An Interview with Janet Lee Carey on Deep Characterization

Many people have been asking me what Deep Characterization is. I know what it is to me, but I wanted to share some of Janet Lee Carey’s thoughts on her Deep Characterization practice, which she’ll unpack even more at the Full-Bodied Novel retreat in July. Janet has just returned from a meditation retreat in Hawaii.

Katherine: Welcome back, you lucky girl! How are you doing?

Janet: Today I woke up groggy.

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The Writer as Actor: …aaannnd ACTION

“Attached to the wall below me was a ladder. It must have been for building maintenance people to do whatever it is they do. I was both crazy-happy and terrified to see it, but I knew there was nowhere to go but down. I pulled Toby as close as I could. I had to crouch to grab the ladder. Keep breathing Toby, I won’t drop you. One foot down — easy — there’s the rung,

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The Writer as Actor: On Location

Deep Characterization Exercise #1 Being Two Places at Once

The purple mass looked for a moment like a plump of organ pipes, then like a stack of rolls of cloth set up on end, then like a forest of gigantic umbrellas blown inside out. It was in faint motion. Suddenly his eyes mastered the object. The purple stuff was vegetation: more precisely, it was vegetables, vegetables about twice the height of English elms, but apparently soft and flimsy.

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The Writer as Actor: Losing and Finding

The expression “to lose yourself” in the part or in the performance, which has so often been used by great artists in the theater, has always confused me. I find it much more stimulating to say that I want “to find myself” in the part. —Uta Hagen, Respect for Acting

To lose yourself in a story is to become utterly unselfconscious. This can be just as true of reading a story as of writing one.

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Remembering Madeleine

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
–Madeleine L’Engle

I was ten when my librarian grandmother pulled from her suitcase a book called A Wrinkle in TimeIt had a funny cover with silhouettes floating in circles. I’d seen it at school and it looked too science-fictiony for me.

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Today I must retravel

The taut ground of soothsayer
Who broods in caverns for a glimpse of light.
How have I lost the glinting stone
I kept so long in my fist?
I have thrown down despair
And taken Struggle
And now it prowls round me as I sleep.
The eyes of Struggle
Are amber and do not blink,
The eyes of Seer in the dark
Who pleads for just one breath of day.

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Mom’s Gift

My mom has always been all about stories. When I was little, she read and read to me: Winnie the Pooh, Ramona the Pest, the Book House books (which, heartbreakingly, were lost in a move.) She was, and is a teacher, and she made sure I became a reader.

But there was another gift she gave: she showed me that stories come from ordinary people–and that it is our birthright to create them.

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That Character You Love to Hate

Sometimes it’s the little things…

Writing antagonists can be almost too much fun. Of course, we don’t want to make the ALL bad. We need to show them as balanced human beings. But when you first introduce an unpleasant character, how do you show he’s unpleasant?

I thought we’d take a little stroll through The Summer of No Regrets, so you could meet a favorite nasty character of mine,

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I have never told you

“I have never told you.” Five words that can deepen your characters, add page-turning plot elements, and shed light on motivation.

When I talk to my characters (and yes, I do this frequently–it’s a relationship that must be maintained), I’m gratified when they talk back. And they will, if you know what to ask them.


Try this:

  1. Go to a quiet place where you can concentrate.

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