So I signed up to be a part of 'The Great Blogging Experiment' in which everyone who signed up writes a post about a topic chosen by the events brilliant masterminds: Elana Johnson, Jennifer Daiker and Alex Cavanaugh. The idea is that we all write posts on the same subject to see how differently we each are in our approach. Pretty cool huh? I can't wait to read everyone else's post... which is going to take all weekend by the look of the list of participating bloggers (!!! Go Elana, Jen and Alex!!!)
I'm no expert on anything... well, maybe besides the arts of cat herding, frog wrangling, and poking large herbivores in the gluteus maximus with big needles... But I digress. Expert or not I'm going to take a stab (totally intentional needle joke) at postulating on how I write compelling characters and what I find compelling about characters.
Our topic: Writing Compelling Characters.
Here's the definition of 'compelling': 1. Tending to compel; overpowering. 2. Having a powerful and irresistible effect; requiring acute admiration, attention or respect.
After looking up the definition, I had a slight panic attack, wondering if my characters were compelling. They certainly drive me, and compel me to document their stories. But do others find them compelling? I think this is something all of us writers struggle with. Looking back at my two strongest manuscripts I believe that I've created compelling characters... in very different ways.
Evernow, the mc of my Dystopian YA is like a pit bull on steroids (in a good way, I like pit bulls). She does what she does for her own reasons and in her own ways. If she loves you she'll die for you and if she has unsettled business with you not even death is going to stop her from finding you and finishing that business. Evernow is her own brand of compelling. Her 'ask no questions, take no prisoners' attitude drags you along for the ride. You may or may not like her, but you'll be compelled (I hope) to read on and see what she does or says next. It's Evernow's self-confidence and fearlessness that draws you through the story. Even when she mucks things up, she determines to fix them at any cost. She might stumble through life, but she'll get through on her own two feet. She's a character of raw emotion and frank honesty, and even though her blunt, sometimes caustic responses and actions might startle you, they make her who she is.
In sharp contrast to Evernow, Ansel, the mc of my Contemporary YA, is compelling because of his gentle devotion to another character in the book. Although he has his own fears, Ansel chooses to put Catskin (the girl he soon falls in love with) over himself, willingly taking on the responsibilities of aiding a stranger. Having spent most of his life living quietly with his close-knit family, Ansel - an albino Athabaskan Indian - has little experience with either girls or trauma victims. When he realizes that he can help Catskin though, he doesn't hesitate to invest himself in doing so, for no other reason than he believes that it's the right thing to do. You're drawn to Ansel (I hope) because of his quiet resolve and unflinching determination to try and right the wrongs that have been committed against the girl he loves.
The point of that rambling blather was to try and show that there are infinite ways to make your characters compelling. To me, there's only one thing that must be present no matter what sort of person your character is: Personality. They don't have to be deep, or brave, or geeky, or smart-a$$ed. But they DO have to be themselves. They have to be what no other character anywhere CAN be. I've loved dull characters... because they were dull in their own charming way. I've loved egotistical morons... because, well, it was fun to read about them getting into trouble with their egos. You can love a character you hate, and be compelled to read on about them by that very hatred. If the character has no individual personality though, they mean nothing to you. So for me, 'compelling' comes down to what it is that makes the character tick. If they're believable, they're compelling. It's when they're contrived or 'forced' that I find them un-compelling. No, I'm not sure that un-compelling is a word, now that you mention it. But it gets the job done :)
So now I'm off to read other bloggers' takes on the matter of writing compelling characters. Squee squee I'm SO excited to be a part of this experiment. Thanks to everyone in advance for stopping by! Hopefully my post was at least entertaining... I only had to stop four times while I was writing this in order to: Unstick an ancient dog from behind the armchair. Feed a very ornery Donkuitote. Put my remaining Demon Chickens to bed. And crawl my way to the coffee pot for some liquid back-up...