Laura Howard: How to Create Unforgettable Characters


How to Create Unforgettable Characters

Katie Jennings is back on Finding Bliss to celebrate her upcoming release Rise of the Notorious, Book 2 of the Vasser Legacy Saga.

It also happens to be her one year anniversary of being a published author. Welcome back Katie, and Happy Anniversary (be sure to check out her debut novel Breath of Air, FREE on Amazon.)

What’s a great book without great characters? They drive the story and make it interesting, therefore it’s very important to get them right. Ergo, no Mary-Sues! No one wants another Bella Swan (sorry Twilight fans!). We want more Elizabeth Bennets and Catherine Earnshaws and Emma Woodhouses! We crave manly men like Heathcliff and arrogant ones like Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester! No more Mr. Perfects, please, I’ll take the bad boys with checkered pasts and the spunky temperamental girls any day!

But just how does a writer go about creating a memorable character? One that will stick with a reader for years to come, holding their hand like an old friend as they continue on with life, never really quite the same after having “met” them? Perhaps there’s no concrete formula for this, but I will say that the first thing a writer needs to do is get a really good grasp on human nature. If we’re going to write about people, then we should probably have a pretty good idea on how people operate, right?

So how does one go about doing this? Well, most of it is already ingrained in us, we just need to pay attention. Think about it. We interact with people every day. We watch people on television, we read about them in newspapers, we talk to them at the grocery store. We are inherently social creatures, and in addition to that, we are all also very unique in the way we react to situations. Everyone has their own special way of laughing, of speaking, of smiling. Every woman has her own way of crying, her own way of getting angry, and her own way of falling in love. Each man out there has his own way of expressing his frustration, voicing his opinion, or succumbing to his desires. Our differences are what make all of us special, so as writers it is so important that we spend time fleshing out our characters and really focusing on what it is that makes them different from everyone else out there.

What little quirk does your heroine have that has the hero stumbling over his feet to kneel before her? Is it her dimpled smile? Is it her ability to listen quietly to his needs and quote poetry to ease his stress? Or maybe it’s her sharp tongue and wit that always catches him off guard, just when he thinks he has the upper hand?

No matter what it is, make sure you think long and hard about the traits you want your character to have. And for heaven’s sake, please don’t make them all good qualities! Because for every good trait we possess, there is a bad trait to accompany it. And, in my opinion, the bad traits are the ones that make us human, the ones that make us real. Don’t you want your characters to be real, too?

If you’re still having trouble organizing traits for your character and keeping them straight, then let me make a very helpful suggestion to you:  go buy an astrology book, and make it your new best friend. If you don’t know where to start, let me recommend one to you: Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.

Some of you may scoff at it, but if you do then you are seriously missing out on an in depth analysis of different personalities. Put aside your disbelief in it, and instead comb through the different signs and read about each personality. It will teach you a lot, just trust me! By utilizing this widely available and extremely helpful tool, you will be able to create believable characters that have both good traits and flaws, and that are consistent. Consistent is a BIG word with me, as I am a Virgo and consistency is a huge thing for us. You see, you can’t have your hero be both the shy boy next door, and yet he always knows the exact right thing to say to comfort or woo your heroine. No! A shy boy next door is also probably going to be bad with words, and he’ll probably always say the wrong thing because he’s socially awkward. See, doesn’t he sound more interesting already? And, best of all, he’s not perfect. No one is, and besides, perfect characters are awfully boring!

Or how about the oh-so-handsome stranger who swaggers into town outta nowhere and has a fierce temper, only to then suddenly turn around and be the sweetest guy ever as he patiently hangs on every silly word your heroine says? I doubt he exists in real life, sorry. It would be much more realistic for him to be arrogantly demeaning in the beginning, only to have the heroine slowly teach him to soften up a bit, but he still needs to retain his inner nature. He’s probably an Aries, and Aries men don’t change for nobody. But, he may warm up to a girl who’s caught his eye, and show her lots of affection which will be plenty sweet, but don’t expect him to lose his selfish nature or his arrogant pride. He’ll hang on to those qualities till his dying day. And hey, that’s what makes him interesting, don’t you think? I do.

To give you a brief summary, I’m going to sum up some pros and cons of each of the twelve signs, just so you can see how vastly different they all are and you can get excited about which one to choose and then explore in even more depth:

ARIES:  Bossy, arrogant, selfish, and extremely stubborn. But also energetic, spunky, cheerful, and the life of any party.

TAURUS:  Consistent, down-to-earth, noble, and hard-nosed. Homebodies to the core; usually love and connect with nature.

GEMINI:  Flighty, whimsical, witty, and fun. Two-faced and self-centered; bright and clever. Great speakers and lovers of good conversation.

CANCER:  Wildly emotional, hardworking, stingy, and very caring. Values stability in life and home more than anything; extremely cautious.

LEO:  Proud, temperamental, conceited, romantic, and exceptionally affectionate. These people are born royalty (in their eyes), and they want you to know it!

VIRGO:  Practical, smart, often shy and always just a little bit OCD. Loves putting everything in neat little organized piles, alphabetically and by color. Passive-aggressive but very trustworthy.

LIBRA:  Social-butterfly, indecisive, airy, and accepting. Values fairness and honor above all else; despises hypocrites!

SCORPIO:  Vindictive, sly, poker-faced, passionate, and wildly intelligent. Do not cross these people as you will regret it!

SAGITTARIUS:  Fun-loving, easy-going, and forgetful. Spontaneous and enthusiastic about life, yet impulsive and often spread themselves too thin.

CAPRICORN:  Introverted, quiet, broody, and hardworking. Struggles with depression if not dedicated to a distinct purpose in life.

AQUARIUS:  Friendly, inventive, extroverted, and emotionally detached. Fiercely independent and unpredictable. Values freedom above all else.

PISCES:  Giving, empathetic, shy, and deeply emotional. These people feel every emotion down to their very core, and are usually very spiritual.

So these are obviously the generic traits of each sign, as any good astrology book will go much deeper. But it gives you an idea, and hopefully a jumping off point as far as where to take your own characters. I like to play around with the different signs as a challenge to myself to see if I can accomplish the personality in my writing. Why not give it a shot yourself?

I hope this helps you while building your characters! Just know that no one is perfect, and that the flaws are what make our characters memorable and enjoyable to readers. So take the extra time to fully plot out your character’s personality and understand who they will be long before you ever start writing. It will show through in your dialogue and in your descriptions of your character if you truly understand them or not, so get to work!

* * *

Now for an excerpt from Rise of the Notorious…

The letter lay on her black granite kitchen counter, unopened. Madison leaned against the cabinets a few feet away, sipping a glass of mellow red wine as she considered her next course of action.
She knew what it was, had known it the moment it had shown up in her stack of daily mail. A plain white envelope, no return address, her own name and address in plain black font.
Within an hour of receiving it, she had tucked it inside her purse and left the hotel as discreetly as possible. Grant had been trying to reach her all day, but she just wasn’t in the mood to discuss Shaw. Especially not now, not when she had a fresh threat sitting before her, eager to be read.
Part of her seriously considered tossing it in the red hot flames of her fireplace. The contents couldn’t hurt her then, couldn’t anger her. But her shameless curiosity and morbid nature wouldn’t give her the nerve to destroy the letter. No, she was going to read it.
It was just a matter of when.
She continued to stare at it, letting the wine smooth out some of her anger and anxiety. The first letter had thus far turned into nothing, so there was no reason to believe this one would be any more destructive.
Just do it, she ordered herself, setting her wine aside and grabbing the envelope. She tore it open hastily, unearthing the paper within and unfolding it.
She shut her eyes for a brief, careful moment, then opened them to read.

When the Queen’s courage blinds her, she does not notice the blood at her feet.

Her breath held frozen in her lungs as she processed the words, yet again type-written in simple, black font. The fear skittering beneath the surface of her skin annoyed her, but she couldn’t avoid it. This letter was decidedly more threatening than the last had been.
Perhaps not to her, but certainly to those whose blood this person suggested would pool at her feet.
Did they mean her family? Her brothers?
The thought sickened her, a coldness settling over her entire body until she shuddered from it. Setting the letter aside, she lifted her glass of wine to her lips and attempted to quell the nausea now swimming in her stomach.
Who was this person, and just what were they trying to do? Scare her?
If they were, then she wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of a surrender. It was still a faceless, nameless threat. If he or she was coward enough to resort to sending ominous written messages, then what danger could they really pose to her?
But it was the terrified uncertainty of it that still kicked her in the ribs and ached deep within. She couldn’t ignore the letters any more than she could address them. Both would be foolish acts, and both could provoke only further threats, or even an attack.
For now, it would be best to keep the letters a secret and pray that they were nothing more than wasted paper.
Her cell phone suddenly began to ring, the ringtone oddly suited for the moment.
Here comes the rain again…
She checked the caller ID out of habit, and as she did so she instinctively began to ignore the call. But something stopped her, some urgent, driving need that she couldn’t shake.
It had her accepting the call and numbly lifting the phone to her ear.
“Hello, darling.” She tried to put some measure of confidence into her voice, but knew she failed miserably. Her fear failed her, and she could tell by his initial silence that he noticed it.
What’s wrong?” Wyatt asked sharply. She heard him shuffle around, probably rising from where he had been laying in bed.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she answered, even as her eyes automatically shot to the letter, still lying open on the counter. As she took a sip of her wine, her hand trembled once.
I’m coming over.”
“Don’t,” she ordered, though she was suddenly overcome by an intense, conflicting desire to see him. Damn him for opening her up to this urgency again, this reliance that was ridiculously unhealthy for her sanity. She said the next words more as a confirmation for herself than for him. “I don’t need you.”
I never said you needed me, sweetheart,” Wyatt shot back. “I know you’re more than capable of handling yourself. However, you sound upset, something I’m not used to hearing so I would really like to come over and see for myself that you are okay.”
“I was just going to bed.”
Liar,” he replied, though she could hear the affection in his voice. “I called you to see if you wanted to get dinner with me tomorrow.”
“I’m very busy,” she said without thinking, her response mechanical, without feeling. But when she heard him laugh, as though he had completely expected that answer, she inhaled deeply and tried again. “You can pick me up at eight.”
Before he could reply, she hung up and held her cell phone to her lips, her eyes fluttering closed as she let out a long, troubled breath.
“I still love you, you bastard,” she whispered, her heart exploding to bloody pieces within her chest as she felt tears spring into her eyes. Tossing the phone aside, she grabbed her wine and fled her kitchen.
Tomorrow was a new day.
* * *
Rise of the Notorious
By International Bestselling Author
Katie Jennings
Coming April 23, 2013

Click HERE to Enter the Giveaway!

* * *
Meet Katie Jennings…

International Bestselling Author Katie Jennings is the author of six full length novels, including the popular fantasy series The Dryad Quartet as well as the bestselling family drama series The Vasser Legacy.

She lives in sunny Southern California with her husband and cat, who both think she’s the biggest nerd ever. She’s a firm believer in happy endings and loves nothing more than a great romance novel.

You can find out more about Katie on her official website,


  1. Thanks for sharing... this is really a great pick me up to get me back to my computer and writing... I needed a little kick in the pants!!!

  2. Thanks for being a part of my blog tour, Laura! You have such a fantastic blog :)

  3. Love this post! I am a HUGE fan of Linda Goodman's Sun Signs book. I use this book, not only in developing characters, but in analyzing everyone I know! It has helped me so much with understanding people, recognizing where they are coming from and what they need. So happy to hear I'm not the only one! :) I recommend reading about your co-worker's signs! It's *very* enlightening... :)

  4. This is an excellent post and great advice on writing characters(or understanding people in general). Don't forget about the moon sign!

  5. memorable characters don't come by every day, you are right, and author needs to work hard to create such characters that will remain in the readers' hearts and minds for a long time. thanks for sharing

  6. Thanks, Katie, this is interesting, but I don't agree with the horoscopes for the characters. I'm not airy and indecisive, but I do despise hypocrites, as do most people.


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