I was on a road trip with my husband when we saw a Maserati parked in front of a nice restaurant. With stars in my eyes, I exclaimed, “That’s the car Morgan drives!”, to which my poor husband asked, “Who’s Morgan?”
“You know, Morgan…from Kristen Heitzmann’s book.” It was only in that moment that I remembered Morgan wasn’t real. But in so many ways, heis—and we all want to create characters that have readers talking about them in parking lots eighteen years after reading the novel, don’t we?
Here are 5 tips for creating characters who linger.
1. Make Your Characters Relatable
"No one is perfect, and no character should be either."
Readers want to see characters going through hardship and struggle and coming out stronger on the other side.
They want to see a hero or heroine or side character with a sense of humor like theirs, or sympathies and passions for different causes. They want to see what makes them hurt or laugh or get mad.
A character that is relatable and has the reader nodding their head while whispering, “me too,” is what the author should strive for with every book.
2. Keep Your Characters True To Themselves
I typically write a strong character arc into my main hero and heroine, but even within that arc, I keep them true to their inner self—their morals, their backstory, their motivations.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a character suddenly doing something (especially something immoral or controversial) without a strong reason for doing so.
If your character thrives on truth, don’t have them flippantly tell a lie without showing how hard it is for them to do so. If your character is a neat freak, don’t have them suddenly start littering in a scene.
"Keep the characters consistent, even within their arc of personal growth and development."
3. Give Your Character Memorable Quirks
I will forever associate Morgan with Maserati’s. He was just that type of character. It fit. It made sense. The two of them go together like PB&J, and nothing will ever separate that for me.
"Give your characters something special that readers can remember later."
Maybe your hero has a penchant for ice cream sandwiches. Maybe your heroine has a pet parrot that only knew one comedic phrase. Maybe your heroine’s BFF ran a special ministry that could resonate with readers. Whatever it is that makes your character unique, flesh it out and make it count.
But remember to work it into the plot. The reason Morgan and Maserati’s paired so well wasn’t the alliteration so much as it was that the car itself was such a great symbol for whoMorgan was. Random quirks can be funny for the page, but to make them linger, it’s got to be connected to the story or the theme of your novel.
4. Create Sympathy via Motivation and Drive
Even villains have back stories. The goal is for the reader to understand and commiserate,even if (or especially if!) the reader doesn’t agree on a moral level. The reader needs to root for them.
Think about Thanos in Marvel. He had a good reason (though we could all agree it was pretty jacked up!) to want to obliterate half the universe. To him, it made sense. He had a true motivation and drive to do the horrible thing he wanted to do.
"Your hero and heroine need the same type of motivation and drive behind their goals and dreams."
It’s probably on a smaller scale than taking over the world, but why do they want to open that food truck? Why do they want to save their mother’s bakery or go back to school or obtain that promotion?
Getting creative here can really help establish the character in the reader’s mind and make them linger.
5. Keep Their Point of View Vivid and Accurate
One of the best parts about writing a novel is getting to be a different person! For an entire manuscript, we get to pretend to know what it would be like to live in the head of an artist or a horse-crazy rancher or a prima ballerina.
When you’re in Deep POV (point of view), it’s crucial to keep that distinctive voice true to your character, and not let your own voice or another character’s voice step in.
"What would your particular character notice about the room they’re in?Heads up—it might not be whatyou would naturally notice."
For example, my husband used to be an electrician, and for years we couldn’t go anywhere without him immediately analyzing the lighting of the restaurant we’d walked into. But a baker probably wouldn’t.
Just like if you’re in the POV of a hero, he’s not going to describe the heroine’s dress in fashion-savvy lingo or with women’s brand names attached. He’s going to think it’s white and her legs look good.
In that same vein, an art teacher or a makeup stylist would probably think of colours as hues of crimson, burnt orange, and periwinkle, while a lawyer or construction worker would be more likely to think “red” or “blue."
Keeping these nuances in mind when writing a POV scene can mean all the difference between creating a forgettable character, and creating one who lingers with a reader years later.
About the Author
Betsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of over twenty romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her hubby, two daughters, an impressive stash of coffee mugs, and one furry Schnauzer-toddler. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for the written word.
When she’s not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can be found somewhere in the vicinity of an iced coffee. She writes frequently for iBelieve, a devotional site for women. Her latest novel, Tacos for Two, released October 2022 through Revell.