Monday, February 25, 2013

CREATING COMPELLING CHARACTERS


 
Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Norman and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored fourteen books and is currently at work on a new series for Bethany House Publishing. The first book in her Road to Kingdom series, “Inescapable,” came out in July of 2012. The second book, “Unbreakable” released in February of 2013.

All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”

Readers can learn more about Nancy through her Web site: www.nancymehl.com or her blog www.suspensesisters.blogspot.com. She is also active on Facebook.
 
The Importance of Compelling Characters
 
Good characters are central to any novel. Characters can actually launch a career! Think about Janet Evanovich’s character, Stephanie Plum. And what about one of the most popular characters of all time, Sherlock Holmes? Arthur Conan Doyle grew tired of his “consulting detective” and actually tried to kill him off. Readers would have none of it, and Conan Doyle was forced to bring him back.

Your characters should always include one very important element. YOU! It’s almost impossible to create believable characters without understanding them. Draw on your own life. Past hurts, past triumphs, inner passions – they’re all great fodder for characters. Writers can use instances from their own experiences to craft characters readers will empathize with. Don’t be afraid of searching your psyche. The more you invest personally in your fictional characters, the more believable and compelling they will become.

Let’s say you’re writing a scene where your lead character is being chased by a killer. Since we all know what fear feels like, it’s not hard to imagine the emotions your character is experiencing. Perhaps you’re drawing on your own life. Maybe when you were a kid, a bully from your school told you he was going to wait for you after class and beat you senseless. When the last bell rang, you took off for home like your hair was on fire, fear spurring you on. You can use this experience and these emotions to give your lead character a realistic reaction to her situation. But…what does the bully feel? If you’re writing a murder mystery, translate this question into: How does your killer feel? Villains who are one sided don’t work! You need to ask yourself why they’re doing what they’re doing. What is it they really want? How do they justify their actions in their own minds? It’s important for you, as the creator of your lead character’s nemesis, to understand him as well as your protagonist.  

Besides getting into the head of all of your characters, you must also take the role of a reader. Your readers have no idea that you were frightened by a bully when you were a kid. Nor are they able to understand why you created your characters the way you did unless you explain their motivations. Readers’ overriding concern is your story. It’s our job as writers to make our characters’ intentions and reasoning clear. We also need to be careful that as we draw on our own experiences and emotions to create believable characters, we don’t also inject our own prejudices and tastes in a way that distances our readers. For example, if I don’t like cats (and I do), maybe giving my lead character an aversion to cats isn’t a good idea. It might sound interesting, but what about all the cat lovers out there? Are you willing to alienate them? Probably not. (You might wake up one morning to find your yard covered with kitty litter!) You don’t want to create characters readers won’t care about, or even worse, will actually dislike. Yes, you can put unpleasant characters in your story (I do it all the time) but give them a reason to be unlikable, and make sure your lead character also finds him objectionable. This will put your readers on your protagonist’s side, not against him. 

Some of your characters may be based on other people you know. This is fine but remember that you shouldn’t turn them into caricatures. This means you must take the time to understand them. Maybe crazy Uncle Joe is crazy for a reason. Was he normal until Aunt Marge left him? Or until he lost his business? Maybe your cousin Bubba started collecting junk because of childhood trauma. To create compelling characters, you’ll have to dig around inside their souls. This takes some time, and rightly so. Getting to know real people takes an investment. Your fictional characters deserve some of your time as well.
 
In some cases, your characters might be patterned after other fictional characters. In my Road to Kingdom series, I created Ebbie  Miller based on the personality type of the tenth doctor in the Doctor Who series. Ebbie loved peace and could become completely entranced by things that were only interesting to him. He is described as having hair that didn't seem to know where it was supposed to go, and with deep brown eyes that had depths yet to be completely explored. If you've ever watched Doctor Who, you will see him in Ebbie Miller. I didn't draw on all of the tenth doctor's personality traits since Ebbie was completely opposed to violence of any kind and Doctor Who was prone to go off the deep end from time to time. And that's okay. Just because you use certain traits from a character, it doesn't mean you have to make them exactly the same. In fact, I would encourage you to add your own twists and turns. This will give you someone who isn't simply a carbon copy of someone else.

Creating compelling characters will give your readers a reason to invest themselves in your story. Plot may be key, but without good characters, it won’t matter!

(This article is an excerpt from one of my writers’ workshop lessons titled “Creating Compelling Characters.")

If you’d like to win one of my books, just tell me the name of the lead character and the title of the book you want.  I’ll pick a winner on Wednesday.

10 comments:

  1. Hi Nancy if my names chosen i would love to have Simple Secrets, and i believe the lead man is Sam Goodrich
    Shirley Blanchard

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  2. Hope you are doing good Nancy! If I win I'd love to have the HARMONY TRILOGY - 3 BOOKS IN 1. The main character is Gracie Temple.
    Thanks and I hope you a wonderful week!
    God bless
    makeighleekyleigh at yahoo.com

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  3. Hello Nancy, I love your Road to Kingdom series and have read book one with #2 on its way now so I would love to have #3 if that is possible "Unforseeable" telling the story of Callie who is wed to Levi. Thanks for sharing your comments today and this book.
    Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

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  4. I think we all struggle with characters. I have to let mine rest a while. They start to develop if I leave them alone long enough. When I find that the character shocks me and I wonder if I've gone too far, then I know he's right.

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  5. I'd love to win a copy of Simple Choices since I've read the first two books in the series but not this one. Gracie is the main character. I just read Megan's comment; if there is a volume that has all three books in one, that would be even better! I borrowed the first two books and have been wanting to find out how the series ended. Thanks for the chance to win.

    pmk56[at]sbcglobal[dot]net

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  6. I would like to win Blown Away with Hilde Higgins as the main character (I've read the first in the series). If that's not available, I'd like to try the Harmony Trilogy with Gracie Temple as the lead character.

    catbooks(at)rocketmail(dot)com

    I love Sherlock Holmes and I've read all of the original canon, so now I read and collect Sherlock Holmes books written by other authors. Right now I'm reading The Revenge of the Hound by Michael Hardwick.

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  7. Hilde Higgins in Bumping Off Binky. I've already read the first one and loved Hilde. I would have fun reading more about her.

    (best way to reach me: pbmax101@yahoo.com)

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  8. I have read all of your books except the one that came out recently so I would like to win Unbreakable with Hope Kauffman. Thanks for the wonderful articles. sarahpianist@gmail.com

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  9. I haven't read any of your books & am not acquainted with any of your characters or book titles - but look forward to learning more, if I am lucky enough to win any one of your books. Thanks for the opportunity!

    bonnieroof60@yahoo.com

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  10. Lizzie Engel - Inescapable

    cindialtman(at)gmail(dot)com

    ReplyDelete