Passing through Submissions Anxiety, 3: Your Peeps

Continuing this odd series of anxiety and the things I’ve learned indirectly from writer’s resources, I’ll talk a bit about character and dialogue.

Practicing character and dialogue is often linked to practicing observation. What do people do, talk about, smell like?

I am very rarely anxious about my ability to develop character, because I hallucinate people pretty vividly. I rarely gift characters specific attributes – catching the lady on the bus twirling her hair around her finger won’t cause me to write that into someone later – but I’m sure that all of those observations get pulled in subconsciously. I’m driven around by character rather than crafting it: I’m not sure I could “work” on character in the same way I’ve worked on setting, style, and plot. Yet character is where I’ve got anything interesting to say.

Interestingly, Eureka was criticized primarily on character – but the criticism didn’t hurt or make me doubt the book. I’d happily edit to allow things to become clearer or more accessible, mind you: but the characters are the art of that book. With another two novels done I will probably go back to work on plot, pacing, and structure, but I’m not worried about the art. 

I think knowing where your strengths lie is helpful because you need to have some sense you’re bringing something to the table. You have to be communicating something of value. This has got to be the best of all anxiety busters – knowing what you’re putting out there that you think has worth, what you’d be willing to fight for.

It’s also, for lots of us, a hard question to answer. Why you? What are you good at? 

There’s nothing vain about self-knowledge, and knowing where these places are, where I’ll stand up to challenge, has helped me immeasurably in answering why I think it’s worthwhile that someone fish my manuscript from the slurry of slush. I write about people that know something of the work we’re all doing, just living.


  1. I envy your confidence with character development. I think it’s a weak point for myself. It’s why I really only write (these days) about stuff that has happened to me. I know what *I* would do, because I did it.

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