Friday, September 24, 2010

Compelling Characters (aka ones that aren't boring)

I was planning on this being a bit of a longer post, but alas, my time is short. So you will have to do with short and sweet. That's okay, right?

Here are my (brief) thoughts on writing compelling characters.

They have to be complex. They have to seem real. How do you accomplish that? You have to be willing to show all sides of someone's character. You have to give them flaws (yes, even your hero with the rippling abs of steel), you have to give them strengths/"like-able" qualities (yes, even your super evil villain), you need to give them foibles and habits and maybe even phrases they say that are easily recognizable. Maybe she bites her nails? Or he has a habit of cracking his knuckles (ew). But you get the idea. Case in point: "What the bleep?" Anybody who's read that book immediately knows what character says that. It's unique and fun and makes Evie who she is.

Your so called "bad guy" can't JUST be bad. He/She needs to have depth to make your reader more involved. Your protag/hero needs to have weaknesses that they can overcome during the course of the book(s). Real people are multi-faceted. They aren't just bad or just good. Great characters are the same.

Was I going to dazzle you with examples and pictures and more? Yes. Maybe I can do another post about it next week if you'd like. Feel free to let me know in the comments. And I'd like to know two things: who are your favorite protagonists (and why?) and your favorite "villain" (and why)? I'll bet they are pretty complex characters. I can't wait to see your answers!

Stay tuned for my Monday Musings (instead of Friday Five since I did the blog challenge) that includes ballroom dancing, Thurl Bailey singing to me, and more!

24 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post, and thanks for making it short. I've read so many of these posts, my brain is going to mush. But fortunately, the mush is much smarter now when it comes to characterizations. :D

Danyelle said...

Complex and real for sure. And flawed. That's what helps us relate to them, I think. :)

Margo Berendsen said...

I posted on one my favorites protags, Gandalf, though he's more of a supporting character than a true protag. My favorite antagonist? POssibly Cruella DeVil! At least, she's the first one who popped into my head!

Carolyn V. said...

I wrote a bad character too bad (according to my crit group). I had to find good qualities to make him more believable. opps. =)

Quinn said...

Great post! Loved it! Most people forget that villains are human too and they need to be just as well rounded as your hero.

Colene Murphy said...

Short and sweet did it! Great points, glad to read your point of view on character too!

Elana Johnson said...

Complex is so hard, though. *whines* But you're right. We have to make them real and complex. Le sigh.

I also like how you said the bad guy can't just be bad. He has to be complex too. What are you doing to me??

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love it that you said bad guys can't be all bad - so true! Great post - with or without pictures. LOL. :-)

Melissa said...

You win giant points from me with the bad guy not being all bad. This is SO important. Especially cause I'm the person who sits there, admiring the hero but in love with the villain. Good villains are just so interesting - I'd love to sit and talk to them and just figure them out. The best villains ever, for me?

Bellatrix lestrange - crazy, mad, but has an immense love/devotion/obsession that rules her life. She obviously cares about her sister and her family too. Plus, she's just fun.

Severus Snape - he is, probably, the perfect antagonist (in my mind). He is so flawed and while he makes a lot of mistakes is a thorn in the heroes side, in the end, he does it all for love. He's redeemed because his motivation - for everything - is so clear to us by the end that when you go back and read through everything, all you can feel is a strong empathy for him.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I enjoyed your post...You have a fun voice. :-)


My brain is starting to turn to mush (like Stina's) ...I started on number one this morning...and I've read everyones' profile too...

Andrea Mack said...

I liked what you wrote about characters having to be complex. I think that's what we're all getting at sometimes, when we create those lists of details about our characters. Trying to make them fully rounded. And all characters need layers. Not just the protag. Great post!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great points - everyone should be real. Plastic people just aren't going to cut it.

One of my favourite complex protagonists is JD Robb's Eve Duncan. Awesome character.

L.T. Elliot said...

My fav. bad guy? Voldemort. I just love the guy and can't help it. Especially in the comics on accio-brain. =] Bellatrix is also fun to love.
My favorite Hero? I love Harry of course but I really love Eugeniedes from The Theif. He's just...awesome.

Christine Fonseca said...

Complex is so important...depth!

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I read so many books it's hard to pick a favorite protagonist. If I had to choose, I'd say Kitty Norville from Carrie Vaughn's werewolf series. For an antagonist, perhaps Delores Umbridge from Harry Potter.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Yes, yes, yes! Must have some depth to them, like most real people. Complex characters aren't easy to categorize because they have a lot of different qualities, often conflicting with one another. Great post, Sara, even short and sweet!

Hannah Kincade said...

Short and sweet! Love your tips on villains!

N. R. Williams said...

As someone important once said, (sorry I don't know who), the protagonist is the hero of his own story. Good post.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

RaShelle said...

All of the best characters have good and bad in them - absolutely. That's what makes them real. =D

DL Hammons said...

Character mining is something that being an outliner I devote a lot of time to. Sometimes not all of the material makes it into the book, but it helps create that sense of depth you mention! :)

PS. I'm glad your earlier medical news was mostly postitve!!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Yes! Even your villain need to have depth. Excellent points.

Julie said...

For writing in a hurry, you certainly covered the crucial stuff.

Great post!

Botanist said...

I love ambiguity in characters. In my one complete (but unpublished) novel the protag starts off by committing mass murder (in a good cause), her brutish adversary turns out to be one of the good guys, and the real baddies are lurking in the background.

Yes, a week later I'm still plugging through the marvelous advice this blogfest generated.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Great post! (It's taking me a while to get to everybody, but I'll do it, I swear!)

I like the point that each character needs to have some quirk or foible or catchphrase that is instantly recognizable. That's a great thing to remember.