Friday, September 24, 2010

Weaving Compelling Characters


"He does not write- he breathes life off the page"  -Edna O'Brien on Chekhov

      Characters are what make a story. You can have the most exciting plot with twists and turns but if the characters in your world don't feel authentic, the story will fall flat. The goal in every story is to "suspend disbelief". The best way to do this is to make sure your characters are fully developed.

There are some common threads that I have found woven into every memorable character.

1) Warp- Great characters have back stories that make them who they are. The warp of any weaving is the structure that holds the tapestry together. Our characters don't just pop out of  nowhere. They had full lives before entering the story we are telling. Spending time with your characters and creating a history that leads to who they are today will hold your character together as they face your unfolding plot.

2) Texture- Believable characters have real emotion. The most interesting tapestries have different textures to add depth. Telling your readers that your character is sad is flat and uninteresting. However, if your character is staring at the same stain on the wall, arms wrapped around her shoulders rocking back forth we see and feel that sadness. Look for new and interesting ways to convey emotion.

3) Color- Exceptional characters want something. The use of color creates the unique design of each tapestry. Our characters, from the protagonist to the ancillary characters all have wants and desires that color all their actions. These are what drive the decisions that each character makes. Spend time understanding these motivators.

4) Pattern- Memorable characters have patterns of behavior. Most patterns in a tapestry repeat themselves over and over again. Human beings have a tendency to develop routines, ways for doing things based on who they are. These can be good or bad habits. They can even change as the character grows but these are small things that make each character unique. Flipping his hair to the right, moving her hands whenever she gets excited, are all things that anchor the character in reality and keep your character interesting.

5) Tension- Larger then life characters act when their wants come in conflict with events. In a weaving if the tension is too tight the strings can break, too loose the design becomes distorted, uninteresting. Knowing when and how much tension to introduce to a character and their world is important. It is often referred to as raising the stakes. Push you're characters to the limit then stand back. If you find that your not sure what they will do next then perhaps you need to revisit their wants until it becomes clear.

These are important parts of weaving a character. It is sometimes tempting to skip or skimp on one or more or the parts and just get on with the story. However, you will find that creating full and compelling characters requires close attention to all of these details. (Tapestry above by Sylvia Heyden)

What processes do you use to get at these important parts of a compelling character?

39 comments:

  1. I love the different titles you chose, warping was especially creative, as was patterns. Though i did love them all! Weaving a character is what makes them relateable, which is very important when writing a story!

    Great post, thank you so much for joining in the fun!

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  2. Common threads woven into compelling characters - such a great post!!

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  3. I absolutely LOVE the way you approached this topic! The weaving analogy is brilliant! :-)

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  4. I agree with Shannon - the way you approached this is genius. Awesome job!

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  5. Love the fabric analogy :) Very unique and fresh approach. Texture is always a word that grabs me.

    Cheers!
    Jen

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  6. Very cool analogy and awesome photograph of the weaving!

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  7. Good analogy and a very instructional essay. Great job!

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  8. Unique post. I can't disagree with your analogies.

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  9. Fantastic essay and well thought analogy. Wonderful.

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  10. Great analogy! Very solid and helpful way to look at how all the different aspects work together. I like this much better than layers, because it's not just a sterile stratigraphy; it's all interwoven. Erm. Pun not intended.

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  11. Great job! I love the weaving and the tapestry at the end. So instructional even, I'm going to send it off to the ladies of my writing group.

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  12. wonderful analogy! I love your list, excellent post!

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  13. LOVED THE POST!!
    We've had drama/character analogies now the art ones. They worked very well.

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  14. I love the quote about Chekhov. It's so true. It's also true about our characters - the way to describe the way they're feeling or smelling - sad or good is boring. Excellent.

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  15. That's a clever way to describe it!

    And you do NOT look fifty.

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  16. I love your analogy! And bringing all these aspects of characterization together is what is so hard!! Applying the knowledge.

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  17. That analogy was wonderful. I think it helps to remember concepts with concrete imagery, which the weaving gives.

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  18. Your analogies are awesome. Characters as tapestries, beautiful.

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  19. I like the way you use a tapestry to explain the process.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  20. I love your take on the Blogging Experiment with the tapestry. And you made some great points too.
    Lyn

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  21. I LOVE the way you added weaving to your post! Tension is so important, to keep the reader's interest and ensure a good plot, and the way you presented it is perfect.

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  22. A wonderful blog and a great pleasure to read. everyone seems to have different ideas and I am finding out such alot about writing.

    Enjoy your week-end;
    Yvonne.

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  23. Pam, hi there! I'm meeting so many wonderful people through this 'experiment'! I like your comparison of creating characters to weaving, it's so true. And I LOVE the title of your blog! It IS a big deal (I'm 53).

    And thank you for your kind comment on my own entry.

    that rebel, Olivia

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  24. Ooh, backstory -- yes, super important to keep in mind while you're writing. And the patterns that are a part of that backstory, too. Those patterns tend to define us, and without them, we lose a small sense of our individuality -- so our characters need them, too!

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  25. oooh, this was very clever! Well done!!

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  26. Wow, great post! I love how you compare making compelling characters to weaving a tapestry.

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  27. Hi, I'm dropping in from the blog fest. Nice to meet you! This post should get a gold star. The weaving analogy works beautifully. I'm happy to follow you.

    I'm older than fifty. Don't think of it as a big deal either.

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  28. What a wonderfully creative way to post about the topic!

    Great post!

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  29. I dropped in from the blogfest because your blog title caught my eye. I just turned 50 this summer!

    I'm just going to add to the theme of the comments here and say what an ingenious metaphor you used to draw out some great points. Thank you for the food for thought.

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  30. Hi Pam! You are so creative! I love how you broached your topic.

    You are right. My characters come to my story fully developed. I already know who they are as the dictate their lives to me. For me, tension, conflict and emotion are what makes a page turner. If the feels believable, then I've succeeded. But I only know I have when someone else reads my work.

    Thanks you!

    Come and visit me!

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  31. Holy wow, what a great approach! Putting it in the context of weaving really pulled it together for me. Well done!

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  32. I love that quote! Thanks for sharing that. Comparing creating compelling characters (try saying that ten times fast!) with weaving a tapestry is genius! It's right on. GREAT post!

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  33. Writing and weaving...Great comparison! Loved your take on the subject.

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  34. This is such a great analogy. I love the points you choose, primarily because they are spot on. Great post. And thanks for stopping by my blog. I will have to come by here more often.

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  35. I LOVE all the points in your "weaving a character" analogy! Terrific post -- thank you! :)

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  36. I wish I could come up with analogies like that! My attempts always come across silly. Not only a good analogy, but good points too.

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  37. Great analogy! I especially like what you said about a pattern of behavior; it rings true, and yet, it isn't necessarily one of the obvious things that we think about when we think about characterization.

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