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Martine Leavitt Explores Writing from Innocence

Martine Leavitt crawled into her characters’ skins, journeyed to other worlds, and let the Spirit guide—becoming an award-winning author along the way.

An attendee at the English Reading Series asked, “How do you embody the feelings of your characters when you have never experienced what they are experiencing?” Like many at the series, the student wanted to learn more about how to craft fiction narratives and realistic characters from award-winning author Martine Leavitt.

Photo of Martine Leavitt


Discussions of abuse, mental health, and religious belief pepper the pages of Leavitt’s YA novels. Her depictions of characters’ trials are remarkably realistic considering how different her life is from theirs. During the lecture, she described herself to the audience as “a grandma Sunday school teacher who writes stories”a far cry from any unstable teenager.

Leavitt first told listeners that her process is to simply “go to other worlds and see how they do it.” Then she recommended writers use their experiences to empathize with and discover the trials of their characters. While Leavitt has not experienced the same abusive relationships, mental health struggles, or other difficulties her characters have, she explained that the events of her life have allowed her to “peek in.”

However, this “peek” is not always enough. Leavitt said sometimes she must, “crawl into the skin” of her characters to create “someone who has had experiences [she has] never had.” She admitted it “might be more spiritual than that; maybe the Spirit helps [her] imagine the pain of others.”

Leavitt doesn’t claim to have the answers to all the issues she writes about; instead she says, “I come with a question and explore the question with all my honest heart. Readers can hopefully find an answer to that question in my work.”

Come experience the English Reading Series on Fridays at noon in the Harold B. Lee Library auditorium, or on zoom.