Why do we remember some characters so well, like Harry Potter, Pocahontas, or Shrek, while others fade away within a few months or even hours after we learn about them? How can certain characters be so timeless that we remember them for decades and can talk about them to almost anyone without having to explain who they are?
Some of us are better at faces, others at names. And others, well, neither. Our memory is a funny thing, but two things holds true: we often remember the most emotional moments in our lifetime, as well as the most unique.
First, take this simple test and figure out if your character is memorable, and then we’ll talk. Please note that the word “unique” as used in this test means two things: 1) that no other character in the story has this trait, and 2) that few, if any, characters in others stories possess this trait (it’s uncommon).
Does your character have a unique … ?
1) Personality (how they react to things versus how other characters react) YES / NO
2) Physical appearance (this could be their face, hair, shape, or clothing) YES / NO
3) Object they use and take everywhere with them (examples: a weapon, a guitar, or a journal) YES / NO
4) Accessory that is symbolic to them (examples: a necklace, a scarf, or a helmet) YES / NO
5) Companion (usually an animal, but it can also be a spirit guide, fairy, or other being that always follows them around or lives with them) YES / NO
6) Group of friends that complement their personality (have personality traits that the character in question lacks, and vice versa) YES / NO
7 ) Power or ability (this could range from telepathy to being a good liar or sense of humor) YES / NO
8) First name (should be one that is pronounceable, or at least teachable. Trademark examples include: Mulan, Naruto, and Hermione) YES / NO
9) Hobby (something they love to do that might be a little weird. Examples: collecting antiques, building miniature houses, or dancing to country music) YES / NO
10) Lofty goal or expectation (often difficult to achieve or highly competitive, such as defeating a powerful villain, earning a high-ranking title, or having an unlikely romance) YES / NO
11) Accent or manner of speech (Examples: Shrek, Hagrid, Austin Powers) YES/ NO
Now give yourself a point for every “yes” and no points for every “no.” Add them up and look at the following chart:
If you scored 7-11 points: Congrats! You have a character that’s in league with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and leading Disney characters – the ones we just can’t seem to forget! Although, having a memorable character doesn’t mean they’re likeable or sympathetic (two completely separate things). You might want to read up on those as well if you want to make sure your audience can also connect with them.
If you scored 4-6 points: Well done! Your character’s not bound to be forgotten any time soon. You can probably spice them up a bit more if you’d really like for them to stand out, but you’re well on your way.
If you scored 0-3 points: The bad news is, your character’s not likely to be remembered. The good news is, you can make them more memorable by implementing the things they’re missing to help them stand out.
So why does this work? Why do we remember characters like this? It’s pretty simple. Our mind remembers things easier when it can relate them to other things. That’s why mnemonics work for us. Which one is Harry again? The one with the lightning-shaped scar, duh. Which one’s Hermione? Oh, she’s extremely smart and has bushy hair. What about Shrek? Well, he’s green and has martian-looking ears, but we also know he’s not the Grinch because, unlike the Grinch, his companion is a donkey.
Uniqueness does the trick. Can you overdo it? I guess you can. If you give your character blue hair and that doesn’t make any sense based on their personality, people will suspect it to be a cheap shot at making them unique and call you out on it. So be authentic. Don’t force your characters to be something they’re not, but keep the unique traits in mind when creating new ones.
If you can think of any other traits that might make a character unique and memorable, drop them in the comments below. See you next time!
– The Story Addict