Heartbeats
 
I demonstrated creating memorable character names in Naming Names, and if creating memorable character names were enough to make characters memorable I wouldn't be writing this post as a follow up.

We need to give readers reasons to remember our characters beyond catchy names. We give readers reasons to remember characters beyond catchy names when we give those characters heartbeats.

Most people recognize an heartbeat monitor's output by the distinctive up and down line that indicates a good, strong heartbeat.

The opposite of that up and down heartbeat is called a flatline because that's exactly what it is; a flat line indicates there is no heartbeat, no life, this person is wormfood move on to the next.

You want your heart beat to have that up and down look, correct? It means you're alive, breathing, functional, responsive, interactive, loving, caring, giving, growing, learning, thriving, striving blah blah blah.

You do not want a flatline. You get a flatline, they bring out the paddles and wap you with enough juice to make Niagara wince. You flatline long enough and you're dead, gone, passed, boring, dull, inanimate, pine-stuffing, gone to dust bleh bleh bleh.

Think about it for a second or two.

Okay, that's long enough.

Memorable scenes make characters memorable

I created a character, Lucky Jones, in Naming Names and gave the reader a reason to remember him with the following scene:

"Lucky Jones backed away from The Swede as soon as the knife came out. It didn't matter that The Swede was as big as any Viking Jones could imagine, it mattered that the knife looked as long as a battleaxe. The Swede swung but Jones was already making for the door and the only thing The Swede caught was Jones' ear, which the police found the next day under The Swede's body. Albert Swanson Jones became Lucky Jones and a wanted man that same day."

Emotion = Energy in Motion

Let's limit ourselves to making things memorable emotionally (for the record, I use four memorability methods). Consider Lucky Jones again:

1) "Lucky Jones backed away" = we back away from things that disturb us, that we fear, that we don't like, that we want to avoid, ... The reader backs away (even if it's only a little bit) when they read "Lucky Jones backed away".

2) "The Swede" = the definite article and capitalization show uniqueness, identity, someone who's known for something that separates them from the crowd. Combine with the previous to create anxiety, anticipation of something unpleasant because nobody's going to back away from "Little Bobby Terrell, the ice cream vendor" unless we give them lots more reason to. But "The Swede"? People accept something unpleasant will happen, something beyond a craving for meatballs or Muppet characters.

3) "as soon as the knife came out." = "soon" and "came out". I'll ask you a question; was the knife moving slowly? Chances are you imagined the knife coming out in a quick movement. Combined with the previous, more anxiety, more reason to fear.

I could continue through the entire paragraph and you're probably getting the idea. I've created a fearful situation and, if you've ever been afraid or felt fear, you're siding with Lucky Jones, you're invested in him, his welfare, his outcome. I layer on another kind of threat - police - at the end of the paragraph but only after Lucky Jones has escaped The Swede.

He was threatened, he got away from the threat, now there's a bigger threat. The police are after him, an "out of the pan into the fire" scenario.

Ups and Downs

We gave the reader a rollercoaster ride - some ups and downs - by giving Lucky Jones' scene an emotional heartbeat. The scene starts with whatever heartbeat the reader has. We create tension hence increase the heartbeat with "backed away", "The Swede", "knife", "soon" and so on. We bring the heartbeat back down when Jones escapes. The reader, like Jones, breathes a sigh of relief; Lucky's safe, hurt but safe, so the reader relaxes a bit. Then we wap them with the paddles by introducing the police. Up, down, up.

Good writing creates heartbeats and gives readers rollercoaster rides in every scene, chapter and the novel as a whole.


Next up; Ups, downs and tying scenes together.