Saturday, September 8, 2012

What makes characters... Unforgettable

What makes a character memorable?

I love characterization. The hunt for flaws and ripples, tears and patches of characters I’ve run into and come to love. Those who have stayed with me since our first introduction as if they were real. I decided to examine a few of their traits to see if I could pin-point what it was that has made them so endearing. Because for me it’s not the plot that’s kept me up late, no matter how exciting. The action is merely the backdrop. Like a stage, it’s the people that keep us up all night. Watching them overcome their obstacles or conflicts in order to achieve a happy ever after ending. But just what is it that leads us to develop a bond to make-believe people, characters that literally grew from an author’s imagination and stays with us long after the last page is read?

Let's revisit some memorable characters, shall we?

1. Many call her the funniest redhead in comedy. Need I say more? I’m sure you know exactly who I’m talking about. It doesn't matter if she’s stuffing her floppy hat with chocolates, her jaws bulging like a wily squirrel or sitting on the arm of her sofa twirling the dark locks of Desi’s hair as she trys convincing him she’d be perfect for the snappy dance number at the Cabana, Lucille Ball will always be the known as ‘that crazy redhead.’
Somebody had to write the scrip. Whether she was bawling loudly with sniffles and screeching at the top of her lungs, ‘Lucy’ portrayed a so-called ordinary housewife of the fifties as a unique, one of a kind persona. There’s no one indentifying character trait, but many. And remember this was just an actor. Fleshing out a character. fully developed. Believable. I mean, come on….Do you really think Lucille Ball was like that in real life?

2. How about the deputy who’s only allowed one bullet?

I know I don’t have to say more. But let’s examine the traits given to deputy Barney Five.

Thin as a whip, is it any wonder he’s constantly pulling on his gun belt? Adjusting it to settle around his hips...if he had any. And I'm pretty sure he only owns one suit, a heavy tweed one (probably a dull brown) patent leather shoes and a white straw hat that he wears out for a date with Thelma Lu or Wauneta at the diner. I heard from Barney himself that the most expensive purchase he made was an anniversary gift (a septic tank) that he bought for his folks. And although Barney try’s to convince those around him he’s keen on procedure, everything still goes awry. If only they had more modern technology like the police force in Mount Pilot. Mayberry and its success definitely belonged to Barney. He made the show memorable by giving all us a very warm and funny character that will live in our hearts forever.

3. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I know you can see the swagger as Rhett Butler plunks the hat on to his head and steps out into the early morning fog. Because we’ve seen firsthand that Rhett is not at all the rake many southerners would have you believe. Why, it was his manners that kept him from making his presence known while Scarlett confessed her undying love to Ashley. And because of his close relationships with Ms.Wattley, is a good example that Rhett isn’t one to judge people and is ready and willing to fight any man who would slander his friends. And he's not an uppity fellow, no sir, but very comfortable in his surroundings even while being held in a horse jail! Rhett has given money to widow’s fund and joined in to fight a dying cause because simply put, it was the thing to do. And he's faithful to Scarlett, unable to get her out of his head or his heart.

I know you’re probably thinking, memorable, yeah. But these characters were all in the movies.

Although now made into movies, most of these characters were first introduced to the world between the pages of a book. Painstakingly crafted by an author who managed to write her story people right off the pages and into the hearts of us all.

Here’s some more.

4. He’s green and hates Christmas.

Sort of. Mean ol' Mr. Grinch live miles away from town high on Mount Crumpet because, he claims, he prefers to be alone. Except...he's not alone. He has a companion. His dog Max. And I gather from the old sewing machine in the corner that the Grinch uses fairly accurently, I think Mr. Grinch loves to sew. Or at the very least enjoys doing crafts. We've all seen him make a reindeer with quick imagination, an antler and string. He doesn't like shopping- instead wears shoes that are sizes too small. But his parenting skills aren't bad. Notice how he gives little Cindy Lou a drink of water, pats her gently on the head and tucks her back into bed. When we look beneath his green skin what we find is really just an old softie that loves celebrating, especially with friends.

5. “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”

6. “Go ahead, make my day.”

7. He went down in history because of his bright nose.

8. An Iowa housewife who finds love with a photographer.

9. “There’s no place like home.”

10. The sea captain who seeks vengeance against a white whale.

Characters and the story behind them make me so glad to be an author. What a rush to first dream and then design that special someone capable of capturing an audience.

Do you have a favorite and unforgettable character? I'd love to hear about them.


  1. Thank you for a nice post on characters. I think my favorite on TV is Lucille Ball (she happens to be my distant cousin, too!). I still love to watch old episodes of "I Love Lucy," the chocolate factory skit being my favorite. In literature, I will never forget the first time I read GONE WITH THE WIND, because Scarlett O'Hara (for all of her faults) was the most amazing character, brimming with life. I believe her vibrancy set me on the path to writing my own novels.

  2. So glad you liked it. A distant cousin to Lucille Ball? How nice! She is my all time favorite and I could watch the antics of her and Viv over and over. Why, even the dedication in my book is to the 'Lucy and Vivs' BFF!

    Oh, I love Scarlett tool! Thank goodness for such in depth characters. And thank you Deborah for coming by!

  3. Wonderful post...thank you for the walk down memory lane Tere :) I loved a lot of those characters and movies and books.

    And characters definitely do make the are so right!

    1. My favorites too! I love visiting these beloved characters all brimming with life. What a great job their creator did! : )

  4. All of the characters you described came to life for me with just those one liners. That says a lot for how they've been portrayed for us.

  5. That's for sure, Margo. And I find it so inspiring to realize despite the struggle many of the authors endured to bring these masterpieces, success in rarely an overnight sensation.
    Glad you stopped in! : )

  6. Great post, Teresa. It seems like my favorite characters were the dads in family series - Ben Cartwright, Cliff Huxtable, Ward Cleaver. To me they represented the epitome of heroism.

  7. I know what you mean, Patricia. I think those strong male roles were great and I can remember watching Paladon and Bonaza. Strong and very memorable characters.
    Always good to see you!

  8. Maybe my all-time favorite characters in a tv show were James Arness (aka Marshall Matt Dillon) and Amanda Blake (aka Miss Kitty)of Gunsmoke fame. The strong western hero and the independent woman who loves him. Another favorite in the movies was Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. More recently I love the character of Jesse Stone (played by Tom Selleck) in the tv series of movies about the hard-drinking police chief, based on the novels by Robert Parker. Haven't read the books but love the movies. They are certainly all characters you still think about even when the story is over. Great topic!

    1. Matt Dillon was a wonderful character and I loved watching him and the entire cast from Dodge City. Thankfully now we have dvd's when the desire to go back strikes. Sometimes I'll catch a glimpse of a familiar face starring on another show, hubs and I will commnet on what character they played in Gunsmoke. Festus Hagon visited our county fair years ago, all dressed in his in dusty clothes and spurs!
      Thanks Lucy, for commenting!

  9. I, too, recognized most of the characters from the 1st lines. So memorable. I read Gone With The Wind in high school & thought Melanie Wilkes was such a wimp. It wasn't until I was older before I realized her strength of character. Now, she was definitely unforgettable.

  10. Yep, Melly was definitely a softie but later we recognized her strength. And for me, I nearly lost it watching Ashley weeble/wobble but never stand up! He was truly the weaker of all four.
    But I love to rewatch those shows and see if I pick up on anything new. And I usually do!


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. You're awesome!