You’ve probably heard it said that one of the top things agents and editors look for in a novel is unforgettable characters. Characters who embody a difficult balance: strong but somehow flawed (allowing potential for growth), moral but not too saintly (because that would be boring), consistent but not without quirks (because real people have multifaceted personalities). But how can you be sure to achieve such a feat?
One of the best ways is by getting to know your characters better. Try this. Sit down and free write, in your character’s own voice, his or her description of or reaction to the following:
- a crowded public place
- a messy room
- his favorite drink (alcohol or otherwise)
- a food he just tasted again after many years
- his car
- his kids sitting next to him on the plane or on a bench
- someone else’s kids sitting next to him on the plane or on a bench
Of course, feel free to add more ideas of your own, and make substitutions where needed, e.g. a horse or a spaceship in place of the car if you’re not writing contemporary fiction. Then try the exercise again. This time write about a specific memory that each of these items triggers for your character, once again writing in the character’s own voice.
With any luck, once this is finished you’ll have filled in concrete details about things you’d already intuited: is he a loner or gregarious? OCD or a bit of a slob? Which fond memories helped shape the person he strives to be? What haunts him from the past?
The best fictional characters make us believe they are flesh and blood. That’s because the author saw them that way. Get to know your characters on that level, and the “unforgettable” part will take care of itself.