By Bill Hopkins
If you want your characters to stand out, try my Character Builder List. Define the people in your work using four points: speech, action, name, and looks.
Speech: If all your characters talk the same, then your readers must jump a hurdle when, for example, you have rapid-fire dialogue in the story. One trick is to give your characters a catch phrase. If Winebibber (how's that for a name?) says, "Freaking frost!" when he gets excited or surprised, the reader will know who it is, as long as no other character says that. Thus, you won't need a tag like this "'Freaking frost!' Winebibber said." Needless to say, don't overdo the catch phrases. They wear on the reader quickly.
Action: A character should have an action that he, she, or it does that no other character does. "Winebibber rubbed the mole on his left thumb." If Winebibber does that a couple of times, you've not only given him an action that no one else can do, but you've also described one of his physical characteristics.
Name: Winebibber is a name you won't forget. But if your character is named John or Jane, you're begging the reader to forget a forgettable character. If you must use John as a name, give him two names. Who can forget John Boy of the Waltons? And don't use similar names. If one of your characters is named Max, avoid Mary, Maggie, Marty, etc. In fact, don't use a second name beginning with a letter you've already used.
Looks: Give your characters distinctive appearances. Maybe the character has one eyebrow. Or an odd tattoo. Maybe one green eye and one blue eye. Here again, I advise spare use of the oddity. Mention it once early in the story and perhaps a second or third time if you're writing a novel.
Now you're asking yourself, "What the heck does Winebibber look like?" Make something up. You're a writer!