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March 18, 2010

Well..... That's a Deep Subject.

Kate Hart
This week Cory's "How Writers Do It" series asks: How do you deepen your characters?

King and I agree that characters are the key element of a successful story. "The best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven," he says. How many times have you read a book with an awesome premise, only to be disappointed with the character living it?

King's advice for creating successful characters is essentially the same axiom every writer has heard ad nauseum: "Write what you know." But King elaborates-- just because you're a plumber doesn't mean you need to write about just pipes and toilets.
"Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendships, relationships, sex and work. Especially work."

Despite several criticisms, he uses John Grisham as an example. A former lawyer, Grisham has used his personal experience and made a world
"impossible not to believe. Grisham has been there, spied out the land, and the enemy positions, and brought back a full report. He told the truth of what he knew, and for that if nothing else, he deserves every buck The Firm made. ... Grisham's make-believe tale is solidly based in a reality he knows, has personally experienced, and which he wrote about with total (almost naive) honesty. ... John Grisham, of course, knows lawyers. What you know makes you unique in some other way. Be brave. Map the enemy's positions, come back, tell us all you know."

I don't think King means you should only write things you know-- especially considering he ends the section by saying "And remember that plumbers in space is not such a bad setup for a story." But something in your characters has to stem from personal, visceral, genuine experience before you can combine it with your brilliant plot idea.


  1. I'm loving this blog series you guys are doing. This topic especially.
    Very awesome post Kate.

  2. Yeah, I totally agree--I'm all about the character--it's huge for me. Much more important than even the plot.

    Also--are those YOUR shoes? :D

  3. oh I just love creating characters.
    plot kills me.

  4. I'm not sure how I stumbled upon your blog, but I'm glad I found it! I'm totally on board with the visceral experience point. It's the emotional experiences that connect people - I think we can fake knowing about toilets & pipes if we have to, but you can't fake the emotion.

    And to the other Kirsten in the comments - I feel your pain. I'm all character. Plot takes so much effort for me.

  5. Wow, Kate. We're on the same page, totally. And, I never thought I could get into a book where the plot wasn't action driven until I read a particular series that is completely character driven. It was then that I realized exactly what King said about things being character driven. It's the characters you ultimately connect to (even if you utterly despise them). Great post!

  6. We think alike! It doesn't matter how great the plot or world-without great characters, it's just dull.

  7. Are those shoes for real?

    And yes! When I get stuck reading books where the characters aren't vivid enough, it's always such a huge struggle to get to the end.

    I like King's take on writing what you know - how it's essential, but definitely doesn't rule out the fantastical imagined stuff. They work together :-)

  8. Thanks guys :)

    Deb, I wish! LOL

    Kirsten L, glad you found me! :)

  9. Great post! I agree with King. I have to be invested in a character in order to love the book. Even if the plot is fast paced, hating a character makes me want to throw the book across the room.


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