Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Oh, those Ah Ha Moments

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi  

As some of you know I’ve been mentoring students in the creative writing program at Simon Fraser University. I have loved everything about this experience. The students are talented, keen and all have great writing futures ahead of them. I’m honoured to be a small part of their development.

During our last meeting this week, we discussed two books we’ve talked about in other sessions. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a guide to several different emotions a character in a story or book might have. The jacket description notes: One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying emotion to the reader in a unique, compelling way. When showing our characters’ feelings, we often grab onto the first idea that comes to mind, and our characters end up smiling, shrugging, and frowning too much.

The book defines several emotions from amazement to worry and everything in between, and then lists the physical signals, the internal sensations, mental responses and the cues that a character might exhibit.

The second book was recommended by one of my students. The Writers Guide to Character Traits by psychologist, Linda N Edelstein, includes profiles of human behaviours and personality types. As the book jacket notes: From Sex to Schizophrenia: Everything you need to develop your characters.

I’m a big proponent of making use of as many tools as possible. Writing isn’t for the faint of heart so any help you can get is great. But I also think that how a character behaves and develops comes from the text itself, the stuff you’re creating. I have personally found that I uncover my characters’ motivations as I write. As the story develops, the characters reveal themselves. So I see these books and others like them as tools to use after you’ve penned your story.

I made this comment to my students at our meeting. And they pushed back, which is always a good thing. Understanding why a person might kill or get involved with the wrong person or whatever else they end up doing, one student said, might help in understanding the character. More of that understanding might show up on the page.

Yes, good point. And there in those words is the other reason I’ve so enjoyed mentoring; the discussion, the shared learning, and the countless ah ha moments.

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