Monday, June 10, 2013

The Art of Character - Interview & Book Review With David Corbett & a Cover Reveal!

Happy Monday!

Today, I'd like to welcome David Corbett to my blog for an interview on The Art of Character, his non-fiction book on the craft of writing. You'll find a review of The Art of Character preceding the interview, and a special cover reveal after that!

My Review of The Art of Character:

Award-winning author of four (soon to be five!) thrillers, compared to Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway, ex-private investigator, and seasoned speaker and instructor, David Corbett has now released a book on how to flesh out your characters, building them from the ground up to make them believable.

I should first say that I was sent a copy of this book to write an honest review. I'd been wanting to read more books on craft, and thought this would be a good way to jump in. Upon beginning to read it, though, I was drawn in. Yes, to a book on craft. Unlike some who write books on the craft of writing, David Corbett is already a respected writer of fiction, and this shows in The Art of Character. His writing flows, and what he has to say is interesting, not at all dry. I actually enjoyed reading it, and was so engrossed that I took pages of notes to reference back to later. 

"It is entirely possible that the act of writing serves as an incantation, beckoning the Muse, who in turn lures these evanescent beings we call our characters - which are in fact archetypes - out of the inner darkness over which she reigns. This can be both a consoling and terrifying view of the matter. But inspiration often alternates between consolation and terror." p. 7, The Art of Character.

There are four main parts, not counting the introduction and epilogue, organized in a logical and easy-to-follow order: Part I - Conceiving the Character, Part II - Developing the Character, Part III - Roles, Part IV - Technique. Throughout, Corbett provides useful examples, followed by helpful exercises. Some of the exercises force you into your own head, because...

"Every story worth telling in some way mirrors our lives, and to that extent explores four key questions:
     Who am I?
     Where do I come from?
     Where am I going?
     What does it mean?" p. xxiii (introduction), The Art of Character

But he doesn't only want you to look inside yourself for your characters; he also suggests you people watch, study strangers and the people you know. Learn what there is to know about your fellow humans. He approaches characterization from multiple facets, teaching us how to view our characters in a multi-dimensional sense, and helping us to avoid cardboard copies of other people's characters.

In my opinion, it takes great skill to write a book on craft that makes you feel like you're reading a piece of fiction. He doesn't bang your head with it, instead letting it soak in by approaching it in different ways, appealing to the different learning styles each person brings to the subject. I found myself nodding as I read, my eyes being opened to something I'd thought I understood, but hadn't fully grasped. I had to give up on the notes, instead underlining passages so I could come back to them (shhh, don't tell!). 

This is one book on craft I highly recommend. Think you know how to write great characters? It's still worth a read; I challenge you not to learn anything from it.

An Interview With David Corbett:

Q1: What made you switch gears to write this book after you'd published in fiction?

I taught an online course on character through the UCLA Extension Writers’ program, and that obliged me to write out ten lectures. I tend to be somewhat thorough (read: obsessive) in my lectures, so once I was finished, I thought: Be a damn shame and an awful waste not to use all this stuff. So I talked to my agent, who to be honest was not enthused. Another book on writing? Oh, the ho and the hum. But then she read what I’d provided and saw I had a unique take, both practical and philosophical, and the writing itself was superior to most how-to books. I was trying not merely to instruct but inspire. So we packaged the thing, sent it around, and Penguin agreed to publish it.

Q2: Do you feel character building has been under-represented in books on craft?

The trend in recent books on writing has been on structure, with character seen as a crucial element of that, but character is never the central focus. Robert McKee’s Story, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey—three of the most influential texts out there right now—all touch on character, but in the first two books it’s dealt with primarily in functional terms (how character serves the story), and Vogler’s approach sees character more in terms of archetypes than real people. All pronounce the importance of character but give little real guidance on how to conceive or develop great characters.

The guides I’ve read dealing specifically with character also felt strangely formulaic or uninspired to me. All had decent tips but I felt they missed the crucial element: That there is no way to create great characters without a comprehensive understanding of oneself and the elements of one’s own life that form the foundations of personality. Your material is yourself. Or, as Chekhov put it: “Everything I know about human nature I learned from me.” My book tries to teach how to be a perceptive and responsive student to one’s own human nature, the better to deliver that understanding to one’s characters.

Q3: While writing The Art of Character, did you run into problems unique to writing this sort of book versus fiction?

All creative work is essentially problem solving. That’s as true of fiction as non-fiction—or mathematics. I just needed to figure out what was necessary to deliver the best book on character I could write, and get it down. I teach, so it wasn’t that fundamentally different a process than I was used to.

Q4: What do you think is the best way to learn craft (i.e. books on craft, workshops, personal experience, etc.)?

Classes and textbooks provide you with an inventory of questions to ask as you’re writing: Where should I begin my story? Whose story is it? What creates the conflict? What are the stakes? How can I amplify the stakes and intensify the conflict? How can I sustain suspense and generate surprise? The best answers to those questions lie in the books you love, the books that have inspired you as a writer. Our best teachers are always the writers we admire and hope in some small way to emulate.

Q5: What do you think is the biggest mistake writers make in character building?

They rely on the story idea and don’t plumb the character as a unique being whose wants and yearning and fears and shame all drive the action—make it necessary, not just possible. The archetype approach hasn’t helped this problem. We’re seeing thinly disguised reiterations of cardboard heroes and mentors and such rather than real people whose lives generate the details of the story, not the other way around.

Q6: Was there a resource you found invaluable in honing your craft?

I consider the three books mentioned above invaluable, even if I also consider them limited with respect to character. Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing was also a crucial text for me, as were Stanislavski’s three seminal texts: Creating a Role, Building a Character, and The Actor Prepares. (I learned most of what I know about writing from studying acting and trial and error.) Oakley Hall’s The Art and Craft of Novel Writing was a very important and useful source, and Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream also proved incredibly helpful.

But as I noted above, in the end I’m like everyone else, in that I learned most of what I know about writing from the writers I admire.

Q7: What piece of advice would you offer aspiring authors?

Writing is rewriting. (Eudora Welty) And you can’t revise what you haven’t written.

Q8: What's next for you in your writing?

My latest novel (my fifth), The Wrong Girl, is currently making the editorial rounds in New York. My third novel, Blood of Paradise, just sold in France, and I’m working on a film project with producer Shane Salerno.

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? 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. For more information, visit

I'm also excited to tell you that David will be presenting a workshop, free, online, via Pikes Peak Writers in July. It will be live on July 16, and we'll post it online within a week of that date. I'll be sure to post on here so you can access that workshop FREE!! It will be a video, not just audio.

THE OUTER LIMITS OF INNER LIFE: Bringing Characters to Life by Looking Within.

Join award-winning author David Corbett, Pikes Peak Writers, and Delve Writing, for this free, exclusively online Write Brain workshop on creating characters with depth. You will learn how to build an intuitive connection with your characters through an informed understanding of your own past, and how to use that bridge to create compelling backstories that bring your tale to life. David will discuss the crucial role of both helplessness and willfulness in exploring character, and how these seemingly contradictory inclinations are crucial in creating complex and engaging characters. He will also explore ways to heighten conflict in your story through a better understanding of the emotional stakes. By the end of the class, you'll walk away with a healthy start on your next bestselling novel and a deeper understanding of your characters and your story.

(Note: You can access this recording late the third week of July on the Pikes Peak Writers website. There's one available there now, completely free, from Page Lambert: Manifestation of Yearning: The Flesh & Blood Factor of Good Storytelling.)


Zoe has a great pair of legs, perky boobs, and wears exactly what she needs to show it all off. She works hard for the easy sleazy ‘you only wish you were me’ reputation, burying who she really is—an all-out nerd. 

The only time Zoe gets to be herself is when she hides under her comforter to read X-Men comics, sending jealousy stabs at everyone who attends Comic-Con. Keeping up her popular rep is too important, and she’s so damn insecure to care about the consequences. But when Zoe’s sister takes her car for a ‘crash and burn into a tree’ joyride, her parents get her a replacement. A manual. Something she doesn’t know how to operate, but her next door neighbor Zak sure as heck does. 

Zak’s a geek to the core, shunned by everyone in school for playing Dungeons and Dragons at lunch and wearing “Use the Force” t-shirts. And Zoe’s got it bad for the boy. Only Zak doesn’t want Popular Zoe. He wants Geek Zoe. 

She has to shove her insecurities and the fear of dropping a few rungs on the social ladder aside to prove to Zak who she really is and who she wants to be… if she can figure it out herself.

The release date is expected in September 2013.

Cassie Mae is a nerd to the core from Utah, who likes to write about other nerds who find love. She’s the author of the Amazon Bestseller REASONS I FELL FOR THE FUNNY FAT FRIEND, and is the debut author for the Random House FLIRT line with her New Adult novels FRIDAY NIGHT ALIBI and PULLING THE SWITCH. She also has a three book deal with Swoon Romance Publishing, including her book HOW TO DATE A NERD. She spends her time with her angel children and perfect husband who fan her and feed her grapes while she clacks away on the keyboard. Then she wakes up from that dream world and manages to get a few words on the computer while the house explodes around her. When she’s not writing, she’s spending time with the youth in her community as a volleyball and basketball coach, or searching the house desperately for chocolate.


  1. Okay, I want Corbett's book because I'm a great believer in the character and love the blurb for Cassie's upcoming - cute cover, too :)

  2. I bet this would be an interesting read, and he gives some good advice. When I write I define the character first and then build the story around them, not the other way around. Also, if your character is boring/typical/not well defined then your story is definitely going to suffer.

  3. I'm all for character.
    Which reminds me, you need to read Doc.

    And you need to email me.

  4. Congratulations to Cassie!
    David's book sounds like an essential for writers. Characters are always the focal point of my stories.

  5. Dang, I've seen this book a thousand times, and always was like meh, but with your review, I'm going to jump in and buy it. I will hold you completely responsible.

  6. I believe strongly in good characters; I think they are the main focus of the story. At least for me as a reader.


  7. Thank you for this post! I really want to read this book now. In fiction, I prefer to read books of a series. I believe it's crucial to form characters with as much depth as you can muster.

  8. Okay, relax, yes almost four in the morning, but I've always got time for my lovely human friend, Shannon.

    Yes, lucky you, it's me, Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar!

    David Corbett, nice one, dude. Characters mirror our lives. Fair enough, if my human took a close look at my reflection, he'd be a much better writer. You are obviously a knowledgeable human, David and I shall forward your advice to my human when he finally gets the green traffic light. I know, what am talking about?

    Cassie Mae! Ah yes, another one of my ever growing list of adoring human fans! I'm delighted your book is hopefully going to be released in September, Cassie. My human, Gary, is the most datable nerd you could ever wish to meet.

    Lovely Shannon, rock on!

    Pawsitive wishes,

    Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar!

  9. Great interview...and now I want to read the book! And adorable cover and title! So. Much. Fun.

  10. Sweet interview! I'd like to think I am decent with character development, but I'm still a fledgling. It would be curious to see what his take on doing so it. I like what he said on it.

    I agree that so many come off as too formulaic.

    In the end, my main focus is the characters and connecting them to the readers!

    How do you become involved in cover reveals? Someone I met during the A to Z has been asking if anyone wanted to participate in their reveal. Contemplating doing so, if I can figure it out.

    May have to read that "Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend." lol Get some pointers ;-)

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink

  11. Awesome interview ... headed out to check out this book right now!
    Definitely need some work on my secondary character development. They tend to be too easily used as caricatures or stock characters.

  12. Shannon, you've got great stuff here!

    Cool cover, never heard of Cassie Mae before...but now I'm totally interested in her books.

    And I can hardly wait for David Corbett's PPW/Delve workshop. Characters make the story. It's Harry, Katniss, Dexter, Stephanie Plum, Kay Scarpetta....that as readers we all fall for. As writers we have an obligation to bring them to life for our readers.