What makes a character memorable?

Other posts in Rhobin’s Rounds

This is the task Rhobin Courtright has set her group.

Well, what makes a person memorable? After all, character is a person in a book.

The people I remember are those who have had an emotional impact on me, or led me to see the world differently. They are people I admired and chose to copy, and those whose actions made me decide to do the opposite.

We can expand each of these.

Emotional reaction

We remember people we loved or hated, friends and enemies from the past. So, one way I can get you to remember my character is to make this invented person your beloved friend or hated enemy, at least while you’re reading my story.

I will always remember Mr Kat, a Presbyterian minister, with fondness, because he changed the way I saw myself and my world. He told me he was happy to have me marry in his church, because I was a Buddhist. When I read up on Buddhism, I found he was correct, and this gave my rambling beliefs focus and legitimacy. If one of my characters does the same for you, I know that’s a person who will stay with you for a long time.

There were also people who bullied me, made my life a misery. I don’t hate them anymore — but I used to when I was young. Even though I’ve let go of the emotion, I find that whenever I need a villain in a story, this character is the reflection of a villain from my past. Perhaps the best villain who has come to me, ever, is Moustaf the Areg trader, who features in the Stories of the Ehvelen. And he bears remarkable similarities to my uncle…

Role models

Many famous characters jump out at me as role models: From Tolkien’s four books they are Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, but even more Sam, Frodo’s friend and support. They show how to be brave, ingenious and determined.

Photo credit: New Line Cinema

I’d never want to follow Hercule Poirot, but Agatha Christie’s other detective, Jane Marple, is something else. I admire and want to follow her understanding of human nature, her powers of observation, and subtleness of thought.

Of Isaac Asimov’s many characters, I want to copy the inbuilt decency of his robots, for example R. Daneel Oliwaw. OK, these robots were programmed to be decent, but that doesn’t stop them from being good examples to unprogrammed humans.

I’ve deliberately tried to create characters I hope you’ll admire enough to want to copy: Pip in Ascending Spiral, Sylvia in Hit and Run, Gerald, Kirsten, Mick and Maraglindi in Guardian Angel are all people who’d do well as role models for anyone. If you haven’t read these books, it’s not too late! However, I am a lousy businessman. You can find out a considerable amount about them by going to the relevant book page, where I’ve posted extracts for your enjoyment.

Please check out what other contributors to Rhobin’s Rounds have to say:

Skye Taylor
Anne Stenhouse
A.J. Maguire
Rhobin L Courtright
Marci Baun
Beverley Bateman

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About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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11 Responses to What makes a character memorable?

  1. wildchild says:

    I think all writers strive to write memorable characters. Whether I’m successful or not remains to be seen. LOL The key is creating ones that evoke emotion. That is the biggest challenge, I think.

    Marci

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  2. Hi Bob! I read your article days ago and really loved all of your examples. I thought all the characters in the Lord of the Rings series were memorable. I read a lot of Asimov, couldn’t stand Poirot but liked Miss Marple, too. Isn’t it interesting Asimov’s idea of a robotic person could become factual within decades? From fiction to fact.

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    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Well, Rhobin, I worry about today’s development toward robot persons, because multinationals and governments are unlikely to include Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Ethics are such a limitation on business!

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  3. Skye-writer says:

    I think we’ve all hit on the critical piece in different ways – a memorable character connects with the reader emotionally in one way or another And the most memorable ones can change the course of your life.

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  4. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Yes, I think that’s what I meant by positive or negative role models. I’d love to have the courage of Malala’s father, for example.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. okwriter says:

    A great post. I enjoyed your thoughts and characters. I think we all mentioned the emotional connection with the reader, without it the reader won’t remember the character. Beverley

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  6. ajmaguire says:

    I’m wondering if this emotional connection we get with characters is based on tragedy. Most of the characters I remember are ones I have seen suffer a deep loss.

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  7. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Certainly, I also remember people who have come through a crucible of suffering, but there are the positive ones as well. One of my favourite movie characters is Peter Sellers’ Dr. Fu Manchu.

    🙂

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  8. Hi Bob, Yes, we do remember emotional impact for good or bad. Anne

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