Whether reading Bonnie’s chilling short story, “Intervention”, or perusing her novel, “Remember to Breathe”, you’ll meet characters who can make you laugh and cry at the same time. So we asked her:

Your writing is known for its emotional depth. Is it difficult to reach this far into your characters? Are their experiences drawn from your own, or are you simply a master of empathy?

Gee, you mean all those years of therapy haven’t been wasted?

Seriously, I’ve always been fascinated by human nature. What motivates people? What makes them happy or sad or mad? Several years ago I decided to take a few psychology courses to deepen my insight, so I enrolled in L.A. City College and went through basic psych, physiological psych, and abnormal psych.

Warning: do NOT take abnormal psych unless you’re prepared to imagine you’re suffering a range of symptoms – kinda like watching “House” and then thinking you have the Disease of the Week.
And of course I’ve read tons of books and articles on the crafting of characters and getting into their hearts and heads. One of the best is Linda Seger’s Creating Unforgettable Characters – it’s not just for screenwriters.

Since I’m blessed (?) with a hyperactive imagination, I use it to put myself in a character’s shoes and tune in to how they might be feeling in a given situation. One good piece of advice I stumbled on in my copious how-to reading is that the key to showing a character’s emotions is to tell the reader what the character’s thinking, because thoughts reflect feelings. And combined with physical gestures and actions, it’s more effective than simply typing, “Fred was mad.”

Many of my characters’ experiences and feelings are, of course, drawn from my own life, but mangled and modified to suit the story. I’ve lived long enough to experience a fair range of human emotions: I’ve lost loved ones to illness and accident, I’ve been married and divorced, I labored in the trenches of Corporate America, and all those things have contributed to my slightly warped perspective on human nature. And as some smart writer (I think it was Philip Roth) once said, “Nothing bad can happen to a writer; it’s all material.”

Can it be painful to experience a character’s grief or rage, or to remember when I felt that way? You bet. But when I come across a scene I’ve written that brings tears to my eyes, or makes me want to slap another character’s face – or makes me laugh – then I suspect I’ve tapped into something real, something maybe even universal – and that’s one of the biggest rewards of being a writer.

2 thoughts on “”

  1. Abnormal psych classes? Yikes! You are certainly brave – an thorough – in your research. No wonder your book is full of relationship issues that twist the heart. Thanks, Bonnie for sharing. Now… what sort of disease did you imagine you had in that class…..

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