Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book Review: Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up.

Book Review: Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up by Martha Engber.

  • Paperback: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Central Avenue Press (Jun 15 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971534489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971534483
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.2 x 1.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 323 g

As a Canadian, any book I order from the United States is subject to high shipping costs and exchange rates. Consequently, when I finish the book, the number one question is always: am I satisfied?

I read Martha Engber's "Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up" in one day. By page 60, I had a pencil in my hand, a notebook on my lap, and knew without a doubt that I would come away a better writer for having read her book. Yes, I was satisfied! And I may never look at gardening the same way again.

Ms. Engber separates Growing Great Characters From the Ground up into three parts: Part One - The Groundwork, Part Two - The Right Seed, and Part Three - Growth, Cultivation, and Care. Part One has three chapters that explore what a character is, how to gather ideas, and how to narrow your selection. Part Two has two chapters that deal with planting the right seed and letting it sprout. Part Three has eight chapters that teach you freedom to grow, growing with your character, first impression, cultivating credibility, revealing your character, and lastly opening your character to critique. The book is complete with eleven exercises so that you, whatever your level, can capture the essence of what Ms Engbers teaches long before you begin the first draft of your fiction or non-fiction work.

Although she advocates completing her book before you ever write that first draft, do yourself a favour if you're a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-writer, don't pass this book up. No matter your experience, there is a lot to be learned by reading this book. And if you're an old-timer who needs some inspiration because you've been looking at a blank screen for too damn long, know this: Read Ms Engber's book, try a few exercises, if not all eleven, and when you're finished and have applied what you've learned, I promise "[your]readers will understand what makes your character unique."

Martha Engber's book, Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up is destined to become a must-have for any writer keen on improving his craft and writing great characters. I highly recommend it. Now I'm off to rename my character.

--Happy Reading


  1. Thanks Joylene! I haven't read a good book on writing for a very long time but I'm certainly interested in reading this one. Characters are so very important to any story and we need to get it right. I'll definitely be checking it out!

  2. Laura, you won't be disappointed. I was inspired because Martha reminded me that I am capable of creating characters that my readers will see as unique. Sadly, I'd forgotten that.

  3. This sounds like a wonderful book Joylene. I really do want to read it. I tried to buy it, but had a hard time with the Amazon site. I'll have to try later. I did so enjoy your review.

  4. Hi Susan. Thank you for your comment. Yes, do keep trying. GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS has inspired me back to my edits. I'm excited about my WIP again, and that's such a relief!

  5. Thanks for your review, Joylene. Sounds like a worthwhile read. Martha's comparison of creating characters with gardening is a very appropriate one when you think of all the groundwork and nurturing that both require. Great idea. BTW, it's available through as well as (ie, Canada and the States), where I also found information about her novel, The Wind Thief, that was released last fall.

  6. P.S. - I guess I should have said I found "more" information about The Wind Thief as I recall that you had Martha as a guest blogger at the time of its release.

  7. Thanks, Carol. Yes, I submitted my review to both sites, but it generally takes them a day or two before they're aired. I do that so Canadians can find her book too. won't let you post anything until you buy something.

    I found the book was most helpful in showing me how I could distinguish my detective Danny Killian from all the other detectives in the world. And because I spend so much time inside my protagonist, Sally Warner's head, Martha's book helped me make her sympathetic and admirable at the same time. I read the book and was inspired to make my WIP better.

  8. I've finally been able to read your post on my blog, Joylene and it is fantastic, and I'm sure it will be inspiring to my friends, all struggling writers like myself.

  9. That's it - bring up gardening while my tropical plants & citrus trees get killed by the cold sweeping down from Canada. Thanks.

    Seriously - It's hard to decide where to spend money in this racket. So many people writing "how to" books. I would tend to trust your judgment though.

  10. @Carole, that's my calling: to prove if I can do it, anyone can. Thanks so much for stopping by.

    @I really liked the way I felt when I finished Martha's book: inspired and motivated to improve what I had already. I think inspiration is important, Dave. It reminds us that we're not alone in this quest to be the best we can be. And we don't have to go alone either.


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