So, as I have titled my blog page Lyric & Longhand, I must no longer just own up to the “Lyric” part. I am starting my first series on writing.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional or published author. I do not have a degree in English or Writing (Bachelors in Vocal Music – Commercial Music), but I am an avid reader who enjoys writing as a serious hobby. It has become a vital way that I process the world around me.
A little background on my writing experience would be that as a tiny person I loved to write stories and had a wild imagination. As a youth, I loved poetry, journaling, reading, and have shredded many embarrassing words about – well, we all know, don’t we? As a college student I may have excelled more in my upper-level English courses than in some of the music classes. As an adult, I found that my love for reading could bloom without the confines of projects, essays, term papers, and
altogether stifling enlightening research papers. *coughs*
So, it is with the knowledge of a reader and an aspiring writer, that I come to you with this Character Series. I, with the help of my awesome #writenight crew (two of the most amazing friends, writers, and early-story-confidants a girl could have) will tackle everything from villains, character arcs, to the ‘bad boys,’ and compelling heroines. So, without further ado: What makes a character compelling?
To make a character compelling is to literally evoke a “powerful, irresistible” reader response or “devotion.” In my reading the characters that I find most compelling are the ones with these components:
Number 1: Flaws
Are you writing a character that is 3 dimensional? Because even though the idea of a perfect person is intriguing, it is unrealistic. The characters, especially the protagonist in your story, need to have flaws. They need to be relatable on a human level, even if your novel is fantasy fiction and the person has a special ability or gift, they need to have a human based connection to the reader. Examples of this could be physical (i.e. the hero who has a scar that mars half of his face, yet is still attractive because of his kind eyes). Another example could be a personality flaw (i.e. the heroine who can’t keep her opinions to herself, yet is unfailingly honest and trustworthy).
Number 2: Motive (Loss/Pain)
What is a characters motive? That drives your story. I know that plot is a huge component in writing, but I am in the camp that feels it is important to have the characters choices, reactions, non-actions, etc. drive the plot. Is your protagonist searching for affirmation as a person? Have they lost a family member or friend? Have they never had friends? Have they always felt out of place? Have they been oppressed? Have they had a good life, and are entitled because of it? On and on… What the reader needs is something to relate to again. Readers want to know why a character is motivated to become the hero, hero’s support, or a villain. People are products of environment, biology, and situation. Write from a place that captures the interest of your reader – make them wonder “why?” a character is “the way they are.”
Number 3: Mystery
Ok. So this one is big for me. I don’t read mystery novels per-se, but this is a component that should be in play in any novel. As a reader, I always want something to surprise me, something I wasn’t expecting. A reader keeps reading because the plot isn’t spelled out for them. A character needs to possess within him or herself keys that unlock our compassion in moments of loss. Keys that unlock a desire in the reader to “ship” their relationships. Keys that unlock our willingness to defend them in a book group. Whatever it maybe, we need to be able to find things out about these character, and love them through it or have an “Aha” moment as to why they again are “the way they are.”
Number 4: A Glimmer of Hope
When I am reading a character (because lets get real – I read characters, not books), I need a glimmer of hope. Even if things are bleak in the story, there always has to be a that glimmer. The possibility that the impossible will work out, and save them all. The possibility that a hero or heroine could rise up with the smarts, tools, or power to change the current situation they’re in. When hope is lost you stop changing, and no one wants to read a static character.
Number 5: Love
This one goes hand-in-hand with hope, and is probably the most important of all. We want our characters to find happiness and love. It is a human connection that on some level, we all desire to make. If our character has love (or the hope of love), they have the power to overcome because that is a driving force. This doesn’t have to be romantic either. It can be the love for a child, friends, or family. We see in Harry Potter, that he was driven by love and the fear of loss. He wanted to protect his friends who were his only family, and as readers we were on that journey with him.
Hopefully, this will help us writers write for our readers, and for readers to delve a bit deeper. Why do you find your favorite character so compelling? Who are some of your favorite characters?