Tyndale Fiction’s Thoughts On: Compelling Characters in Fiction


Hey, readers! Today on the blog I wanted to share a fascinating article I stumbled upon recently on Writer’s Digest.

The article goes through the four distinct progressions that make for compelling, motivated characters and thus lead to great, intriguing fiction. Below, each member of our fiction acquisitions team has picked a recently read novel and dissected it by the article’s guidelines.

If you would, take a moment to read the article and let us know which of the four tropes your favorite fictional character falls under. It’s fun to take a closer look at fiction and truly see why the book is so gripping! Hope you enjoy.


Penny Carson in Wings of Glass (Gina Holmes’s new release) is an interesting case study. If you look at Penny over the arc of the story, she is constantly growing and changing . . . both in how she behaves and in what she wants. She wants a Prince Charming, she wants to be independent and free of her parents, she wants to have a storybook marriage, she wants Trent to love her and stop being angry and abusive, she wants Trent to be faithful, she wants to have a baby because that will change everything, and she bends her personality to try and make all of this so. When I first read this story, I often found Penny frustrating. I couldn’t understand how she didn’t want more for herself than her demeaning husband, Trent. And when Penny becomes part of the triangle between Trent and her friends Fatimah and Callie Mae, the story really starts to cook! Penny is going to change in radical ways. And just as the writer of the article shows, the plot events provoke genuine change. In the case of Penny, the fear is that she won’t change in the right direction, that she won’t embrace the truth spoken by her friends. And short of the ultimate change agent—her child—I’m not so sure she would have changed. A great main character is impacted by great secondary characters. As the writer of the article said, this is a complex fiction pattern. For readers who need stories to move in a predictable straight line, this story may be just too smart for them. Okay, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. Read Wings of Glass!


At an author’s suggestion, I recently read A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. I don’t know that it’s one of my favorite novels, but the story continues to haunt me. The woman in the story, Catherine Land, changes her personality and her motivation by the end of the book. She’s devious and motivated by greed as she answers an ad for a mail-order bride. She pretends to be “a reliable wife” as she slowly poisons her new husband with small doses of arsenic. But as the story progresses, she begins to care for her husband and realizes she can’t carry through with her plan. It’s a dark story, but beautifully written.


Susan May Warren is one of my favorite romance writers, and in Take a Chance on Me (a Christiansen Family novel) she blends romance with a family drama. If you’re familiar with TV shows like Parenthood or Gilmore Girls, or with Karen Kingsbury’s Baxter Family Drama books, you’ll have a good feel for what this series is like. Ivy Madison—the heroine in the first book—is a character with what Nancy Kress would call a “changing personality, static motivation.” Ivy grew up a child of the foster care system. Always moving from one place to the next, she never really knew the feeling of home. That’s what she’s looking for when she moves to Deep Haven. The new assistant district attorney, she wants to put down roots, to stay in one place, to know people and have them know her back. But because of the pain in her past, she’s afraid to get too close to anyone. You can’t get hurt if you don’t care. That belief works until she meets and falls in love with Darek Christiansen, a widow with the kind of family she’d always dreamed of—parents who are supportive, brothers and sisters who are as much like friends as they are siblings. Of course, there’s a secret that could tear Ivy and Darek apart—not to mention a wildfire that is headed straight for the resort Darek’s family owns. When everything is on the line, Ivy must decide if she’ll cut and run like usual or if she’ll stay and fight for Darek and the chance to be a part of the family she’s always wanted. See what she decides in Take a Chance on Me! (and don’t miss out on Susan May Warren’s amazing Minnesota themed giveaway! Ends 4/30).


I love books with multiple key characters, especially when their stories overlap in the true fashion of this small world we live in. The stories of Grace Shepherd, Zach Craig, and Scarlett Jo Newberry collide on the streets of small-town Franklin, Tennessee, in Denise Hildreth Jones’s Secrets over Sweet Tea. Though the story tracks the lives of these three separate and distinct characters, each one follows the “changing personality, static motivation” character progression. Each character struggles along the way, but in the end, it is these struggles that shape them and help guide them; they are motivated by their desire to be happy and in tune with God’s path for their lives. From the first chapter to the last, I felt drawn to the interwoven tale of these complex individuals. They make several missteps along the way, such as divorce and infidelity, and uncover an array of secrets from the past. But in the end, each character starts to grow into the man or woman God designed them to be.


Hope you enjoyed our thoughts on the four ways to motivate characters. We would love to read yours in the comments! Happy Friday, all!

Shaina Turner

Shaina Turner

Shaina is the Fiction team's newest addition. In her role as Acquisitions Assistant, she helps facilitate the release of novels, provides feedback to authors on best practices for social media, along with maintaining Tyndale Fiction's Twitter, @Crazy4Fiction. Shaina enjoys reading, both recreationally and the many proposals that come through, and loves to visit the towns she reads about in novels.