Category Archives: how to

Writing Believable Characters

Today I’m hosting SM Ford with some great advice about

Writing a Believable Christian Character

You may have read Christian fiction that was contemporary but felt like fantasy as the main character just wasn’t believable. He or she was too perfect. How do we make our Christian characters believable?

First of all, Christian characters should never be perfect. Instead, they should make mistakes, and, yes, sin. They might be busybodies, loud mouths, too shy to speak up, gamblers, addicted to too much wine, gossips, judgmental, easily angered, etc. They don’t have all scripture memorized either. Nor do they have an answer for everything.

When creating your character, plan for failure. Plan flaws. I’ve been a Christian for over 50 years and I still say things I shouldn’t. I still grumble. I still sin. Fortunately, God forgives me when I repent and that’s what you’ll show your main character doing.

As in real life there will be consequences for sin in your character’s life. If a character says or does something they shouldn’t, will it hurt someone? Betray a confidence? Break a friendship? Cost a job? Break a law? Hurt their Christian testimony? Or damage the main character internally? Yes, very possibly.

Sometimes the people we hurt most are the ones we love the most. We snap at our spouse because we are irritable. We yell at our kids because we are self-focused. Your Christian main character might do the same thing. And hopefully as we do in real life, will ask forgiveness from both whom they offended and our Heavenly Father.

Plan for uncertainty, too. There may be scripture your main character doesn’t understand. Issues that aren’t black and white. Lack of knowledge. I remember years ago when a new gal at our church who was not married to the man she was living with said, “no other church ever told me this was wrong.”

Make your character as real as you can. I still experience depression. I still get sick. I’ve not paid close enough attention and have failed to yield the right away. I’ve had others hurt me. Your character should have similar problems. Use what you know in your own life. It will make your characters better.


A little about SM Ford 

SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She uses the above techniques in her own writing.

Sue is a Pacific Northwest gal, who has also lived in the midwest (Colorado and Kansas) and on the east coast (New Jersey). She and her husband have two daughters and two sons-in-law and three grandsons. She can’t figure out how she got to be old enough for all that, however.

She loves assisting other writers on their journeys and is a writing teacher, speaker, mentor, and blogger about writing. Her website is And you can purchase her book ALONE which is available as an ebook or audio book on Amazon.

Ready for adventure in the snowy Colorado mountains, Cecelia Gage is thrilled to be employed as the live-in housekeeper for her favorite bestselling author. The twenty-five-year-old doesn’t count on Mark Andrews being so prickly, nor becoming part of the small town gossip centering on the celebrity. Neither does she expect to become involved in Andrews family drama and a relationship with Simon Lindley, Mark’s oh so good-looking best friend. And certainly, Cecelia has no idea she’ll be mixed up in a murder investigation.

Will Cecelia’s faith in God get her through all the troubles that lie ahead?

Thanks for the great pointers, Sue! And ALONE looks like a great read.

Don’t Call Me Missionary – Guest Post

Today’s guest is Chad Owens who has a very honest take on being a…gulp.


For me the most surprising thing about publishing a book has been the large amount of positive responses I’ve received. When I wrote Don’t Call Me Missionary I didn’t expect anyone would read it. I thought if anyone did ever read it, they would dislike it. So when I started getting emails and comments about how much people enjoyed the book instead of angry emails, I was very surprised.

You might wonder why I would write something that I thought people would dislike. You have to understand that I never really wanted to become a missionary. When you prepare to become one, there can be a lot of training involved. I was never the type who liked school. In high school I did as little reading as I could to still get decent grades. In college I had to do so much reading, I never read for fun. To me, books were work and I hadn’t developed an interest in recreational reading until I moved to the land of no streaming internet, no television, and precious few movies. (Things have changed now of course).

Because I didn’t like all this training and reading to become a missionary, I became very selective about what material I would engage with on the topic of moving overseas. So when I finally moved overseas I started realizing that the experiential things I was learning, had not been mentioned before in any of my training. I wondered if this was all part of it? Had I been tricked? Were these things some sort of odd initiation ritual? Or were there simply some things you just aren’t supposed to say out loud?

Don't call me missionary

$2.99 on Kindle

My book says those things out loud. Which is why I suspected people would not like it, especially missionaries. I mean no offense to the wonderful men and women working in missions work today, but I never wrote the book for you. Several of you already know what it’s like to risk your life to use the toilet, or to pick bugs out of your rice. I wrote this for the people like me, who hate reading, hate training, and even when they are forced to train, don’t believe nor like what they’re told anyway, because they suspect the real story is being hidden.

My audience is someone who wants to know the reality of missions work, without the work of having to go overseas to find it out. I sort of expected that attitude to offend people. But to my surprise, people have actually enjoyed the book. Before publishing I had to ask myself, “Is this really something you want to release into the world, Chad?” After praying over it, I came to the conclusion that it was. I have been very happy to discover the lives it has already touched. The testimonials that have been shared with me have been wonderful. This book seems to be striking a chord with a much larger audience than I ever anticipated.

I have been sincerely delighted and surprised at the positive comments people have shared with me, and I hope that many others can find it a useful addition to their book list.

I’d like to thank Bev for giving me a chance to share some of my thoughts on the process and for hosting me on her blog!

-Chad Owens

You’re welcome, Chad. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s def on my TBR now! Let me know what you think, readers!

Bev out.

Top 5 Reasons to Live Abroad – Guest Post

As you may already know, Gary and I lived in England for three years thanks to the US Air Force, so when I was approached by Alex to host him on the topic of living abroad, I was intrigued. If you’ve ever thought of doing just that, today I’m pleased to host Alex Park, who is backpacking in Thailand right now, with his thoughts on living in a foreign country and how it can be a life enhancing experience.

Top 5 Reasons to Live Abroad at Least Once in Your Life

The world beyond our borders is home to millions of other people. Just like you, they all have their own reasons for choosing to live in their respective areas. There are very many reasons people dream of relocating to a foreign land. This can either be due to work, volunteer, study, pursue other opportunities or retire. Moving into a new country can be a rich and rewarding experience. This can either be permanently or temporarily.

Furthermore, it can be really hard particularly if you move into a country based on a dream without considering the responsibilities and risks. The step to leave familiar surroundings and adapt to another social and cultural environment should not be taken lightly. This decision requires a thorough research, knowledge and good planning. The better you are prepared before leaving your country for a foreign environment, the better your experience abroad will turn out to be.

284484_361073073967978_518768910_nHere are my five reasons why everyone should find the energy to pack up and move abroad:

  1. You become adaptable and open-minded

When you move to a foreign country everything basically becomes mixed up. From road rules, choices to choose from in the daily activities, to people’s attitudes and common behaviors. Due to these facts, you definitely have to stay positive and continue to learn new things. This is like going to school again, social etiquettes, healthcare system, the education system, the country’s history, cultural beliefs and traditions.

The moment that you know you are not afraid of change is when you learn to embrace it.

The moment that you know you are not afraid of change is when you learn to embrace it. You will thrive on change. Stagnancy and complacency becomes your worst enemy. One of the best way to improve yourself is to do the things that you are most scared of.

It is not as difficult as it sounds. No matter how difficult it sounds you will become your own cheerleader.

  1. You know yourself better

One of the best relationships in this life is the relationship you have with yourself. Nothing brings you closer to building an intimate relationship with yourself and getting to know yourself better when you move from your normal environment to a new country. This gives you the freedom to discover who you are, what you want and what you really don’t want without the influence of your family or friends. This makes you your own boss.

Staying abroad is a huge eye opener especially if the place is far removed from where you originally came from. This gives you the ability to observe things from an outsider’s perspective. This makes you to rethink the way you know and understand your culture and your own self from inside.

IMG_0037This whole process helps you as a person to start questioning your original values and beliefs, attitudes, and the values that were influenced by your upbringing. With different perspectives coming back and forth you are able to shape yourself into a strong, independent character which helps you to find your purpose in life.

  1. Career enhancing

One of the most important advantages of living abroad career wise is that it enhances or gives you a competitive edge in a tough job market. This enables clients or employees to gauge you due to the fact that you have different perspectives on things. The employers/clients feel that with an individual’s hands-on understanding of cultural and business nuances you are better prepared to localize their products for the homelands job markets.

In case it is not possible to work abroad due to visa restrictions or family issues during your stay abroad, this is the ideal time to get new qualifications that may go a long way in improving your credentials.

In addition to this, living abroad greatly improves your negotiation skills. You will learn how to establish a good rapport with people from different nationalities and improve your language skills. Showing that you have successfully lived abroad gives your resume the edge it needs in a very serious competitive job market.

Moreover, a lot of hiring in the modern world comes from referrals. When you establish yourself in a new country, you are forced to pick up a skill set which is the ability to build a connection and an ability to break into a circle of tight connections and fit in.

  1. Culturally immersive

iStock_000017545021SmallMoving abroad gives you a great chance to observe a country in its own raw environment. This gives you the ability to know new techniques of doing things and understanding. You will also immerse yourself in the local language. This not only improves your grasp of the native language but also your communication skills. By immersing yourself with the local way of living, you can comprehend how and why these customs came to be. Adopting them further makes you feel home away from home.

You will have the time to visit more areas that you would not have covered in the few days as a tourist compared to you being like one of the locals.

Living abroad gives you the chance to travel slowly so you learn about the country, just like the locals. You have the time to visit more areas that you would not have covered in the few days as a tourist compared to you being like one of the locals. One of my favorite activities in Thailand was learning to kayak. It helped me experience the surrounding island and just appreciate the beautiful landscape in front of me.

  1. New friends and building a new identity

Barley MowThe distance created by moving away from home makes it hard for you to interact with your friends and family. In some instances, you may be tired of your friends. Moving abroad opens the avenue for you to meet different people. This is always an exciting time for most people. New friends will become your family so you should choose them wisely.

Moreover, there is no better way to start fresh than moving to a new state. You become a new brand. People don’t know who you are or where you come from. No one basically cares about your background. This gives you the space to put your travel backpack to use and do what you want and be who you want to be. This inspires you to explore and create new things without outside influence from family and friends. A new job, a new house, a new car and new neighbors are all that you need. You don’t have to change yourself to please your parents or friends.


Pascoe, R. (2009). A broad abroad : the expat wife’s guide to successful living abroad. Vancouver, BC: Expatriate Press.

Massey, B. (2006). Where in the world do I belong. Place of publication not identified: Jetlag Press.

Find Alex at



Winning Cover Design – before, during and after

Update! The Kaleidoscope was just named the winner of InD’Tale Magazine’s  Creme de la Creme cover contest!


Many of you have asked about the design of The Kaleidoscope‘s cover, which is getting a lot of attention because it’s so pretty. It actually came out better than I’d ever imagined. Here’s a fun step-by-step look at how award winning cover artist Diana Carlile of Wild Rose Press and I approached it. Here are some before and after pictures.

First, let’s look at the after and then I’ll break it down.

The Kaleidoscope cover

Cover by Diana Carlile

Description: The elements on the cover evoke the storylines that weave throughout this suspense thriller full of intrigue and mystery. The graphic of the Los Angeles skyline including Hollywood, downtown, and iconic palms reflect the setting. The tree of life represents a crucial spot where many of the story’s pivotal moments take place, including the turnover of the kaleidoscope to the hero who must discover what gives it power. The jewel-toned backdrop are the colors seen by anyone brave enough to look into the ‘scope. The title’s whimsical font hints at the light-hearted tone despite dark moments, and the teaser line entices the reader to step inside for a page turning suspenseful romance full of old fashioned good vs evil adventure.

The Tree of Life

We searched through tons of pictures of trees, and once you read the book you’ll know why the tree is SO important. Here’s the one we chose.

tree of lifeSkyline

I wanted to suggest Los Angeles because most of the story takes place there. This graphic is not too overpowering and you have to really look, but once you do, you realize why it’s also important to the story…hint hint!

Jewel-toned backdrop

Finally, the background. This probably gave me more trouble than the other elements. Sometimes pictures are too “on the nose” and as the colors were important and the suggestion of what you’d see inside a ‘scope change, it wasn’t as important what shape they were in, because your mind can arrange them in your imagination. But it was important to suggest the colors and changeability. Is that a word?


We played around with putting the purple at the bottom, but the yellow gave the illusion of a sun rising behind the skyline so we settled on this orientation.

One more element completed the look. When you don’t have people on the cover, I believe it’s important it’s not dull, so we added a star burst effect using this graphic to draw the eye and add some energy.

And then Diana brought the yellow “bleed” from the stained glass image into the text. It’s subtle, but draws the eye down to the title. She chose the whimsical font, which at first seemed a little steampunk to me, but really grew on me. Since the tone of the story is a bit lighthearted, it really works and now I love it.

perf5.000x8.000.indd - Version 3

I hope you liked this look at how the sausage is made and I really hope you’ll take a look into The Kaleidoscope for yourself!


Click here to read a Sample of The Kaleidoscope

The Kaleidoscope - paperback 3D

Bev out!

UPDATE: July, 2015 The Kaleidoscope‘s cover won the InD’Tale Magazine Creme de la Creme Cover contest!

5 Authors Share Lighthearted Moments and Insights about their Process.

This is part II of a post I started last month talking shop and having fun with published authors about their process. I know you’ll find their answers as interesting as I did. And when you’re finished, check out their books and blogs, especially if these excellent authors are new to you. Here are Dona Watson, Ashley Ludwig, Dineen Miller, Nancy Farrier and Joanne Bischof. Welcome ladies!

First, here are the questions:

1. What’s something funny or ironic that happened to you while writing/researching one of your books?


2. What’s one thing you find most helpful when developing a character?

Welcome Dona Watson, who writes, reads and breathes fantasy fiction. Her most recent release, Deathchaser, is in the online magazine, Sorcerous Signals. Hey, Dona!

Hi! First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share. Writing can be an intriguing adventure.


1. While researching for a science fiction novel that I’m working on, my main character needed to break into the computer network of a corrupt government. However, in order to make it believable, I needed to know how the technology works. I searched Google diligently, and when my son, the technology guru in our house, ran diagnostics on our home network, he noticed that we had become the target of someone with very advanced technology trying to break past our extremely secure firewall—and succeeded. We traced the incoming signal and realized it was very likely we had become the target of the NSA, who had flagged my searches!

2.  When I’m developing a character, I try to mentally put myself in their shoes to imagine how they would respond emotionally to certain circumstances. Another way is to imagine I’m the interviewer and ask my characters what their story is, then record their answer. As long as they’re talking to me, life is good. Like they say, “Writer’s block is when your imaginary friends stop talking to you.”

Ashley Ludwig writes sweet romance, and her stories will sweep you away, I guarantee! I love Ashley’s writing voice. You’re up, Ash!

AshleyIronically, my answer to question 1 dovetails into question 2! I love writing sweet romance, but have always been a huge fan of romantic suspense. While veering from it  (By Another Name, and His Darling, which both explore re-finding your joy after an abusive relationship, I find myself back in my wheelhouse of Romantic Suspense. While All or Nothing is a historical romantic suspense, my current characters live in a contemporary setting. I love developing characters, getting them in those impossible dilemmas, and helping them sort it all out. I find inspiration in things that happen every day, especially in moments when I’m developing character back story. I discovered something MOST disturbing about a villain for my next manuscript (Working Title) In Seconds when listening to a country song, “Don’t Lie.” I  asked my hubby, “Doesn’t this guy sound creepy?” He and my kids laughed at me, saying, “That’s not what this song’s about…” but apparently my subconscious turned the *ahem* nice guy in the song, into a sinister stalker. Just wait. He’s absolutely HORRIFYING. But no match for my hero. 😉

2.  When I sit down with a new story, I let my characters bounce around a bit. I start at the meet, and they usually whisper their names, and their names gives me clues as to their personalities. I read that you can put the same two people in MANY different situations, and see how they play off of each other. Everyone has weaknesses and strong points, even villains. The most challenging is making my heroines likable, and my villains truly evil.

Inspired by an author friend, I developed a worksheet called “Creating 3D Characters” which is available on my site. This worksheet asks in-depth questions from the high level (eye color, height, birthday, place, etc.) to favorite foods, habits, etc. By the time I’m halfway through, I know exactly who each character is, what phraseology they lean toward, and how they will respond in any number of situations!

Dineen Miller

Dineen Miller‘s debut fiction, The Soul Saver, had me turning the pages until late into the night. She also writes nonfiction for families in unequally yoked situations. Here’s Dineen!

HI Bev!  1. When I started planning The Soul Saver, I knew Lexie and Hugh Baltimore has lost their toddler daughter to a brain tumor. I also knew Hugh was a physics professor at Stanford University. A few months later we found out our youngest daughter’s worsening headaches were due to a malignant brain tumor. Then after her successful surgeries to remove the tumor, we found out her radiation treatments would be designed by a physics professor from Stanford! God is always in the details and we ARE His details!

TheSoulSaverSM2. Motivation. I’m fascinated by what drives us to do the things we do. Is it a lie we believe of ourselves or the world? What a character wants most—is it rooted in a rejection from the past? Or a past failure and a need to prove he or she can succeed? Amazingly, I’ve found that when I was able to identify the lies I held onto in my own life and give them to God to replace with His truth, that creating these premises became much easier to create for my characters. LOL! How funny is that? Yes, motivation is crucial in so many ways. Good and bad.

Nancy Farrier  writes sun-drenched, Southwestern fiction, and it feels so real you’ll need sunblock and a cold lemonade while you’re reading! Look for her novella in Immigrant Brides, releasing July 1st. Go for Nancy!

1) After finishing the final draft of a book and sending it to my editor, having them return the galley for my perusal can take a few months. During that time, I will be working on another book, researching other stories, or writing more proposals. The book that is already written is often completely out of my mind as I focus on a new work.Immigrant Brides

With one of my novels, at the time I received the galley, I was going through a difficult circumstance in my life. I’d been praying for guidance. As I began to read the galley of my book, I was amazed at how God’s answer to prayer came through the spiritual teaching in that novel. I had put from my mind what happened in the story, and now found myself facing some of the same angst my heroine faced. The words I’d prayed about and penned months ago, now spoke to my heart and helped me through a tough time.

2) Characterization has always been tough for me. I usually have a general idea of what the character is like, but that isn’t enough. I find a picture and write up a short description: hair, eyes, height, weight, notable features, etc. Then I write a few pages of background, depending on the importance of the character. If this is a main character, I will begin with their birth, the family they are born into, siblings, family status and location. Then I write major events in childhood that would have shaped them into the person they are at the beginning of the story. If I “lose sight” of my character, or think they aren’t acting like they should, I can go back and reread the character background to get a renewed feel for who they are, what they believe, and how they might change through the book.

And here’s Joanne Bischof, the author of the Christy nominated, Be Still My Soul, the first book in the Cadence of Grace historical series set in Appalachian. Hey, Joanne!


Hi, everyone. I like to do a lot of hands-on research into the Appalachian way of life in the early 1900’s. This involves baking bread to keeping chickens and all sorts of odds and ends. There are a handful of details in  BE STILL MY SOUL that revolved around moonshine. Fear not, I didn’t make moonshine, but I did ask some friends to bring some home from Tennessee. I’d been hoping to test a recipe I did for Moonshine Pecan Pie, and as I was baking that day, the researcher in me couldn’t completely resist. I think I tasted about a teaspoonful, and that was quite enough research for me!

And the last question about characters–Great question! One thing I really find crucial to developing a character is digging for their “humanness.” Developing characters goes  beyond finding nearly-perfect people but allowing the raw and incomplete pieces to come forward. I think not only can we relate to them more, but  the character can grow– giving that person something we can root for. To see those changes come full circle for a character from beginning to end is always one of my hopes as a storyteller.  

Thanks, ladies, this has been so much fun!

Backstage chat with some of your favorite authors

Ever wonder what it’s like backstage in an author’s “workshop?” Inside their brain…and if anything ever went a little off the rails? Me too! So I recently had some fun asking a few of my author friends two questions, and got some really interesting and amusing answers.

(We had such great answers, I hated to cut them down, so we decided to break it into two parts. Part 2 with a new set of authors will be posted on June 2nd)

The authors in today’s post are Sherry Kyle, Sarah Sundin, and Susan Meissner. I’ve linked to their sites so you can add their books to your TBR pile, and find out what they’re talking about here. I personally recommend every one!

Here are the two questions I asked each of them:

1. What’s something funny or ironic that happened to you while writing/researching one of your books?


2. What’s one thing you find most helpful when developing a character? 

Here is Sherry Kyle to kick off the discussion.

 While writing THE HEART STONE, my latest contemporary release, I discovered I could write humor, or my version of humor, into a novel. I inserted a name that made me (and others, I’ve been told) chuckle. When you find it, please let me know. If you could give a character a funny name, what would it be?

2. One thing I find helpful while developing a character is to find a photo of my character and keep it handy as I write. I’m such a visual person, and the picture helps me imagine what she’d do, how she’d act, and what she’d say. I also find photos of her home, her wardrobe, and her pet, if she has one. It’s like I’m playing with a paper doll. What can I say? I’m a young girl at heart.


Sherry-Kyle-photo-3-150x150 The-Heart-Stone-by-Sherry-Kyle-coverSherry writes faith-based fiction and nonfiction for women and girls. Her upcoming release, THE HEART STONE challenges us to turn over the hard places in our hearts to the One who can heal and restore.


Next up, welcome  Sarah Sundin.

1. While researching my upcoming novel, On Distant Shores (Revell, August 2013) which is set in Italy in World War II, I had the privilege of visiting Italy (suffering for my art). We found a tiny museum in Anzio dedicated to the battle there, which had a delightful docent. Except he spoke Italian with a smattering of English—and I had a few months of “Learn Italian While You Drive!” He showed me every inch of the museum, including some materials he didn’t have on display, and answered my questions (I think). The intersection of my pidgin Italian and his pidgin English was quite funny.

2. I love characters! What helps me most is spending lots of time getting to know my characters before I start writing the book. Being a nerd, I fill out a very long character chart—appearance and health, family and friends, social and economic and religious background, education and job, talents and hobbies, goals, fears, secrets, and more. I give both the hero and heroine a personality test and read up on that personality type, so I know he or she will act. It’s a lot of fun.Blue skies tomorrow by Sarah Sundin Sundin47_LindaJohnson

A scientist by training, Sarah uses her awesome research skills to write award winning historical romances.


Wrapping up today’s interviews, Susan Meissner.

1. It’s not exactly funny or ironic, but it happened and it was pretty cool! I was researching my Rachael Flynn mystery series and interviewing a Ramsey County prosecutor. When I had finished asking him all my legal procedure questions, he asked me if I an hour or two. I thankfully had made NO other plans. He invited me to sit in on an afternoon in court. I got to sit in front on the prosecutors’ side and I was able to learn things – like what color the file folders are (brown, like old pennies) and what the chairs were like and on which side of the room the defendants entered the courtroom- details that I hadn’t asked and didn’t realize I needed to know. So, word to the wise: When you make an appointment to interview a field expert, don’t make any other plans that day! You never know what opportunities may come your way after you think the interview is over.

2. It’s helpful but it also drives me crazy. I discover my characters as I write. The hard part is I never feel like I’m ready to write until I know the character. I have to start writing in the fog of not knowing, which is NOT enjoyable for me, an avowed outliner. If I waited to start writing until I knew the characters, I would never write anything! In A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, which will release in February, I wrote the beginning chapters (we’re talking 75 pages) over and over until one day, everything clicked. I knew who Clara was. I knew what she loved, what she feared, what could hurt her, what could make her strong, and what could take her to the mat. But I had to write and rewrite and rewrite to get there.

Susan Meissner has so many awards and accolades to her name we don’t have enough room here to list them all. She’s best known for her parallel timelines, a talent only the most crafty writers should attempt! png thegirlintheglass1







Beverly Nault writes fiction and nonfiction over at FRESH START STORIES, and mostly tries to stay out of trouble. Check out her award winning SEASONS OF CHERRYVALE series. Bev HS 1

Starting off on the right hook…not in a pirate sort of way.

This is part of a series I’m posting as I write THE KALEIDOSCOPE A Novel of Unusual Circumstances.

I’ve been reading about making great openings. As soon as I’d arrived at a conclusion (notice I didn’t say The End yet) of most of the story threads, I zoomed back to the beginning.

I don’t know about you, but when I read a novel, I want all the pieces to fit together and the journey to end in a satisfying, even in a clever way, that the author had my satisfaction in mind both from the first to the last.

The First FiftyI picked up a copy of Jeff Gerke’s First Fifty Pages and devoured it/lost sleep/highlightedtheheckoutof. Trained as a screenwriter (and having worked as an editor and successful author), he zooms right to several points I could understand how to implement, and WHY.

Last night, I had critique group to attend, so I printed out my first three pages. After some  a lot of tweaking. I even moved an entire scene to the beginning based on Jeff’s advice. My opening had bogged because it was a lot of blah-blah narrative. But I need the reader to know my guy, I whined.

So Jeff, when is it OKAY to give information? Here’s what he says:

A)   when the reader must want to know it

B)   when the story cannot go on without the information (Kindle loc 683)

As you know, I wanted to raise the bar on myself, so instead of beginning in dialogue or action, I had started out in my MC’s head, and that was borrinng, but he’s a complicated guy.

Aannnddd then I read Jeff’s advice and now I have my MC DOING something, the thoughts in his head are now generic to what he’s doing, even though he’s just on his way to work (I’m also establishing his normal, another necessity of an opening), we see a lot by how he thinks about what’s around him. Notice I said SEE?

So did my tweaking work for my critique buddies Veola, Ron, Ralph and Kelly?

You decide.

Here’s one of the opening paragraph for which I got several positive comments:

“He double-timed the staircase and sailed inside the office building. His steps clapped against tile, echoing around the bank’s tiled lobby. ID card drawn for the guard and swiftly replaced, he tapped a loafered toe to send a subliminal message to the couple selfishly absorbed in a personal discussion, and by 8:58, pushed the elevator button. Despite the challenges of the morning, it was going to be a good day.”

What’s interesting about this one is, I had it buried about five pages later, and when I read Jeff’s logic, I brought it forward to the opening. (BTW, he’s just bypassed a homeless encampment, and that’s why he’s in such a hurry…nice guy, right?)

Something else Jeff said resonated as I realized my “cuts” file is getting longer than my MS. “What you lose in detail, you more than make up for in reader engagement.”

To write complicated characters, which makes them more compelling and makes the reader want to know what happens next, you need to know a LOT of details and background yourself. In first drafts a lot of inner thoughts may find the page, but to follow Jeff’s most compelling nugget now burned into my writerly brain: “Can the camera see it?”

Sean Maxwell

Here’s my BIL Sean, an uber talented cameraman. (He’s smiling because he knows how the camera adds ten pounds. LOL. Or maybe just because he knows how all those gizmos work.)

Like I said, he was a filmmaker by education, but that explanation makes it so much easier to remember than the tired old, “show don’t tell” which doesn’t really say anything to the 21st century brain. But I get camera angles and the importance of “the visual.”

Also this week, I hit a low when I realized how long this was all taking, and I want the book done NOW.

But I read the terrific writer, Jess Walter’s BEAUTIFUL RUINS, a complex, character driven, yet plot complex story about an American actress, and the Italian hotel owner she meets when she’s looking for privacy…a great read y’all.

Anywhoo…Jess admits it took him fifteen years to get the story ready. FIFTEEN YEARS. But it’s a great read, recommended!Beautiful Ruins

A big shout-out of thanks to both Jeff and Jess this week. (And Rebecca’s critique group)

Writers, what’s helped you with your opening?

Readers, What keeps you interested past page one…or worse, what makes you toss the book aside and reach for the remote?

I’m having fun writing The Kaleidoscope, A Novel of Unusual Circumstances, where the main character, Harold, finds himself the custodian of a magical scope that reveals much more than just colorful shapes! Here’s a Pinterest board where I’m gathering images of the characters and setting for Kaleidoscope.

The Kaleidoscope




Why writing can be therapeutic..building up characters so I can take them down!

Blogging about the process…while I write The Kaleidoscope, a Novel of Unusual Circumstances – Entry 2

My main character, Harold, is the most complicated character, and he should be, because most of the book will be from his point of view- POV. And because of that, he’s the one whom I should pay the most attention to in preparing to write. Because I challenged myself to really get into his head, I have been studying how other authors do it.

To make it workable, I will concentrate on three major areas:

  1. Use details that resonate – sprinkling in small moments from Harold’s memories will make him seem more real, less cardboard
  2. Demonstrate motivation with feelings– people are emotional beings, and before we form words, we feel our hurts and hates.*
  3. Know a character’s backstory, shames, accomplishments, and what he WANTS, even if every detail doesn’t seem important at first.

I read a couple of novels recently that demonstrated these points really well. Tammy Greenwood’s “Two Rivers,” is a first person POV of a widower with a young daughter who becomes involved with a girl stranded after a train wreck. Greenwood’s depiction of Harper meets all the rules for writing a dimensional character. From the beginning, we’re drawn into Harper’s world:

Photo courtesy of Wanacommons - Kass Lamb

Photo courtesy of Wanacommons – Kass Lamb

“Once, a long time ago, I made a split-second decision that has made me question who I am, what I am capable of, every day since. And this instant, this horrible moment, has haunted every other moment of my life. I don’t think I am a bad man, but sometimes I just don’t know.” (Kindle loc 222)

Immediately, we’re into Harper’s head, feeling his angst and also, cleverly enticed by Greenwood to keep turning the pages to find out what happened so long ago. Conflict and mystery!

Some complain that deeply written character-based stories have little plot, but Greenwood’s able to handle both because her character’s thoughts and memories help to move the plot forward, adding dimension:

“On Christmas Eve we always stayed up until midnight. And just as my mother’s Windsor chimes rang out, my father would make a big show of going to get the Yule log (which was actually nothing special, just the biggest piece of wood on the wood pile), and my mother would ceremonially disappear into their bedroom. A few minutes later, she would come out Church in snowwith a handful of splinters from the previous year’s log, which she kept in a shoebox under her bed. This tradition, pilfered from her distant European ancestors, was meant to keep the house safe from fire and other demons. I hadn’t thought about the irony of this, one of my mother’s few but beloved customs, until this moment. I felt suddenly wrecked with nostalgia.” (Kindle loc 3771)

Harper recalls this childhood memory with such detail we feel as if we’re there with him…no! We feel as if it’s OUR memory. It would take me two more pages to list all the details Greenwood packed in here about her MC. You’ll have to read for yourself why this memory is another important tactic. By the way kids, did you spot the RESONANCE? Another important tool.

Another master at character development is author Joanne Bischof. In “Be Still My Soul,” bad boy Gideon finds himself in a shotgun wedding. (Bad boys are particularly tough to cast as main characters, but Bischof’s a genius at making us love and hate him at the same time. In this scene, Gid regards his life situation so we know how he feels about his dilemma:

Be-Still-My-Soul-3D-Cover“Whether he wanted to or not, he’d have to take responsibility for his family…The thought sobered Gideon, fueling the fire under his feet. He would have to find work soon. And a house. He could not offer his family much, not in eight months, but there would be a roof over their heads…Through his own blood and sweat, he would spend the rest of his days repaying an unseen debt. Apparently God hadn’t been satisfied with his sacrifices already. With his fingertips, Gideon turned his glass in a slow circle on the table.

Figures.” (paperback, p 135.)

*Each author paints an internal picture, never using the words “feel” or “thought” but actually walking the reader through the thought process.

To do that, an author skillfully shows, not tells using natural beats, action and emotion. “To convey feelings well, a writer must also utilize nonverbal communication, which can be broken down into three elements: physical signals, (body language and actions), internal sensations (visceral reactions) and mental responses (thoughts).” “The Emotion Thesaurus” (Kindle loc 93)

That’s talent.

Why does this work so well? There’s actually psychology involved!

In “Million Dollar Outlines,” David Farland explains that when reading fiction, our minds don’t separate what’s going on with a character and reality. It’s like we really get in there and feel the experiences. A surface treatment of “he anguished” or “worried about” wouldn’t provide the same response in us, the reader, as the two examples.

Another ingredient that’s important is conflict. Notice in both samples, each of the guys struggles against something. They’re not cardboard guys wearing the latest jeans and cologne, they have spiritual selves, railing against God in Gid’s case, or being chased by guilt in Harper’s.

Back to Kaleidoscope. Here is Harold’s character description, so far:

Harold XXX (no last name, yet) a 39 year-old divorcee, works in a bank processing commercial loan paperwork. His ex-wife, Georgia, left him for the Sparklett’s delivery guy, telling Harold he was boring and dull, and would never make anything of his life. Ruddy complected, he pays great attention to his appearance, pressed slacks and white button down shirts, laundered weekly. He also keeps his cubicle at work immaculate, and expects everyone else to do the same. He lives in an apartment complex within walking distance, across a city park from his work, making it convenient since he doesn’t drive (having failed every driving test he’s ever taken). Harold has a plan to win Georgia back; he’s convinced that if he gets a promotion he will once again earn her respect, but first he must correct all his officemate’s errors, which will prove his worthiness for the job visiting commercial properties to evaluate them for their loan status. But since he doesn’t drive…

Here are the books I’ve referenced in this post:

“Two Rivers,” by T. Greenwood

“Be Still My Soul,” by Joanne Bischof

“Million Dollar Outlines,” and “Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing,” by David Farland

“Building Believable Characters” by Mark McCutcheon

“Rivet your Readers with Deep Point of View,” by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

“The Emotion Thesaurus, A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression,” Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglish

What books would you recommend that drew you into the character? Books on craft?

What do you think of Harold so far?

*update! Kristen Lamb has a blog that you HAVE to subscribe to if you are serious about writing. Here is one she just posted on complicated characters. Creating Multi-dimensional characters. Must. Read.


The Kaleidoscope – a novel from Inception to Conception

The KaleidoscopeI’m asked two questions most often about my writing. One is, “how do you come up with story ideas?” and the other usually centers on the actual methods…translate: how many hours are spent planning, plotting and preparing before actually setting pen to paper?

Since I’m all about FRESH STARTS here, and I am beginning a new stand-alone novel, The Kaleidoscope, a Novel of Unusual Circumstances, (This is my working title, and as with everything else here, open for discussion.) I thought it would be terrifying  fun to post along the process as the story takes shape.


I’ve added some personal challenges (besides blogging the journey) to up the ante. I want to grow as a writer, and as I study from some terrific teachers, I will post what I’m reading and studying.

So please, join me as I take you backstage so to speak, as my idea becomes a finished book.

Practice, practice, practice.

Practice, practice, practice.

If you’ve written before, or heck, learned or practiced anything while others watched, maybe a new sport, talent or craft, you know how it feels to bare all. I applaud you for that. The accountability can be scary, right? But we’re all friends here. Can I get an amen?

Most writers are advised to do several things: take classes, go to conferences and join a critique group (and/or find a critique partner who isn’t related to you…or in your employ, LOL.) Check, check, and check.

I’m proud to say I have had some of the most awesome critique partners who speak truth in kindness. (Shout out to Rebecca Farnbach and her group; and Ashley Ludwig, Dona Watson, and Joanne Bischof!)

Joanne and Bev

L-R, Ashley, Joanne, me, Dona

I’m eager to get your input, so if you have a question, have read a great book or site that adds to the conversation, or even if you sense a wrong turn, see a misstep or catch me in a foul-up, please weigh in. I welcome your input and always covet your prayers.

And if you’re writing, I’d love to hear from you!

Beverly on Sissy

I used to show hunter-jumpers, and when my green horse got comfortable taking small hurdles, my coach would remove the pegs, and raise the top rail for a higher challenge. Literally, I am raising the bar on myself, and hopefully this preparation will bring me a clean round when it’s showtime.


Let’s Roll!

Here’s how I conceived of “The Kaleidoscope.”

One of the techniques I wanted to improve upon was to “deepen my POV,” to build believable characters who are dimensional and complicated. To write a book where the people begin to seem so real, you know their thoughts, childhoods, secrets and shames.

imagesThat’s good casting, folks.

You have to test a character’s chops to discover motivation, and one way is to offer them a challenge. So I searched for a method or idea to really scare the daylights out of my main character (MC).

01I used to work in the properties department of live theatre, providing handheld items for actors to carry, so props are special to me, close to my heart. I searched for something that would be used throughout the book to further the trouble my MC would face, something he would learn to love and hate. (Every story needs trouble in River City!) Beware, I will use a mash up of theater and horse riding metaphors, LOL. #selfediting!

I considered using a snow globe for my prop. Somehow the MC finds or becomes its guardian. But that bothered me for two reasons: a) it’s kind of cliché, overdone, and b) I also wanted the image revealed to be a secret, visible only to the viewer… so my MC would have to get to know the person better after they looked.

snowglobe purchased istockphoto

Snowglobes evoke winter, another reason I passed on using one.

Voila, I decided a magical kaleidoscope would work! (I’ll discuss exactly how the MC is terrified by it in a future post, but don’t worry, we’re not writing horror…um…I don’t think.)

Before I was settled on a ‘scope, though I also searched Amazon to see if there were many books using Kaleidoscopes as a motif, and found a few, but none using the plot device I plan. Perfect.

As you’ll notice, I haven’t identified what genre I am going for. Yet. But I’m beginning to see lines forming. Because I will attempt to write deep POV, I’m dabbling in literary fiction (with my little pinky), and a magical ‘scope, so the fantasy element is now there. (NEVER thought I’d write fantasy.)

I’ve been writing for mainly a female audience until now (THE SEASONS OF CHERRYVALE), and I wanted to really stretch myself, so I decided my MC should be a man.

I’ve been reading “Million Dollar Outlines” by David Farland, and he reminded me that by casting the MC as a man, I might attract more male readers. (More on this EXCELLENT book in a later post.)

Aaannd…not only will I no longer be able to fall back on “how would a woman think/react,” I will have to do my homework and pay attention when I write how a guy thinks.

Which is a perfect setup for the next post, which will cover some terrific books I read to prepare myself for laying down the groundwork for the plot, setting, characters and other tools.

To see the pictures I’m gathering around the casting and setting for Kaleidoscope, check out my Pinterest board.

I’d love to hear your stories of making fresh starts, thoughts about writing, or what new talent, hobby or endeavor you’re challenging yourself with. If I’m really inspired, I might enter you to win random giveaways from my overstuffed shelves.

Bev out!

Be sure to check out Christina Katz’ list of terrific freelance writing books!