Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What makes a compelling story?

We all have to ask ourselves this at some point in our writing careers.  Probably multiple times in a single draft or book.  What makes our stories compelling?  Is it the plot?  The characters?  What makes that magic spark which helps our books speak to readers?

For me, it's the characters.  If I can't care about the characters, I can't care about the story.  Period.

There is a recent movie, I won't name it, which is a fail for me.  I absolutely cannot care about the characters.  Couldn't tell you one name of a character from the film.  It's a so-so film for me because the story isn't compelling to me.

Compelling and sympathetic characters make even the oldest plot line become fresh and exciting.  They create the magic spark which can land us an agent, get a publishing house to back us up, and ultimately get our books into homes around the world.

So, while plot is important and you should spend a decent amount of time developing it and trying to make it seem somewhat unique on its own, really focus and worry about the characters.

Because if you don't, your story might not stick with anyone.  Then where will we be?

(Probably still typing away at our computers.)


  1. Great post! I completely relate to what you're saying. For so long, I'd been focusing on my plot, just assuming that my charatcers would fall into the pegs. Not so!

    So, I switched gears and started focusing on my characters' internal conflict and my plot is much stronger for it. I'm so glad I found your site! :)

  2. Goodness, you must have been in my brain!

    I actually just had the conversation with one of my crit buddies recently around this. The reader has to care about the character and connect enough to care what happens.

    So I'm working through that right now!

  3. So true! I think it is the characters that make the story. Great post!

  4. This is important stuff. Get in the character's heads. I'm still learning how to do that.

  5. Ah, the characters. So true. I also think, though, that something has to happen to the characters. If nothing happens, what's the point in reading about them, even if we like them? You know?

  6. So true, if you have no attachment to a character, why keep reading? Great post.

  7. I completely agree with this, and I think that what determines if a character is compelling or not is largely a matter of personal taste. I just read a book, that was good, but which I had a hard time getting into because none of the characters were quite doing it for me, and I think that's just me. Someone else would probably pick this up, and think the characters were great.

  8. Sarah, you're so sweet! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. (I'm horrible at that. Sorry!) Glad your characters are working out for you!

    Windy, LOL. I think that topics ebb and flow. There's definitely a current of writerly conversation. I really notice it a lot with certain topics. We all seem to be thinking about some of the same things sometimes.

    Nisa, thanks!

    Liza, so am I. I think it's possibly something a lot of writers struggle with, no matter how many books they've written.

    Elana, this is also true. Or if there's too much "x happens but character overcomes x with ease then y happens and character overcomes y with equal ease..." That pattern can continue and get absolutely more ridiculous.

    Amanda, definitely. Thanks!

  9. Alissa, so true. It's totally subjective. But that's what should be great about literature. You should be able to find a character somewhere that you can connect with.


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