Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I have to share a revelation that has changed me as a writer. Novel writing is a very individual process. Not one writer has the same system or method, which is why it is one of the most difficult forms of creative expression. Writers learn from other writers. And each writer must figure out what works for them. Some writers outline, some do not. Some writers start with plot, some start with character. You get the idea.

I have always known that character is vital to me as a writer. I have always started with character. The stories I have lined up to write all are character driven, and the novel I am currently revising, is character-driven. I am most passionate about what goes on inside a character's head and how they deal with relationships.

But where I went wrong is I did not analyze my characters enough. I didn't analyze them beyond the story and that's where I got into trouble. So, the last few months I have been doing a psychoanalysis of all my characters way beyond the scope of the story, using a variety of methods, including Martha Engber's Growing Characters From the Ground Up book.

As I reworked my characters and put them on the page, my writing instructors and fellow classmates at University of Chicago really honed in on what was working in the revision and what wasn't. Not only has the story line gotten stronger, but my characters are more alive. I've learned the characters must tell me the story, not the other way around.

So as I walked away from my day of writing yesterday, I felt like Mary Shelley. I totally get how Shelley created her Frankenstein. As a character-driven writer, that's what I have to do. Each time I tell a story, I must make a Frankenstein.

If you're interested in learning more about how to delve into character, read Martha Engber's book Growing Characters From the Ground Up. She has a website where you can find out about her book and classes.

My advice to kids who are writing any kind of fictional story is this: Think about all the things a character likes and doesn't like. Know your character's parents and siblings and how they fit into the family. Also very important: Give your character something weird or unusual. It could be a habit, a pet, a hobby, anything that would make them realistic, yet very different.