You know by now that I am no fan of rules for writing novels and other stories. Getting stuck with rules is too repressive – especially for a novel that has the advantage over other mediums of not being burdened by rigid structures. Having said that though, there are a number of fun and interesting ways you can make your characters a little more memorable.
So again, let me be clear: these are in no way rules. Ignore all of these things if you want. All I’ve written here, are some suggestions for when you’re a little stuck and want to give your character an extra… something. That’s all. Just something to make them come off the page more for a reader.
With that important disclaimer aside, here’s a few suggestions for you, that might get some of the ol’ grey matter stimulated:
- A rare personality? We’ve had a million private detectives with a drink problem. We’ve had a million police officers whose dedication to the job has led them to sacrificing their personal lives at the expense of catching the bad guy. What about turning these cliches around and given them different traits? The sort of thing you don’t see that often? Something your audience wouldn’t expect? The lazy detective who’s always looking to do the bare minimum to complete the job? The cop who wants to do their shift and walk away at the end of each day, but gets unwillingly sucked into uncovering a criminal enterprise at the heart of the force? Their desire to keep their head down is much stronger than their desire to uncover corruption, etc., but they are somehow forced into doing the right thing. Characters must have agency, they say. But why not turn it one it’s head a little. That’s a big more interesting, isn’t it?
- What’s their love life? Most of us have one, or have some idea about how this all works, right? It’s so common for people to ignore this aspect of a character if it’s not directly relevant to the story. But it often feels empty, Or not real, if it’s Not referenced at all. And if they haven’t got a partner, or any interest in getting one, well, maybe that’s interesting too? Why not? Have they been married for 50 years and take their partner for granted? Or is their partner long dead, and they never really moved on? Or have they just never taken the time to build up this side of their life and now they feel it’s too late? I don’t know. This is your character, not mine! Whatever the answers to these questions are, these are all interesting things to explore if your character is looking a bit one-dimensional.
- Why not give them an interesting job? It’s an excuse for you (and your audience) to peek into another world. So what if it’s not relevant to the direct story you’re telling? Maybe this job is something your audience would probably never have a chance to do or experience for themselves? What’s that job like? Are there interesting skills that they must have that can prove useful? Or does it just colour how they think about other things? What’s surprising about this unique profession? What does it tell you about their personality or comportment?
- Where do they draw a line in the sand? I think about this one a lot as a character builds in my mind. What’s the moral code of the character? Good or bad? What will they not do, no matter what? What will they always do in certain situations? And can you put those moral certainties to the test? Will they break?
There you go, just a few ideas. Maybe they’re useless to you, or maybe they help, I don’t know, spark a little something. But writing them was certainly a useful exercise for me!
Either way, get writing. And give your readers the gift of a unique and interesting character!