Friday, September 24, 2010

Creating Compelling Characters

Today’s blogfest is all about how writers create compelling characters.

First, let me quantify that statement – I hope I’ve figured out how to do that!

Now, on to my process…

I just look to the qualities in the characters of other books. What draws me to that character? What do I admire? What causes me to relate to those characters?

I prefer characters that are intelligent and crafty, remaining one step ahead of their opponent. They should be brave and possess confidence. But, the most important component – they are flawed and yet still manage to get the job done.

For me, that’s the key – imperfect characters. Nobody’s perfect. (I know I possess many defects!) That’s why we relate to others who share our weaknesses and insecurities. Of course, a character can’t be a total loser. Even at our lowest point, we still hope that we possess some redeeming qualities. We want to believe that we can grow and improve. And a compelling character needs to do the same.

In the end, believable characters give us faith in ourselves. Broken down into those simple terms, designing compelling characters isn’t so difficult after all.

And if you really think about it, that’s pretty damn cool!

Be sure to visit Elana Johnson and Jennifer Daiker at Unedited, along with the other participants listed below!

115 comments:

Jen said...

Yay for compelling characters!!!! I had so much fun with the blog trifecta and now the great blogging experiment! It's been a blast working with you! :)

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Definitely! Flaws do it all the time, but as Jen said "Just make them hot!" hehehe ;o)

Talei said...

Imperfections definitely! We can relate to them! ;)

Matthew Rush said...

Great post Alex, well said. I completely agree and find that character with realistic flaws are the most believable. In fact when I write I try to make my characters more flawed than they are skilled. In the end their skill and intelligence must win out if they are to overcome the conflict, but most people are quite imperfect.

Thanks Alex!

Cruella Collett said...

So true - perfect is boring (which I should think of more often, considering I am something of a perfectionist). Great post, and I love seeing how many great posts it has triggered around the blogosphere today! :)

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Loved the read, excellent.


Yvonne.

Renae said...

I love the idea of characters with flaws. Your'e so right, no one wants to read about a total loser, but it is nice to relate to their subtle flaws. Well said Alex and thanks for hosting this great experiment!

Laura Pauling said...

That was my point too - flawed characters. I bet that will come up a lot!

Liza said...

Yep, they need to be human (or human-like) just as the reader is. Compelling characters provoke empathy.

Liza said...

Oh, and thank you for being one of the hosts Alex. This is a fantastic blogfest. What a turnout. Congrats to you all!

M.J. Nicholls said...

On the other hand, they should be able to break iron bars with their pinkies!

Sci-fi writer Peter F. Hamilton agrees with you: he places character as paramount over his world-building.

Misha said...

Nice!

I love flaws in characters, but sometimes I find that people use the same flaws all the time. Alcoholics, suicidal characters and drug addicts come to mind.

Have a great weekend!

Ellie said...

Definitely with you on flawed characters - nobody wants perfect characters. Boring, boring, boring.

Christine Fonseca said...

I love how we are all saying flawed! sweet.

Creepy Query Girl said...

perfect is boring. Flaws are what make us unique! What a fun blogfest!

The Golden Eagle said...

Flaws are the key! Perfection just isn't real; imperfection makes the character a person not just a piece of fiction.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Since everyone else already said flawed, I'm going to be different and say I appreciate an intelligent character, someone who doesn't make stupid mistakes just to drive the plot.

Thanks for helping get this blogging experiment going!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I positively dislike perfect characters. They are just not fun to read.

Hannah Kincade said...

ooh I love the last bit about how flawed characters give us faith in ourselves. I have never thought about that but it's true. Well done!! Thisis fun! I love the insight everyone is bringing. Off I go!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks, Jen! Hope my post today was acceptable.

Cruella, I'm rather a perfectionist as well.

You're welcome, Liza!

MJ, that's good to know.

Misha, I agree those are overused.

Amen, Sandra!

Thanks everyone.

iZombie said...

being human and all the flaws... great posting.
jeremy [iZombie]

Laura Eno said...

Yes, flaws are needed. I try to find subtle flaws, little things, quirks.

Copyboy said...

I guess that's why a movie like Rocky will always be so popular. Your theory is right on my friend. BTW...made you blog of the day.

DEZMOND said...

I just talked about this with our dear Linda Young yesterday. What do like most in compeling characters is the complexity, I like when a writer does his job good and creates his heroes paying attention to details like a psychologist. And I don't like cliche, I like originality in characters.
When it comes to imperfect heroes, I must say I'm different from you. I like them perfect, I do not read book in order to read about myself and to relate to characters, I read in order to find role models and people who can inspire me and make me become a better person.

Kelly said...

Yes! They must be real, but you want to care about them too!
Your TV blogfest could be a resource for this blogfest today, with so many examples of memorable characters in the TV shows.

Stephen Tremp said...

I originally had my characters in their late twenties but decided to make them a few years younger. At an age where they are still making some really stupid mistakes. Mistakes that almost cost them their lives, introduce conflict, and give an opportunity for them to rise up and become overcomers.

Stephen Tremp

Jules said...

Well I agree with you, imperfection build character. :)

Sorry I did not sign up for this. I know not one thing about characters. I just have a vivid imagination :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Emily White said...

Good point! I love me some flawed characters!

Michelle McLean said...

A lot of people are pointing out the flaws....such a good point. Those flaws are what make them real! :)

Old Kitty said...

Oh I'm all for flawed but heroic characters. Flawed, heroic and looking like Daniel Craig works. Flawed, heroic and looking like Daniel Craig as James Bond is perfect.
:-)

Take care
x

clp3333 said...

I also like your statement that despite the flaws they need to still be likable in some way. Regardless of how messed up their life is it goes a long way for me if the character is someone I wouldn't still mind having a beer with despite their flaws.

Charles Gramlich said...

Typically it seems the Characters just sort of "develop" as I write stuff. I don't really know where they come from. I know that many of them are a bit more intense than real folks. I do think a little heightened drama in both good and bad guys is helpful

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I love that you say despite their flaws all characters need to be likable. It's so true. Like with real people, you can accept your friend's flaws so long as there is something else about them to relate with. :)

N. R. Williams said...

Flawed, wonderful, believable. I posted on this topic too, in case your interested. Oh yeah, I joined the experiment.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Mara Nash said...

I'm especially drawn to potentially redeemable antagonists. I want to see them come back from the dark side!

Karen Walker said...

This is so true - how can we relate or empathize with perfection.
Karen

Carol Kilgore said...

You make this sound so easy.

Justine Dell said...

You're so right! Many of the entries today have hit on this same point. Making a character flawed (yet likeable) is the goal.

Great job!

~JD

Lola Sharp said...

Flaws are what make us human. :)

Sangu said...

This is so true! The most compelling thing about a character is when they're so obviously flawed and imperfect, but achieve what they set out to anyway!

Vicki Rocho said...

so....if I'm flawed (and I'm not admitting to anything), Am I compelling by default?

Coooooooooool.

Culture Served Raw said...

Great post Alex

I love anti-heroes. Iago, Patrick Bateman, Tom Ripley, Humbert Humbert - good people are boring

Shallee said...

Yes, imperfections are definitely the key! Making characters human so we can relate to them is a key to making them compelling. Thanks for sharing!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Characters who share our issues and insecurities are the most compelling.

Nicki Elson said...

What's that they say about great minds? My whole post is about "perfecting" the flaws and you touched on two of my three points here.

Thanks for setting this Experiment up. It's a fabulous idea.

Helen Ginger said...

I agree that your protagonists can't be total losers. Flawed, yes, but not so clueless that readers get turned off and put down the book. I want to admire the lead in a book, root for them to win and come out on top.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Copyboy, I am honored!

Ah, but Dezz, if they become a better person during the journey...?

Kelly, never thought about it that way!

Stephen, my two main characters are a balance orf age and wisdom and youth and recklessness. And yes, the younger one knows how to make mistakes.

Mara, or keep from falling into the dark side!

Carol, it's not? Oh crap!

Vicki, you are very compelling.

Nicki, that's cool! I'll check out your post today. It may take me all weekend to track down all of them though!

Janet Johnson said...

You make it sound so easy! But I agree about having redeeming qualities. Nothing is more annoying to me than a jerk with nothing to like. Especially in the MC.

Michele Emrath said...

What a wonderful blogfest! I'm sorry I didn't see it in time to participate.

I agree with what you've written here. Writing characters is all about writing something with which you relate. Whether you like the character or not, you must be able to UNDERSTAND their reaction in a situation.

Click over and read the entries to my blogfest today--it's Southern City Mysteries' birthday!

I'll catch your next blogfest. :)

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries

Elana Johnson said...

Ah, yes. This is almost what I talked about, but not quite. I didn't go so far as to relate them to the reader. Yours is so much better. :)

melissa said...

I like your tip on looking at characters you love from other books. Figuring out what works can definitely help out when writing your own characters.

Colene Murphy said...

too true. Gotta give them something other people can love. SO enjoying these posts today!

Len said...

I'm enjoying reading all the posts for The Great Blogging Experiment and yours is one of my favourites! Yes, I totally agree to creating imperfect characters. This is when I, as a reader, can relate to the character, when I can see something in them, some flaws that I also have, fears or insecurities. This makes me stick to the book! :) Great post, Alex!

Lisa Potts said...

Great post, Alex. Can't wait for your book!

Hart Johnson said...

Totally with you on imperfect characters--characters that are too near perfect annoy the hell out of me and I begin to wish for really bad things to happen to them (I'm evil that way). I'm also with you on smart, though I like mixing up the KINDS of smart--having the book smart a little street stupid, or having an unexpected person be really innovative. I think consistency to the intelligence though, is REALLY important--and I like to be able to tell the thought process--so understand the characters processing well enough, that their actions seem rational (to them) even if to another they might not be.

BryStearns said...

Great insight Alex. It is true that a character needs to have both redeeming traits and flaws. It is so boring reading about a character that is perfect in everyway, and same goes for a character that is all flaws. I can't stand stories that have that and try to slowly redeem the character. I just can't get into it.

Jamie Gibbs said...

I couldn't agree more. What's the point in reading about a 'hero' if there isn't the slightest chance that they might fail. Imperfection is where conflict arises, and where there's conflict there's a story.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Michele, sorry they were the same day - happy blog birthday anyway!

Elana - yeah, right!

Len, thank you - I'm honored!

Hart, I'm sure you could do some evil things, too.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Flaws are so important. Perfect characters are boring. Give me flaws, give me quirks, and I'll fall in love with the character.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I love characters that make me feel connected to them. Ones that make me want to protect them. (It must be the mom or the teacher in me???) Great post!

Journaling Woman said...

Flaws make people more interesting, so why not our characters.

Very interesting post!

Carolyn Abiad said...

Flaws offset the strengths. Balance is so important. Excellent post!

ali said...

Ooh, yes. I'm all about the imperfect characters. I especially like how you said the best characters are those that give us faith in ourselves. Excellent.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think you nailed the #1 most important thing - flawed. If we are to believe/love/hate/give a damn about a character, they must be real. And real people are flawed. Perfect! :-)

arlee bird said...

Uh, Alex, could you guys stop thinking up these cool blog fests and experiments? I really need to get some other stuff done.

You make a good point about learning technique from pre-existing sources. It great to model character design on the way successful writers have done it and then use those techinques and give it your own personal twist.
Good one.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Ishta Mercurio said...

Yup. Humans are flawed, so our characters need to be, too. Good advice.

Kelly Dexter said...

It is so important to be able to relate to a character in some way. Perfection is tiring and impossible to identify with. I love flaws that mirror my own, and ones that show me my own aren't as terrible as I tend to think.

Jen Chandler said...

It's those imperfections that help us relate to them and believe in them and cheer them on.

Great post!
Jen

Elena Solodow said...

I think it's always about getting the job done. That was a good point. The more flaws that keep them from getting it done make the reader want them to win more and more.

Nezzy said...

Man I was typin' away and the power went out for hours and hours.

I was sayin' this Ozark farm chick just listens to the voices in her head to pull characters. I need to look no further. :o)

Great advice sir!

Ya'll have a wonderfully blessed day from the happy hills and hollers of the Missouri Ponderosa!!!

Jeffrey Beesler said...

I know I have to show my antagonists some loving too. In their eyes they aren't evil. They just happen to want something which doesn't mesh with the protagonist. People come in all shapes and sizes, and so should our characters.

Danyelle said...

Yes! Flawed but redeemable. I think that's why readers want to connect with characters like that, because we're all flawed, but want to be redeemable ourselves. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Ali, thanks. I think that's something many overlook.

Lee, I feel your pain - I may never get through all of these posts!!

Elena, you worded it better than I!

Pam Torres said...

I really like the part about redeeming qualities. I love when I know the character is the "bad guy" but I still like him because of some redeeming characteristic that makes me view him as a real person. Thanks! Nice post.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Imperfect characters but not total losers--that's an important point you've made. We're all told not to make an MC unsympathetic because the reader has no reason to care.
Thanks for hosting this experiment. I'm having a great time reading all these different takes. So much good stuff.

RaShelle said...

Hi Alex - Flawed characters are pretty damn cool!! I agree. No one likes a perfect character for long. Thanks Alex.

Heather Spiva said...

Believable characters DO give us faith in ourselves. So true; their flaws keep us reading because we can relate.
Thanks Alex.
-H

Annette Lyon said...

I love how so many people have different views, and yet many of the same things keep popping up--like how compelling characters have flaws. Amen to that.

Summer Ross said...

Great point. Flaws are natural to us, and so we expect them to be natural to a character.

Elaine AM Smith said...

I think your are right, a humane and flawed character wins over "hot" any day. :)

DLCurran said...

Flaws good. Perfect bad. I still fall into this trap sometimes on my MC and have to boot myself to make him bad at something! Thanks for the reminder. :)

L'Aussie said...

Yep, we relate so well to flawed characters. Maybe they make us feel more smug? Good tips..:)

paulgreci said...

Great post!! I like the emphasis on the characters having flaws but still manage to get the job done. Thanks!

Walter Knight said...

Being a science fiction writer, I like to create aliens that have flaws. It's not only funny, but it's a back door way to look at very human issuses.

Clarissa Draper said...

That's great. I'd make a great character then because I'm so flawed. I like intelligent characters as well.

CD

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks, Tricia, and glad you're enjoying the experiment.

Heather, exactly!

Walter, I write science fiction as well, but my aliens aren't quite that alien - if you know what I mean.

Melissa said...

You, elana, and Jen owned this blogfest. Seriously, what a great turnout and these posts are so interesting - hard to believe they can all be different when it's about the same thing. I guess it goes to show that what makes a good blogger is really them bringing themselves to the table.

Thank you for the blogging experiment and for also having such a wonderful contribution with your own entry.

lbdiamond said...

The hope of growth--certainly keeps a character going. Great post! :D

Karen Lange said...

I agree! Great post, glad you guys put this together.
Have a great weekend,
Karen

VR Barkowski said...

Oh yeah, I'm on board with this. Perfection *is* dull and uninteresting. Look at Sir Galahad. He's a Knight of the Round Table, he must be compelling, right? Not a chance. Arthur may have described him as the most perfect knight, but a better description would have been the most perfect bore.

Jemi Fraser said...

"In the end, believable characters give us faith in ourselves". That's absolutely perfect, Alex. Perfect!

Rachelle said...

Good point. I'm seeing a common thread that characters must be flawed and I agree 100% because I don't want to read about Miss Perfect--I want to read about someone REAL! :)

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Something that I just realized when I finished reading your post is that I let lose my hair (my flaws--tee hee) within every MC I write. So there's a bit of me inside very one--including the villains.

Thanks for holding this blogfest! :)

Lynda Young said...

confidence and imperfection. Nice one! :)

Krispy said...

Characters that are not perfect has been a point of agreement on the posts I've read so far. Perfect characters are boring. The strive to be better is what's compelling. Thanks for setting up this thing with Elana and Jen!

The Old Silly said...

I like your style for coming up with characters. I also want "imperfect" characters, even the protagonists - gotta be, or they just aren't real people, hmm?

Tyrean Martinson said...

I love your statement "believable characters give us faith in ourselves." I totally agree.
Thanks for the great post, and this Great Blogging Experiment!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Melissa, thank you! I think we are equally surprised by the turnout and variety of posts.

VR, that's funny!

Thanks, Jemi.

Thanks, everyone! Glad so many enjoyed this blogfest experiment.

Cinette said...

Imperfection? I can relate to that. From an obsever's point of view, of course;-)

Olivia J. Herrell said...

Alex, another great event bringing our community together. Thank you so much for co-hosting this wonderful 'experiment'.

~that rebel, Olivia

Eleven Eleven said...

Exactly. I need a character to be neither perfect nor a total loser, because I'm middle of the road, that way, too, and I relate best to what I know.

J.C. Martin said...

So true! Perfect people are so boring, predictable and unbelievable! Must have flaws, but must also have redeeming qualities!

lettucehead said...

Well said! We definitely relate most to the characters who are insecure and face real issues. Good job :)

gargimehra said...

I agree perfectly. Thanks for hosting this blogfest!

Faith said...

That's right -- pobody's nerfect!

But we can't allow that to keep the character stagnant... change is crucial, especially if the character works to overcome some flaw or weakness.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks - glad everyone had a great time!

Julie said...

Isn't it funny how we are all trying so hard not to be flawed, when those flaws are what make characters (and us) real?

P.S. My flaw today is reveling in the fact that I don't have to share the fresh cinnamon rolls I just made. Uh oh, I think that counts as greed. :)

Botanist said...

From a random sampling of the many blog posts, seems to me that a lot of people agree with the need for flaws. Yes, they are what make characters interesting.

On top of that, one of the things that makes a great story is how the characters develop and grow along the way. How can that happen if a character is already perfect?

Amity said...

Now I know Alex the secret to creating great characters...:) thanks for this post, it will surely help me immensely in the future!

And yes, your army is growing, what is the secret?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Julie, you just enjoy those rolls in privacy - it's only greed if someone else finds out!

Botanist, the answer is it can't!

Alex has many secrets, Amity...
I don't know why it keeps growing! Maybe because I'm always online and visiting other bloggers?

Danyelle said...

Imperfection is definitely key. Perfect characters aren't all that good for conflict, and conflict is what drives a story, :)

Erica M. Chapman said...

Yes! Flaws and imperfection make the best characters ;o) This was a fun one, thank you!

Deni Krueger said...

I'm with you on the intelligent craftiness of good characters. Congrats on the book!

Eric said...

I'm a little late in saying thank you, but thanks for being a part of this and making it happen. This was such fun for me and I hope to get involved with something like it again soon.

Patricia A. Timms said...

Thank you for coming by my blog to comment and remind me that I shouldn't be intimidated in the blogfest. You're right! We're all just having a great time learning from one another. Nothing to fear from friendlies like yourself.

I agree with the flawed characters. And I'm excited to be following a blog of someone who writes science fiction. I've tried but it turned into suspense and not so much Sci-Fi.

Great job on the blogfest!