Book Review: Breathing Life Into Your Characters, by Rachel Ballon

Are your characters lifeless, cardboard, or boring? It's time for some literary CPR. And who better than licensed psychotherapist Rachel Ballon? Imagine getting your characters to sit down on the psychotherapist's couch, and really finding out what makes them tick. That's the idea behind Breathing Life Into Your Characters.

The author of multiple books for writers, and the founder and director of the Writer's Center in Los Angeles, Ballon is uniquely qualified to assist writers to understand their characters.
A list of specific chapters explains the scope of the book best: 
-Writing characters from the inside out
-Ghosts of the past: your characters’ backstories
-Pulling the strings: character motivation
-Less of you: creating characters different from yourself
-The psychology of characters and the writer: what makes them tick
-Creating your villain: tapping the shadow
-The heart of drama: injecting feelings into your characters
-Coping with conflict: characters’ defense mechanisms and masks
-Dysfunctional families: secrets, myths, and lies
-Creating real people: disorders and troubled personalities
-Lasting impressions: body language, dialogue, and subtext

I'm particularly fascinated with the chapter on creating characters different from the author. We're told to "write what you know", and we feel we know ourselves best. But no one wants to read a dozen books where the main character is always the same. Ballon explains how to circumvent this, while still capitalizing on your own strengths.

Ballon illustrates her points with examples from fiction, and liberally sprinkles the chapters with exercises. These assignments help writers tap into their own experiences and capitalize on them to improve characters.

For more on Rachel Ballon, check out her website, and this interview where Ballon wrestles with the question, "Do you want to be a "writer", or do you want to write?"

So how about you? Do you think your characters need a little psychotherapy?


  1. Another book for the "must get" list, Debbie! Especially for where I am at the moment in my work. Thanks again.

  2. I'd also highly recommend Margie Lawson's course, Empowering Character Emotions. Three days into the month-long course, I felt like I had gotten my money's worth. She also applies psychological principles.




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