Friday, September 24, 2010

Creating Compelling Characters

Today is the Great Blogging Experiment - Creating Compelling Characters, a blogfest created by Elana Johnson, Jennifer Daiker, and Alex J Cavanaugh.  Please visit their sites for a full listing of participants.

How do I create memorable characters? I start with a character sheet. Now, I teach a characterization session in schools and there are several steps to the process. Probably the most vital are the background and the personality.

In order to appear real, characters need detailed backgrounds. They need a detailed history. How were they raised? Did learn right from wrong and develop strong morals? What was their financial situation? What about schooling? Did they have parents and siblings? What were some of the major events of their past? All of these things affect those characters today.

I’m a big believer in the personality types as outlined in Florence Littauer’s Personality Plus - choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholy. These often line up with the four birth orders as well - oldest, middle, youngest, and only. Each personality possesses its own unique strengths and weaknesses, which guides the writer. Once a character’s personality is decided, his or her reactions, behaviors, and goals become easy to determine.

Subsequent steps in the process involve appearance, hobbies, and current situation.

All of this adds depth and realism to a character. And a believable character is a compelling character!

41 comments:

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Well done on an excellent blog I was taught much by what you wrote,
Thank you,

Yvonne.

Mary said...

Great post. Very to the point and easily remembered.

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Very true! If they're not believable, readers won't relate. An the only way to get them to relate is to give them a past, flaws and reasons to do things. Great post!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Wow, Diane. You have summarised in a really short post, the things I intuitively seek in a character when I am reading a book. Now I am going to look at things in a very different light.
And time to delete my entry, I think. That is so pedestrian.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thanks!

And Rayna, it's everyone's interpretation! I'm sure yours is great.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Great points! I believe the background of a character is essential to how they tick. Thanks for sharing.

Stephen Tremp said...

Believable = compelling. Yes. I had a comment once that the reader did not like my protagonist because he made mistakes and didn't win every fight. I told her James Bond lost a few fights. So sis Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Arnold, Stallone, etc. An infallible character is not believeable.

Stephen Tremp

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Diane .. I like your use of the Florence Littauer book .. it is really good and is a like a bible of characteristics and traits ..

Also thanks for the pointer that each character needs a full history and personality of who, what and why ..

Compelling characters - otherwise I'm off! .. Enjoy the weekend .. Hilary

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The background of my main characters was so integral to my story, I HAD to outline details, which in turn taught me the importance of the background.

Karen Walker said...

So true, Diane, believable = compelling. Love the way you approach characterization. Lots of takeaways here.
Karen

arlee bird said...

I like your methodical, organized approach. A true sign of a professional.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I think making up the background is a fun part of creating a character. I haven’t heard of Florence Littauer’s Personality Plus – I’ll have to check that out.

~Jamie said...

I found you through Elana's blog thing. But, I just came to say Best. Blogname. EVER.

Elana Johnson said...

So depth, realism, believable. Totally easy. *snarf* But so true. Great post!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Diane, I could see where this would be important when you are writing a series. Very true about birth order as well.

I also use Goals, Motivation, and Conflict chart which also helps me make my characters compelling.

Great post!

Hart Johnson said...

Wow! You are so much more intentional than I am. I am feeling like a fraud. I think though, I just go about it backward, because I could fill in most of these answers, but only after I've had my characters DO some things. Very interesting!

Talei said...

Great points! I agree - character sheets are essential! And such a great tool for fleshing out your character. ;)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Stephen, and we all love watching Bruce Willis scrap for his life!

Hilary, I love Littauer's book! That helped me so much when writing.

LOL - Lee, I am uber-organized for sure.

Jamie, thanks - my husband came up with that name!

Sia, when I read The Birth Order Book, it was so obvious the two lined up.

Hart, you're not! I'm just uber detailed.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Character sheets are so useful when you're figuring out a person's story. Sometimes I do them later in my writing as well, to see how the character is growing and changing in the story.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

You're the second person I've read today that talked about a "character sheet" of sorts. I don't usually work this way, but have decided to at least take a look at one - who knows.

Helen Ginger said...

Very good post. If you can create all these details about your characters before you begin to write, you'll understand them and their motivations. It'll make the writing so much easier.

Thanks Diane.

Kelly said...

Great advice. I had never thought to look into the personality types to see which type fit my characters. Also the oldest/middle/youngest traits...Thanks!

L'Aussie said...

Hello L Diane. So many writers are pushing this backstory/background/dossier barrow and it is full of gold. Great advice for writing our characters..:)

VR Barkowski said...

Great advice! Background is hugely important in determining who a character is. I think a lot of writers misinterpret background as backstory, and they're not the same thing. Background is not part of the plot, it's part of the character. It doesn't have to happen on the page.

Clarissa Draper said...

I haven't done much research into those personality types. But now I want to. Thanks for the lovely post.

CD

Karen Lange said...

Great stuff! I love my character sheets. Am adding stuff to them all the time.
Have a great weekend,
Karen

lbdiamond said...

Character sheets are pretty useful!

Vicki Rocho said...

Interesting take on incorporating personality types/birth order. I hadn't considered that before.

Jemi Fraser said...

Fantastic advice! Depth, believability, realism... :) Perfect, Diane!

Jai Joshi said...

I do exactly the same, fill out a character sheet with details of their childhood, their family, their habits and tastes and their strengths and flaws.

So before I've even started writing I have a very firm strong idea of the character, how they think, how they look, what they feel. Love it.

Jai

Melissa said...

History is so, so important. I'm going to do a post on it... one of these days. If school doesn't kill me first.

Olivia J. Herrell said...

Great advice, thank you so much! I'll try this approach.

Thanks so much, that rebel, Olivia

L. Diane Wolfe said...

VR, you worded that so well!!

Vicki, it lines up perfectly!

I'm just a big believer in character sheets - and planning ahead.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Good points...birth order really is an interesting thing to observe in the people around you, so it should be something you implant in your characters. Well done!

Summer Ross said...

Great points. The background is a huge forward motion in a story for a character even if it isn't said in the story.

N. R. Williams said...

Building a character is often similar to giving birth, hopefully without the pain or the late night feedings. Enjoyed your post.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

DL Hammons said...

Being an outliner, I spend a lot of time on this. Not all of it ends up in the book, but it helps create that sense of depth we all seek. A character sheet is an excellent tool!! :)

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Love the way you do it! Wish I had that much discipline!
Sylvia Dickey Smith

Nicole Zoltack said...

Background is key. It's serves the basis for the character and their motivation. Why do they do the things they do? Great post.

Eric W. Trant said...

I write so much by ear and feel that I couldn't tell you how I possibly come up with characters.

I will say that it's intuitive, though. The character has to ~feel~ right to me. It has to jive, if you get me.

Flaws, habits, preferences, speech habits and physical/emotional scars -- we all have scars. They tell the story so listen up.

Sorry I missed this blogfest.. I never even saw it coming!

- Eric

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I should really pay more attention to personality types when developing characters. Thanks for the reminder!