I love every aspect of a good book — the writing style and technique, the plot, the world-building — but there is only one feature of a story that I always find best determines its quality. A novel can have the most vivid prose, the most fascinating and complex of worlds and the most original plot ever to revolutionize the world of literature, but if I don’t love the characters, then it will always fall under the category of lesser storytelling to me.
A character’s likability has nothing to do with the matter, either. Joffrey Baratheon from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is cruel, sadistic and downright annoying, but he’s extremely well-developed. A good storyteller can make you fall in love with the way you hate a character just as much as the way you like one. An even better storyteller can make you go from hating to loving a character — or even from loving to hating.
So, how do you make characters that are memorable? You get to know them.
I started writing fiction when I was about six years old, and I found a passion for reading even younger than that. I created more character sheets than I can count, listing everything from my characters’ appearances and birthdays to strengths and flaws — and even what I thought their Chick-fil-A orders would be if they existed in real life. For a long time, I felt as if I knew everything about my characters and still nothing meaningful at all.
Then, my best friend and I decided to start creating aesthetic boards on Pinterest for our stories, and I realized something that I wish I had learned a lot earlier in my writing career.
I have known my best friend for nearly eight years now. I talk to her every day. I would die for her in a heartbeat and until maybe a year ago, if you had asked me what her middle name was, I would not have been able to tell you. But when I think of her, I see sunflowers and piles of books in an open meadow. I hear camera shutters and Beatles music and I think of fluffy sweaters and the color yellow.
Creating aesthetic boards on Pinterest helps me to bring the emotional connection that I feel like I was really missing in just character sheets. People are more than just facts on a page. They’re living beings with soul and energy, and knowing someone on an intimate and personal level doesn’t just mean being able to recite a bunch of random facts about them — it’s developing a connection.
You may start with one aesthetic for your characters and, as you explore quotes and images, find that they’re different people than you thought they were. Heck, you may end up with something completely opposite of what you started with.
While I still use character sheets to organize my thoughts, Pinterest boards help maintain an impression of my characters that can still be abstract at times. I might even throw in a Spotify playlist to complete the vibe.
If you ever find yourself in a character block, try this out and see how it goes!