Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters:

I’ve joined ‘The Great Blogging Experiment,’ and here is my assigned post. Writing Compelling Characters.

In other words, write believable characters. Your readers must believe this character is a real person, without your character actually being a real person. Lawsuits come to mind. In order for you to achieve this you must know your character, what is his/her habit, goal, weakness, need I go on? You need to have a psychological profile of your character in mind or written out that you can refer to. You may also want a general profile of your character on hand in a file somewhere.

How do you create a profile? A profile is a list of character traits and details that may never see the light of a published page. This is information that you, the author, refer to when you set your character in a scene and forget what kind of response your character would normally have to the stimulus you’ve created. The profile is kept as an easy reference guide. Either in a paper file or a desk top computer file. I knew one writer who actually had an astrological chart made for her characters. She said it helped her immensely, though I can’t imagine how.

I have a book that I refer to religiously when I am developing a new character, titled: 45 Master Characters, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. (Click the title to view on Amazon). Within the pages each character type is listed by the Greek god/goddess that inspired the archetype. Once you know which one your character is, you can research their response to any given situation. You will learn the traits of the hero or villain both male and female. For major characters, choose more than one archetype, this allows you to layer your character, creating a depth of realism for your readers.

Who inspires your characters? Who mentors them? What is their darkest fear? What gives them the most pleasure? Who do they love more than themselves? Or, do they love only themselves? What are your character’s goals? Will their goals change over the course of the book? Or will they view their goals differently? Perhaps the character changes, matures or evolves in some way.

The other book that I refer to and you should to is: ‘The Writer’s Journey,’ 2nd Edition, by Christopher Vogler. (Click the title to go to Amazon). Buy it, study it, and let your craft soar.

Tomorrow I will post a profile list that you can copy and use if you want.

For the complete lists of participants go to Elana's blog...click her name and it will take you there. But wait, please leave a comment first.

Does this help?

67 comments:

Simon Kewin said...

Interesting. I must admit I don't really do this so formally as you describe but I've often read that I should. I suppose I tend to just have one or two people I know or have known in mind when I create a character.

That said, I'll be sure to check out the books you suggest. Thanks.

N. R. Williams said...

Your welcome Simon. I'm glad you found it interesting.
Nancy

Jules said...

Like I said, this is going to be an educational Friday. :)

Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

N. R. Williams said...

Yes it is, thanks for stopping by Jules.
Nancy

Emily White said...

Hmm...interesting points. I've never really gotten into a whole lot of writing books, but the ones you listed look interesting.

N. R. Williams said...

They are great, I hope you check each book out and I actually hope you will purchase them and use them. Thanks for commenting Emily.
Nancy

C. N. Nevets said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C. N. Nevets said...

C. N. Nevets said...
N.R., found your post through the event listing. Glad I did! I love that you reference the Greek god and goddess archetypes. I'll definitely be checking Schmidt's book out to see how she packages that information. Another good source for understanding archetypes that resonate with readers is Carl Jung's psychology. Unfortunately, most of his writing is not super accessible, but there are some summaries like this one on the web which can be helpful.

C. N. Nevets said...

Ignore that last link to archetypes. That's a crappy sales pitch. I should have checked it more thoroughly. This one is better.

N. R. Williams said...

Thanks C. N. I will check it out.
Nancy

Mara Nash said...

Hi Nancy *waves* I'm friending you back now.

When I write characters I've never had a formal process or writing books I reference...I pretty much just wing it and the characters tell me who they are as I write them.

Is that the best approach? Who knows. But I think everyone comes at it differently. It's whatever works best for you that counts!

N. R. Williams said...

You're right, thanks for befriending me back, Mara.
Nancy

j.leigh.bailey said...

45 Master Characters is on my amazon.com wish list! Someday, if I can forego the romance novels I might actually get it someday! :D

Jen said...

Stephen King in On Writing said it well, the first draft is for you, it's your time to iron out all the details, relationships, thoughts. What works and what doesn't.

I'll have to check out 45 Master Characters, maybe I'll learn something!

paulgreci said...

I really like your list of questions, and the master character book sounds interesting as well. Thanks!

N. R. Williams said...

Take the plunge j. leigh...you will LOL when you read that great book.

arlee bird said...

Oooo, that's methodical, but what a good approach. If we know our characters from every angle all the better to write about them so they are believable. I'd probably never use the astrological chart method, but if that's the way I read people it would make total sense.

The neat thing is that a hundred authors could take the same character and give that character a hundred different portrayals. Hey! Sounds like an idea for another blogfest.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Michelle McLean said...

ooo I'll have to check those books out. Great post!

Talei said...

Astrological chart. that make me laugh. I guess we can get caught up with our characters personas. Will definitely check out the books too! ;)

N. R. Williams said...

It sounds like your onto something with your blogfest idea Arlee.

They are great books Michelle.

Thank you both for stopping by and commenting.
Nancy

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Jen and Paul...words of wisdom from Stephen King and I'm glad you like the questions Paul.

I laughed too when I heard about the astrological chart, Talei.

Thanks everyone for stopping by.
Nancy

Faith said...

Thanks for the book recommendation in this post! I haven't read '45 Master Characters' but it does sound like an interesting way to approach character development.

And thanks for stopping by my blog earlier! All these different approaches to the same idea is truly fascinating.

N. R. Williams said...

You're welcome Faith. It's good to make new friends.
Nancy

PS...Everyone. My grandson is here, he's three, so I will get back to following all the wonderful blogs and commenting on theirs and mine a little later.
Nancy

Stephen Tremp said...

I love to incorporate greed into what inspires characters. Greed is a driver that reveals the thoughts and intents of an individual or a group.

Stephen Tremp

arlee bird said...

Anyone is welcome to run with the character blogfest idea. No more blogfests for me for a while. :)

Lee
Tossing It Out

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hey Nancy! I detail out my characters in a similar fashion before I ever begin writing.
Glad you joined the blogfest!

The Golden Eagle said...

Great advice! I've never made a profile like that before, one that I can refer to and check, but maybe I will--it certainly seems like a sound idea.

Elana Johnson said...

This post makes me want to get those craft books -- and believe me that's saying something. I normally just get by with my own smarts. But you have some great tips here, and I want to read more!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post! I'll have to check out the two books you mentioned. :-)

Bish Denham said...

Those are some books I'd most definitely be interesting in acquiring! Thanks.

N. R. Williams said...

Greed is a big motivated Stephen.
Thanks for stopping back in Arlee.
It was a great idea Alex.
Hi Golden, glad you liked the ideas.
I'm happy I could inspire you Elana, and thank you for the opportunity to write about it.
Thank you Shannon and Bish as well, I can't say enough about the books I've recommended.
Nancy

Summer Ross said...

Thanks for the book link! You gave some good questions to ask of a character. Thanks for posting

N. R. Williams said...

I'm thrilled that you enjoyed it Summer.
Nancy

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Great post! That book sounds great, and thanks ahead of time for sharing your profile list.

lbdiamond said...

A character profile is a great way to get to know how your characters perceive and react to their environment. It's also interesting that, as you say, most of that doesn't even get put in the manuscript, but it is essential to making them seem compelling. Great post!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Interesting points...Who inspires your characters? Who mentors them? Well done!

N. R. Williams said...

Jennifer, I hope you find the profile helpful.

Ibdiamond, sometimes it's the hardest thing not to include some fascinating detail you invented about your character in the story. But if it isn't pertinent then you have to let it go.

Yes, if I am inspired by someone I always ask why, and so your characters must too.

Thanks for commenting.
Nancy

Vicki Rocho said...

I've been hearing a lot about profiling today. I don't do anything too formal, but I'm reconsidering...

N. R. Williams said...

Whatever works for you Vicki. I don't do a lot of profiling myself.
Nancy

Melissa said...

Great post. I'm never so formal but I love hearing about people who are. It's so interesting to me.

N. R. Williams said...

I'm not really formal Melissa, but when stumped I pull out my helpful books. Thanks for your comments.
Nancy

Erica M. Chapman said...

Believability is so important. I love the idea of an astrological chart! Great post ;o) I added that book to my amazon wish list. Thanks for suggesting it!

N. R. Williams said...

You're welcome Erica, thank you for commenting.
Nancy

Lynda Young said...

great addition to the blog experiemnt :)

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Lynda.
Nancy

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Crap!!! I commented on this post yesterday bu it's not here!!! Sorry, ... um, I think I siad something about us having something in common? That we both refer to books religiously and that the only difference is that I don't refer to craft books, but to other authors I admire and have underlined clver phrasing etc. Great post, btw!

Christine Fonseca said...

These are all such great posts! I have learned even more aout creating great characters

N. R. Williams said...

Jessica, I sometimes do the same with a favorite book.

Christine, I'm happy you're learning something new.

Thank you both for commenting.
Nancy

Hannah Kincade said...

I don't always fill out a character list but I love thinking about those questions when I'm researching my character. Thanks for the additional questions to add to my mental list. :D

RaShelle said...

45 masterful characters sounds very good. I'll have to check that out! Thanks. =D

N. R. Williams said...

You're welcome Hannah, I'm glad you found it useful.

You'll love it RaShelle.

Thank you both for commenting.
Nancy

Renae said...

45 Master Characters sounds amazing. You made some really great points! Well done!

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Renae. I hope you pick up the book.
Nancy

Susan R. Mills said...

Believability is key. So many factors go into that. I read your next post, as well, with the list of character traits. I never go into that much detail when outlining character, but maybe I should. Thanks for sharing!

N. R. Williams said...

I agree with you Susan, believability.
Thanks for your comment.
Nancy

Krispy said...

Didn't really think about it until you mentioned it here, but yeah, characters should be REAL to us first if we hope to make them believable - and therefore compelling - to other people. The Master Characters book sounds really interesting. I may have to go check it out now. Thanks!

N. R. Williams said...

Yes Krispy, real to us is the operative word. Please do check out the book. Thank you for commenting.
Nancy

Cinette said...

I liked the comment about making them like real people without them being real people. I had used my daughter as a 'base' for a character, and she found a copy on my desk. The shreek that followed...

Annette Lyon said...

Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey is one of my favorite books--and practically my writing Bible.

So methinks I need to check out the 45 Master Characters one.

N. R. Williams said...

That's funny Cinette. I have two daughters so I totally can relate to that shriek.

You won't be sorry Annette, its great.

Thank you both for commenting, reading and all
Nancy

Danyelle said...

Awesome questions! I'm going to have to check those books out! :)

N. R. Williams said...

You'll love em' Danyelle. Thanks for commenting.
Nancy

Nicole Zoltack said...

If my characters are based on real people... they're based on more than one. I like to take different parts from my friends and mash them together to create my characters. Of course, some characters just exist in my mind fully formed.

N. R. Williams said...

Good technique Nicole. Thanks for sharing.
Nancy

Claire Goverts said...

Nice post, I like your approach with the archetypes and questions. That master characters book sounds interesting.

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Claire. It's a great book.
Nancy

Ishta Mercurio said...

An astrological chart - wow! I wonder how she even did that? Astrological charts are usually based on your birthday...

Thanks for the book referrals. And thanks for this post! I must get my files made...