Best-selling author guides local writers on character
By Sue Tiffin
Published Nov. 23, 2017
Donna Morrissey is a prize-winning, national bestselling novelist.
But she also dances to emphasize a point, floats around the room and even proves some air swordsmanship skills with an impressive Zorro mime.
The author of Sylvanus Now and The Fortunate Brother is in Minden to host a two-day workshop called Archetypes, Character and You on Nov.17 and 18, and about 20 members of the Haliburton Highlands Writers’ and Editors’ network are completely engaged, listening closely, looking to hear every word – some which need clarification due to Morrissey’s Newfoundland English accent.
Morrissey is lively, humorous and energetic, occasionally letting slip language as colourful as her personality. It’s fitting that she’s here for a two-day workshop to talk about character.
Ann Rocchi of the Circle of Writers, Kawartha Lakes, said she has a profound interest in writers from Canada’s east coast, and took time off of work to attend the workshop.
“It’s easier to drive from Lindsay to Minden rather than drive all the way out to the east coast,” she laughed.
It’s not even lunchtime, and writers in the workshop are already becoming more aware of how to dig deeper to better understand and portray their characters.
“I find sometimes that the character tells me who they are,” said one writer. “But having this is wonderful because now I can go back and know more.”
“My characters tell me what to do, but I’m God,” said Morrissey. “We are God in our writing. The creative guides us and we follow it and you stay in there, but we are God. We want to make our story engaging to those who read it.”
Morrissey has the group thinking of their own selves, their family members, the characters they’ve written about or the ones yet to come.
Stories come to life when she describes her siblings, her friends, her ex, and people from Canadian communities she’s lived in.
(When asked about the age-old nature versus nurture question, she says, “My grandson has been defiant from the day he was born!”) The group responds with recognition when Morrissey gives examples of famous characters known as Innocents – Forrest Gump, Mary Tyler Moore, and also Orphans – Anne of Green Gables, Huck Finn, Luke Skywalker.
Drawing from Morrissey’s deep interest in the work of Carl Jung and Carol S. Pearson, she leads discussions in archetypes – patterns of personality within all people, across all time, across all cultures – answering questions from the group as they arise and sharing examples from the novel she is working on now.
“Never make them one-sided, unless they are one-sided,” she says. “Nobody is the one thing. If they are, they’re extreme and they’re dysfunctional, which is fine.”
“You are the author,” says Morrissey. “Your character might be oblivious to the fact that he is a victim. The thing is, you’re the author, you know what’s going on, so you need to know what’s going on in order to portray it on the page. It’s complex, it’s not easy, but it’s learning, and learning how to apply it,” said Morrissey. “It’s gotta be believable. This is the thing. You have to make it believable.”
For more information about the Haliburton Highlands Writers’ and Editors’ Network visit haliburtonwriters.ca. To learn more about Donna Morrissey and her work, visit penguinrandomhouse.ca/authors/231980/donna-morrissey.