Monday musings: Inside the shell of character

I love buying eggs from my next-door neighbor.

Aren’t they lovely?  So many different colors! On the outside, anyway — inside, eggs are eggs.  Lisa has at least four varieties of hens running around her yard, maybe even five or six.  It’s so much fun to look out my kitchen window and see them scurrying to and fro in search of bugs and other good things to eat.

We used to have chickens, too, but they eventually went into chicken retirement.  (You can read about that here.)  They provided not only eggs (and amusement), but also food for thought.  Click here for a link to a blog post from a few years back that was inspired by a little backyard observation.

That’s the best kind of observation, really, isn’t it?

So what does this motley dozen nesting on my kitchen table tell me today?  Well, perhaps that despite our outward trappings–race, nationality, gender, faith, age, political leanings, etc.–on the inside, where it really counts, we’re all the same.  As a writer, I’ve learned that it’s the inside of my characters that counts, too. Whether I’m writing about a girl on an adventure at sea in 1835 (THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED), a mouse who dreams of being a secret agent and the fifth grade boy who helps her out (THE BLACK PAW), modern-day stepsisters on the receiving end of a spell gone terribly wrong (ONCE UPON A TOAD), or a whole cast of moms and daughters who end up reading the classics together (THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB), it’s the heart of the matter that’s most important.

Sure, I need to pay attention to details like dress and appearance and mannerisms and all that.  It’s part of my job (and a very fun part, I might add) to make the window dressing as interesting and alluring as possible.  But what is it that really connects us to those who live out their lives on the written page? What is it that makes some characters wrap themselves around our hearts?  Think Charlotte and Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.  Or India Opal Buloni in Because of Winn-Dixie.  Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.  

It’s what’s on the inside, isn’t it?  It’s their hopes and fears and worries, their dreams and yearnings.  Those “inside the egg” things that each one of us can relate to, and that ultimately connect us all.  So when you’re writing, be sure to crack open that shell and breathe life into your character from the inside.

Give your character a heart, and it will speak to the heart in your reader.






46 thoughts on “Monday musings: Inside the shell of character”

  1. That is so true, Heather. All of your characters are so vividly described. You are an amazing author, keep it up!!! You are the reason i read every night, and the reason for my dream to be an author. I think the idea of getting character names from gravestones is just amazing!
    Its really cool that your neighbors have chickens, just like Jess Delaney. I cannot wait for your new series, i know it will not come right away of course, novels take time. I love all of your books and you are a very smart, kind hearted woman.

  2. That is such a good illustration. Your characters are so lifelike and I feel like they’re real. Like you said about how you need to breathe life into your characters, well I just wanted to let you know that you’ve done that.

    My family has chickens and when I bring eggs in, I’ll never look at them in the same light again.

  3. Wow. That is a really fantastic analogy! Hey, why didn’t the MDBC read To Kill A Mockingbird? I bet Cassidy would have liked Scout.

  4. I have chickens too. We have all those color eggs too

    I love all those book characters but the MDBC is my Family

  5. Thanks Heather! I love this post. It goes deeper than the apperence and really gets you right in the heart. I can’t wait to learn the feelings of the characters in your new book series. I love your books inside and out!!!

    • Haha, took me a minute to translate TVOPG into THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED. Hope you like it, Sarah!

    • Hmmmm. Has to be a book that stands the test of time, that people still WANT to read (and not just a book that’s forced on us in school), that has timeless themes, a book whose writing still sings after 50, 75, 100, 200 years, etc. Just off the top of my head…

    • I’m working on a new story that’s also set in a small town like Concord, about a big family that moves to town to run the family-owned bookstore. And there’s a wee mystery involved. That’s as much as I can tell you!

  6. Wow that was a really poetic post. It has a lot of meaning and I will defently try to use it in my writing. Thanks. Also, I noticed in the first link to your blog from along time ago it said that the chickens come into your door. Is that what inspired you to say the same about Jess? Also, it sounds that you are alot like Jess, which girldo you say you are most like? (I am defently Emma!)

    • Yes, Tatum — our chickens were the inspiration for the Delaneys wayward poultry… And when I was your age, I was a mixture of Emma (obvious reasons) and Jess, because I love animals and because I used to be SUPER shy. 🙂

      • I guess I am a little like Jess too because i love animals, am shy, and would DEFINITELY would want Darcy as my boyfriend! 😉

  7. This post was so inspirational and just wonderful to read!!!:) its so true, and your charcters breathe life and have caring and adventurous hearts!! Heather this is exactly why your are my favorite author!!

  8. Wow, I never thought I’d say this, but those eggs are beautiful! I’d like to see you make macarons (in honor of Gigi) with those beauties!

  9. That is such great advice Heather! Lately my writing teacher has been talking to us about writing to make a difference. It reminded me how Mrs. Bergson always said, “The pen is mightier than the sword!” We are learning about Harriet Beecher Stowe and her movement against slavery. It is actually really inspiring.

  10. That was soooo moving, Heather!!! That made me think about a school project that I had to do! We had to make a VERY descriptive paragraph of a made-up character, (Based on a Friend) and then draw a picture to go with it! I am done mine. My favourite sentence in it was… ” Stiara Gradden’s (My character) favourite food is perfectly cooked pepperoni and bacon cheesy pizza with absouloutly NO green, gross spinach!!” That is seriously what I wrote!!! That was a fun project!! I will try to send you a picture of my drawing!!

    • Haha, “with absolutely NO green, gross spinach!” definitely gives us a peek at her spunky heart, Mackenzie! 🙂

  11. Whoa, deep thinking! that was very inspiring. I agree with you. I live in Kentucky, so I meet some ignorant, narrow-minded people that don’t accept people for who they are. They look at someone and by a few factors, such as appearance, faith, and race, and they decide if they want to be around them or not. I think that is very sad. I once read, “Compassion is accepting and loving people for who they are, not how you want them to be.” I thought it was the sweetest thing. Also, thank you for the writing advice, I love well-developed characters. Some of my favorites are Peeta, Katniss, Toad(i remember one time when he said, “Live for others!that’s my motto.” hahahahahahahaha hilarious! he only thinks of himself. its so funny!)Ratty, Hermione, Harry, Marie from Marie, Dancing by carolyn meyer, and ophelia from ophelia by lisa klein. i’m about to reread The Christmas Doll by Elvira Woodruff. Its a small novel about 2 girls from aworkhouse in Victorian England. It’s beautiful. I read it every Christmastide, ever since a few years ago.

  12. That was very inspiring! Thank you!! That is the best writing advice I have heard in a very LONG time. I need to go dwell on that.

  13. Wow…that helped! I gave my character Piper a heart and a character and she’s really developed. I mean, that was the first thing I did. I developed her personality first, and then worked on outward appearance!

  14. I really enjoyed this post. Your statement, “It’s their hopes and fears and worries, their dreams and yearnings. Those “inside the egg” things that each one of us can relate to, and that ultimately connect us all.” is so very true. Thanks for the inspiration.

  15. That is so inspiring. I’ve been trying to find good times in my book to show my characters’ personalities. My book is actually a lot like MDBC, not only because there are four girls as main characters and every character is told from different characters’ perspectives, but also just the things happening in the book (but nothing directly related to it- I didn’t steal any of your ideas, dont worry!) 🙂

  16. I ALWAYS call on my literary sistren.
    As Anne would say: This is so poetical!
    As Emma would (do): *jots down in notebook, rolling the words over my tongue*

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