Creating Compelling Characters

Whenever I led writers’ groups, I found writers stretched to the limit. Squeezed between work and family obligations, grabbing spare minutes to write, they bought the recommended writing books that came along, but they had no time to read or apply the techniques the tomes contained.

Frequently I found myself condensing, combining, copying bits from here and there and passing out sheets at the meetings. One week might be some comedy techniques of Doug Adams, next week it might be on establishing tone.

That’s my task here. Every day give you a morsel to digest, use ASAP. Keep it short, simple.  KISS

Whenever possible, I use books written by the best—today it’s some tips on character from mystery writer Elizabeth George, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. Tomorrow, some from Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress, tops in science fiction. I’ve read novels by both, they deliver what they’ve preached.

Each main character gets a character analysis, a complete bio.

She free writes, stream of consciousness, to start exploring the relationships.

“Create characters who are real to the reader, who evoke an emotional response within the reader, and you create suspense because the reader will want to know what’s going to happen to those people once the status quo is shattered by the primary event

One way to do this is to give the character an intention. This produces interest in the reader. It produces anticipation. If the reader cares about a character, the reader anticipates the problems he’s going to face. Using time also works to promote suspense.”

5 unique things that she does for each bio

  1. She establishes the character’s core need. This is something essential to him that, when denied, results in whatever constitutes his psychopathology.

Examples: need to be competent: good at everything you do.

flip       Self-castigation, he’d never act out.

  1. The supreme stress he’s ever under will be when his core need is thwarted. His pathological maneuver is the flip side of the core need.

Delusions, compulsions, addictions, denial, hysterical ailments, hypochondria, illnesses, behaviors harming the self, behaviors harming others, manias, and phobias are all possible maneuvers.

If the core need is internal, the flip will also be internal.

  1. A character’s sexuality, history and attitudes.
  2. An event in the character’s past that has had a huge impact on him. This may never be stated in the novel.
  3. What does the character want in the novel? In each scene?

That’s enough, get writing.



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Beginning Write

Began writing at 12, and began compulsively reading every writing book and magazine I could get my hands on. It's been a great hobby that I've enjoyed and now wish to share. I've led two writing groups, been a part of many more, and see this blog as an extension of that.

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