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Writing Memorable Novel Characters, by Douglas W Jacobson

When Herman Wouk created his unforgettable heroine of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance he gave us a character we cared about from the very first page of these epic novels until the last. Natalie Jastrow is a stunningly beautiful woman. She is also brilliant and filled with self-confidence to the point of being headstrong. Yet she has trouble with relationships and self-doubts about how she fits into American society. She can be cool and calm under duress, yet has serious lack of judgment in making critical decisions. Readers care about this story because they care about Natalie Jastrow.

Getting readers to care about your characters is the fundamental goal for anyone writing fiction. If they care about your characters  they will care about your story. So, what is it about characters like Natalie Jastrow, Scarlett O’Hara, Atticus Finch or Jane Eyre that make them so memorable?

It’s because they are believable. They’re as real as our best friends, our sisters or our brothers. They have personality flaws and quirks. They don’t always act in a predictable way. They can at times be bold and courageous, and at other times hesitant and filled with self-doubt. Just like we are. They are not superhuman… they’re real people.

After my first novel, Night of Flames, was released in 2007 many readers contacted me to tell how much they enjoyed the character of Anna Kopernik. It was through her that they experienced and understood the story of Poland in WW2. The ironic thing about that is that she was not even on my mind when I started writing the story. She just evolved along the way and before long she became my dominant character, the person I cared about the most.

When I was writing The Katyn Order I wanted the readers understand what it was like to have everything and everyone you care about be suddenly and brutally torn away. Would you be able to carry on? Would you be filled with hate and a quest for vengeance  And, if you were ever given a chance for redemption, could you rise above your inner demons and seize the moment? Adam Nowak evolved into that character as I wrote the story. Time will tell if he is one of those memorable characters that readers care about.


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Night of Flames: A Novel of World War IIThe Katyn Order     The Mathematics of Love (P.S. (Paperback))The Sultan's WifeSpartacus: RebellionTrue Soldier Gentlemen

Writing Historical Novels

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I haven’t read Herman Wouk, and Natalie Jastrow sounds (with the reservation following) like a compelling character. However, generally speaking, nothing is more likely to lose my interest as a reader than a character who is ‘stunningly beautiful’ and ‘brilliant’. These are certainly (for me) the least interesting aspects of this character as you describe her above.

    May 25, 2013

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