The Compass of Character: How to Build Your Story from Your Characters' Conflicting Motivations

A talk by David Corbett

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About this talk

Great stories start with characters compelled to move forward despite conflicting motivations—most fundamentally, the hope of pursuing the promise of life while at the same time protecting oneself from the pain of life. We’ll explore how to search for the root causes of these motivations and the habits that develop from them through a focus on moments of helplessness in the character’s past.

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David Corbett

David Corbett is the author of six novels, including The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, nominated for the Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery. His work has been nominated for Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Shamus, and Spinetingler Awards as well (the last of which he indeed won), and his second novel, Done for a Dime, was a New York Times Notable Book; Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post described it as “one of the three or four best crime novels I have ever read.” Corbett’s short fiction has twice been selected for Best American Mystery Stories, and a collaborative novel for which he contributed a chapter will be adapted for TV by the producers of Killing Eve for Disney+ in the U.K. His non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Narrative, Writer’s Digest and other outlets. He has written two writing guides, The Art of Character (“A writer’s bible” – Elizabeth Brundage) and The Compass of Character; has taught at the UCLA Writer’s Program, Litreactor, and at writing conferences across North America; and is a monthly contributor to Writer Unboxed, an award-winning blog dedicated to the craft and business of fiction. For more, see:

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