A Review of The Art of Character

The Art of Character by David Corbett (Pengin, 2013)


Like most writers, I have several books in my bookshelves on craft. In truth, more than several books – at last count the number was north of fifty.

David Corbett’s recent book, The Art of Character, is hanging out, not on the shelves with the others, but on my desk, an easy grab-distance away. Why? Well, frankly, I was getting tired of the trips to the bookcase. I’ll bet I put a few miles on the old slippers daily, checking out what he has to say on the subject of character.

Because Mr. Corbett is an accomplished writer and teacher, and because he’s obviously a student of the craft of fiction and of characterization, there’s much that’s great about The Art of Character. Let me tell you four of my favourite elements:

You can read the book your way

Definitely, you can read this book in an orderly fashion from start to finish, which is fine if you are in “learn the craft” mode. But, because Mr. Corbett has organized his presentation well, you can also pick your sections based on your own preferences or needs. This is a fantastic element if, like me, you are often in “help, I need specific help” mode.

Whichever approach to the book you decide to take, you’ll find enlightening and practical discussions about topics such as scenes, protagonists (and thankfully, how to solve problems with them), antagonists, point of view, dialogue, and conflict.

The army of secondary characters

Most of us have several secondary characters in our stories. In The Art of Character Mr. Corbett analyzes the roles that those secondary characters can, or should, play in order to strengthen your work. Roles such as the crucial ally, the betrayer, the village, the stranger, the ghost. Understanding those roles and reviewing your manuscript with them in mind is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience. At least it was for me.

Helpful examples

Mr. Corbett illustrates the principles discussed in The Art of Character with examples from books and films that you are likely to recognize. For me, concrete examples help me understand the technique or lesson and to analyze how I might utilize it in my writing.


At the end of every chapter there are exercises to help you apply the principles discussed. The great thing about these exercises are that they permit you to focus on your work in progress, so that in addition to working on the technique in question, you are able to move your own project forward. Always a good thing.

A worthwhile addition to every writer’s toolbox, The Art of Character is available from Penguin Books.

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About Charlotte Morganti

Charlotte Morganti has been a burger flipper, beer slinger, lawyer, and seasonal chef de tourtière. And, always, a stringer-together-of-words. In addition to her law degree, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her short fiction appears in Tahoma Literary Review and The Whole She-Bang 2. Her first novel, The Snow Job, was a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s Unhanged Arthur award in 2014 for the best unpublished crime novel. She lives on the west coast of Canada with her husband and the quirky characters who populate her fiction.