Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Blogging Experiment: Creating Compelling Characters

A couple of weeks ago, Elana Johnson (along with Jennifer Daiker and Alex Cavanaugh) proposed a blogging experiment. They challenged readers of their blogs to post today on the same subject: creating compelling characters. The idea was to show how each participant (there are over 150) would have a unique take on the subject. I figured that in order to create a compelling character in fiction, it would help to look at a real-life compelling person. Those of you who know me are probably not surprised at my choice: John Lennon. Here's a short list of the traits that make John Lennon a compelling figure, at least to me. All of these traits can be given to fictional characters as well.

A Dramatic Backstory: John Lennon was born during World War II (some sources say there was an air raid in progress at the time), and his childhood and adolescence weren't peaceful times either. Abandoned by both his father and his mother (when John was five, his father forced him to choose between them), John was mostly raised by his aunt and uncle. He started seeing his mother again when he was a teenager but lost her for good when she was killed in an accident. He also lost both his uncle and his best friend. All this happened before the Beatles became famous. Perhaps it's no wonder John had what I'll call...

A Complex Personality: John presented a brash, rebellious face to the world to cover up his inner insecurities. His wit could be quite cruel, especially if he sensed vulnerability. But he could be kind to fans, signing autographs for them when they waited outside his house. John's personality was large enough to contain other contradictions, as if he was a "sweet bird of paradox" himself. He sang about peace yet had a temper. An intelligent man, he could still be taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. He described himself as the laziest man in England, but he had the ambition and drive to travel across Liverpool to learn a single guitar chord, play for hours on end in Hamburg--in short, to do whatever it took to make the Beatles the best. Throughout his life, John continued to grow, seemingly conquering his inner demons. Although he wasn't much of a father to Julian, he was much more nurturing with Sean.


Leadership: John was the one who started the Beatles, but he inspired countless other people to do things, whether it was playing guitar or giving peace a chance. He was even one of three Men of the Decade (the 1960s, of course).

So to summarize, compelling characters have unique backgrounds that affect their personalities and actions in the story. They aren't one-sided, but have multiple aspects to their personalities. They have both strengths and flaws. And to make them compelling to readers, show how other characters in the story find your main characters worth watching and listening to.

I'm sure there's more I could say, but I'd rather watch this:



For a full list of the people participating in this blogging experiment, please check out the link to Elana's blog at the beginning of this post. And if you're here because of the experiment, hello! Please leave a comment so I can check out your blog too.

56 comments:

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

Wow! What a unique approach to this! Loved it. Great to learn a little more about John too! I had no idea about his past. I only got as far as listening to their music. What a tragic childhood he had. No wonder he turned to music. You know, I wouldn't be surprised if most people who had tragic upbringings turned to music in their later lives. I certainly did. It would be an interesting survey, don't you think?

Jen said...

I love your take on this!!! An approach I've yet to see, and I love! It means the blog experiment is working, and I'm excited to see it.

Music is an excellent source to turn to with such a tragic upbringing. Shapes us, molds us, makes us a real human, just like our character need!

I love meeting new bloggers! Yay officially a new follower!! I love blog experiments.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Yes, what a unique approach! Clever to relate fictional characters to a real life person.

Laura Pauling said...

I love great examples. When reading I also love complicated backstory and seeing how it affects the character. Great post!

Christine Fonseca said...

Ah yes! Like this...complex. Yep.

Michelle McLean said...

wonderful examples :) Love the post!

Elana Johnson said...

I love the leadership aspect. I've never really considered that. Well, maybe I have, but in an indirect way. I usually have to stop and ask myself, "Yeah, but so what? Why is this character so important?" And I think that's the leadership aspect. Great thoughts!

Faith said...

Ooh, I like your approach to this topic! A character study of a real-life person... fantastic, and an excellent reminder of how complex human beings are :)

Thanks for stopping by my blog today! This blogging experiment is a lot of fun, loving all these varied approaches to the same topic!

Meredith said...

Such a good idea to have a real life example! I never knew this much about John Lennon, but he'd definitely make a compelling character. Thanks for the advice!

Hannah Kincade said...

I loved the Leadership aspect. That is something I have never thought about. Thanks!

The Golden Eagle said...

I love the way this is set up focusing on an actual person! It's a great take on the subject. And backstory/personality is so important for a compelling character.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oh, I love the idea of leadership and the unique way you dealt with the topic. Fabulous post! :-)

Danyelle said...

Complex personalities for sure! I just finished a book that left me breathless. The plot was interesting and I liked the MC, but what really blew me away was how complex the antagonist and protagonist were. Their motivations were a delightful tangle that made me want to keep reading. :)

Kelly Dexter said...

This is one of the most original posts I've seen today! It's a great idea to take someone people find compelling in real life and show how their characteristics can be applied to fiction. Wonderful job!

Elena Solodow said...

I agree that this was an excellent approach. Awesome! I'm sure you're looking forward to the upcoming Lennon biopic...

Bish Denham said...

Great way to show something about compelling characters! As I too am a Beatle fan this is particularly interesting.

Jen Chandler said...

GREAT choice for a compelling character. I really enjoyed this!

Cheers,
Jen

Eric said...

This is why I love reading your blog, Sandra. You always have such a unique vision, an interesting perspective on just about any subject. The presentation here is wonderful, and the choice of Lennon as your focal point is perfect. Nice job!

C. N. Nevets said...

I like the leadership quality you bring up here. Not that characters have to be leaders, but that for them to be compelling to readers they need to be compelling to the other characters. Very cool perspective.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

That was fantastic! Thank you for putting so much effort into your post...I loved it.

Summer Ross said...

"unique background" That's a good point. I hadn't thought of it yet. lol

arlee bird said...

Using a real person was a unique way to approach the topic, but it made your points much clearer. You used good examples to back up each aspect of character building. Great job.

Lee

Tossing It Out

Lisa Potts said...

Great post and very unique. John Lennon was a perfect example.

Heather Spiva said...

OH, this is SO good. I love the analogy. I like Lennon, I like writing and I need to always work on characters... I'd say this is a darn near perfect post that helps all of those.
-H

Melissa said...

You nailed the unique approach part. I love that you compared creating a compelling character, to a real life compelling person. I love it, so much!

I love his music but I never knew anything about his past so it was really interesting to learn more about him.

Mary said...

I would never have thought of this approach. Where were you when I was banging my head against the wall?
This is really clever.
(PS Love your background)

lbdiamond said...

Leadership--great point! :D

RaShelle said...

Nice. Very interesting information too. Thanks!

Olivia J. Herrell said...

Sandra, what a great post! I learn best by example and yours was wonderful. I didn't know most of this stuff about John Lennon and, while I already loved him, I love him even more now.

Thank you! ~that rebel, Olivia

Susan R. Mills said...

I love the way you approached this post. This is the first of the blogs to relate opinions to a real life character. You picked a good one! John Lennon is definitely compelling. This blog experiment has led me to so many other great bloggers. I look forward to getting to know you better.

Shallee said...

Love the musical approach! And I love that you bring up that the character should have a UNIQUE backstory. Everyone's lives are different, and the same goes for characters! Thanks for sharing.

P.S. I love your blog layout. :)

Jackee said...

Wonderful, Sandra! I've written a book revolving around The Beatles and YOU still managed to give me things about John I haven't ran across in my research.

Great way to show complexity in character--John certainly was a paradox!

N. R. Williams said...

I didn't realize that John faced so much tragedy at an early age. Some of his faults can be forgiven because of it. Great post.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Erica M. Chapman said...

Awesome! John Lennon, what a great example. I love this! Thanks for sharing ;o)

Lynda Young said...

Great take on the blogging experiment :) Real, strong people with depth. Nice one.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I read this with great interest, though as a poetry writer writing is completely different,
I like your way about going about ways of writing and found it very pleasurable to read.

Have a great week-end/
Yvonne.

Misha said...

I love that you used a historic figure for this! Very creative!

Karen Lange said...

Loved what you did with this. What a great angle! Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.
Have a great weekend,
Karen

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Wow,thanks for the insight on developing compelling characters. I didn't know much about John either. I hate it when children suffer because adults can be real jerks.

Thanks for participating in this fest!

Come and visit me!

Janet Johnson said...

I did not know all that about John Lennon. Very interesting! Love your approach. :)

ali said...

I think we *know* that we're supposed to know our character's history, but how many of us actually put the proper time and effort into it? (okay, well, I think I've established that *I* don't, lol) But if we did ... if we KNEW, even if it never actually got written into the story, you KNOW it would drastically affect the character's BEHAVIOR.

Great, great post, thank you!

Angela M. said...

Amazing example! Making your character complex and multi-faceted as people truly are will definitely make for a compelling character. Great post, Sandra :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

What a great approach to the topic and a wonderful post.

Krispy said...

Cool! I like that you used a REAL person to show us how compelling is done. It's a different take on the topic than what I've read so far.

foldingfields said...

Thanks for the interesting approach on the subject...John Lennon is certainly compelling and I love the added element of "leadership." Really important for a compelling character.

Lyla said...

I'm so impressed by the variety of posts in this experiment! I love this idea--and I learned a bunch of new stuff about John Lennon :)

Nathalie said...

I like the idea of creating a character with a complex personality. It makes them that more intriguing!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post with an interesting perspective!! I think you've got it exactly right when you say characters need to be complex. Nothing is more boring than someone who doesn't grow, doesn't have depth. :)

Pam Torres said...

And here again a new perspective. Complexity of character is so important. Thanks!

Patti said...

I really liked your approach to this., especially exploring how characters back story effects how they act today.

I think you've convinced me to do character studies.

VR Barkowski said...

Fabulous approach and a intriguing example, the perfect way to show how complex people are. It's so easy to wrote characters facile, to dumb them down, but it's the layers that make them fascinating.

Annette Lyon said...

I learned so much about both characterization AND John Lennon. Great angle on the challenge.

Also, great choice of song--it's got great conflict and story in there too.

Jaime Theler said...

A dramatic backstory is always good to make a character more compelling, esp. when you only get little bits of it as you go until by the end you know it. It adds a whole layer. Thanks for the idea!

Margo Berendsen said...

You are the first one I've come across in the experiment who used a real person as a model for a compelling character. Great analysis of Lennon!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

This is such a unique take on the theme, and so true.

You are my 200th follower- thank you!

And I am follower # 108 - in Hinduism, 108 is the most sacred number.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Great approach! And you're right, John Lennon is a perfect example of a compelling person. Thanks!

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