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Mar 24, 2021

Creating Memorable Characters in Your Writing

By: Patricia Jellerson

Are you satisfied with writing an interesting and readable manuscript? Of course! But we want more, right? Every author hopes to have a work that people just can’t put down, a ‘page-turner.’ For many readers, character and character development are the most important elements of fiction writing. They want to be drawn in and fully involved with the people you have created. Often, the plot could be weak, but an interesting character will move it along and still capture the reader’s interest. But, how do we create memorable characters? 

First, you have to live with your character. It’s not just enough to write about a character. You –as the author–must know him or her through and through. Sleep, eat and dream with your characters! In the same fashion as putting a quilt together, if you fully realize your main characters (MCs), the supporting players fall into place. When I write a romance (my genre of choice), my MCs are always nearby. I wonder about their reactions to everything I observe and experience. What would they say? What action would they take? I imagine them not just in crisis but in everyday circumstances, keeping me company in my daily life. And of course, I always fall in love with my hero! If I don’t, who else will?

Second, it is helpful to make a list of each primary characters’ attributes, both positive and negative. For example, the hero in my current novel is described as melancholy, skilled, humorous, apart, intense, weary and bitter. I know his favorite colors and foods, pastimes, and what he enjoys reading and wearing. This is what I like to call ‘inner life.’ Characters with an inner life are rich, unique and have the depth to hold a reader. 

Third, create a history for your MCs. What was childhood like? Adolescence? First love? First experience with tragedy? Who is the most influential person in their life, and why? These questions are important to answer for villains or anti-heroes, not just protagonists. There is always a history that made your character as he/she appears in your work. Sometimes this is revealed in the story, but often, it is implied.  If a character’s past isn’t clearly realized, the reader just isn’t as invested. Think of your favorites – don’t you feel as if you know those imaginary people? To me, Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Christy, Howard Roark, and Sherlock Holmes are very real, and I wonder and imagine what happens before and after the written story. Think of your favorite fiction characters…what makes them memorable? 

Fourth, what is your MC’s journey? We all are on a journey, real or spiritual. I love to read Joseph Campbell and his explorations of myth and archetype. (By the way, I always choose my MC’s birthday and zodiac sign!) The hero/heroine’s journey has been a driving force in literature as far back as cave paintings and Homer’s Odyssey. And there is a reason we follow the universal concept of the hero’s journey; it speaks to us and resonates deep in our own experience. Even supporting characters have a journey not always represented in print, but it’s still important to map it out. It is usually the conflicts between various characters in their personal journeys that creates tension in your work.

When a writer approximates a character, the reader will do the same. They will never become emotionally invested because we as writers aren’t emotionally vested in our characters. And if your characters and their actions or words don’t make sense to a reader, they will lose interest quickly.  Yes, plot is important. Structure, pacing and narrative are important. But if you expand your writing to include interesting, fully-realized protagonists, antagonists, and supporting players, your loyal readers will follow you -and your characters- anywhere.
About the author

Patricia Jellerson is a semi-retired Hunter/Jumper trainer, and a licensed United Equestrian Federation judge. She started writing poetry and fiction in college, but an equestrian career took precedence, and she resumed writing in 2020. Patricia studied under two great Southern writers, William Price Fox and James Dickey at The University of South Carolina.

She is about to finish the second draft of a first novel. The Heart of a Warrior is a historical romance which takes place in England, 1403. The heroine is an opinionated young woman with the skills of a warrior; and the hero, a brooding mercenary.

Patricia currently resides in Edmond, Oklahoma with her husband Marcus and three lively terriers. Although semi-retired, she still trains a few clients, and continues to judge horse shows. She writes every day.

Visit her artist’s website at