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Writing Compelling Characters aka The Great Blogging Experiment

First, I would like to thank Elana, Jen and Alex for my blog topic today and also welcome all of you taking part in The Great Blogging Experiment. I'm stop 132 if you're following in numerical order.

When I sat down to write this post I expected it to be easy-peasy. After all, character development is my thing. I've got so many people in my head screaming at me on a daily basis to let them out onto the page that I sometimes talk to them more than my own family. (No, not out loud. Well, not lately.) But it really is difficult to describe what makes a character compelling.

A character's appeal is probably different for everyone, and dependent on each reader's life experiences. However, I find three things are critical when developing a memorable character:

      1. You must be able to put yourself in a character's shoes.

Whether your character is a pig living on a farm with a gifted spider, or the reclusive owner of a chocolate factory, a reader has to be able to relate to them. Everyone has problems and your characters should be no different.

      2. Your character has to want something so bad, they would do almost 
          anything to get it.

This doesn't have to be something physical, although that could be a starting point. More often it's emotionally driven: a desire for love, power, or simply acceptance.

      3. Give your character an arc.

Nobody wants to read about a character that never changes. Even the good girl who treats everyone like an angel, or the bad boy who would rather spit on you than look at you get BORING if they don't grow during the course of a story. This change can be subtle or dramatic, just make sure it's included.

For me, character is the best part of a story. It's what keeps me turning the pages into the wee hours even though I know I'll feel like crap the next day. It's what I remember about a book and hold within my heart like a good friend.

Thanks for stopping by my little piece of the blogosphere and don't forget to head over to the next stop. I'll be right behind you (not in a weird, creepy sort of way though).

46 comments:

bridget3420 said...

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Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Agree to all three points. Especially with the first one. We all have to be able to identify with them somehow and this is the only way to achieve that I think. Well said! BTW, nice to meet you! I too write women's fiction :o)

Creepy Query Girl said...

all great tips. I think having an arc is important because we often forget about seeing growth in our characters. Great job!

Christine Danek said...

Great job on the tips. So true. I love reading all the differences in everyone's post.

Lisa Potts said...

You ladies were up early! I feel like such a slacker. Maybe I should have started hopping at midnight. It's going to take a while to get through 177 ENTRIES? WOW!

Thanks for the comments and the follows, they are very much appreciated.

Shallee said...

Yes, the WANTING! I love the way you describe how badly they want something-- it's definitely something that makes them compelling! Thanks for sharing.

Elana Johnson said...

Putting on the shoes is about 99% of the battle. Once the reader has them on, they're walking.

Mara Nash said...

I love characters that make me want to be them!

Jen said...

A character ARC, what a genius idea Lisa! I love your take, it was super cute! I loved Elana's comment as well, it's all true!

Thanks for participating!

arlee bird said...

Seeing through the eyes of your character is imperative. If you haven't done that then it's going to be difficult to relate to that character.

Now let me pose another scenario for your third point (and offhand I can't think of a good example but I have seen this used effectively). What about the character who experiences no change and remains the same person they've been throughout the story, but instead the people around this character undergo change and the reader likewise changes percepition that might have originally been held at the outset of the story. I mean that can happen and I thought I'd just put that idea out there.

Good post with useful tips.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like the part about desire! A character's desires and goals fuels the story.

Michelle McLean said...

totally agree with all three points....and isn't it fun to figure out what your characters want and then deny them for as long as possible? Mwahahaha ;-)

The Golden Eagle said...

I love the point about being to step into the shoes of your character. It's true that people should be able to relate to them!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yes! to all three points, especially the first. Great post!

Your blog is absolutely gorgeous - I LOVE all the colors. ;-)

lbdiamond said...

Getting inside your character's head helps you see their world--great point! :D

Lisa Potts said...

Shallee, exactly!

Elana, sometimes it's like getting a size 9 into a size 6 shoe though.

Mara, those are the best kinds of characters, aren't they?

Jen, I'll take super cute any day!

arlee, I see your point. I guess it could happen that way. If you run across any titles of books like that, let me know. I'd love to read them.

Alex, thanks for stopping by and hosting this wonderful experiment. If it takes me all weekend, I will get to every post.

Michelle, it's SO much fun.

Golden Eagle, yes! Walking in your character's shoes makes them come alive.

Shannon, awww thanks for the blog compliment.

lb, thanks for the comment!

Melissa said...

I am so in love with your layout it's kind of ridiculous. Seriously. It's gorgeous.

You brought some excellent points to the table and I can't believe you included everyone's links in your posts. Awesome.

Laura Pauling said...

It is extremely difficult to write about compelling characters in one blog post! Impossible! You did a great job covering the essentials!

RaShelle said...

An arc is great. I love especially when the villian has one. Thanks!!

Erica M. Chapman said...

Totally agree! We have similar ideas ;o) Characters are what I love about stories too. Great post!! Love the blog ;o)

Adina West said...

I liked your spin on motivation coming from emotional need - and this plays into your third point too, as achieving the character's goal will lead them to change/grow.

Good post.

Talei said...

Great points! I especially love your number one - 'put yourself in a character's shoes'. So true!!

Julie Hedlund said...

My favorite is #2. We want to see what lengths they will go to get what they want.

Faith said...

Character arcs are SO important. Without change, what's the point? We end up right back where we started, and wonder we needed to read the story in the first place.

I recently read a book where the character DIDN'T change, and while I think that might have been the point, I felt cheated rather than thinking "oh, what a poignant observation".

Some element of change is CRITICAL, regardless of the point you're trying to make.

Love the post, thanks for stopping by!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Well said...I agree you have to put yourself in your character's shoes...

Len said...

Hi Lisa! I'm a new blog-friend and follower! Another good post on compelling characters. I like what you've written, esp. the 'give your character an arc. :)

Heather Spiva said...

I love the "Character shoes" part.
So incredibly true.
Thanks Lisa!

ali said...

" ... hold within your heart like a good friend." Beautiful!

And your BLOG is beautiful too! I *love* it!

Lisa Potts said...

Melissa, that's sweet of you. Thanks.

Laura, it IS difficult to put into words, isn't it?

Rashelle, I agree. The villain shouldn't be forgotten.

Erica, great minds think alike ;)

Adina, I love your avatar.

Talei, you have a beautiful name. I've never heard it before.

Julie, I've found the more you can block them from getting what they want, the better.

Faith, thanks for stopping by, yourself!

Lisa Potts said...

Sharon, thanks so much for commenting.

Len, the great thing about these blog hops is making new friends!

Heather, thank you!

ali, I'm kinda sappy about my books.
Thanks for the blog compliment!

Janet Johnson said...

I agree with all of it! You put it so clear and concise. This is definitely what I meant to get across in my post, too. :)

Susan R. Mills said...

The arc is very important. If a character doesn't change during the course of the novel, the reader is going to lose interest fast.

Carolyn V. said...

Great tips Lisa! I totally agree that your character has to have something so important to them that they'd do anything to get it. I think that keeps the plot moving and the reader interested. =)

Lyla said...

You know, I've been thinking I need to work on character arcs more. Thanks for the reminder! *Skips to Google for research*

Patti said...

It helps to know your character's arc as well.

Danyelle said...

Great point at being able to put ourselves in our character's shoes. I think it's important for the readers to as well, which is why your next to points are so important. :)

Elizabeth Mueller said...

You're so right. We must live through our characters. One thing I do every time I write is pray. I ask for the ability to 'slip into my characters' heads' so that they sound, feel, even taste real!

Great post, I loved it! I'm glad you participated!

Come and visit me!

Lisa Potts said...

Janet, thanks, and I loved your post!

Susan, I've read a couple of books with no character arc. Blech!

Carolyn, yep, enough can't be said for motivation.

Lyla, character arcs are fun to plot.

Patti, I agree completely.

Danielle, exactly. If it doesn't work for us, it's not going to work for the reader.

Elizabeth, I did and your blog is beautiful!

Rogue Mutt said...

I usually let the story determine the characters and how they change.

195 blogs! That would be a lot to go through in one day.

Jen Chandler said...

Hi Lisa!
Nice to meet you. Thanks for the comment :) I'm still making my way through this massive list of amazing posts!
You asked about my 100 year old loft : The loft we live in used to be a warehouse that manufactured women's underwear. It's a great story if nothing else :) The old floorboards have tons of stories to tell, if I could only interpret their squeaking and groaning.

Great post!

Thanks for stopping by!
Jen

Lisa Potts said...

RM, you're not kidding about the 195 blogs in one day! Didn't happen. I'm still getting to them.

Jen, the loft sounds really awesome. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Krispy said...

Haha, I thought writing this post was going to be easy-peasy too, especially since I have a co-blogger, but it took us forever to figure out what we wanted to do!

I agree with all your points, but especially about the character arc. It doesn't compel me if the character stays exactly the same from start to finish. I mean, something worth telling in a story happened to this person! They have to learn SOMETHING from it or be affected by it, right? :)

Lisa Potts said...

Krispy, I agree. If the MC isn't affected in any way, then the rest of the book must be a snooze.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Excellent points. Want something so bad, they would do anything for it... so true. Motivation and drive are so important for making compelling characters. Great post.

Lisa Potts said...

Thanks, Nicole. Your post on characters was great too.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Still getting around to everyone. I think the great thing about stories is that they do allow the reader to step into someone else's shoes for a while (referring back to point 1). Good post.

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