1. MustWrite
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    MustWrite Member

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    What makes a character compelling despite poor writing?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by MustWrite, Apr 15, 2013.

    I was thinking on the twilight books and others which seem to be either loved or hated, and though I would not like to defend bad writing in these books I want to ask, Why do so many people have a strong connection to these stories? I believe that if a character is real enough, accessible enough, compelling enough, then even really terrible writing can be overlooked by many people because they care deeply about that character.

    Is there something I can learn here? What can I put into my characters, that combined with [I hope] a much higher quality of writing, will have a similar pull on people?

    I wonder if the special something [sometimes the only special something in these books] is that the writer really deeply knew and cared and believed in those characters, those characters lived and talked and acted through that writers mind in a way that is truly compelling, and that sometimes that extra character oomph is missing from many otherwise brilliantly written books?

    What say thee?
     
  2. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    On your example. The twilight characters were not likeable in any kind of sense. What the 13 year old girls who liked it actually liked was the contrast created by the ridiculously plain and devoid of redeeming qualities Bella and the oh-so-perfect in every way Edward. People didn't care about the characters. The characters were not real at all. Saying they did is like saying that people watch porn for the story.
    What you are looking for is probably relateable characters, characters the reader can identify with and care for throughout your story. And don't worry about your writing skills. Even an 8 year old with crayons and a napkin can write better than Stephanie Meyer.
     
  3. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    That's a little harsh. Stephanie Meyer always puts me in a good mood. (Can you guess why?)
     
  4. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey! I love the story of the pizza guy delivering to a house full of hot girls..... The way the writer captivated the audience, kept us in his hand, needed to work on suspense I grant ya as we could all see what was coming but ya know... good story all the same
     
  5. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    It's hard to say really. I think the reason Twilight worked for so many young female readers was because Bella was a blank slate, so it would have been easier to slip in her shoes and see the world around her from her POV. Although this is something that is advised against, it usually happens to a lot of writers in the early parts of the writing process since they're still discovering their world themselves. In my opinion, this works better in the novels than in the movies because on screen, we're watching Bella from a more objective viewpoint and she just seems like a really flat, passive character.

    Accessibility is basically determined by how relatable your character is. A compelling character is one that has a balance of flaws and virtues, contradictions, quirks and idiosyncrasies. Bella has the first characteristic, not the second.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're right, MustWrite. People will overlook terrible writing and prose if there's a good story and compelling characters. It's not far off from those cheesy overly-dramatic Lifetime television/made for tv movies that can occasionally suck away an entire afternoon. It can be tough to figure out, but there needs to be something about the character that the reader can believe he or she exists and have some reason to root for him or her. I've never read Twilight, but I admit to reading the FSOG series. I couldn't figure out why I read them, and read them quickly, because the writing was bad (and I kept noticing it) and there were many things in the plot that were ridiculously unrealistic and implausible. But for some reason, I found the Christian Grey character very compelling, and I had to find out what happened to him in the end. I've been trying to figure this out ever since I read it, since the books were such a phenomenon, yet I have no interest in reading any similar books. I guess, somehow, there was a mix of good and bad traits, that did make him seem human. I wanted him to overcome his flaws, despite him having trouble doing so. He did change through the book, so he wasn't one-dimensional or flat. There were some scenes in the book that did depict him in a realistic way, (although there were other scenes that did not). I think sanco is right about the balance of flaws and virtues, etc.

    And erebh -- yes, the conflicted feelings about bringing the pizza, the hesitation, the big emotional stakes -- all very compelling. And don't forget the cinematography.
     
  7. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, rising action, climax, falling action... rising action, climax... and on it goes.

    To answer the OP: I guess that goes to show how important characters really are. Twilight is not a very good example, but many people dislike J.K. Rowling's writing style, but the characters she's created (and the world) are compelling and relatable.
     
  8. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    No, what we like is a part of her writing style, and three or four characters (Snape>all). Most of the main characters in the Harry Potter series were inconsistent and for lack of a better word plain stupid.
     
  9. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    One factor is right marketing, tapping the not-so-literature-minded readers, and believe me that market is huge! Those readers, all they ask for is easy-to-relate characters written in easy-to-understand English, and the marketing people have to do is simply to make it fashionable among those readers to say 'I have also read that book'. However, that marketing strategy is easier said than done, because I don't think there is a definite marketing formula to make a book so successful. So, luck is an even BIGGER factor for such kind of success. I don't think the writer and the publisher had any idea about such a huge success of their book when they first published it.

    I see a hint of anger in your post. Understandable, I mean, how a badly written book with cardboard characters could be so popular when you are toiling to create rounded characters and memorable stories. But, leaving the money aside, ask yourself, will you be truly happy to say you have written the Twilight series? If yes, then go ahead and follow the trend, and don't bother what unpublished wannabe writers in some internet writing forums or critics in reputed magazines are saying about your writing. And if no, continue writing what you enjoy writing and feel proud about.
     
  10. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    It just hit the right nerve at the right time, I never understood why but fantasy stories, especially vampire stories always seem to be popular when the economic state is in a down turn. Such as a recession. Plus Teen girls love girl meets unobtainable boy and snare him. Just fill in the gaps around.
     
  11. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Stephenie Meyer actually did exactly the opposite of what you're saying, to be completely honest, but at the same time, exactly the same. Bella Swan was described as completely character-less as possible. She was not relatable in that she had features that readers could identify with. She was relatable in that she was a blank slate with a few random qualities that young girls as a whole tend to identify with - she didn't find herself very attractive, she was very clumsy, she was bored and frustrated with the world around her... So she painted this thin image of a young woman that any girl could become and put her in an environment that a young lady would consider a fairytale. All of the guys in school want her, even though she has no idea why. The girls are jealous of her, but she has a few amazing friends that stand by her anyway. And the one guy that she would never be able to resist isn't capable of resisting her anyway.
     
  12. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Truly happy? I'd be ecstatic! In so many threads here, Twilight and Harry Potter get slated - I haven't read either, not even watched the movies so I can't say either way. I did however watch the JK Rowling story. Harry Potter started out as a bedtime read for her toddler. Her friend saw the first chapter and persuaded her to finish it. No agent or publisher would touch it untill an eagle-eyed agent's secretary talked her boss into "helping out". Eventually she got an advance of about a grand which thrilled her as she was completely broke at the time and living in the welfare state in the slums of Scotland. I think she did marvellous and doesn't deserve the stick she gets by any stretch of the imagination. Good luck to her!
     
  13. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    If what you mean by saying that she was relateable by any girl is that she had working lady parts and wanted boyfriend, then i would agree. If not, i feel very sorry for those girls.

    PS. erebh, i have no qualms with J.K.Rowling as a person, i actually found her life's story inspiring to a degree. Stephanie Meyer on the other hand should burn (ok,maybe not burn but you get the picture). What we don't like is parts of their work (or all of it when it comes to Meyer).

    To answer killbill's question, if it was not for the money i believe not even the author would associate herself with the Twilight series (or the Host for that matter since it is equally bad).
     
  14. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    What I mean is that she gave her readers a mostly blank slate that they could form themselves around. As I said: most young ladies can identify with considering themselves unattractive, clumsy, and out-of-place with the world around them. Beyond that, we're given very little to go on except that she likes reading, and, of course, if you are reading the book, it can be easily supposed that you do, as well.

    After that, the girls could do whatever they wanted to Bella. They could make up aspects of her life - of her personality. There's not much time given the Bella's thoughts and actions when she's not hanging out with or thinking about Edward. That's what the story is cetnered around, so the way she spends the rest of her time and energy can be made up. I could be Bella Swan. My older sister, my cousin, and my best girlfriend could all be Bella Swan. Because she's a mannequin. We can paint her any way that we want. I can make her just like me.
     
  15. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, a successful novel probably has a degree of wish-fullfilment in it. Like any fairy tale, really. So the prose can be clunky (*cough*, 50 Shades, *cough*), but if one can relate to the characters to a degree--or imagine oneself in their stead--and live out a fantasy through them, and if the stars are aligned right and there's a recession, sure, it's likely to sell well. Even if the writing stinks.

    Let's just agree to disagree.
     
  16. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I used to design houses, almost all the people for whom I have designed houses were happy with my work (and why not, I took into consideration their likes and dislikes) and paid me hefty sums. Yes, I was 'happy' and 'ecstatic' too because money was coming in, but out of hundreds there were very very few designs which I can say I am truly proud of.
     
  17. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd be perfectly happy baffling the masses with embarrassing bullshit, make millions, and then dazzle the intellectual reading community with my brilliance from the confines of the third floor Jacuzzi in my winter estate in Colorado.

    And I wouldn't even be embarrassed if I'd written Harry Potter. I always thought the books worked well as a whole (even though, as with every work, I at times think "well, I would've done this differently).

    I think a compelling character is one that's at the same time easily relatable, interesting ("mysterious" if you will; you want to find out more about them), amusing, deep etc. If you're good at writing compelling characters, you can get away with some more suckage in other areas. Just like you can get away with less stellar characters if you're really good at something else.
     
  18. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interesting thread. I'm pulling from my head novels that really drew me in (both well written and not) and the majority of them do have characters that really intrigued me in some way.

    A few stories posted in this forum have actually achieved this for me, through my sheer disgust for the characters and my desire to see them punished.

    To answer your specific question, I would agree that even a novel with no literary merit can draw in the reader if it connect him/her with its characters.
     
  19. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    To me, it doesn't matter whether the characters are relatable or believable. If the writing is crap and the story is uninteresting, I wouldn't read it. But if the concept is interesting, then the characters have to be the ones driving the action. If your readers want relatable characters, then put them in, even if your writing sucks. It is your own writing style.
     
  20. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    What makes characters compelling?

    Having Personalities.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Poor writing is poor writing. Whether the character is compelling depends on the quality of the writing.
     
  22. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't agree. Story telling is a different skill from writing, and creating a compelling character is a part of story-telling. There are plenty of compelling characters in poorly-written stories. Ideally, however, you'd want a well-written story with compelling characters.
     
  23. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I agree with you on this one. I had a girlfriend in high school who was great at telling stories. Would always relay what happened, made you feel excited, made you want to know what happened next. She couldn't write to save her life. Her English skills were well-below average at best, and she had to scrape by to get decent grades. But you still enjoyed her stories; the characters were still funny and enticing. I wanted to know what happened to them, even if, at the same time, I was penning out edits she should make to the story. So, I agree with Liz = the two elements are separate, and one can definitely exist without the other in either situation.
     
  24. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    That also depends on grammar. If the story is too poorly written, how can the reader understand the character and learn from him or her? If it is written like a children's picture book, people can understand it. But big novels require good spelling and sentence structure to be readable. We all need clear details that we can understand in order to identify the character.
     
  25. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Well, I think it's a given that the book is going to be understandable. Stephenie Meyer plainly speaks English. That doesn't make it "good" writing.
     

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