What Makes Characters Interesting?

Characters’ appearances don’t make them interesting. A physical deformity or tic can catch a reader’s attention initially, but appearance alone won’t sustain the interest of readers. The importance of the appearance of a character is more important in visual fiction, i.e. movies, than written fiction. Certainly, many beautiful/ handsome second-rate actors have had successful careers.

Characters’ actions make them memorable, especially if their actions are the result of being in conflict with the norms of their worlds.  Many authors make the mistake of making their character too predictable (stereotyping). Real people are a blend of weird contradictions. An example is action hero, Indiana Jones, faced all types of killers calmly but was terrified by snakes. I think most villains should do one kind action, like save a dog, during the course of a story. Similarly, heroes and heroines shouldn’t always be angelic. 

The desires and emotions of characters make their actions more believable and interesting. A person without desires tends to apathetic and is seldom worth knowing. Readers are more apt to identify with characters who react to situations as they would - with anger, surprise, or apathy. Generally, readers expect to learn more of characters’ inner worlds in literary fiction or mysteries than in action pieces.

Although most experts agree on the above basic points about character development, the methodologies are more debatable. I believe the easiest way to develop vital characters is to use real people, not sanitized views of them, as models. That way the characters won’t be too perfect.  Of course, authors should change the situations and characters to create fiction and avoid lawsuits.

One trick for developing unforgettable characters is to select the narrator carefully. When I started writing short stories eight years ago, I quickly realized that I had to develop characters and plots more quickly in short stories than in novels. To focus my thoughts, I decided I would write stories about mothers and began to interview dozens of acquaintances about their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. In several cases, I listened to stories about the same person from siblings or spouses. I also knew several of the women described. I quickly recognized that reality depended on the eyes of the beholder.
Then I wrote The Good Old Days? It’s a collection of stories about mothers in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. My second collection of stories about more modern women is called Other People’s Mothers and was published in April. There’s humor and pathos in these stories – “Shoes,” “How Old Is the Earth?” “I Won’t Eat Beets,” “Shopping for a Husband,” and more.
The women in these vignettes made choices. The narrators of the stories often didn’t understand the basis of the decisions because of incomplete information or personal biases. Accordingly, they warped the portraits of the women, and I could develop the characters to be more memorable.
Even if you don’t usually read short stories, try these tales. They’re short three to fifteen pages (great bed time reading). They might encourage you to take a fresh look at your mother and gain a more realistic understanding of yourself.  And you’ll see my attempts to develop memorable characters succinctly.
Other People’s Mothers and The Good Old Days? would also make a great Mother’s Day gift for relatives or friends.
The collections of short stories are available in paperback and Kindle format at Amazon. Other People’s Mothers: https://www.amzn.com/dp/1544895011
The Good Old Days?: http://amzn.com/1537743813

Bio: J. L. Greger likes to include tidbits of science and foreign locations in her thriller/mystery novels: I Saw You in Beirut, Murder: A New Way to Lose (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) contest and finalist for New Mexico/ Arizona book award), Ignore the Pain, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA contest). In her short stories, she prefers to focus on families. Her website is: http://www.jlgreger.com

Watch for J.L. Greger's book that will soon be available, Riddled with Clues.


JL Greger said…
Marilyn, thanks for hosting me. I hope this blog giver others ideas for creating interesting characters. They might find the interesting characters in OTHER PEOPLE'S MOTHERS make a good Mother's Day gift.

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