Cultivating Character: 5 Questions for Jennifer duBois

“Writing is its own consolation. […] If you find writing to be an intrinsically meaningful activity, nothing and no one can ever take that away from you.” –Jennifer duBois

Jennifer duBois’s debut novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, was the winner of the California Book Award for First Fiction, the Northern California Book Award for Fiction, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction. Her second novel, Cartwheel, was the winner of the Housatonic Book Award fiction and was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award. The recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship, duBois teaches in the MFA program at Texas State University.


Her most recent novel is The Spectators. For more information about Jennifer, check out her website: https://www.jennifer-dubois.com/.

On Wednesday, November 30th, Jennifer duBois is teaching a class for the WLT called “Building Character: Creating Complex Personalities in Fiction. In this class you’ll learn how to cleverly craft unique characters that will make your fiction more compelling.

Here’s what Jennifer had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Jennifer duBois: I’m the author of four novels—A Partial History of Lost Causes, Cartwheel, The Spectators, and The Last Language, which is forthcoming. I’ve also published short stories and some non-fiction. I always liked to write as a kid, and I’ve been fortunate to have been granted opportunities as an adult that allowed me to put writing in the center of my life—starting with graduate school, then fellowships, and now my career as a professor in the MFA program at Texas State University, which gives me time to write in the summers.

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

JD: I always try to remind myself that writing is its own consolation. External validation and success is lovely and can be sustaining, but it’s also fickle and fleeting. If you find writing to be an intrinsically meaningful activity, nothing and no one can ever take that away from you.

Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

JD: Not exactly, but I have found myself feeling like I’ve achieved competency in certain areas of craft—specific point of view choices or structural maneuvers, for example—and feeling excited about challenging myself with new narrative choices and constraints.

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

JD: This is parroted from Elizabeth McCracken, but don’t spend an iota of time worrying about whether you’re a writer or not. If you write, you’re a writer. Some people will tell you real writers must write a certain amount or a certain way, but I know that’s not true. I’ve had seasons of life when I’ve written for hours a day, other seasons when I’ve written not a word for several months. It’s okay. At this point in my life, I’m comfortable saying that writing and I are stuck with each other.

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

JD: A clarified sense of what makes fictional characters feel both interesting and authentic, and a concrete set of craft strategies for how to conjure such characters.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Click here to learn more about Jennifer duBois’s upcoming class.


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