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The Great Blogging Experiment -- Writing Compelling Characters

Okay, so today's the day. The day of The Great Blogging Experiment. And I'm beginning to wonder what I got myself into. Because...ya wanna know a little secret?

Just between me and you, okay?

Okay, here goes.


Well, here's the thing...

Okay, so what I'm trying to say is...

I don't know a THING about writing compelling characters.

There, I said it. I'm a fraud. I am in no way, shape or form an expert on writing compelling characters. I do my best and hope like hell my characters are intriguing enough to keep someone reading.

That's not to say I don't try. I plot and plan and interview my characters as if they're real people. And if they don't give me something, anything to establish them as anti-cookie cutter, they're replaced with someone much more interesting, real and flawed.


That's the thing here, isn't it?

No one wants to read about perfection. If we wanted perfection, we'd read fashion magazines instead of novels. Because perfection doesn't exist. At least not in the human race. No one is perfect.

It's a tricky thing, creating people out of thin air. Especially if you want someone to stick with said people for 300+ pages and actually CARE about what happens to them. So how do we do it? I mean, we can't just throw a nifty name, a few physical descriptions and a handful of quirks together and call it good. And modeling our creation after someone from our real life is probably not the best tactic. But if you take a little of this, a little of that and a dash of personality...well, maybe you'll have something.

I approach my new characters like a job interview. They start with a name. I have a thing for names. Once I hear a name I like, my mind starts forming what this person looks like. Then, like metal shavings to a magnet, personality traits begin to gather. I never know right away whether this character is strong enough to carry a whole story or if they're just in it for the ride until I sit down and get to know them. And even then, it's hard to tell.

I love me some strong secondary characters. They're just as important as our main least from a writer's perspective.

I spent months and months working on the same bit of writing from a WiP and couldn't get any further. Why? I couldn't stand my main character's best friend. She was whiny and clingy and needy and just plain annoying. So I went back to the drawing board. I sat Macy down and got to know her. And I realized I didn't know her half as well as I thought. She made it very clear that she wasn't as whiny or needy as I made her out to be and she demanded I get it right. Once we cleared that up, I sailed through the chapter.

I guess my point is: If YOU don't like your character, no one else will. Even if you're writing a sick, demented, evil serial killer , there's got to be a part of him you like. You don't have to share it with your readers, but if you know everything about him, why he is the way he is, you'll write him with more care, more sympathy. It's all about layers, I think. If you create a character you know inside and out, from the scar on her left knee from when she fell off her bike when she was six to the reason why she won't let herself get close to the handsome guy in her life, then even if your readers don't ever see that scar, your character will be real to them.

There are extensive Q&As available online for things like this. I tend to make up my own questionnaires, but I've used the 20 page ones on occasion. There are a lot of things I wouldn't think to ask.

Again, I'm not sure just how compelling my characters are, but writing is always a learning experience, right?

Thanks again to Elana, Jen and Alex for hosting The Great Blogging Experiment. I look forward to reading all the other posts!