Thriller 101

BONUS: Learning How to Write Compelling Characters by Studying Best-Selling Author Lisa Jewell

November 10, 2022 David
BONUS: Learning How to Write Compelling Characters by Studying Best-Selling Author Lisa Jewell
Thriller 101
Show Notes Transcript

Lisa Jewell 5-Minute Writer

David Gwyn: [00:00:00] Do you want to write characters that your readers obsess over? Then you need to hone your ability to create a unique character voice. To find out how to do this, we're gonna go to the experts. Lisa Jewel is the best selling author of more than 20 novels. She's quickly becoming one of my favorite, if not my favorite writer in the suspense thriller genre.

I've been churning through her books so quickly that honestly, I hope she starts writing them faster. She has a really great intersection between palpable suspense. and lyrical and literary writing style. That is just really fun to read. I read then she was gone and I really focused on how Lisa Jewel was able to create characters and create unique character voices within this story.

And what I found was really kind of surprising. But before we get to that, let's hear about why voice is so important. I recently got to talk to literary agent Kimberly. And she talked about what kinds of projects she takes [00:01:00] on. Speaking of clients, what, what is, what draws you to a project? What are you looking for now?

Um, the voice, I shouldn't say this, but I'm going to, I can, I will know within the first five pages if I, if I, if I like a manuscript, plot can change. So for me, plot can change. So if like, cuz there's a lot of manuscripts that I read where like the first couple pages or the beginning might need to be redone or it's.

Slow start, but that's not what I look for. Um, because I'm saying plot can easily be changed and edited it. For me, it's the voice and then, and like the, am I connecting with that voice? Is there something about that voice that's like, I wanna keep reading. Even if it's like their grocery list. I wanna keep reading your grocery list because there's something about your voice.

Okay? So voice is undoubtedly important, but how do you do it? Well, let's take a peek at my good friend who doesn't know I exist. Lisa Jewel. Okay. Bit of a disclaimer here before we get started. There are, Lots of ways to create character, [00:02:00] voice, and even if I knew all the different ways, which I don't, I wouldn't be able to share them in five minutes.

So this is just three of the very many ways that you can create a unique character voice in your novels. Okay. Without. Without giving anything away, we meet a new character in Lisa Jewel's novel on page 1 66, and this character was so voicey that I decided to just look at the first two pages, this character's, introduction to readers.

Interestingly enough, and we'll talk about this a little bit more as we go. . It was all backstory. The one thing they tell aspiring writers not to do is introduce a character and just go on about backstory. But there was something so compelling about the way this was written and the character voice that I thought if these two pages of backstory.

Can make me interested in a character, then there must be something going on here. So, without further ado, let's [00:03:00] dive into the three important things I learned about writing unique character voices in Lisa Jules's novel. Then she was gone. Okay, number one, reveal what is important to your character through word choice.

One of the best ways to develop a character's voice is to know what is important to that character. To do this, think about what unique words or phrases a character might say or repeat, especially early on to cue readers into what's important to that character. The things that our characters will obsess over are the things that our readers will remember about.

Bianca Marais is the author of the beloved home. If you don't know the words, if you want to make God laugh and her newest book, the witches of moonshine manner, she's the co-host of the popular podcast. The shit, no one tells you about writing, which aimed at helping emerging writers become published Bianca develops unique voices for six important characters in her new novel.

You know, the first thing I do when I come up with a character, because I'm [00:04:00] terrible at making people up completely. I need each of my characters tends to be a composite of, you know, people I know in my life versus, you know, characters from TV shows. Whatever the case may be is. So, for example, somebody like Queenie, she's the head witch, she's a Capricorn, she's a control freak.

She, um, Very abrupt. She's not all touchy-feely. A lot of her's based on me. But I looked at other characters, like people like Dorothy and the Golden Girls. Um, you know, there's certain characters that are, are just like that. She, she just wants to get down to business. She's like, what's the bottom line with things?

Um, her psychological kind of profile would be a driver. You know, you've got drivers, Expressives, Amiables, Analyticals. She's very much a driver. Like, what's a task at hand? And. Once I knew her personality and what she looked. That informed me the way in which she would communicate. So for me, it's very important when you're approaching character to [00:05:00] come up with a composite of them.

Not just how they look, but you know, what is their personality like? What kind of ticks does that give them? Any so impatient? She's always kind of shoving her wand in her hair. And then she's scatterbrained as well, and then she forgets where the hello wand is and she says, Damn a lot because she just, everything irritates her.

Damn this damn. So, you know, that informed her speech patterns. It informed the way she would communicate. It would inform the way she interacts with other characters. You know, these are the things that we need to look at when we approach character. But the voices, so this is where coming up with like an actor or.

A famous person really helps because for Queeny, I pictured Whoopi Goldberg, and so I had Whoopi's voice in my head the whole time that I was writing. Every time I wrote about Queeny, I could hear this kind of husky deep, you know, no nonsense kind of voice. In the case of our narrator and Lisa Jewel's novel, she uses the word [00:06:00] clever.

Five times on one page. This repetition is intentional. What it does is informs the reader that what this character cares about and believes and wants to prove, that she's trying to manipulate the people around her because she's clever. It's important to her that she's seen as intelligent, and therefore it makes.

The core of who she is. Okay, Before I go on to number two, if you're still here, I'd appreciate it if you did a few things for me. First, if you'd like and subscribe, there's more videos like this coming and a lot more writing content. Second, if you're enjoying this video, you'll love my five minute writer series.

I create new content for writers that they can consume in about five minutes. Sometimes it. A video sometimes it's a podcast and sometimes it's an article. In just five minutes a week, you can become a better writer. There's a link in the description where you can go to sign up so you don't miss a single lesson.

Number two is a conversational style. [00:07:00] Informality can be your friend. Now, while reading these first two pages, I realized. Really just backstory. It really is just a list of what happened to the character as she grew up and became an adult. I was dying to know how Lisa Jewel pulled it off because I was interested in what was happening.

So how do you create an environment in which even your backstory. Is interesting to your readers. It might actually be easier than you think. A conversational style, and I'll share a few ways to create that in just a second, but that can make readers feel like they're part of a conversation instead of a lecture.

You remember lectures, right? Were they fun? We tend to invest more in characters, at least in my experience, that seem to be engaging in a conversation with us. We all know those characters you just fall in line with right off the bat, and sure that all comes with great writing, but there are a few simple ways you can begin to create that conversational style caveat.

This needs to be for the [00:08:00] right charact. It definitely does not work for every character. Let's look at one really clear example right from the beginning. Lisa Jewel opens the chapter of the first time we meet this character like this. So it's my turn. Is it okay then? Okay. Shall we do it like an AA meeting?

In just those first four sentences, we get two questions, which add to that feeling like we as readers are participating in the conversation at the same time. There's an informality of the, Okay, and even starting with, so it makes it feel like you're in the middle of a conversation. Kind of adds to that overall feeling like we as readers are participants, not just observers on what's happening on the page.

Number three. Being sure that readers know what your character believes about the world and or what the world believes about them. It's that perspective lens that we as readers need to know about a character in order to [00:09:00] feel more associated with them. We learn a lot really quickly about this character and kind of the factual stuff that doesn't.

In and of itself do enough for us as as readers, we need more. And one of the things that Lisa Jewel packed into these first two pages was this worldview for this character, it's all about comparison. She constantly feels compared to others. And in doing so, she always seems to belittle or slight herself in those comparisons.

McKayla was boner than me and nicer than me, and yes, naturally cleverer than me, and also much less alive than me. This is her sister who died when she was eight of cancer. This worldview comparison places her in an inferior position to someone that she. At least in her eyes never outdo. And that particular worldview infects her character and it leads her to do the things that she does.

I wanna show you an example [00:10:00] of a quote that does all three of these unique character lessons. Can you find where all three of these voicey lessons are hidden. Anyway, that was. The less Bonnie, less clever, less dead sister with the four horrible brothers and the mom and dad who judged more than they loved.

What's important to her is being pretty and clever. Those are the words that we see over and over in this text. Second, it opens with this conversational anyway, and last, that worldview, that comparison. To a girl who died when she was eight, as well as the added influence of her perception that her parents judged more than loved her and that her brothers were horrible.

True or not, she believes those things and because she believes those things, it impacts the way she sees the world. It influences the way we see her. Again, this is about creating voice. We know how she would describe her parents and her siblings. We know. What she values. Add that to this [00:11:00] conversational style, and you find yourself with a really voicey character.

Sometimes unpacking the story of an author you admire brings you closer to the writer you hope to become. Do you do this work while you're reading? Do you find chapters, paragraphs, or even sentences that you appreciate? Do you dissect them to see what's below the surface? I certainly don't do this challenging work.

Take a few moments of your time to study in depth a sentence or paragraph or chapter of work you appreciate. You might be surprised about what you find. I'll see you next.