Friday, September 24, 2010

Compelling Characters: Readers Need to Care

When I signed up for the great blogging experiment about writing compelling characters, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. For two weeks, I’ve been thinking about what to say and haven’t come up with anything besides the basic idea that readers need to care about the character. For me, this can include:

1. experiencing an emotional reaction related to the character

2. making a connection with the character based on a mutual interest or trait

3. wanting to know something about the character, like whether they’ll reach their goal or how they’ll get out of the terrible mess they’re in

Sometimes, I don’t even particularly like the main character in a novel, but if I’m intrigued about how they’ll solve a problem [i.e. I care what happens to them] I’ll stick with the story.

When I’m writing my own stories, character personalities emerge as I write my first draft. I rarely sit down and create long character descriptions or backstory. I know a few things about them. I add a slightly unusual hobby or trait. And I know what they want. After that, developing my character is a process of discovery.

I like to find out about my character through what they do and how they react to situations. Later, during revisions, I add to what I know about them to create deeper layers, or to bring out an interesting side to their personality. Are they compelling? I'm not sure. But I do know that they evoke emotional reactions from the few people that have read my stories.

21 comments:

  1. That's so true that you can hate a character, but if you'll keep reading if you want to see how they solve whatever problem it is that they face. Sometimes I think that's more a compelling plot than character, but I guess if you hate the character the author is doing something right -- seeing as hate is an incredibly strong emotion.

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  2. These are GREAT points (esp. the emotional reaction)--it keeps a reader reading!

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  3. If a writer can envoke a response from a reader than I bet they are already hooked to the story and character. Great post!

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  4. How a character reacts to a situation is probably the most important thing for me. If what they do doesn't make sense (for the story), I roll my eyes.

    And yes, I'm a sucker for relatable traits, too :)

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  5. Yes, at the heart of a great character is emotion. And that is hard to get right!

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  6. Oh, my heck! Are you me?? I totally don't know my characters until the first draft is out. And sometimes not even then. The life of a pantser. I do believe that we have to care about them, and the problem lies in making someone care.

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  7. Good points! Sometimes I don't initially like a character but I do stay with them as long as possible to see if they can resolve some problem. And surprisingly I've ended up reading the entire book. Emotional reaction and connection for me are something I strive. Nicely said.

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  8. There's nothing worse than reading about a character that you don't care about. If he's not relatable, sympathetic, or engaging, then I don't care if the monster shark bites him in half (or whatever challenge he's facing). :D

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  9. These were great points, you had nothing to worry about, you nailed the main ingredients for the makings of a compelling character. I don't like to read about someone I don't care about, if I can't relate and you bore me, there is no hope for that novel to be finished.

    Thanks for joining the experiment!

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  10. Layering comes during revision for me, too. I try to figure some things out at the beginning, but I usually discover a lot more about my characters as I follow their stories.

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  11. Wow - thanks for all the great comments on my post. I'm glad today is Friday, so I have the weekend to explore all your great posts about characters.

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  12. Ummmm.... can I say Awesome? I can. Awesome.

    This post is great and emotional reaction is so, so important.

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  13. I like how we both wrote about characters who might not be likable, but we still cheer for them. I think you're right that ultimately it's about creating that connection.

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  14. Great points...you want your reader to connect with your characters, to want to know what will happen next to them...Nice job!

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  15. Great post! Love or hate, as long as we feel SOMETHING for a character, we're hooked;-)

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  16. Liked your post. I can remember a time when I hated the protagonist. I kept reading because I'm stubborn that way. I paid for the book, therefore I would read it.
    Nancy

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  17. Great post! I agree that being intrigued by a character is much better than liking them.

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  18. So true - if a reader doesn't care about your characters, they'll stop reading. Great post!

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  19. Glad to here my post is striking a chord with some of you.

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  20. Any kind of connection to the character can keep a reader turning pages, whether it's emotional or intellectual.

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