In his text Building a Character, famed theatre practitioner Constantin Stanislavski writes:
“At the beginning of our lesson I told Tortsov, the Director of our school and theatre, that I could comprehend with my mind the process of planting and training within myself the elements necessary to create character, but that it was still unclear to me how to achieve the building of that character in physical terms. Because, if you do not use your body, your voice, a manner of speaking, walking, moving, if you do not find a form of characterization which corresponds to the image, you probably cannot convey to others its inner, living spirit.”
Of course, Stanislavski is speaking of the physicality of the actor portraying a character on stage, but I believe his statement is likewise true of a writer portraying a character on the page. Writers must convey images of their characters – how they move, speak and walk – if they are to reveal to readers the inner, living spirit of the characters they create. Most writers understand this as “show, don’t tell,” yet many still wonder how exactly to accomplish this in their narrative.
Stanislavski then asks Tortsov how to achieve the external characterization, and Tortsov responds that it is most often generated by the actor once the “right inner values have been established.” This was the accepted technique at the time, which represents the creation of characters from the inside out. You decide who the character is, and then portray him accordingly.
As the chapter goes on, however, Stanislavski and Tortsov begin to alter their own physical characteristics by choosing specific clothing, demeanors, and speech patterns, which revealed a technique for external character development they had not considered before. We look at this as the creation of character from the outside in.
For actors, either method is acceptable and many performers use a combination of both. The same is true in writing as well. A writer can assign philosophical and spiritual beliefs, personality traits, and behaviors, and then develop corresponding physical features and qualities of movement. Or they might simply be inspired by the external, as I often am. I see a person in real life, a character on the street or in a coffee shop and, lacking any background information, I create a fictional character based on the physical traits I’m able to observe. This works well for me, since I write almost exclusively character-driven fiction.
My daughter Patricia Walker and I have developed a technique, a tool writers can use in the immediate process of writing, to analyze, embody and convey characters who live and breathe on the page. Since I started using the technique, my own writing has taken new shape, expanding both actively and visually. I can physically embody characters, which helps me move the action forward and create authentic and unique dialogue. I am able to analyze my work to make sure there is a fully developed and well-rounded cast of characters. I can identify the core dynamic of each character, and assign them a specific, descriptive verb that I refer to when I need to convey emotion or intent through physical action. I can show, rather than tell the reader, everything they need to know about who the character is as a human being.
Patti’s experience as a professionally trained actor and university instructor makes her uniquely qualified to present the program we call Outside In: Character as Verb to writers of all skill levels. My experience as a successful author of character-driven Southern fiction helps me apply the concepts of stage movement to the written word. We are available as a team to present this dynamic and exciting new two-hour craft workshop for writers.
If you are in the Calhoun, Georgia area, we’ll be presenting this program at the 2017 Northwest Georgia Writers Conference May 19-20. Go to http://www.calhounareawriters.com/ for more information.
To request information about hosting a workshop, please go to http://www.CassieDandridgeSelleck.com and use the contact page.
Put these on your calendars and watch for more information. I’ll be a guest author at The Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine on September 23, 2017. See http://www.floridaheritagebookfestival.com for details. May need to wait until closer to time for the event to know the exact schedule.
I am also speaking at the Northwest Georgia Writers Conference May 19 and 20th, and presenting a workshop with Patti Walker, Senior Editor of Obstinate Daughters Press, on the craft of character development. This will be at the Harris Arts Center in Calhoun, Georgia.
And for those of you in Arkansas…check your local and/or state public library schedules for appearances the week of June 12th, 2017. I’ll be visiting across the state for the “If All Arkansas Read the Same Book” program, featuring my novel The Pecan Man. The schedule is still being developed, but I know I’ll be in Hot Springs on the 11th. These are all free to the public.
If you are a Goodreads member, check out the free drawing I’m doing for a signed copy of my second novel What Matters in Mayhew. This is the first in what I call the Beanie Bradsher Series, about a quirky woman in a small Southern town. This is the blurb from the book cover:
Every town has at least one beloved, if misunderstood, eccentric and Beanie Bradsher belongs to Mayhew Junction. Some – LouWanda Crump, for example – would call Beanie a spectacle, but Beanie just marches (and dresses) to the beat of a different drum. Not much has changed over the years in this town. On any given morning, you’ll find the same people at the same table at the same café, and none of them have changed one iota in the past twenty years. But now Beanie Bradsher has won the lottery, and might be dating Sweet Lee Atwater’s husband. And the hometown basketball star Vesuvius Jones just got a face full of Red Velvet cake at the Trunk-or-Treat. The gossip has never been juicier, which might just be a good thing. Lord knows this town could use a good shaking up.
Sign up before March 13th for a chance to win one of two signed copies of the book, which is also available on Amazon’s Kindle program for $4.99 or for FREE if you belong to Kindle Unlimited.
I love that these ladies from Boston thought to add me to their picture! What a lovely time we had discussing The Pecan Man. Gotta add, since this is Super Bowl Sunday, go Patriots!!!
Just had a question this morning from the host of a book club in Boston who read The Pecan Man. I skyped with them the other night and it was an amazing meeting for me. More on that in a bit. The question was – and I’m paraphrasing – How can I let people know what a great night we had discussing your book when I’m a little technology challenged?
Now, I’m not big on self-promotion, but I am self-published, and I need all the help I can get spreading the word about my work. So, for me, and for every other author out there whose work you love, here are some things you can do to help them be successful in their writing journeys.
- Choose their books for your book clubs. This has been a huge catalyst for my sales.
- Post pictures of your book club meeting on social media. This is where you can share with your friends a book that inspired you, made you think, gave you joy, broke your heart. Tell them about your conversation at the meeting. Did you ALL love the book? Did you have a spirited or contentious discussion? Tell your friends.
- Share a quote from the book that resonated with you. Goodreads has a section you can add a quote for specific books, but you can do this on Facebook or Twitter, too. Just give people food for thought and, of course, credit the author and novel.
- Create a meme of a quote, take a picture of the book cover, or of your book club holding the book and post it on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
- Write a review on Amazon. You do NOT have to buy the book through Amazon to post a review. Be honest, be fair, be kind. Don’t review a book you haven’t read, even if you mean to be helpful. 🙂
- Search for the author’s Facebook page or blog and post a comment. Words of encouragement, thoughtful questions, personal stories of connection, are always appreciated.
- Invite the author to Skype with your book club! I have been thrilled with the experiences I’ve had meeting readers face to face, even if it’s through a computer screen. It still feels personal to me, and I love it.
- Buy their books through legitimate sources. I once found a pirated site that was giving my book away for free. I was devastated. I write for a living; it’s my only source of income. I managed to get them to take it down because it is illegal and they know it. What you need to know is this: nothing is free. They are either making income from advertising on their sites by stealing copyrighted work, or worse, they are attaching malware to your computer when you download the file. It can have devastating consequences for you because they can get ALL of your personal data this way, including financial information and passwords. And it’s just wrong.
- Sharing books the right way is great! The more people you tell, the better, so even loaning your book to someone else is appreciated. The more people talk about a book, the more sales we get. But remember to support the authors you love by buying their books whenever you can.
- Tell Oprah and Ellen about the book. Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she??
There are probably more ideas, but I’m all out of them for now. Read a good book, y’all! Then tell someone about it. The authors appreciate you. I know I do!
I have been blessed by so many people who have chosen The Pecan Man for their book club. This is the Indian Springs Book Club in Cincinnati, Ohio…thanks Eileen for sharing this great photo with me. It is just the greatest honor and thrill to see people holding my little novel, and knowing they discussed the characters I love so much. Working on the sequel now. I’m just as hopeful as anyone that Gracie will pull out of her struggles. I have to admit that it has been difficult to write and I find myself avoiding it. This time it hits too close to home, I think. The character Grace was inspired by my sister’s struggles, but the story itself is entirely fictional. But I find myself in the sequel pulling from actual events and issues with drug abuse and what it does to the family unit. Y’all keep these photos coming and I’ll post them on Facebook and the blog. And don’t forget…I’m happy to Skype with your group if you let me know in advance! Holla!
Just spent a week on St. George Island with an amazing group of women, mostly writers of fiction, but other genres as well. Hosted by Persis “Perky” Granger every year since 2009, this retreat has grown exponentially for several reasons.
First, the concept of a retreat where you stay and work and eat with other writers, carving out time to work on specific writing projects. It was designed (Perky and I first came up with the concept together, but she has taken the ball and run with it) to address the specific needs of women writers who are often the “go-to” person in the family – the one all the kids and grandkids and adult kids and partner kids call any time they need…well…anything. Taking a cue from Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own,” this workshop sets out to provide just that: time and space and a room to work on your writing project.
Second, the guest artist-in-residence is noted YA author Adrian Fogelin, whose novel series beginning with Crossing Jordan caught my attention when I worked for Three Rivers Regional Library System in Mayo. They are definitely YA novels, but wonderful if you just enjoy good fiction and stellar writing. It is hard to describe what Adrian does for the participants, but you will never get this much personal attention AND excellent craft workshops and writing prompts anywhere else.
Third, Perky has developed the space to work for participants individual needs. You can attend one of the week-long in-residence retreats, there are two of them in the month of January…OR, you can sign up for one of the two alternating weeks in January where it is “On-your-own” time. You have a bed and access to kitchen and living space in a gorgeous home overlooking the Gulf and plenty of time to write. There are other writers there, but everyone is respectful of writing time.
Fourth, you deserve it. It is affordable and your writing is worth the investment.
Fiction Among Friends is the Facebook group where you can find Perky and learn about the workshop. I highly recommend it…from PERSONAL experience.