Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Author Study: Anne Tyler Curated by Grace Wei '17

The LibGuide is for the contemporary author Anne Tyler.


Anne Tyler is famous for bringing her eccentric, endearing characters to life. Her characters are all so intensely real and thoroughly developed that both Tyler and the readers feel they know the characters in person. Readers can often connect to their own lives when reading her novels. They can suddenly see a glimpse of the mistakes, unspoken impulses, triumphs of their parents, siblings, friends, or even themselves. 

Before starting each novel, she meets the characters first. Tyler explained in an interview:

“Before I start the actual novel, I write as much as a page of "back story,” for each major character. What the character's childhood was like, how he feels about food and clothes and social occasions, his enthusiasms, his anxieties—any detail that occurs to me, I'll write down. Most of this will never make it onto the printed page, but it helps me know how that character will react to a given situation.”

She also finds doodling helpful when creating the characters because it is easy to see what face emerge that seem to interest her.  She develops a very close relationship with the characters. Thus, she will know what will be her characters’ reactions in particular situations. She would step in the situation and listen to her characters, or even become them for a while. Considering her very detailed description of her characters, people always ask if the characters are based on people that she knows in real life. She responded that the characters are entirely fictitious. And that it is no fun to write about people that she knows:

“I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances."

Also, the experience of living in a commune made Tyler look at the normal world with a certain amount of distance which she feels is helpful as a writer:

“I have given up hope, by now, of ever losing my sense of distance; in fact, I seem to have come to cherish it.”