GP: Distinguishable characters by Andrew McDowell

This week’s guest poster is my wonderful friend Andrew McDowell, author of Mystical Greenwood which came out earlier this year.  He is here today to discuss characters.  Enjoy.

Banner Guest post Distinguishable characters by Andrew McDowell. Tips for creating strong characters in your writing

Hello.  Firstly, let me thank Ari for inviting me to be a guest post on her blog.  This is the first time I’ve ever been a guest blogger, and I hope I do a good job.

Distinguishable Characters

Key to a good story, apart from a solid plot, is having memorable characters. It’s important that they come alive off the page and are easy to distinguish from one another, especially main characters.

Confusion can arise if a reader cannot remember who is who within the story, and therefore they cannot truly enjoy the story. So what steps can be taken to ensure characters are easy to distinguish and remember?

To begin with, names are important. Every writer wants to find the right names to fit their characters, but names can also be used to help tell characters apart. William M. Akers, in Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways to Make It Great, recommends varying certain factors that can also be applied in all forms of fiction: first initial, letter length, and ending rhyme.

Not all three can always be applied to every name, but one or two can usually. And if some characters have the same first name, such as in a period story, they can be referred to by last names instead, or titles if they are nobility.

When it comes to physical traits, there are characters in literature and film with unique ones. For example, in The Princess Bride Count Rugen has six fingers on one hand, while in the movie The Man with the Golden Gun Christopher Lee’s character has a third nipple. However, unique traits should only be given if they serve a purpose.

Other traits include those that often come up when physical descriptions are given, like the shape of heads, ears, noses, and chins, as well as hairstyle, hair color, and eye color. Depending on the kind of story being told, and the characters within it, these traits can be varied and combined in different ways.

But in the end, the most important aspect to creating distinguishable and memorable characters, the one that is more crucial than any other, is character depth itself. Characters come alive through their personalities, through their actions, virtues, and flaws. They should be given unique positive and negative traits.

Good titles to read are The Positive and Negative Trait Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, as well as their Emotion Thesaurus. They provide excellent and detailed lists which can help in building character depth. They can be combined in various ways too, especially within an epic story with multiple characters.

Certainly all this can feel overwhelming, and there is the possibility of overdoing it. Keeping character lists is a good way to track and manage names and traits side-by-side. They do not need to be assigned unique traits at the outset.

Sometimes, especially with personality traits, they can appear to the writer as their work progresses. In the end, there are many different ways through which writers can create unique characters that readers can relate to, love, hate, and remember.

About Andrew McDowell

Author Andrew McDowellAndrew McDowell wanted to be a writer ever since he was a teenager. He studied History and English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and is a member of the Maryland Writers’ Association. In addition to his YA fantasy novel Mystical Greenwood, Andrew has also published poetry and creative nonfiction, including a prize-winning essay about his experiences with Asperger Syndrome. He is an associate nonfiction editor with the journal JMWW.

Book cover image of Mystical Greenwood by author Andrew McDowell

About Mystical Greenwood

Mystical Greenwood, Book I in the trilogy One with Nature,

Publisher: Mockingbird Lane Press

Dermot’s life changes when he encounters a gryphon and a mysterious healer.  Drawn into a conflict against one determined to subjugate the realm of Denú, he and his brother are forced to leave their home.

A legendary coven must now reunite, and Dermot discovers a deep, sacred magic which exists within every greenwood he crosses through. Can he protect those he loves, or will all that’s good be consumed by darkness?

Purchase it from Amazon or Barnes & Nobel

Connect with Andrew

WordPress | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Google+ | Tumblr

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Big thanks to my friend and author, Andrew for guest posting on my blog.  I hope you enjoyed his article as much as I did. 

Do make sure to check out his website and his other social media links.  If you have any questions or comments for Andrew, drop them below 🙂

I will be back on Friday as normal.  See you then 😀

Happy writing

 Ari

 

14 thoughts on “GP: Distinguishable characters by Andrew McDowell

  1. Good advice. I find names that are similar is one of the most confusing things. I always try to start each name with a different letter. In my current wip. I’m going to have to change one of the minor character’s names because it’s too similar to a major character. Even I’ve typed the wrong name on occasion!

    • Thank you. I try to start different names with different letters, but sometimes that hasn’t worked, and so in addition to ending rhyme and letter length, varying the second letter I find can help too.

  2. Wonderful advice, Andrew! It’s so important to create characters that stand out and who readers remember! Cheers and best wishes for a bestseller!

  3. Pingback: Distinguishable Characters | Andrew McDowell

  4. Oh wow the Six-Fingered Man! I never could remember his actual name but I sure do remember the Six-Fingered Man…even though I was probably 10 the last time I watched Princess Bride. I guess that really does go to show the impact of having characters with memorable traits!

    • True Rebecca. In that case it served the purpose of allowing Inigo to remember and then identify his father’s killer decades after the crime.

      There is an actual term for having extra fingers/toes: polydactyly (the opposite is oligodactyly – having fewer fingers/toes).

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