The idea: A 4-week blog series in which eight (8) writers give their views on eight (8) different writing process guides. For more details, visit here.

This week’s topic: Deepening Your Characters: What is at the heart of a complex character?

The contest: Join in the fun by blogging about the week’s topic on your own site. Be sure to post the link in this thread for a chance to win a free book! More details here. Last week’s winner is Karla Ellenbach! Email me at to get your free book!

The writers and their guides: Click on any of the writer’s names below to view their blog.

Cory Jackson: Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream

Kate Hart: Stephen King’s On Writing

Jamie Blair: Thomas Monteleone’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Writing A Novel

Laura McMeeking: Natalie Naimark-Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Debra Driza: James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure

Leila Austin: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

Sarah Harian: Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s Writing Fiction

Jennifer Wood: Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing


Deepening Your Characters: What is at the heart of a complex character?

A couple of weeks ago, I described Robert Olen Butler’s take on fiction in his writing process novel, From Where You Dream.

Fiction, inescapably, is the art form of human yearning.

He tells us that there are “two epiphanies in any good work of fiction.” The second, as described by James Joyce, is the “moment in a work of art when something shines forth in its essence.” In other words the climax of the story.

The first epiphany comes very near the beginning, where the sensual details accumulate around a moment in which the deepest yearning of the main character shines forth.

Butler believes a good work of fiction is born out of this first epiphany. It comes from dreaming up a character with a profound yearning. Characters without this yearning can leave a reader cold. This was a huge A-ha! moment for me. A while back I wrote this post about how a lot of fiction out there now is leaving me unmoved and dissatisfied, while YA fiction is grabbing at me. I think this is exactly for the reason Butler describes.

Yearning is something we can understand – an inescapable condition of being human. Whether it is a yearning for a family or a yearning to understand your place in the world, we can relate as readers to a character’s desires. My own characters usually come to me with their yearning in place.

In addition to yearning, I believe you deepen a character with a web of sensual details that describe the character’s world and their outlook on the world. Sometimes it’s easy to veer to too much telling. Much more difficult is to allow the way the character interacts with the world to tell the story of their particular yearning. Another way to deepen your characters is to allow them a complex range of emotions.

How do you deepen your characters?