The Key to Creating Compelling Characters

Next Post
Previous Post

1386501_92761519If we want our characters to be unforgettable, they must elicit an emotional reaction from the reader. Readers enter a story through the protagonist. They identify with the character and that identification causes the reader to feel the emotional impact of the events as they unfold.

The conflict of the external plot should challenge the protagonist to overcome fears or personal limitations and emerge as someone better than when the story began. To do this, build into your protagonist a missing piece, something he or she needs to be a better person, something s/he’ll eventually recognize and embrace. The character’s entire internal transformation revolves around this choice, and so too should your story.

As you write it’s easy to lose track of the theme and address different missing pieces at the end of your story than the single value essential to the protagonist’s growth. For example, if your heroine’s issue throughout the story has been to learn to see past outward appearances to the person inside, the plot conflict should be resolved by a leap of faith on her part to trust the hero despite how things look. She shouldn’t suddenly become strong and courageous and solve the problem herself. That’s not what the story has been about. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.

Generally speaking, the external plot goal can’t be resolved until a transformation takes place in the protagonist’s inner world. This shift in the hero or heroine’s beliefs or values is reflected in a relationship, and through that relationship the external conflict is ultimately settled.

Read the above paragraph again. Do you see how the story comes full circle?

By keeping the connectedness of these elements in mind as you build your characters, you will create characters more deeply conflicted within themselves and with others and with the plot. And these connections will resonate with the reader.

For example, the hero’s flaw would not only be an obstacle to achieving the external plot goal, it might be a barrier to a relationship with the heroine, a barrier to becoming a better person, and in Christian fiction, a barrier to escaping his spiritual darkness.

Don’t stop at merely giving your characters conflicting values and desires. Dig deep. Build layers of conflict. Pinpoint specific events in his past that define who he is and why. Ask why? why? why? until you uncover the quintessential reason why each character acts the way he does. Then engage the reader in his battles. Let the reader wrestle with him through the internal conflict that keeps him from overcoming the external obstacles to his goal.

And don’t forget to define the price your hero or heroine will pay for choosing the best path. There must be a cost. Without sacrifice the triumph is a hollow victory.

Write it well and your reader will triumph along with your hero and as a result will long remember the journey.

Sandra_OrchardAward-winning author Sandra Orchard writes inspirational romantic suspense/mysteries for Love Inspired Suspense and Revell Publishing. Blind Trust, the second book in her popular Port Aster Secrets series just released. She is an active member of ACFW, RWA and The Word Guild (Canada). A mother of three grown children, she lives in Niagara, Canada with her real-life-hero husband and writes full time…when not doting on her young grandchildren. You can learn more about Sandra’s books and bonus features at or connect at


Next Post
Previous Post


  1. Great post, Sandra! And Jen, thank you for posting them for the chapter!

Leave a Reply