East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Characters – a Handbook

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cover26776-mediumI’ll admit it – I’m a sucker for a good book about writing.
I find writing manuals and books about the craft hugely entertaining.
There’s always something good to be learned, always some bit that can spark a whole new line of thought.
In this sense, my latest catch is exactly the sort of book about writing I love.

The Art of Character, by David Corbett (Penguin, 2013), is both an entertaining read, and the sort of book I’ll go back to in the future, and which will have me thinking as I read, write, watch movies.
This book hits deep.

This is not exactly a writing handbook in the traditional sense – it does not offer a recipe for success, or quality,or sales.
It does not carry the flag of “The Rules”.
It does not want to teach us to write – but, maybe, just how to write better.
Rather, the author wants us to think about character as the hub of our narrative, as the motor of the action, the real reason why the story is being told in the first place.
In this sense, this book is a strong advocate for character-driven stories – expanding thedefinition of character-driven to embrace almost the totality of fiction

Through examples, ample debates and often intriguing suggestions, we are invited to see our characters as an expression of ourselves – so that no writer can really develop good characters (and therefore good stories), if he does not know himself, if he’s not a grasp of his own needs, limits, convinctions.

Character is also seen as a set of responses to some basic existential questions, and as a seeker of someform of gratification and truth.
Character must not only be seen, we are told, but she has to be felt, experienced.
And as our own feelings and thoughts are the only complete set of feelings and thoughts we have access to, that’s where we’ll have to start, where we’ll have to look for ideas, inspiration, tools.
Each new character, each new story, will therefore have to do with ourselves, with our own personal history, with our evolution.
Which is a lott less touchy-feely than it sounds.

The books’ scope extends to other media – notably film and TV – and is enjoyable thanks to its well-thought approach to details.
Yes, sometimes it does sound a little daunting, and the adoption of the full approach proposed by Corbett would probably require many years of work and research.
And yet, bits of the book can be adapted pretty fast at the writing of characters of adventure stories (traditionally, not the deepest, best-rounded individuals in the realm of fiction), with interesting results.
A book of suggestions, from which to extract a genera attitude to writing, and some interesting experiments.

The Art of Character is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in fiction.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

One thought on “Characters – a Handbook

  1. Like you, I think that writing manuals and books about the craft are really interesting and very entertaining.
    And everytime I find something new to think about.
    It can be something completely new but usually it is something that I know but in a little different perspective.
    Thanks a lot for sharing, this book seems really enjoyable.
    I’ll go for it! đŸ˜€


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