Compelling Characters

So I had a 10 post series planned out for this great blogging experiment on characters, inspired by Elana Johnson. I spent hours revising them and choosing each and every precious word. I slaved. My eyes bled ink.

And then I saw over 100 people had signed up and will be posting about characters. That’s a lot of posts. So I decided to sum up the series and make this short.

To be compelling, a character needs to be flawed and proactive. His or her flaw should be behind the decision-making and thus drive the plot. We don’t want the characters passive and just reacting to the events happening around him/her (no matter how exciting the events are).

Okay, so I had two (flawed and proactive). Now check out the other posts and learn how to create rockin’ characters.

74 Responses to Compelling Characters

  1. Jessica Bell September 24, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    So true. My biggest mistake with my first novel was making my MC too passive. Great points! :o)

  2. Quinn September 24, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    I agree with the flawed part. No ones wants to read about a perfect character. Even in real life, we don’t like perfect people. Everyone has flaws and your characters shouldn’t be any different.

  3. Elaine September 24, 2010 at 7:24 am #

    OMG Elana’s list is VAST! It will take hours to delve through – I feel like hobbits in a mountain. I’m looking forward to it, so exciting. Are you posting at THE REJECTIONIST’S Public Humiliation Uncontest on Monday?

  4. Jen September 24, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    Flaws are the essence of a great character! Thanks for making it simple and sweet! Alex, Elana and I have our work cut out for us traveling to the depths of the earth to check everyone’s blog! However I’m pleased to see it take off so well!

    Thanks for joining in on the fun!

  5. Talei Loto September 24, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    I agree, definitely give them some flaws, and we can relate! 😉

  6. Creepy Query Girl September 24, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    I know! I jumped in yesterday and I think i was number 152 or something! Don’t worry Laura- your every day posts on writing are helpful and insightful as it is! You can skimp. Just for today though:)

  7. Renae Mercado September 24, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    Short, sweet and to the point! I love a flawed character…perfect gets a little boring. Well said.

  8. Christine fonseca September 24, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Ah yes, I see a theme emerging – flawed!

  9. Jennifer Shirk September 24, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Yeah, a flawed or not perfect character is a great way to help drive a story.
    I once got a rejection that stated something like that–that my characters were reacting to events around them instead of driving the events.

  10. Sandra Almazan September 24, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    Both of the points you make are very important!

  11. Misha September 24, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    Short, sweet and to the point. I like…

  12. Joanne September 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    Great points. I think it is just those flaws that often make the characters so endearing to the readers.

  13. Hannah Kincade September 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    You are so right. Flaws create three dimensional characters and that makes for believable and compelling ones.

    Great addition!!

  14. Stina Lindenblatt September 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Right now agents are salivating, expecting in a few months time their slush piles are going to filled with books lush with rich characterization after today’s experiment. 😀

  15. Lindsay September 24, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    So true. I need to see some flaws in my characters both reading and writing them. Plus reactive rather than passive is a must. Great post.

  16. Michelle McLean September 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    very good points. Who wants to read about a perfect character? 🙂

  17. J. Leigh Bailey September 24, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Flaws are definitely needed, but I particularly like your comments about a passive characters who only react to situations. Proative is key. In fact, a very highly anticipated novel (I won’t name names) was kind of ruined for me because the MC had no active role in anything in her life. She just sort of went along with what she was told. She didn’t think or act for herself much at all. Very disturbing. 😀

  18. N. R. Williams September 24, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Short, sweet and oh so true. My post is much longer.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  19. Andrea September 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Wow – this blogging experiment is awesome! Laura, you make a good point here. I always wonder if my character’s flaws are a reflection of my own.

  20. Mara Nash September 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Elana was sure that the nearly 200 participants on her list would have vastly different ideas on how to write compelling characters, but I (like others here) sense a theme emerging: give your characters flaws! I think many of the posts will be more similar than she thought. That’s all part of an experiment, though, right? Unexpected results!

  21. Chris Phillips September 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    I hadn’t given the passiveness/pro activeness of my characters that much thought. Good advice.

  22. Lola Sharp September 24, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    That was indeed concise and to the point! 🙂

  23. kris September 24, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    I love books where the characters evolve–not necessarily improve–but change. And proactive it so important–it makes the character feel real.

  24. Shallee September 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Great summary of the biggest traits a character needs! Thanks for sharing.

  25. Tere Kirkland September 24, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    A lot of my characters’ flaws are close to my own. I figure that’s where “write what you know” comes in. Not just flaws, but fears and insecurities, too.

    Great post!

  26. Melissa September 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    I agree with you 100%. I always end up identifying with the flawed characters. Mr. Perfect never appealed to me because he doesn’t exist in real life.

  27. Patti September 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    Totally agree with the flawed. I don’t like reading about characters that are too perfect. They need to be able to evolve.

  28. jennee September 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    I hate reading about perfect characters. We all have flaws, might as well use them!

  29. Laurel September 24, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    I so agree with the link you make between the flaw and the proactiveness. When the inner story-worthy problem is influencing why the character makes the decisions she does, well, that’s compelling with a capital C!

  30. Elana Johnson September 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Okay, I love how you said they have to drive the plot forward with their character. That is pure genius.

    • Laura September 24, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

      Thanks everyone! I’ll be visiting all your blogs, it just might take over the weekend to do it! Yikes!

  31. Paul September 24, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    Great post, Laura!

    To quote you: “We don’t want the characters passive and just reacting to the events happening around him/her (no matter how exciting the events are).”

    Excellent advice!

    And like you said, the character drives the plot.

  32. Sharon Mayhew September 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    You’re right…your charaters must be flawed or your readers won’t be able to relate to them…but they’ve got to have the gumption (sp?) to solve their problem. 🙂

  33. Susan R. Mills September 24, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    Yes. Flawed and proactive are both extremely important.

  34. Lisa Potts September 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

    You did a great job summarizing all of those long hours of revision, Laura.

  35. Nicole Zoltack September 24, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    It’s so important to have characters that aren’t just acted upon, but actually do things. Great two points!

  36. Carolyn Abiad September 24, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Flawed and proactive. So simple, yet difficult!

  37. Stephen Tremp September 24, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    Good point about flaws driving the plot. This is a great place to introduce conflict. Otherwise, what good are flaws in the character? Without conflcit, flaws are merely fluff, similar to filler songs on a CD that take up space but are not very good.

    Stephen Tremp

  38. Shannon O'Donnell September 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    I agree – and proactive is brilliant!! Both are such important qualities. 🙂

  39. Alex J Cavanaugh September 24, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    You’re right – it’s the flawed characters we remember.

  40. Ishta Mercurio September 24, 2010 at 5:56 pm #

    Excellent post! Remembering that the character’s desires are what have to drive the plot is so, so important. Thank you!

  41. Elena September 24, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    I agree that motivation is key. That’s where your characters passions are.

  42. Gargi September 24, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    Great post – Proactive and flawed are really the key.

  43. Jen Chandler September 24, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Flawed seems to be the keyword in a lot of these posts. Proactive is excellent advice!


  44. Marisa Hopkins September 24, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

    Short and sweet indeed! And definitely important to creating compelling characters… I need to work on my MC. She’s a little too passive, I think!!

  45. Sherrie Petersen September 24, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    Being proactive is one of the things I didn’t get when I first started writing. Now it’s so important to me. It drives me nuts reading about a character who just lets things happen instead of being the driving force.

  46. Danyelle September 24, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    Nice point on the flaw driving the character’s decisions. 🙂

  47. Pam Torres September 24, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    It is easy to forget about the flaws in your protagonist. The part about making your character proactive rather then passive, is so important. Thanks!

  48. yvonne lewis September 24, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    I only decided to enter on the spur of the moment, I don’t write novels just poetry, mainly about my life experiences, I didn’t plan what I was going to write just sat down and thought why I was blogging in the first place,
    I enjoyed your post and I hope to read many new blogs along the way.

    Enjoy your week-end;

  49. The Golden Eagle September 24, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    Flawed characters are definitely important to the a story! Great advice here.

  50. Jackee September 24, 2010 at 7:35 pm #

    Both great points! These were the two biggest mistakes I made in my Practice Novel. I thought my girl could be and do everything, never make a mistake. Yawn! Then I also let everyone else react around her. So your advice is perfect, Laura.

    Have a great weekend! Off to find myself from character love! :o)

Leave a Reply