Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Blogging Experiment - How to Write Compelling Characters

Thanks to Elana Johnson, Jennifer Daiker, and Alex Cavanaugh for hosting The Great Blogging Experiment. The subject for the day, which everyone who has signed up for the experiment will write about, is "How To Write Compelling Characters."

Good question!

What qualities make characters effective? Irrisistible? Compelling? Well, think about your favorite characters....what makes you cheer for them? Become invested in their lives and stories?  It's their flaws, right?

Interesting characters aren't perfect. They make mistakes. They learn from them. They're vulnerable. They're needy. Often they're brave and determined to overcome. They're human.

Even though it sounds simple, it's not always easy to do. It's tempting to write the undefeated hero, or the indestructible heroine. But that's boring. There's nothing at stake. No room for conflict.

Satisfying characters allow us a glimpse into ourselves, help us see ways we can be better. They give us ways to try on lives we would otherwise never experience. We want to see people with our own flaws and doubts succeed despite their weaknesses.

So my ...ahem...sage advice for writing compelling characters is to give them imperfections and personal challenges to overcome. Put them through the ringer and see how they react. Make them mess up and have to fix it and learn from it.

Perfection is boring. Make your characters messy!

53 comments:

Quinn said...

I agree with making characters flawed. No one's perfect and no one wants to read (or be with) someone who is (or thinks they are).

Quinn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Totally agree! The messier the better! :o)

Hannah Kincade said...

I love the last bit. "Make your characters messy." LOL, that is perfect but not boring at all. ;)

Michelle McLean said...

perfect answer ;-) Messy is so much more fun than perfect :)

j.leigh.bailey said...

Perfection is boring and flat. The cliche "nobody's perect" is a cliche for a reason. It's the flaws and way in which the character overcome them are what make them interesting. Great post! :D

iZombie said...

Solid Advice... great post!
:)
Jeremy
[iZombie]

N. R. Williams said...

All very true. I'm part of the experiment too and now I'm your friend.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Mara Nash said...

Nancy - I love making new friends! Welcome!

Lola Sharp said...

Messy...YES! :)I likemessy characters and messy stories, too.

I found you from the blogfest. I'm your newest follower. *waves* Nice to meet you.

~Lola

clp3333 said...

I agree about flaws. I'm perfect, but I wouldn't be very interesting in a book.

Tere Kirkland said...

Messy is a great choice of words! People are messy, and have lots of baggage.

Great post!

Mara Nash said...

Lola - Hi! *waves* Glad you're here!

clp3333 - I can so totally relate. hehe.

Shallee said...

3 cheers for messy characters! :)

Laura Pauling said...

What I'm learning through this experiment is that most of know what makes a compelling character but the application of that knowledge is the hard part.

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, excellent point. And I'm not just saying that because I said to make them human too. Ha ha! But seriously, no one wants to read about someone so perfectly perfect. That's just annoying.

melissa said...

Flawed characters seem to be a popular topic, but I totally agree with you. It's what I wrote about, too. A character who has all their ducks in a row isn't interesting to me until they come undone.

arlee bird said...

You make a important point. I want to read about a character who I could think of as a friend and not some untouchable paragon. It's important to feel a certain sense of identity in order for us to understand the character about whom we are reading.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Kelly Dexter said...

It's difficult to identify with perfection. I love flaws and eccentricities and the inability to always make the right decisions. Great post!

Lisa Potts said...

I agree, messy = memorable. Great post.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Who wants to read about perfect, boring characters? Not me!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Nice post...The characters need to be human even if they are talking, dancing, cake baking zebras. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Messy...that's perfect! Your post reminds me of Alex's. Flawed characters are compelling. Great post! :-)

Ishta Mercurio said...

I love the way you put this - characters need to have flaws in order for there to be true conflict. Nicely put!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My characters have strong traits and areas where they excel - and then areas where they are a mess!

Elena Solodow said...

Flaws seem to be the word of the day. I totally agree!

Jen Chandler said...

Great post! I especially loved "We want to see people with our own flaws and doubts succeed despite their weaknesses." and "put them through the ringer and see how they react."

I tend to be very brutal to my characters.

Cheers,
Jen

Danyelle said...

Yes! I really like the part about characters giving us glimpses into ourselves. The best fiction, my favorite characters, are all mirrors to some extent. :D

Meredith said...

Yay for messy characters! That's such good advice.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I am not a writer of books but write poetry.
I write mainly about my life experiences , friends, family the whole lot, I too don't believe in flaws, I am honest about what I write and don't white wash anyone albiet myself or family, let's face it no one is perfect.

I enjoyed your post and found it highly interesting.
Good Luck

Yvonne.

The Golden Eagle said...

Messiness is SO important to making a character compelling! Nice post. :)

Pam Torres said...

Excellent post. I especially like the part about allowing us to "try on lives". That is exactly what great characters do, they take us with them.

Liza said...

Messy it is! We need to empathize with the characters. It has to feel real, and yes, sorry to say, messy.

Bish Denham said...

If we remember that truth is stranger than fiction we can draw there's plenty of food with which to fatten our characters. Give them chocolate smears around their mouths....

Jennifer Hoffine said...

"Make your characters messy" -great way to put it!

Elaine AM Smith said...

Messy characters scrub up nicely after they've been through the ringer ;)

RaShelle said...

They should make mistakes and be flawed. Good stuff! =D

DLCurran said...

'messy' - I like that!

VR Barkowski said...

Yes, yes, yes! Can't be too messy or too flawed. And make sure some of those flaws are still there at the story's end. It helps keep the story alive for the reader.

paulgreci said...

I like the idea and image of making your characters messy. Very realistic. Thanks!

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

I love that - messy is good!

Melissa said...

Perfection is boring. Messy is the new perfection (read: your characters will be perfect if they are messy!)

This is an excellent contribution to the experiment.

lbdiamond said...

It's challenging to make our character's live suck. And yet, it makes their story so much better!

Kaylie said...

I agree, but I think the challenge is to show your characters' weaknesses rather than telling about them.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Thank you for sharing your secrets. I really appreciate participating in this awesome blogfest! :)

Come and visit me!

Len said...

I totally agree! I love the 'They make mistakes. They learn from them. They're vulnerable. They're needy.' part. They stuck out to me. I'm now following you! :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great post! I really resonate with that last statement "Make your characters messy!"
Thanks!

Misha said...

Haha I found you!

I've been looking for someone else who went for "interesting" since yesterday...

:-)

Kittie Howard said...

Hi, I'm dropping in from the blog fest. Nice to meet you. I really enjoyed your blog, you've got some good stuff, and am happy to follow you.

Eleven Eleven said...

You hit the nail on the head with how satisfying characters allow us a glimpse into ourselves. We read to walk a mile in other shoes, to envision our potential nobility. But that only happens if the shoe fits first.

Julie said...

"Satisfying characters allow us a glimpse into ourselves..."

Love this.

Great post!

Jemi Fraser said...

Love this line: Satisfying characters allow us a glimpse into ourselves, help us see ways we can be better. Awesome!! :)

Deni Krueger said...

Sounds just like being a parent and raising kids:)