Friday, September 24, 2010

My Take on Compelling Characters

Elana hit all the best points of a post like this: compelling characters need flaws, secrets, fears, emotions, growth, change, and the consequences of stupid mistakes.

Here's what I think, just from what I've learned from the writing process:

Compelling characters need to want something. They have a desire, a drive, a goal. They share how passionate they are about this thing with the reader. The reader gets invested and wants them to achieve said desire. It could be a million bucks, a new friend, or to conquer their fear of spiders. If the character wants it, the reader wants it, too.

Will this goal actually make them happy in the long run? It doesn't matter. They could be right about their goal giving them long-term happiness, and achieve what they set out to do, or they could be mistaken, achieve a moment of self-discovery, and make a change in the game plan mid novel. Both of these options reflect real life. Sometimes we want what we need, and sometimes we want what will end up making us miserable.

Characters need to do something about this desire of theirs. Does this action need to make sense with achieving their goal? It doesn't matter. They can seek their desire directly, and the author can lean on outer obstacles to create tension and challenge. Or the character could hide a secret layer of opposing want beneath their surface want, and sabotage their own goal. Or they could do both. In my opinion, both is the most fun.

What counts in this 'doing things' category is how each perceived success or failure in the context of their goal affects the character. Elation? Depression? Resentment? Frustration? To me, the human condition is nothing more then a desire that fuels a compilation of experimental actions on the universe around us, followed by the resulting impact on our psyche.

What do I look for in a compelling character?
1. Desire
2. Experiment
3. React

Pretty simple, really.


  1. When you think about it... compelling characters, it really is simple. Maybe it's so simple that sometimes its easy to over complicate it.

  2. Good post! I agree, compelling characters need to want something. They have to have a goal or a dream or something.

  3. Great point about desires, and love how you expand on it too when you say that it doesn't matter if achieving that desire will actually make them happy. Great post :)

  4. If you think about it if anyone has/had a goal
    then we're all compelling charaters. It's that tenacity and compulsion that keeps us going.

    I enjoyed your post and it was very pleasurable to read.


  5. Great post! Yes, if the character has a desire, we desire him to reach it. Sometimes, I think we do complicate things;-)

  6. It's a great post, because it's simple to say that they need to want something - but a book stems from them doing something about it. Good angle.

  7. Good post...You're right. Characters need to desire something and work towards it. They have to have failures along the way to achieving their ultimate success...

  8. Passion, desire, love, experiment, react. Characters are amazing and are perfect when they are imperfect!

    Great post! Thank you so much for participating in this Great Blogging Experiment! I'm still in awe of the brilliant turn-out!

    I'm a new follower and look forward to your future thoughts!

  9. I really wish I remember whose blog I read but we need to create a person, not just a character. There has to be depth to them. I enjoyed your post. How right you are! Great post! Come and visit me!

  10. Very nice. Especially your point about a character wanting something that might not be good for them.

  11. Still wending my way thru the compelling character entries. I like what you've. Characters should want something, but is it what they really need? That's a universal situation that we all face at sometime.

    Tossing It Out

  12. Great points, I especially like desire. A character's motivation or goal says so much about them.