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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Secrets, Styles, and Sins...!

On Tuesday evening, the wonderful Meg Lippert and her cohort, the equally wonderful Kathryn O. Galbraith, gave me the opportunity to talk about character development at the UW Writing for Children class.

I jumped the shark on Stick Figures to Fleshy Fabulousness, mainly because the more I thought about my examples (for the most part centered around drawing metaphors), the more convoluted and crazy it became. So I made a handout - two presentations in one! - and talked about Secrets, Styles, and Sins instead...

Wondering about sins? Well, everybody has them - including your characters. Yes! And what better goldmine for sins than the seven deadly ones: GREED - LUST - WRATH - PRIDE - SLOTH - ENVY - GLUTTONY

(Hieronymus Bosch's The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things)

Beyond their secrets, beyond their personalities and characteristics, I find it helpful as I write my characters to identify one or more "sins" (or really, just flaws - they don't have to be the deadly kind). These flaws drive them, get them into trouble, and ultimately prove a place for redemption. They show us the way, as authors, for how to construct the character's journey.

Writing Exercise:
Try writing a paragraph about your character in which you explore your character's primary flaw - use voice, inner monologue, dialogue, setting, anything but actually stating the flaw itself.

An interesting discussion ensued from the exercise - what was Harry Potter's deadly sin? I tend to agree with the students who said WRATH - anger about his parents' sacrifice is what drives him and is ultimately what he must overcome in order to make a sacrifice of love himself. Then I started thinking about Ron...ENVY, perhaps? The struggle of every sidekick? And what about Hermione? Hmmm.

What do you think?


  1. Oooh, great exercise. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Good ideas! i will have to try that.

  3. Very, very cool. I will use this, definitely. :) Thanks!

  4. Great idea, Holly.
    I think Hermione's is pride.

    I think my MC's is some form of self-pity.

  5. I thin Hermione's is pride, too.

    Hey, Holly, this post was profound and I'm going to be thinking about it for along time. I can see just how this kind of investigation would delineate your character from all others, giving them a holy unique voice. I think I've struggled with muddying the waters of my character's psyche with my own intrusive voice. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Thanks for sharing some of your brilliance. :) Molly.

  6. Great post, Holly. And timely for me.

  7. Holly,

    Very timely for me, too! I am writing the 10 Commandments for the Dead, and this helps. :-)

  8. I always have trouble writing the basic personalities profiles, but the sins would be a blast to write. Thanks, Holly! And I'm mega-intrigued by Martha's 10 commandments.