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Character Building with Author Camille Smithson

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Good morning, writers! Today we have author Camille Smithson on the blog to talk about character pre-writing and journaling. We are thrilled to have Camille presenting at the Author Capital June 2022 conference. We can’t wait for you to hear more about her method to help you outline your novels.

Author Capital: Camille, thank you so much for joining us today. Do you want to take a second to introduce yourself and what you do?

Camille Smithson: Sure! I am one of those moms that wears way too many hats. I am a homeschool mother of four and I work part-time as a civil engineer. When I’m not working, or homeschooling, or parenting, or doing all the things, I hide away and write middle-grade fantasy and romantic comedies.

AC: We love it! And in fact, if any of our readers are middle-grade, romantic comedy writers, are excited about character journaling, or just want to connect with Camille, drop a comment at the bottom of this post! Or even better, share this blog post with someone you think could totally use it! Now, getting started, can you introduce your amazing content that you’ve prepared for this conference?

CS: I will be teaching brainstorming and pre-writing techniques as well as character journaling. These are techniques I use on actual paper before I write my stories. You could type these things out on your computer, but sometimes I feel like I need to step away from my screen and really think things through. So, I buy notebooks and colorful pens (I might have an addiction) and I journal and map things out on a page.

AC: Fantastic! So, how did you discover this topic, and what made you fall in love with it? What made you think “this is an amazing thing to teach other authors about!”

CS: I’m an author that likes to brainstorm a lot of my plots with other people. But not everyone is always as excited about that as I am. So sometimes, if I don’t have the ability to talk it out with other people, I still need to talk it out somewhere. I started writing things out in notebooks, asking my characters questions (I’m probably a crazy person) but I will write out questions like “why are you doing this?” and then answer as if I’m that person. It’s a dialogue between me and my characters on the page. It gives me that ability to keep moving forward without feedback.

AC: It’s so cool to see every author's process because there are a million right ways to do things. We love that you’re offering this new tool for people to explore. We have a sneak peek at your class, so we've been learning from you and trying these tactics out for ourselves. You have lots of cool downloads, so you make it easy for us to try it out.

CS: It’s like any writing tool. It might work for some people, it might not work for others. But I hope that taking my class and trying it out will spark something in your writing process.

AC: Ok, the next question we have for you is, what do you feel like the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to character building?

CS. I would say a lot of times, as authors, we get so excited about our characters or ideas that we just start writing and we don’t actually know where we’re going. Then we get in a situation where we hit a dead end. Often it is because we don’t understand the depth of our character. The character Shrek said he was like an onion with layers. Our characters are like that too. Sometimes when we’re just starting, we only know the surface stuff. But as you get deeper into the story, you either need to know more about your character or learn more about them. Having a structured tool to go deeper into those layers simply makes writing easier.

AC: We love that. So, following up on that question, what do you think is the best tool or tactic that authors use when they’re building a character? What helps them really get it right?

CS: That’s actually the reason why I do this journaling. I spent four years writing “Dragon Pox”, my middle-grade novel that’s coming out in July. One of the biggest problems was that I didn’t have the ending right. I was jumping too quickly to the end. This was where I really learned how to journal out my questions and figured out what the problem was. It came down to not really understanding what my character’s goal was. All characters need a goal, and a lie they believe, but through that journaling process, I learned how to truly find that.

AC: Do you want to give us a short breakdown of some of the things that you cover in your course?

CS: I break my class into four parts. My first two sections are on brainstorming with prewriting techniques. I just use a journal, so if you bring a notebook and some pens to my class, you’ll be prepared. That’s all you need. And the second two sections of my class are specifically focused on character journaling. I use the “power of why” as a tool to go deeper for your characters and then your plot as well.

AC: Obviously, this is a topic that you’ve thought and researched a lot about. So, how have these tools helped you and how has your writing changed since you began using this?

CS: Good question! Before, I would start with an idea, outline, and then inevitably get to a point in my writing where nothing worked. I’ve heard the analogy “just shovel the sand and you can make the sandcastle after.” So, I just shoveled the sand, and I still felt like it was stuck on the surface level. The story wasn’t getting to where I needed to go. I started journaling with “Dragon Pox” four years ago, then I used the tools for some other projects that have now been published. It gave me the ability to write a stronger first draft. Yes, I was shoveling sand, but I had that castle already in mind. It didn't take me as long to edit and clean it up because I already had all the elements that make for a stronger, deeper story.

AC: I love that analogy of the sand and the sandcastle. That’s spot on.

CS: I can’t take credit for that. Shannon Hale said it. I think about that all the time though. I’ll think to myself, “just keep writing!” and then I’ll think, “but am I shoveling the right kind of sand?” I don’t want to use the wrong sand and have to dump out the whole sandbox. So if you do some of the things you’ll learn at this conference, not just my class, but the others as well, you’ll be able to shovel the right kind of sand so you won’t have to rebuild the whole castle over and over again.

AC: Camille, thank you so much for joining this conference! I’m so excited to have you and I know you’re going to create so much value for the readers and writers here. And for any of you creatives reading, Camille Smithson’s course goes live June 16th, 2022, and is open for a full year! That way, you can register and then watch it at your own pace, any day that works for you. We are all stay-at-home moms, so we know conferences don’t always fit into our lives. We have to make creativity work around our schedule. So we’re trying to schedule this conference around you. So, if you’re interested in coming and learning from Camille, you can register by clicking here. And thank you again to Camille for the amazing interview!

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