Convincing Characters, the mind of Verna Dreisbach

If you are accepted by Dreisbach Literary Management, her website reads, it is because Verna has faith in your abilities as a writer and feels a connection with your goals and aspirations. And that was exactly the sense I got from listening to Verna speak about character development–that she is the sort of literary agent who’s truly devoted to the art of literature. What impressed me most about Verna Dreisbach was the confessed goal of her current writing project. She’s writing a novel-length character study in order to prepare for writing a novel. Now this is someone I want teaching me about character development.

What else does Ms. Dreisbach want the writers she represents to do to develop their characters? Plenty.

ReadThe Art of Fiction, by John Gardner.

And read Aristotle. “The middle section of The Rhetoric of Aristotle is all about human emotion,” she says and passes around her own copy, dog-eared, written-in, and heavily bookmarked. She uses Aristotle to explore an important question: what is the mental state of emotion? Philosophy, she says, is great for understanding human nature, resolution, and motivation. Study what you are writing. The more you put in, the more you get in return.

Yeah, like write 50,000 words of character development before you write a word of the novel in which you plan to have your characters actually doing something. This woman is serious. I loved her.

There’s believable and there’s convincing, she says. And successful fiction is convincing. What’s the difference?

Believable shares a character’s experiences, circumstances, and background. But convincing exposes the character’s emotions, desires, deep beliefs, and transformations. You can create convincing characters if you can go deep. What moves your character? What motivates her? What scares her? The willingness to go to the bare emotions, the personal stuff, is what makes a character work.

Treat character revelation like dating. Let the reader slowly get to know the characters, be seduced into going to dinner. Then maybe we’ll want to spend a weekend, and if the weekend goes well, maybe the reader will want your character to move in.

Do more with description and dialogue. Dialogue tells the reader: pay attention, I’m going to let you see something about this character. Description can be an opportunity to deepen character: what does your character’s appearance tell the reader about her inner beauty?

I’ll tell you about inner beauty. It’s the inner mind of Verna Dreisbach. She’s a writer and a reader, but most of all, she’s a thinker. And I like the way she thinks.



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  1. Lovely post! And I like the website redesign. 🙂

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