Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters

Huge blogging experiment day!!!! If you haven't checked out the incredible list of people participating in this yet, head to Elana's blog - just truly WOW.

So...how do I write compelling characters? My first drafts I really just sit down and write. My characters come out, start developing little quirks and foibles, and in revisions, I take a look at those and exploit them to the best of my ability :D

For instance, my very first main character, Min, was a clutz...if there was a puddle, she'd fall in it, if there was a table to run into, she'd be yelling ow, if there was some way to make a fool of herself, she did so. I love this about her. It makes her funny and gives the reader a reason to root for her. But I didn't want her to ONLY be a clutz.

So here is where my layering begins. I look at the other aspects of her personality and try to beef up other parts of her. She's highly intelligent, brave, curious - so I went through the story and made sure those aspects of her character were apparent.

One thing I learned from my CPs was to be consistent with my characters - the MC of my last book is a boxer. She's feisty. But I had a lot of sections in the book where that aspect of her character got lost. She wasn't reacting to certain situations the way a feisty boxer chick should react. So I had to go through and make sure she was being consistent to who she was.

Bottom line - I try to write characters that people will want to read about. Characters that are flawed and real, who do things and say things the way real people would. The character's main quirks and personality traits generally come through in the first draft. And then during my layering process I go back through and beef up other aspects of his or her personality to make sure they aren't one dimensional, so one trait doesn't overshadow who they are as a whole. And I make sure they are true to who they are.

Be sure to head to Elana's blog and check out all the other fabulous posts on this topic!!!

LAYERS - (for Vicki) :D

58 comments:

Christine Fonseca said...

yep, LAYERS!!! Love that.

Vicki Rocho said...

Layers. I'm hearing Shrek in my head, "Ogres are like onions" hahaha

C. N. Nevets said...

Thanks for pointing out consistency. I think a lot of us authors know it's important but take it for granted, as if it's a challenge those other writers face. lol

Angela said...

Awesome post, I love how you go back and add layers to your characters personalities.

j.leigh.bailey said...

Consistency! That's HUGE and often overlooked. Very few things drive me battier (is that a word?) than a character that acts out of character for no good reason. :D

j.leigh.bailey said...

I think blogger ate my comment. If it didn't, and I'm double posting, I apologize! Anyway, I think I said something about consistency being HUGE and that nothing drives me battier (and I think I questioned whether battier was a real word) than a character who acts out of character for no reason. :D

Talei said...

I like your tip on layering - this is true. We do build our characters up, make them complex and give them flaws. It keeps them real and makes us relate to them. Nice post! ;)

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I also find it takes multiple passes through a manuscript to bring a character to life. Sometimes he/she reveals something important only after I've gotten to know him/her better.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I also find I need multiple passes through a manuscript to bring a character to life. Sometimes I don't learn something important about him/her until I've known him/her a while.

Quinn said...

Great post! I love that you gave an example from your own writing and showed how you went about making her a compelling character. Also, love the Shrek video!

Meredith said...

Yay for flawed and real characters! I hate it when MCs are just cardboard nice people.

Lola Sharp said...

Yep...layers. Like an onion...or a parfait. ;)

Love it!
Happy Weekend,
Lola

Shallee said...

Layers! Shrek is definitely a good example of a character with layers. :) Thanks for sharing.

Tere Kirkland said...

Consistency of character is sometimes hard to put down on paper right, so I usually ask my betas to look out for stuff like that.

Great post!

Tere

Margo Berendsen said...

After talking about layering, it's just too perfect, referencing Shrek. Thanks for the good info.

Elana Johnson said...

I totally hear you on the layers. And sometimes it's okay to not be exactly the same, in specific situations. We all have our "worlds" (as in Seinfeld), but mostly, the character should be the character.

N. R. Williams said...

Great post, I'm in the experiment too and now I'm your friend.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

WindyA said...

i love Shrek! Especially when he's chowing down on the onion like it's an apple. Ew, and at the same time, *lightbulb moment* I totally get the layers thing!

Jen Chandler said...

Marvelous post!
And I love that scene from Shrek :)

Happy weekend,
Jen

Hannah Kincade said...

That is without a doubt one of my most fave quotes from Shrek. It applies to so many things. :D

Lisa Potts said...

It's funny that the things we never wanted done to us (our quirks exploited) we now enjoy doing to our characters. Great post.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post, Michelle. I always find myself loving clutzy characters! :-)

melissa said...

I love the video at the end. Really drives your point home. Characters are like onions!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Layers! What a great clip and it's so fitting for today's topic.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Exploiting your own characters - that's not right!
Great ideas here. And dig the Shrek clip.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great point about making sure your character holds true to his/her traits all the way through your ms...

Have a great weekend!

ali said...

This is excellent Michelle. I love the way you described the editing process as adding in "layers". So true!

The Golden Eagle said...

Layers are so important! A character can't just be one face--they have to have different aspects.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I loved that scene from Shrek. It's a great reminder about the layers :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I likeyour point about keeping characters consistent. If they aren't, the reader will lose belief.

Danyelle said...

Good point about the character not fully coming to life in the first draft. Revisions are what make them shine. :D

Bish Denham said...

So much good info here. Characters are like water, unformed until you contain them, then they take on the shape of the container.

Pam Torres said...

Ha! Love the layer clip! Thank goodness for revisions so we can find where we can put in those layers.

Summer Ross said...

I like the idea of a layering process. I never really thought of doing it that way but it makes sense. thanks for posting

Misha said...

Well said...

All characters have one thing that makes them who they really are, but it isn't the only thing.

Layering is always a facinating process, especially when you have to get each layer to work in one person. Like a sensive but ruthless almost-psycho.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Good stuff, especially about flushing things out through the first draft and layering after.

Elaine AM Smith said...

You can't go wrong with advice that includes layers!
People have obvious and less noticeable traits, I agree it is important to write and reflect these to create a fully rounded character.

Carolyn V. said...

Layers...totally. Great post! I love a well layered character, it makes them so fun to read. =)

RaShelle said...

Great stuff. I love that your one of your MC's was a boxer. That's cool. =D

Jan Markley said...

Great post! You and Shrek can't be wrong!

I'm participating in the great blog experiment at well and my post is about what Lime Marmelade can teach us about Character Development!

Tamika: said...

Layers and onions~ works for me. I need the different reactions under each layer to push deeper in love the character, and every now and then my eyes will burn with appreciation:)

Melissa said...

Layers are so, so important. Oh Shrek, you had it so right with the onions.

lbdiamond said...

Developing characters in layers and getting their behaviors/reactions consistent is essential! Great post!

Mary said...

Layers and consistency. Two important items that can easily be overlooked but are so evident when missing.

THE OLD GEEZER said...

I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

God Bless You ~Ron

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Cool! Layers definitely repel shallow MCs! Great post--I <3 the thought that goes into it.

Come and visit me!

L.T. Elliot said...

Sometimes I forget the consistency thing, too. Thank heavens for CPs! Love the idea of layering. =]

Len said...

I love layers, too! And I'm interested to read more about your first main character, Min. Has the book been published? :)

Michelle McLean said...

Thanks for all the comments!! :) Len, nope, Min isn't published...yet :) We got close when she was an adult romance. Now that I'm writing YA historicals I've decided to convert her story to YA (she was already historical). So we'll see how it goes :)

Toyin O. said...

thanks for the tip.

http://youcanfacetodaybecausehelives.blogspot.com

Cindy said...

I tend to start writing and let my characters develop themselves, too; I appreciate your point about consistency. That's an easy - and sometimes subtle - thing to lose over the course of writing a novel. :)

Peace,
Cindy.

Julie said...

Okay, extra points for you for including Shrek... and onions. Love both!

Great post!

@llison said...

I like your method of picking a quirk for your character, and then adding on and layering their personality! Consistency is a thing I still struggle with - I think everything is fine til I read over a draft, and realize my MC has changed halfway through! Then I have to pick which personality I like better, haha!

@llison said...

I like your method of picking a quirk for your character, and then adding on and layering their personality! Consistency is a thing I still struggle with - I think everything is fine til I read over a draft, and realize my MC has changed halfway through! Then I have to pick which personality I like better, haha!

Theresa Milstein said...

I can tell how fond you are of your characters. The idea about giving them a quirk is really great.

Jennie Bailey said...

Flaws truly make a character - we can identify with them when they are human.

Great clip!! :-)

Ishta Mercurio said...

Great post! I love your approach - to just get the story out in the first draft, then go back and add layers to the characters.

Cinette said...

Who thought Shrek could be so wise;0)