Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters

Elana Johnson asked for volunteers to help her with The Great Blogging Experiment today, which is having several bloggers blog about the same topic on the same day, and then seeing how very different and valuable the different blogs can be. I am experimentee #114.

How to Write Compelling Characters, a la Jaime at Bookmom Musings.

1. Riddle them with weaknesses, flaws, and a behavior tendencies that seem to get them in trouble. As human beings, we all have weaknesses, flaws, and tendencies that we wish we could erase the minute we do them. As readers we can empathize with that because it's part of life. This will make your characters more real to your readers. And more real to you (which is important as you write them).

2. Give them at least one character strength that you admire. Maybe it's persistence. Maybe it's kindness to others who might not deserve it. Maybe it's the ability to laugh at oneself.

3. Make sure you have some plot problems that stem directly from your characters' weaknesses and strengths. Stick with me here. Sometimes our strengths get us into trouble too, and the true test of someone's mettle is if they stick to that strength even when it hurts.

4. Make your characters grow and change as a result of events in your story. Even better if it is by overcoming a particular weakness that a character gets the girl/beats the bad guy/saves the world/saves the whales/becomes the popular kid/etc.

5. Make your characters sparkle in the sun. (Kidding, kidding.)

All of this is easier said than done, but it can be done. I also suggest looking at some of your favorite characters in books with an eye towards why you found them compelling. I bet you'll see some of the things I mentioned. (Except the sparkling.)

17 comments:

Danyelle said...

Riddle them with weaknesses for sure! I think nothing creates a cardboard character more than perfection. :)

Elana Johnson said...

LOL on #5. But you really got me with #3: "Make sure you have some plot problems that stem directly from your characters' weaknesses and strengths."

This is beyond brilliant. And something I need to do much better at. Thank you!

WindyA said...

Oh, but the sparkles, how we all should have sparkles!

Shallee said...

I like number 3 a lot! The character should definitely create some of his or her own problems. Thanks for sharing!

Tere Kirkland said...

#3 is key! There's nothing worse than reading a character full of flaws that don't actually have any consequences.

Great post!

~Tere

Valerie Ipson said...

Great post. I wonder if the sparkles I have in the cupboard will work...wait, those are sprinkles. Well, they're good on choco-frosted cupcakes.

Melissa said...

I never thought about the giving the characters a trait that I, personally admire, as a way to build characters (consciously anyway). I had to pause and think about and thankfully realized that this has been done in my work though subconsciously.

LOVED your third point as well. So true and always makes for the best stories.

L.T. Elliot said...

I think characters that grow are the best ones. Even villains who grow.

Len said...

Hello Jaime! I'm a new follower! :)

'Riddle them with weaknesses' - I like this part very much!

Patricia A. Timms said...

Riddle them with weaknesses and flaws. I like that. Riddle reminds me that the flaws need to come out along the way and not all up front. As I get to know the character I want to think of him or her as a riddle. This was great! The last one still has me smiling, that was funny.

Thanks for stopping by my blog to comment as well. This is fun.

N. R. Williams said...

But I like the sparkling stuff...it reminds me of pixie dust. I enjoyed your post for all the reasons others have listed.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Make them sparkle!!!!
But if you make them sparkle, make sure the MS is underedited, or it would just not work!

I liked # 2.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Double posting to add.
I am follower # 100 - the first time it has happened for me.
And congratulations on your first 100- may there be many, many more!

Coffee Rings Everywhere

Nicole Zoltack said...

Make sure you have some plot problems that stem directly from your characters' weaknesses and strengths --- Love this.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I agree that #3 is a great point! A really good villain knows how to use the hero's strengths against him.

Pam Torres said...

"Sometimes our strengths get us into trouble too, and the true test of someone's mettle is if they stick to that strength even when it hurts." I'm going to ruminate on this one. Thanks for your input!!

Cinette said...

I've heard the part about giving them weaknesses, but I LOVE that you added - "that get them into trouble." Of course! Why didn't I think of that?
Great post!