Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Doormat or Doer?

Lisa asked if we could do a blog on how to create compelling characters, and since we like to give YOU, the reader, what you want, here’s my take on it.

Ok, so you have a dream or see someone on the street that sparks your creative juices. You grab your laptop and begin to type furiously. This is the beginning, and it all starts with an idea, usually rough, but an idea nonetheless. You’ve got an outline, plot idea, GMC, and names for your characters, but do you KNOW them?

Probably not. And if you can’t identify with your character, than neither can your reader. Close your eyes, and conjure your hero/heroine; what does he/she look like, eyes, shape, color, facial features, do they have a crooked nose? How about hair, body type? Can you see them? Of course you can’t your reading this blog! Let your lids descend for a moment and picture your hero/heroine. Does you hero/heroine walk with a limp, fidget nervously when they talk? What about HOW they talk, do they have Scottish brogues as they do in my head? Or do they have a Philly accent like Charli’s characters?

You’ve got the outside down, now what about the inside? Continue to jot down little things about their background, things you may never actually put into your story, but help you define and understand your character, and why they may react to certain things in the story. Your characters should never be perfect. Humans have flaws. Give some to your characters. Have them struggle, make them believable, empathetic to the reader. Barbie and Ken are not going to cut it.

Are your characters doormats? Or do they have passion? What is that passion? Often people are passionate about things their good at, what is YOUR character passionate about? What about obsession? Someone who is obsessed WANTS something, or someone. It drives them, creates conflict and urgency. Desire is a powerful thing. What does your hero/heroine want the most? Are they afraid to go after it? Can what they want the most actually be what they fear the most? If it is, make them confront it. Throw it in their face like a pie. Good people make bad decisions all the time. Force your character to make bad choices, and your villain good ones. We’ll talk villains next week.

Make your character FAIL. Defeat them, and then build them back up. What do they learn, how have they grown? Flatly describing emotions or describing what happened does little to provoke feeling. The point is, the more YOU know about your hero/heroines past, the easier it will be for you to understand what makes them tic in the present.

Think about books you’ve read, which ones can you remember as clear as day? Think the classics here, Mr. Rochester and Jane Erye, neither is stunning in appearance or mind, but they share a connection: both feel alone in the world, unloved, yet accepting. Does Bronte have them fall in love and live happily ever after? Hell no. She DEFEATS them.

HEA is great, its why most of us like reading romance, but ‘tis the conflict in the characters that pulls us in, not the inevitable end. Does a certain character jump to mind? Yes? Woot, now tell us WHO they are and what it is that makes them stand a foot above the others.



  1. Dallas Winston, the Outsiders. Wounded, dark, utterly void of hope. The only hope he finds is in his friend, Johnny. When Johnny is taken from him, the will to live no longer exists. With his last breath he utters Johnny's name.

    Dallas... "You'd better wise up, Pony... you get tough like me and you don't get hurt. You look out for yourself and nothing can touch you, man."

  2. I'm taking your advice and hanging out with my characters tonight. Have a few beers and let them tell me all about themselves. Maybe write some questions before hand and interview them too. Thanks for your post!

  3. A lot of great information here, A.J. Thanks so much for writing on this topic I suggested.:)

    I like to think that Anne Elliot from Persuasion by Jane Austen is a good example of a MC that pulled me into her story. She is intelligent, wise, and patient but her only mistake is she was easily persuaded by her family to break off her engagement to Captain Wentworth. Throughout the novel she retains her strength of character and also overcomes this mistake and finally finds happiness with the great love of her life.

  4. Thanks for stopping by ladies. I like character driven plots, if the hero/heroine have no substance, I lose interest quickly. Dallas was great, Charli. The Outsiders is one of my fav novels full of memorable characters. Glad to see ye've left the ledge for a while. Mika, don't giver her any beer when she is near the ledge. Ver, very, bad idea. I've not read Persuasion, Lisa, but will do after reading your description of her! :-)

  5. Gosh, for me there are so many characters but one of my favs would be Howard Roark in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Dagny from Atlas Shrugged--she was awesome! Yeah, to me they were so memorable and they've stayed with me forever.

  6. Charli--You're 100% right, Dally is such a tuff character, I love him.

    My other favs, Angel. Whoo, how tough would be not to be able to fall in love. That sucks!

    And to follow along the Joss Whedon line, Mal Reynolds. Not only is he hot, but he has some tough decisions to make.

  7. OMG, when I read the Outsiders, then saw the movie, something about Dally just struck me. I wrote my first piece after reading. Fan Fiction really as if Dally lived... Sister Edward William had us read it in the 8th grade, then craft short stories. Here I knew, to write professionally would be awesome.

    Now if I could only get paid for it!