How do you create memorable characters?
It's a question we all want answered. While creating depth and building the character is up to you, creating characters that aren't cardboard cutouts is actually quite simple. (Please note, however, that this post is not about creating characters with depth and meaning. This post is about a sub-division of character-building: making characters memorable. There's much more to character than this.)
In my own quest for memorable characters, I've encountered several ways you can help make your character "worthy of remembrance". One in particular stands out, however: the Defining Trait.
If you think of your favorite characters in the stories you've read, you can probably think of a defining trait right away. Gandalf is rather mysterious and sometimes grumpy. Tibber the Fibber (from Bryan Davis's "Dragons of Starlight") is, well, rather cracked.
The defining trait doesn't even have to be a "kind" of character, i.e. crazy or grumpy or playful or sharp-tongued. It could just be a way of saying things. Another example from Bryan Davis's books would be Sir Barlow, who loves puns, idioms, and pithy sayings. In one of my short stories, I have a character that is constantly saying that she "abhors" things. For example:
"No buts!" cried the Count. "No quotations! No repetitions! I abhor them."
"No statements!" said the Count. "No observances! No useless notations! I abhor them."
Another example of a defining trait can be found in the character of Danton Brownbarr in my short story, "The Reality Ring". (And as a side note, I just finished it today. It's about a hundred words longer than In Stasis. The consensus so far is that it's a good story, but not as good as In Stasis.)
Take a look at these two snippets:
"Director Brownbarr, sir!" The man burst into Brownbarr's office with the speed of a twentieth century cannonball. His hair was wild and his ASP badge—with his name, Jeremy Mothinghotch, just visible—was hanging on by a couple of threads from his shirt.
Danton Brownbarr, Director of the African Secret Police, glanced up from his desk.
"What is it, Mothinghotch?" he snapped. Brownbarr had only been here since eight in the morning, but he already knew that Mothinghotch had a knack for chaos and confusion, not to mention his barely-adequate form of the dress code. "This had better be good, or I'll have you charged with gross breach of conduct and strung from a street light by your toes."
"Halt the stream," Brownbarr said. "Vullerman hasn't been informed?"
"I thought you knew, sir—"
"Are you a blockhead, Mothinghotch, or do you simply have selective memory? I haven't been informed of anything on the Vullerman case yet. I was just transferred from the Ministry of Overseas Affairs."
"Sorry, sir. Mr. Vullerman hasn't been informed."
Brownbarr grunted. "So he's had four anonymous death threats and we also intercepted a hit man in his neighborhood last week—and we're still keeping it a secret?"
"It was the Director's orders, sir." Mothinghotch paused for a moment. "Well, the last director, that is. And how do you know so much about Vullerman's case when you said you haven't been informed?"
"I haven't been informed...officially. But I've worked with Vullerman before, so I keep myself updated."
Just from these two excerpts, you can get a pretty good idea of what kind of a guy Brownbarr is, even though you've only read a little bit about him. That's because he has a defining trait.
So to create a character that is memorable, the easiest and fastest way is to find some defining traits. However, make sure that the character is always "in character", so to speak. If the pessimistic character is commenting on how nice it is today, don't you think that would be a bit odd? In the same way, put yourself in the character's head and ask yourself what you would do if you were defined by those traits.
Now, a defining trait isn't all there is to creating memorable characters: things such as character-building, character change, and depth are up to you. But once you have a defining trait, you're on your way to creating a character that your reader will remember.
What about you? Are there any ways you can think of to build dynamic and memorable characters? Can you think of any good examples of memorable characters? Let us know!