I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters – The Great Blogging Experiment

So, you’ve decided who your main character is. A girl, 16 years of age. You’ve come up with a cool name; oh, let’s say, “Z”. What then? How do you bring Z to life in the mind of your readers? ‘Cause it sure won’t be enough just to list name, age, rank, and serial number. Nor simply a physical description (and do you even want to give a detailed physical description, or let the readers imagine Z for themselves – though that’s a whole ‘nother topic in itself).

How to bring Z to life? How to make Z so compelling that the reader actually cares about what happens to her? Hmm…

Here are my top tips:
  1. think big, and I mean BIG. Before Z can be a compelling character on paper and in the reader’s mind, she needs to exist in your own. She’s the girl who has just moved in next door, but do you really want to get to know her? Or would you walk right by her in the street without even really noticing her. What, a sixteen-year-old girl just walked by??? Oops, didn’t even see her there.
  2. pretend Z is a real person, with likes and dislikes, wants and needs. Some of these will be readily apparent right from the start, and others might just creep in and surprise you. Z’s phobia about turtles, for example. I mean, really, who’s scared of turtles! As your main character comes to life in your mind, that will influence the way you write about them on paper. Hard to avoid making them compelling, really, when they’re so real to the writer!
  3. why does she insist on being called “Z” anyway? Share enough of her past to make her interesting. She’s named after Great-Aunt Zelda. She thinks the name “Z” fits well with her spunky attitude. “M” was already taken (*waves to James Bond fans*). We won’t know unless you tell us. Or even better, show us!
  4. what motivates Z? What is she after in life? Her first boyfriend. Her first kiss. Her first relationship with a vampire/werewolf/zombie/other paranormal creature. A real friend. Revenge. Acceptance. You name it, the reader will be able to better connect with your main character if they understand what motivates her.
  5. how does Z react to life’s challenges? Well, she certainly doesn’t passively accept the big pie in the face from the man (or woman!) upstairs in the sky. And she’ll have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the altar of social responsibility and upright teenager-ness. Sometimes she just wants to stand there and yell swear-words at the top of her lungs. However Z reacts, react she should. How else do we become invested in her life? How else do we want to know what will happen to her?
See what I mean. In just a few simple sentences here in this blog, Z is already starting to spring to life. Actually, I think I might just make her the main character in my next WIP.

Can’t wait to see how you make your Z compelling!

Join the Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade

In the spirit of the The Great Blogging Experiment, I’m putting out a call to all aspiring writers and start-up bloggers who want to connect with people in a similar position, increase their followers, and further develop their on-line platform. Check out my Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade post for details on how to join in. I’ll be publishing a list of all fellow Crusaders on my blog, so we can network together and have fun with our blogging.

And (*drumroll*) the first Crusader Challenge will be taking place next week!!!

Would love to have you along.

26 comments:

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Great post! A character's motivation definitely gives them the spark they need! :o)

Rachel Morgan said...

Loved reading this :-)

You know what I find really weird/interesting/cool? I'll think I've figured out everything about a character and then while writing a scene something just pops up and I'll be like, "Wait a minute. Since when does she like THAT?" Like the character went on and got her own life without me!

PS. Looking forward to the first Crusader Challenge!

Jennee said...

Great post. Sometimes we forget that our character isn't just on paper...and that is the real challenge!

Elana Johnson said...

I love the thought about thinking big. Our characters have to have a story to tell. They have to be the most important, otherwise, why are they narrating? This is something I've had to "think bigger" about.

Talei said...

Great points. I like the one about making her a real person, giving her likes and dislikes. We tend to forget that characters are people! ;)

erica and christy said...

I love it when a character has some weird quirky thing going on - a fear of turtles is great! And ooh, a Crusader Challenge...we'll be there!

thegracefuldoe said...

Great tips Rach!I love the think BIG point. Characters need to be real, and they also need to be interesting to the reader.

Melissa said...

These are absolutely excellent tips. Our characters need to be human, real and interesting.

Kirthi said...

Wow, I'm bookmarking this page, it's so true and incredibly helpful: A perfect cheat-cheat. Lovely!

michelle said...

I love your point number 5 and the examples you used in it! Thanks for the tips :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful post...I love how you took Z and showed us how to make her compelling...very nice!

Patricia A. Timms said...

This was a great post because you got me thinking right away in the first paragraph. I respond well to be asked how I would do it and following you along while you asked and then showed was great. Thank you for that. I want to know someone, like Z, who is afraid of turtles. I don't have enough of those kinds of interesting people in my circle of influence. Please develop Z so she can be my friend. :)

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting and following. I'm looking forward to your crusade thanks for inviting everyone.

Cinette said...

I already like Z;0) Let me know how she comes along!

Rachael Harrie said...

Love your comments guys. What a fantastic experiment!!! Definitely a success I think - it was great to see everyone's different takes on the same topic :) Cant wait to read your posts if I haven't already...

N. R. Williams said...

Z-fabulous post. I loved it.
Nancy

Lisa Potts said...

Hey, Rach! Great post and some very good points. See you on The Crusade and The Voice!

C. N. Nevets said...

I like that you made it all seem very natural and straight-forward. I think too many writers feel daunted when they think about the big critique phrases like, "write compelling characters." You made it seem do-able. :)

melissa said...

I like thinking about my character as my neighbor. Great tip! If I don't care to get to know her and she lives next door, why would someone miles away want to know her story?

Kathryn said...

Very cool post! I like how you pay attention to the details of Z... Why does she like being called that? Interesting... you can really dig deep there!

Pam Torres said...

Thinking big. They have to be interesting enough to care about. I liked how you just jumped right in an showed how it could be done with Z. Nice job!

Elena Solodow said...

You put a lot of character into your list. It really stands out.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Motivation is huge. Great, funny blog post.

Serena said...

wonderfully done, creating a character right there for my eyes to see and showing us how you did it. Thumbs up!

Rachael Harrie said...

Thanks so much guys, glad you enjoyed my post :) Had a lot of fun writing it, and I'm actually quite fond of Z already - I think she'd make a great main character.

So, how many of you got around to all 170+ blogs??? (*prepares to be really impressed*) ;)

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Z sounds like a fun character!

To answer your question, I'm nearly halfway through the blogs. This is going to take some time!

Botanist said...

Great ways to get inside Z's head and bring her alive. And that's really what it's all about, isn't it?

Thank you for commenting on my post BTW. Sorry it's taken so long to get this far. I like to read what people have written, but I only get around to a few links from Elana's list at a time...well, I'm sure you can do the math for yourself ;-)

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