Writing Compelling Characters

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Okay, today is the day of Elana Johnson’s great blogging experiment. Don’t know who Elana is? Shame on you. Get over to her blog and find out, because she’s like nineteen different kinds of awesome–AND she’s a WriteOnCon girl. What more could you want than that?

And so, today we’re all blogging on the same topic. That means it’s time for me to tell you how to write a compelling character.

Except I can’t.

“Wait? What?” you ask.

That’s right, internet. I can’t tell you how to write a compelling character, because here’s the sich:

Compelling* characters  have to come from what you know–not me. Basically, it’s all about using real life traits you see in people you interact with-and then give them a motivation for being that way.

Okay, for example–does the girl behind the burrito counter wear way too much makeup? Well, write her into your book, but make it so she wears leather mini-skirts and crooked lip liner–because she moonlights as a stripper to pay the bills even though she has a secret desire to be the best damn burrito chef on the planet. (And now I will never look at a burrito the same way again.)

In real life, people aren’t all that interesting until you get to know them, so that’s what you need to do with your characters. Don’t bore us with the boring generic details. It’s your job to sprinkle just enough awesome in there to make me think your characters and I could be friends.

Now, I have to know–what makes YOU a compelling character?

*Every time I type out any form of the word “compel” I think about the Vampire Diaries, then I think about Damon. Then I swoon for a while–that’s why this blog post took me six hours to write.

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  1. I agree that people are all fascinating once you get to know them, and characters are the same way.

    Great post!

  2. Love the post.
    Compelling characters are rounded – no hot super hero type need apply unless he has a problem with the way his bulge bulges and only got his powers thanks to an uncharacteristically kind action.

  3. lol I used to be a Stefan fan but now I’m totally Damon. Anyhow, people-gawking is one of my favorite pastimes. You can see some interesting characters that make great fodder for books.

  4. DUDE…it was 15 years ago, McDonald’s in Milpitas CA, the womsn behind the counter had huge drawn on eyebrows that mimicked the golden arches. Inhuman. Never forgot it.

      1. @Jamie Harrington ~Not yet, but I did just start writing something with monsters in it. The sky is the limit, yo.

      2. @Jamie Harrington ~You’re right, monsters with awesome eyebrows seems like the perfect way to honor her particular form of interprative art–but I’m guessing I’ll leave out the smoker’s cough 😛

  5. You know, I actually knew a girl who worked as a stripper and wanted to be a burrito chef. She was damn good with her hands. Ba dum dum.

    Yeah, it was bad. I’m still thinking about her though. LOL

    Great advice. Thank you. ;-D

  6. This is a good approach to the topic. As much as we try to relay experiences and share knowledge with each other… in the end, it all comes down to us.

  7. Lol, interesting take on the concept!

    BTW, you’re right. I’ll never look at a burrito the same way again.

  8. That is true. I need to be friends with the character or at least bond with them in some way (And I’m not talking about James Bond).

  9. Great characters come from what you know, I love that! Clever as always. And working the burrito in, brilliant! Now I’m hungry!

  10. Now I’m glad I don’t like burritos. 😉

    As for what makes me a compelling character, how many other people out there could put rock stars, clones, alternate universes, starships, quantum mechanics, and Hamlet into a single book?

  11. Ah, you are wise beyond your years. Or maybe not, I don’t know. I do know that I’ve made judgements about people before I really know them. And that’s not good. I think this burrito lesson can be applied to life as well as writing. Dang you, Harrington. 🙂

  12. Nice post! I like how you threw it back to us, the other writers, making us think for ourselves. Interesting take on this topic!

    Hmmm, me as a compelling character? I live in a loft, am owned by a 25 lb cat and I see dead people. Occasionally.


  13. I second Hannah on wanting a burrrrito.

    I love your example – great post!

    Let’s see, me as a compelling character? I drive a Honda and work at an insurance company. But my boyfriend’s a vampire, so I guess I have that going for me.

  14. Jamie, you tackled this topic as only you could do – proving Elana’s point wonderfully! I absolutely love your quirky style and sense of humor. 🙂

  15. Now I want a burrito in a really bad way. That is the most delicious looking picture I’ve seen all day.

    Write what you know is probably the best advice a writer could be given, and they should take it above all else. We can all wax poetic about our own process until we’re blue in the face, but what works for us might not work for others. Excellent post!

  16. I love quirky characters.

    As for me though, my quirk, I do laundry in a dress and heels.

    🙂 Why not?

      1. @Jamie, that’s usually why I’m in a dress. I don’t have clothes to wear. And you can’t really be in a dress without heels. Well, that and I don’t have flat shoes in my house.

      2. @Jeannie, HA! From now on I’m not washing clothes until I’m down to my wedding dress!

  17. Hmmm…I typically try to put my character in sitchyashyun that requires him to show some of his character–quicklike.

  18. Nice approach to the topic. Observing people is the best place to start and then, like you say, embellishing upon their stories really starts making them compelling. Can’t judge a book by its cover as they say.

    Good contribution to the blogfest.

    Tossing It Out

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