Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 8, 2010

Steps to Create A Memorable Character

Donald Maass in his noted book, Writing the Breakout Novel says, “Genuine inner conflict will make your protagonist memorable.” When we say create a memorable character, what are we saying? Mr. Maass says, “Simply that we are thinking about that character after the story is over.  What causes us to do that?  Inner conflict.  When it is powerfully portrayed, it lingers beyond the last page.  Readers seek to resolve it.  They will mentally talk to your heroine, trying to make her happy.  They will imagine scenes in which things come out better for your poor protagonist.  Trigger that response in your readers and yolu will have succeeded in making you character memorable.”

Here are a few writing steps you can take to help you develop inner conflict with your characters.

Step 1:  Thinking about your protagonist in the novel as a whole, what is it that your protagonist wants the most?  Write that down.

Step 2: Write down whatever is the opposite of that.

Step 3: How can your protagonist want both of those things simultaneously?  What would cause your protagonist to want them both?  What steps would he actively take to pursue those conflicting desires?  Make notes.

Additional work:  Work on sharpening the contrast between these opposing desires.  Make them mutually exlusive.  How can you ensure that if your protagonist gets one, he cannot get the other?  Make notes.

Conclusion:  Donald Maass says, “In creating genuine inner conflict, it is not enough simply to create inner turmoil.  True inner conflict involves wanting two things that are nutually exclusive.  It is most effective when it tears your protagonist, or any character, in two opposite directions.

With more and more editors saying they want character-driven  books, even to authors who write picture books, I think we can all benefit by creating conflict and memorable characters.  Hope the last three posts helped you learn or remember some things that will deepen your characters and help accomplish your publishing goals.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. yes, indeed, Kathy, these three posts were very helpful. I see Donald Maass quoted so often that maybe it’s time for me to check out the book.


  2. All these posts are great. I’m going to save them and review them for my WIP. Thanks, carol


  3. im feeling conflicted myself!


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