Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters

Welcome to stop 104 of Elana's Great Blogging Experiment!

(Eeeek! I am totally intimidated by the large number of people who are also blogging about this very same topic possibly at this very same moment...)

How many times can The Hero's Journey be original?
How many times can The Love Triangle be original?
How many times can The Forbidden Love Story be original?

Answer: not many.

So why do we keep going back for more?

Answer: because of the characters, the people.

They are different every time, and so the story is different every time.

Life is all about relationships. You can have things, you can have success, you can have status, but we all know that it means nothing without people. So when we read a book - or at least, when I read a book - one of the main things that makes it or breaks it for me is the characters.

So... Having not really thought about this much before the Great Experiment, here is my take on things...

1. Get Real
Very important. If I'm reading a book and keep thinking, "There's no way anyone in real life would ever say/do/be something like that," then I'm not interested. You need characters that readers can relate to.

2. Get Interesting
Everyone has a story, or, to use the correct terminology, backstory. This is what fleshes your characters out, gives them depth and possibly mystery and intrigue. What has happened in your characters' pasts to make them the way they are?

3. Get Talking
Dialogue rocks! One of the easiest ways to show what type of person a character is is to have them interact with other characters. In both my reading and writing I'm not so keen on the descriptive parts (don't hate me!), but dialogue makes me happy :-) I love seeing how characters interact. Plus it moves the story forward.

4. Get Motive
In both reading and writing I constantly (yes, it gets annoying sometimes) ask myself, "Why is this character doing this?" And there has to be a good enough reason, or else the character isn't believable anymore. Why is my character going on this dangerous, difficult, life-threatening journey? Because they just felt like it? Not likely!

5. Get Change
In real life, change is scary. In stories, no change is BORING! If your characters manage to get to the other side of their journey/tumultuous relationship/fight to the death with a fire-breathing dragon, it must have changed them somehow. For better or worse, there's got to be change.

Thanks for stopping by! Next on the list is Writing from the Wrogan...


Quinn said...

Loved reading your post. I am totally into dialogue as well. It's such an easy way to get into your character and show what they're like without just telling the reader.

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Great post! Looks like we had similar things in mind :o)

Talei said...

Get talking! My favourite! I totally agree, dialogue is important, without it and 'the' voice, its difficult to tell a story. ;)

Rachel Morgan said...

Whenever I get to the end of some description I'm like, "Whew! Okay, people can start talking again!"

Elana Johnson said...

Ah, yes. Relationships. They are as varied as the sands of the sea. And they are what is compelling about reading. And when you can put your characters in part of a relationship with other people, the world, whatever, that's what makes a new story.

Excellent spin. :)

Megan K. Bickel said...

Good points, Rachel. When descriptions go on for paragraphs in a book, I often skip ahead to the dialogue and then skim back through what I skipped to see if I really needed to read it!

Meika said...

It was a bit intimidating to post about this just knowing that so many others were doing the same, wasn't it? You did a great job, though! Awesome post :)

C. N. Nevets said...

Thanks for talking a bit about diaogue. I think it's something that we writers often take for granted and don't always think explicitly about how it feeds the character-building process.

Melissa said...

Dialogue is my favorite part of reading any book, the best part about the characters for sure.

You have some excellent tips here. This is a really great contribution to the other posts today.

Rachel Morgan said...

It's really great that so many people recognise dialogue and character interaction as an important (and possibly the best!) part of writing/reading. :-)

Adina West said...

I enjoyed your take on this topic.

Hero's Journey/Love Triangle/Forbidden Love. They certainly are archetypal models for stories, and I didn't really think about my first novel in those terms until after I'd written it. But you know, you just got me thinking, and I reckon I've crammed all three of these archetypes into my novel, without quite realising it.

It is great to see people recognising the importance of dialogue. Even in bygone eras when literary fashion wasn't so skewed toward the 'show don't tell' model of fiction writing, good dialogue still played a very important part in the best novels. It was probably even more important because there was so much less of it!

Len said...

Excellent post! I love your bit on dialogue and I like 'Life is all about relationships' true! Nice meeting you! :)

Faith said...

Motive & change... so important! Full agreed, and without either of those, the story is BORING, the characters are BORING, and I'll stop reading.

Great approach to the topic!

J.C. Martin said...

Dialogue is a great way of showcasing a character's voice, and like many people at the GBE blogfest have mentioned, a unique, compelling character's voice is important to make a story readable.

Pam Torres said...

I'm right there with you on dialogue. Give me a drawn out description of a character and I'll be snoozing. Thanks for your post.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Dialogue is huge although sometimes what isn't said is just as important as what is said. Great points.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Good list! Relationships are important, both in fiction and in life.