Creating Memorable Characters

How often have you spent a dozen or so hours, over several days, reading a novel through to the end and, then, breathed a sigh of relief and immediately forgotten all about it?  My guess is that it’s happened more often than not.  I know it happens to me.  Usually, it’s because either the story was uninteresting, or the characters were stiff and less than believable.

Small Brag Medallion Front CoverThe characters are the framework, around which a good story is built.  It’s possible to have a less than stellar storyline, and still have a book that is interesting and memorable, simply by creating unique, three-dimensional characters.  As most of you know, I write the Matt Davis mystery series, and nothing makes me happier than to have a reader ask me, “What’s Matt up to lately?” or “When’s Matt going to solve another mystery?”  SmallFront Cover March 1-2013 Escaping Innocence copyIt tells me that the character I have created in Matt Davis has become a living, breathing entity, who readers have become invested in.  In Escaping Innocence, I created a composite character in David Justin, a “height-challenged” youth struggling with the burden of coming of age in the ’60s.  I’d like to think he’s memorable, because he’s just like you and me.

Small FRONT Cover with Indie Brag Sticker Createspace Broken Promises Candara 7-24 copyHow do we create good characters.  The best way I know is to be an observer of people.  Take notice of people who interest you.  Note their physical characteristics, their speech patterns, the timbre of their voices. What kinds of clothes do they wear?  Are they loud?  Quiet?  Modest? Brash?  Are they likable, or maybe dislikable?  These are all building blocks that you can use to create interesting characters that will stand the test of time, and engender an emotional response from your readers each time they read your work.  And be consistent.  Don’t have a character speaking the King’s English one moment, and gutter language the next.

A few authors whose work I admire, and whose characters have always interested me are: Mark Twain (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn); William Goldman (Marathon Man, The Temple of Gold); Robert Parker (the Jesse Stone mysteries, and Spenser mysteries ); and Joseph Heller (Catch 22).  These writers have created characters with distinctive personalities, characters who actually inhabit their respective books, like residents in a guest home.

One final thing: It’s not necessary for a character to be odd, or quirky, to be memorable. Characters who are merely normal people can sell just as well as those who push the envelope of credibility.  It’s not necessary for a character to be larger than life to be a good one.  I dare say that some of the most interesting characters are those who are the most mundane, or ordinary, such as those of Joseph Wambaugh in The Choirboys, and The New Centurions.  The key is to make them believable.  Think of all the books you’ve read in your lifetime.  Now think of the ones that you have read multiple times.  The chances are that those are the ones with the most memorable characters.

Do you have a favorite author?  One whose books are populated with characters who feel like old friends, each time you meet them?  Which ones are they?  What are names of some of the characters, and what are they like?  We’d love to know.


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About AuthorJoePerroneJr

I am a former professional fly-fishing guide, and I write the Matt Davis Mystery Series, which presently consists of four books: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day, Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises. The series is set in the real town of Roscoe, NY, in the Catskill Mountains, where I guided for ten years. I love fly fishing, movies, cooking (and eating), and music. To learn more about me and my writing, please visit my website at: http://www.joeperronejr.com.
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8 Responses to Creating Memorable Characters

  1. Allie P. says:

    I do prefer character driven stories to solely action driven. I actually know a living breathing Matt Davis. I’ll have to let him know there is a whole series out there with his name on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. balroop2013 says:

    Well developed characters leave a deep impact on the readers. Modern writers concentrate more on mystery and sensation. Characters like Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Bennet or Tess can no longer be seen now. The only ones who can be recalled now are those created by Khaled Hosseni and Steig Larrson. A real character is the one who stays with us long after we have put the book down.

    I am glad to know you have created memorable characters. Thanks for sharing, would like to know more about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt Davis is a good-hearted cop, who does his best both at his job and in his marriage. He loves fly fishing, and uses it to blunt the misery he encounters in his job as Chief of Police of Roscoe, NY. Nancy Cooper is his 70-something secretary and “Girl Friday.” She’s more than able to keep up with the wise-cracking patrolmen in the department, and gives as good as she gets from the razor-tongued Matt, who just adores her. Bobcat Walker is a donut-loving, slightly overweight throwback to an earlier era, who constantly walks on eggshells, praying not to duplicate an earlier faux pax in his career that nearly cost him his job. Pete Richards is a reformed smoker, probably under-challenged by his job as a patrolman, following a stellar career with the NYPD, where he met Matt.
      Want more? Read the Matt Davis Mystery Series: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day, Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises. A fifth in the series, Deadly Ransom, is scheduled for release in spring 2016.
      Hope I’ve piqued your interest…lol. 🙂

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  3. Mary says:

    I remember when I came across Jan Karon’s Mirford series and how I instantly fell in love with the characters. She made them so real and made the readers care about them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dick Fuller says:

    Look forward to your posts every week. Always interesting and refreshing. My favorite author is C J Box and his character Joe Pickett, the Game Warden. Joe can have some colossal screw-ups which I can identify with.
    I also enjoy Randy Wayne White and his character Doc Ford, the marine biologist with a shady past.
    And then there is this guy from NJ who lives up in the ” holler ” next door. Can’t recall his name but he is pretty good as well.
    Regards,
    Dick

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words. Also, muchos gracias for the names of some additional authors to read when I have some time. Have you read anything by the late William C. Tapply? If you like my work, I think you’ll find his right up your alley. He died way too young, at just 69. Also, check out John D. Voelker (Robert Traver), author of Anatomy of a Murder, Trout Madness, and Trout Magic (among others). He had a wry sense of humor that I found captivating. Stay tuned; new Matt Davis mystery on the horizon.

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