Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review - Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint

Just in case you wanted to know, the Coffeehouse for Writers blog has a feature entitled  
On Our Bookshelves.  I recently shared this review there, and thought it might be of interest to
some of you. :)

Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint                           

By Nancy Kress
Writer’s Digest Books
Need help with characters? I do. Since non-fiction is more my thing, I was hoping that this book would assist me with character development.  It does! Author Nancy Kress makes good on her promise to provide “Techniques and exercises for crafting dynamic characters and effective viewpoints”.

The author of sixteen novels, Kress is well versed in what makes characters tick. From defining what readers want to putting it all together, she outlines everything needed to create compelling characters. She defines how to assemble your cast of characters and put each one in their proper place. Chapter one includes a mini-bio sheet listing traits, marital status, and other important elements so brainstorming can begin immediately. I like handy tools like this –  it helps us hit the ground running, putting things into practice.

We are encouraged to “audition our players” to consider, for example, if we are genuinely interested in the character. Kress also challenges us to ask:

“Is this character or situation fresh and interesting in some new way?”

“Do I find myself thinking about him/her in odd moments…inventing bits of dialogue?”

These kinds of questions, she says, help determine whether or not a character will make the grade for a great book.

Chapters include clear how-to details on point of view, dialogue, emotion, backstory, how characters “learn”, and more. Exercises are sprinkled liberally throughout to help bring motivation, turmoil, and depth to characters. Kress covers how to develop and use humor, love, and action – including how to handle fight scenes. The appendix contains a checklist of critical character points which acts as a handy rubric to guide the process.

I enjoyed Kress’s friendly style and encouragement. I came away knowing that I had the tools to create good characters. This is a book that will remain on my shelf in the trusted resource category.    

For more Coffeehouse book reviews and other good stuff, click here.

What books are on your "Must Have" list? 

Have a wonderful weekend!


Image credit: bluegum


  1. “Do I find myself thinking about him/her in odd moments…inventing bits of dialogue? I like that question, because I sometimes do think about the character in a book I am reading...
    As for now, I cannot think of a book that is on my must read list... you're talking helpful books, right?! I am curious to hear what others will come up with... it might inspire me :)
    Thanks Karen, have a great weekend, enjoy!

  2. Although I already have four writing how-to books, I may have to add this one to the collection as well. You can never learn too much on the craft of writing. =)

  3. I have just two writing craft books, I have read one, the other I have yet to read. Thanks Karen, for a great post. Like the sound of this book.

  4. I want to start a Nancy Kress fan club, I love her books on writing so much! She speaks in a lingo that I understand right away. Her book Dynamic Characters is my hands-down fave on characterization, and I love this one nearly as much.

    Strangely, I've never read any of her fiction. Hmm...

  5. Marja,
    I know, that question really makes me think too! Actually as far as "Must Have" books I was thinking more of writing, but curious about any others you like too. :)

    I agree, we are always learning and there is always something new to try! I don't think I can have too many writing books. ;)

    You might like this one; I find it so helpful. There are just so many good resources out there!

    Now that you mention it, I've never read any of her fiction either. I should, and should also check out some of her other nonfiction. Thanks for the reminder!

    Happy weekend all,

  6. I read this book a long time. I have all Kress' books. I should really pull some of them out and read them again. Thanks, Karen!

  7. OOPS, forgot to list my favourites: Stein on Writing, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and Growing Great Characters from the Groundup. These are just a few. I really enjoyed Bickham's books too.

  8. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.

    My favorite books on writing are: Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Write in Style (Bobbie Christmas), On Writing (Stephen King). Not necessarily in that order. :)

  9. I have this book and it's definitely worth the read. Great stuff in there.

  10. Appreciate it amigo. I will have to buy this one. I want to get Bird By Bird too. You are smart and cool. :-) Excellent post.

  11. You have me sold on this book! I have to pick up a copy the next time I am at B&N!

  12. Joylene,
    I should pick up a few more of her books. This one's been really helpful. Haven't read Bird By Bird yet; I'll have to look into it. :)

    You are welcome. I've heard King's book is good. That's another one I should check out!

    Yes, glad you like it too! It's like a treasure chest of info. :)

    Glad to be of help. I think you will like it. You are one smart cookie, too, Amigo! Hugs!

    Hope you find it helpful! I love to poke around B&N.

    Blessings all,

  13. I have the James Frey (the nice Frey) one on writing, Kind's On Writing (though I can't find it recently) and Save the Cat.

  14. I've been thinking about a new WIP but I forgot about all this characterization stuff! Excellent tips. Thanks for sharing, Karen!

  15. Hi Karen -

    Noah Lukeman's, "The First Five Pages," is helpful, as well as Brandilyn Collins, "Getting Into Character."

    After spending so much time with my characters, it hard to remember they are characters and not real people. :)


  16. Lydia,
    Thanks for the titles! Will have to check these out.

    I know, she really covers a lot of ground! You are very welcome. :)

    You know, I'm finding this to be true! Thanks also for the titles.


  17. I'm impressed with anyone who has written 16 books! I think her suggestions can even be adapted to provide insight for writing nonfiction.

    I just read your review on Writing for Quick Cash. Have you used any of her suggestions? It sounds like a good book.

  18. I try to read a book on the craft a month. I'm a wee bit behind but plan on catching up soon. ;)

  19. Thank you, Karen!! I LOVE hearing about new craft books. I will definitely check this one out!
    I hear Save the Cat is a goodie too.

  20. Warren,
    I think you are right, there are many principles that apply to fiction and nonfiction. Writing for Quick Cash, I believe I've used a few. I actually should go back through and do some for some 'quick cash'! :)

    That's a good way to do it. I should give that a try! Thanks for the tip.

    You are so welcome! There are so many good ones out there. Will have to check out Save the Cat, thanks!

    Happy weekend,

  21. Thanks for the recommendation- I will seek this one out!!
    Right now I'm having fun with Susan M. Tiberghien's One Year to a Writing Life and The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club.


  22. I've yet to read such a specific book as this--thank you for the review--it might end up on my list:)

  23. Cheryl,
    You are very welcome! I've not heard of either of those books, will have to check them out. :)

    It is a good one; perhaps you might find it helpful! :)


  24. I've heard great things about this series of books. Glad to know it's a good to think about the character. I do that all the time!

  25. Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your book review! I found it while researching Kress, and linked to you from my article about creating character webs:

    Happy writing and blogging :-)


  26. Theresa,
    I know, I need to get more in this series. I think of my characters too. Turns out, we're normal! :)

    Nice to meet you! Thanks so much for sharing this link. Enjoyed my stop at your blog!


  27. Oh great. I'm going to have to expand the garden and set up a stand out front. Adding this to my wish list.

    Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
    Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson
    The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom

    And I just picked up Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Gaymer Martin.


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!