Monday, June 13, 2016


What makes a character compelling to a reader? Is it one who’s physical description grabs the reader. Or is it one whose personality the reader identifies with? While it could be either or both of those, what makes a character compelling is his or her ability to surprise the reader while remaining internally consistent. Every character, whether in fiction or nonfiction needs to posses some or all of these crucial things—ambition, a desire, a driving need, a secret, a contradiction, and a vulnerability.

Ambition drives many people to do some very good and some very bad things. While not everyone is ambitious, those that are tend to be aggressive and pursue life to the fullest, sometimes no matter what.

A Desire
Just as ambition can affect how a person lives their daily life, so a desire can possess someone to the point of altering reality. Sexual desire can drive a character to make rash decisions and can even lead to harming another person. Jealousy is another trait that can adversely affect the way a character perceives reality. Desire intrinsically creates conflict.

A Driving Need
While possessing a driving need may lead to good actions, it can also lead to bad ones, as in revenge. The need for revenge can drive a person over the edge and force him or her to do unspeakable things.

The more a character wants and the stronger the want, the more compelling the  drama. This is because desire intrinsically creates conflict. This is a perfect example of the misconception that simply by giving the character a deep-seated need or want, you can automatically create conflict.

A Secret
A secret is an inclination or trait, such as a disposition to dishonesty, violence, sexual excess, or the abuse of alcohol or drugs, or an incident from the past that, if revealed, would change forever the character’s standing in his or her world, among co-workers, neighbors, friends, family, and lovers. Secrets inform us of what our characters have to lose, and why.

Of all these character traits, you most likely have a true insight into what it’s like to keep a secret and how it can affect your behavior—specifically, how they make us afraid.

A Contradiction
We all know people who are both shy and rude or funny and cruel. This complexity, which often appears during times of stress or conflict, is what can make a character  unpredictable, resulting in the kind of surprising behavior that will keep readers  wondering what’s going to happen next.

Your readers’ minds focus on irregularities—things that don’t make sense or that don’t quite fit. This helps your characters to analyze their environment for threats.  Contradictions reveal to readers what they can’t predict or a surprise.

A Vulnerability
Nothing draws us into a character more than his or her vulnerability. When people appear wounded or in need of help, people are instantly drawn to them. At the same time, they may also be repelled or frightened. Either way, injury to another person instantly triggers a strong response in readers.

Obviously, vulnerability may be the result of the character’s secret: He or she has a fear of being found out. Or it may come from the intensity of a need. For your character, the ambition and focus of a strong desire can imply some form of inner strength, while at the same time rendering the character vulnerable to being deprived of what he or she  wants most

Remember, your characters are human beings to whom your story happens. Unfortunately for many writers, a story begins with an idea. Fleshing out the characters to live in that story comes later.

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