Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Compelling Character?

We all know characters are important in literature (both in what we read and what we write), but what makes a compelling character?

For me it's a combination of two elements -- voice and flaws. I'm not talking about someone who occasionally wears the same socks two days in a row. I want someone who knows a certain action is reckless but necessary. Who makes good and bad choices. Who can be selfless but also selfish. In short, I want someone who's human.

They can be a million miles away from who I am, but I want to open the page and connect with them. Why would I spend 300+ pages with them if I didn't?  

I mean, I don't live in a world where teens kill each other on live TV to satisfy the government a'la The Hunger Games, but I cared about Katniss. Why? She's sarcastic, feisty, loyal, confused, tough but vulnerable. She sacrifices herself to protect her sister and, despite coming out the other side alive, has to live with the nightmares. 

And the best thing? I get to know her as the story progresses.

I'll admit I never know everything about my characters when I start a new WIP. For me, reading a new book/writing a new WIP is like making a friend.

The voice comes first. It gives me a flavour of who they are. But there needs to be something there to make me want to stay talking/reading them. There may no be a magical ingredient (unless you're Harry Potter) but the one thing I find compelling is this -- they are human.

I don't want perfect. Heck, it would be nice to live in a world like that, but we don't. I want to see their flaws. Show me weakness, fear, the odd little habits that make no sense to anyone but themselves. I want to see them evolve as a person. A character never shows who they are straight away, it's waiting to be discovered in the time you take to get to know each other. 

Just like making a friend, it's knowing there is something else there. That, for me, is what makes them compelling.

What about you? What makes a character compelling for you? 


Roberta Walker said...

Another thing I like is a bad guy with redeeming qualities...If the bad guy is an MC, I don't want to hate him so much (that would be too predictable) I want to put the book down. If they have something that makes them more 'human', it makes me want to know them a bit more too. Example: Damon in the Vampire Diaries. At the beginning, he's a bad guy, but then we get to know him...And yeah, he's flawed, and we care.

Stina said...

I'm with Roberta on the bad guy.

I also perfer characters who are flawed, but who are also determined to go after what they want. Sure they have their doubts at times. But then they pick themselves up and push on.

Kelly Polark said...

Great post. I do need to develop my mc more. I love multifaceted characters that surprise me.

Magan said...

I love three dimensional characters. I remember I had a class in high school called "The Hero in fiction," in which they said to be a hero they have to go through some sort of "change." That's what I like about a character is if they grow and learn as they go through that change. (Melody in BUMPED does this perfectly.)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Great post! I've seen you say this before, about getting to know a new friend through writing and reading, and it's so true! When I was a kid, I hated coming to the end of a book or series because it was another goodbye to someone I'd come to love. As an adult, it's a little easier, but I still miss Natalie, the character I just met yesterday in Anne Riley's THE CLEARING.

You know it's a believable, deep character when you're still thinking about them a day later.

Lindz Pagel said...

Here here on the bad guy with redeeming qualities. They way I've always looked at villains is that they might not necessarily be "evil" (unless they're Hitler... He's pretty agreeably bad) but they have a stance that conflicts with the protagonist. The POV of the protagonist informs the reader of what is right and wrong usually, so the reader tends to agree with the character the story is following.

Even though the villain is going against the grain, he may feel that his cause is just as worthy and noble. I like viewing the villains actions from the perspective that he may think he's honestly doing the right thing.