Monday, August 8, 2016

Lifetime of Study by Peter Leavell

Push yourself. No one will do it for you.

Your characters are only as brilliant as you. 

Book clubs across the world, critics living in New York, and college professors looking for something to be angry about, read our work. 
The thought is frightening.

Here’s the only way to strengthen your work:

Make theology, psychology, and philosophy your life study.

You've studied craft. Excellent. But you're not done. You've simply taken English 101. 

Important: Genius and clever and smart have nothing to do with deep characters. Hard word, determination, and insanity are key.
Credit Kade Leavell

Study theology because everything done throughout history is a search for God or an escape from God. Knowing theology gives the writer an ability to stretch your character’s crisis to unknown heights.

Psychology is my weakest point, because I’m not interested in Myers Briggs and his amazing personality quiz. Putting people into categories makes me uncomfortable. I prefer to do my own observations and answer to myself the eternal question resounding through the millennia—why in the world did he do that?

Philosophy is overlooked because we like to believe our lives are based on doctrine and sound principles, not sheer reasoning. However, most of our lives are based on philosophy. The United States, simply put, is based on philosophical ramblings of Greeks and Romans, with an economic system built loosely on ideas of a Scottish moral philosopher named Adam Smith. Our characters agree with these philosophies, or they don't. Having studied these philosophies gives us tools with which to expand our characters.

Tradition, as another philosophical example, must start as a new way of doing something, then last at least a full generation. Given this test of time, the tradition is probably good, but the reasoning behind the tradition is lost. A traditional school year is plotted around a farming harvest cycle. We take it for granted some scientific survey found the cycle works best, but it's not true. The writer, knowing the philosophy behind traditions, help give depth to our characters, whether the writer wants to use the information in their novel or not.

Real life decisions look like cause and effect. But in our books, there must be some sort of continuous trail of logical progression which makes the reader say, ‘ah yes. That makes sense. I don’t agree, but I can see why.’ Human behavior, many times, is more like, ‘what in the world? Why did you do that?’ 

When our character enters a crisis, his or her ability to reason through the problem and proceed is only as good as your personal studies of philosophy. You can’t write something you don’t know.
By studying theology, psychology, and philosophy, we may shed light into our character’s reasoning that will resonate with the reader that he or she hadn’t known about themselves. Is there anything more satisfying?

If your character is in love with history, science, art, or some other aspect of humanity, your studies have exploded into so much more awesomeness. No one said writing deep characters would be easy. But if it were easy, everyone would do it.

How to proceed? The secret is to start.

—Read the Bible once a year. Twice, if you can, in two versions.
—Adding a book discussing doctrine or Christian history never goes amiss.
—Consider picking up a scholar such as C.S. Lewis or Dorothy Sayers and read everything he or she has written. It’s a great starting place to stretch both theology and philosophy. And you'll learn how to be a scholar-first-class.
—Don't believe everything you read. Test the ideas with first the Bible, then other works.
—Psychology periodicals abound, and are fairly easy reads. Again, I prefer just studying people.
—Read classic literature, since most classics are a blend of intriguing plotline and character development.
—Pick up Plato and Augustine. Grind through them, taking notes and outlining.

I'm not saying study is easy. But I am saying study is worth it.

Can you put a price on education? Devote yourself to a lifetime of study, and your work will reflect in your characters!

Peter Leavell
Peter Leavell is an award winning historical fiction author. He and his family research together, creating magnificent adventures. Catch up with him on his website at, or friend him on Facebook: Peter R. Leavell.