Conundrum Press

Famous Writers on Character Development

January 20th, 2014  |  Published in Blog

by Debbie Vance

Famous writers on character development:

Marilynne Robinson, The Art of Fiction No. 198 :

In the development of every character there’s a kind of emotional entanglement that occurs. The characters that interest me are the ones that seem to pose questions in my own thinking. The minute that you start thinking about someone in the whole circumstance of his life to the extent that you can, he becomes mysterious, immediately.

John Steinbeck, The Art of Fiction No. 45 :

Sometimes I have a vision of human personality as a kind of fetid jungle full of monsters and demons and little lights. It seemed to me a dangerous place to venture, a little like those tunnels at Coney Island where “things” leap out screaming. I have been accused so often of writing about abnormal people.

It would be a great joke on the people in my book if I just left them high and dry, waiting for me. If they bully me and do what they choose I have them over a barrel. They can’t move until I pick up a pencil. They are frozen, turned to ice standing one foot up and with the same smile they had yesterday when I stopped.

Kurt Vonnegut, The Art of Fiction No. 64 :

When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time. One of my students wrote a story about a nun who got a piece of dental floss stuck between her lower left molars, and who couldn’t get it out all day long. I thought that was wonderful. The story dealt with issues a lot more important than dental floss, but what kept readers going was anxiety about when the dental floss would finally be removed. Nobody could read that story without fishing around in his mouth with a finger.

Margaret Atwood, The Art of Fiction No. 121 :

I do see the novel as a vehicle for looking at society—an interface between language and what we choose to call reality, although even that is a very malleable substance. When I create characters in novels, those characters aren’t necessarily expressing something that is merely personal. I draw observations from a wide range of things.

Joyce Carol Oates, The Art of Fiction No. 72 :

But in general the writing writes itself—I mean a character determines his or her “voice” and I must follow along.

Vladimir Nabokov, The Art of Fiction No. 40 :

My characters are galley slaves.

Simone de Beauvoir, The Art of Fiction No. 35 :

I don’t consider [names] very important. I chose the name Xavière in She Came to Stay because I had met only one person who had that name. When I look for names, I use the telephone directory or try to remember the names of former pupils.

Evelyn Waugh, The Art of Fiction No. 30 :

All fictional characters are flat. A writer can give an illusion of depth by giving an apparently stereoscopic view of a character—seeing him from two vantage points; all a writer can do is give more or less information about a character, not information of a different order.

But look, I think that your questions are dealing too much with the creation of character and not enough with the technique of writing. I regard writing not as investigation of character, but as an exercise in the use of language, and with this I am obsessed. I have no technical psychological interest. It is drama, speech, and events that interest me.

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