The Art of Character by David Corbett Giveaway

Today we’re doing something special. Not only do we have a fabulous interview with author David Corbett about characterization (everyone should read this interview… you’ll learn a LOT!), but if you post a comment, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a copy of his book, The Art of Character. That’s right!

Spread the word, and don’t forget to post. I highly recommend this book to any writer. You could be the one!

The drawing will be held on Monday, September 9, so stay tuned. If the winner lives in the US or Canada, they will have their choice of a print or digital copy; if they live anywhere else in the world, a digital copy will be given. Okay, let’s get started!

I am so excited to have David here. He is a former private investigator and a New York Times Notable author.In The Art of Character, David offers a unique and indispensable toolkit for creating characters that vividly come to life on the page and linger in memory.

I’ve read his book and it now holds a place of honor on my desk with my other treasured writing references. Yes, it’s that good.

Toni: Welcome, David! Let’s get right to it, shall we? How did you learn your characterization techniques?

David: I studied acting in my 20s, and learned a lot from my teachers as well as the texts on acting by Constantin Stanislavsky: Creating a Role, Building a Character, and An Actor Prepares. Theater made me appreciate the profound, clear-cut advantages of dramatization over description in depicting and developing character.

When I began writing fiction, I first relied on the advice of Lajos Egri in his wonderful text, The Art of Dramatic Writing, and I wrote extensive character biographies analyzing the physical, psychological, and sociological aspects of my characters’ natures. But I soon realized I’d fallen into a trap, turning my back on what I’d learned before. I was writing static, descriptive passages about my characters that failed to bring them to life the way scenes could. And so I began to develop the methodology I outline in the book, which is to build a biography not from information but from scenes of emotional risk and helplessness that have defined the characters’ lives. This has proved to be far more useful and valuable to me in my own writing, and I’ve seen excellent results in the work of my students who employ this approach.

Toni: What advice would you give a writer having trouble finding the core desire for their main character?

David: Well, the first thing I’d do is ask the writer: What makes your character happy? What would happen if the source of that happiness was taken away forever? Is there something else, something deeper that the character considers gratifying? I’d continue this process of elimination until I found the thing the character simply can’t live without, the thing that makes life meaningful and worth the struggle of existence. The character will be facing considerable conflict in the story (if it’s written well), and he will have to come to some kind of reckoning: Why continue this struggle? Why not simply relent, give up, go home? The answer lies in what the character truly, deeply needs and wants from life. That’s what he’s fighting for, even if he doesn’t realize it at first, or tries to deny it.

If this process fails to get the writer in touch with his character’s core desire, then I’d have him ask these questions of himself: What makes you happy? What would happen if the source of that happiness was taken away, and so on. What gives your life meaning? What would render your life meaningless? Young writers especially tend to avoid answering such questions, but avoidance is a form of denial, even cowardice. If you can’t answer these questions for yourself, how can you hope to answer them about anyone else, especially your characters?

Toni: You often hear about flawed characters. Why is it so important that characters be flawed and vulnerable in some way?

David: Being flawed isn’t the same as being vulnerable, though the two are related.

Vulnerability is key because we instinctively empathize with someone who’s vulnerable – unless we shrink from the basic concern for others that defines decency. Few things draw us closer to a character than the knowledge that he’s wounded or hurting in some way.

A flaw, however – or a weakness, a wound – takes us back to the core desire. To identify the character’s flaw or weakness or wound, you need to know not just what his core desire is, but why he doesn’t have it in his life. The answer to that question leads you to the aspect of his nature that is holding him back, that creates the lack at the core of his existence, and that lack feeds the desire that, consciously or unconsciously, motivates his action within the story. Normally the character is in some way blind to how his flaw or weakness or wound is holding him back, but the conflict he endures through the course of the story strips away his pretenses, awakens his self-awareness, and that insight guides him to a deeper understanding of his life, and the stakes of not accomplishing the goal at the heart of the story. He at last understands what he has to lose, and what he’s been trying to avoid admitting until that critical epiphany, that moment of insight.

Great stories normally concern a character who, through the insight prompted by great conflict, correct the flaw or overcome the weakness or heal the wound that has been crippling their capacity for fulfillment and happiness, and guided by that insight they find a way to change themselves and the way they live.

Toni: How does point of view help with characterization?

David: Point of view establishes the distance you’ve decided to take between you, the writer, and your character. It will define the extent to which you can avail yourself of the more subjective tools such as inner life and even stream-of-consciousness, or whether you decide to reveal the character more through more objective methods: description, action, dialog.

Point of view also can determine how intimately the reader bonds with the character. First person generally inspires a profound and specific sense of intimacy, but it also risks spending too much time in the character’s head as he tells us the story instead of living it. Third person allows more convincing dramatization without narrative intrusion, but unless the point of view is close, this dramatization can risk creating a certain distance that feels cool and remote.

There is no “best answer,” though editors are swooning over first person these days, to the point they automatically ask: How could this story be told in first person? This kind of artificial preference makes me itch, but such is the way of things.

Toni: Thank you for your interview, David. I appreciate your time and your book.

David: Thanks for your interest and support, Toni!


David Corbett is the author of four novels: The Devil’s Redhead, Done for a Dime (a New York Times Notable Book), Blood of Paradise (nominated for numerous awards, including the Edgar), and Do They Know I’m Running? The Art of Character is his latest book. David’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Mission and Tenth, The Smoking Poet, San Francisco Noir and Best American Mystery Stories (2009 and 2011). He has taught both online and in classroom settings through the UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program, Book Passage, LitReactor, 826 Valencia, The Grotto in San Francisco, and at numerous writing conferences across the US. He lives in Vallejo, CA.


Find David Corbett at the following places online:




Twitter: @DavidCorbett_CA


Posted in Interviews, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

A Champagne Business Plan on a Beer Wallet by guest Joe Giacalone

The Fantastic business plan that Joseph Giacalone has developed and lives by… has five distinct parts. He uses an acronym (cops love them) to keep himself focused… Competition MGMT.


*M*ission Statement
*T*arget Audience

Read Joe’s post on Rachel Thompson blog. We succeed when we truly write down our plans, that wonderful, simple act cements it into our psyche.

Explore more ===>

Watch a great video of Joe talking about writers and his business plan:
Joe Giacalone Discovered That There Was a Whole Other Market for his Book… Writers!

Posted in Business Plan, Creativity, Hangouts On Air | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing Historical Novels with author Suzanne Adair

I had a fantastic conversation about the craft of writing and building your characters in a historical context with Suzanne.

Award-winning novelist, Suzanne Adair – is a Florida native who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont, named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, and spending time with her family.

Where to find Suzanne on the web:

Her blog:
Suzanne’s Amazon author page:

Explore more ===>

Two great podcast shows I did with Suzanne before:

7/16/2011 Interview with writer Suzanne Adair

10/22/2011 My Second Interview with writer Suzanne Adair

‪‬ ‬ ‬ ‬ ‪‬ ‪‬

Posted in BlogTalkRadio, Interviews, Publishing, The Magic, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What was the moment(s) before we meet them?

As you set out to develop a character within a your story, there are a 1001 things you must do to give life to this new being. I feel one of the greatest discoveries is the “moment before”… this is one of the most important questions you can ask of your characters, and it helps to set the emotional tone for your character at the moment just before they walk into our lives.

What was going on just before we met them?

Well, the “moment before” is exactly what it sounds like… it’s what your character was doing or thinking immediately before they enter the that moment and become apart of the story. This questions does not only answer what your character was doing physically, but also how it will be reacting and carrying himself emotionally.

How to Discover

Uncovering the “moment before” can be accomplished through several means. The first, is to rely on the story’s plot and thought of action to help give you guidelines for what your characters was doing, thinking and caring about.

If the our story doesn’t indicate what your characters were physically doing before that moment scene, than they have no life to spring from. Think about the 1001 possibilities that your character would and could have been living. Answering these questions will help you cultivate the “moment before.”

Posted in Creativity, Hangouts On Air, Tutorials, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Person — Continued

When you’re writing in first person, there are some things you definitely need to avoid. Like what?

Well, that’s just silly, I thought to myself.

Duh. Who else are you going to think to? Unless your character can communicate telepathically with others, this construction is a waste of time. Get rid of the ‘to myself.’ Same with wondered and any other word that describes what may be going on inside your character’s noggin. If your character is telling the story, it goes without saying that s/he’s doing the thinking.

My thoughts drifted back to that fateful day.


I remembered the first time he kissed me.

Don’t do this. This is announcing what your character is thinking. Just have them talk about it. It’s much better for Sally to just begin the memory than announce it first.

An expression of horror crossed my face as I looked at the mess.

Don’t do this, either. The character can’t see their own face unless they’re looking in a mirror. Just say “I smiled. I looked in horror at the mess. I … you get the picture. Related to this is the ever popular “My cheeks grew red.” Again, unless they are looking in a mirror… just don’t do it. I blushed is more acceptable because the character could feel their cheeks growing warmer. Describing the sensation of warmth is even better. The trick is to think like the character and use the sensations they’re feeling rather than visual cues. First person, remember? :)


Now let’s talk about dialogue. Dialogue can’t help but be artificial in first person, but we include it anyway because it’s usually what people want to read most. If you have the opportunity for dialogue, go for it. Don’t recount a conversation as one-sided if you can help it (one exception that springs to mind is if your character is testifying in court). Readers want to witness all those lovers’ spats, conspiracies, and making up first hand.


Finally… the best part of first person. This is why we choose it in the first place. We want to write in the character’s voice. We get to act the part as we write. we get to choose their attitude, diction, thoughts, complexity, subtext… the whole nine yards. A character who is well-educated and likes to show that off uses big words and complex sentences. One who is simple may use short sentences and simple phrases. Your character can be sarcastic, both in word and tone. Whatever you choose, first person lets you revel in it. It reflects whatever you choose. A suggestion, however, for characters heavy in dialect… give it a flavor, rather than go heavy in phonetic spelling. A whole book spelled out in Cockney or Deep Southern could be rather difficult to read, not to mention condescending and probably inaccurate.


Usually distance is created by using third person, but it can be created inadvertently in first person by the phrasing you use.

I wondered if Billy would call.

This creates distance by subtly asking the reader to look at the narrator as she wonders. To get inside her head, you might try one of the following:

Would Billy call?

Maybe Billy would call.

Billy won’t call. He never calls when I want him to. Damn him!

Butterflies played in my stomach. Maybe Billy would call and ask me out.

I swore I’d never sit at home by the phone waiting for a boy to call. C’mon, Billy! Call already! God, I’m pathetic.

All of these not only eliminate distance, but they characterize what’s going on. Now we not only know she wants Billy to call, but each version adds more to the story.

Multiple First Person

I see a lot of manuscripts that make use of multiple first person. A recent mainstream example of this is Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles. The chapters alternate narrators. As the author, you get the fun of being inside the head of more than one character, with all the work that entails. On the plus side, you get more points of view from which to learn things, but on the minus side, you have to do all the work for each character, remembering who knows what and who doesn’t know what. This option works best when there’s a big difference between the characters.


Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What are we fighting for, what’s the conflict

John Rakestraw, The Story Spinner.

For the characters in our writing… they must rise to the challenge to reach the end (the grand goal). For our readership, it’s living each emotion, running right along with the characters, facing their fears and rejoicing with them all the way to the story’s end.

In this wonderful world there are those who can make you think, those that make you wonder and those that take you beyond their imagination into yours…

Posted in Hangouts On Air, Tutorials, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Outlining your book… It could make all the difference!

+Patti Larsen has a way of making you feel at home when she talks. Join me and my merry band of wonderful minds as we tackling the craft of writing a book. it can feel like an overwhelming prospect, where do we even start?

First… you want to know what you’re writing about.
Second… you do this best by generating an outline of your book.

Some of us writers… hate outlines (I was once in your camp.) Other writers live by them. I hope that we can help you discover where this process just might make your writing easier and faster.

If you were like me and approach book writing from a completely disorganized and impractical state of mind… Well, outlining could promote a logical approach and it leaves plenty of room for creativity.

Where to find Patti on the web:

Amazon Author Page:

Posted in Hangouts On Air | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Editing Before the Editor Gets It

I just read a terrific post on one of my favorite blogs… Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. It was about the editing (revising) an author must do before the book gets sent for editing. If you don’t do this step, you should. Go read his post now: Laser, Hacksaw, Spanner, Hammer: A Post About Editing. I’ll wait.

I can’t stress enough how important this step is. No one spews forth a perfect rough draft of a novel that needs no revision. No one. Every single novel needs this extra step. Sometimes, heck–who am I kidding–most of the time, this step is actually many steps done over and over and over. And Chuck’s right… this is where the art happens.

Sure, it’s amazing to get all those words out on the page in a rough draft. Not everyone can do that. But to get those words honed and crafted… that’s where the actual skill comes in. Getting the rough draft done takes dedication, but revising that rough piece of writing into a real story is art. That’s what separates the wheat from the chaff.

Then, when you turn in your piece of word art to your editor, they can polish it so you shine like the celestial being you truly are. Now where did I put my sunglasses?

Posted in Editing, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How I Build A Story… with John Rakestraw

I put myself in the hot seat and talk with my merry band of wonderful minds about how I build a story.

I did live theatre years ago…

I was a stage actor in the Seattle area during the 1980’s… I loved it! I did comedies, drama and musicals. I acted in over 100+ shows!

I study every book I could find on the subject of acting. All those books are really a great way to learn how to write a good story. Acting books are a great lesson in creativity. You have to understand your part, the character that you are playing, how they fit into the whole story (play) plot. Learning how to build a character, that a playwright made for you, was a great lesson for what has become my greatest starring role… as a published writer, a writing life coach and an internet talk show host, who talks to people about finding that magic we call… the craft of writing!

There is a huge amount of things that an actor needs to learn to truly be good at their craft and learning your line is the least of it, trust me!

Learning to write is the craft… bring it all to life is the magic!

To really be good at acting or writing… you have to make that role, that character, come to life. It has to have a whole life story before you can give it life in front of an audience. This is also true for writers. The audience is their readership. There is a process to creating this magic.

I will walk you through my 8 fundamentals on building a story.

First Element – Relationships and the magic if.
Second Element – What are they fighting for? What is the conflict?
Third Element – What was the moment(s) before we meet them?
Fourth Element – Humor, life is full of funny moments.
Fifth Element – The discoveries… when the characters and the story have a life of their own.
Sixth Element – Keeping Your Subtext in Context.
Seventh Element – Find the story’s events, the through lines and the arcs.
Eigthth Element – The mystery, the magic and the concentration devices that keep us involved.

Posted in Content Marketing, Creativity, Hangouts On Air, Social Media, working with editors, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Learn the Art and Science of Audio Books with Author Nathan Lowell

There was a lot of info put on the the table during this conversation about Audio Books. Nathan Lowell walked us through how he produces his audio files and even his marketing ideas.

Where you can find Nathan on the web…


I ask this talented and brilliant person to give us a list of the equipment and software that he uses, which by the way… made it possible for him to have over 5 million downloads of his audio books.
(We make no guarantees that your results will be the same.) B-])

Nathan writes…

Highly recommended: A digital recorder.. the Zoom H1 at $99 is an excellent value. It comes with very nice mics. Its limitation are on inputs. (I don’t know what they are.) More info

The next step up would be Zoom H2 at about $150. It will take a mini plug microphone but the built ins are also excellent.
More info

Top shelf is the Zoom H4N at about $275. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s a great “starter” and it has inputs for both mini plug and “pro grade” XLR. It also has all the power hookups you need to use some of the high end mics with it if you get to that point.
More info

Mics are optional if you get one of these Zooms. For reading books, unless you’re trying to set up a studio and you’re sure you want to do this, the H1 is my recommendation.

Right now I use
– Zoom H4
– Rode NT1-A shock mounted on a boom.
More info

Software I use
Audacity for editing and rendering.
More info

– Kid3 (a linux tool) for adding the ID3 tags, altho the iTunes application does an excellent job of it.
More info

Many great thanks to Nathan Lowell for his help and great conversation.

Posted in Audio Books, Hangouts On Air, Podcast, Publishing, Video, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment