Writing Compelling Characters

As writers we want to tell a story that draws our dear reader in.  So where better to start but with what interests you are as a reader? Usually the dust jacket and blurb mutters my Inner Muse.  As a reader, the main character of a book needs to speak to me, reel me in.  As a writer, it's a challenge to create that character that readers will find irresistible, charming and whom they would empathise with, and basically...well want to hang out with.  As part of the blogging experiment, I have concocted a recipe for writing compelling creatures...I mean, characters.

Recipe for Writing Compelling Characters:

Go ahead, mould me!
 Firstly, take one main character, sketch out the essentials - who is this person?  What will make readers sit up and think - Wow!  I want to read more.  Her personality?  Is she shy, skittish or bold and commanding?  Caring, confident...superwoman!  What does she look like? Brunette, blonde, redhead...is she tall or short?  Does her slinky long hair sway down the back of her shoulders or perhaps she has a perky pixie cut.  Curves on a pair of supermodel legs to rival Elle.  Her eyes...are alluring green, bewitching blue, or honey coloured brown?  What are her likes? Her habits...where did she grow up?  Go ahead do some background checks.

The best way to answer these questions is to use a Character Template.  I always flesh out my characters this way.  And if you want to get really creative - try putting together Character Collages, they're lots of fun!  Grab a pair of scissors, glue and cardboard and pull out those back dated issues of Vogue, Cosmo, Harpers, Vanity Fair, House & Garden!


Add the following Ingredients:

1.  Voice, voice and yes more voice....and at the risk of having a barrage of tomatoes tossed at us, lets chant it calmly...Voice, voice, voice!  Your character must have a voice.  Give her a great big fabulous voice! Make her sing, let her cry, make her thoughts intriguing...

2.  Language - Add liberally - where does your character live?  Does she have an interesting accent? Will she stutter when tall, dark and dashing stranger approaches her?  Does she swear like a trooper? Does our favourite girl have a quirky remark that slips out from time to time.

3.  Dreams - We all love to dream.  What's yours?  What's your characters?  Give her ambition.  Give her hopes - break them, burn them, tear them down and build them up - just please give the dear girl something to strive-whine-pine for.

4Unique Habits - Add a splash of uniqueness to your character.  Make her special, give her some charming habits that will make your reader laugh.  Does she always cross the road when men in plaid suits walk towards her. Or, perhaps she has a nervous cough whenever a nun passes by her...a hangover from her school days.  Unfortunate then, that she lives next door to the convent.  Maybe she wears purple underwear on a Wednesday, turns the teapot three times before pouring and twists her hands whenever 'he' approaches.  Give her something to do with those hands.

5.  Conflict -  She walks like a supermodel, has the voice of an angel, stutters at Mr. Right, falls for Mr. Wrong, and has a driving ambition to reach her dreams.  So what do you do?  Give her some conflict - make her work for that dream!!  Come on we all have to, why shouldn't she?


Method:

1.  Use a firm grip on your storyteller wooden spoon, and stir all the above ingredients very carefully...just so.  Give your character a great plot to weave her way through.  Enormous hurdles, emotional highs and lows...quiet reflective moments.  Make your reader stick with your character until the end.

2.  Remember taste your mixture to get it just right.  More spice?

3.  Pour the tantalising creation into a baking dish....place in preheated PC for at least 80,000 words.

4.  Use oven mitts to remove from PC.

5.  Let cool for a month.  Review, add extra seasonings if needed.

6.  Serve proudly with relish! 

And lastly, embellish greatly and enjoy your writing!


Compelling?  Here's one I prepared earlier.

A/N: Photocredits, purchased via shutterstock.

A big thank you to Alex J Cavanaugh, Elana Johnson and Jen Daiker for hosting such a mammoth blogging experiment! 

Comments

  1. Thanks- I really enjoyed your 'recipe' for compelling characters! All great tips!

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  2. Hi CQG - thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

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  3. Thanks for joining the experiment Talei!!! Voice is so super important! Bringing the best ingredients for the perfect recipe! Love the idea behind this post... brilliant!

    Happy Friday!

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  4. Hi Jen, thanks so much for your lovely comments! I'm enjoying this experiment! Greart idea and I'm learning too.

    Have a fab weekend! ;)

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  5. What stuck out at me the most is voice. A character can be all things great but without a compelling voice there will be no compelling character!

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  6. *chanting calmly*
    Voice, voice, voice!

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  7. Loved the post, Talei. Wonderful and sound advice.
    Btw....I have made my 11 year old protagonist a tomboy, but after she falls in love she wants to dress up like a Diva.
    The recipe for compelling characters is one I am defintely going to try.

    http://rachnachhabria.blogspot.com/2010/09/13-elements-of-good-story.html

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  8. Laura, I totally agree - without a voice that connects to your readers, your character may as well be silent. That would be more compelling. Thanks so much for stopping by and for the follow. ;)

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  9. @ Rachel - LOL! Yes, exactly. ;)

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  10. Hi Rachna, thank you. ;) And I love the sound of your protagonist, very intriguing.

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  11. I've never done a character collage or template before. I'll have to try it. Great post!

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  12. Oooh, you're so right that compelling characters need dreams. I can't connect with a character unless they're striving for something. Great advice!

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  13. I prefer to detail out my character before writing, although I've never used visuals.

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  14. Love the recipe! Very creative way to tackle this blog post.

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  15. You know, I've never done a character collage before! I know author Tara Lynn Childs swears by them... maybe I'll give it a try for NaNoWriMo this year.

    Love the 'recipe'. Very cute! And thanks for visiting my post today :)

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  16. Like Faith, I've never done a collage either . . . but very helpful idea. And I love the recipe, too. I'm just picturing myself stirring my character with a wooden spoon. Hilarious!

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  17. Yes! I especially love characters because of their unique voices. :)

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  18. @ Michelle, collages are fun! Definitely try them! ;)

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  19. @Meredith, thanks! Dreams definitely give our characters something to strive for and also its good for them to stumble towards achieve it.

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  20. @Alex, ah this works for some of us. I'm a huge fan of visual aids. ;)

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  21. @Quinn - thanks! I enjoyed your post too! ;)

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  22. @Faith, definitely pull out the old mags, glue, paper and scissors! Its creative therapy too. LOL.

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  23. @Janet - ha! Maybe use a feather duster to tickle them too. Sometimes I want to use a wooden spoons on characters I've come across in books. Enjoy the collages! ;)

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  24. @Danyelle - I quite agree, if the voice doesn't pull me in, I find it hard to finish reading a book. Thanks so much for stopping by. ;)

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  25. Dreams and goals are what really fueled my characters. (And contributed heavy to the storyline, too.)

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  26. I've never used a character template--it looks like a really good method of developing a character! Great post.

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  27. Talei--of the fifty-ish blogs I've gotten through on this experiment, this is the first one that I've seen that talks about voice and language. It's interesting that sometimes the voice defines the character as often as the character defines the voice, but either way, it's so so so important. Thanks!

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  28. What a cute way to explain this topic! I love it. Handy tips, too :)

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  29. This is great - thank you for posting.

    X

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  30. I really need to work on this. Sometimes I drive straight into plot and forget the characterization, thinking it will come.

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  31. I know lots of writers who've done character collages--I never have, but maybe I should!

    I totally agree on the voice & language parts. So much can be shown about a character by what they say and how they say it.

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  32. Thank you, enjoyed this very much! Great info, I may have to bookmark this:)
    Happy weekend,
    Karen

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  33. Dreams is one I hadn't thought of. And what a great addition to the character stew we have brewing today. Thanks!

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  34. I see we agree on lots of elements of creating a compelling character. I love doing character templates and collages to flesh out my characters.

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  35. Great post! I agree with the voice. It's VERY important in keeping me reading :)

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  36. A collage is a great idea! Something I should probably work on. =)

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  37. A great recipe. I enjoyed reading it, and you've made some compelling points. I will always remember to get the wooden spoon out and stir..:)

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  38. As a cook, I love the recipe idea. Original and a good way to get the points across!

    Yes, voice and uniqueness. So important.

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  39. LOVE the purple underwear on Wednesdays and your method recipe!! :)

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  40. Failproof recipe. I love that you made a recipe... you know what I'm cooking up tonight after reading this, right?

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  41. Thanks for reminding me that language and expressions important to building strong characters.

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  42. Great post Talei! I loved the part about creating a character template. Never thought about character collages but it sounds like a neat idea!

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  43. In my book the bad guys have a dream. A dream to usher in a global scientific oligarchy led by physics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. The protagonist has a dream of marrying a high school cutey and settle down. These divergent paths collide and all kinds of crazy stuff ensues.

    Stephen Tremp

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  44. great advice. I particularly enjoyed the method for your recipe :)
    Lyn

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  45. Love the recipe format for this post!

    "Let cool for a month. Review, add extra seasonings if needed." -- excellent advice! :)

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  46. Your five ingredients are excellent! I hadn't considered those at all. Great tips!

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  47. Great post! I totally agree with everything. Especially the unique habits. I think they are the first things I think about when creating my characters. :o)

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  48. Wow! Thank you everyone for all the great comments! The Great Blogging Experiment has been a blast!

    @Bish - thanks!

    @Diane- good to hear, we gotta make them strive for something right? ;)

    @Golden eagle - try a template, its organising your thoughts as well, which I find pretty useful. Got to have some order when writing me thinks. ;)

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  49. @J.Leigh - thanks! Of all the ingredients, voice is key for me. Our MCs voice needs to carry the reader into his or her world and keep him there. We can define our MCs life, thoughts and ambitions etc but if we don't get the voice right, no one will listen. Thanks for stopping by! ;)

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  50. @Lyla - hi, thanks! Glad you enjoyed them ;)

    @ Solvang, thank you too!!

    @Suzanne, you're welcome!! ;)

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  51. @Patti, good luck. It's not easy balancing plot and characterisations, but I think the template is a good tool if you want to flesh out your MCs in detail. Thanks for stopping by. ;)

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  52. @Jennifer, thank you ;)

    @Annette, hi ;) I agree - re voice and language. Its important to get the right language for characters so that that it fits their background, work, lifestyle etc. For my MC, I want to keep her language current and believable. She's got to have the right fit with her voice and language.
    Try the collage, even if just once. You might just like them. :D

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  53. @Karen, thank you. I'm chuffed you liked it! Have a lovely weekend too!

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  54. @Elana, welcome dear lady. :) And thank you for organising such a great stew. I think its coming along quite nicely. Have a wonderful weekend!!

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  55. @thegracefuldoe, I quite agree my dear, I quite agree. Thanks for stopping by! ;)

    @Jemi, thanks so much! And likewise - I completely agree. Lets make it our mantra 'voice, voice, voice'. Have a lovely weekend! ;)

    @Carolyn - hi! Try the collage, at least once. You might be surprised at how enjoyable it is. ;)

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  56. @L'aussie - Gotta get that wooden spoon out! ;) Glad you enjoyed the recipe.

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  57. @Terry - Hi lovely lady, you cook? As well as mix margaritas? FAB! x

    @PK - *whispers* purple is a favourite of mine. Thanks so much for stopping by, very happy you enjoyed the recipe! ;)

    @Melissa - LOL. Happy cooking!! ;)

    @Hi Andrea, you're welcome. I'm glad you got something from my post. So lovely to hear. ;)

    @Hi Nathalie, thank you! Hope you get to try out a template and collage! They're useful tools. :)

    @Stephen, hi! Great to hear the Bad guys vs. Good guys dreams. I wonder who wins out? ;)

    @Lynda, hello! thank you. ;)

    @Vicki, thank you dear lady!

    @Shari, glad you enjoyed! Thank you!

    @gargimehra, hope they help! thanks for stopping by. ;)

    @Jessica, hi! thanks so much - I do like a quirky habit or two for my characters. ;)

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  58. I loved your recipe for a good story and compelling characters, especially no. 5; so true that once completed, you have to let your story sit for a while before tackling the edit with a fresh mindset. Looking forward to reaching step 5 with my WIP!

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  59. Great recipe for creating compelling characters!

    *starts chanting* Voice, voice, voice, voice....

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  60. Good stuff - voice is so important. Until I started writing I didn't know what it was that made me keep reading and loving a character - now I do - voice. I love collages too - we we're thinking alike. I haven't made a collage for any of my characters yet, but I think I will. I use pictures to help me write, but I think it will help me to know my characters better if I make a collage of things that are important to them.

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  61. Great recipe for creating compelling characters...I love the collage idea. :) I'm actually thinking of painting or drawing the characaters in a pb I'm working on...I'm no artist, but it might be fun. :)

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  62. @JC Martin- Thank you & good luck with your WIP!;)

    @stickynotes - Ha! Thanks & keep on chanting! ;)

    @Mary - Thank you. I'm a huge fan of visual aids - addicted to photography although am an amateur. Have fun with the collages!! ;)

    @Sharon - Hi! I hadn't thought of PB but that's a great idea. Happy painting and writing! ;)

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  63. This post was absolutely fantastic. I like the comment about giving a character something to do with their hands. I talk with my hands, so it seems natural to me that a character would make liberal use of theirs as well.

    My character profiles, when I write them up, always have a category called Trivia for the aspects of their personality that don't go in any other section. All living people, I think, have a Trivia section, so a character should too.

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  64. Excellent recipe! I use most of the ingredients, but will use your advice to make it better! :) And yes, VOICE!

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  65. As all readers, loved your recipe! I better go start stirring my character :)

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  66. Letting it cool and serve it with relish are a wonderful way to wrap up that informative post. If we can't savor it, what's the point?

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  67. @Dominique, thank you so much! ;) I love action during dialogue, you know small natural things you would do whilst talking to your friends etc. Why not give it to your characters?

    Love your Trivia section too. We have to think of the characters as living people and breath life into them. Quirks and all! ;)

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  68. @Kelly - thank you!! ;) VOICE! absolutely.

    @Lettucehead - the stirring is the best part. ;) thank you and happy cooking!

    @Tricia - so true, we must savor our work and enjoy it - it'll show in the end result. Thank you for stopping by too. :)

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  69. Brewing some compelling characters, Talei! I like mine shaken and stirred;)

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  70. Perfect recipe! Makes writing seem so easy ;)

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  71. Voice is definitely uber-important and conflict ranks right up there too. Nice post!

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  72. @Elaine - Ha! I like the way you think. Happy shaking! ;)

    @Danielle - thank you. Don't worry we know its not easy. And you can always put the ingredients in a blender and make them into a smoothie! ;)

    @Nancy - thank you! So glad you enjoyed it! ;)

    @ Stephanie - absolutely! 'Voice and conflicts. Thanks so much for stopping by.;)

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  73. Your post is very unique. Love the recipe analogy. It's so true.

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  74. Nice post! I love the recipe. Adding interesting quirks can be tricky though. Sometimes I'm reading a book and I feel like the author threw in a quirk just to make their character interesting even thought it doesn't have any bearing on the story at all.

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  75. Hey Talei! Love the idea of a character collage! So awesome for several reasons, one being that it's a change of pace from scribbling on a notepad or typing on a computer---fantastic way to let the creative juices flow!

    Also, I like the "Let it Cool" step. Important in many aspects of writing.

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  76. Well done on the recipe - I really liked this!

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  77. Awesome post. Loved the recipe. This is a post to reread often.

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  78. I like the recipe approach! One of the things I've learned from this experiment is how many people fill out some sort of character template before they start writing.

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  79. @Lisa, thank you! ;)

    @Melissa, good point. Sometimes the quirks don't quite fit the character and you're left shaking your head. I guess we have find that right combination with the quirk and what exactly we want to it to bring to the character and overall story. ;)

    @ Nicki - you totally hit it on the head, the action of putting the collage together should help release those creative juices flow. Sometimes we have to come at our characters from a different angle. Thanks so much for stopping by. ;)

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  80. Hi @ Elena - thanks, am glad you enjoyed it!! :)

    Hello @ Nicole - thank you so much, I hope it helps. ;)

    Thank you @ Sandra - I'm writing with my learners wings on but I do find the templates a real help. It's really finding a method that works for you and experimenting now and then to get the formula just right. Happy writing!

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  81. Isn't that kind of baking up a character (okay, not really cooking them, but you know what I mean) just about the most fun thing ever?

    Love the way you approached the topic and glad I found your blog. :)

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