Crucible for character development

Monday, July 27, 2015
Angela Ackerman interviewed by Erin Halling

headshot of Angela Ackerman
Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is an expert in character development and has written a multitude of writer’s thesauruses on the subject. She’ll be sharing her knowledge in an upcoming meet-up in partnership with the Romance Writers of Australia. She shared some of her experience with Erin Halling.

How did you become drawn to writing for a young adult audience?

I started writing about ten years ago when my boys were small. They would ask me to tell them a story (they enjoyed listening more so than reading,) and having them sit, rapt, as I spooled out different adventures, it really sparked an interest to find out if I could translate my ideas into words. I started with picture books and short stories, but nothing seemed like the right fit. I found that once I hit the upper middle grade and young adult age groups, I started to write darker stories. For the first time, I felt “in the zone,” and knew this was the age group I was meant to write for. 

Do you find young adult and middle grade books tend to fall into a rut or follow certain clichés?

I think that with all books, certain themes seem to repeat themselves. However with teen and pre-teen readers, there are so many distractions (digital and otherwise) to compete with that authors must be very adept at capturing and keeping a reader’s interest. In younger age groups we see a lot of agents asking for “same but different,” where certain themes (friendship, identity, relationships, power and control, etc.) are perennial, but the delivery is expected to embrace something new. To captivate a youth audience, a savvy author will do well to try to evolve ideas and think past the current trend, rather than following a pattern and writing the same story over and over.  

You’ve co-published a series of writing help thesauruses. What inspired you to start writing for other writers?

I have always enjoyed sharing what I learn and firmly believe that writers can find success together easier than alone. This is something I saw in action through an online critique site I moderated for where I wrote over a thousand critiques and received them in turn. Peer learning is valuable, and so Becca (my critique partner back then) and I decided to pass on our lessons first through our blog, then eventually though books. It is gratifying to hear from writers who have used our work and gone on to publish!

Would you argue that plot drives character development, or that characters drive plot development?

Great question! I think it depends on the story. Some plots act as a crucible for character development, where extreme outer elements or situations force change and growth through a death stake situation (the risk of physical death, the death of one’s reputation, etc.). With other stories, it is the character who must discover a lack within themselves--a missing human need that leaves them feeling unfulfilled--and seek to change it. This requires them to face their fears and pain from the past to achieve the internal development necessary to go after their goal. If the character is successful, we have a traditional happy ending, but if internal growth cannot be achieved because one’s fear is too great, the story ends in tragedy.

About Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach and bestselling co-author of ‘The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression’, ‘The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes’ and ‘The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws’. A Canadian and a fan of paying it forward, she blogs at Writers Helping Writers, a description hub filled with innovative tools for writers.

Check out Angela's tips on how to improve the power of your writing. Or you can find her thoughts on the Crucible for Character Development on this website.

About Erin Halling

Erin Halling is an intern at Writers Victoria. She’s completing her bachelor’s in English Language and Literature in the United States, and she vents her stress out on Twitter.