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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

6: Robyn Carr: Developing Strong Characters

Tonight we chatted with Robyn Carr, who has been my friend and mentor for years. Way back when I was putting my first (really bad) stories together, my friend Ian mentioned that he'd practically grown up in her house (he was her son's best friend), and that she was really nice... so I emailed her. Turns out, he was right... and then some! A few thousand emails later, Robyn is one of my favorite people, one of my favorite writers, and as down-to-earth nice as it is possible for a woman to be--especially one with her accomplishments!

New York Times Bestseller Robyn Carr has been writing—and publishing—for almost three decades. In that time, she’s written screenplays, historical romances, a psychological thriller, and even a writing help book called PRACTICAL TIPS FOR WRITING POPULAR FICTION. Eventually, Robyn found her calling writing women’s fiction set in a rugged small town in the mountains of northern California. Her bestselling VIRGIN RIVER series debuted in 2007, and quickly started gathering awards. The series is now in its fifth year and, by the end of March, will have 13 books, 3 novellas, and a legion of fans, with over 5 million copies in print.

Our main topic was Developing Strong Characters, which Robyn does in spades. Her Virgin River series is home to an extensive cast of memorable characters who continue to grow and develop as more and more couples hook up, get married, and have babies amid log cabins, dirt roads, and towering Sequoias. Her books (and therefore her characters) are classified as romantic women's fiction, but her advice can be applied (with some modifications, where noted) to any genre.

Some high points:
  • The best writing advice is to write the book you want to read. The worst writing advice is to write what you know--first you have to learn to write, and then you can research whatever you don't know.
  • Characters have layers: Dominant, Complimentary, and Contrasting traits. These traits should not conflict with each other in the same moment.
  • When writing characters, there is no substitute for good instincts--and you can develop your instincts by practicing and by reading hundreds of books in your genre. You have to think like a real, live human being being before you can write a believable character.
If you missed it, you can listen to the call below:

You can also download the MP3 here.


  1. Fun call! Robyn sounds every bit as wonderful on the phone as she does in her emails. I loved all of her great advice.

    Thanks for mentioning my blog, too, even though you don't seem to remember that I got married 13 years ago and my last name is no longer Kennedy :)

  2. Doh! Susan, please tell Eric that I don't intentionally ignore him... more than 75% of the time. 25% is purely accidental.

    Everyone, Susan Kennedy Jensen's blog has rave reviews of Robyn's books, and slightly more critical reviews of hundreds of other great (and not-so-great) books. Check it out!


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