The Art of Creating Memorable Fictional Characters

A story is a completed process of change which has the ability to move readers’ feelings powerfully and pleasurably (or painfully) in a definite way. But though the story may arise and progress out of causality (plot), it is our interest in… affinity with… horror at… the protagonist/s and/or antagonist/s that keeps us hooked.  Frequently we tend to remember the characters long after we have forgotten the plot.

A story may be structured like a journey with…

a compass   — the premise… theme… threads.

a map the plot

an engine the motivation of the protagonist ( & other central  characters).

dialogue   —  the fuel of the story

Exposition  — the  territory through which the story travels

This means the depth, dimensionality and authenticity of the story’s characters are vital. Many new writers are too soft on their characters and as the story may be a quest — a hard, dangerous journey (either physical or emotional) from point a to point b in which the protagonist has an extremely strenuous time ― the writer needs to create characters who can take all the physical, emotional and mental punishment the story is about to hand out. Fictional characters must possess sufficient strength of character to handle difficult dilemmas. In other words — characters must be up to the plot.

Course Structure

  • What comes first plot or character? Does it matter?
  • Character and characterisation – understanding the difference
  • The raw material of character… the five psychological factors.
  • Plus … physiology – sociology – psychology
  • Character is forged in conflict. Is your character up to it? Is the conflict up to the character?
  • A protagonist must have difficult choices. The character’s MOTIVATION is all important. WHAT DOES THIS PERSON WANT? Wilful desire ― unconscious desire ― desire pursued right to the end of the line
  • Character growth through the story
  • Creating the world of the protagonist. Back-story or Exposition
  • Creating the antagonist ― polar relationships ― maximising the opportunity for conflict.
  • Secondary characters… how to make them memorable without being ciphers
  • E. M. Forster’s view of ‘round’ and ‘flat’ characters.
  • Multi-protagonists. These must have either – a relationship ― be tightly bound together — have a common cause
  • Writing out of gender – making characters of the opposite sex credible

© John Harman 2011