Skip to main content
David, our Writer in Residence January 29, 2020, 3:16 PM

Three Great Writing Books to Consider Character

One of the great debates people have about writing is: Which is more important: plot or character? My answer has always been: Why can’t it be both?

In my mind, if you are writing truly, honestly, and empathetically, then a character’s wants, actions, and choices will drive the plot forward, just as much as the plot will draw out your characters. But how did I get here? These three books definitely influenced my thinking:

  1. An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavki

This book is from one of the original acting teachers of the theatre. What attracted me was Stanislavski’s discussion around a character’s “through line” or “spine,”  - the objective that drives them through the story.

For example, in The Godfather, it is Michael Corleone’s love of his father that shapes the action of the story. Without that through line, Michael’s decisions to save his father and run the business would never have been made.

  1. The Art of the Playwright by William Packard

This book was really important for connecting me to the notion that every scene in your story is driven by your character’s actions. Even better, he visualizes these actions with arrows, like a coach might use to show the team how to run a play in a football game.

Using this visual, suddenly the action of a play like Hamlet or a story like The Handmaid’s Tale comes alive, as characters work against each other for what they want.

  1. Action: The Actor’s Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone

The best way to envision an action is to think about what verb a character is doing in a scene.

For example, is your character trying to nurture someone, seduce them, or deceive them?  And if they are trying to deceive them, how do they go about it? Do they cheat? Con? Or maybe corrupt? Or perhaps they are planning to hoodwink or swindle them?

This book will get your brain buzzing with the infinite ways your character can play a scene.

These are just three books that might help you really capture that character you are trying to write. If you’re interested in really getting into your characters, and their motivations, I’m teaching a character workshop this Thursday, January 30 at the George Bothwell branch from 7:00–8:30 pm, where we delve into these ideas further.

Click here for more details.

I hope to see you there.

About Author

David, our Writer in Residence

David Gane is the internationally award-winning co-writer of the Shepherd & Wolfe mystery series. As well, he writes film scripts, poetry, plays, and academic film reviews, and is a sessional lecturer of screenwriting at the University of Regina. You can find out more about him and his co-writer at

My Account Services Search Location Barcode