Think for a moment: are you more likely to remember the title of a book that you enjoyed, or a character? How many influential characters can you name?
Okay, now what’s the title of the book? Or even harder, who wrote it?
Exactly. Memorable characters MAKE a story. When a reader cares what happens to a protagonist, they continue to read, and will shove the book into a friend’s hands proclaiming, “Read this!”
How do you create a memorable character?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received to this question is: real people make shitty characters.
A memorable character must be larger than life with pitfalls and triumphs that are greater than himself. He must be relatable, and possess a need seeded in suffering from his past. Day to day sufferings are not enough to drag sympathy from your reader. You have to be mean.
Harry Potter – probably one of the most memorable characters of this generation. He comes from a broken home and spends seven novels running from someone who is trying to kill him. Everything seems to be against him, and yet, he is able to pull himself up and overcome adversity every time.
Tyler Durden – not the protagonist of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, and yet this is the name most people will recall when asked who the main character is. Tyler is grudgingly prophetic in his rants and is charismatic in a way that makes the reader believe his anarchist lessons. And yet, he is relatable, because he is the type of man that most want to be: the “above it all,” passive, fuck-you kind of man. He truly doesn’t care what others think.
Hester Prinn, Katniss Everdeen, Sydney Carter, Atticus Finch… all memorable because they are multidimensional. They have needs, desires, shortcomings, and strengths. They are real.
As an exercise, have a conversation with one of your characters. Ask her about her life. Charm her. Have her charm you. Insult her. Make her cry. Make her uncomfortable. Turn her on. Discover her obsessions and give them to her, then watch what she does with them.
When you can imagine your character in front of you, and surprise yourself when later you realize that she is only a character, then she’s ready for your stage. Put her in the spotlight.