By Megan Burkhart, a professional writing student at Taylor University.
I’m sure you’ve read many books, blog posts, and articles about how to make your characters come to life. Well, I’d like to take a different spin on that. I don’t want to focus on the basics like hair color, eye color, race, name, etc. Instead, I want to give you things that will help make your characters memorable. Unforgettable. Unique.
Let’s dive in.
Many of our favorite characters have special objects, scars, tattoos, etc. that become closely linked with their identity. For example, we all know that Harry Potter has a lightning scar on his forehead, and Percy Jackson has a wicked cool pen/sword named Riptide. But these are more than tangible things. They were not created arbitrarily. They have a purpose, and each one brings with it a past—a backstory.
All of our characters have a backstory, and for some, it’s more important than others. Harry’s scar reminds him of the death of his parents at the hands of the Dark Lord, and it’s also what links Harry to Lord Voldemort. For Percy, his pen/sword is a weapon that once belonged to his father, Poseidon, who he never knew.
If you want to give your characters objects, marks, or some other physical representation, try to pick something unique and that has a purpose in the story. Here are some questions to think about as you pick these items for your characters:
- What objects or marks are unique to my characters?
- How does this relate to their backstory?
- How do they use their object?
- Do they rely on it all the time?
- If they lost it, would they lose their identity or sense of self?
- Is it a weapon? A reminder? Are the memories painful?
- If they bear a mark/scar, do they hide it? Or are they proud of it?
Keep these questions in mind as you develop your characters. Remember, flesh and blood is one thing, but creating a being with emotions, backstory, scars, objects they can’t part with—that is what makes characters complex. That is what makes them human. And that is what makes them truly memorable.
Megan Burkhart (writing under the pen name Megan Lynne) is an award winning writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her recent awards include the 1st place Tar Heel Award for her speculative fiction novel and an honorable mention in the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition in the inspirational category. Megan is also a junior agent with Cyle Young Literary Elite and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing. Find out more about her at meganlynneauthor.weebly.com