The Great Blogging Experiment - Writing Compelling Characters

Let me start off by apologizing for being late.  I was in Indiana all week and didn't have a chance to write this post and schedule it before I left.  All I had with me was my iPhone, and although I'm dedicated, I'm not nuts enough to try and write a post (especially this post) on my phone.  So...better late than never...but I still feel bad for not showing up on time.

This blogfest is the brainchild of Elana Johnson, Jen Daiker, and Alex J. Cavanaugh.  The list of the other participants can be found here.

Here's my take on what goes into developing compelling characters.  Lets start with a definition.

Compelling: 
–adjective
1.tending to compel; overpowering: compelling reasons.
2.having a powerful and irresistible effect; requiring acute admiration, attention, or respect: a man of compelling integrity; a compelling drama.

I tend to focus on the words irresistible effect in that definition. When I sit down to map out (remember, I'm an outliner) what sort of characters will inhabit my fantasy world, I utilize two trains of thought.  The first, I give them motivations that the reader can sympathize with.  A character your reader can identify with will draw them into your story and heighten their connection.  My other approach involves creating extreme characters with outlandish traits or unusual social skills.  Taking these type of characters and balancing the WEIRD with the elements that make them relatable can sometimes be a challenge, but it pays off if you work at it.

There is another way to make your character compelling, but I sort of consider it cheating.  Its when a plot device sets up an objective that is so compelling, that the character charged with achieving it becomes just as interesting.  For example, a young girl is being held for ransom in a deserted farmhouse.  If the ransom isn't paid before midnight a bomb will go off in the farmhouse.  Our MC is charged with locating the girl before midnight.  The MC therefore becomes compelling because the reader is rooting for him to save the girl, not because his/her own internal motivations.

That's just a couple of idea's off the top of my head.  Nothing groundbreaking, but still tried and true.  Good luck with your own characters!

27 comments

  1. Excuses, excuses...
    I admire people who can write really odd characters. If I made mine that weird, they'd be just that - weird!

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  2. I threw a definition in my post too! Great minds, great minds....

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  3. Good advice. I'm not really an outliner (okay, not even a little bit!) but I do like to really get to know my characters before I write. I let them walk around in my head for a few weeks before I ever attempt to write their stories :)

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  4. Oh, there you are, D.L.! I've been wondering about you. Glad you made it. :-)

    I love that "irresistible effect" definition - that is absolutely perfect! I have to tell you, when I read UNUSUAL social skills, I first read it as UNSOCIAL social skills! I think I'm getting tired. LOL. Great post, as always. :-)

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  5. I like your example about the farmhouse. Simple yet compelling. Hmm...real. I, too, love to give a character something quirky, different--set them apart, yet it has to register with the reader to get them to grasp it internally.

    Glad your back.

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  6. Hi! Glad you made it anyway! :)
    I posted a definition in my post. I believe a good writer can make a dragon compelling if given the right traits.

    Come and visit me!

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  7. I loved that you used the definition and irresistible effect. I'd love to think that my characters had an irresistible effect on my readers. =]

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  8. The cheat is quite effective actually. I hadn't thought of it that way. Thanks for the tip!

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  9. Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

    I would appreciate if a staff member here at dlcruisingaltitude.blogspot.com could post it.

    Thanks,
    Daniel

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  10. I'm nuts too, but I don't think I would have done a post on my iPhone.... wait a minute. I've already done that. But for something as big as The Great Blogging Experiment I understand.

    I loved your take on characters, especially giving a cheating way as well!! You my friend are too creative!

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  11. *shakes head* Cheating...tsk, tsk. Hehehe! No, those are some great points! And I think that in the example you gave about cheating, the important character to make compelling in that instance is not necessarily the MC, but the victim he has to save.

    Of course, people *are* usually protective of children and would therefore be compelled to root for her without really knowing her.

    Again, good points!

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  12. Better late than never!

    I thought about throwing in the definition too!! hahaha! We are all brilliant, I say!!

    Great post!

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  13. I never thought of using a compelling reason to motive a character. Guess I'm a little slow on the draw...

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  14. Okay, 1. You were in Indiana for a week. And didn't tell me. I live in Indiana. I see a problem here.

    2. I like to buy people coffee. Just sayin.

    3. Excellent post! I was just discussing the concept of motivation for characters with my husband last night. Even if your characters don't know why they are acting in a certain way, the author should have a sense of why. Motivation (whether conscious or subconscious) is in part what makes characters feel authentic and alive. So, yeah, I'm nodding my head along with everything you're saying here. Well said.

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  15. I love how you give the plot-driven character a cheating label. It is so true.

    Sympathetic motive and unusual trait is a powerful combination, because endearing and memorable are the key aspects, aren't they?

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  16. Nice insights. I especially like the 'irresistible effect' definition. Many of our posts have focused on creating heroes, but antagonists should be compelling too. Clearly, it wouldn't work to have an antagonist who is fully admirable and worthy of respect, but there are some irresistibly badass antagonists out there: Dracula, Hannibal Lecter, Sauron, Mr. Hyde, Tom Ripley, just to name a few.

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  17. Yes! Making the characters weird, yet relatable still, is a challenge but totally worth it. I admire those characters most. They stick with you. Good Post. And no more cheating, people! :-)

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  18. I like! Love the definitions; almost put that in my blog. Because as I also thought, compelling wasn't a word I'd use to describe my reading, yet it's exactly what I do when the read is amazing! I am compelled by compelling characters.

    Thanks, by the way, for your comment on mine. I laughed. Hope your crick in the neck isn't too bad still...

    -H

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  19. Love the word "irresistible." That's what we strive for, right?

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    Peace,
    Cindy.

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  20. Great post.

    And I agree with the "cheating" on the second concept... or better yet, "laziness" as evidenced by almost every movie out there. But that doesn't mean I don't fall for it every time (watched Taken just recently). :)

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  21. Even with the "cheat" you so cleverly point out, the story won't resonate with me after I set the book down unless it also has an MC I care about.

    Glad you were able to make the Experiment before it got old & stale. This is a thought provoking post.

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  22. Good thoughts. In all the related blogs I've seen so far, I don't recall anyone focusing on motivation, but that is such an important part of a character. It's what drives them, and hence the plot.

    I tend to agree that the second part is kinda cheating as far as this exercise goes. A compelling plot doesn't necessarily make a compelling character IMHO.

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  23. I addressed the "cheating" aspect - motivation! I had to chuckle when I read that here. You called me on it! :-)

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  24. I love your example about the plot device. Very good point that most people don't think about.

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  25. Elizabeth ~ Sorry I'm so late responding back to you...work has been kicking my a@@ this week. :)

    Gargimehra ~ Yes...it definitely is!

    Eleven Eleven ~ Quirky is the new smoldering!!

    Lettucehead ~ That's right people...we're watching!!

    Heather ~ LOL. Neck all better now!

    Cindy ~ Thank you!!

    Nicki ~ A discerning reader. I like!!

    Botanist ~ Always good to be the first at anything!! :)

    Jennie ~ You pointed out a mild version of the cheat. No wrist slapping necessary. :)

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  26. Oops I missed this post! But I'm also still behind by about 40 more.

    Irresitible is a good quality. It's the person you notice, then do a double take, and before you know it you're rivited, fascinated by everything that person does. That's pretty compelling.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  27. Mr. Hammons,
    Just starting this blogging business and picked up yours. A couple of comments: Glad you got a Mississippi entry as my roots are there (live in Texas now),as is the focus of my debut novel coming next year--MISSISSIPPI COTTON.
    And concerning an earlier comment about characters, Damon Ruyan used to hang out in various places: pools halls, bars, race tracks etc. just looking for characters. He supposedly said, "Give me characters and I will find a story."

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