Monday, June 4, 2012

Deepen Your Characters - Tips from Susan May Warren


Well, as you already know from last week, I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference in Black Mountain, NC.

It was a wonderful experience in so many ways – but particularly the teaching. Since I was only there for two full days, my class list wasn’t very long, but the information was timeless. Over the next few posts I want to share with you some nuggets of inspiration I received while there.

Today, it’s a glimpse as Susan May Warren’s Becoming Your Own Book Therapist course.

Now, I’m a speech-language pathologist by-day, so I get the whole “therapy” idea. It’s what I do.

1.       See a problem

2.       Dissect the root of the problem

3.       Take steps to fix the problem through a series of questions/activities

4.       Celebrate your brilliance (I added that part, of course ;-)

So when I was introduced to a few of Susie’s techniques, it was a “light bulb” moment. Aha! There’s the problem. Let’s fix it!

Today we’re going to focus on Character Development.

If a judge/editor/agents says:

All of your characters sounds the same

What’s the problem? – Your characters are not developed enough. Not deep enough. He/she needs layers – like a coat. Each layer removed provides something ‘closer to the skin’ of your character. (okay, those last few statements were from Pepper, not Susie J

How do you deepen the character development?

Ask your character questions. Have an interview. Sound weird?

I’ll use one of my characters from the story I’m going to write next (so it’s BRAND NEW TO ME too) to show you how it can work.

I’m using questions from Susan May Warren’s FABULOUS book, The Book Buddy, and notes from her class.

1.       Who are you - the bio

Ava Paige Emerson

27 years old

High School History Teacher

2.       Tell me about the darkest moment of your past, something that shaped you.

My big brother dying in Afghanistan five years ago. I caused me to hold on to my parents – but then, a year ago they died in an automobile accident while they were away in England trying to salvage their marriage. One of them cheated on the other – I’m pretty sure it was my father. He travels for business and men are usually known for their faithfulness, right? If someone’s going to cheat, it’s most likely going to be them.

3.       What kind of person are you today because of that moment?

Hmm, well I guess I’m independent, and more cautious about possible romance. Okay, to be completely honest, I don’t date. I haven’t since they died. I can’t bring myself to try and trust somebody who is probably going to leave me in some form or other anyway.

4.       What Lie do you believe that drives you and shapes your spiritual beliefs? (okay, if this one isn’t obvious from Ava’s answers so far….)

Nothing is constant – especially a man, so I can’t trust one. I have to stay independent and rely on my own strength to be happy. A guy is just going to betray me and being numb is a lot easier to bear than hurting through loss.

5.       What is your greatest fear?

That I’m right, I guess. That being alone is the only option for me.

 The point is…you keep asking until you get to the heart of your character. You search for her greatest fear, the lie she believes, her deepest wound, and her greatest dream. Those are the heartbeat elements strumming through the pages of your novel pumping life into your one-dimensional character. It's my first time using these questions for my new book - but it's helped me to start fleshing out my heroine, and I love the twists it begins to develop in my novel.

If you want to learn more, purchase Susie’s tool, The Book Buddy – a GREAT buy.

You can also check out my very first VLOG where I mention The Book Buddy and tell a little more about it.
Do you have any tools you use to help deepen your characterization? Any books you'd recommend?

What is your current heroine's greatest dream?

23 comments:

Karen Schravemade said...

Love this! What great questions!

Sherrinda said...

This was awesome! I used the Book Buddy on my writing retreat, filling it up completely! :)

I heard...and I haven't bought this yet to confirm...that Deep and Wide, one of Susan May Warren's books, is great for characterization. I want that book, as well as her new one on romance...Kiss and Tell. You got that one, right?

Pepper said...

Karen,
It is a reallly good way to delve inside your characters a bit further. I love learning through it.

Pepper said...

Sherrinda,
Yep, I have Kiss and Tell - and I also have Deep and Wide. Just ask, if it's a tool from MBT, I've probably bought it within the last 2 weeks :-)

Melissa Tagg said...

Okay, realize that this comment is slightly biased since I'm an MBT groupie, but...Susan May Warren, MBT and the Book Buddy rock!!!! Nothing has changed or impacted my writing more than getting involved in MBT, taking Susie's classes, going to retreats, working through her workbooks. Awe-some!

So yeah, my answer to your question about the tools I've used to help me deepen my characters is probably pretty obvious. I've used all the MBT workbooks...because they work. And what I especially appreciate about them is they're usable whether you're an intense plotter or a seat-of-the-pants writer.

Jeanne T said...

Yes, yes, yes! I love the Book Buddy, and all of Susan May Warren's book. And I've learned tons from Susan May Warren at her retreats. :)

I'm looking forward to hearing more about what you learned, Pepper.

My heroine's greatest dream is to be cherished by her husband.

Joanne Sher said...

Okay - it looks like I may NEED Book Buddy.

My MC's greatest dream is to be able to stop hiding her heritage and live free.

Angie said...

Wonderful, as always. In my current WIP, I feel like I have over done it on deepening my characters? Is that possible? My heroine has many struggles, many facets to her back story. She struggles with compassion versus arrogance, faith vs. legalism, judgement vs. grace. I am dizzy trying to figure out how to "talk" her out of each!! Her greatest dream is to leave the very place that she will find the man of her dreams!!

Ruth Douthitt said...

Very good advice! I sometimes focus too much on developing my main character and forsake my minor characters. Now I will go back and make sure they have their own unique voices!

Ruth Douthitt said...

Oops! I forgot to answer your question: my MC's greatest dream is to find out if her father made it to heaven or is in hell, as she fears he may be.

Casey said...

Susie's books are goldmines! The woman is pure genius wrapped up in a true God-given gift.

Jessica Nelson said...

Those are great tips! Thank you!!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Yes! Great questions and answers. And I like the interview format because you can answer in your characters voice, which also helps to get to know them.

Ashley Clark said...

Loved this blog, Pepper! All the MBT books are so helpful. Thanks for sharing!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for sharing what you've learned, Pepper. I have the Kiss and Tell book (ecopy) and it's very helpful! May have to invest in the Book Buddy too!

My heroine's greatest dream is to go to college (it's 1911) and not just be married off to someone her daddy has picked for her. (That and to marry the hero!)

Cheers,
Sue

Pepper said...

Melissa,
AMEN! I totally agree. It fits so many different writing styles because it's flexible.
Very cool!

AND - btw, it was AWESOME to get to meet you. Did you keep a picture, because I've lost my camera! So upset about that

Pepper said...

Joanne,
Both dreams sound pretty awesome, but the second is 'intriguing'. Good sign :-)

Pepper said...

Ooo, Angie - good dream, and immediately causes conflict!

Pepper said...

Ruth,
I agree - and I also find it so easy to get 'lost in the trees' of possiblities with characters so much that I lose the big picture.
Ahh...novel writing ;-)

Whew...what a dream for your MC!

Pepper said...

Cindy,
I loved the interview format. Once I started 'hearing' my characters voices and compared them to one another, it helped me recognize how they might sound the same or immediately moved them into deeper POV

Pepper said...

Casey, Ash, and Jessica,

It was really fun to get to share! Looking forward to next time :-)

Pepper said...

Susan!
My MC in one of my historicals has the same dream! It's a bit modified based on who she is, but that's her big dream. And the story takes place in 1918. Great minds...

Erynn said...

I use Tracie Peterson's 100 Question Character Survey. Just love it. I also like to do interviews with my characters.
My current character feels like "the invisible girl." She just fades into the background everywhere she goes. Her dream is to find someone who will SEE her, and love her for who she is.