Friday, 24 September 2010

The Great Blogging Experiement: Writing Compelling Characters

Today there is awesome happening around the blogosphere. Elana Johnson, Jen Daiker and Alex Cavanaugh have teamed up to create The Great Blogging Experiment.

Why an experiment? Because with one topic to discuss the theory is that each post will be unique.

The topic: What makes a compelling character?

For me it's a combination of two elements -- voice and flaws. I want someone who is human.

Sure, 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 like in The Hunger Games, but I cared about Katniss. Why? She's sarky, 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, giving 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 are Harry Potter, but the one thing I find compelling is this -- they are human.

I don't want perfect. Sure, it would be nice if we lived in a world like that, but we know 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.

Happy Friday. :)

33 comments:

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

"For me, reading a new book/writing a new wip, is like making a friend." This is so true!!! I never know about my characters properly until I've written the first draft :o)

Hannah Kincade said...

"reading a new book/writing a new wip, is like making a friend." You nailed it right there! I never know who I'm going to meet until they pop up on the page and say 'ello.
Did you just say "hello?"
No, I said "'ello" but that's close enough.

Sorry, focus.

You're right. We have to care about the characters otherwise what's the point in reading the book?

Wonderful addition to the Experiment! Off I go for more brainfood.

Vicki Rocho said...

...only it sucks when the book is finished and you have to say goodbye to your new friend!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Voice and flaws is definitely the most commonly mentioned ones in this characterization blogfest. But it's so true. Voice draws us in, but flaws make the characters real.

Justine Dell said...

You picked a new one I hadn't read yet today: voice.

Voice is a strong part of the novel as a whole and I hadn't really considered the voice making a character compelling. I always considered likeable flaws being the most compelling. I think I'm wavering now. ;-)

~JD

Jen said...

I know I'll sound repetitive but here it is anyway - "reading a new book/writing a new wip, is like making a friend."

You said it best :)

Thanks for joining in on the fun! It's been a blast reading all the fabulous entries!

Jaydee Morgan said...

I'm a huge fan of flawed characters. They pull me in and make me root for them every time :)

Janet Johnson said...

So well-put. It is like making a friend. And there has to be a connection or what's the point, like you said, of sticking around for 300 pages?

Shallee said...

It's so important to connect with characters! Thanks for sharing.

Margo Berendsen said...

"Just like making a friend, it's knowing there is something else there." - so very true!

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Yes! The part about not revealing everything in the beginning really struck me. I have a tendency to give too much away, or hold too much back (ahem, probably like my relationships in real life). The right blend is essential when making friends, especially when we have to keep readers engaged in the "friendship".

Well played!

stickynotestories said...

I love the thought of making a new friend when writing a new character - that's how I view it too :) And of course no one wants a boring friend!

Meredith said...

Yay for voice and flaws! Such good advice.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

We want our characters to be people our readers want to hang out with!

Tere Kirkland said...

Haven't heard it put quite that way before, but for me, writing a new wip IS like making a new friend.

Awesome post, thanks!

~Tere

Summer Ross said...

Yes flaws! Its always good to know everyone has flaws including fictional characters. as a reader we flock to flaws. great post.

Elana Johnson said...

YES. You got it! Writing a WiP is like making a new friend. And it's hard work, but I don't really know my characters until that draft is written. And then I love them, and am ready to rip apart their story to make it better.

Lola Sharp said...

Yes, it is like getting to know a friend!

Voice and a believability are tops for me.

Well done. Loved your take on this topic. :)

Happy weekend!
Love,
Lola

lbdiamond said...

It definitely takes time to get to know characters--great point!

I enjoy feeling like I'm on the journey with them. That makes a character compelling to me, as does watching them grow as the plot progresses.

Lenny Lee! said...

hi miss lindsay!
i like thinking characters are our friends and cause they are theyre not so perfect. its fun writing about problems and getting them to solve them with a writers helping hand,
...hugs from lenny

Melissa said...

My characters are like my best friends - and its great because they're in my head all the time. I love them, I hope one day other people will love them too.

Renae said...

Great advice Lindsay! It's key for me that characters have a strong voice and flaws. Without that they can fall flat and your readers lose interest.

Well said!

Julie Musil said...

Such a great post! Yes, I like a character with flaws. It helps me relate to them because, of course, none of us are perfect!

Talei said...

Totally agree, voice and flaws are key. I think we can relate to characters with flaws, it makes them more human like the rest of us. And finding a good book - so true they are like friends, a really good one you will keep forever. ;)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great point...You've got to develop a relationship with the main character and grow to love them...

Jemi Fraser said...

Developing that relationship with the mc is so important - and it's impossible if she/he is perfect!

Rachael Harrie said...

I like the idea of making a friend and knowing there's something else there. Great point :)

Carole Anne Carr said...

Interesting. With my recent children's character made her a bit of an anti-hero to allow for change. This within the traditional quest formula and it just didn't work. Oh well, back to the drawing board and to make her less flawed.. arghhh..

Elena Solodow said...

Just like making a friend is a great point. And really, when you read a book you have a permanent friend always sitting on your shelf. That's why books are so magical in their own way. Nice post.

Sandy Shin said...

Voice and flaws also make the character for me, too -- especially flaws. Some of my favorite characters are seemingly perfect: except for their flaws, and those are what make them them.

I'll admit I never know everything about my characters when I start a new wip.

It's the same for me, also. This is why I cannot write things out-of-order: I need to discover my characters as I go along. :)

Danyelle said...

Voice and flaws are the two biggest things for me too. I think voice is the biggest, but I also love being able to relate to the character which is why the flaws are so important. :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Voice is huge. And flaws make our characters human. Great points!

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

It's fun learning about your characters as you keep writing. Sometimes even after a couple of drafts, they surprise me. Great post!