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I picked up what I thought would be a rehashing of old material covered in other books on the same subject, but The Great Fiction series of books continues to impress and surprise.

So many books on creating characters speak to their physical description, wants, motives and give the character a background. This book goes a step further and tells you how to do those things and hits the key point of showing emotion.

In addition, chapter Eight titled "Talking About Emotion -- Dialogue and Thoughts" was worth the price of the book alone.

Other great topics were "Showing Change in Your Characters" and "Frustration -- The Most Useful Emotion in Fiction."

Like the other books in the series, Appendix A recaps the author's critical points. Thus for the impatient reader, jump to this appendix and read what the book is about. For those of us who enjoy the journey of the reading the previous 200+ pages, the appendix is a nice summary.

Overall, this felt like the first book that brought all the concepts of characterization into one place and provided me with an easy to follow roadmap to creating, deepening and SHOWING my characters off in my story.

My recommended characterization plan:
1) Read this book as a guide on how to breath life into your characters and what you are trying to accomplish with your characters. (Characters are not there by accident!)

2) Pick up The Marshall Plan of Novel Writing by Evan Marshal or First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Weisner. Both of these books take many of the concepts listed in this book and put them into templates and forms you can fill out to plot your novel

3) Write. Write. Write.

Don't do what I did and spend the last ten years reading more on writing than actually writing. Get that first 1 million words written asap!!
While you are doing it, read this book, which has found a permanent place on my book shelf as a handy reference and reminder of what makes a successful cast of characters.
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on May 28, 2005
As a beginning writer working on my first novel I'm constantly searching for "the book" on a particular facet of writing. As a general book for beginners, Gotham Writer's Workshop is great. However, this book takes its subject topics and provides insights that can be immediately applied to one's writing. Her chapters on point of view (POV) provide explanations that I have not found in other books. The chapters on character emotion are also very well written.

Buy this book, read it once through without doing the exercises. Then read it again, doing the exercises. You won't regret it.
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on February 19, 2006
This is a great overview on creating characters. The author is clearly very knowledgeable, and the writing is never dry. This book continues the trend of the series of including exercises to practice what you've learned. My only complaint is that it doesn't always go into quite enough depth. I realize, though, that the book was designed to be a quick overview and in that respect it works very well. I recommend this book for newer writers aiming at improving their technique.
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on August 4, 2008
This book is a good resource for looking at how characters, the emotions they portray and in what viewpoint (first person, third person omniscient, third person limited, etc) to use, and it certainly complements the other books quite nicely. I have read all of the "WGF" books save for the one on revision and see them all as a great investment.

For this particular book, Nancy Kress does do a good job of exploring each element in detail. Like the other books, it is largely an overview of each concept, and, like the other books, she does hit on some similar aspects that the other books cover more extensively (how could she not? All aspects work together to create a work of fiction.) That is to say, the other Write Great Fiction books all cover every aspect of a piece of fiction, but mainly discuss how they relate to the given topic they wrote their respective book about. So brief overviews are found in the other books and each aspect is covered extensively in the given work. So "Plot" focuses on plot while giving smaller and more general explanations of characters, description, dialogue, etc. while "Dialogue" does the same with plot, description, characters etc. while keeping the focus on dialogue and so on and so forth. I would recommend a would-be author grab all four of these books, as this would then allow them to see the whole picture.

My main problem with this particular book is that when she gets to the section where she delves deeply into first person, at one point at least she goes into a small rabbit trail about why some readers don't like and will never read first person. Apparently they're willing to read books but not willing to suspend their disbelief that the character narrating the work was an active participant. It makes absolutely no sense to me but I am not going to judge these people. My problem with this is that she goes a little bit longer talking about this than what the situation merits, spending at least a page or two on the subject, yet she says NOTHING of authors who write their books in the present tense, even though this style is easily as equally jarring and disengaging as first person, actually more so in my opinion. Why she ignores the pitfalls of writing in present tense yet shows the pitfalls of first person, second person, third person, first person plural, third person plural, multiple first person, multiple third person, hybrid, (and there's more but you get the point,) is beyond me.

All in all a good book and I would recommend it.

Edit on Saturday February 14th: I would also recommend "The Complete Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes" by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders.
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on February 20, 2006
Writer's Digest Books stikes gold yet again with this book of the superb Write Great Fiction series. Nancy Kress smoothly covers the three areas of interest and naturally flows from one to the next as they are related.

The characterization section is wonderful. Among other things it suggests complex characters that are revealed through the problems the author brings their way. Ensure they have a backstory and if they change through the book be sure to dramatize it at the end. Also covers different types of characters for different types of fiction.

The emotion section was great. Good examples and more general than the rediculous book "creating character emotions" by hood, there, I won't even capitalize the title or author of that mess. Important emotions are covered in detail such as loving, fighting, and dying with a complete chapter on the most important emotion of all for your lead character. Can you guess what it is? Nancy Kress will tell you.

Finally viewpoint. I have read several books already on this subject yet Nancy Kress sweetens the pot even more. Good advice and examples.

I would like to add, most books I have read on writing, where the author quotes works for examples of good prose, seem to fall flat. Apparently you must read the entire book quoted to fully appreciate the snippit given as an example. Surprisingly, Nancy Kress steps up to the mound and pitches some wonderful examples that STAND ON THEIR OWN. Nice work Nancy.

I bought all but one of the Elements of Fiction Writing. Home runs. However this new series from Writers Digest Books, the Write Great Fiction series with its four books surpasses them. Together the four books are a GRAND SLAM!
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on February 13, 2007
There are many books on the market on how to write a novel. But I can highly recommend the complete series of Write Great Fiction, simply because I cannot think a writer could ask or want for more information on setting, character, plot etc.Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction)Dialogue: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Effective Dialogue (Write Great Fiction)Description & Setting (Write Great Fiction)
I read first 'How to write a damn good novel' of James Frey. This is a great synopsis of the craft of writing, and included roughly all that this 'Write Great Fiction' series explores in much more detail.
I did not realize that actually much of writing theory is more transparant than it seems. We all read stories that seemed fluent, while others we could not seem to finish. The reasons for this are not mysterious. Many aspects make for good, or bad writing, but where can you find works that elaborate on all of them in a clear manner? This 'Write Great Fiction' series splits this seemingly impossible task in just 4 editions that you can read one by one. This book gives many great tips in a clear and fun to read manner. Apart from the content, what I like especially is the setup of the chapter; at the end there is a recap, and a possibility for doing excersises. At the end of the book there is a quick bulletpoint checklist on all the material covered that you could tear out to hang on the wall. Very handy!
Just as the rule in writing often goes: 'show not tell', so does this book. The many examples included the book enhance the credibility of the tips that are given in every chapter, on how it is done, or what makes horribly writing.
I recommend to check out the index of content on the 'search inside' option to see the content of the book yourself. Buy it and read it and at least you will have good advice on how to embark on an emotional deadth-bed scene, or how to portray emotions, to name just a few. Of course, most of us know, at leat intuitively, much of the advice. But it is always better to have them all summed up once more to refresh the memory, and also to realize why things work out or not. But then you might say 'hey, I already have read dozens of books like this'. Well, like James Frey said, there is no shortcut on reading the masters to see how they do their magic. The same is true for 'how to write' books. If you want to give writing all you have got, then I would say for every tip you did not know yet it would be well worth the price of this book! There will be many of those tips, guaranteed! Highly recommended.
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on January 14, 2009
This is part of the Write Great Fiction series from Writer's Digest. Each book in the series covers one broad aspect of writing fiction, and of course there is some overlap as well.

The first part of the book deals with creating and representing characters in your writing. There is advice on all the usual topics: character name, character appearance, character bio, and so on. There's more, too: the pros and cons of using yourself or someone you know as a model for a fictional character, and how to get character ideas from the news or other sources. The differences between main characters, secondary characters, and minor characters are discussed. There are numerous examples of how the details the writer uses to describe a character's clothing, home, speech, and so on contribute to character development.

Representing character motivation is covered, along with good advice of how (and how not) to present a character's back story. Portraying emotion is explained well, with an emphasis on the tangible signs of emotion and character behavior.

There are two chapters on special character issues: characters in genre fiction and humorous characters.

For me, the most valuable part of this book was the discussion of point of view. Kress moves beyond the basic definitions (first person, third person limited, third person omniscient, etc.) to discuss the actual mechanics of making a chosen point of view work consistently. There is an excellent discussion of the concept of distance in third person viewpoint; this brought a lot of my questions and issues about third-person writing into focus. A whole chapter is devoted to multiple viewpoint, and how to navigate them.

I would recommend this to anyone wanting to work on making deeper characters or managing the challenges of point of view in their writing. It wasn't as helpful to me personally as Plot and Structure, but that reflects my own level of understanding in the two subject areas.
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on June 12, 2013
Your first highly selective handful of query letters to literary agents resulted in a few boilerplate turndowns. Most agents didn't even respond. Your second tier choices produced more turndowns and more non-responses. Your third barrage of tree saving groveling hit everyone on the AAR membership list. This produced four or five requests for partial manuscripts from entry level staffers. The responses went roughly as follows: your characters are not believable; your characters have no feelings; your characters have no emotions; their actions are inconsistent with their characters; they are not empathetic; the reader simply doesn't care. You, dear writer, are ready for Nancy Kress's "Write Great Fiction - Characters, Emotion, & Viewpoint," published by Writer's Digest Books.

You will learn, perhaps for the first time (as this reviewer did) how compelling fiction gets so compelling. The epiphany: the reader experiences the world through someone else's mind. It is fiction, and only fiction, which creates this illusion. These other-mind experiences are the soul of the writer's craft, yet they are the most neglected by novice writers. Ms. Kress will show you how to develop a strong sense of your characters' pasts. She will convince you that it is your character's story, not yours. You will learn the importance of frustration to character and to plot, and that the main expression of frustration is action. You will learn how to create characters who change and those who don't, and how to "validate" characters' permanent changes. You will learn how character change must come only in response to scenes you've crafted into the story. You will learn to start with mini bios for your characters to serve as templates. Eventually the mechanics will become second nature.

Master the lessons; do the chapter-end exercises, create mini bios, and put yourself into the character's head. Then edit better characters into your manuscript and try again with the literary agents. Your chances will have improved.
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VINE VOICEon May 16, 2013
I am new to writing, although I have wanted to write a book for many years... Just not the time or motivation to do much beyond getting started. I always bogged down on dialog and character development. I did the National Write A Novel in A Month (NaNoWriMo) last fall and surprised myself in actually finishing the 50,000 word effort. ... Then I started the editing process on the first draft and found that - not to my surprise - it needed a lot of work to take it from (very) rough to something like a good second draft.

That is where this book on character development comes in. I bought it to help me find my way through quite a bit of needs that an edit of my rough draft uncovered.

Nancy Kress's book on character development was helpful. And IS helpful, because there are more drafts to do after I finish this first edit! I recommend this book (the one being reviewed, not mine, ha! ... At least not YET).

The book by Nancy Kress is part of a series on writing, and I can recommend them all. Good perspectives for the developing writers out there! Check them out! If you are browsing the Amazon site, you will see the others in the series recommended somewhere in the Amazon write up on the book
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on July 4, 2015
The earlier in one's writing career this book is read, the more enjoyable it will be. While I was able to find some useful tidbits, most of this book focused on that which I already knew. This reference guide is written in textbook style.
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