Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress

I’m reading a book by Nancy Kress entitled Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities that Keep Readers Captivated. Here’s the plug: it’s a book worth purchasing. I’ve got it checked out from the library, but I’ll be heading to the book store to make it my own.

When I first started the introduction, I had a hard time getting into the book. Maybe because I sat in a gymnasium full of kids and parents, with my six-year-old yelling, “Look at me, Mommy!” every sixteen seconds. Or maybe I needed to jump right into the good stuff.  Whatever the reason, I ditched the intro and went straight to chapter one. What I like most about the book is the vast amount of examples listed: she quotes from hundreds of books to successfully illustrating her points. It’s fun to see bits of my favorite books embedded in the narrative.

In chapter 15, Kress includes a checklist (what she calls “the intelligence dossier”) that helps you understand your characters more fully. I’ve always backed away from these types of checklists because they left me feeling like I’ve created something cardboard–and in
the end wasted a bunch of my time because I really didn’t know my character any better after I filled out the form. But Kress’s checklist differs because it’s so HUGE and covers areas I’d never
thought of (what’s the make, model, and year of my protagonist’s vehicle, and where does he park it?). After filling out the checklist for one of my favorite characters, I realized how much I still needed to learn (read “make up”) about my protagonist. I found it a useful tool, but it’s so exhaustive, I couldn’t use it for every character in my novels without a huge investment of my time and energies. I think I’d rather be writing.

The only real problem I have is that the chapter about naming characters is too short. It’s an area that I spend a lot of time on when I first begin writing a novel. Choosing great names is
important, and I think 4.5 pages didn’t cover the subject thoroughly. However, those 4.5 pages included excellent material–I just could have used more.

Kress’s writing style is readable and entertaining, and I found myself taking lots of notes for future reference. I highly recommend this book.

-Sonja

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