Ninie Hammon’s Blog for Writers

There's ONLY ONE WAY to create unforgettable characters

Posted: November 24, 2013, 8:25PM


This is the final in a ten-week series about characterization. We’ve talked about all manner of techniques and skills but here, at the end of it, we need to get real. How do you create unforgettable characters?

You might not like the answer to that question.

Creating characters isn’t the same as designing a plot, describing a setting or developing a theme. You can come up with all that in your head, use your brain and never engage your emotions. Actually, you can do that with characters, too, and if you’re clever enough, your reader might even be interested in what happens to them. But if you want Loyal Reader to care what happens to them, to climb into the book and live the ex



periences with them, to view them as family, to miss them when the story’s done and to carry them in his heart for the rest of his life, you have to engage his emotions, not his intellect. There is only ONE way to do that. You have to pull your characters up out of your own soul—from one of three places:


Who were you? No, not the you everybody knew—the you nobody knew. The you on the other side of whatever mask you wore. What happened to you, hurt you, embarrassed you, shocked you, humiliated you? What awful, unforgivable mistakes did you make? Who did you hurt? What bridges did you burn?

What are your memories? Examine them. No, not the prettified daydreams, water color paintings that cover up the ugly you’d rather forget. I’m not talking about skating on the glossy surface of remembrance. I’m talking about climbing through the water color into the ugly, to see it, smell it and feel it.
Were you sexually abused?


Hated for your skin color or ethnicity?

Or were you ignored, dismissed, a shadow in your family’s life that nobody ever really looked at.

Were you pampered and spoiled and totally unprepared for a world that didn’t give a rip whether you lived or died?

Were you the fat kid everybody made fun of? The un-athletic kid who always sat on the bench? The ugly girl nobody asked to the prom?

You have to plumb the guts of who you used to be and rediscover what all those experiences felt like. It may take some digging. You likely buried them  deep. But they are treasure, your treasure, and you must reclaim them.

What frightened you, scared you so bad you almost wet your pants—maybe did wet your pants? What ate a hole of terror all the way through your belly to your backbone? No one knows fear the way a child does, the helpless, vulnerable way a child does.

Own all the visceral emotions of your past and USE them.


Are you who you thought you’d be when you were sixteen? What dreams did time dash on the rocky coastline of reality? What promise still lies unfulfilled?

Who let you down you knew you could depend on? Whose trust did you betray?

Twenty, maybe 30 pounds heavier probably wasn’t what you dreamed of being when your were sixteen. Neither was broken, disillusioned and scared. But what frightens you now is different from what frightened you before, right? Now you fear for others—your children, your spouse. What are you afraid will happen to them? When nightmare images wake you in the midnight dark, heart pounding, gasping—what do you see?

What did you do you now regret? What didn’t you do you wish you had? What are you bitter about? What makes you feel helpless, hopeless and totally lost?

What can’t you do now you once could do? Sure, your jump shot’s gone, but is your ability to make love gone, too?

How does it feel to look into the mirror and see someone losing the battle against smile wrinkles, bald spots and gravity’s relentless sag?

Are your children tattooed and pierced and contemptuous of all the values you taught them? Do they resent you because you couldn’t make it perfect for them when you were doing the best you knew how?

Did your husband trade you in for a trophy wife?

Did your wife run off with a tennis pro?

Or did you just wonder, worry every time he worked late or she had a night out "with the girls." What did that feel like—no, not the surface easy emotions, the deep, ugly, unspeakable ones.

What have you failed at? What have you lost? What sicknesses, injuries or physical pain have you suffered?

Dig deep for all those feelings—and USE them.


What’s it like to face death? To know that if this lump or that pain doesn’t get you something else will?

What’s it like to turn that pivotal age—whatever it is—and realize that the likelihood you’ll continue to dodge the fatal bullet grows less with every breath you take?

What’s it like to be careful now. You used to climb trees, mountains, careers with wild abandon. What’s it like to walk more slowly, to know that an injury now could put you permanently out of the game?

What’s it like to lose your friends, to watch them drop around you one by one until one day you will be the only one left standing. And will that make you the lucky one? Or are they?

What’s it like to watch your lifelong partner forget who you are? What does an empty house sound like, an empty bed feel like?

What’s it like to pick out a casket?

No, I’m not being needlessly morose. I’m focusing on the negatives because the positives—happiness, joy, success—are simple. And positives usually aren’t the stuff of novels anyway. Most novels aren’t about the ones who made it. They’re about the ones who didn’t, barely missed maybe, or perhaps realized when they grabbed the brass ring that it wasn’t what they thought it’d be. Novels are about people who struggle, people for whom life’s abundance doesn’t come easy or cheap. Novels are about people who hurt and what they do about that hurt, about people in difficult circumstances and how they perservere—or don’t.

I seriously doubt anyone reading these words is writing Greek tragedy, but no matter what your genre, EVERY ONE of your characters has some hurt, some brokenness. They’re battling some kind of difficult circumstance or there’d be no conflict in your story. What I’m saying is that you have to find the pain in your own life to be able to write convincingly about pain in the lives of your characters, even though what they’re suffering is an altogether different kind of pain than you have ever known. Everything that’s ever happened to you, everything you’ve ever seen or felt, wanted or lost is what you bring to the characters you create on the page.

What’s the best way to create unforgettable characters? Actually, it’s the only way. Everything else is a technique you can learn, advice you can follow, skill you can acquire. If you want to create unforgettable characters, there’s just one way to do it: you have to give them life. And the only life you have to give them is your own.

Write on!










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"Oh, and about the 9 and the e beside my name. Say it fast, emphasis on the 9. That’s how you pronounce my first name -9e. (Think “rhymes with tiny and shiny, NOT with skinny and penny.”)

Suspense Author

I have soooo many stories I want to tell you, so many worlds I want you to see, so many people I want you to meet. People in trouble, most of them. Big trouble they didn't ask for but there it is. Ordinary folks like you and me who are forced by circumstances to fight for their lives. And then, smack in the middle of their everyday worlds they encounter the unexplainable. It's always the game-changer.

Welcome to my world. If you'd like to know more about me, I'm easy. Click on Meet Ninie and you'll see. My life isn't really an open book; it's more of a pamphlet, and you are cordially invited to read it. I'd love to interact with you on Twitter, Facebook Fan page, and Goodreads. Or come visit with me at 9e's Kitchen Table, a Facebook group where readers and I hang out. I think you'd like it.