What You Must Know Before Creating Compelling Characters In Fiction


Whether it’s in a book, television series, movie or stage production, compelling characters will make your work of fiction stand out.

But there are certain things you must know before creating them.

1) Compelling characters can have skewered moral compasses.

Gabrielle Gabrielle Solis of Desperate Housewives was a beautiful, vapid, self-absorbed, retired runway model who basically committed statutory rape when she cheated on her husband with their teenage gardener.

Wilhemina Slater from Ugly Betty was a conniving, greedy woman who would do anything to get herself in a position of power.

Daniel Meade was an entitled so-and-so who was known more for his man-ho ways and whose son he was, than he was for any actual work that he did.

His case was so bad that his father, Bradford hired Betty on the basis of her looks alone.

She looked so physically unappealing that Bradford was sure Daniel wouldn’t be tempted to sleep with her.

These people were pieces of work. Not the kind of folk that many of us would like to be friends or close acquaintances with in real life.

Yet, people tuned in from all over the world to watch them on a weekly basis because the characters were so compelling.

2) Compelling characters want something. And they want it baaaad.

So whether it’s pleasure they’re trying to achieve or pain they’re trying to avoid, the desire is deep.

Deep enough to make them attempt what would normally be impossible, irrational, irresponsible, criminal or just plain dumb.

Digging their way out of a jail cell. Travelling thousands of miles to get a leaf from an evil forest. Lying to cover up an affair. Killing to hide the results of a paternity test.

It’s not what they want, that makes them compelling.

It’s how they go about getting or keeping the thing they want more than anything else in the world, that makes them compelling characters.

3) Compelling characters don’t usually see themselves as others do.

A young woman trying to mind her own business and survive, doesn’t realise she’s the long-awaited chosen one whose arrival was prophesied years before her parents met.

A geeky, awkward lad who thinks he’s regular at the very best, doesn’t understand that his teacher is harder on him because he’s truly a warrior in hiding.

Whether for good or bad, appearances can be deceiving. And compelling characters tend to believe their circumstances. At first.

So, they don’t understand why situations and life single them out for trouble or trauma.

Yet, in order to produce tea from a tea bag, hot water must be poured on a teabag. Or the teabag must be put in hot water…

4) Their growth and transformation surprises them more than it does others.

Transformation can be negative or positive. And you’ll find that because of a lie that someone has believed, their growth and transformation can truly stun them.

Many times, a mentor/teacher/trainer will know (or at least have an idea) what their student is capable of. So, if they live to see it happen, they’re not surprised. Relieved, yes – especially if it’s taking too long. Surprised, no.

Unless s/he is careless, a villain is never surprised at what a protagonist becomes. That’s why they oppose him/her at first; to try and prevent that becoming from happening.

Then, it becomes about distracting, derailing or destroying him/her.

An antagonist is not afraid of a protagonist who’s yet to discover himself/herself. They’re terrified of what might happen when s/he does.

That fear is sometimes what drives the antagonist to do certain things; there’s actually a method to the madness.

People who don’t do as they’re expected to, are unaware of something life-changing about themselves, and eventually or swiftly come into their own as a result of being pushed – are as compelling as they come.

But they also make you question everything you think you know because you’re not supposed to like people who break the rules.

We like to believe that every hero/ine was born one and has always been one.

But compelling characters aren’t like that; you can’t put them in a box. Especially when it comes to how, where, when or exactly why their transformation takes place.

Click here to see the six questions you must ask when developing characters in fiction.

Comment below and let us know the most surprising thing you just learned about compelling characters

3 thoughts on “What You Must Know Before Creating Compelling Characters In Fiction

  1. Wow!
    I will say this is a lot to really digest, you know I had to relate everything read with movies that got me glued to the end,and I realize this was actually their secret..

    Thanks so much for the gift of knowledge, I can’t wait to lay my hands on a book and write something really captivating.

    But I got a question though…
    Please how do you start writing a book,novel or the likes….
    Do you sort of do a little jotting,summary,even listed the numbers of character you which to use?,each individual roles? or how do you go about it?…. Because often times I realize when I start to write I got stock at the middle, or I tend to forget details or what I intended writing once I pause for a while, what do you suggest I do???

    P.s–Am so sorry,that was a long one,I hope you don’t mind.
    Once Again thanks for sharing.

    1. User Avatar

      Thank you for your comment. We’re glad you found the post helpful.

      We’ve been working on another post, and we’re positive it will address your questions.

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