This post is a blast from the past on my blog. I originally delved into this topic two years ago, here. Since I’m still doing revisions on my next novel, I’ve been looking at each character, examining them to make sure they have their own motivations, quirks, unique personalities, and mannerisms. This was a great reminder for me. Hopefully it will help you when you place your characters under that magnifying glass.
Writing a compelling character is as multi-faceted a topic as the character itself can become. There are so many points to concentrate on developing to make your character come to life and compel your reader to continue turning those pages. Here’s a few of my ideas.
When I’m writing and reading, I need to see the character–their movement, general appearance, mannerisms. I also need to hear them. How do they talk? What happens when they enter a room?
To write a compelling character, you first need to create the character by answering some of the above questions plus a few more. When I’m working on a novel, I use a character note document where I write the name of each character, age, hair color, eye color, height, striking factors in their appearance, where they live or where they are from, some of their hobbies, what type of work they do. The list can go on and on, but it’s important for each character to be different, not cut from the same cloth. I need to have identifiable differences between the characters and so I’ll make notes of how I can show that to my readers by certain mannerisms, speech, and specific appearance points.
Each character must sound like himself. This means if I pull out a string of dialogue from a novel, it should be indicative of the character speaking. If all the dialogue sounds the same, then a reader will not be able to differentiate clearly between the characters. You have to know your characters so well when writing, because your reader will know them and will pick up immediately if the character says something that is out of sync. You don’t want your reader thinking, “He wouldn’t say that.” You also don’t want them thinking, “he wouldn’t do that.”
So, writing compelling characters is all about making the characters REAL, making them come to life and step off the pages of the book. One of my favorite tips that I heard several years ago (sorry, can’t remember who said it) was, “You should know your character well enough, that if you passed them on a busy street you would recognize them.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg on writing compelling characters, but it’s a great starting point.
Think of your favorite books. Are they your favorite because of the plot or the characters? Who are some of your all-time favorite characters?
Some of mine? I love Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Melinda from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson definitely stays with you. Katniss from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. All of these characters are so well-written, I feel like they are my friends–especially Anne!
*This is a great exercise, as it helps to pinpoint reasons why certain characters resonate with you.
Okay, your turn to share. I’d love to hear some of your favorites.