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24 September 2010

Writing Compelling Characters

It's bonus day here at Culinary Vagabonding! You get two (TWO) posts for the price of one!

This post, however, is writing oriented whereas the first one is just plain weird food oriented. If you missed it (and are vaguely interested, HERE you go).

I am a writer, first and foremost. This blog has been through so many different changes and the culinary vaga-blogging is my way of taking a respite from the YA trilogy that is sitting on my desk. Glaring at me. Boring holes into my soul.

The Ever Fabulous Elana asked for writers willing to blog about a topic of her choosing. Being the adoring fans, we followed blindly and over 150 of us are blogging about characters today. How cool is that? I love being a minion ;)

Characters are the meat of any story. They are the reasons you pick up the book, the reasons you keep reading. Characters can be ordinary humans, supernatural beings, a Sasquatch with a penchant for poetry. A character can even be a setting. I, however, am not Ernest Hemingway so I shall refrain from attempting that form of characterization.

For me, the most compelling characters are those that make me angry. Love them, hate them, if they don't do something that elicits a "what the FLEEP are you DOING!!!!" loud enough to startle my cat and six neighbors, they're just 'eh' in my book. I've thrown books across rooms because of characters (that one's for you, Samwise Gamgee). I've cried, yelled, slammed doors. Even sworn never to read another book by that author again because of what they did (or didn't do).

One of my favorite created characters has a moment where he goes all jerk on the main character, even though he knows better. To put it bluntly he has a major pity-party-melt-down. And I love him for it.

I've heard it before (in fact, read it in some of the other posts on this theme), that flaws make the character. It makes them believable, yes, but it also makes them relateable.

Because we all have flaws. We all have those little annoying things that grate on everyone's nerves, including our own. I write my flaws into my characters and not just my bad guys. Nasty flaws like short tempers and whining (not that I ever whine...). I find those are the characters I love the most. The ones that show me my own shortcomings in a believable light and, lo and behold, come out all right in the end.

One of my favorite characters is Meg Murray in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. She has horrible self esteem, pretty much hates herself, thinks she's ugly, is clumsy, has a nasty temper and tends to point fingers at everyone but herself. And you know what? When I first read her I saw myself. A confused, scared teenager who just wanted to be seen for who she was, with dreams bigger than the confines of her high school and the peer pressures put forth by her friends. To this day, when I'm feeling particularly lonely, I go to Meg and remember that things turned out ok for her.

I'm pretty sure they will for me too.

(Make sure you follow the link above to Elana's place to click on the links of everyone participating. It'll keep you reading all weekend!)

31 comments:

Tere Kirkland said...

Great post!

The best part of this blogfest is all the amazing new bloggers I've been introduced to today.

I'm a huge foodie, as well as an aspiring author, so I'm loving your blog at first sight. Good thing I just had a huge lunch at K-Paul's!

Nice to meetcha!

~Tere

Elana Johnson said...

Those that make you angry, huh? I never would've guessed that. I suppose anything that a character does to evoke such a strong emotion is good. So yes! Anger is good.

Sandra said...

Love her work and even met her once, about 14 years ago...fabulous! She spoke after signing books and it was just wonderful.
I'm into the Vince Flynn books and am enjoying Mitch Rapp; also, Lee Childs' character, oh shoot...what is his name. Probably due to the world being so unsettled, I'm on a "good guys wear white hats and save people" kick -grin-.
That woman to above...Tere...having lunch at K-Paul's...I want to hurt her, badly, but don't tell her I said so. Around here, fast food is the stuff of gourmands.

Meredith said...

Yay for throwing a book across the room! I love finding characters who make me do that. Great advice! And good luck with the trilogy!

Kittie Howard said...

I did a research paper on anger (of which there are 10 bad types.) There is also good anger. If you drop a hammer on your foot, it's okay to be angry (but not all day.)

So, hurl that book across the room.

Hey, Jen, saw your comment at Mary's place. There've been times when I've been bummed out about where I was in life. But, after time moved on a bit and I looked back, I realized I had to go thru that to enjoy where I'm at. Hang in there, girl!!!

lbdiamond said...

Oh, yeah, loving to hate a character makes them VERY compelling! :D

Tamika: said...

I'm thrilled to be reading all of the great interpretations of compelling characters:) One thing is certain we all love them!

Melissa said...

I am so in love with this post. How am I not following you already??

I was laughing and nodding at EVERYTHING in this post. I 100% agree. And am totally susceptible to the throwing of books across the room. How many times have I done this? More than I'd ever care to admit.

My characters definitely have my flaws. It can actually be....really HARD to write them. Because some of these traits I HATE in myself. It's hard but, if I pull it off, it will so be worth it.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post...I feel the same way...I like to find hope for myself in characters that seem hopeless at first. :)

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I think compelling characters do make the readers feel passionate about them in some way. Anger is one way to do that, though it doesn't have to be the only way.

It's been a long time since I've read A Wrinkle in Time. I should go back and check it out. Thanks for the idea!

Olivia J. Herrell said...

Jen, this is a wonderful post and MOST helpful. Thank you for giving me permission to let my characters let it ALL hang out! Yay!

~that rebel, Olivia

Erica M. Chapman said...

Yes! The ones that make me angry I usually remember ;o) The more passion they get out of me, the more I feel connected. Great point ;o)

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Great post! HAve you really yelled and slammed doors over a book? I WANT. What books do you read??? :o)

Gwen Stewart said...

Great thoughts about character, Jen! I admit to loving my Mary Sue characters (sorry). I mean, I don't want absolute perfection in a character...but someone whose flaws only make her more loveable, like Anne of Green Gables. **sigh** Hence, I tend to write characters who are--you guessed it--too perfect, too milquetoast. Arg! I hate writing struggles. Why can't writing be easy?? ;)

At any rate, take care and God bless you!

The Golden Eagle said...

I love characters that make me ANGRY! Mainly because I want to find out if they do anything that doesn't make me angry and that I can appreciate. Great points!

Christine Fonseca said...

I love this post! And like Tere and a few others, I love that I have met so many great new bloggers.

Hannah Kincade said...

I love Meg!! Yes, she was/is a great character because she was so relateable to us!

N. R. Williams said...

Poor Samwise, I think he has a permanent limp, LOL. I am so jealous about your travel. Great to meet you.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Faith said...

Interesting take -- you love characters that make you angry, haven't heard that before! But then again, if a character is causing you to feel strong emotions -- even if it's against them -- that's a good thing.

Thanks for visiting!

Misha said...

I've been through the same.

I've even cried because of them. This sucks, because until I stop, I can't see what I'm reading, and so have to stay where I started to cry...

I like your post and, although I'm not a foodie, I'm up to learn something new...

Great to meet you

:-)

RaShelle said...

LOL - I like that. They make you go, what the FLEEP. Very nice. =D

ali said...

I had to read your paragraph about hating the character a couple times. At first I thought, "huh?" But you know ... I think I totally get you and have to agree. If a writer can make you feel angry with a character, boy they've done their job well, right? Because if you're angry, you CARE.

Elena Solodow said...

Anger is a great angle to this that I haven't read yet. So true! And the truth is, if you're angry at a character, it means you must care about them enough to reach that level of anger. Nice post!

Lisa Potts said...

Great post! Also, I'm intrigued by this 100 year old loft you live in.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Great post. I think you make an excellent point that sometimes the most compelling characters are ones you hate.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Something that your post reminded me of is to draw upon your experiences to creating a believable, compelling character. If the character makes you angry, good! Most likely it makes your readers angry. I am very passionate and find myself crying, laughing, angry, fearful--whatever--as I write. Even during the editing times!

Thanks for sharing!

Come and visit me!

Tabitha Bird said...

I think we all need a 'MEG' to remember :)

Thank you for your comment on my blog.

Julie said...

Great post. And Meg just winked at me from my shelf of honor. I love her, and I agree, I saw myself in her, too.

Glad I found your blog. This Blogging Experiment has been the most fun I've ever had in blogging. :)

Janet Johnson said...

I'd forgotten about Meg. I think I need to go back and read A Wrinkle in Time. :)

And yum, those rolls above look really good!

Karen Lange said...

Great post. It has been so much fun seeing what each participant comes up with. Well, okay, haven't made it around to all of them, yet. Glad we've connected; thanks so much for stopping by my blog.
Have a great week,
Karen

Ishta Mercurio said...

Oh, am I glad you signed up for this blogging experiment. I LOVE food! Yay for your blog!

I found your point about characters who make you angry interesting - characters who make me shout like that usually make me throw the book and not pick it up again, but it's good to know there are people who feel differently. Thanks for the post!