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What makes characters memorable?

The Characters Engage Linkedin forum currently hosts a lively discussion on the subject of 'what makes characters memorable'.

At the beginning of the discussion, a Serbian Lead Programmer thought that conviction is important. A character, he said, needs its own set of values and goals to be both convincing and memorable.

The owner of an American animation company echoed his point about goals, saying that characters can engage us, if their story provides them with clearly defined goals that are important to them. What makes the characters memorable is the external and internal struggle they have to go through to achieve their goals.

He went on to say that the internal struggle is of particular importance. None of us are what we want to be, and a protagonist that manages to reflect our own imperfections and insecurities, has the power to grab our attention in a profound manner.

A European IP Developer agreed. Backstory, especially for characters from linear narratives, he thought, is vital for making characters memorable.

In games, though, there seemed to him to be additional ways of achieving memorability. He recounted a conversation, he once overheard, in which two twenty something students were talking about a game they had both played, as kids.

He said, "they described a villain who would attack and kill, seemingly out of nowhere, and both said, with real vigor, "I hated that guy!". The fact that he could end their quest that way, was something they remembered, and obviously still strongly disliked him for".

The animation company owner replied, saying that in older games characters were often relatively neutral, so that the player could embue them with their own personality.

As the novelty of games wore off, though, games progressively embraced story and character basics. He thought that, as games developed, they became increasingly interested in character development.

Picking up the earlier point about villains, he added that an important thing to remember about antagonists is, that they are the heroes of their own journey. This means that the rules of character development apply to villains, just as they do to protagonists.

The IP Developer then said that other factors could also play an important role in making characters memorable. Appeal can be important, if you consider "Hello Kitty", for example, because in her case her appearance is almost all there is.

A Canadian Technology Specialist also wondered whether there is a category of characters that manage to achieve memorability without the need for deep character development. Do "Hello Kitty", "Sonic the Hedgehog", and "Pacman" belong to this category, he asked.

Returning to the discussion about character development, an American Games Writer made the point that, to her, specificity, boldness, and exaggeration, were important. Memorable characters, she thought, have specific characteristics that leave a strong impression. Unconventional, amusing and quirky characters are more easily remembered than the ordinary, humdrum variety.

An American Animator then summed his views up in three words. According to him, the things that matter, when it comes to making characters memorable are relatability, vulnerability, and adversity.

The IP Developer responded by saying, "brilliantly boiled down, and for protagonists from linear narratives, I agree. In other media formats and character industries, and as far as other character types are concerned, I think the list needs to be a little more varied".

But what do you think? Contribute to the discussion... here.

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