Monthly Archives: December 2009

How to Create a Compelling Character : Part I


Creating characters is a tricky business. If they are too life-like they will be boring. With too many quirks, flaws or features they will be confusing. Compelling characters have a little of each of these things. But mostly they have a strong desire or longing to accomplish something or a problem to overcome.

One handy way to begin designing a character is to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Decide where on the pyramid your character is located and go from there.

Figure out what your character is seeking on the diagram and you will know how to start building their personality and such.

Quirks Don’t Equal Character

Many beginning writers make the mistake of thinking that giving a character a set of mannerisms or physical quirks is “characterization”. But these alone don’t make your characters compelling.

When your characters do have unusual quirks they need to be relevant to their back story – the things which happened to them before they appeared in your book. Compelling characters need to resemble an iceberg.  Readers should have the sense that there’s a lot more under the surface. Characters shouldn’t feel like they didn’t exist before page one.

  • Don’t make your characters too one-dimensional-they’ll be boring. Everyone is multi-layered and complex. Characters should be even more so.
  • Characters need to do exciting things to keep a reader’s attention. Real people are boring. Don’t base characters on real people unless you spice them up some.
  • Don’t put a laundry list of physical traits in a clump in the story. Design the character’s physical attributes, but spread them out throughout the story. And don’t include anything not relative to the story.
  • Watch people when you’re out and about. Keep a notebook on you at all times to record odd characteristics you see. If someone walks differently or dresses strangely, record it.

Readers don’t have to like your characters, but they should be able to feel a sense of empathy for them. Even antagonists shouldn’t be purely evil. The explanation for why they’re such awful people forms part of their back story.

On the flip side, heroes shouldn’t be too perfect. Readers enjoy reading about people with flaws, problems or situations larger than ones they deal with daily. They also enjoy reading about characters who are larger than life. Characters are more compelling when a reader can share their struggles and cheer on their victories.

Ways to build empathy are:

  • Show a character’s suffering, either mentally or physically
  • Include a flashback to an unhappy childhood or traumatic incident
  • Share your character’s thoughts
  • Use the first-person or third-person limited point of view
  • Show a character being misunderstood or bullied by others
  • Have the Antagonist frustrate a character’s attempts to meet their need

Finally, have fun. If a character bores you they’ll bore the reader. If a character is exciting or enticing to you, the reader will enjoy them as well. You may have to revise a character several times before you get it right; don’t be afraid to do so.

In my next blog I will post a spreadsheet I use to design characters.


Recycling Items is NOT Charity and It Feels Good, too


The holidays are a time when we think about charity and sharing and giving to those in need. I was recently spoken to by God when he told me to give away the barn full of stuff I’d been preparing for a garage sale.

I had recently joined Freecycle, an interesting way of recycling usable stuff for those who can use it. No money is exchanged. Only good feelings.

My entire life I had been taught to get the value out of stuff and that always meant selling it when I was finished with whatever. So for me to start giving away things was a remarkable step. But I found that the more I give the more I want to give. I find myself looking through my clothes or the house for stuff to give away.

It’s a remarkable feeling to help those who are less fortunate at the moment.

Writers’ Contests Galore


I recently became interested in submitting stories and my MS to various writing contests. I have located contests for short stories, poetry and novels. Prizes vary widely from possible publication to money.

I haven’t won anything yet because the contests I entered are still open, but I’ll keep trying. It’s fun to write a wide variety and since practice makes better, this is great painless practice.

I’ve listed information about several contests which are open at the moment on a separate page of this blog. Check it out and submit your stuff.

You might just win!

50+ Awesome Resources for Writers


As a writer I know how difficult it can be to find really good information and help on the web. I found these 50  plus websites and blogs to be very helpful and hope that you will too.

teen lingo

book doctor on

whole lot of author interviews Coolstuff..

read about fav authors or discover new ones

character naming resource

copyright info from the horse’s mouth

basic grammar info

Writer Beward resource

International Conference listing

everything about fiction writing

everything about writing horror

writer’s resource website and discussion forum dedicated to the romance

supports women writers

a free writers’ resource listing over 2700 current Fiction and Poetry publications

weekly submission calls to paying markets

Association of Author’s Representatives

check out new agents

find agents easily/great forums

Preditors and Editors-Beward of Scams

the business side of writing

chart compares POD companies

plot tips

everything about agents and queries

up to minutes news about publishing industry

connect with published or not authors

every contest the editor can find

Q&A section, a job thread and a critique section

science fiction and fantasy writers or am

share your MS for annotation & chat

give and receive  reader feedback

online destination for your writing group

Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network

Janet Reid dissects queries

Rachelle Gardner gives a lot of helpful info

Janet Reid’s other blog- tons of resources

Nathan Bransford- industry info, very useful

A Writer’s Guide to Self Publishing on Bubble Cow

12 Random But Pretty Good Ideas for Selling Your Book

30 One-Minute Tips for Strengthening Your Novel

How to Name the Characters in a Novel

cliché finder

The Difference Between MG and YA

Lulu Titlescorer

more info on writing for kids than you can stand

best blog for helping writers write

Website Grader by HubSpot

A site for writers, readers and fans of children’s literature written by Mary Kole, associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency!

Reasons Why Your MS Got Rejected

scbwi Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators—What-We-Do

Goodreads- Great site for Readers & Writers

She Writes a site for women writers

Inked-In a community for writers, musicians and artists