Friday, September 24, 2010

To be compelled by a being of ink and paper...

So, thanks to Lyla at Read By Flashlight, I discovered The Great Blogging Experiment with enough time to participate in it! 

The prescribed topic is Writing Compelling Characters, which, I think, is a beautiful topic. 

Much has been said on various blogs and in all sorts of books concerning what makes a character compelling.  There are some things that certainly help make a compelling character, and while I agree with many aspects, there is a part of me that rebels at formula. 

I think that in many cases, a better question to ask is why we dislike certain characters, often without a solid reason for doing so. 

My belief: we hate these characters because we suspect that underneath all the description, the character isn't a real person. 

I'm not talking about the author.  The author is certainly real, but is the character that the author has written real to the author?  Does the writer believe that this character could very well exist, and is a valuable and interesting person?  And most importantly, does the author not take that fact for granted? 

We love characters either because we believe they could exist, or because we wish that they did. 

Yes, characters can be unbelievable, but they have the unbelievability that real people have.  Have you looked at real people recently?  Have you noticed the people in your own life who, when it boils down to it, are unbelievable?  We admire great and compelling characters for much the same reason we admire great and compelling people: because they have the audacity to exist as themselves. 

But there's another step between real characters and compelling characters.  There are some characters that are perfectly believable, but we still hate them because we feel these characters latching onto us with greedy fingers and pulling at us, sucking up our attention and our enthusiasm like a sponge, with no recompense.  Yes, we hate them because they give us nothing.  We read to gain.  We are willing to sacrifice our time and attention with the understanding that we will get something in return.   A compelling character is one that accepts the reader's sacrifice, and gives back even more than what was expected.  More heart, more interest, more honesty, more of that audaciously thrilling reality -- so that even when the book is done, we remember the character as if they had been in the same room with us. 

This isn't an exhaustive guide, of course.  But I believe this is the starting point. 


  1. Man you put that waaaay more eloquently than I did! I totally agree with you!

    Beautiful writing in just this blog post :)

  2. Oooh, creative twist on the subject! And I think you are officially the first to link to my blog in a post... wheee!

  3. Compelling characters give us something back for our time, understand our sacrifice... Wow. This is deep. And I am totally sincere in saying this as well. Good characters do give back. You brought something to this discussion that none of the other 194 participants (including myself) did. Congrats.

  4. What a fantastic blog piece! I love your comment: A compelling character is one that accepts the reader's sacrifice, and gives back even more than what was expected. More heart, more interest, more honesty, more of that audaciously thrilling reality -- so that even when the book is done, we remember the character as if they had been in the same room with us. Thanks heaps for sharing!!! :)

  5. A most interesting post, as a writer of poetry I never knew what went in to writing a story getting it published but through this blog fest am learning fast.

    I do have my own poetry book published but that seemed very straight forward against having a novel published.

    I enjoyed your post and have taken note on many things.

    Enjoy your week-end;

  6. Love the idea of characters having to give back to readers. Authors are competing for readers' attention, time, and energy. They should expect to get something back for that investment, and our main characters are the primary vehicle for delivering that return.

  7. Wow, you explained everything so well, this is a page I'm going to bookmark for reference!

  8. Nicely done! Certainly the most compelling characters, for me, have been the ones who've taught me something - given back for the sacrifice.

    Thank you for the thoughtful post!


    PS - I respect that you're a bit too. :)

  9. I love your angle on this. Readers have the keenest senses. We assume that writers must have a good relationship with their characters in order to write them, but it's the reader who's going to pick up on that lack of believability/relationship right away. So when we dislike a character, we have to analyze whether it's because of their personality, or because they're not real.

  10. Interesting points...You are right we often wish that the characters do exist. :)

  11. I loved your approach, why you dislike character is a way to realize what would make a compelling one. Very good points.

    Thank you for participating. I'm glad you found the experiment, your post was brilliant!

    I'm a new follower and looking forward to many more moments over here.

  12. Reading to gain - that is a unique angle! I'll remember that point.
    Thanks for participating in our blogfest!

  13. Interesting points. Great post. You're right, we do read to gain something from the book.

  14. It never occurred to me that characters should give back to the readers. Hopefully they at least entertain. Great post!