Character Development

Amy Tan

Lesson time 15:12 min

Find out how to create complex, compelling, and authentic characters that will engage your readers.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Developing Characters From Personal Experiences • Create Complex Characters • Personal Truth Brings Universal Resonance • Explore Your Character’s Motivation Deeply • Exercise: Create a Character


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I've heard from a lot of readers who think I am a certain character in "The Joy Luck Club." Oh, you must be June because you were a business writer. You must be this character because you've lost your brother and this person lost-- the truth is that every character has a bit of me, perhaps an obsession or a sadness or a dilemma. It could be some kind of wistfulness or definitely a need to know, a rootedness in history. So the characters are not really me. If you were to say of this character June, are you 100% of June? Are you 50% of June? What they're looking for are the facts of who this character is and where they lived and things. And in my case, it is all of June because of her sensibility of how she looks at things, so yes and no. I am the character, but I'm not the character. I am the situation. I am the narrative, but I'm not. This never happened to me. I had a sense of urgency to write that book, "The Joy Luck Club," the various stories because, like the characters, I had a gulf between my mother and me. And I wrote it in her voice because I wanted to hear what her intention was in telling me things all my life. I remember one was about birth control. Birth control consisted of don't let a boy kiss you. I didn't even know how babies were made, let alone, you know, why I shouldn't kiss somebody, not that I had. I was too young. But she said don't let a boy kiss you because if you do maybe you can't stop, and then you're going to have a baby. And then you're going to be so ashamed. You're going to kill that baby, put it in the garbage can. And then the police are going to come, and they're going to take you away to jail the rest of your life. You might as well kill yourself right now. Not the kind of advice that a lot of mothers would give their daughters, but that was my mother. I wanted to put down into a story the kind of person who would use such drastic, terrible warnings to her daughter, a woman with broken English who came from another country who was preoccupied with danger. And I needed to write that book because I thought something about me came from her. So that was my urgency. And to explore that fully, I needed a lot of characters. They could have different backgrounds-- the society girl, you know, socialite or somebody who lived in the countryside, somebody who had an arranged marriage, somebody who was a concubine who killed herself. And, in fact, a lot of those things happened within our family-- the concubine, the suicides. I wanted to cast all of that in so I could explore what about the past had fed into my mother and into myself. I could make it fictional. I could make the situations fictional, but the deep-rooted feelings, the emotions, and the reactions were those of my mother and those of myself. [MUSIC PLAYING] The character absolutely has to be likable, and that is a challenge for me in the beginning because when you create a complex character, you ...

About the Instructor

Amy Tan was 33 before she first explored her voice as a fiction author. A few years later, her debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, spent 40 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Now she’s showing you her approach to the challenges and joy of self-discovery through writing. Learn how to craft compelling beginnings and endings, find your voice, and embrace your emotional memory to bring powerful narratives to life.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Amy Tan

The celebrated author shares her approach to voice, story, and the craft of bringing narratives to life from beginning to end.

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