I admit, this is fairly broad, so let’s stick to characters here. Readers want to fall in love with characters; they just do. We crave connections with other humans, even if those humans are fictional. Usually, when we swoon over a book, it’s because characters left an impression.
Readers don’t have to “fall in love” with characters though to enjoy them. Make them memorable. How you realistically portray your characters can make or break a reader’s overall enjoyment of the book.
How do you do this? Here’s a few suggestions.
1. Dialog. Readers should have a clue into the character’s personality by their first few lines of dialog. Do they ramble on when they’re excited? Get discombobulated when they’re angry? Using punctuation–without going overboard–is a way to also show their emotions when speaking. Try to reveal a piece of your character with every line they speak. How they talk to a bank teller or a TSA agent, is very telling about a person, so think about the little things. A great example of this is The Rosie Project by Greame Simsion and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places.
2. Use of the five senses. Author Ken Harmon, in my critique group, is always reminding us of this, which is good, because we tend to forget how important this is. Incorporating your character’s reactions to their surroundings gives the reader a deeper POV and insight into the character. How would they react to going into the house of a cat-hoarding agoraphobic? By using the five senses, you’re not only creating a richer scene, you’re developing the character’s personality, which readers love. This is where all that showing (instead of telling) comes in handy. For help, envision yourself in the scene, then try it with different people in your life: your spouse, your mother, or your sister.
3. Body language and gestures. As I’ve mentioned before, 55% of communication is nonverbal. Even if we don’t realize it (which is probably most of the time), we express ourselves, whether it’s our likes, dislikes, fears, and other emotions through gestures. In writing, these say a lot about characters and the trick is to keep them consistent throughout the book. If your character can be self-conscious, she might, periodically throughout the book, glance in mirrors wherever there is one; straighten her clothes, put her hand to her mouth to check for bad breath, etc. Tie one or two of their emotions to body language and gestures. Sometimes, a gesture is much more effective than words; actions can speak louder than words.
4. Observation. When they walk into a room full of people, what’s their first thought? Do they look for certain people? And why? How do they react to what others are doing and saying? When they watch someone pick their teeth, or their nose, do they judge? Do they stare with interest? Do they look away? What a character sees going on and how they portray it to the reader is an important tool to developing them as a memorable character.
What are your tips for portraying memorable characters—likable or not?