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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Character Therapist

Jeannie Campbell is a therapist extraordinaire. She not only counsels humans but whacked-out characters as well. Got a protag who's depressed? A villain with ADHD? Perhaps a secondary side-kick that's stealing the show with his over-the-top crazy antics? Jeannie is up for the job. Here's a peek into this sometimes brow-raising career.

When you tell someone you’re a character therapist, do you get a whoa-this-woman-ought-to-have-some-therapy-herself kind of look? What’s the initial response?

Usually I get a polite, “What’s that, exactly?” I love to throw it out there, too, specifically to see what kind of response I get. Authors are such an eccentric bunch, they all seem to love the concept. I mean, we talk to our characters….why shouldn’t they get a chance to talk back in therapy?
How in the world did you come up with the idea to analyze characters?

When I started my blog in January 2009, like everyone else, I struggled with what I had to offer the writing community at large. I felt my education and experience as a licensed therapist was my niche…and one of the few things that might set me apart from other bloggers in this industry. I then hit up writer friends to email in with a character sketch for me to analyze. After that first brave soul—bless her heart—I never lacked for sketches again. It just took off.

Honestly, if I told a non-writer that I paid for therapy for one of my fictional characters, they’d think I was nuts. From all your years of counseling experience, are writers off-the-charts quirkier than the general public?

Absolutely. I just got back from the ACFW conference, and it’s so refreshing to be around other nutty writers. My fascination truly lies with those who write thrillers and horrors. Take Steven King. How warped does his mind have to be to come up with those plots? Those antagonists? I’d love to get him on my couch.
From a therapist’s perspective, what’s the most common mistake you see writers make within a character’s psyche?

I’ve seen disorders portrayed very stereotypically, which is at best annoying and at worst, demeaning to people who actually suffer from those disorders. For example, it’s very unlikely that a bipolar person would cycle from crying to mania back to depression within three pages of the same scene.

The other thing I see is a lack of consistency. I’m a big believer in personality types as a blueprint on which authors should use to build their characters. When a hero acts out of character (which, in a good book, they should at some point to make them multi-dimensional), I need the author to give me a solid motivation why he did so. Sometimes I don’t get that in a book and am left scratching my head, saying, “Why did he do that?”
My stereotype of counseling sessions is mucho moolah, yet your price ($14.99) seems extremely reasonable. Give us your best shot of why a writer should fork over some cash to counsel a figment of their imagination.

Fictional characters in all genres have one thing in common: they have to reflect real, live human beings. They have to be fraught with problems, seemingly unattainable goals, strong motivations. They have to have a character arc that reveals an internal metamorphosis that inspires and entertains. They have to change.

That’s what therapy is for! People seek counseling to change, to better themselves, to fix problems. Why wouldn’t you pick my brain? Consider it an extra layer of research and make sure you’re on the right track with your character’s arc. Who better to ask than an expert in human behavior and motivation? It’s worth a little bit of chump change to sigh with relief that your character is on an appropriate trajectory for a satisfying ending for the reader.
Is there something I should’ve asked you but didn’t? Here’s your chance to step up to the microphone and broadcast…

I currently have several Writer’s Guides for sale on my site that can help writers dig deeper within their characters. The Writer’s Guide to Character Motivation is free when someone signs up for my newsletter, and you can buy all four of the others for just $15. I also have a “therapeutic editing” service where I read all or parts of manuscripts. This can come in handy for those of you who have therapy scenes or psychological influences in your stories, such as characters with disorders, because my overarching goal for all my services is to make your characters and scenes as authentic as possible.

Wow. Skip the characters. I think I need to get me some therapy. Make sure to check out Jeannie’s site at


  1. That is such a great idea! I know my treatment of various psychological ills are probably way, way off, but I never knew who to ask to sort it out, barring finding an actual psychologist somewhere. I'll keep you in mind for when I get stuck!

  2. Jeannie has reviewed both of my novels on her blog, and it was fascinating to hear her perspective on my characters. Thanks, Jeannie---your reviews are some of my favorites because they're so unique!

  3. Thanks for stopping by Novel Rocket today, Jeannie!

  4. What an honor it is to be a guest at Novel Rocket! Thank you so much for the wonderful interview questions, Michelle. :)

    Kessie - I'll look forward to hearing from you when the time is right!

    C.J. - It was my pleasure to review show human behavior in such a realistic, honest way. Loved both your books.


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