Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters

If you missed the info, here's the background on The Great Blogging Experiment:

Elana Johnson, Alex Cavanaugh, and Jennifer Daiker hosted the Great Blogging Trifecta a few weeks ago. They teamed up for The Great Blogging Experiment, where they invited bloggers to post today about "Writing Compelling Characters". The experiment? To prove that no two blog posts will be exactly the same. 

My first thought was that it didn't apply to me. After all, I haven't completed, okay, or really even started a manuscript. My WIP consists of copious notes, printouts, bookmarked links, images and scenes floating around in my head and a fair sized stack of research books. I don't have all the characters figured out yet, but figure I've got enough to call it a WIP, even if it is just the starting fringe.

But then I thought, why not give it a try? After all, Elana said that it would be interesting to see all the variations from this experiment. I've created characters for kid's stories, taught fiction writing to teens, and I know what kind of characters that appeal to me, so I signed up

Writing Compelling Characters

We need compelling characters for great stories. Setting is good, plot is important and a knack for writing is crucial too. But characters, whether people, animals, or something else - this is what the story is about. I've always thought that plot, setting, and conflict swirls around the characters. 

Five things first come to mind when I consider character development.

1) The power to draw the reader in. Love 'em or hate 'em, a character has to grab my attention. I want them to be interesting. An MC needs personality and depth. I need to see how and why they relate to the story. If not, I quit reading.

2) They need to be believable. Unless I'm reading fantasy, I want to see real people. I want them to think and feel and have all sorts of emotions, actions, struggles and consequences.

3) They need to be consistent. They can't be having jealousy issues in chapter one and suddenly become unjealous in chapter two. (Is unjealous a word?) Growth and change through a story is great, but it's got to be natural.

4) The presence of physical characteristics. I want enough description of the character to be able to visualize them. A good writer, I think, paints images that enhance the reading experience. I'm not talking elaborate or lengthy, particularly with flash fiction, just enough to complement the rest of the story's elements.

5) They need to be memorable. Main characters should be memorable. For example, I just finished reading The Preacher's Bride, by Jody Hedlund. Over the course of the past week, I kept thinking about the book's MC, Elizabeth Whitbread. Her tenacity to do what she thought right was inspiring, and I will replay her comments, actions, and emotions in my head for a long time.

There you have it. My two cents on Writing Compelling Characters. Once my WIP is finished, I'll share what I've learned. :)

If you'd like some tried and true advice, check out this Writer's Digest link featuring quick tips for developing characters.

What do you think makes a character great? What tips do you have for writing compelling characters? 

Please join me next week when I review The Preacher's Bride. This special feature will include a giveaway and interview with Jody. Happy Weekend!





Blessings and Happy Weekend!


Image credit: bulleTT


  1. Great post! I think you've done a wonderful job considering you haven't got far in to your WIP! You definitely know what you're taking about! :o) Wonderful! I'm still waiting for Jody's book to arrive. Very much looking forward to reading it!

  2. Karen, thanks for this great post. Your list completely resonates with me. I would just add that strong characters appeal to me. Characters who stand up for themselves and refused to bow down before injustice or give in to evil.

  3. Believable and consistent! Great advice - just hard to do!

  4. I think unjealous is a word! Great advice, Karen.

  5. Hi Karen .. as I have no idea about this .. the thoughts are really handy to have & thanks for the link across to Writers' Digest .. I might remember that name for the future ..

    Enjoy your process towards your goal .. and enjoy the weekend .. Hilary

  6. I like stopping by and learning stuff. Have a blessed Saturday and Sunday. xxx

  7. For me, it's believability, vulnerability, quirkiness, heroism, and a turning toward the Lord.


    Right now, I've been shoved into a writer's cave until two deadlines produce books that matter to Him. Blog hopping has been curtailed111 Sigh.
    I sure hope you can spread some Karen cheer around my place until 11/15 or those files zip into the publishers' in boxes.

    Love you,

  8. Good points. #4 is the one I need to work on the most.

  9. Great list and yes to each one! :O)

  10. Great list, Karen! I agree that the characters that linger are the ones who make their lives really matter in the story world.

  11. Hi Karen, I agree with all your 5 points! I think #3 Consistency is a great point. They can't just chop and change willy nilly! Readers won't think them credible. Nice post! ;)

  12. Hi Karen :-)
    Great List! I like all five of your points, and you said what needed to be said so perfectly. Thanks!
    My post is a bit wordy, but I gave the writing compelling characters idea a try too.

  13. You did a great job. :)

    Happy weekend,

  14. Karen, great info. I am not much of a fiction writer (or reader, for that matter), but who knows....
    Have a great weekend,

  15. Great list, Karen--I especially identified with tip #3, characters need to be consistent. I'm going to be watching for that more now as I write...Thanks for the Writer's Digest link, too.

  16. Mwa ha ha! The power!! The POWER. It's so true that characters have so much power. And we need to make sure we give it to them to keep our readers turning the pages. Great post!

  17. Super post, Karen! Those are all excellent examples. i can't wait to read your review of Preacher's Bride. My copy came this week - can't wait to read it. :-)

  18. Hi Karen -

    I like memorable characters. The stories that stick in my head are the ones with characters that jump off the page and have a snack at my table.

    Susan :)

  19. When I read and find a good character I like it when they talk a little different and I love memorable characters. I love it when the characters make me smile. Thanks for the advice.

  20. Agreed. Characters need to be memorable. I love it when I read a book and hope the author will use certain characters in another book. I have read too many books where I really don't care what happens to the characters. They are boring and predictable. Give me compelling characters and I will read the book.

    Stephen Tremp

  21. Jessica,
    Thank you! I enjoyed your post today as well. Hope you enjoy Jody's book. I loved it!

    Thanks so much. Yes, I agree. Characters that stand up for themselves make the top of my list too. I don't like whiny ones either.:)

    Thank you. And yes, easier said than done! But knowing what we like is a great place to start.

    Thanks for your vote of confidence. Okay, good, so will add unjealous to my Word dictionary!

    Let's learn together, shall we? Be sure and visit the Writer's Digest website - you can get email updates. Their archives are marvelous.

    Always good to see you my friend. I think you know about capturing characters - whether with words or on camera! :)

    Well, if I am anywhere near your neighborhood, I'll stop and drop chocolate off. Cheering you on to your deadlines! :)

    Me too - actually need work on all points! But gotta start somewhere...

    Thank you! I may be calling on you for character development help when it comes to restless natives. :)

    Thanks a bunch! I love to read, so I know that helps the process out a bit. :)

    Good to see you, and thanks so much. Yes, I love the memorable ones!

    Nice to meet you! Thanks for commenting and following. Yes, we need to avoid those "willy nillies" at all costs!

    Happy weekend to all,

  22. Great job, Karen...I agree you have to get your readers to be vested in your characters, to do that you have to be vested in them. :) Have a wonderful weekend!

  23. Tyrean,
    Glad you gave it a go! Will hop over to see it shortly. Thanks for your kind words.:)

    Nice to meet you, and thanks for following. Enjoyed your blog post today. Look forward to reading more in the future. :)

    Well, you never know when character development skills might come in handy. :) Thanks for your comments!

    Thanks so much. Yes, consistency, well I suppose we need to maintain that whatever we write, but characters really need it!

    Thank you, and thanks to you and your team for promoting this. It's been great fun. I need to hop over to your blog!

    Thank you. You know, you all make me blush with your sweet comments. Hope you love Jody's book as much as I did! :)

    Susan R.,
    Very well said! What characters would I want as house guests, which ones would I want for friends and, good food for thought!

    Thank you for coming over here. Characters that make you smile are a great thing, aren't they? :)

    Yes, I agree! Sometimes I just don't want the story to end. Seeing some characters in following books is wonderful.

    Thank you so much. Nice to meet you, glad you came by. :) You make a great point!

    Blessings to each of you!

  24. This goes to show you can just be starting out and still have a wealth of information to share.

    And, your in good company, I haven't finished my book yet either. Not even halfway... I'm a little ashamed to admit!

  25. Memorable characters that draw the reader in...YES!!!

  26. Sounds like you've hit all the key points! I agree that you want your main characters to be memorable.

  27. Consistency is necessary...unless your character is insane. ;)

    Great tips!!

  28. Karen, thank you for so generously sharing these tips with us... and for sharing the link to the blogfest. I love how generous you are with good information. So many writers want to keep it all to themselves, but success is not limited. We can all be successful in our own right. Speaking of memorable characters, you are a good example of one.

    In reading others' posts on this subject, I noticed how many people are using the same concept... the characters have to have flaws to make them real. But flaws alone don't make the character. For me it's not the flaws that make them memorable, it's whether they are human, authentic, and have a sense of "self."

    Thank you again for sharing. I took part in the experiment, too. Please check out my blog:

  29. Melissa,
    Thank you for your kind words. We're allowed to be works in progress, I think!

    I'm all for drawing the readers in!

    Thank you. I think as writers we want our work to be memorable, so characters are a good way to do that.

    Yes, this is true! And we do find them sometimes, don't we. That probably requires another post. :)

    You are welcome. Glad you partcipated too! It was a great post.

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  30. I find it very interesting that you mention physical characteristics in your list -- I haven't seen anyone else mention that, and I honestly don't find it all that important when I read a book. If the author doesn't describe someone, I create my own image in my mind, and it doesn't hinder my enjoyment of the story.

    Isn't it interesting how we all think differently about this topic? What a great experiment this has been. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint!

  31. If unjealous is not a word, than it should be. Compelling characters tell the story.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  32. Great list. Believeable and consistant. Those two things are very important. =D

  33. I love the way your mind works! In fact, that's probably what I appreciate most about my favorite characters: the workings of their mind; how they connect dots; what motivates them ... inspires them ... stymies them.

    Lots to think about.

  34. I think the bottom line is that our characters should be as real as the memorable people we have known in real life.

    Tossing It Out

  35. Faith,
    Good point, for many readers do this most likely. I do for shorter things. Longer works - I appreciate at least a bit of description. It is nice to see what everyone has to say about characters.

    Okay, so we have several votes for unjealous. Glad you agree! :) Thanks for following!

    Thank you, and thanks for following as well. Will hop over to visit your blog:)

    Always appreciate your perspective. Connecting the dots - that's a good way to look at things!

    You know, that's a great observation. I need to give that some thought in relation to my characters.

    Thanks and blessings,

  36. Hey, Karen! I'm really excited to read Jody's The Preacher's Bride. I just know her writing is going to teach me lots about writing compelling characters. Thank you for this post. It has given me lots to think about.

    Also, thanks for visiting my crazy story over at my blog. That Jenny is a lesson every single day. Let's do coffee soon! How about October 16ish. I'll be needing a morning of coffee and talking after my tax deadline.

  37. Hey Karen!
    I just started Jody's book last night and am super impressed. I didn't want to put it down. I have to agree, Elizabeth is a character I already like. She's smart, stubborn and Godly. All great characteristics. :-)
    Great list about characterization!

  38. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Excellent post. (I can't get my comment to go through. If you get two from me, you'll know why.) I totally agree and think you are a storehouse of writerly information. Worth much more than two cents. :)

    I can't read my copy of The Preacher's Bride until I make progress on my WIP. *sigh* But I look forward to it and your review, too.

    I write all the day long today.

  39. Great post. Consistency is key. I hate when characters suddenly act out of character or their hair changes color/length/texture for no reason! Ugh, major pet peeve.

  40. Heather,
    Yes, I'd say Jody's book does just that. I thoroughly enjoyed it for a number of reasons. And yes, would love to get together soon!

    I was impressed with the characters too, and the book in general. Jody did a great job!

    Cheering you on with your writing today! And yes, TPB is something good to look forward to:)

    Thank you. When characters are inconsistent I find myself going back through trying to figure out if I missed something. Yes, a pet peeve for me too!

    Happy weekend to each of you,

  41. Yes I would have to agree with you Karen. A very good list and thought provoking. This has been a great blogfest idea :O)

  42. I like all these points, Karen. Particularly number 4. Many young writers may think that any physical description are not acceptable but it is just not so. Readers, like myself, like to have an idea.

  43. Karen: You did a great job, dear. I especially agree with the point about believablity in a character. Nothing slows a story down for me like reading about a character that is either too good to be true, or says things no one would ever say. Hollywood is guilty of the latter ad naseum. But I won't start on that pet peeve, or we'll be here 'til Columbus Day!

    I'm waiting for Jody's book to arrive in my mailbox, too. Looing forward to your interview!


  44. Madeleine,
    Nice to meet you! Thank you for your comments. Yes, this blogfest has been a wonderful idea. Looking forward to participating again sometime.

    Thank you. Kind of second guessed that one after posting it, but it is something that I like to see, and not just for characters, but the setting too. Not too much, just enough.

    Thank you, my friend! Yes, we could go on about that, couldn't we? Anyway, something to keep in mind for the future. I hope you enjoy Jody's book as much as I did!

    Blessings to each of you,

  45. This is a great list, Karen. I'm doing the same building process you are right now, so I appreciate it. You mentioned on my blog this morning that you were interested in the cultural depth thing and I wondered if you are trying out a different cultural experience?

    What I'm always drawn to is extreme heroism/bravery, extraordinary intelligence or humor. I also appreciate characters who doubt themselves - probably because I do, too. :)

  46. I'm glad you enjoyed the Preacher's Bride, I loved it too! Can't wait to read your full review!!

  47. Hi Karen - Great points, all. It is not always easy to keep all of those things in mind when putting together a story, but the best of storytellers manage it. All of those items, tied together, make for memorable characters. Nice post.

  48. Great stuff, Karen! And I can't wait to curl up with Jody's book.

  49. Victoria,
    Yes, the culture of the MC varies from what I grew up with, so am researching along those lines. You make a good point about bravery, etc. I think we like to see characters overcome obstacles. It can be inspiring:)

    I did, it was wonderful. The review is now up on Monday's post. Glad you stopped by.

    Thank you. You're right, we can talk about it all day long, but doing it is another thing. Practice makes perfect! :)

    Thank you, sweet friend! Now that the garden is done, curling up with a book is a wonderful idea:)

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  50. I'm glad you posted on the topic and am glad I found your blog. All of us readers know a ton about compelling characters, whether we've finished books or not. :)

  51. Hi Karen, love your take on compelling characters. I enjoyed reading period pieces where great settings captured my imagination!

    It's been a while, but,your post makes me want to revisit the Romantic/Historic genre.

  52. Great tips, Karen. Thanks.
    I was thinking of the first romantic short story that I attempted to write-as I was trying to explore beyond the inspirational stories- Oh my... when I finished it yesterday, I realized that the girl was ME! hehehe


  53. I think this was such a great idea of Elana's and can't wait to see all the different character posts! Yours is my first! Good stuff. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  54. Karen, great post! I love your advice on making memorable characters. That's why reading is so rich to me, when it contains characters that are real, relatable, and that will stay with me even after I've finished the book. Thanks for posting :)

    Stephanie Smith
    Moody Publishers Fiction,

  55. Julie,
    Glad you stopped by too! Enjoyed visiting your blog. Yes, I think we learn a lot from reading which can help us as we write:)

    Thank you. I know, I love compelling pieces too! You should revisit those genres. In your spare time of course:)

    Good to see you. Thanks for your kind words. It is surprising sometimes what we write and learn from writing, isn't it?

    It was a wonderful idea, and I am glad Elana, Alex, and Jen put it on. Happy to be your first stop!

    Thank you:) You're right, reading can be such a rich experience!

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  56. Hi Karen!
    This is a great post! I would have never guessed you'd not completed at least one manuscript!

    I read Jody's blog too. I haven't read her book yet, but I'm looking forward to it :)

    Glad I found my way here.


  57. How great! I'm with Elena and the others on this. I love reading others take on writing. I think the variation can open our eyes to something we never thought before. That's why I love blogs from fellow writers. Thanks for sharing Karen!!

  58. Jen,
    Thank you, I'm blushing:) Glad you found your way here too! Enjoyed my stop at your blog as well.

    I know, it's wonderful, isn't it? You are welcome, have a great day:)


  59. I love your insights on writing compelling characters and I totally agree! I can't wait to learn other helpful tips! Thanks!!!

  60. Great point about consistency. It's hard to do without a lot of outlines and notes, but it's crucial. An inconsistent character will lose me every time.

  61. Alisa,
    Thank you! There's so much to learn, isn't there? :)

    Thanks so much! Nice to meet you, and thanks for becoming a follower.

    Blessings to each of you,


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!