June 5th, 2019

Six F-words for Compelling Characters

Got you at F-words, huh? That's okay. All these f-words are fine to use in whatever company you happen to be in right now. No one will wrinkle a brow once they get past the title, so there's no need to angle your screen or slouch and look over your shoulder.

In today's world of publishing, catching—and keeping—a reader's attention is rarely easy. Today I'm sharing six words to help you craft characters that no one would dub as "cardboard." Incorporate as many of these ideas as your story can handle, and you will also create backstory and plots that readers can identify and connect with, no matter the genre you write.

  1. Failures: Whether it's in the past or the present, or looms in the immediate future, failure is a shared human experience. Whether it's the fear of future failure, the frightening effects failure can have on a character's life (can you imagine a lawyer's failed arguments that send an innocent client to Death Row?), or failure in the past that affects a characters belief system or perspective, failure has many degrees and always carries unseen ramifications.
  2. Flaws: From minor to major character flaws, everyone can sympathize or form opinions of a character based on their flaws. When these flaws are skillfully revealed through backstory, dialogue, internal monologue or actions, we see the character dealing with their weaknesses. This gives us an opportunity for showing growth and character arcs, as well as the possibility for humorous plot situations because our protagonist tries to compensate for their shortcomings.
  3. Frustrations: Plot twists, secondary characters, Mother Nature, past actions, relatives and friends—these can all have varying degrees of frustration. In a romance, frustration about the pace of growing feelings (too slow for one partner, too fast for the other) can provide many opportunities for revealing how your characters deal with adversity and other people or situations.
  4. Firsts: We're rarely at our best the first time we try something. This is probably true for our characters, too. Remember the first time you put the car in gear and drove out of the garage or driveway onto the street? The first time you had to make a lane change or merge onto the freeway? Oh, maybe there was some…
  5. Fear: I thought about putting this one first, but having a character who is always afraid isn't compelling. Having a strong, confident, successful character who has a debilitating fear of, say, spiders, could be interesting if we see that fear and the backstory gradually layered in to reveal the why of the fear. Then we see how someone used that fear to scare the helpless child, and how that fear grew into something bigger than just the fear of spiders. The determination to overcome the fear can bring a wealth of story ideas via secondary characters, action required to attain something of great importance, or character arc growth.
  6. Funny: Even if you're writing a thriller, a funny detail or an expression can defuse a tense scene, relaxing characters for the next terror. A fun-filled memory can inform readers about another side of an otherwise staid character. Something that has the reader giggling, that the protagonist does not admit or recognize as funny, can be that much funnier and show us something about the character as well. And what about the place of a character who just wants to have fun, or the humorous side-kick? There is a big difference between a character who can laugh at herself versus one who refuses to acknowledge funny remarks.

Do you have an f-word that helps you write more compelling characters or stories? Please share it with us and tell us how you use it.

About Fae

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules. 

P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

30 responses to “Six F-words for Compelling Characters”

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Love this, Fae! Great points. I can't think of an 'f' word, other than the ones I use when I hit plot holes....

  2. Sharon C Cooper says:

    Thanks for the fresh take on other F-words! Some I hadn't considered.

  3. tracybrody says:

    Love the title and great points. Made me think about my WIP and whether I had all those. Thanks for sharing, Fae.

  4. Rick George says:

    Nice post, Fae. I like how you packaged these essentials. I've bookmarked it.

  5. barbdelong says:

    How about F for Fae, who has helped me write more compelling characters through this post. And yeah, the title made me look. 🙂

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Oh, I never thought of that, Barb, but it's kind of fun...oops, back to being a serious writer. Thanks for the intermission!

  6. Flexible comes to mind. A character who can roll with the punches and still land on her feet. I'm keeping this post with all the F-words to use as I write my WIP. Thank you for including funny. I think it's one of the hardest to write and still be funny enough to get a laugh. I'm always impressed when I'm deep into reading serious novel and all of a sudden burst out laughing.

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Flexible is a great F-word, Lori. I remember being hired for a new company and being told I needed to be flexible. I nodded. My new boss said, "I mean Gumby flexible." My friend gave me a little Gumby bendable for my desk when I told her what my boss said. Sometimes, when I was a frustrated I twisted that poor thing into unbelievable contortions.

  7. Julie Glover says:

    Love this, Fae! All great words and concepts to keep in mind. And we likely have some we're better at that others, so it gives me an idea of where to put forth more effort (frustrations, in my WIPs).

    As for any other ideas, how about fortitude? Its definition is "mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously." Readers don't want that through the story (when flaws, frustrations, and failures are more compelling), but by final push time, I would hope the MC has a bit of fortitude. As I know you have! 😉

  8. Eldred Bird says:

    The main character in my series has a late coming of age, so there are a lot of firsts. The reader gets to look at the world through "new eyes" as he experiences things for the first time. However, my favorite F-word is Foreshadowing. I like getting those little peeks behind the curtain that make me think the character may be hiding something about themselves--something that will complicate the resolution and may cost them whatever it is they seek.

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Oh, yes, Eldred! Foreshadowing is such a wonderful tool in a writer's toolbox. Well done, it brings suspense and anticipation to the story, which makes a reader keep turning the pages. Thanks for sharing it!

  9. Great post, Fae! It gives me some immediate ideas for my WIP --- not to mention, a sudden obsession with 'f' words. (frenzied, fatalistic, fashionable, flirty...oh dear, too many 'f' words)

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Oh, you can go far with "frenzied" and "flirty" to get through all six of my f-words. Thanks for the fun, Rebecca. (Now I'm stuck thinking how to make an alien energy be flirty?)

  10. Deb says:

    Excellent eye-catching headline and really informational content. Thank you for this!

    • Fae Rowen says:

      When we give our characters enough obstacles, they're going to need a lot of fortitude, Denise. Thanks for the reminder!

  11. The title was spectacular! Made me smile, then open page to read! Maaterial was compelling. Makes me want to double check WIP for F-words. I am going to do that right now. Nicely written and very helpful.

  12. Fae Rowen says:

    Thanks, Judi! You brought a smile to my eyes, not easy after spending hours revising three chapters of my WIP. I hope you're enjoying your search for those F-words.

  13. Jeanne Kern says:

    Absolutely love this post, Fae. Fine, Fitting, Fabulous!

  14. Fae Rowen says:

    What a Fantastic comment to start my day. Thanks, Jeanne!

  15. […] are, K.M. Weiland shares 6 requirements for writing better character goals, and Fae Rowen lists 6 f-words for compelling characters. And because those characters will talk to each other, Julie Glover gives us 5 tips from Gilmore […]

  16. Julie McCullough says:

    Hi Fae, may I share this information if I acknowledge you as the writer? Thanks. 🙂

  17. Glory Wade says:

    What an excellent article this and the followup are. I hadn't thought about firsts. Will incorporate more into my writing. Thank you so much!

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