After my exhausting two week blog tour, I’m happy to take a break and hand over to another blogger Dan Alatorre. Today he shares with us a guest post all about creating memorable characters using his newly released book ‘The Navigators’ as a guideline.
6 Steps To Creating Memorable Characters – a guest post by Dan Alatorre
As young readers, we probably loved a character that we saw in a book and ended up carrying that character with us the rest of our lives. As adults, we still love big screen movie icons and characters from books, wishing we were that courageous or that suave or that funny.
As authors, we want our readers to feel that way about the characters we create.
Findlay, the bad guy in The Navigators, my fast-paced sci-fi thriller about a group of paleontology students who make an amazing discovery, was accidentally created – by the good guys!
Melissa, the hero in this new release, starts out as almost a secondary player. “Missy” eventually she takes over and saves the day.
Peeky is Ishmael watching Captain Ahab go crazy after the whale, merely a witness to events, until we learn what he’s hiding. Then we realize nothing is what it seems in this story, why he’s the narrator, and that we are in for a fun ride.
So that’s WHAT they are; HOW do we make them memorable?
- Whether real or larger than life, the reader has to connect with the character.
When you read The Navigators, you have a feeling about most of these characters before the end of chapter one. I make them a person the reader identifies with – and not always in a good way.
As kids, we’ve all known a bully. We’ve all had a crush on somebody we couldn’t talk to. We’ve all had an embarrassing secret get out – maybe at a really bad time. We don’t forget that stuff, and if we’re reminded of it in a story, we are right back in the eighth grade cafeteria, dropping our lunch tray in front of the whole school. We’re with the character right up to our eyeballs.
That’s gold for an author.
I showed Peeky as likable, then much later I revealed his secret and showed him to be less than likable, and by the end of the story he had regained the readers’ sympathy.
But we first made him likable. I did that by having other characters show they like him.
But… we had to like them first.
Missy has achieved status in the group of friends by being smart and hard-working. Missy is also the moral compass of the male-dominated clan. She isn’t afraid to set everybody straight. These are all admirable qualities, so we like her. When she jokes around with Peeky, we like him because she does.
- Make the character a whole person with three dimensions.
The reader transfers that initial fondness – and gives the benefit of the doubt – to Peeky. Later, he will have to demonstrate his worth, which he does by trying to save his drowning friend’s life – but only after he accidentally sees Missy go for a near-naked swim. He feels bad about seeing her, but he’s human. So now we see he’s flawed, and we appreciate his shame. We feel that shame, too (after all, as we read it we were right there watching with him). He’s complex and three-dimensional, not a cardboard cut out.
- Have your characters grow during the story.
I kind of explained Missy there, but here’s the rest. She a graduate student but she isn’t in charge of her life yet. She doing what she’s supposed to do and it’s only after she sees how easily everything can be taken away, like she’s seen studying great civilizations in the past, that she steps up and takes charge, ultimately taking charge of the entire group.
- Solidify our opinion of the character.
Mr. Mills, her dad, is a rich and powerful man who is a big teddy bear when his daughter is around. Readers like Missy a lot, and when she’s in for a big time scolding from dad, they love that he can’t help himself and just gives her a look and then bails her out while giving her a bear hug. We all want a dad like that. We love him, he loves her, and that reaffirms our good feeling about her. We trust her even more. We’ll follow her anywhere. She’s becoming larger than life.
- An adversary that challenges the hero
Findlay, our bad guy, starts out as a good guy! He gets made into the bad guy only after the gang cuts him out of his contribution to the discovery. So he has a vendetta, but from his perspective, he is in the right.
- If the bad guy is reeeeally bad = the good guys are even more good.
When Findlay captures Peeky, our meek and mild-mannered narrator, Findlay tortures him (verbally). Readers start to hate Findlay now. He already did things to mess with our heroes, but when he gets Peeky, Findlay dials it up to ten. He says and does things we’ve had said and done to us, and Peeky squirms the whole time. And I drag it out, so you really feel it. Findlay embarrasses Peeky. He then humiliates him. He makes sure every awful rock in Peeky’s past has been turned over and then almost makes Peeky grovel. Nobody wants that to happen to them. And the whole time, Findlay keeps saying Peeky’s name in a taunting manner. “You sat and watched them beat me up, didn’t you Peeky?” and “You didn’t help, did you Peeky?”
We’ve all had some kid on the playground in our face doing that. Nobody likes it, and by relating that commonality readers will feel what the character feels.
Then we have to show (red cheeks, squirming, wiping his sweaty palms) our character feeling what we want the reader to feel, and we have to take it to a new higher dramatic level, but we do it best by drilling down to our own core and taking the embarrassing, humiliating, cheek-reddening, never-forget-no-matter-how-hard-I-try stuff from our own lives, and putting that emotion out there for all to see and saying YOU’VE BEEN THERE, TOO.
That works. The readers connect again.
Memorable scene, memorable character(s).
Everybody who reads The Navigators comes away hating Findlay.
They all love Mr. Mills.
They cheer for Missy at the end and feel positive about where she’s going in her life.
And they are divided about Peeky. Most readers like him; a few don’t. That’s how he was written, so I did it right.
But who will they never forget?
The ones they connected with most. That’s why you have to put yourself in there. Your heart. Because it’s different for everybody but when you go there yourself, you make it universal.
Dan Alatorre is author several bestsellers. His new novel, The Navigators, is a fast-paced sci fi thriller that breaks new ground in its fascinating characters and truly unique story.
The Navigators (global link)
Dan’s Amazon author page