It’s all about character

SUMMARY: Ed Wilson talks about the importance of character

This morning I am sitting on the porch enjoying a cool fall morning. I am sipping on a cup of English breakfast. I decided to add a cinnamon stick, and a little peppermint and spearmint leaf to the pot. The result is a nice refreshing tea that goes well with Belgium almond cookies, and German Chocolate biscuits.

I have my Surface Pro 3 with me, and am reading a new writer on the Kindle app. The cool thing about using a Surface, is I can read, check my email, keep up with market open, and even write a blog all at the same time.

One of the problems the new writer I am reading seems to have is with creating memorable characters … unfortunately, I am not really invested in any of the characters, and that is unfortunate (especially after nearly 100 pages).

Character is the thing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that compelling characters are the most important thing. For example, when I was a kid, I watched Captain Kangaroo. Now, I remember the rabbit, Mr. Green Jeans, the Captain, and especially Mr. Moose. Yep, who could ever forget Mr. Moose and his ping pong balls? Do I remember any particular episode? Nope. So plot is not as memorable as character. What about setting? To be honest, I could not tell you a single thing from the Captain’s set … did it look like a ship? It might make sense, but I am not sure.

What makes a compelling character? Well, for a character to be memorable, I need to either really love or really hate the character. A wishy washy character is not going to do it for me. Does the character need to be over the top? Not necessarily, but it might not hurt. How about funny? That really helps … not a clown, but an interesting view of the world.

Hints for creating compelling characters:

  1. Sense of humor. Not slap stick, but cool turns of the phrase. Saying something unexpected.
  2. An unusual interest, or hobby. A character that seems to be slightly out of place. For example, a cop in a rural South Carolina town that quotes Thomas Mann might be unusual. The compelling question then becomes, where did he come across this?
  3. An unexpected soft side. Something that shows an unexpected connection with at least some fellow human beings. For example a bank robber who always hands a little folding stuff to panhandlers.
  4. A person who seems unflappable. A cop, a detective, or even a criminal who maintains their cool when everyone else is degenerating into panic. We always tend to gravitate to people who remain calm and exude professionalism … even when it is professional criminals.
  5. Avoids clichés. The suave and debonair art thief, the crooked defense attorney, the criminally inclined police officer, the cowboy detective are all clichés. This does not mean that one of these types of characters cannot make an appearance in the book, but there had better be something unique and memorable about them, or they degenerate into cartoon characters … and when is the last time a cartoon character was truly memorable? It takes more than a rabbit that can talk to make the character memorable. About the only talking rabbit I remember is Bugs Bunny … and that is because speech is actually the least surprising thing about him.

I truly hope you have a wonderful day. Go forth and write.

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