Writing unforgettable characters

When I’m reading a book, what stays with me after I’ve finished reading is not just the plot but the characters as well. So I asked my Twitter friends to tell me some of the characters in fiction that they find unforgettable.

Quite a few people responded and it’s added several books to my reading list as well.

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The Kite Runner was a book that haunted me too. I recommended it right, left and centre before it became a big thing. I think the little kid in the end, Hassan’s son, stayed with me but yes Amir too.

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A Fine Balance is a book that I don’t want to go back to, anytime soon. It fascinated me but depressed me as well. What an ending!

And there are some books which have been added to my reading list now.

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And then there are these favourites too.

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As a writer, I’m fascinated with characters and what makes them unforgettable. Continuing my Writing Tips series, I tweeted five pointers about characterisation. A little expanded version is here:

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1. How well do you know your characters? Do you know what clothes they like to wear, what food they like to eat, what TV shows they watch, what books they like to read, what they don’t like… Everything about them. Keep a notebook about them and make notes about the characters. As much as you can at least. Keep those notes, refer to them whenever you get stuck about something and get writing!

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2. No one likes perfect people. In real life or in books. Characters with flaws are what everyone can relate to. In fact the more flawed the character, the better the story is, depending on whether there’s a redemption story in there. It’s why we so often fall in love with anti-heros like Sidney Carton. Even if they can’t be redeemed, there’s something so relatable about them that they stay with you long after you’ve rest the book. Like Scarlet O Hara who annoyed me like anything. But she’s still unforgettable.

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3. Sometimes an analysis of your favourite character might work. Trying to understand them, why they are the way they are. I’ve noticed that layered characters are the ones with rich back stories that allows writers to work their way back and forth. One of my favourite characters is Snape from the Harry Potter series. And what a character he is! Sometimes characters might not have any back story as such or you may not really be bothered with that because they’re so quirky. Whether it’s Hercule Poirot or Psmith, these are characters that live forever.

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4. When I posted this tip on Instagram, a friend commented that this sounds a lot like having multiple personality disorder! It’s actually true. When you’re a writer, you’re leading multiple lives. Often you’re immersed in the world of the book, the problems of the protagonists and how they’re going to solve them. It’s what gives that dreamy air to writers and causes my mother to lament that I pay more attention to fictional people than I do to real people! Not true by the way. It’s just that my characters are real to me and I like them to achieve whatever they’ve set out to achieve. If they can’t, I stand back and commiserate. And sometimes I just find it hard to let go of them even when the book is written and sent out for publishing. So sometimes I make up fan fiction with them in my head. But that’s okay. You don’t really need to know how crazy I am! But it does give you an idea of the level of my involvement with them I suppose!

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5. The most important one of all! Contrary to what my family thinks, I’m not always ‘lost in my own world’ because I’m looking at people carefully. I’m observing everyone around me and it all gets stored somewhere in my head where I’m not even aware of, but I draw inspiration from that hidden store whenever possible. The thing is, I don’t do this consciously. Neither the observing, nor the drawing out. It’s a part of my psyche. So try and start people watching (unobtrusively please) and make it a habit. You’ll discover a wealth of information that you might eventually use in writing about a character.

Well, that’s it for now now! I’ll be back with more writing tips on how to deal with writer’s block (err… What’s that?) and other such helpful pointers.

As for my favourite characters –

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Actually I’m sure there are more but these were who I could recall off the top of my head during the Twitter session.

Follow me on Twitter to get involved in other such discussions in future. My Twitter id is andaleebwajid.