Posted by: Natalie Hatch | August 18, 2009

Releasing My Inner Mother In Law

I had the great fortune of attending Anne Gracie’s workshop on Character Development and it was soo worth the time to listen to this great author. I had light bulb moments sparking off left, right and center the whole way through so I thought I’d share them here.

Emotional Punch

  • audiences need to identify with your character
  • you can evoke emotions from your reader if you use a blend of poignancy and tension
  • readers become engaged in your story as they understand the characters, so sharing the emotions the characters go through will help bring them closer. However, too much emotion pushes them away (drama queen type antics)
  • readers read your story for the journey of emotions that you will take them on, like a rollercoaster.
  • a characters life view/world view changes with age and experience, you  must show this happening through your story. They might start off shallow and naive, but at the end your character must show the depth they’ve developed.
  • Anne suggested that writers should take a look at Linda Seger’s book “Creating Unforgettable Characters” to see how to do this firsthand.
  • Put your characters into situations that the reader can identify with, and then show them having a little bit of bravery (too much will give your story an unbelievable element which loses credibility).
  • give them an undeserved tragedy
  • give them humour
  • make them gutsy, human, fallable, but never perfect (perfect people don’t do well at all)
  • know your characters vulnerabilities, fears etc and then exploit these with plot. What does your character fear most? Throw it at them and see how they cope (think Indiana Jones and the snakepit scene)
  • give them a goal we can identify with
  • your character will have a deeper goal that not even they are aware of, but your reader will see it and will be wanting to find out the moment the character finally realises it themselves.
  • make the goal seem pretty impossible to reach
  • problems that challenge the characters deeply held views of themselves and their world bring out their emotions.
  • Motivation for what they do is everything. If the motivation is lacking the story loses.
  • She also suggested that when you’re looking at your characters you need to apply your inner mother-in-law to them. Does your heroine really grate on your nerves? Is she a sap? Too bossy? Use your inner MIL and be brutally honest with yourself. Because if you don’t like her then your readers won’t either.
  • if your heroine struggles not to cry then your reader has to do the crying for her. No one likes a sappy girl, so make her plucky, courageous, determined.
  • cut out the overdramatic acting!! You are not writing a Soap Opera so stop casting characters as if they are in a bad one!
  • plant seeds throughout the book to build tension for the big conflict scene.
  • and finally as Charles Dickens said ‘Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.’

Well I know that is a lot to deal with, but I promised myself I would go through my current WIP and use my inner MIL to work out if I’m on the right track.

What about you? Use your inner MIL and see if your heroine/hero is good enough for your story. Let us know what you find.


  1. Great feedback! Thanks Nat. I’d love to read more of what was talked about at the conference. Some great pointers!!

  2. Thanks Cindy, it was well worth going, even though I had bronchitis and didn’t get much sleep.

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