How do you create memorable characters?

Do you introduce them with backstory, summarizing their life from childhood to the present for five to ten pages? Do you describe them in detail, from the tips of their hairs to their crusty toenails? Do you open your novel line one with a snappy bit of dialogue and let your reader figure out what’s going on?


Photo by R’eyes

I don’t think so. Backstory is fine, but a little goes a long way. A paragraph or two will do. Description is great, but it’s only skin deep. And a person is rarely who they say they are.

Orson Scott Card says, “People become, in our minds, what we see them do. This is the strongest, most irresistible form of characterization.”

What do your characters do, then? Not where they grew up or what color their eyes are or what they say their favorite food is. What do they do?

We remember characters because they do interesting things. We forget characters whose favorite food is pizza.

Want to learn more about how to create memorable characters? Check out the Characterization Tutorial, a free seven part series made up of our best articles on characterization.

In your stories, what have your characters done that has defined them?


Your main character is at a party with a hundred people. What does he or she do?

Practice characterization through action for fifteen minutes. When you’re time is up, post your practice in the comments section.

And if you post, make sure to comment on a few posts by other Practitioners.

This article was originally published in November 2011.

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).