Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Book Review

Holly Lisle's Create A Character Clinic: 
A Step-by-Step Course for the Fiction Writer

Reviewed by Jean A Schara
Jean A. Schara

When Holly Lisle drafts a clinic for aspiring writers, she does it using her unique style and voice.  She doesn't apply any routine template like the authors of other "how to" books.  Holly brings in a relaxed style and voice, personalizing her clinic in a way I've never seen another author achieve.  Create A Character Clinic:  A Step-by-Step Course for the Fiction Writer is the first of several clinics Holly is drafting for writers.  The only way to make this clinic more personalized would be for Holly to sit physically with each reader while teaching the class, and most of us could not afford to pay her enough to do this.  For only $9.95 ($19.95 for print version), we can find the best compromise.  In this three-section volume, Holly captures what works for her when she's creating characters and includes exercises to help readers create multi-dimensional characters of their own. 

What will you find in the book when you buy it?  You'll find a logical progression of discussion, charts, examples, and exercises to use as you create your own characters.  You can read the entire book, skip around, or read and complete exercises as you go.  Holly readily acknowledges there is no single true way, but she shares what works for her and encourages you to do what works for you.  She recommends working your way through the book from front to back, and I believe that is the most effective way to do it -- especially the first time through.  Following the author's recommendation, we'll begin with Section One.

In section one, "Ask Them Anything," you'll learn the basics of what a character is and isn't, what character is and how to get some, and the seven critical elements of character.  You'll get a brief review of why Maslow matters and a discussion of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need. 

Needs motivate characters.  Just like humans, characters have needs.  They need either to get something or to stay away from it.  If you ignore this when creating your characters, the characters -- and you -- will have problems.  The Compelling Needs chart will help you stay on track.  Afterward, Holly shows you examples, and then she gives you the opportunity to apply what you've learned -- your turn for fun. 

In this manner, Holly walks you through developing your character.  Next, you learn about work and play, followed by past, present, future, friends, enemies, and lovers -- all parts of a well-developed character.  Life and death come into play, and she discusses stakes.  What are the right stakes for your character?  Sometimes death is just too easy.  She closes the section with a discussion of culture, religion, education, and moral stance. 

In section one, you learned to assemble the parts of your character; in section two, you learn to integrate the pieces to create a whole character.  How do you do that?  Begin with the first person interview.  Talk to your character.  Or, more correctly, listen to their answers.  In addition to the first person interview, you'll learn how to reveal your character through setting, actions, exposition, dialogue, and action.  There's a time and place for each of these techniques, and after seeing Holly do them with her characters and practicing them with yours through the exercises, you'll better understand when to use which technique to make the most of your character in your story.  But sometimes, doing things by the book isn't enough -- or maybe it just isn't the right thing to do.  How do you know when to write by the book and when to break the rules?  You're ready for section three.

Section three is titled "The Sins of Characterization and How to Commit Them Right."  That's right!  Holly tells you how to sin and get away with it.  In this section, she walks you through all the no-nos of writing and discusses when they can be exactly the right approach.  I'm going to laundry list them here.  You'll be familiar with some, and others you'll have to read about to learn what they are:  The Core Dump; Dust and Cobwebs; Mirror, Mirror on the Wall; Behemoth; Superman vs. The Gremlin; The As You Know, Bob; Headless Horsemen; Coffee and a Bagel; Seltzer; Elephant at the Tea Party; The Sins of Action; The Ben Franklin; The Snowman; Door, Two Guns, No Ammo; Naked Chick at the Opera; and The Brain Transplant.  Each of those items is an example of an approach you "simply do not do" in writing, but Holly explains, as with most things, there is a time and a place to break the rules, and she shows you an example whenever possible.

You can apply these techniques at any time in the writing process.  Usually, these techniques are most appropriate during the early character development phase, but I can imagine that this approach would be appropriate during several stages of the writing process.  Perhaps you're already working on a project and a minor character develops a more important role as the story line evolves.  Maybe your character has grown during the writing process and some aspect of his or her character is missing.  Apply the methods discussed here, and you'll be back on track.  In case you're wondering, I whole-heartedly recommend this book for any author who works with characters.

Holly Lisle's Create A Character Clinic:  A Step-by-Step Course for the Fiction Writer by Holly Lisle. 

Published by OneMoreWord

 Suggested retail:  e-book US $9.95; print US $19.95