Today’s post is brought to you as part of Elana Johnson’s ‘The Great Blogging Experiment’ – over 150 people are participating by talking about compelling characters on their blogs, the idea being that each post will be unique, just like the person who wrote it. So, here we go!
(And don’t worry – I’ll continue with my self-editing tips series next week!)
What Makes a Compelling Character?
As simple as I can put it, this is what makes a compelling character for me:
And there you have it.
Okay, it’s not quite that simple, but here’s what it boils down to when I think about compelling characters, particularly the main characters of books I’ve recently enjoyed – they’re human, through and through (even if they’re not technically a member of the human species… er… you know?).
If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that in many of my book reviews, I bring up the issue of flawed vs. perfect main characters. And sometimes I get really irked.
In a certain series by a certain author (which I read earlier this year; you can find the reviews around here somewhere, but I’d rather not name names as what I’m saying isn’t all that flattering), I had difficulty relating to the main character (ie. I hated her) because she was so disgustingly perfect. We’re talking unnaturally sweet & innocent (though I’m sure she’d make a nice friend) to the point where, if I was friends with her, I knew she’d be a doormat in seconds.
It’s not exactly a good thing when a main character is so perfect that you find yourself wanting to bully her just to see how she’d react. There was nothing real about her.
Let’s look at another (good) example:
Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate Series by Gail Carriger (and if you haven’t read this series… do it!!! Also, I hope to post a little overview / review of the series tomorrow, come back if you’re interested!) is an example of perhaps one of the most compelling characters I’ve come across lately.
What are some of Alexia’s most compelling features?
- she has no soul (ah… we start out with what might be considered a rather LARGE flaw)
- she’s extremely stubborn
- she has no imagination
- she has a slight penchant for violence
- she doesn’t exactly conform to the social mores of the time
And these are characteristics we learn from the back of the book and the first several pages. Sounds interesting, right?
My friends, creating compelling characters is only as difficult as the humanity we’re willing to give them. If the reader can’t relate to your main character, she’s going to put down the book in frustration and walk away. No one wants to read about the perfect person who never has any problems and for whom life’s a shiny double rainbow.
But as you create, don’t just throw in things like “she has bad acne” or “he’s reclusive” for no reason. Flaws need meaning and logic behind them.
Consider the world around you: People don’t have issues just for the sake of having issues (okay, maybe some people do, but hopefully they’re the exceptions).
- Birth Order
- Past Relationships
- Self-Image (usually tied in with the above)
- Past Experiences
- Belief System
…shape all of us. Use these, mine these, and find those areas that make you go “hmm” and which present clear areas in which to find those issues, flaws, and little character quirks that make each of us – every single human – different and unique. Real. Imperfect. Flawed. Fascinating.
How do you create compelling characters?
Make them real. And then use those flaws in a way that propels the story forward, because each person will react to others and situations in accordance with who they are as a unique individual.