What are The Six Parts of a Memorable Character? by Drew Carson

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Please welcome Drew Carson, today’s teen contributor, for his first appearance at RANDOM, and be his fan. I am! (Be sure to read his BIO below.) Also, Drew will be a regular teen contributor. We can’t wait to read and learn from his posts.

Just a few days ago, I was looking back on an old WIP when I realized something: my characterization really needed some work. So, taking a word of advice from author James Scott Bell (The Art of War, for Writers), I set out to find the best examples of strong characters in the fictional universe.

My search led me straight to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which, once I started reading, wouldn’t let me go. But how? How could J.K. Rowling’s characters draw me in to a point where I was powerless to resist?

It took me a while, but I finally came to a solid conclusion (and you’ll have to tell me whether you agree or not). I noticed that Rowling’s method of characterization follows a fairly steady pattern, with a few minor changes here and there. Combined with some of my personal beliefs about people in general, I turned this pattern into something I could look at every day.

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Here’s how it goes:

1) ARCHETYPE

For those who don’t know what the word means, “archetype” refers to the generalized theme of something (in this case, a character). You might also think of this as the stereotype your character most closely resembles.

As an example, think back on the first time you ever met Hermione Granger. Remember? It was on the train, just as Harry and Ron were finishing off a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. She stuck her nose in, watched Ron attempt a fake spell, and proceeded to inform them that she had memorized all of their course material by heart. There.

We now know she’s a brain, if not “the brain,” of the story, and she’s only been around for twenty seconds.

Harry is “the Hero.” Draco is “the Bully.”

That’s archetype.

2) QUIRKS

This is where your characters begin to distinguish themselves, because chances are, there’s going to be more than one “bully” in your story.

Quirks are really just oddities in the way your character speaks, looks, and behaves. They are things that help your reader create a mental definition of each person in your story. This, in turn, makes your characters more memorable, and that’s good.

3) BACKGROUND

While both the archetype and quirks of each character should be apparent early on (some of them, at least), background information is gradual, and best revealed in bite-sized pieces.

I tend to separate background into three categories:

–        Home:  This includes the location and culture of your character’s upbringing, as well as their economical status.

–        Events: Pretty self-explanatory. Everything that has happened to your character falls under this category.

–        People: This includes all family ties, friendships, and other relationships that your character has ever had.

These sub-categories are usually connected in some way – and that’s a good thing! If they weren’t, your character wouldn’t be very credible.

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Photo compliments of Morguefile.com

4) DARK SIDE

And by “dark side,” I don’t necessarily mean “tantrum-mode.” Have you ever gotten into an argument and said something that was so personal the other person fell silent with shock? What did they do afterwards? Ignore you? Seek revenge? Cry?

Your character’s dark side is the side you see when that line is crossed, and their relationship with the offending party is critically damaged.

5) PHILOSOPHY

Your character’s philosophy is nothing less than their deepest beliefs, both short-term and long-term.

Here’s an example that’s not from Harry Potter:

HG Photo Drawing, Smaller Size

Remember in The Hunger Games when Katniss finds Peeta awake and looking out on the Capitol? They get talking, and Peeta says he wants to find a way to prove that he’s not a piece in their games – that he’s his own person. That’s a strong belief of his. It’s a philosophy.

Notice that by the time he says it, though, we already know something about his archetype, quirks, and background. Philosophy is usually something that is revealed as two people get to know each other deeply. This, of course, is not always the case – it just depends on the character and situation. Someone like Dumbledore may explain their philosophies more readily than, say, Draco.

6) SOUL

In a way, the soul of your character is his/her simplest component. It is what you see when everything is at stake, and there is a quick decision to be made. Sometimes, it will match up with the reader’s first impression of the character, while in other circumstances it may be opposite. This would be the case if you have a character who pretends to be brave, but deep down is quite frightened of most things dangerous.

Not only does soul deal with bravery, but morality, as well. If your character was being bribed a ridiculous sum of money (or something else they desire) in return for a wicked deed, would they take the offer? Or would they walk away.

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To put it simply, the pattern I saw in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had to do with building up from a strong stereotype. This made it easy for me to recognize and relate with J.K. Rowling’s characters.

Remember: strong archetype, unique intricacies.  That’s it!

DREW’S BIO:

I’m Drew, a normal (and slightly nerdy) fifteen-year-old, who’s first and foremost goal at this point is to write a game-changer – the kind of book people remember.

I’m the kind of person who can’t stand low expectations. It makes me cringe every time I hear someone at school say, “I don’t care.” I’ve always cared about everything – school, life, religion, etc – and I will continue to care as long as I live.

For a while, I was into video-games. Then it was drawing. Then fiction writing. Then filming. Then song writing. Then piano-playing. Then swimming. Then rock-climbing.

Fiction writing is the only one of my ‘phases’ that I’ve returned to, which, I assume, is a good omen. I’ve certainly jumped back in with both feet. Just in these last few months, I’ve re-read the Harry Potter series with a fine-tooth comb, picking out bits and pieces of technique that could be useful in my own stories. I’ve also read several other books doing the same thing.

I don’t have a set posting schedule, as homework is wildly unpredictable, but I would love to drop by whenever I have time. Most of my notes will be geared towards younger writers, like myself, simply because that’s the area I have experience in. This will probably change as I get deeper into the writing process.

You can tell me all about the gamble of professional writing, and how a very select few will ever make it big, let alone write a game-changer like Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings, but don’t expect me to take it to heart. J.K. Rowling was once a little girl in diapers. Somewhere along the line, she learned to write so that people would listen. I can, too.

My current WIPs include: Cyberheart, The Shadow-Moment, and Ghost. They are primarily sci-fi/thriller, but Cyberheart has several likenesses to a fantasy novel.

I love to hear from people! If you’ve got questions or suggestions – anything, really – shoot me an e-mail at dcarson@live.com.

Make sure to comment below and tell me what you think of my character pyramid. Happy writing!

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Dan says:

    I love your conviction and passion Drew. I look forward to your game changer, it’s obviously not a matter of if, but when.

    • Thanks for encouraging Drew, Dan! Happy Easter!

    • Drew Carson says:

      Thanks, Dan! It’s encouragement like this that drives me through the tough spots in my writing.
      Happy Easter!

  2. Insightful article, with many great suggestions. You are a young man to watch! I agree. Your being published is a matter of “when” and not “if.” I look forward to more articles from you. Hmmm. Ozette has suggested that I print your character pyramid as I work on the second book but reminds me that she has no “dark” side.

    • Hi Judy –
      What? Ozette doesn’t have a “dark” side. Isn’t he a little flawed? In some way? (I haven’t finished the book.) Maybe his dark side comes out as a result of something that happens or HAS happened, making him a little cranky. It doesn’t have to be a terribly dark thing. For instance, I’m a little psycho about getting a little “alone” time in my day. If I don’t get that I become crabby. You might say that’s my “dark” side. (Now the secret’s out.)
      Thanks for encouraging Drew. Isn’t he amazing?
      M

      • OK. True confessions time. I prefer to think of Ozette as being “quirky” and not having a true dark side. Yes, as you get into the book you will find she is not all sweetness and light. Drew, I would love to read some of what you have written. You seem very mature and focused – wish more young people had your dedication and conviction. Ozette and I wish you all the best and look forward to keeping up with your writing and ideas. Break a pencil, as “they” say!

    • Drew Carson says:

      Hey, Judy, thank you for the feedback!
      Just curious – have any of your characters ever truly offended Ozette? The reason I ask is because some books will not actually show the dark side of their Lead. It just wouldn’t fit the story or mood. Is this what you mean?
      Maybe the antagonist(s) haven’t attacked the right part of Ozette’s heart. Is there anything painful in his past that might trigger a harsh reaction if it were brought up? If so, there might be a good opportunity to cause relationship-tension with some of Ozette’s friends. After all, readers love to worry!
      I haven’t read the book (yet), and you know the story much better than I do, so don’t feel pressured if something like that wouldn’t fit.
      Thanks again, and happy Easter!

      • Happy Easter, Drew. Yes, Ozette does allow several characters to get under her skin, so to speak. There are aspects of her past that she doesn’t share until later in the book. I have been pondering your note since I read it. I guess this is my question: how can a mere human like me decide what is the dark side of an animal and what is just typical squirrelly behavior that I am trying to filter through a human lens. I definitely need to think about this more and would love your input.. I hope you do read the book as I would love to discuss it further and get your take on the story. If you have a Kindle, there will be a Kindle Promo day on April 13 and it is a free download.

  3. I’m so impressed Drew. Great article! I’ll be sharing it on my Facebook page and printing your pyramid as a reminder. And you stated it so simply – “strong archetype, unique intricacies.” Perfect. Period.

    • Hi Suzanne –
      It’s so nice of you to stop by and encourage Drew. I’m sure it’ll make his day to see his comments when he gets out of school today.
      (I’m going to check out your blogsite. I love that you write for children, too!)
      Michelle

    • Drew Carson says:

      Hey Suzanne! Thanks for commenting! It’s good to know when something you’ve written makes an impact.
      Happy Easter!

  4. Vie says:

    Drew! You are a young author to watch! I am so impressed with your going to not only excellent books on writing (James Scott Bell is one of my favorites), but you went to the literature and analyzed the structure. Your Character Pyramid is a thought-provoking visual that I will refer to often.

    • Drew Carson says:

      Hey Vie, thanks for commenting!
      ‘The Art of War, For Writers’ is the only instructional book I’ve been able to read cover-to-cover in one sitting. It’s practically my Bible now.
      Hope you have a good Easter!

  5. Excellent. I love visuals and this one comes with substantial text as well. Thank you, Drew.

  6. This pyramid is fantastic, Drew. Thanks for sharing it! Love your writing style already.

  7. Drew, don’t you dare let anyone tell you that you can’t write a game-changer. You’ve got great style already. Your character analysis is exceptional. Thanks so much for sharing and I’ll be watching for your name at my local library!

    • Hi Marji!
      Thanks for stopping by to encourage Drew. I love learning from him. I hope you have a blessed Easter.
      Michelle

    • Drew Carson says:

      Hey Marji!
      Thanks for your support. I certainly look forward to a day where my work has a place at your library!
      Best,
      Drew

  8. Drew Carson says:

    Thank you all SO MUCH for your encouragement and positive feedback! I look forward to posting more on RANDOM!

    • We look forward to your posts, Drew. And to your books. You have a lot of maturity, wisdom and natural talent. The very best to you.

  9. Robin says:

    Drew, love the suggestions about characterization. You did a great job breaking it down in a way that’s easy to see and apply. Loved those books. 🙂 I also love your attitude about publication and success. I think that’s the only way success IS possible.

  10. Hi, Drew! 😀 This post was great! (Especially since you kept mentioning Harry Potter, which always catches my attention). I love getting to know my characters, so I’m sure this will help me even more. I loved the pyramid, too.

    • Drew Carson says:

      Thanks Kate!
      Harry Potter is by far my favorite – there’s just so much to learn from J.K. Rowling! I can already tell you that it will crop up in future posts.
      (:

  11. you have a fantastic blog here! would you like to make some invite posts on my weblog?

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  12. This is amazing! It’s exactly what I needed to know for my developing characters in my novel. Thank you so much for posting!

  13. Drew, this is great! Clear and creative with lots of good stuff from successful literature to back it up. I’m printing it (along with your bylines and information, of course) to share with my adult ed writing class when we talk about character creation. Thanks for your insight!

    • Hi Lisa –
      Isn’t Drew amazing? I sent him your note. He’s in school now and doesn’t always check here.
      Hope you’re doing well.
      Hugs,
      M

Trackbacks

  1. […] This 15 year old has it all figured out as he posted a guest blog to Random Writing Rants – What are the Six Parts of Memorable Character […]

  2. […] so well. The remarkable part was that the author was a 15-year-old student. You have to see it, and the pyramid he created to keep things easy to […]

  3. […] This 15 year old has it all figured out as he posted a guest blog to Random Writing Rants – What are the Six Parts of Memorable Character […]

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