know exactly what his problem is and how he can solve it, the story becomes predictable and self-evident. Don’t make it this way. Make it a very hard moral choice and a surprising yet obvious transformation. Like the clueless hero who thinks he is unto the right path, your reader has to follow in his footsteps.
What is your novel about?
What has your character to realize and understand about himself and the world in order to reach his goal?
This is what the change is about. And if the change is authentically constructed and believable, it will change your reader along with the hero, and the reader will never forget it.
KEY #2 – Archetypes
When your story suddenly runs dry around the middle, most authors think it’s a plot problem, going so far as to doubt their story idea and think that it was not very good in the first place anyway. But if your characters are the driving force of the story (which they should be), the problem lies in 99,9% with your characters. They are not deep enough. They are lacking dimension and thus substance to provide your story with.
Archetypes can help with that.
When we start out with characters, they are mostly stereotypes in our minds – maybe with several layers, but they lack depth and the element of surprise. Stereotypes are oversimplified generalizations, stemming from prejudice, and inviting to judgement.
There is no judgement in an archetype. Only observation.
Both Plato and Jung formed the term archetype, and they stand for a collective sense of fundamental characteristics embedded in human culture and understanding.
There is an amazing book I always turn to in order to deepen my characters: “45 Master Characters” by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. She depicts 8 male and 8 female archetypes and describes them according to their cares, fears, motivations and development. She also suggests a character arc – how do they have to change in order to succeed?
Schmidt suggests picking an archetype for your character that gives the most room to grow in over the course of the story: A King who loses control of everyone. A Father’s Daughter who is forced to be in the woods and the wilderness.
Every archetype has a positive and negative side. Whether you’re writing a villain and a hero, you can choose which side of the archetype you pick. Also, your character can go from hero to villain or vice versa.
In reality, all of us have more than one archetype inside. We may embody several. But what’s interesting is the fact that under pressure and stress, the dominant archetype always takes over, because this is in our DNA. Which means that you don’t have to stick to every little detail of the archetype – use it as an inspiration for your character, as a way to deepen him or her and understand what lies underneath their skin, and how they would react in difficult situations – basically: What is in their nature.
Like the hero’s journey, the archetypes DO work! They will give your characters so much more depth and give you ideas for story development and the several dimensions of your character.
KEY #3 – Character Web
The character web is an idea proposed by John Truby in “The Anatomy of Story”. He suggests that one big mistake authors make is to think of their characters as standalone, separate individuals who live in a vacuum and are unconnected.
Instead, he urges to think of all your characters as a part of a web in which each help define the others. So when you create your hero, you should instantly connect and compare him to the others.
The characters define each other by their function in the story, and all characters should definitely have a major function in the story, otherwise, they are redundant.
What purpose do they serve? By comparing this purposes you’ll instantly see how they influence each other and the story. If the character serves no purpose – cut him!
For example, consider the relationship between your hero and your villain, which Truby points out is the most important one in the story. Both of them could not exist without each other, they highlight and bring out either the best or the worst in each other, and only in comparison do they shine a light on who they really are and why their actions and choices are either negative or positive.
When you consider subplot character, make sure they also highlight traits and dilemmas in your main character.
See all characters as intertwined, changing each other and influencing each other. Even as you set out creating them, compare them in function, theme (How do they handle the main moral problem?) and opposition.
They cannot exist in separate space but in the character web.
In two weeks, we have an interview with Caroline DePalatis, a writer and a pioneer for intercultural communications. We talk about writing, collaboration, how to grow your audience on Medium and how culture can influence and enhance our writing. Don’t miss this amazing interview! See you next time!