Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why I Love You: Characters Brought to Life

Why are some characters more memorable than others? 

I stayed up late one night wondering this exact question and decided to choose two of my favorite characters to help me answer this. One of my notable fixations is the novel (and movie adaptation) Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. Why are we so in love with Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy? There are many reasons why these two characters—and ultimately, their stories—are so timeless, so unforgettable.

I started making a list of what I knew about them. Here is what I came up with. You will notice some patterns and thoughts that fall along the same categories. Feel free to share your thoughts as well! 

1.   Every action, thought, and emotion was true to their character. 
      Darcy was proud. He thought like a proud man and reacted like a proud man in every situation (at least in Lizzie's eyes). There was no inconsistency right up until the very end, when he finally overcomes his ego, his breeding, his good sense, all for the chance at true happiness and love. His most characteristic trait was his undeniable flaw: pride. You can say the same for Lizzie who was prejudiced from the very beginning, seeing Darcy as a rich snob who would always view himself above everyone else, with his large estate and ridiculous annual income. 

One thing to note: In your story, don't describe a character one way, make the reader have faith that they will then act that way, and then in the next scene do something different with no rhyme or reason. Gradual, reasonable, well-produced growth is essential to "believing" in your characters. Just like we cannot expect to be a new person overnight, neither can we expect the same of your characters.

      2.     They are flawed and vulnerable.
      Darcy and Lizzie's most defining trait is their flaw. His was pride, arrogance and conceit. And hers was prejudice, opinionated, unfiltered, and so on. Harry Potter wasn't the most talented wizard, but he was brave, loyal, lucky, big-hearted, and honest. Katniss Everdeen was an incredible archer and survivalist, but distrusting and paranoid, and didn't have much room in her heart to love anyone else other than her sister. I've said this before: give your characters an Achilles Heel, and we will remember them. 

      3.     They are rich. 
     What I mean by this is that the characters are rich in detail. You know their family history, their friends’ histories; their actions are justified by their personalities. They are rich with life, and yet so unlike real life people. (There is a difference.) They are unconvoluted (if that is a real word). They are honest, and stay honest. And when they are dishonest, it is usually for a noble cause, which we as readers can understand and love them all the more for it. Whereas people in the real world can both be honest and hideously dishonest in the same day, with nothing noble or reasonable about it. 

      4.     They crash and burn--over and over--before getting to Happily Ever After.
      Darcy and Lizzie's situation gets progressively worse before it gets better. Like any good story: things go from bad, to awful, to hellish nightmare--and then comes the double rainbows, filtering through after a disastrous rainstorm. Tension and suspense is what makes a good story (among a long list of other things, but for simplicity's sake let's keep it at that...If you don't know this yet, storytelling is a fine and ridiculously difficult art).

I love that one thing after another threatens to ruin them from coming together, until finally, they do what it takes to make things right, and can no longer deny themselves what they so rightfully deserve. 

      5.     They overcome their flaw.
      Both sides have some serious challenges to overcome before they finally end up together, at which point, I as the reader say, "Thank God...finally, they see what I saw all along--they're perfect for each other." And it fills me with such happiness, such gratification over a well-put-together, incredibly dynamic, and utterly romantic storyline. 

Who are your favorite characters? What answers have you come up with as to why? Try this exercise and give yourself an edge to building powerful characters. For more tips on creating memorable characters, click here

Happy writing. 


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  1. Anna - good topic. When I think of memorable characters, I first think of Owen Meany, for several reasons, one of which is #2 flawed and vulnerable. My favorite reason - improbability. Under lesser writers, a character like Owen would be unbelievable, but John Irving makes him believable in the world of the novel. However, the reader plays a role to make that character come alive. They must light up their imaginations, and when a character does that, then magic happens.

    1. Great example, Joseph! Yes, it is in the talent of the writer that makes some innocuous/anti-heroic characters come to life.
      Also, hope the writers group hunt is going well ;)


  2. I'm having better luck online actually, but I won't give up on the writer's group. Actually, I'm tempted to submit to Flogging the Quill.


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