Friday, February 4, 2011

The Charismatic Character

I have a weak spot for charismatic leaders. Often they are passionate, stubborn, witty and hopeful. They create a dynamic story. They might try to move mountains, and that makes one hell of a story.

Charisma, however, isn't easy to define. We feel it when we meet someone charismatic. We know. There's one thing harder than defining charisma, though: rendering it with words.

When you ask others what Charisma is, they'll say it's a presence. It's harder to convey charisma than it is physical strength.

So what's today about? First, a definition of charisma and second how I've seen it done.

The definition
This is a tough one, but there are a few characteristics common to charismatic communicators.

Passion. The charismatic is passionate about his topic. He knows it from top to bottom, and is animated with a visceral passion to share it. He loves this topic and he must get others to love it too.

Assurance. The charismatic does not doubt. He is convinced of his message and speaks with the assurance of one who knows he'll achieve his ends.

Dynamic. This one goes with passion. Passion will push emotion in the charismatic's tone and movements. Someone who stays put isn't interesting.

Empathy. The charismatic can read someone else's reaction. He picks up hints of tiredness. He can tell when he's losing his audience, and he knows how to react to it. He's in a dialogue with the others.

Good politicians are charismatic. They win crowds with their words. It can be both a good and a bad thing. Think Hitler and Obama. They're both charismatics, but what they attempt to achieve is hardly in the same spectrum of morality.

How do you do this?

I'm afraid I don't know a hard and fast trick to building a convincing charismatic character. Those I recall from novels, however, share a few recurring traits.

Wits.They are good with words. Wit is hard to do because everyone has his brand of humour, but a few well-placed answer can convince your reader this guy knows how to talk.

Passion. A character reacting strongly to an issue early on shows passion about it. Charismatic characters are convinced of their shit and need to communicate it. They won't let one slide.

The eyes. Oh boy, the eyes. This is a tough call because characters with intense eyes can be quite cliché. But the charismatic needs to catch attention and hold it. Someone who'll look straight at you when he talks and hold your gaze is far more convincing. Don't abuse the eyes. But don't ignore them either.

And if you're writing fantasy and tempted to have a charismatic leader, do something for me. Don't put him at the head of an army. Not that it's a bad thing, but I'm craving for novels that dodge bloodsheds (or mostly dodge, anyway) in favour of other solutions. Charismatic leaders are perfect tools for swaying crowds in other directions. Try them!


  1. Sorry hun... although my characters aren't the heads of the army, they're fighting to do so. It's a power thing. ;-P

    Aaaanyway, I firmly believe that just like in real life, charisma cannot be created. It's there, or it isn't.

    Still, I think that any person has some sort of charisma if you look for it. Same with characters.


  2. I just finished reading a ms with an incredible lead character that I just adored. He was a *former* general turned political leader, and he spent a great deal of time trying to avoid war, make his people prosperous, and build the most defensible fortress ever. There was some bloodshed, but overall I think you'd like it. When she gets it published (she's pretty good), I'll give you a heads up to look for the book.

  3. Margo: Oh boy yes, warn me! I'll want to get my hands on that.

    Misha: It might not be possible to create charisma from scratch, but I think everyone can bring out what they have. The thing with writing is that you create these characters from scratch. It's a struggle for me to get *their* charisma out.