Thursday, March 25, 2010

Journaling your Characters

Okay, did I sufficiently cover the topic of how to acquire an agent? If you have follow-up questions, please feel free to e-mail me. It's such a huge topic, I'm sure I missed something.

Moving back to actual writing.

At conferences, writers often ask agents, "What is one of the biggest reasons you turn down manuscipts?" A frequent response is, "Cardboard characters."

This week, I came across a method called a "Voice Journal." It comes from James Scott Bell's insanely fabulous The Art of War for Writers. You should seriously think about investing in this book. It holds the place of honor with my three other favorite craft books - Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King, and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. Anyway, back to the Voice Journal.

There are all kinds of worksheets you can dowload for getting to know your characters. You spend lots of time tediously answering questions like, What's your favorite color? What's your family like? What's your greatest fear? These things have never worked for me. Probably because I find filling them out insanely boring, and I never see any reward for my time investment.

But in The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell describes the Voice Journal method, and I'm sooooooo addicted. The Voice Journal is letting your character talk in a stream of consciousness mode. You simply ask one or two questions, and then without editing, you answer those questions using your "I voice." Here's an example from one of mine:

My name is Shea Estelle Wingate. I'm 25, but I'm not like any other
25-year-old I know. I've been a widow for four years.

While my friends were recreationally dating in high school, I was with
Jeremy. Jeremy was ... Well, who your parents would pick for you to date. Sweet,
attentive, adoring. Good grades, nice teeth. Nothing that would ever raise a red
flag, not even with a girl's dad.

And this goes on and on for five notebook pages, front and back. Not only is it a ton of fun because it feels like "real" writing, but I'm getting to know Shea in a whole new way. I've gotten a much better feel for her voice, and I've even thought of new plot ideas.

What a great exercise to use for all the major characters in your novel. It'll keep your characters from all sounding the same, and it'll clarify everybody's emotions about situations. Signing off to return to my voice journal...

Back on Tuesday to answer more of your questions!


  1. Funny, I mention this in my blog today too, LOL. We must have been sharing a brain when we were writing these up. =)

    And for the record, your example makes me want to read Shea's journal, ha ha. Can I be her big sister, sneaking in and stealing it so I get the dirt on her?? ;-)

  2. That's a great idea! I'm going to see if I can get a copy of that as a "late" birthday present!:D


  3. I think you'll really like it, Emii. I hate reading non-fiction, but James Scott Bell writes in such a tight, entertaining way, that I always enjoy his craft books. Happy late birthday, btw :)

  4. You do? Haha, I hate reading non-fiction too. I just can't focus on what I'm reading ;)

  5. Wow, this is just what I need. I seriously am sick of those profile thingies. I am like you, because I get bored of them, and I think they don't actually help. So, thank you so much for this!