Ways to Write Unforgettable Characters 
Can Start With a Backstory

Man Reading a Character's Backstory

Image created with Dream by Wombo and Canva

You’re ready to write a story. You understand genre, plot points, dialogue, setting, an initial hook, theme, conflict, and so forth. In considering ways to write unforgettable characters, you also need a dynamic protagonist and antagonist. You want a character who can take the reader by the hand and not let go of her until the end of the story. 

Suppose you’re writing a fiction story about mythological characters. You’ve read about Medusa and feel she would make a great antagonist. You want to bring her to life, to lift her out of the mythological realm, and place her right onto the pages of your book.

Mad Medusa

Characters such as Medusa are flat. Sure, they have a backstory, but they have yet to come alive in terms of personality relating to real people. What do they sound like in dialogue? What are their facial expressions? How do they dress? What is their skill? These questions go on and on.

Ways to write unforgettable characters means you will need to delve into her backstory. What made her so angry and revengeful? Here’s a story that tells us what led to her tragic transformation:

Medusa was a priestess to the goddess Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom and battle. One requirement to be a priestess for Athena is that the young women should be a virgin and give their life to the goddess. One day, Poseidon (or Neptune), the God of the Sea and rival to Athena, saw Medusa and was mesmerized. But Medusa being a loyal priestess to the Goddess rejected him. And what does he do about it? Rape her of course! And decided to humiliate Athena by raping the priestess on the steps of Athena’s temple. Poseidon vanished after he was done and left Medusa vulnerable and weak. (Jaya)

Medusa was loyal to Athena and begged her forgiveness, even though it wasn’t her fault, but Athena would hear none of it and banished her to an island. She further cursed Medusa by making her ugly and giving her snakes for hair and eyes that turn anyone who looked at her to stone.

After reading Medusa’s backstory, how will you proceed with your story?

Ways to Write Unforgettable Characters 
Include Listing Their Character Traits

Character Making a List

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Do you want to write about a vicious woman on guard to destroy her many enemies who dare to come to her island? If so, in keeping with ways to write unforgettable characters, you’ll need to give her some character traits. 

Thesaurus tells us that “A character trait is a literary term for adjectives and descriptions that writers use to add personality and depth to characters.”

For more information about character traits, check out Thesaurus.

There are internal as well as external character traits. External traits describe what we see about a character, her walk, her gestures, and so forth. Here, we will describe her internal traits. Let’s give her five so you, as well as the audience, will know something about Medusa.

  • Angry 
  • Hopeful
  • Sarcastic 
  • Intelligent
  • Suspicious

Any time you write about Medusa in action or dialogue, you will write in keeping with her above qualities. She should never be out of character. Neither should your other characters that you’ve taken time to write their traits. 

On the occasion that Perseus can slip onto her island and talk to her through the trees, she will not be happy to see him even though she’s hopeful. Her traits of suspicion and intelligence override this.


Medusa would figure Perseus to be up to no good. Why would he be there? Even though she’s lonely, she’s smart enough to know that he isn’t on her island for romance. She’s a hideous creature with snakes for hair and a look that can turn him to stone.

Medusa would correctly guess that he would be out to slay her. According to mythology, he does behead her, using her head to turn his enemies to stone as they gaze into her still-powerful eyes.

What would their dialogue reveal? Much would depend on Perseus’ character traits. Suppose his are these:

  • Brave
  • Deadly
  • Alluring
  • Intelligent
  • Manipulating

What might their dialogue be as Medusa spots him half-hidden by trees:

Medusa: “Get off my island!” (Angry, suspicious)

Perseus: “I ventured a long way to help you. I braved the Sirens of the seas.” (Brave, manipulating)

Medusa: “Help me by leaving.” (Sarcastic)

Perseus: “I knew you when you were beautiful. I can restore that.” (Alluring, manipulating)

Medusa is silent. (Hopeful) 

Perseus: “Athena sent me and bestowed upon me the power to restore you.” (Manipulating)

Medusa: “Come out from the trees. I won’t talk to a tree.” (Suspicious, hopeful, intelligent) 

Perseus: “I can’t look at you. I’ll turn to stone.” (Intelligent)

Medusa: “Then don’t look, braver of the Sirens. Hide your eyes behind your hands.” (Sarcastic)

“Okay, I’ll trust you. Come close.” (Manipulating)

As she inches closer, Perseus averts his eyes to avoid hers. She treads closer. Then sudden suspicion overtakes her. As she’s about to back away, Perseus raises his sword and with a swift blow, beheads her. 

Perseus: “Medusa, what a fool you were to trust me.” (Deadly)

Medusa’s demise was due to her being led by a powerful hope that she could be young and beautiful again, and by believing that Athena must have seen the error of her ways in punishing her. Hope overrode her anger, intelligence, and sensibility. 

With ways to write unforgettable characters, realize that nothing Medusa or Perseus say or do could be out of character. For instance, Medusa would not suddenly try to seduce Perseus because she is not a seductress. It is not one of her character traits.

You can also write your story about Medusa, or a Medusa-like character, from a different perspective. Let’s look at her story through a different lens.

Ways to Write Unforgettable Characters
Include Flipping the Script


Considering Medusa’s backstory, we can probably agree that she got a raw deal. She was a victim, a priestess, having dedicated her life to her goddess Athena, and vowing virginal devotion. Through an act of rape, in which she bears no culpability, her life was destroyed.

Can we see her as the victim instead of a monster who turns people to stone with a glance, and whose beautiful locks have been transformed into snakes? Consider that Medusa is a victim of victim-shaming, where it would be easier to blame her rather than the god, Poseidon. He has too much power to try to cast blame on him, much less bring to justice.

Remember Frankenstein? The creature was created in a lab from human body parts and brought to life. He had no idea of his place in the world. This nameless monster was lonely, and Frankenstein, his creator, feared him and turned against him. The monster subsequently felt suicidal. How unjust!

Ways to write unforgettable characters can stem from the victim’s plight, from the desire to right the wrong, or from sympathizing with them. If you want to write a different spin on the Medusa character, make a list of four or five other character traits. Consider these:

  • Sad
  • Hopeful
  • Suicidal
  • Sarcastic
  • Suspicious

Perseus’ traits might be:

  • Brave
  • Honest
  • Intelligent
  • Sympathetic
  • Problem-solver

Since we have another set of character traits, we have a different dialogue with a different outcome.

Medusa sees Perseus in the trees. She rises from her bed of leaves and dries her eyes. 

Medusa: “Who are you? Why are you here?” (Suspicious)

Perseus: “I heard your story; I come to help you.” (Sympathetic, brave)

Medusa: “How can you help? You come to hurt me. They all do.” (Hopeful, suspicious)

Medusa waves her arms as if trying to shoo him away. There are slash marks on her inner wrists. (Suicidal)

Perseus: “I spoke with Athena on your behalf.” (Intelligent, problem solver) “She now knows she gave you a raw deal.” (Honest) “Trust me to lift the curse so that you will be beautiful again with flowing hair.” (Sympathetic)

A critical point in the story may come when Medusa trusts Perseus enough to let him get close to her. Will he keep his promise to lift the curse or will he behead her? In this scenario, he will need to keep his promise. This interaction can be in the vein of Beauty and the Beast, where the Beast is restored to its pre-cursed characteristics.

As a writer, you have the power to craft a story in many ways, based on the character’s traits you assign them. Your character, through the use of these traits in dialogue and action, springs to life. 

Of course, you’ll still need to write the setting and give your character depth through quirks, style of dress, and so forth. However, when you learn these ways to write unforgettable characters, you will have mastered another tool to be stored in your treasured toolbox.

Unless otherwise stated, images are by Dream by Wombo

Jaya, Sree. “Dangerous Beauty: The Real Story of Gorgon Medusa.†Medium, 12 Mar. 2021, medium.com/paperkin/what-does-it-take-to-feel-sympathy-for-a-monster-3f88a2727b0c.

5 Types of Character Traits To Help You Create Your Complex Characters, Thesaurus,10 Mar. 2022, www.thesaurus.com/e/writing/character-traits/.