Well, ladies and gents, today is the first time that my blog gets involved in something that didn't come out of my mind. Last night I decided that it would be a great creativity exercise to take part in the Great Blogging Experiment. Basically, a lot of blogs signed up and are all writing about this topic. Please feel free to click on this link and check out some of the others too. OK... let's get going, shall we?
We all have our favourite characters. One of mine (and the one I chose out of many for the purposes of this post) is the Great Detective himself. If any of you thought: "Poirot," I must ask... What the hell were you thinking? I'm talking about Sherlock Holmes. After all, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed him off the first time, there was a public outcry to bring him back. I don't think you can get more compelling than that. But more about Holmes later.
Before we can go into writing compelling characters, we must first ask: "What is a compelling character?" To my mind, a compelling character is one that grabs my attention and holds it for dear life. He/she/it makes me want to read an entire story - regardless of the length - to find out what happens to him/her/it. Sometimes (as Holmes did), characters keep our attention through several books and/or stories. Holmes managed it through 56 short stories and four novels. And that's just the canon. (Gave away my fan-girl status just now, didn't I?) Anyway. Although I think it insane to aspire to such a stretch of attention, it makes him an awesome example.
Now we ask: "What makes characters compelling?" This question can be more than a little tricky to answer. One person may believe a character to be compelling, but the next might not. I know that a lot of people don't like any of Sherlock Holmes books. They don't take a particular liking to Holmes either. After all... He's "better-than-thou", moody, cynical, a drug addict, not very appreciative of his best (perhaps only) friend in the world. Basically your all round generic magnificent bastard. Who could possibly like a character like that?
Oh I don't know, me and about five generations of Holmes fans? Face it, haters. He's sticking around... But what makes him so compelling?
Exactly those things I listed. Yes yes I know. There is this common idea that characters have to be likable to be compelling. No no dears. They have to be interesting. Holmes is all those things I listed above, but he's more complex than that. Still, he is very very loyal and is willing to admit when he is wrong - although it is rare enough. He is moody because he is easily bored and frustrated by the stupidity of those around him. He is, after all, a genius. But his genius extends beyond book knowledge. The list goes on and on and on. But I'm going to skip right to the end of my mental list to the most important attribute.
Holmes is, above all, Holmes. He doesn't care about what others think of him. If they don't like him, so what? He's not going to change who he is just to fit into the mould people would like to put him in.
And that brings me neatly to writing compelling characters. Create them, then let them grow on their own. Don't force them to conform to what you think they should be, for they are who they are. Yes, the character might not be nice, but by gum he is interesting.
Remember: interesting is good. All nice is boring. Interesting makes reader want to peel back the layers to get to know the character. They'll read as far as they can to do so.
But who wants to hear how wonderful and perfect anyone is anyway?
Imagine if Holmes was truly perfect. A detecting Genius that never did anything wrong. Ever. I shudder at the thought, because I would never have read beyond the first book...
So, ladies and gents. What do you think? Am I talking total nonsense? What do you think makes a compelling character? Who is your most favourite character of all time? What makes him/her/it so compelling to you?