characters / descriptors / writers resources

Characteristics That Make Your Character Memorable

Wunique character traitshen you’re building a character, you need to know the characteristics that make him the person your reader will get to know. It’s a lot more than physical–it’s what motivates his/her actions. What inspires him/her? What causes this character to be a good Samaritan or look the other way? That essence is what makes him/her interesting and memorable to your readers.

As I’m getting to know my character, I have a list of traits that I’ve noticed in other fictional characters that raised my emotional interest in that individual. Here are some of them:

  • Mahmeini’s men–this character hasn’t a name; s/he’s part of a group, like Joe’s Band, or Sarah’s knitting club. Homogenous.
  • Soul of a rogue
  • Philistine that he was
  • Personal courage that is admirable and daunting
  • Play to his ego. You can’t miss it. It’s a large feature
  • types with one finger
  • a debater
  • a man who manicures his nails
  • sometimes she heard all the words but nothing made sense
  • He heard nothing but the hissing sound of his brain overheating.
  • draped herself in lies like summer scarves
  • obsessed with Princess DI–clothing, articles, pillows, etc.
  • a Bill Gates-size checkbook and better hair than Trump
  • walks ducktoed
  • watches people while he’s doing something—like he cuts his meat and they’re fingering their earring
  • Small detail that spelled trouble–never made it out of high school, juvenile record for theft, failed the psychological tests for both the marines and the army. Robbed gas stations but didn’t get caught. Hung out with the Clan.
  • She was like a chameleon—took on the traits of those around her
  • Hardness quotient of his heart somewhere in the neighborhood of hot Jell-O
  • Dropping last three words of a sentence to a grumble
  • Buffalo area accent
  • Ss whistle when s/he speaks
  • sense of a big league baseball manager, ahead on the scoreboard but with the game about to be called on account of rain
  •  LASD body-building champion in 2001
  • manages to read 2-3 books a week
  • Leg shook whenever he sat; he fidgeted
  • A phobia—needles, ladders, etc
    • larger-than-normal personal space bubble
    • eats M&Ms or Skittles by color
    • can’t use a pen without a top
    • can’t clean his/her house unless it’s dark out
    • can’t sleep in a messy room
    • nibbles at his/her fingers when excited
  • turns every statement into a question–i.e.
  • Clips his nails in front of people
  • sees everyone as a color–she’s pink
  • has to have even numbers for stuff–like a grade or the volume on his/her iPod
  • can’t stand wood in his/her mouth–like chopsticks, popsicles, etc.character traits
  • calls males ‘son’, i.e., ‘Good job, son!’
  • Janice talked so much it was like drowning in a verbal Niagara Falls.
  • She ate two antacids, slugged down some water and ate two more
  • suffering of strangers, even family, never touched him. He was family-centered
  • morally bankrupt
  • didn’t seem to have any inner resources
  • whistles out of tune
  • whistles out of tune or the same three lines over and over
  • very rosy cheeks–almost rosacea
  • can’t eat vanilla cake with chocolate icing
  • eats toothpaste
  • walks on his/her toes
  • a phobia to something weird–like cracks on the sidewalk
  • his/her leg shakes every time they sit
  • rolls eyes up and to the right as they pontificate (or lecture, or just talk)
  • cheerleading—lean in, big smile, claps the person on the shoulder
  • Freethinking Euro-intellectual
  • Extreme pickiness: peeled back the lid of the yogurt and licked the yogurt from the top. Then placed the lid on a narrow counter, folding it into eighths. Licked both sides of the spoon after taking a bite of yogurt.
  • holds a golf club behind his neck with both hands
  • rolls eyes up to the right and makes wide hand movements just as he’s about to pontificate (Bill O’Reilly)
  •  always has to have the office/room door closed
  • break a sandwich up into little pieces before eating it
  • loves good grammar
  • can’t write with a blue pen
  • has a postcard collection
  • can’t go anywhere without a bottle of water
  • Must eat lunch at exactly 11:30 (or noon, or whatever hour works for your novel)
  • smells the pages of a book, or people, or food before eating
  • moves her lips when reading
  • stuck his tongue out while he worked (thought)
  • wears boxers
  • yellowed teeth
  • forgets names for common items, ie, Jacuzzi, bread box
  • -sh comes out as an –s, like ‘negotiations
  • Flemy voice
  • Nibbled at a fingernail
  • Chiara always sang when she was happy.
  • Not book smart, but a solid core of morals
  • Scratches himself as he talks; constantly and intermittently
  • empties the toaster crumbs every Monday morning;
  • cleans the cutting wheel on the electric can opener once a week because it’s “the dirtiest quarter inch in your kitchen”;
  • visits a different card shop each day to read the greeting cards;
  • names his son Sharon, after the steel mill town in Pennsylvania;
  • tugs at one sleeve because that arm is slightly longer than the other;
  • telephones her son to remind him again how difficult his birth was for her;
  • stands on tiptoes in family photos to appear taller;
  • vacuums the attic.
  • Chuck Frye, former 2nd best surfer’
  • Tips of her ears turn scarlet, sure sign she’s mad
  • Rubbing his fingers against each other
  • Over-developed sense of spatial reasoning
  • Sees patterns

What do you use that paste a warning label across your characters’ foreheads–BEWARE: Will keep you awake at night!

More posts on characters:

113 Ways to Characterize Your Protagonist

Know Your Character

How Many POVs is Too Many?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

Follow me

About these ads

17 thoughts on “Characteristics That Make Your Character Memorable

  1. These are wonderful. Jacqui. I just watched a TED show with J J Abrams and his take on mystery and character development – it’s well worth the 18 minutes :D

  2. This is a great list! I love how you chose subtle character traits that still say so much about the character as a person. These “little” things are important, too, especially when we’re trying to define what makes the character “tick.”

    Thanks for the food for thought.

    • To my mind, it’s what makes the characters memorable. I’m drawn to them because they’re unusual, struggling often with these oddities. Can you imagine being driven to vacuum the attic? You might think everyone does–until you find they don’t!

      • The vacuum one was actually the one that caught my eye. I was trying to think of anyone I might know who would be so driven by cleanliness that they’d vacuum an attic. Not a person came to mind. That says a lot about the expectations of the character, though!

  3. Love the list Jacqui, I am a people watcher, I admit it and never understood why I did this….until my passion for telling stories grew, now I write stuff down as soon as I see it. In a crowd, on a street or anywhere. Character traits are there for the taking in real life.

  4. I’m reading this late at night. Thank you for a great post and for making me laugh just before bedtime – I hope the guy who vacuums the attic is married to the woman who can’t clean her house unless it’s dark outside. Holy guacamole. I’m gonna laugh in my sleep all night long. If Bob complains, I’m gonna tell him to call you!

    • Well, he didn’t call–must’ve worked out.

      That would be funny–to put the two cleaners together in a love story. Too bad I don’t write romance. Could I have them as two terrorists on a Hit Squad? Fall in love while planning the attack? Hmm…

  5. Pingback: How to Describe Vehicles–Cars, Boats, Planes, More | WordDreams...

  6. Pingback: How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: an African Landscape | WordDreams...

What do you think? Leave a comment and I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s