Creating Memorable Characters


Why do we return to that [by now] dog-eared, held-together-by-a-rubber-band copy of something we devoured back when the Four Seasons sang about December '63?

What is it about a few TV shows that compel us to return week after week, even the reruns? Do you replay the DVD of a favorite movie, like I do, until you can quote lines from memory?

Because they are filled with memorable characters

[Yes, Jean here, invading Kaycee’s post — putting a little GIF plug for one of my favorite movies, where I love ALL the characters. Yes, The Princess Bride, of course!]

Published author and Wild Rose Press editor Kaycee John firmly believes that one of the most important elements of story telling is making the characters vivid, real, alive. Using a list of criteria for all characters will help build continuity for the entire story as well as cement the character in the author's--and reader's-- mind.

**Note: Characters used as examples on this list are strictly personal. We all have our own favorites.

They are special

  • Raylan Givens from Elmore Leonard's short story “Justified”

  • Ouizer Boudreaux, Steel Magnolias

  • Clifford the Big Red Dog

  • Spongebob SquarePants

  • Gabriel Allon and other Mossad agents created by Daniel Silva

They are unique from all others

  • How many heroes list digging coal in the mines of Kentucky in their resume?

  • Who else puts up with a dim bulb starfish and narcissistic, clarinet-playing squid?

  • Their names are lyrical and roll off the tongue: Ari Shamron, Uzi Navot, Eli Levon, and Gabriel Allon [Daniel Silva's thrillers]. Repeat the names out loud, you'll see what I mean.


They are believable, right down to the warts on their butts.

  • Brenda Leigh Johnson, a Georgia Peach transferred to laid back LAPD, has lost neither her accent nor a penchant for shopping out of the Volunteers of America clearance rack.

  • Think about Harry Potter, reluctant boy wizard, and all his trials before discovering he is so very special.

  • Dr. Johnny Fever, “WKRP in Cincinnati”.


They hang with interesting people, such as . . . 

  • T-bone, Cleo, Emily Elizabeth and the ever-annoying Jetta

  • Boyd Crowder from Elmore Leonard's short story “Fire Down Below”.

  • Roarke, millionaire Irishman and Somerset from JD Robb's “____ In Death” series.

  • Les Nessman, news anchor, WKRP Cincinnati


They live in cool places like . . .

  • Harlan County, Kentucky, ravaged by years of strip mining, chronic unemployment and the opioid crisis

  • A mansion overlooking Central Park

  • A pineapple under the sea

  • Hogwarts Castle


They talk in accordance to their level of education, occupation, life experiences and place of birth or current residence].

  • Navy SEALS, like experienced police officers, speak in a certain manner, using a short, clipped cadence and often intersperse their conversations with what I call “cop speak” or “military speak.” Physicians and nurses do the same; the only thing that changes is the specific words.

  • A character who is a life long resident of Appalachia [such as the characters in “Justified”] or are transplants to a totally different part of the country will use words and phrases unique to their upbringing [such as Brenda Johnson in “The Closer” who uses southern-isms in her speech]. Take advantage of those fun quirks.

  • A character with limited formal education will not usually speak in multi-syllabic words. If they do, the reader tends to come up out of their chair and ask, “Huh? What's going on here?”. But if as I, as the reader, soon comes to understand the character is a self-taught learner and voracious reader then the multi-syllables make more sense.

  • On the same topic, a character who uses multi-syllable words endlessly, they are trying to show us [the reader] something: either they possess an off the wall IQ, have a social anxiety disorder and function without the usual filters, or are so full of themselves they use the ten dollar words to inflate their ego. [Think Charles Emerson Winchester from M*A*S*H] Those characters are always fun, and annoying, and usually the bad guy. I love them--when they're done well.


Developing memorable characters doesn't happen overnight. It takes practice, practice and more practice. Don't give up. If it's important to you, great characters will come to you.

Good luck!

-Kaycee John

Published author [Kat Henry Doran and Veronica Lynch] and Wild Rose Press editor Kaycee John honed her public speaking skills the same way she learned most of life's hardest lessons--the hard way.

As the former director of a victim advocacy agency she regularly lectured police academy recruits, womens studies and criminal justice majors, and emergency medicine providers, disavowing the myths of sexual crimes and teaching techniques for effective treatment of assault victims. Then came press conferences, op ed pieces for the local newspapers, and news bites on the nightly news. All this while raising three terrific kids and working weekends as a nursing supervisor.

These days she speaks from a different point of view: as the once fledgling author who survived the trenches with the rest of the new writers and learned how to turn her stories into award winners. She knows the pain of rejection and less than encouraging comments from contest judges so now spends her time helping others turn so-so submissions into contract offers.

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To contact Kaycee or learn more about her award winning novels, go to: