Monday, August 30, 2010


I was once told by a writing advice book that to make readers remember your characters well, give them some kind of odd or different aspect. For instance, give your main character a calcium deposit in an odd place. Or make them have a habit of always picking wax out of their ears and wiping it on other people.

This is one way of doing it, but since then, I've written over 250,000 words on several different stories, and I think there's a better way to make characters seem alive.

The character needs to be both the same and different on the inside, not just in their physical mannerisms or appearance.

Making a character the same as the reader in their beliefs, values, ideas, thought process, etc. will draw the attention of the reader. They will relate to the character.
But making the character different in some ways from the reader will make the reader even more interested.

Remember, these are the opinions of an unpublished writer. I hope my characters are memorable, relatable, and interesting.

On another note, I'm currently reading a book about characterization written by a psychology expert. The book suggests that the writer needs to get in touch with his/herself before they can write deep characters.

Is this true? What do you think?


  1. I agree 100% with the author of your book.

    Kurt Vonnegut said it best: "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water" (Creative Writing 101).

    He also advises the writer to "be a sadist. No matter sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of." That's where I start when writing characters. Giving them quirky characteristics is okay if you're writing Fan Fiction (ohh, the Mary Sue); but if you're trying to craft fully dimensional people, it's going to take a bit more work.

    If anything, give your character a secret, something only you and s/he knows about, regardless of whether it gets revealed in the story. Did he steal money from the till as a teenager? Did she tell her sister that the crummy pencil box that was all their parents could afford to get them for Christmas was painted by trained monkeys so that she wouldn't be disappointed? (Okay, I stole that one from This American Life. But it's a great secret—and a defining one!)

  2. Haha. Yes, Oh, the Mary Sue.
    After reading your comment, David, I found this blog post by Gail about how to avoid writing a Mary Sue character.

    Thought I'd post it here for anyone who's interested.

    I like your advice, David. Give your character a secret. Make them want something, even a glass of water. Time to get out a few more post-it notes and write those down to stick to my writerly wall of good quotes to remember while writing.