Tag Archives: character development

What I learned from binge-reading Louise Penny

Yep, I admit it: sometimes I am a binge-reader. Every now and then, I’ll read a book by an author and be intrigued enough by the characters and/or writing style to read another. And then another and then yet another, ignoring all other authors, until I’ve read everything I can read by that one person.

Back in May, several friends happened to recommend Louise Penny to me. So I picked up “A Trick of the Light” from the library but didn’t finish it, in part because it felt a little like I was coming into a much bigger story mid-way in. So I went back to the very beginning and started her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series with the very first one, “Still Life.” After I finished that book, I read the next one in the series and then the next and then the next one after that.

I just spent a week at the beach (the Outer Banks, heaven on earth) and found myself reading and reading and reading Louise Penny’s books on my Kindle. I couldn’t put them down, especially the last several in the series. I was close to obsessed. (It’s true!) And it was all because of Jean Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s second in command.

Now, no spoiler alerts needed here: I will not reveal any major plot elements to you! But Jean Guy’s character—which was interesting and intriguing to me from the beginning, perhaps because I lived in France once and know, a little at least, the Francophone personality—became ever more complex as the series evolved. Even as I read about Chief Inspector Gamache’s investigations, his thoughtful pursuit of clues, his ability to zero in on the killer, I’d find myself thinking about Jean Guy, especially during the last few books of the series. I almost felt like shouting at times, “But where is Jean Guy? How is he doing?! Please tell me he’s okay!” I kept turning the pages, not just to learn who the murderer was but also to find out what was going on with Jean Guy. I wanted—no, I needed to know!

This entire binge-read experience really brought home the lessons from an online course I took earlier this year through Sisters in Crime called “Adding Emotional Intensity to Your Writing.” (A great course, by the way, and one I heartily recommend if you are a SinC member.) On our drive home from the beach today, I found myself thinking about why it was that I was so sucked into Jean Guy’s life, into what was happening to him, into how he was responding to it. After all, he’s a fictional character; why should I care? And I did care.

I cared because Jean-Guy was Everyman. Continue reading


Filed under On Writing

Can our temperaments affect our creativity?

I’ve started reading a new book entitled Creative You that basically looks at Myers-Briggs types and then lays out what, in the authors’ opinions, are the strengths and blindspots for each one. (See Patrick Ross’s Artist’s Road blog for a longer piece on the book, including an interview with one of the authors.)

Now, first, a disclaimer. I am not, repeat not, blindly advocating Myers-Briggs typology or any other assessment tool as a be-all and end-all for understanding our personalities and ourselves. Our personalities and everything that goes with them are so complex and textured that a simple assessment tool such as M-B can only begin to help us better understand ourselves. That said, we use M-B a lot at my agency, and I’m very familiar with its strengths and shortcomings.

Now, on to the book. I’m an INFP, in M-B terms. That means that my personality preferences are Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, and Perceptive. My strengths (and I know this from personal observation, as well) are being able to see the big picture, thinking strategically, making sometimes creative leaps of logic to envision what the future could be, among other things. I’m also introverted, which means that I recharge through quality alone-time. (I just made that word up, but it really fits.)

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Creativity: natural gift or acquired skill?

An acquaintance recently sent a link to a 1991 presentation on creativity by actor/comedian John Cleese.  It’s a great presentation, not just because John Cleese is a very good comedic actor but also because he has a gift for saying very serious things in a very accessible way.

His message on creativity is no exception.  One of the things I’ve struggled with since beginning to work on a novel is whether I’m creative enough to really accomplish this.  I suspect that many others struggle with that same question themselves.  Cleese has very interesting things to say about creativity, particularly whether it’s a natural gift that only some people have (meaning the rest of us are just doomed to non-creative lives) or whether it’s something that one can cultivate (meaning there are things we can do to bring out our own natural creativity).  Here are some of his observations for you, with minute/second tags for where they appear in the video:

Creativity is not a talent; it’s a way of operating (4:00).  Creativity is not an ability that you either have or don’t have and is absolutely not related to one’s IQ (4:40).  This raises the question of how creative people are different (5:16). Continue reading


Filed under On Writing