“I shall not exist if you do not imagine me.” – Vlamidir Nabokov, Novelist/Poet (1899-1977)
From Blanche Dubois to Ebenezer Scrooge, literature has never failed to produce characters that resonate with millions of readers from across the globe. But where did they come from? What ignited the first wisps of smoke of these authors’ imaginative infernos? How do we, as modern-day writers, emulate such success when we sit down, a blank screen before our eyes, fingers at our keyboards?
Recently, I have submitted a period drama to an online competition, with the hope of winning a publishing contract. It’s a nineteen sixties novel set in my motherland, Cyprus. It’s filled with everything but the kitchen sink: murder, affairs, scandal and picturesque sunsets. Most importantly though, my characters are big. That is always key.
As someone who has been writing stories since primary school but who’s professional career only began last year, I often find myself hitting a wall when it comes to creating that ‘killer’ character, a protagonist that hits the reader between the eyes. I have, in the past, struggled to find the inspiration for the personality of my character, even though I can see their bare-bone structure in my mind’s eye. From speaking to other authors, I understand that this can be a common problem for many writers.
So what can we do to help ourselves produce magical protagonists that can lure our readers ? Here are my top tips:
Look Close To Home
Some of the best characters imaginable are often people we have already met. Whether it be a crazy aunt, a peculiar gentleman we once spoke to in the check-out queue, or someone who has held great influence over our lives, there is usually plenty of great material that can be used from our own personal relationships. Don’t be afraid to use it.
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Construct A Caricature
When considering some of the greatest, most memorable characters in literature, there are many that are fundamentally undeveloped as all-round individuals and are simply a caricature of one phenomenal trait. Charles Dickens is a useful example to take, with characters such as Mr. Bounderby in Hard Times proving to be so undeniably repulsive, his readers have no choice but to follow the storyline to see what he does next.
Sometimes, Less Is More
By this, I mean, it isn’t always a good idea to make every character in your story as complex as each other. Whilst a complex main protagonist can resonate well with the reader, by programming a billion flaws and intricacies into your entire character list, you run the risk of leaving your reader bewildered or, even worse, apathetic. Sometimes, it is the simplest of characters that stick in the reader’s head, which, as an author, is your ultimate goal. For when characters or plots are memorable, word of mouth spreads.
If you’re struggling to understand just how simple you can go, think of timeless classics, such as Of Mice and Men, in which we find Lennie Small, a man whose life is dominated by his obsession with soft and fluffy objects. Whilst so minimalistic in theory, Steinbeck takes this simplistic man and turns him into a masterpiece.
So, to conclude, don’t be afraid to use your own relatives, friends and acquaintances as inspiration for a character. And remember: sometimes, simple is best, providing you’re willing to take a single characteristic to town!
Georgio Konstandi is a student, author and blogger. Publishing his thriller novel, NEA: Dawn of an Era, last year, Georgio has gone on to be interviewed by various literary blog sites, websites and local newspapers. You can follow all his latest news, giveaways and appearances on his Facebook Page, Goodreads, or his website and blog.