Great Writing Tip from Jonathan Carroll

September 24th, 2008

Jonathan Carroll is one of my favorite writers. He’s a complete original whose novels — which include Sleeping in Flame, Outside the Dog Museum, Bones of the Moon, and the immediately-upcoming The Ghost in Love — never fail to dazzle, bewitch (and occasionally puzzle) me.

I’ve just discovered his beautiful new site, which I recommend to everyone who cares about good writing. And I thought I’d pass on to you something that’s on his site right now that knocked me out. Here it is:

Writers, if you’re having problems finding personalities or personality quirks for your characters, use Sleeping Beauty’s seven dwarves as guides.


Sneezy is always sick– a complainer, a hypochondriac who annoys people with never ending stories of his physical woes.

Sleepy is too buzzed out, stoned, or distracted to ever get the point or be taken seriously. He’s the one in the crowd who always says “I don’t get it” at the end of the joke or “Huh?” when something is described or explained to him. You like them but you wouldn’t trust them with your credit card.

Dopey is the follower who does everything he’s told because he knows he’s not the sharpest pencil in the drawer.


Do little personality sketches of these guys when you’re stuck on your characterizations. Almost invariably you’ll find all sorts of things in those sketches that you can assign to your own people and their stories.

I wish I’d thought of that.  But then I also wish I’d written most of Mr. Carroll’s novels.  (By the way, on his blog right now is a wonderful story about the much-lamented David Foster Wallace.)

Drop by and leave him a note.  If you haven’t read him, I think you’re in for a treat. I’ve already pre-ordered The Ghost in Love.

3 Responses to “Great Writing Tip from Jonathan Carroll”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    What a great concept! Every dwarf summons up at least two or three people I’ve known who remind me of these little guys! I knew a LOT of Sleepys in the 70’s and more than my fair share of Grumpys in the 80’s and 90’s 😉

  2. bets Says:

    I had trouble getting his site to play. Maybe you sent so much traffic over there you broke it!!

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Lisa, hi, Bets —

    Carroll’s a writer whose best work is very, very good indeed and who reminds me (if of anyone) of Haruki Murakami. Can’t wait for the new book.

    And I think we’re going to see a lot more Grumpys on the horizon as this economic thing continues to play out, especially with Captain Hapless at the wheel of the nation.

    Bets — what didn’t work? I went and poked around (no pun intended) and didn’t find anything that seemed to be down.

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