Writing Compelling Characters

I just spent two hours writing a post on what makes characters compelling. And somehow, Blogger deleted it. And I want to cry. Which isn’t very compelling.

So, let me try to summarize:

Allow your characters to make mistakes. Perfect people are boring and frankly, most of us want to kill them when we meet them in real life. Or at least splatter some strawberry sauce on their perfect white outfits. Humans are flawed. Characters who are perfect will feel flat and one-dimensional.

Let your characters be larger than life. I might not be brave enough to turn around and tell a stranger in line to back off and give me some personal space, but characters who speak their mind will live in the mind of your reader long after they’ve finished the last page. Being larger than life doesn’t mean that your MC has to save the world (although that’s good too!). It can be as simple as letting your character stand up for herself when others would be scared.

Show your character’s inner conflict. All of us struggle with choices. If you can show your character being mentally torn apart, especially if his choice adversely affects himself or someone he cares about, you’ve created a compelling inner conflict that will make readers sympathize.

Be consistent. Real people are full of contradictions, but your characters shouldn’t be. They need to act “in character” even as they grow and change. If your reader stops to think, “Wow, I not sure that X would really do that,” then you’ve pulled them out of the story. Make sure that your characters are acting consistently within the world you’ve created.

Know what your character needs. Characters who have a strong need for something pull us into their stories right away. The more apparent that need is, the more they struggle to get what they want, the more we want to see them succeed.

Make things difficult. Readers want to see the hero win, but not without a struggle. Working hard for something builds character in more than one way. Give your MC obstacles, limit their ability, then show how they can overcome.

I know I left some out so tell me in the comments: what other ways can writers make their characters more compelling?

Read what other bloggers have to say. The full list of people participating in The Great Blogging Experiment is here.


And don’t forget, you have until midnight on Sunday to leave a comment on the post below and win a copy of Matthew J. Kirby’s debut novel, THE CLOCKWORK THREE.

44 thoughts on “Writing Compelling Characters

  1. Excellent points. I've been reading through entries in the blogfest and yours is the first (so far!) to talk about inner conflict and create difficulties. Great advice!

  2. That's horrible that blogger deleted your post. Well, the one you have up is great. I really like you mentioning that characters have to be consistent. It really does pull you out of the story when a character does something and you question it.

  3. Great post. It's important for characters not to be perfect, plus, their mistakes and how they get out of them often make a good story.

    Consistency is very important to me. There has to be a darn good reason for them to do things that don't fit with their personalities.

  4. I love your concept of NEED. That's really powerful, and I think actually deeper and more resonant than simple want. We often want stupid things, but our needs are at the core of who we are.

  5. Yeah. What is the deal with blogger lately? I'm so glad you were able to get this back together. It is quite comprehensive. I need to work on some of my characters. I think all of them need to be compelling and some of them definitely are not.

  6. You did a great job pulling the piece back together. Good points, and clear.

    I write my posts in Notepad, or in Word and then copy into Notepad before copying them into my blog, so that whatever the cybespace gods feel like doing, I have the backup text. It takes only a few moments extra, but it gives me security.

  7. I hate when Blogger does that.

    Usually with longer posts and comments, I'll highlight the entire thing and hit ctrl-C to have it copied and ready to be pasted somewhere. That way if it hits the fan, I still have my words handy. But sometimes I forget and then get a reminder lesson.

    I feel for you!

  8. Great points here! I especially like your number two here – 'let your characters be larger than life'. Thats something I'm doing with my MC for my current WIP. 😉

  9. I totally-totally agree with being consistent!!! We were just discussing this about a book my crit group and I just finished. I was so frustrated because I felt one of the characters didn't stay consistent. It just…drove…me…crazy! =)

  10. Great (do-over) post, Sherrie. 😉

    I'm with you about consistency. I never see the inconsistencies, because in my mind, there's a reason for it. Which is why I need my crit buddies to tell me where the character is acting out of character.

    Thanks for sharing!


  11. Allowing your characters to make mistakes. Well said. You couldn't be more correct, it's important that we allow them to learn from their mistakes.

    I'm sorry you lost your original, this one was fantastic if it makes you feel any better!

    Thanks for participating!

  12. Sorry about Blogger eating your post. My co-blogger and I were editing the same post at the same time, so her changes over-rode mine. -__-

    Great point about compelling characters being Larger than Life! That part of it didn't occur to me, but it's so true.

  13. Oh, Sherrie! I'm so sorry you lost your original post. Doesn't that just make you crazy? You did a great job on your abreviated (sp?) version! One great point you made is your characters must be larger than life….yes the reader must be able to relate to them, but they must be stronger, braver, or have some special talent that is memorable and significant.

    Great post!

  14. hi miss sherri! i been reading lot of the stuff about this on lot of peoples blogs. i like how you made the tips simple. for me the best is making a character not perfect and give him problems that hes gotta solve out to get to the end.
    …hugs from lenny

  15. Great list! I think your last one “make things difficult” is one a lot of people struggle with (including me). Sometimes we have to be downright cruel to our characters!

  16. “Let your characters be larger than life.”

    That's a great one! Probably the one I struggle with most. Because sometimes that little voice in my head (you know the one) says, “But that's not what would really happen!” And of course it's not! That's why this is FICTION. So it can be *believable* and interesting, but not necessarily real.

    DUH, stupid little voice in my head.


  17. I agree with Kelly, difficulties and struggles and conflicts are a few points that have been missed by a load of people; even though it's vital! I'm writing it on a virtual sticky note (MS 2010 has them)
    Thanks for the wonderful tips! You have a beautiful blog, and I'm now following!

  18. I LOVE your last point. And isn't it interesting, that exactly what we want from our fictional characters in novels is what we most avoid in real life? What you said about building character is true for real life situations, too. I know something means a lot more to me if I've had to struggle for it. Personal freedom was not a given in my life growing up, and now it is one of the aspects of my life I appreciate the most.

    Thank you for your good points. I like how they correlate to real life, too.

  19. Good post…I see Miss Footloose gave you the secret to defeating bloggers appetite for our post. I keep a word file on all my post. I know their in my blog, but since I'm not on the internet when I write the blogs I have them at my fingertips.

  20. (Blogger, how could you??)
    Don't worry–you're post is great, even if the first version was deleted! Thank you for the wonderful advice–I think you got all the important points!

  21. Terrific suggestions. I wonder if your post got even better, as you had to recreate it, but also reedit in your own head. I bet it's just as good, if not even better than what you originally wrote. I agree with all the tips!

  22. Mistakes – something we all make and so should our characters. And consistency is key for me. I hate reading books and questioning why the character did that because it just didn't fit their personality. Great post!

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