Compelling Characters, Part II

Some writers seem to have a built-in knack for creating characters that readers can’t help but follow. For the rest of us, it’s a learning process.
Writing Tip for Today: In that learning process, we often start out with less-than compelling characters. This shortcoming is critical. Story IS character. Character IS story. Here are a few more character types which often can’t go the distance:

  • A Lot Like Me Character. The protagonist is a thinly-veiled version of the writer. While we all must start with writing what we know, this character often derails a story. Either the “real life” facts get in the way (as in the way it really happened isn’t dramatic or is overly dramatic), or else the character wanders around in the story, loading lots of interior thought and back story onto an already weak story. If they must use their own life, writers are better off carefully constructing a composite character who is distinct from the writer in some important ways.
  • Multiple Viewpoint Crowd Characters. Unless you’re writing romance (where both hero and heroine viewpoints are standard), the first-time novelist is wise to master a single viewpoint novel before tackling a story in which every character gets a POV. With each additional viewpoint, a reader’s sympathies and interests are diluted. With a poorly executed multiple viewpoint novel, a reader won’t know who to root for, so may end up deciding it isn’t worth the trouble. Ask yourself, “Whose story is this?” when choosing the POV character.
  • The Ambivalent Character. If the character’s attitude is “Who cares?” the reader will agree and not be able to hang on until the character begins to grow past the blase. As Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “Make your character want something right away, even if it’s only a drink of water.” Some writers try to portray a character who has lost all hope and then guide the reader through to where the character gets that hope renewed. Trouble is, a reader isn’t going to stick with a character who doesn’t give a fig long enough to see the redemption. 
  • The Dark Character. Often championed by experienced writers, this character sums up the underbelly of life, jaded and cynical. It takes a lot of skill (like the antihero) to write a compelling narrator who has given up on life and sees nothing but dark days ahead. This is what real life often feels like, but readers need hope and growth and redemption in order to stand a character who’s Debby Downer all the way.
  • The Perfect Storm. A character who has been thwarted but who resolves to overcome those obstacles is a character who can grow. Add in generous helpings of hope and intense desire to create memorable characters. Next up: Tricks to help you create compelling characters.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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