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Arts & Entertainment

Creating Compelling Characters

David Baldacci

Lesson time 15:42 min

David describes the tools he uses to create compelling characters: Expect your characters to change, allow them to have flaws, and give equal importance to your sidekicks and antagonists.

David Baldacci
Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - I've read a lot of books in my life, and I'm sure you have, too. I don't always remember the plot to these books. The one-- what sticks with me are the element-- are characters. If you read "To Kill a Mockingbird," you know it sort of has something to do with the racism in the South, but you remember Scout. You know, you remember Atticus Finch. You remember-- you may remember Calpurnia, the maid. I really feel like Amos Decker is one of my best characters ever because he's so unusual. And I remember getting a lot of emails from people after the book came out. Love "Memory Man," but boy, that Amos Decker is annoying as hell. You know, I can't take my eyes off him on the page, but boy, I'd like to kick him in the ass a couple of times, too. But that's what I wanted because that makes a character memorable for both good and bad reasons. Because characters in a novel-- the only shot that you have to connect on a human level with the reader. The plot doesn't do that, for the most part, but the characters do. So you have to really invest a lot of time in creating characters that are not only deep, but three-dimensional, seem real to people. They could walk out to the street and say hello to these people, and they would just interact with them as they would with anybody else. [MUSIC PLAYING] I will make a bet with all of you that you have never in your entire life met a perfect human being. It just doesn't happen, doesn't work. If I met a person who was almost perfect, I forgot them because it just didn't seem real to me at all. And the same track in a novel. You can't have somebody out there who's a totally white knight with not a blemish. It just doesn't work. Flaws in a character-- it's almost a misnomer to call them flaws. I just call them deepening character traits. All readers have those same types of things. We all have issues and problems. We fall down a lot. We get up. We make mistakes. So flaws are, one, it makes the character human, just by default, because everybody recognize that we all have flaws and mistakes. But two, it gives you plot elements and plot opportunities, because somebody makes a mistake. Why? Because they're flawed. And what does that mistake do? Well, they have to overcome it. It's an obstacle they have to get through. And eventually, it makes people root against them-- root for them because they're looking and they go, you know, they recognize a mistake. We all make mistakes. They got knocked down. They got back up. And now they're gonna figure out and get to the truth, and I can support that decision on their part. And I can root for them to get to that point. Will Robie is a government hit man. You know, he's the best assassin we have. His job is to go out and to kill people. When I first thought about him as a character, I was like, how can I make any reader care about this guy? Because on the very first chapter, he's gonna, like, kill several people in underground Edinb...

Captivate your readers

David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

It's hugely helpful to be inspired, but additionally, the concrete ideas that I can apply to my own writing, have changed my approach to my process. Invaluable.

David brought it in every class. Wisdom, knowledge and experience. Thank you

I've learned how to persevere, to research, edit and build a novel. This class inspired me to use the tools I've learned and not only write, but finish what I have already written.

David had unique advice that the other writers did not offer. I enjoyed his class quite a bit. He speaks fast, which kept me focused (and sometimes had to replay). Some others I had to speed up the pace. I didn't like all the black lines the filming had while he read.


Rose M.

This lesson made it so clear about writing 3 D characters even for sidekicks and establishing the giftedness of your main characters early in the story very clearly. WOW, so glad I am taking this class.


My publisher told me I have to work on deepening my characters and I really struggled with that. Hearing you explain how to build unique characters, and backing it up with examples really helps. Thank you!

Robert Lewis H.

I have a swimming pool life-guard who is scared of water. He is also deaf and blind in one eye. But it's his service dog which is the hero.

Dale U.

Interesting and helpful lesson. I am developing a private eye character who lives in today's world but his speech, mannerisms and dress are straight out of a 1940's film noir. David has given me a lot to think about.

Tina W.

This was an amazing lesson. I feel I've learned so much detail. I know the basics, but his insight has helped me to set up better characters. Dialogue and create characters that will stick with people

laura J.

Great class, so much information that I didn't expect, he is generous to the class, very compassionate to assist writers; those who want to be taken seriously, create something worth reading.

Lina R.

Love the way he describes creating memorable characters and that he gives them flaws. Also, giving importance to the sidekicks and antagonists. I'm enjoying this class.

Suzie L.

Creating my characters was the first thing I did when the idea for my Fantasy Thriller popped into my head.

J. G.

Character Names... I rarely bother with a last name. Is a last name necessary if they wont be a sequel character?