Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Glynna's Bookshelf: Characterization II

Several months ago I shared in Seekerville a few of the books on characterization I have on my bookshelves. Today I’d like to highlight a few more that you may find helpful in stimulating your imagination and polishing your fictional people.

Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors (Brandilyn Collins – 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) A bestselling inspirational women’s fiction and suspense author, Brandilyn is also a student of drama. In this book she builds on the theatrical Method Acting theory to address how to create convincing, 3-dimensional characters. Chapters include “Putting the spark of life in your character’s mannerisms;””The inner rhythm and portrayal of emotion,” and “Accessing your emotion memory.”

What Would Your Character Do? Personality Quizzes for Analyzing Your Characters (Eric Maisel and Ann Maisel – 2006 Writer’s Digest Books) If you can’t resist filling out those women’s magazine personality tests, you’ll enjoy using this book to “quiz” your characters and come to understand them at a deeper level. Using 30 scenarios (including family picnic, poolside encounter, lover’s spat, sudden leadership, deathbed secret, etc.), you place your character into the imaginary scene. Then you answer a series of multiple-choice and open-ended questions from your character’s point of view. It’s a great way to gain a new perspective on that hero and heroine.

Dynamic Characters: How to create personalities that keep readers captivated (Nancy Kress – 1998 Writer’s Digest Books) Plots might intrigue us, but it’s usually identifying with the characters living out those plots that keeps us reading and remembering the story long after we’ve put the book aside. The book is broken into three sections of Creating Strong & Believable Characters 1) The Externals, 2) The Internals, and 3) Character and Plot. The sections are chockfull of chapters such as “The role of setting in creating character,” “Making clear what, when and how your character is thinking,” and “How to make character change a strong element of the plot.”

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and exercises for crafting dynamic characters and effective viewpoints – Nancy Kress – 2005 Writer’s Digest Books)
Like Kress’ earlier book, this one gives you lots to think about as you “assemble your cast.” Chapters include “Emotion Suggested: using metaphor, symbol and sensory detail to convey feeling,” “Point of View: whose emotions are we sharing?” and “Frustration: the most useful emotion in fiction.”

We all know there’s no such thing as a magic “how to” book that has all the answers to our writing challenges. And a book on writing won’t sit itself down and type out our manuscript for us. But periodically I enjoy delving into a new book on our craft (or re-reading an old favorite) that makes me think about things I may not have given much thought to in quite some time. If you’re like me, a book may allow you to take a second look at familiar story components through new eyes. It will challenge you to grow as a writer and add new skills to your writing repertoire.



  1. Hi Glynna, What a great collection of books you have. Thanks so much for sharing a peek. The book by the Maisel's sounds intriguing. How fun to give your character quizzes. I often have conversations with mine and ask them questions. So this would be more consistent.

    Now I'm understanding why you have such terrific characters when you write.

    Ruthy's still out of town so I'll offer some Chocolate Velvet coffee and blueberry scones. I like to dip them in pure maple syrup.

  2. Thanks, Sandra! I love scones AND maple syrup. :)

  3. Chocolate velvet coffee -- love tha stuff! Thanks!

    It would be hard to choose just one book out of that list, but the one about emotions (last one) might be good.

    My family is really buttoned down (several have high blood pressure, too) so writing "emo" is hard for me. We are so laid-back that Little House on the Prairie TV shows seem over the top as far as people yelling at each other.

    I wonder if there is hope for me ...

  4. Great list, Glynna!

    Ann, writing emotion hasn't always come easily for me either. I mean, I feel it as I'm writing the scene, but it hasn't always come through on the page. Margie Lawson's course "Empowering Character Emotions" was a big help. She also recommended a book, Creating Character Emotions (Ann Hood), that helps you work on new and more effective ways to describe various emotions.

    Rats, I should have saved some of my Earl Gray to sip with the scones! Where are those baristas when you need one???

  5. Ooh, I love to do those magazine quizzes! (Okay, I know I'm weird. I also like to take marketing surveys.) I'll have to check that one out. Thanks, Glynna!!

    Ann, you'll have to just let that emotion blow out of you onto the page. You'll be the only one in your family with low blood pressure. :)


  6. I need to come up with a more orderly process for creating characters, Glynna. I feel like I do it okay, but I think I do it the hard way.

  7. Thanks for the look at the books on characterization filling your shelves, Glynna. I don't have the titles you mentioned, but they sound great. I may have to add a few more to my collection. I'll admit I love reading "How To" books, though you're exactly right--reading about how to write doesn't add one word to our page count. :-) Balancing our time is vital.


  8. Oh, Glynna, I love this list ... ESPECIALLY Brandilyn's "Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors"!

    When I am writing my novels, I often FEEL like an actress on stage because I am usually mouthing the words or sobbing or running into the bathroom to emote in the mirror so I can get the expression just right. So this book has GOT to be good, I'm thinking!! Thanks for suggesting it.


  9. Hi Glynna,
    Great books! I'm off to Amazon to order some of them! Thanks for the info!

  10. Girls!

    It's good to be back in Seekerville. Sandra, thanks for the coffee and scones. So perfect for an end of summer get together. I love blueberry anything, and these melt in your mouth.

    And being a New Yorker, real New York State maple syrup is a must in our cupboard. I like the dark amber, the later run because it's got a deeper flavor. The more expensive light amber offers a more delicate maple treat...

    Not too much about me is considered delicate, LOL!


    Holy books, Batman! What a veritable fount of information you are. And your book characters are always richly drawn, so you've obviously gleaned the best from these esteemed authors.

    And Ann!

    I'm cracking up at the Little House comment. LOL!

    If you ever want to post a bit and let us rip it to shreds...



    I mean CRITIQUE it, feel free. Not the whole book, mind you...

    But sometimes a page tossed out there for a group of us to play with gives you some solid ideas.

    Or a really big annoying headache.

    But sometimes you write tougher characters when your head aches, so it could be a win/win situation!



  11. Welcome back Ruthy. I love the dark amber also. My brother-in-law lives in New Hampshire so we get all the talks about what is what in maple syrup.

    Myra, great additions to the list.

    Julie I'm just cracking up picturing you in front of the mirror.

  12. Glynna, I'm late dropping by but thank you for these great resources!

    I've heard of people quizzing their characters. How fun! I just do fill-in-the-blank character worksheets. Margaret Daley has a great one on her blog or Web site I believe.