What makes the characters within any given story memorable? Think of your favorite novel. Did the characters stick with you long after you finished the book? Conversely, have you ever read stories whose characters left little of a mark on your memory?
Characterization vs. character. Is there a difference? Robert McKee answers this question in his book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (a.k.a the “Screenwriter’s Bible”).
"Characterization is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being, everything knowable through careful scrutiny. . . . Character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure" (pg. 100-101).
Hair color, height, eyes, lip fullness, diction and quirks are all great, but what makes a character truly memorable is who they become when conflict is at a max. Do you agree? While characterization is vital, I think it is a protagonist’s character, tried and proven, that makes them stick with us long after the last page is turned.
If your character could reach through your laptop and write her own story, what would her choices look like? How would she act when challenges arise? I always try to instill some noteworthy strengths in my MC, and fast. What kind of strengths?
What do you most appreciate about others? Think of someone you irrevocably admire. What about that person do you value? Are they kind or courageous? Meek or bold? Wise, loyal, kind, self-motivated, ethical, moral, determined, merciful…these are traits I think we can all appreciate.
On the flip side, a courageous, infallibly-kind hero who preservers no matter what can become stale. Readers might roll their eyes or—even worse!—put the book down after the first few pages. Characters need a flaw, and this is why (Donald explains it better):
“Character transformation can be one of the most powerful effects in any story.”
Voila! Conflict is story. I hope I have characters that readers can empathize with but who also have room to grow. Skillfully carry out the character transformation throughout a novel and hopefully we authors will have 'em hooked!
Any thoughts? I’d love to know who the most memorable characters in fiction are to you and why. Thanks!