January 20, 2009

Memorable Characters that Rival Scarlett and Rhett


by DiAnn Mills


Sit back and close your eyes. Who are your favorite book or movie characters? Are they Scarlett and Rhett? Perhaps Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia? Sam and Frodo? Ahab and the whale? The Lone Ranger and Tonto? The list goes on and on. Why are these characters unforgettable? What about them causes us to laugh and cry and wonder if they are all right?

The key is that the writer defined the characters with believable traits and clear motivation. We care about those characters. We live our lives vicariously through them. To many readers, their favorite characters must be real people because they live in their hearts and minds.

How does a writer create memorable characters? She establishes wants and needs that lay the foundation for critical motivation. If I asked you to take a moment and write down all of the things you wanted, the items might fill a book. But if I asked you to compile a list of what you needed, the project becomes a little more difficult. We don’t always know what we need, but finding out becomes a process of soul searching and experiencing life. But when needed items become goals, we are motivated to go after those things vital to our survival.

Character sketches provide great help to laying the foundation for our characters. They force us to think—brainstorm about what motivates the character. And there’s that word again: motivation.

The roots of motivation are unmet needs. How these needs are fulfilled depends on the character’s integrity, established over time through life experiences, inherited factors, and environment. No wonder we humans are flawed characters! No protagonist is perfect. No antagonist or villain is completely evil. But some characters have more flaws than others, and out of those flaws come weaknesses and room for character growth. Out of the admirable traits come our heroes and heroines, who have the stuff that gives us hope and help us to believe again in the goodness of mankind.

All of us have a need for relationships, significance, and security. These critical needs are supposed to be filled by God, but we, as flawed “characters,” look for fulfillment in other areas, and those areas become our weaknesses. Examine your character’s struggle. Does he/she have a need for sex, for material goods, power, work, education, or the arts? How are those weaknesses manifested? Does your character seek to satisfy his basic needs in ways that honor God? In short, what motivates the character?

My suggestion is to study your character from every angle to determine the underlying factors shoving them out of bed each morning. Interview them. Live with them. Go to dinner with them. Place them in settings that are unlike the previous scenes. Would you take a vacation with them? How a character reacts and responds to the events surrounding him determines who he is. Steer away from predictable behavior but stay within the perimeter of the traits you have assigned.

The next time you are reading a dynamic novel or watching a movie that has you sitting on the edge of your chair, take the time to discover the characters’ motivations. This article has just touched on the volumes of information about writing memorable characters. I hope I’ve given you inspiration to discover the techniques behind the scenes.

Scarlett and Rhett are unforgettable. Now you know why! Here is my question for you. Who are your favorite book or movie characters and why? I look forward to your response.

Check out my website at www.diannmills.com and sign up for my newsletter! Also, I have a book trailer for Breach of Trust, a March 1 release.


Vickie McDonough said...

Great stuff, DiAnn!

I just read M.L. Tyndall's The Red Siren, and it was fabulous. It skyrocketed to my Favorites' list. The characters are great. Sassy, spunk heroine, who is a pirate. Honorable, duty-calls hero determined to rid the area of pirates. Lots of conflict!

Leigh said...

Scarlett and Rhett are two of my favorites, though I could be biased because I'm a Georgia girl. :-) I love the tension between them and that we see how vulnerable they both are under their brash exteriors. I want to whack them upside the head sometimes for their stubbornness, but that just makes them more real.

If I get to Blue Ridge this year I definitely want to take your class on plot and character!

Sandee61 said...

I have to say Rhett and Scarlett, but two more couples are huge favorites of mine...one from a book, Diana Galbaldon's Outlander series {Jamie and Claire)and from a movie, Titanic, Rose and Jack.
There are many others from books and movies that I love, but these made me laugh, cry and in general, bring out the romantic and sentimental side of me. Of course, my hubby laughs when I try to hide my tears...but he has his soft side too....and the couple in the movie "Open Range" gets him every time! This was fun!



Leigh said...

Oh, Sandy, I forgot about Jamie and Claire! You're right -- they're another great couple. I was so hooked on those books I dreamed about the characters! I read them back-to-back through The Fiery Cross but my addiction was broken because it was so long before Snow and Ashes came out. Talk about some historical research!


DiAnn Mills said...

Thanks for the great dialogue! Oh, we do love our characters! Over this past week, I was with several fiction writer buds . . . our topic of discussion was how passionate we feel about our characters.

Anonymous said...

Lori Wick's characters are ones that I can often relate to and yet at the same time want to emmulate, they are real and yet they desire to know God and truth about Him in His Word. Characters that have depth and a true desire for God are ones I can appricate.