Character Study | Theo from Pointe by Brandy Colbert

A look at characters I love, loathe, or a little of both.

I’m really excited about this semi-regular feature because I’m a character snob. I love writing them, crafting their flaws and fears and desires. I love talking about characters that frustrate and fascinate me, and my first pick is someone who I loved getting to know but apparently other didn’t feel the same way.


Pointe is my new go-to recommendation for the year. It’s well-written, with Theo narrating brilliant descriptions like

Bryn Davenport. Cardigans and khaki skirts during the day, most likely to vomit up a fifth of vodka on any given weekend. I held her hair once. It wasn’t so bad. She’s a polite drunk. She must have thanked me fifteen times while we sat on the floor of Victoria Martino’s bathroom.

See? That right there is a clever, authentic voice. It tells you everything you need to know about Bryn, but it also gives you a peek into Theo’s world: she goes to parties and she’s nice enough to hold someone else’s hair back. In girl world, those can be mutually exclusive.

Theo is in recovery for the span of the novel. That’s not a spoiler, by the way – many people with eating disorders are in a constant state of recovery. Theo’s world is rocked by the return of her best friend Donovan, abducted three years ago. Theo wrestles with her own demons, including the fact that Donovan’s abductor may not be as much of a stranger as everyone thinks.

Theo has added pressure in the form of her passion: ballet. As she describes in the book,

I’ll keep training as hard as I can, become such an amazing dancer that the companies will have to judge me based on my talent instead of my skin color. I want to be the best, plain and simple.

Theo pushes herself, sometimes too far – prior to the events of the book, she had to go to a facility for counseling. One of the first things you learn about her is that she doesn’t want to go back there, and she’s constantly thinking about how her eating behaviors look to everyone else.

Theo’s dreams and secrets are a heavy burden. We see her hit high and low points throughout the novel. Some of her choices made her unlikable and “annoying” to some readers – and beware, the review in particular contains tons of spoilers – but I found that I was able to connect with her in ways I can’t with other characters. Her honesty is painful and raw, but it can’t (and shouldn’t) be ignored.

Theo is a work in progress, and we see her resilience chipped away and rebuilt by a range of forces. Despite some of the events of the novel, Theo never feels like a victim.

I highly recommend Pointe, if only so you can come back here and chat with me about Theo!

Which characters do you love, loathe, or a little of both lately?

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Character Study | Identity from Conflict

I’ll be featuring a series of posts on characterization. This week’s post focuses on building identity through conflict.


I’m sure many of you will remember different types of conflict from your grade school days – but here’s a cute little chart I found online, just to jog your memory.

four kinds of conflictAside: Click on the pic to go to a wonderful unit on the graphic novel Maus.

I don’t know about many you, but when I create characters I’ve taken many different approaches. Last month, I talked about backwards design and questions to ask my characters. Another question that I didn’t include:

What do you value?

One of the most interesting exercises I did during my sorority tenure concerned risk management. Participants were given a list of values (similar to this, but a little more extensive) and asked to cross off all but twelve values. Then narrow it down to eight, five, and finally three. The point, our risk management facilitator told us, was to identify the three things we would protect above all else. When faced with decisions, our solutions and choices would align to these three values.

(Funny, but I can’t remember which ones I selected. I know diversity was one, which was both surprising and not at all surprising, and I believe the second was creativity. The third was probably something like fairness or equality. Maybe I should do this exercise again.)

The values exercise is something I’ve started doing with characters, and I think it works because it allows for more authenticity and agency. Conflict isn’t just about protagonists vs. antagonists; what about how other characters interact with each other? When you start viewing conflict outside of plot devices and “beats,” and more about characters’ relationships, your world feels more believable. Your characters have an opportunity to become real people and make decisions, rather than wander from obstacle to obstacle.

How will you apply this technique to your writing? What are the three values of your main character? What about his/her best friend? Enemy?

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Character Study | Interrogating Your Characters, Or a Backwards Design Approach to Characterization

I’ll be featuring a series of posts on characterization in August. This week’s post focuses on questions to ask your characters.


I don’t talk about my day job here on the blog very often, but I’m in a curriculum development position at a university here in Phoenix. Being in the education industry is rewarding, creative, and challenging. Turns out, it can also be great for finding new ways to approach writing.

When I create characters, I usually start with a loose physical description and demographic profile. To amp up the identity and dimension, you have to go beyond the census questionnaire. One method is through backward design, which involves determining the outcome, assessments to measure the outcome, and planning.

Or perhaps in more familiar terms:


I really think of backward design as a series of ongoing questions: Where do I want to be? How do I know where I’m going? How can I plan my route? For characters, this might break down in a couple of ways, always circling back to a central element of change.


Keep in mind, this is backward design – interrogating your characters until you can’t drill deeper. To me, these questions are a little more plot/setting focused. However, they still offer space for character-driven development.

backward design

When I started thinking about the questions, these three were the first ones that came to mind. To me, they come back to the core of the character. If an internal or external factor prompts change, why does it matter to that character? To the plot?

If the stimulus doesn’t elicit a response, is there a point?


How will you apply this technique to your writing? What questions can you ask your characters?

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