Elana Johnson has inadvertently interrupted the schedule with...
...The GREAT BLOGGING EXPERIMENT!
It's not too bad though, because while we won't be laughing at insane cats (okay, I couldn't resist the picture) or watching cool book trailers, we will be discussing cool writerly things.
So what is the Great Blogging Experiment? Basically there are a ton of bloggers who are putting up posts about a particular topic, and the interesting aspect of this is seeing how everyone addresses the same idea. To paraphrase what Elana's already said, it's probable that all these posts will be different because all the bloggers are different.
The question posed is this:
How do we write compelling characters?
While there are general similarities I think everyone could agree on, there is an aspect of this that depends on the writer. What is compelling for one person may not be for another. For example, I enjoy everyman characters that find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. I like initially unremarkable individuals that become (or reveal themselves to be) quite remarkable as the story progresses. When I choose a main character (or they choose me, to be honest), more often than not these are the types of characters that appeal.
What I have at that point however, is a vision of the character in my head. The character is compelling to me, and it's my job as a writer to bring this character to life such that everyone else finds them compelling as well. How can I do this?
The first (and most important) thing to do is write the character as honestly as possible. When we're describing a good friend to an outsider, it's human nature to leave off the traits that others might find less than appealing. We sometimes paint a picture colored with a rosy shade rather than a vision of stark reality. In our writing however, we must earn the trust of the reader by keeping the writing honest and real. Our characters therefore, must be three dimensional and we have to expose their bad traits as well as the good. It is this practice that allows the reader to trust that everything we tell them will be honest, real, and worth reading. As they get to see the character through our eyes, the same facets that make them compelling to us as the writer will make them just as compelling to the reader.
The second thing is to give this character something to be involved in. A story about someone who sits in their living room watching soap operas all day (even if written honestly) will not be all that compelling. Our readers want to see something happen. Take that character out and let them walk through the world, experiencing things, solving problems, discovering life. Whatever the story is, the character needs to be actively involved. They need to be an integral part of what is going on, even if it's a scene where they are not present.
The third thing to do is to change this character.
Say what? Did he just say what I thought he said? I just created this honest, real character, dragged him out of the house, made him walk down the path, and now he wants me to change things around?
Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. Your perfect three dimensional character needs to change over the life of the story. Speaking as someone who has almost hit his 40th year, I can tell you that everyone changes. Whether we realize it or not, whether we admit it or not, every person changes over time. This ties into the first part regarding keeping things honest, but if you want your reader to buy into the fact that this is a real person (or alien, or kid, or vampire), you have to keep them real throughout. This means they need to be changed by their experiences, impacted by decisions they make, affected by the world around them.
There are many more ways to make characters compelling (and I'm sure my fellow bloggers will highlight other things, go check each of them out), but these are the top three as far as I'm concerned. What are your ideas on making characters compelling? What else should I have mentioned? The comment box is open. And everyone go have some ice cream. Consider it a celebration of Friday.