Friday, 24 September 2010

The Great Blogging Experiment - Writing Compelling Characters

Quite recently, I came across Jen's blog which I totally love and found out that there's this blogfest, The Great Blogging Experiment which Jen, Alex and Elana are conducting.  I found the details on Elana Johnson's blog.  I got excited so I thought I'd join.  Gosh it's daunting - I have actually entered my name as a participant!  What have I gotten myself into? *knees getting wobbly*

I have got to be honest - I am scared to even call myself a writer.  Whilst I had articles published in the early Stone Age, writing a story is a lot different.  It's more hardwork.  It's not only putting more time into's also pouring all your heart and soul into it.  But the fact is, I am not even half way in writing my first story!  So, this is my first ever attempt to post something that mentions about my own writing.

But what the heck.  I'm biting the bullet!  Here goes:

Writing Compelling Characters

When reading:

When I read a book, I look for something when I read the first chapter.  I don't know what it is exactly that I always look for - but I know when I see it because I feel it and because it makes me carry on reading.  You know how that is, don't you - you get so engrossed and engaged.  You want to know what's going to happen next!  That's what happens to me when characters are compelling and interesting enough that I stick to it to the last page!  I think I look for something that I like in a character, someting that I can relate to perhaps.  Maybe something in the person that's a little bit like me.

Have you ever encountered characters so interesting that they stay with you?  I have, they stay with me for a long time - even months (or years! I still think of them!) after finishing the book I am reading.  Would you like to meet some of them?

Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee) - I think of her when I see little girls and wonder, do they think the same way?  Do they have the same love for their parents like Scout had for her father? Do they think and reason like her?  Scout is a nine year old girl who is just too clever for her age.  She is honest and a courageous spirit. I love everything that she is.

Perry Crandall (Lottery by Patricia Wood)
- He reminds me of Forest Gump and I love his innocence and his good heart.  I fear for him that people will take advantage of him.  I've read this book about two years ago and Perry is still in my mind to this day.

Derowen (Star Dancer by Beth Webb) - The village wise woman, a witch, a scheming character.  She scares me to death.  I am scared for Tegen, the main character.  I am currently reading this and each time Derowen is there with Tegen, I can hear my heart beating fast.

I think the above characters are compelling enough to remain in my head for quite awhile.

When writing:

Now, on my writing - I will let you in on a secret...the truth is, I talk to my characters - yes! I am brave enough to reveal this as I know I am not alone in feeling that my characters are real.  In a recent television interview, Sophie Kinsella (author of the Shopaholic series, Remember Me and The Undomestic Goddess just to name a few of her books) described Becky Bloomwood, the main character of The Shopaholic series, to be a real person who exists somewhere - in a parallell universe - and she just tapped into it.  Becky becomes alive! You know what - I believe the same thing!  And I think it is the same for all writers.  We see our characters as real.  They feel real. They are alive, even if they are only in our minds.

So how do I create my characters? They have to be convincing and believable so I put a little bit of the people around me, people that are pleasing and absorbing or that inspire me.  For the heroine, I use people's strengths that I admire, their beliefs and values and things they do that captivate me.  I also include their fears and weaknesses that make me love them and that make me want to protect them. The villains? They can have the most evil thoughts, they can be the most annoying and deceiving.  They have the traits that I dislike in people or even hate about myself.  And maybe, my characters also have a little bit of what I've read!  So, really, one can be a combination of different people molded into one personality that becomes a person in a story!  What I've learnt from reading and research is that the characters, of course, must be appropriate for the plot.  I still have a lot to learn and I can only hope that I am making sense...and that at the end of the day, my story and characters are interesting enough for people to read - from beginning to end.

Writing a story is hardwork and the hardest of all of it is writing compelling characters - the ones that will make the readers stay with you to the last page!  In the book, How to Write for Children and Get Published, Louise Jordan wrote, 'Characterisation makes your story come alive.  However strong your plot, without good characterisation, you will have an uninvolving, superficial text on our hands:  at best boring, at worst, dead (page 113).

How about you?   What do you think can make characters interesting, compelling?  What will make you carry on reading a story?

Note:  You can view covers of the books by clicking on the links which will take you to

Please don't forget to visit Elana's blog to see what the rest of the participants have to say, click here.

Disclaimer: This is my web blog, the opinion expressed above are 100% mine and not that of the authors' or publishers of the above-mentioned books. This site makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness of any information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions in this information arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.  This is not a paid advertisement.


Christine Danek said...

Great job, Len. I'll be posting my compelling characters tomorrow.
Characters I can relate to will carry me through a story.
Characters that need to overcome problems.
Characters I feel for.

I talk to my characters to and believe I'm talking to someone from a parallel universe. Really, they don't stop talking to me. Yes, I do feel them. It's weird but I do.

Christine Danek said...

Great job, Len. My post will be up tomorrow.
Characters must have problems.
I must feel for them and relate to them.

I talk to my characters too. I think they may be from a parallel universe as well. They talk to me all the time.
I also can almost feel them. Weird I know.

Ruthi said...

hi Len... looks like you are having a blast here. Keep it up. I am too busy lately working 2 jobs and 7 days a week. happy blogging.

Jen said...

You're a writer when you call yourself one, so welcome to the group! Great job with this!! I love Scout and she is by far my favorite character, very compelling! I can already tell we are going to have different posts! The experiment is already a success!

Theresa Milstein said...

Scout is a memorable character.

I love that you talk to your characters. I think about mine all the time - things I don't even use in my manuscript. They need to seem real to me.

Stephen King said it's all about character, right?

I like your perspective on antagonists.

Yes, you're a writer because you write.

Stop with you knobby knees - you did awesome!

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Hi! Nice to meet you! You've written a wonderful post here. And OF COURSE you're a writer!!! :o)

Old Kitty said...

Well of course you are writer and well done you for jumping into this blogfest!! Yay for you!

Oh now Scout is one compelling character isn't she? I love her relationship with Jem and Atticus too.

Thanks for sharing how you form characters and develop characterisation!

Take care

Glynis said...

Len, you have written a brilliant post here. Hide away no more!
I love creating characters, but sadly if they do not excite me, I have to kill them. :)

Crystal Cook said...

Great post Len! You bring up a lot of good points about what makes a character compelling. And yes you are a writer!!

I love Scout too :)

Len said...

Oh my heart just melted after reading all your comments. Thanks so much. It means a lot to be encouraged to write more :)

Elana Johnson said...

As I was reading this, several words stuck out to me. Pleasing and absorbing, and beliefs and values. I do think that when characters have these things, they become more real. They become people we want to spend time with. And that's what we want to create in our writing.

Ann said...

Great post Len. I like you talk to my characters and they talk to me. I also hold characters I have been touched by long after finishing the book. I wonder what they would be doing now too.

You did a wonderful job here Len. No need for the wobbles!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If I talk to my characters. my wife will think I've bought the farm!
Great tips. Pendergast in Preston & Child's books is one that sticks with me.
Glad you liked my feeble attempt at compelling characters!

Lynda Young said...

Yes, it's about getting to know that characters and finding that realism.
Great post :)

Melissa said...


and with posts like this... one day you'll be an author too.

Rachel Morgan said...

Great post :-) And I've seen from all my wanderings around the other posts that DIALOGUE is a biggie in shaping and revealing the type of characters you're writing.

I like the name of your blog, "Conversations with Self" :-)

The Golden Eagle said...

Having characters who are convincing is definitely important for creating someone who's compelling!

Great advice in this post!

Michelle McLean said...

Excellent post! I love your character examples. And the traits I admire and dislike in other people (and myself) also make their way into my characters. Nothing like a little experience to make those characters real! :)

Laura Pauling said...

It is important to feel that characters are a real person. I like the idea of just tapping into that! Thanks for following!

Faith said...

If you put pen to paper (er... or hands to keyboard), you're a writer. :)

Talking to your characters is always a good idea -- it helps us remember that they're people and not cardboard cutouts or paper dolls... definitely critical for creating compelling characters!

Thanks for visiting today!

Sun Singer said...

I enjoyed this post, possibly because I also look for a certain hard-to-define "something" in a novel when I start reading it. If I find it, it's heaven, and I don't want to leave when I get to the last page.


Elaine AM Smith said...

Hi Len
Thanks for stopping by and following.
I agree the characters have to be compelling to keep me reading. Three-dimensionally crafted, believable and fascinating they have to be character who react to the things around them rather than allow things to happen to them.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Hi, Len...You did a great job. It is kind of scary to say out loud that you are a writer...but it makes it more real. It helps when you have a great blogging support group. I love that you chat with your characters...

Have a lovely weekend. :)

Renae said...

Hi Len! Great post here, you did a wonderful job! You're not alone being afraid to call yourself a writer. It's a little frightening coming out of out writing caves!

Len said...

Hello to you all, welcome to my blog and nice to meet you! I'm so glad to have met and connected to so many writers and bloggers...I really really appreciate all of your comments!...and thank you for welcoming me to the writing community :)

betchai said...

hi Len, hope you keep up with your writing, it is great to be able to do what we love to do and stay focused with it. I used to write fiction stories when I was young, because I imagine stories, haha! but of course, I did not pursue writing, since my teachers encouraged me to pursue a math and science degree.

Angela said...

Scout. What a great example. One of my favorite characters of all time.

Andrea Mack said...

I love it when I'm reading and I feel like I'm a part of the character's world. Everytime I read any of the Shopaholic Books, that happens to me (they are so entertaining).

Lisa Potts said...

Hi, Len! I'm glad I'm not the only one who talks to my characters!

Anonymous said...

I don't trust a writer who doesn't talk to their characters ;) And I do the same thing with my bad guys - they get all the annoying traits of the people I can't stand! And then I usually kill them :P

Jackee said...

So cool that you talk to your characters! :o) I love that. I talk/write as if I am that character and that seems to help.

The first step in becoming a writer is claiming the title. :o) So welcome! LOL!

Great to "meet" you, Len. Thanks for stopping by my blog so that I could find yours!

Margo Berendsen said...

I have to agree with you about Scout. She is probably one of the best young female characters I have ever read.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I loved Scout! Great examples and wonderful post.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

The best way to create compelling characters is to take bits and pieces from real people. Good post.

P.S. I like your blog background.

Rachel Morgan said...

Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I gave you an award on my blog :-)

Julie said...

Ah, Scout. Love her. Great post!

DLCurran said...

I like this - pleasing and absorbing, strengths and weaknesses... all things we need to watch in our characters. Great reminders. And you're definitely a writer!

Arlee Bird said...

Here's ol' slow me still trying to wade thru the Great Blog Experiment. Your points are very good. I like when you say you "talk to your characters". It's so important to get to really know them for a while. I think I'll start inviting my characters to spend time in my guest room and hang out while I develop them.

Tossing It Out