Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Blogging Experiment

When I first saw the cast for ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’, my jaw just about dropped to the ground in awe.  The casting was absolute perfection.  Harrid, Dumbledore, Ron, McGonagall…it’s like either J.K. Rowling wrote with those actors in mind or her characters were just that developed and dimensional, it was almost easy for the producers to cast accordingly and for the actors to slip into those rolls like a second skin (-yeah.  I’m going with the second explanation too.) 

J.K. Rowling built a solid foundation.  But what makes for compelling characters in the big scheme of things?  Here’s what I think:

First, compelling characters are ‘seen’.  Physical description has to be tight, along with all the little quirks that make them unique- just like real people.  ‘tall with dark hair and eyes’  isn’t gonna cut it.   How do they walk?  What does their voice sound like?  Their accent?  Physical ticks, habits or dress? 

Secondly-  Background.  Part of what makes a character intriguing is how their background relates to the story.  Do they have the ability to help?  Or hurt?  Can they be trusted?  Do they have a reputation?  Or are they discrete and mysterious? 

Third- Personality traits and tension building.  Each character has to have their own personality.  If two characters resemble each other too closely- you can probably roll them into one.  Different traits allow you to create tension- whether humorous, apprehensive, angry, sexual, or just plain fun.   Opposites attract, or repulse; making harmony or chaos and when you have different personalities, there are a million ways to bounce them off one another- creating tension throughout the story.

Last, I think the most important thing to relate to all of the above is realism.  Characters shouldn’t take illogical or unreasonable courses of action. Dialogue should reflect both personality and background and neither action nor dialogue should be used just to move the story along- but also to develop these characters as much as possible.  They need to be real.  To feel real.  I think, for this, getting to know your characters is key. 

One tip I’ve read about is to write one hundred facts about your character.  For example: (I’m taking this from one of my wip’s)

 1. Name is Aiden
 2. Seventeen years old
 3. Has pin straight blond hair that falls flat now matter how much he ruffles it, to his dismay.
 4. Eats constantly- Loves junk food.
 5. Is a terrible liar.  As in, can’t lie to save his life.
 6. Has hazel eyes
 7. Is horny about 90% of the time
 8. Gets emotional and heartfelt when he’s hammered
 9. Hates the fact his parents never have any money
10. Hates the fact his dad expects him to be a fisherman like him and never have any money ever.

Getting the picture?  Getting to know your characters inside and out will help you determine how they’d realistically react in a situation.     

I’m really glad to have heard about The Great Blogging Experiment and I can’t wait to check out what all the other participants had to say about ‘writing compelling characters’!  Thanks Elana Johnson for coming up with this brilliant non-blogfest!

50 comments:

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Great post! I agree that it's very important to know alle the little details on one's personality. Even if they're not used, they will eventually influence their actions in the story I believe :o) Kisses to you! xoxo Miss you! You're not around so much anymore ... :o(

salarsenッ said...

Love this post. Individualizing characters is so important, adds flavor just like in real life. I use a form I've devised, kind of like a bio, for my characters. I find using it frees me up to explore what each character could be, not only what they end up to be.

Talei said...

Totally agree, characters need to feel real and also if you can connect with them somehow, quirky habits, personality traits are great ways to do this. Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier. ;)

Quinn said...

I love that you did this by talking about Harry Potter. One thing that JK Rowling definitely understands is backstory. She has notebooks upon notebooks filled with each and every character's backstory -- most of which never made it into the novels.

Jen said...

Thanks for joining the Experiment!!

Harry Potter is such a great example because the characters in the story are so well developed, and I agree with you, I think she did such an amazing job that anyone would have fit the mold no matter who was cast. It was just that good!!

Happy Friday!

Vicki Rocho said...

This blogfest was a fabulous idea. Harry Potter was a great example.

Candyland said...

Yay, Katie! Great post! Personally, I've never been good at the interview of character thing and am not fond of writing a sheet with their traits, but I know it works for a lot of writers.

Laura Pauling said...

I'm not one for character charts but I might try the 100 list thing just to see how far I can get! And i like the realism/believability point.

Matthew Rush said...

Wow. Well done. Great post Katie. I especially like the exercise at the end, though I'm too lazy for that kind of thing myself.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like the 100 facts idea!

Elaine AM Smith said...

I agree, I need to know what the author thinks the character look like.
Did you see the effort they put into casting HP?
My daughter cried when I wouldn't let her join the queues to test for Luna.She was compelled to! I think it was because her brother, despite his Autism, was regularly mistaken for Daniel Radcliffe and we live near the set.

Old Kitty said...

Awww I;m loving Aidan already! Poor soul horny 90% of the time - no wonder he eats constantly!!
:-) I feel his pain!!!

Thank you for sharing this sample of how to flesh out characters! It's very helpful.

Take care
x

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post, Katie. I only like characters who feel real. And there're so many things you need to take into consideration for that to happen.

Right now agents are salivating, expecting in a few months time their slush piles are going to filled with books lush with rich characterization after today's experiment.

E.J. Wesley said...

I'm not much one for brainstorming techniques, etc. but I really like your idea of '100 things' and might just have to try it.

I think it'd be totally helpful for some of those sneaky side characters who are struggling to define themselves.

Thanks, and have a great weekend!

Carolyn V. said...

I totally agree with Harry Potter. The casting was right on! I think description is so important in writing. I read a book once where the mc's hair was brunette in the first chapter and then blond in the third (where was the editor on that one?)

Meredith said...

I've never thought about describing the way my characters walk before--you're right that you need to give as clear a picture as possible for them to feel real. Thanks for the advice!

clp3333 said...

I like your 100 facts. Being horny and also not able to lie is a volatile combination.

WindyA said...

Great post and I think you sum it all up really nicely with "characters are seen" and everything else comes secondary. I think that once you can see them, then they're suddenly more real and you are compelled to care about everything else that goes into building them!

Dawn said...

Great post, Creepy :-) I may not always know where my plot is going but I always nail down my characters. I have file folders of information about them, but by the time I sit down to right, I don't need the folder. It's all in my head.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is my favorite post so far, Katie! Your point about the characters needing to be "seen" is so true! Using the HP cast to prove it was brilliant. Great post! :-)

Hart Johnson said...

The HP characters really do have ALL those things, don't they? I love how they are revealed too--Hermione with her very bushy hair and bossy voice, Ron, grimacing as he says he already has a sandwich so can't buy any trolley snacks (indicating the poverty).

I think you've got it all here--Aiden sounds like a great (realistic teen boy) character!

Colene Murphy said...

Great choice for the opening! Oh Harry...Swoon.
And Awesome tips. Going to try it out and see if I can make my gal a little more rounded! Awesome post!

Clara said...

Very good point Kd, thanks for sharing!

April said...

It's kinda crazy because as the author, we have to know so much more than the readers will ever know about our characters. And sometimes, we end up assuming the reader knows certain things he couldn't possibly know. I've done that before and confused my readers!

As for Harry Potter, I haven't read a single book or seen a single movie.

But, I go for the character interview myself. That's how I get to know my MCs.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Harry Potter set the bar high, didn't it? Sigh.

Kelly Dexter said...

J.K. Rowling is a perfect example of an author with a superb command of characters. If she wasn't, I wouldn't have been such an emotional wrecking ball while reading the final book.

I'm glad you mentioned physical description. I'm in the camp that wants to know exactly how the characters looks to the author. I have trouble with vague descriptions like "tall with dark hair and eyes". You're right, it's just not enough.

Shannon said...

Great tips! I absolutely agree with the illogical or unreasonable action. I can't stand when characters do something stupid.

Elana Johnson said...

Characters must be seen. I so agree with this! And I like your list of stuff; I like that it has both physical and emotional things.

Tere Kirkland said...

Wow, 100 facts! I really should make time to do this.

That's devotion.

Awesome post, girl!

~Tere

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Realism is important. You're right.

Even if fantasy, if you can believe in the humanity of a werewolf (he's shy in front of pretty werewolves) then you can accept and believe the fantasy part.

Come visit my dual post for the compelling character blogfest and the happy birthday blogfest.

See if I followed my own advice.

You, as ever, had a great post, Roland

Jackee said...

Wonderful! And to the point. :o) I love especially how you lump personal ticks into what is seen--I never thought of it that way but it's so true.

And I do the 100 things too! It's so helpful. Hard, but helpful.

Have a lovely weekend, Katie!

L'Aussie said...

Hey CQG this is a great post. I really like the 100 facts, a bit easier than writing a dossier on each one!

I guess, I like most people, are ticking the boxes as we read advice here and you've made me consider some points where my characters may be wanting. That's the idea, I'm sure.

Thank you..:)

Melissa said...

Pretty sure I want to read a story about Aiden. Just saying.

Love the HP reference and can I say that I agree with you totally. Those actors look like the characters, like exactly! Exactly how I pictured them and I really think you are right.

These are some excellent tips you have here too. Realism is the biggest key, the most important thing to accomplish and the hardest.

great post.

Elizabeth Briggs said...

Harry Potter is a great example. Wow, 100 facts... I am going to try that.

lbdiamond said...

Knowing 100 things about your characters definitely makes them more well-rounded! Great post!

Jennifer Hoffine said...

I like the hundred facts idea. Nice post!

Lynda Young said...

Yes, I hadn't thought of that...they have to be 'seen'. Great point!

Medeia Sharif said...

I do journals about my characters, but I'd like to try your 100 Facts list.

RaShelle said...

Yes, it was amazing how easily it was to tell the characters for Harry Potter. JK Rowling gave us such great descriptions of her characters. Amazing! And a 100 facts is a lot. Mmmmm. =D

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post, Katie! Thanks for sharing Aiden with us...

Julie Musil said...

I like the write 100 facts about your character tip. Great stuff!

By the way, I think I'd love reading about Aiden!

DL Hammons said...

I agree 100%! You've thrown a net over all of the most important elements in developing characters. Well done!!

Elena Solodow said...

Nice post. I wish 100 facts would be enough to cover the entire world that is a character's inner workings, but it's a good start!

Elizabeth Mueller said...

I really do love interviewing my MCs. They come to life. Even their voices shines through as they answer them questions. Great post! Come and visit me!

Yaya' s Home said...

You make some great points. I kinda' go around, living in my characters' skins for awhile, before I actually breathe life into 'em. Yeah, kinda' creepy, I know. But it works.

~ Yaya

stickynotestories said...

"Has pin straight blond hair that falls flat now matter how much he ruffles it, to his dismay."

I love this. Not just describing his hair, but describing how he feels about his hair. I know I hate my hair today (I kinda wish it would lay flat!) so this instantly makes this character more interesting for me.

Great post!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Great points. Love the details about your character. And I agree, the casting for the Harry Potter movies was phenomenal.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I think it's important to have characters who are compelling when they interact with each other. Good post.

Molly said...

I really loved the part about character tension. It is so important that the characters feed off of each other in some way. Moments of inter-character tension are fabulous for pulling out key character traits and watching them unfold!

The Empress said...

Have been hopping around your blog tonight...Your posts are so helpful. Each one. I hope they stay on the internet forever, for...one day...when I finally do write my book, I'll know what to do.

How generous you are with your knowledge and life's lessons.

Thank you!

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