Monday, December 13, 2010

Creating Compelling Characters

I've been thinking about characters a lot lately. Maybe it's because I've been reading waaaay too many awesome books with awesome MCs. Or because I've been watching a couple movies with so-so MCs, but awesome supporting characters. Could go either way.

Point is, today I'm going to discuss... wait for it... characters!! In particular, what makes them compelling to me. This post was originally part of The Great Blogging Experiment, but I thought it would be cool to share it with you OA peeps. 

Here is ze post:


Yep, it's another blogfest entry, folks. Today I join the Trifecta of Awesome that is Elana Johnson, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and Jen Daiker for their Great Blogging Experiment

The topic? Creating compelling characters.

There are three things that make a character unforgettable to me. I like to call them the three C's:

1) Their channeling. Voice--we've all heard about it. We've all suffered through the terror of not creating a believable, authentic teen voice. To me, it's not so much that a character's voice has to be believable or authentic in terms of how teens really speak nowadays. It's all about how your main character channels the world around them to your reader. And the best way to create a compelling channeling experience is to see that world from an unusual point of view. 

When I say unusual, I don't mean weird. I mean saying 'it looked like a dog barfed on the stupid thing' instead of saying 'it looked terrible'. Anyone can say something looks terrible. But how does your character say it? How does he/she see what surrounds them? If a character can make me envision setting/action/emotions in a way I never expected to, I'm sold. They stay with me long after I finish their story.

2)  Their choices. Sure, motivation is super important. They're what makes a character move forward in the story. But let's say we have two different books with two different main characters. Character A is shy and insecure, while Character B is outgoing and cocky. They both have the same motivation--to get the girl before senior year is done. That's not what makes them who they are, though. It's what they do to get the girl that matters. It's how they face the seemingly impossible obstacles in their way that makes them jump off the page. Remember that awesome quote from Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? "It is not our abilities that define us. It is our choices." Yep. The old timer nailed it.

3) Their change. Character development is often sacrificed for other things in books. This. Cannot. Happen. Seriously, who wants to stick around with a person who never learns from their mistakes? Who brushes off the hardships thrown at them by life without getting derailed? Not only is this annoying to most readers, it's also reflective of poor writing skills on the author's part. Trust me--you don't want people hating on you because of poor writing skills! 

Let's go back to Characters A and B for a moment. Character A, the shy and insecure dude, starts off in a really sucky place emotionally. As the story progresses, so does he. It can be offering his crush a lopsided grin first, then a full-blown smile, until he finally plucks up the courage to talk to her. How he does that is totally up to the writer, but the end result (the change) has to be there. Same goes for Character B, and for any other character in any other book. 

Static is boring. Change rocks. Remember that. 

Now go write some awesome fake people ;)

There you go, folks. Awesome fake people are what we should all aspire to create. 

Tell me: how do you create compelling characters??


  1. Good post. I like your point about character change, which is one of the hallmarks of a novel but sometimes given short shrift (especially in series) for plot.

  2. I love oldies-but-goodies! Yep. Voice, Choice, and Change. If any of these falls flat, I know I have more work to do.

    The number one way I create compelling characters is by letting readers into their minds, either by direct thoughts in the narrative (if it's the POV character) or by actions. The hard thing to remember is that not everybody acts out anger in the same way, or lust. One person might lick his lips while another looks away. But actions and thoughts do a lot for me when I'm exploring a character.

    Awesome post and spot on!

  3. Thanks! Character love all around :D

    As writers, we have to make sure we find that perfect balance--voice, choice and change need to gel well (at least to me).

    Happy writing, everyone!


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