Conference Notes Pt. 1: Compelling Characters

I attended a local writing conference recently where a best-selling author of Amish romance taught a workshop about making characters compelling. Here are some highlights from her instruction which I found very interesting.

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HammerCharacter Building

  • Building a character takes as much time as other elements like plot, setting and pacing so don’t rush through this process.
  • Characters are what readers remember most so pertinent details and actions leave the most impression.
  • However, much like a plot often needs a change from what is planned, a character may need a similar overhaul mid-way through a draft – if it’s a common occurrence with plot don’t be surprised or annoyed when it happens with a character.
  • Also, when building a character discover your own best way to uncover the essence of your character. Yes, a character interview may work well for some writers. However, you might try something else, like pretending to explain – or sell – the character to an editor. I found this last idea interesting since you might even find that you argue your points about your character in order to really get familiar with them.
  • Ask lots of questions of yourself regarding how changes in the story would change the character and vice versa.

Character & Events

  • A character may be seemingly ordinary but the extraordinary events in the story may reveal extraordinary traits.
  • marionetteWhile good and bad events occur as the character experiences the story-arc, your character may react to these events differently than expected. A seemingly good event might actually be something that affects the character negatively, such as fear of success.
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  • When opening the story, find subtle ways to reveal a character’s traits and do so quickly.
  • Readers don’t have to agree with a character – whether they have the same ideals or swear or whatever – they just need to identify with the why and what of the character’s circumstance that is compelling.
  • Lies & misunderstandings are important for creating empathy for a character. For instance, a character may be lying throughout for good and bad reasons, but whatever they are trying to hide can be powerful to a reader. Likewise, what characters believe about themselves that are lies can also be powerful. This deceptions can shape all their actions throughout the story, maybe even affect their truthfulness with other characters. It’s important to find either or both kinds of lies and use them effectively.

I hope the highlights help you think about building a compelling character. I know I’ll put these to better use in the future. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. I’d also love to connect with you over social media so check my Contact page for that information. I’ve updated the site with a new landing page starting today but you can still view the News page for announcements. As part of the changes, new email subscribers (you’ll neither be spammed nor have your address sold) will receive my free new guide, 15 Must Have Apps for Self-Publishing Authors. Sign-up today! I’ve added a new sign-up tab on my FaceBook page to simplify the process. Also, the cover of my book, The Bow of Destiny, was revealed recently so take a look.

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5 thoughts on “Conference Notes Pt. 1: Compelling Characters

  1. Excellent treatise on character building. I tweeted it and put it on facebook. While developing your characters, it helps to bring sensory reactions into play to further their development. For instance a smell may bring back a memory of the character’s past or a good/bad event which tells the reader even more about the character. Good post!!
    Micki Peluso

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