Character Development Part 4

Character Development Part 4

We’ve been talking about how to make sure your characters are three-dimensional people rather than Flat Stanley. We have been chatting about the four things that readers learn from novels.




Why Not

You know who your characters are now. You know more about them than you did before. You know their past and their idiosyncrasies. You know their biggest fears. You know their physical features and jobs. You know your characters better than you know yourself and all of that knowledge is necessary for you to write them well.

The characters are the who part of this concept. Now let’s look at the what part.

The what part is about what your character wants. It’s the goal part. It’s that elusive thing that your character wants to obtain or accomplish. If your character has no goal, well then, they are a weak and boring character.

What is a goal?

A goal, according to the dictionary, is the result or achievement toward which effort is directed. A goal is your character’s aim. And it is your character’s goal that helps your reader to feel your character’s conflict when they aim to achieve or obtain said goal.

What does your character want?

Think about this. Your character should want what they don’t have. This want should equate to having a determined need. They are desperate for this goal. They just gotta have it, gotta reach it. Failure is not an option. The goal has got to be an urgent thing.

When people need something, they tend to act against their own self-interest. Think addiction (apologies to any with this issue – it’s not my intention to make light). Deep down, people don’t want to be an addict. The issue is that they need the drug (or sex, or cigarettes, or gambling, or whatever). The need is beyond their ability to overcome (in this moment).

The goal has to be important enough that your character will move heaven and earth to obtain said goal. They will endure hardship. They are willing to risk their life. If they fail, life will be more than just disagreeable to them; life will be unbearable. The goal must also be urgent. Urgency is paramount to your character’s goal. Not only must they have this thing, they must have it NOW.



Be thinking about your character’s goal. Next time we will consider what kinds of goals are good ones.

Writer’s Block

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and given the number of people participating, and the number of complaints about low word counts or zero word counts, I thought we should chat about writer’s block.

What is writer’s block?

If you look on Wikipedia, writer’s block is a “condition.”

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer’s block has been a documented problem.

Some people believe it’s an actual thing that happens to people.

For the sake of transparency, I’m in the camp that believes writer’s block is not an actual thing. It’s an excuse.

Let’s look at some of the problems and solutions for having writer’s block.

The Problem: I have been working diligently on my story for a month, and now, suddenly, nothing comes. I just stare at my computer screen.

The Real Problem: This writer doesn’t know where their story is going. They didn’t plan or outline their plot, and so doesn’t know what comes next or how to solve the problem they have written themselves into.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and take an hour, or two, or day, or two, and outline your story so you know what has happened with your plot, where you are currently in your story, and figure out where you need to go to get to the end. Hint: Having an outline, no matter how brief, will help you stay on track. Then write it.

The Problem: I just don’t have any ideas of what to write about.

The Real Problem: This writer wants some kind of magical experience. They are waiting for the muse, and because the muse is on vacation, they don’t know what to write about.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and just write about something. Practice writing. Write about your breakfast. Hint: Writing is five percent inspiration and ninety-five percent doing the consistent work of writing.

The Problem: Pick any excuse for not writing.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and write. Hint: Remember Newton’s Law: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. In other words, it is easier to write consistently if you are dedicated to writing consistently.

Next time: TBD

Scene Writing

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Scene Writing

It’s been a while. We last discussed writing in scenes in April, which seems a very long time ago. So let’s refresh.

Writing in scenes is the idea that if you plot out your novel in scenes, and you focus on writing the best possible scene, one scene at a time, including all the necessary elements to ensure that your reader is grounded in your story world, learns something about your character(s), discovers something about your plot, and ends the scene still wanting to read your novel you will end up with a successful, well-written book.

And it will take you a lot less time than just writing by the seat of your pants without any kind of outline.

I have harped (It’s true. I do occasionally harp) that there should be some kind of conflict on every or nearly every page. Conflict and movement are what move your story forward. So today, let’s jump back into it with…

Action Scenes

What is an action scene?

An action scene is a scene that depends on some form of movement, physical movement, through the setting of that particular scene. The movement can be large or small, but there must be movement.

How do you make movement happen?

Tell the events that happen in your scene in real time, which will allow the reader to feel that they are participating in the events. Think of your favorite action movie. Think of the car chase. Things move. Things happen. And the viewer discovers all the action at the same time as the character.

Action scenes move with some intensity. The pace of the story is much faster than other parts of the book. Your character doesn’t have time to ruminate on the events as they occur. They just occur. If your character needs time to reflect, let this happen later when things have slowed down.

Your characters must be fast on the draw during action scenes. They act first. They think later. Decisions are fast. Reactions are faster. It’s about intuition and instinct.

You can open your action scene in the middle of the action, or in medias res, where events and movement are already in motion.

If the action will begin later in the scene, be sure to set up the action for your reader. Use foreshadowing by the spoon full to indicate the coming action. In other words, give your reader hints. The hints will entice further reading.

One thing to keep in mind in the action scene is that the action and movement of your character, while they are in the midst of intense action, will reveal their true nature. Is your character a coward? They will freeze when they shouldn’t. Are they a hero? They might put themselves in danger to save someone else. See what I mean? And all of their behavior will be action without words or thoughts on your character’s part.

At the end of your action scene, your character should be changed in some way. It could be a small change or a significant one. Your character will also have to deal with all the ramifications of the things that happened in the action scene. Think karma. The decisions your character made will come back later.

Cliffhangers are great at the end of action scenes since they keep your reader guessing. Keep your reading hanging so they have to turn the page.

You can also end the action scene with some form of discovery. Your character can learn some important information that changes something for the character, or the character’s motivation. Or they learn something about their rival, or enemy, or lover, or what have you.

Just remember that the purpose of the scene is to move the story forward, so the action scene should be there for a purpose. If it’s just action, but it doesn’t reveal anything about your character or they don’t learn anything, then it could end up being a gratuitous scene with no purpose.

Next time: More scene writing

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 5

We’ve been talking about the paths to publishing and what each path entails so that authors can make the best possible business decision. For the last few weeks, we talked about the need for every author to market their books regardless of their publishing choice.

I was asked, are there exceptions? Does everyone really market?

The truth is that there are exceptions. Below are some examples.

Example number one:

I have an author friend who has been writing novels for a particular romance publisher for a bazillion years. Okay, literally not a bazillion years but definitely somewhere in the vicinity of four decades. The publisher of these romance books has a loyal following of readers and so sales have always been good. Consequently, my author friend has never marketed a day in her life. She didn’t have to. She’s written four books per year and got reasonably good advances. Her advances, though have decreased over the years, as they have for most authors.

If my author friend wanted to continue to write four romance books a year for the next hundred years, she probably could do that and still never have to market her books. She has a good thing going.


What if she wanted to write something different? What if she wanted to write a mystery or romantic suspense?

Her romance publisher doesn’t do romantic suspense or mystery or any other genre so my author friend would have to start from scratch. She’d have to find a publisher, and make a website, and go through all the things that the majority of authors go through to market their books. It wouldn’t matter that she’s written close to 100 novels. She would have to find new readers, and that’s the rub.

This new writing project would in effect make her a new author. She would have to market.

Example number two:

I have another author friend who is a writing machine. She writes eight to ten (yes, 8 to 10) books per year. She has multiple publishers and she publishes multiple series with each publisher. She also does very well for herself.

This author friend also appears to be a marketing machine. She is on Facebook, and Twitter, and Tumblr, and Pinterest, and she does newspaper interviews, and Youtube videos and a ton of other marketing tasks. Not only does she post different information on each different social media platform, she does it several times per day. She engages her followers personally and interacts with them. Each of her followers probably feels that they have a personal relationship with this author, and the result of it is that she is able to create a big readership for her books, regardless of publisher.

But here’s the reality. This author friend loves writing. But she hates marketing. Luckily she is able to afford a full-time marketing assistant, and that is all they do.

Hiring someone to do your marketing if another exception. But I don’t know many authors who can afford to do that.

The important point I am trying to make with the everybody markets rule is that it is easier to plan to be an author who markets than it is to plan to be the exception, because you can’t really plan for that.

Remember that even James Patterson, who sells a gazillion books per year still does commercials for each book.


Everybody markets.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 6

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 4

We’ve been talking about the paths to publishing for the last few weeks. Every author is unique. One author’s publishing journey is right for them but might be wrong for you, and so I’ve laid out some general information so you can make a wise business decision about the publication of your books. Remember, you are the brand and the books are the product.

Last time, we left off with the Big 5 and the marketing quandary of why do you still have to market your book if you publish with the Big 5. Don’t they do that?


Sometimes not.

Here’s the deal. The Big 5 publish 800,000 books per year and they don’t have enough staff or time or financial desire to market every single book they publish.

But how do they decide which books they will market?

I hear you asking. I do.

It goes kind of like this. They have an A stack, a B stack, and a C stack of books they are publishing. Books in the A stack will get some kind of standard marketing package that includes a baseline list of things they will do. Books in the B stack will get some kind of simplified baseline marketing package. Books in the C stack get nothing. Zip. Nada. Well, maybe they will be listed in the seasonal catalog, but they don’t get much more than that.

But you, the author, do not get to decide which marketing package you will get. And you may not be able to find out which pile your book is in. So it’s possible that your book is published by the Big 5 (Congratulations!) but you don’t see it anywhere, and it doesn’t sell much because you haven’t marketed it at all.

Sorry about that.

So even if you publish with the Big 5 it is in your best interest, and the best interest of your book, to create a marketing plan, have a marketing budget, and market.

One thing you should know…

Everybody markets is a good mantra but marketing does not guarantee book sales. It is totally possible that you are a well-planned, luxuriously budgeted marketing machine. And in spite of that, your book doesn’t sell. Or at least it isn’t as successful as you wanted it to be.


Maybe your sales are down because you write in a niche market and your reading audience is limited.

Maybe you’ve written an Octogenarian Mystery where your protagonist is 80 and your reading audience is limited.

Maybe you’ve written the same kind of book that everyone else is writing. Your fabulous weir rabbit with the gravy fetish coming out next month is sure to be a hit! Except there are 25 other books coming out next month with that same idea. Oh no!

The market is flooded.

The reality is that supply always, always, always outweighs demand in publishing. Remember the publishing math we did last time?

So what do you do?

Keep marketing anyway.

Keep building your brand.

Be persistent.

Don’t give up.


Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 5


Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 3

We’ve been discussing the similarities between the paths to publishing for the last couple of weeks. The main similarity is that regardless of the path that you take, everybody markets.

I hear you groaning. I do. But all authors should be promoting their work.


Let’s talk publishing math.

The US population is roughly 318 million people. There are some generous estimations that 70% of the population reads regularly, which works out to about 223 million readers, who each read on average about 5 books per year. Note that not all readers purchase their books. Some readers borrow from the library, or from friends etc., which will decrease the number of readers willing or able to purchase a book.

There are about 1 million books published in the US each year. The other 999,999 books are competing with your 1 book for a sale.

It’s a lot of books and not a lot of readers. If each of the 223 million readers each bought 5 different books so that every book published that year sold in equal numbers, each book would sell 1,115 copies. But, bookselling doesn’t work that way. Readers purchase books by authors they’ve already read, or they purchase a book because a friend recommended it, or they might purchase a book because it got a plethora of great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and they are willing to take a chance. Or they saw some form of advertising that got their attention.

The reality is that some books sell well (define “well” however you choose) but most books sell very little.

Discoverability is an issue for everyone.

But if I publish with the Big 5 why do I need to do marketing?

I hear you asking. I do.

Here’s the reality. Even the Big 5 publishers do not have enough money, time, or staff to market each and every book they publish. The Big 5 publish about 80% of those million books or about 800,000 books per year.

  • Penguin Random House publishes about 37%
  • HarperCollins publishes about 18%
  • Simon & Schuster publishes about 12%
  • Hachette publishes about 10%
  • Macmillian publishes about 5%

How do the Big 5 decide which books they will market? We’ll talk about that next time.

Meanwhile, the Big 5 publishes a lot of books every year. Which leaves about 200,000 books published by independent publishers and self-publishers.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 4

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 1

After my speech at Pubcon17 last weekend on the topic of the paths to publishing, several attendees requested that I blog the information so they could have it available as a reference. Consequently, I am going to detour off our previous topic of scene writing for the next few weeks to accommodate this request. What follows is a reiteration of the bullet points of my speech.

Writing Advice

When I was in the third grade I lived in Los Angeles. And being the bookish sort of child I often went to the public library. On one of those occasions, I met author Ray Bradbury. He didn’t seem to be an overly largish person. He had a lot of hair. And he had these giant glasses with thick lenses that magnified the appearance of his eyes.

Ray Bradbury read to me. As far as I know this was not some scheduled event. It was just some guy reading in the library to whichever children would sit still. I feel that I should recall in great detail his reading of Farenheit 451, but the reality is that I was in the third grade and I was focused on his gigantic eye balls. I do recall the book burning scene from the story though not in great detail.

After Ray Bradbury read to me, I walked up to him and said, “When I grow up I want to read books and write.”

Ray Bradbury gave me some advice, which I do remember:

  • Read everything and then read everything else
  • Write every day.
  • Practice writing just to practice
  • You have to write a lot to get good

There were long stretches of time where I didn’t do a good job of following Ray’s advice. I’ve had life detours, and hiccups, and downward spirals I had to climb up from. But today, I read books and I write.

And so do you.

First off, congratulations! You have written a lot. Maybe you’ve finished your first novel. Maybe your fourth or fifth novel. And now you want to become a published author. Be proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished. There are a bazillion people who have said they want to write a novel, yet they never have.

But you, you have spent time, sometimes years, learning the craft of writing fiction. And your novel has a solid plot build around a fresh or unique premise. You have ensured that your scenes are set and clearly orient your reader in space and time. Your characters are solid and fleshed out with internal and external conflict. You have made sure that you have tension and conflict on nearly every page. Your point of view is consistent. You show more than you tell so your readers can visualize the story playing out in their mind’s eye. And you are comfortable in your preferred genre and your genre’s tropes so that your story will meet your reader’s expectations.

You have also worked with critique groups or critique partners who have helped you to see where your writing weaknesses are, and then you worked to learn more craft to shore up those weaknesses and solve your story shortcomings. Then, after all of that, you proofed your work to the best of your ability and this manuscript is the best possible work that you can create at this point in time.

Now you want to publish your book. Good for you. But which route should you take? Should you self-publish? Should you publish with the big 5? Would an independent press serve you best?

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 2

Anatomy of a Scene

More on Dialogue

It’s been a few weeks since my last post. It feels like it’s been months. I have finished production on Literary Wanderlust’s upcoming thriller, Mind Virus. I finished a freelance gig, and started a second one. I hosted a four-day writer’s retreat. And I have my keynote speech nearly finished for PubCon17 this weekend.

It’s now time to get back on schedule with the blog posts.

Where were we? Oh, yeah. The Anatomy of a Scene.

To recap, I like the concept and practice of writing your novel in scenes because I find that it leads to better writing. Each scene is set up to orient the reader in space and time. Each scene moves the story forward. Each scene has a beginning, middle, and an ending. Each scene is a “compact” piece of your novel and once you have finished writing that scene, you are ready to move to the next, especially if you plotted. It’s a quick and dirty way to write your drafts.

Last time we touched on writing dialogue in scenes, and I thought it would be good to continue with that same topic.

What are some uses of dialogue?

Dialogue can reveal details about your character in a way prose can’t.

  • You can show how your character acts when under duress. Their speech reveals how they handle stress.
  • Your character’s words can reveal their true nature. Does your character say that he is suave? Do his words reflect that as truth, or do they show he is awkward with the ladies?
  • Your character can also express feelings about the current state of affairs in your novel, which will show her personality.

Dialogue can add tension through verbal tête-à-tête.

  • Your characters can argue and insult each other.
  • Manipulation attempts are a great way to add tension. For example, one character will try to manipulate another with or without the other’s awareness.
  • Your character can attempt to persuade another character not interested in the truth.
  • Your character can defend themselves against false accusations.

Important points of using dialogue in scenes:

  • Never let your characters blather on pointlessly and purposelessly. Pointless blathering is boring.
  • Readers interpret dialogue as action, so use it to pick up the pace in slower scenes.
  • Dialogue can be used to foreshadow future events, thereby creating interest and intrigue for your reader.
  • Use dialogue to reveal your character’s personality, and to reveal their intentions.
  • Use argument and persuasion to increase conflict and reveal character.

Until next time!


Anatomy of a Scene


Writing Pensive Scenes

This week we are continuing our exploration into writing scenes by looking at pensive scenes, or those scenes that explore the thoughts and feelings of our characters. These are not action scenes by any means. In fact pensive scenes slow the pacing of the story significantly, so they are used sparingly. We don’t want our stories to drag.

Pensive scenes allow your reader to see your character’s interior self. There may be thoughts (internal monologue), and moments which allow your character to digest actions, and events, and twists that have changed their course of action earlier in the story.

Pensive scenes also allow your reader to catch their breath after a series of action filled sequences of events. Note that pensive scenes are rarely ever used to open a novel. They also tend to show up later in the plot line.

So what makes a pensive scene?

  • Your character spends more time thinking than acting or speaking
  • Pensive scenes reveal something to the reader about your character’s frame of mind
  • Pensive scenes must have some bearing on the plot. If they don’t, then cut them Each and every scene must move the story forward or it should not be in the book

Be sure to use scene setting to ground your reader in space and time when you are writing a pensive scene. You want your reader to know where our character is as they have this internal time. You can use the setting also as a way to convey the mood and meaning for your character’s thoughts and emotions. You might also start the scene in transition between the heart-pounding action of the earlier scene to help move your reader to a quieter moment of your character’s thoughts. Let your reader gear down rather than making them stop on a dime as it were.

Remember that the purpose of the pensive scene is to give your reader some intimacy with your character as your character experiences their inner thoughts.

  • Give your character realistic responses to earlier events
  • Make sure that your character wrestles with some issue in the previous scene or series of scenes
  • Have your character come up with a plan of action to move them toward their goal
  • Show your character’s internal conflict
  • Include some element of danger for your character to think about
  • Add tension through your character’s surroundings
  • Use mood and ambiance

When writing your pensive scene, it is still important that the story move forward.

  • Can you end this introspective scene with a cliffhanger so that your reader will continue to turn the page?
  • Can your character come to a moment of decision that changes the direction of the plot?
  • Is there some surprise that pops up? Your story still needs twists and turns to interest your reader, even in quiet scenes.

Remember that pensive scenes should be used sparingly in your novel, but they can be a great way to create intimacy between your character and your reader. They slow the pace but if you end with some special twist your reader will be intrigued.

Come see!

I have been invited to speak at PubCon on April 29th in Denver. I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

Black and White Cat

Anatomy of a Scene

Writing Dramatic Scenes

Last time we discussed the elements necessary for writing suspenseful scenes, and why that was important. This week I thought we would focus on a particular type of scene, specifically the dramatic scene.

The dramatic scene allows your characters to deliver a wide array of emotions, and can allow you to use emotions to move your story forward. These emotions include everything to gratitude to tantrums and are written in a way that will emotionally affect the reader.

The dramatic scene can be written around a fight, a betrayal, obsession over an object or another character, or any other concept of high emotion. The goal of the dramatic scene is to move your characters toward change. Your character will be forced to make decisions based on the complications which arise from the emotional content presented in the scene, and this decision will force your character to go a different direction than they previously intended. Note that dramatic scenes tend to show up toward the middle and end of novels rather than in the first act.

Start the scene with a slower pace. Be sure to include all the necessary scene setting your reader will need to ground themselves in space and time. Then use dialogue, action, and high emotional content to speed up the pace of the scene until the climax of the scene. Then allow your character a moment of reflection and decision making, so they can move forward in a different direction.

  • Use the relationships of your characters to bring them closer together or the break them apart
  • Use your character’s actions to support inner conflict
  • Use both hot (passion, rage) and cold (shock, internal grief) emotions to direct the drama and draw the reader in.
  • Use foreboding
  • Use interaction with other characters
  • Use confrontation, threat of death (or harm), or ruined expectations
  • Do NOT use exposition which is boring and NOT dramatic
  • Do not write your scene with hysterics or unrealistic action or you will move into melodrama (not a good thing)

Remember that dramatic scenes should focus on the character’s feelings so they will reach an emotional climax which then forces your character to change, either through epiphany or contemplation.

The added dramatic scene will entice your reader to turn the page and also help your character move forward to the end.