Memorable characters–whether you hate them or love them, the best characters are the ones that stick in your mind. They’re the ones you walk away from a book, or movie, wondering what happens to them next.
But what is it about them that makes them memorable characters?
For me, it’s a variety of things:
- They must arouse my emotions. In other words, I need to either love them or hate them. There is no in between. Or I need to love to hate them (or hate to love them). A good example of this is Kylo Ren from the latest Star Wars movies. There is a part of me that hopes he will turn good, but there’s another part of me that loves to hate him. I have the same reaction to him as I did to Darth Vader.
- Relatable. If it’s a hero/heroine, they must be relatable. Whether I feel sorry for their plight, I’m rooting for them, or I fantasize about leading their life, I want to be on their side. This is similar to rousing my emotions, but some characters, like the villains, I don’t need to relate to them in order for them to be memorable. However, if I don’t relate to the protagonist, I need, at the very least, to relate to their plight.For instance, my daughter and I watched Edward Scissorhands the other day. He’s a fantastical character. While I couldn’t relate to being a robot, the isolation, the feeling of being different, and the experience of being bullied is something I could relate to. I don’t think I’m alone in this either.
- Intelligence. For the most part, to be a memorable character, they need to be intelligent. There are exceptions (Lenny from Of Mice and Men), but these are few and far between for me. If the hero/heroine does something stupid, there must be a reason for it. All of us make stupid mistakes regardless of our intelligence. Unfortunately, we realize it after the fact. However, someone who has more hair than brains as the protagonist/villain doesn’t work for me. They don’t have to be a genius, although evil geniuses can be fun. Run of the mill intelligence works, too.
- Funny. While it’s not necessary for a character to be funny for them to be memorable, it certainly is one way to attain that. Often the comic relief is not the protagonist, but, rather, a sidekick. A good example of this is Bottom from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While he’s not the main character, he’s certainly memorable because he’s funny.
I am sure the list is longer than this, but in truth, these are the basic traits for me that make memorable characters.
Are there any traits that I’ve missed? If so, please let me know.
I like how you did this from your personal perspective and I agree with all you said. How we relate or not to a character and love to hate and hate to love (love that) the character is personal and yet a reaction many readers share. You mentioned some characters I’d forgotten, but the minute I read their name the relationship restructured.
That’s the key to a memorable character… just hearing their name brings them to mind. Kind of like scents and songs evoke memories, too. 🙂
Hi Both, I do so agree – just hearing the name brings that smile or that shudder. Lenny from Of Mice and Men is very memorable. Anne
Marci, that’s a good list of qualities. Particularly, if I can’t identify with the protagonist, there is not much point in reading on! I think that’s particularly regarding their motivations. I vaguely remember a book I read when I was maybe 10, in which the hero became the dictator of the USA. At that time, I read everything, even newspaper bits blowing along a street, so I read it. Now, I wouldn’t bother.
Re-reading my comment, slap on the wrist: I repeated the word “Particularly.”
No worries. It’s just a comment. 🙂
We need something, Bob, to connect and/or to keep us reading. There are some books written from the POV of a serial killer. (None that I read, but some people like that.) Whether it’s fascination or empathy or whatever it is to motivate us to finish the book. I used to read a book, no matter how much I hated it, all the way to the end. Not any more. I don’t have that kind of time to waste. LOL
Right on – it is all about emotional connections, either spite, anger, revenge or love – if the character moves you to “feel” that’s what makes them memorable. (I agree on Lenny – same as Jessie Best in Simple Jess.
Interesting post, and I agree they have to be intelligent. I hadn’t thought of that, but can’t stand too stupid to live characters. And like Rhobin, some of the names immediately brought those characters to mind.
I got thinking about intelligence, Beverley. Sometimes, stupid is funny and makes that character memorable. Dr. Rumack (played by Leslie Nielsen) in Airplane was incredibly stupid, but hilarious. All of the main characters had very little brain power to rub together, which is why the movie was so awesome. Of course, it was slapstick, and that makes a difference.
Being a MacGyver and Sherlock fan, I have to admit that intelligence always grabs me by the boo-boo. If you want my attention in a book, give me a character who is able to see the world in a different light – be it through how a paperclip can fly a plane or how the details tell the story of a person.