Friday, September 22, 2017

What Makes A Character Memorable?

I am a collector of characters, starting when I was a girl and read The Little Colonel books by Annie Fellowes Johnson.  How I loved that character!  She was so different than anyone in my Colorado town.  And was she ever spunky.

 My next favorite character was Scarlett O'Hara.  Another spunky woman.
  Do we see a pattern here?  I admired her tiny waist and her green dress, but it was her bold personality that fascinated me.
 A shy kid, I had few characteristics in common with The Little Colonel or Scarlett, but that didn't keep me from fixating on them. And admiring them and even wanting to be like them. Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, a comic book character was brave and daring and got herself into awful scrapes. I cowered and read on.

Anne of Green Gables was another character that I loved.  When our teacher read those books aloud to us, even the rowdy boys shut up and listened. Anne was spunky too, but no Scarlett!

When I began reading the classics, I found a lot of the major characters downright scary.  Ulysses and Achilles were so bloodthirsty! I didn't identify with Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina, but then I read War and Peace and discovered Natasha.  I still always see her as a young Audrey Hepburn.  She was a girl I could relate to. It was a shock at the end of the novel when Tolstoy said she grew fat, but I always thought of her as a slender young girl.

Characters from Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet have stayed with me:  Justine, Balthazar, Mountjoy and Pursewarden, as well as Clea and Justine and Lila.  Darley and Nessim.  These characters were like no one I had ever read about, not larger than life but living very vivid lives, so different from mine.  I think that the city of Alexandria was also a compelling character.  I read these books over and over, never tiring of them.

Of more recent vintage is Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone, a private detective.  Of course she is spunky, but she also has doubts.  She is never a TSTL (too stupid to live) character.  I can relate to her and I love her sense of humor and fair play. It will. be sad to see the series end.

Do I find any of my characters memorable?  If you have lived with a character throughout a series, he or she stays with you, eats with you, sleeps with you, and hangs out with you.  So yes,  Emma Lee Devens, no better than she should be, is gutsy and sometimes brave, but also sometimes foolish.
I created a character in a historical novel (set in 1928 California and as yet unpublished.)  Carla Curby is loosely based on my mother, but bigger, bolder and yet vulnerable and uncertain.  This was psychologically wrenching to me, because she was and was not my mother at a time in her girlhood that I just had a few clues to work with.  I am sure she is my favorite, although I am now writing about a Mennonite woman, forty years old and a widow, who will solve a crime.  She is another gutsy one who went off to be a missionary in the Congo before World War II.  I like characters who decide to act, rashly or wisely.  The words gutsy and spunky rise up again.

What kind of characters do YOU like?  The authors below will tell you about theirs:
Anne Stenhouse
Diane Bator
A.J. Maguire
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
 Fiona McGier
Heather Haven
Beverley Bateman
Rhobin Courtright

Rachael Kosinski:



  1. You have such a long list of great characters, but I think the character based on your mother sounds unique.

  2. Gutsy heroines are characters no one really forgets. I think we all want to be brave and step out of line to prove our loyalties and beliefs, but so often we don't and these characters grab our hearts because they had what it took.

  3. Your mention of Lawrence Durrell caught my eye. I've never read any of his books, being more a fan of his brother Gerald. Their story is unfolding on the new TV series from Gerald's book My Family and Other Animals, although the book of his I most remember is The Bafut Beagles. I'm building my reading list as I'm going through these blogs!

  4. Scarlett O'Hara--yes, definitely a memorable character! I just saw an awards show for Carol Burnett last night, and they played her famous clip when she comes down the stairs wearing the drapes, curtain rod an all! Two memorable characters in one!

  5. Loved your post. You brought up characters that I had forgot. Loved Anne of Green Gables. And I think spunky characters are often the ones that stick with us.

  6. Anne of Green Gables has always been very big at my house. I remember watching the old movies of the books, and there's the scene where Anne is lying in a rowboat, surrounded by flowers as she recites the Lady of Shalott, and I was just spellbound. I wanted to be like her and do daring, poetic things. :)

  7. Hi Judy, with the new RR coming tomorrow, I'm tidying up my reading of the last one. I'm so glad I did because I thought your list was full of attractive ideas. Maybe I'll recommend Lawrence Durrell next time I choose a book for the Book Group. Also, I thought your final observation about characters who act of enormous value to writers. Too many books are peopled by folk who pose/fret/takeselfies. I relate to characters who do things. anne stenhouse


Your comments are always welcome!