Think back to the most memorable characters you have ever read about?
What was it about that extraordinary character that stayed with you?
Whether you love Sherlock Holmes or find Hannibal Lecter incredibly creepy; they are extraordinary in their own right. I can think of so many extraordinary characters, but I’ll just share a few that really stuck with me and why.
This will foreshadow how you too can create your own extraordinary characters in your novel using a good plot structure with exposition and four dimensional character structuring.
- Khaleesi (Daenerys Targaryen) from Game of Thrones
- From emotionally, mentally, and physically abused exiled princess (Daenerys Targaryen) who was helpless, to becoming a strong warrior queen of the dragons who conquered cities and released slaves. Amazing, strong, powerful! That’s why her character stuck with me.
- Harry Potter (yes, huge Potter fan here).
- The boy who lived! From the orphan who lived under the stairs with his awful aunt, uncle, and nasty cousin – to the famous and powerful wizard who saved the world, defeated the antagonist, made life-long friends, and found his home at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry.
- Gollum from The Lord of the Rings
- I have a soft spot for Gollum. He’s a tormented soul. He used to be a happy hairy-footed hobbit named Sméagol, but due to his intense, corrupted desire for the ring, it turns him into an unnatural monster. Because we know where Gollum came from, who he was and what he has become; we feel sorry for him. He is also a comical character at times which makes him appear less evil; but rather very troubled. He is almost a character you feel like saving from himself. Gollum is a lovable and sometime hated character however he is unique and highly constructed. He is certainly a memorable character.
- Sarah Starzynski from Sarah’s Key
- 1942, Paris – Sarah, a ten-year-old Jewish girl hides her four-year-old brother in a secret cupboard in their apartment to keep him safe before the French Police knock on their door. She believes she’ll be back within a couple of hours to let him out. Instead Sarah and her parents are sent to the Drancy internment camp. Sarah is tormented by the fact that she left her brother in the cupboard and no one knows, and no one can help. Instantly, I felt drawn to Sarah’s character. The ending is bitter/sweet (I won’t ruin it for you – it’s certainly a MUST read!)
What do all of these extraordinary characters all have in common?
The number one factor that that sings stronger than any other is their journey. It’s their experience from who and where they were to who and where they end up. At the beginning of a novel, you are introduced to the everyday life and experience of your protagonist. This is called the exposition. This is where you make the initial connection with the character. You know who they are, where they are from, what their everyday struggles/problems are; you care about what happens to them. You become emotionally involved with their character on some level; almost like a friend.
Basic Elements of Plot
This basic plot structure shows how your story should unfolding around your protagonist to create a good background (exposition) about who they are and what we need to know in order to understand why the character is behaving in a certain way and how they might react as the story unfolds. We have a good understanding of what’s at stake.
This is a basic plot structure which I was taught in my writing and publishing degree and I’ve always stuck by the basic principles with writing my novels and short stories. There are some other less used plot structures (more for short stories) which I will share with you in future posts.
Extraordinary characters have the ability to tap into our human empathy and/or sympathy.
After reading this post I encourage you to dig deep and nut out all the reasons why a character stayed with you long after the final page was turned.
Things you may want to consider when developing your own characters are:
- Plot structure – focus on developing a really creative and solid exposition for your characters.
- Develop four dimensional characters –
- First dimensional (The Photograph) – Try to visualise your character in a still photograph. Think of visual characteristics.
- Second dimensional (The Videotape) – Try to visualise your character moving. What traits do they show? How do they behave? These are traits your character primarily shows as descriptive action such as; he lumbers, strolls, jolts, jitters, saunters.
- Third dimensional (The Stage) – Try to imagine your character interacting with others. What traits do they reveal when in a social interaction? Habitual behaviour is also a third dimensional trait.
- Fourth dimensional (Participatory Theatre) – This trait specifically deals with the inner mind of the character. What are they thinking? Why do they think that? What are their secrets? You need to enter the mind of your character to fully understand what motivates them.
- Be ethical – just be mindful when you create you extraordinary characters not to make them purely in the image or representation of someone real (and living). You can get into very real trouble for this… it’s called defamation.
“Character’s pre-exist. They are found. They reveal themselves slowly” – Elizabeth Bowen.
We’d absolutely love to hear your take on this subject of character development and structure. Share with us who your top extraordinary characters are in the comments section below.