Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What Makes Your Characters Unique?

I always leave a little tea in my cup. I like to say it’s just my optimism—my way of seeing every glass half full. My husband says it’s just one of my many quirks.

If you asked my husband, he would tell you several other idiosyncrasies about me. The way my voice inflection and accent changes when I speak to different people. The way I choose particular utensils for each entrĂ©e (macaroni and cheese tastes ten times better if eaten from a bowl). The way I talk with my hands when I’m particularly nervous. These peculiarities define me to some extent, or make me unique anyway. Can you relate to any of these quirks?

As I work through edits of my first novel, I’ve realized (with the help of contest judges and critique partners), that my characters need more depth or distinctiveness. In fact, one of my critique partners pointed out that all of the characters sounded the same, and as I’ve read through the work again, I’ve come to agree with this observation. I believe my characters need specific quirks and distinct voices in order to make them likable and memorable. I'm beginning to realize the strength of my plot is directly related to the strength of my characters.

In James Scott Bell’s book, Plot and Structure, he says, “…the more the reader can identify with the Lead, the greater the intensity of the plot experience…identification means, simply, that the Lead [character] is like us.” He also says, “…the stronger the characters, the better your plot.”

When I recall my favorite novels, I immediately think about the characters. What would Anne of Green Gables be without the fiery, red-headed Ann with an e? There would certainly be less conflict or plot. What if Elizabeth Bennett lacked her wit and vivacity and did everything according to convention? She would be no match for Mr. Darcy and there would be no Pride and Prejudice. Or what if Charles Dickens’ character David Copperfield lacked his peculiar gift of observation? We would never find out if he was the hero of his own story. I’m drawn to these delightful novels because of the unique characters that drive the plot, and I find their quirks endearing or likable. 

So, I’m recreating my characters these days. I’m giving them depth and dimension by adding quirks, likable traits, and distinct voices, and in so doing, I hope I can create three dimensional people who strengthen the plot and remain with readers long after the last page.

What is one of your lead character’s quirks in your current WIP? What is one of your quirks? Who is one of your favorite novel characters? How does his/her character drive the plot?

Melanie N. Brasher is a full time mama of two boys and wife to an incredible husband who understands her bicultural background. She moonlights as a fiction and freelance writer, crafting stories and articles toward justice and change. She's a member of American Christian Fiction writers and a contributing blogger for Ungrind. Though she's an aspiring author, she'll never quit her day job.


  1. I leave a bit of tea in the bottom of my cup too, but that is because it gets cold by the time I get to the bottom and I like my tea piping hot. I have such a reputation as a tea drinker that I received six tea sets as wedding presents! I haven't actually done it yet, but I have thought I could make quite a quirky character simply by exaggerating a few of my own characteristics. Have fun with it, Melanie.

  2. I am not a fan of bonsai and used it in Streets on a Map as a quirk for one of my main characters.In the cuurent ms there are a couple of my quirks for various characters.

  3. Thanks for sharing your quirks, LeAnne & Dale. :) LeAnne, I love that you have a reputation as a tea drinker! I too love dainty teapots.

  4. My characters either are angelic or demonic in nature because I write about the spirit world with the human characters having special spiritual gifts.Those with special gifts tend to have very distinct personalities.