Tag Archives: creating compelling characters

Getting Down and Dirty in 7 Questions

5375244065_feb791c651_oGetting to know someone isn’t as easy as when we were little kids. That first meeting to best friends, or just friends, doesn’t happen within five minutes. Even if two people become buddies, there’s a lot they don’t know about each other.

How do you go from racking your brain, attempting to think of a conversation starter that isn’t the bumbling “What’s new?” or “How’s the weather?” to igniting stimulating, sizzling conversations that create deeper, more meaningful connections?

Here are seven juicy questions that keep the conversation going for hours:

  1. If you could time travel would you go to the past or the future? Why that choice?
  2. How do you wish to be remembered?
  3. If you could get away with a crime, would you? If yes, what would it be?
  4. If you could live forever, how would you spend eternity?
  5. In what ways do you hold yourself back?
  6. If you had one superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?
  7. If you could have the answer to any question, what would that question be?

What’s great about these questions is that they can take serious, humorous, or a variety of turns, and you end up learning a lot about the person answering the question without sounding like you’re in a Q&A.

In terms of writing, use these questions to flesh out your characters. The more you know about a character—even if it’s that the craziest thing they’ve done is skip a day of piano practice—the more realistic that character becomes, and the more readers will be able to visualize and engage with the story.

There are so many other open-ended questions that would also serve as phenomenal conversation starters. What are some you can think of?

(Photo courtesy of erjk.amerjka.)

Don’t Mistake Unpreparedness for Writer’s Block: Know What to Write Before You Write


Sometimes when you sit down to write nothing comes to you. You stare at the blank screen and you can’t picture anything. Frustration builds until you shove yourself away from your desk and leave writing for later.

Often, this inability to conjure anything to write is termed writer’s block. However, writer’s block isn’t always the culprit behind the inability to write. More often than not, nothing is coming to you because you’re not ready to write.

5033800896_b63b3f63f9_oWhen writing a novel, preparedness is extremely important. You need to know what you want to write about. This doesn’t mean that you have to plan out every chapter in advance. Often you’ll find that the story changes as you continue to write it. But, there are many steps involved with writing a book.

Take a minute to think of them.

What did you come up with?

Some of mine include:

  • Writing a one sentence summary. This boils your entire novel down to its main premise. It gives your novel direction. For example, “A mute snake-breeder becomes embroiled in the chase for a once-presumed extinct snake after discovering a blood-splattered scroll in a half-dug grave.”
  • Ask a boatload of open-ended questions. When jumping into more of the details, I’ll ask myself, “what if,” “who cares,” “how about,” etc. These types of questions help me flesh out the story, and help me spot any plot holes before I write myself into a dead-end. Also, open-ended questions are great for adding sub-plots and complexity to a story, thus making it more realistic.
  • Explore your characters. I usually don’t know all of my characters at the beginning of my story, but I know my main characters. I know what they look like, their backstories, how they’ll act, and more. Having fully fleshed out characters not only helps you know your characters inside and out, but helps you see where the story is going and, even, how much of a role each character should have in the plot. Sometimes the person you thought should be the main character isn’t the best choice.
  • Research. Many times there’s information already out in the world about what you want to write. Take time to explore this information. You never know what useful tidbits you’ll discover that will enhance your story. For example, if you’re writing historical fiction, you need to do intensive research on the time period you’re writing about. If you don’t, the piece won’t feel authentic. Even if you’re writing a futuristic science fiction novel, it’s still important to know what type of technology is realistic in the future. You have to be able to explain where nanites came from or how instantaneous travel is possible, or, if you’re writing a dystopian that occurs after World War III, you need to know what the consequences of setting off nuclear bombs are, etc.

Once you’ve done your research and exploration that blank screen will seem like less of a mountain. Ideas will come to you. Perhaps not immediately, ideas take time to fully form, and it’s likely you’ll discover that more ideas come as you’re writing; you’ll end up going back and adding those new story strands, creating a fuller, more complex, and intriguing story.

(Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.)

Heroes Need Flaws Too: Creating a Believable Hero

5572308074_fd3dbc34c6_zWhen we think of heroes, we think of Superman, marines, firefighters, etc. Often heroes are made to be unstoppable forces that are held up on pedestals. But this perfection makes heroes unbelievable. They become characters readers can’t relate to. Since the hero is usually the protagonist of the story, they must draw readers in. The best way to do that is to make the hero human. Give them flaws.

In real life, no one is perfect. We all have things in our past that have effected who we are now. We are all scarred in some way or another. The same goes for our fictional heroes. The first page of a story isn’t the beginning of a character’s life. There’s backstory. A hero’s past can create a compelling character, and for the most part, the hero wasn’t always a hero. Perhaps the character grew up in the inner city and ended up killing a person for a gang initiation. This murder haunted the character, and so to atone, he became a vigilante fighting to save innocent lives and punishing those who deserve it.

Backstory also shows readers what motivates the hero, what choices they’ll make (how they’ll behave), what emotional scars a hero has, what are their quirks, etc.

Flaws make a character believable. When a character is flawed, they make mistakes, sometimes their emotions overpower their reasoning, occasionally they overreact, and with every poor choice they make, they have to deal with the consequences. Readers empathize with this because readers know what it’s like to mess up. But, what really makes readers fall in love with heroes is when heroes struggle to move past their faults, when they grow as characters.

Flaws create conflict (both conflict within the character and conflict with other characters). Conflict within a character is also known as internal conflict. It occurs within a character’s mind. Many people may admire the character, but internally the character believes that they aren’t worthy, and never will be.

Conflict with other characters is known as external conflict. It’s the forces outside of the hero that are trying to prevent the hero from obtaining their goal. External conflict also disrupts relationships between characters, and will be something they have to work through in order to succeed.

The more conflict there is, the more tension increases within a story. But, if the conflict doesn’t make sense, then it will seem random and distance readers from the story. For example, a character can’t simply wake up one day and have women crying make him angry. There has to be a reason for this reaction, which circles back to a character’s past.

If a hero starts out being perfect, then there’s no room for growth, and despite all the external conflicts that occur, it’s the internal conflicts, and the accompanying personal growth, that makes a story appealing to readers.

What flaws do you give your characters?

(Photo courtesy of amanda tipton.)