Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Creating Compelling Characters by Jodie Renner

Who are some of your favorite fictional characters? If I look back to some of my early reading, icons like Orphan Annie, Huckleberry Finn, and Jo March of Little Women come to mind. Nowadays, I love Janet Evanovich’s great cast of characters, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar and Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Haller, among others. Nora Roberts’ romantic suspense Three Fates features six unique, intriguing characters with tons of personality and attitude, who all spring to life and interact in fascinating ways. The stories crafted by these and bestselling authors are exciting and satisfying, but it’s often the characters that endear themselves to us and stay with us longer. How can we, too, create characters that jump off the page and stay with the readers?
Your novel can have a great premise and riveting plot, but if your characters are weak, boring, or undeveloped, your book will be quickly rejected by agents and acquisition editors. As Elizabeth Lyon points out, “Characterization is the bedrock of fiction and the reason most people read it. What endures in our hearts and minds over time is the heroes, heroines, and villains. Less often do we recall their plots. The fiction writer’s greatest challenge is character development.” (A Writer’s Guide to Fiction)
Your protagonist needs to be likeable, charismatic, and complex enough to be interesting. He needs emotional depth and a few flaws and insecurities. And he needs to be able to draw on inner strengths and resources to take on adversity and overcome odds. If your character is annoying, boring, too perfect, or a wimp, you’re dead in the water. –And don’t make your villains 100% evil, either!

Please – no annoying protagonists
Your main character can and should have a few faults, but overall, she needs to be sympathetic and likeable – not whiney, ditzy, cold, immature, or annoying. Your reader wants to be able to identify immediately with your lead character. If the reader doesn’t care about your protagonist and what happens to her within the first few pages, she will put down the book and go on to another one. As James Scott Bell says, in fiction, “readers will respond only if they are connected, bonded in a way to the lead character.” (Revision & Self-Editing)

A perfect character is insufferable
Don’t make your main character too good to be true. Nobody likes a “goody-goody two-shoes.” As Mittelmark and Newman so aptly put it, “Perfect people are boring. Perfect people are obnoxious because they’re better than us. Perfect people are, above all, too good to be true.
“Protagonists should only be as nice as everyday people are in real life. Making them nicer than the average reader will earn the reader’s loathing, or make her laugh in disbelief.”  (Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, How Not to Write a Novel)

Develop those cardboard characters
To avoid flat, superficial characters, you need to create an interesting backstory for each of them, including their secret fears and insecurities, hopes and desires, likes and dislikes, quirks and attitudes, and strengths and triumphs. Many of these details won’t make it into your novel, but knowing them yourself will make your character more complex and well-rounded, and reduce the chances that you have him acting out of character.
 Also, a sure-fire way to deepen your characters is to have them react more to events. Show how they’re feeling, through their words, actions, and body language. An emotionally flat character is boring.

Give your protagonist charisma
“GRIT, WIT, AND IT.” – That’s James Scott Bell’s answer to the question “What makes a great Lead character?” Here are a few of his points about each of these essential attributes:
GRIT – “Let me lead off with the one unbreakable rule for major characters in fiction: No wimps!
A wimp is someone who just takes it. Who reacts (barely) rather than acts. While a character may start out as a wimp, very early on he must develop real grit. He must do something. He must have forward motion. Grit is guts in action.”
No one wants to read about someone with a million different phobias or who’s wallowing in self-pity or afraid to make a move to improve their life. As Bell says, “Know your character’s inner lion. What is it that will make her roar and fight? Bring that aspect to the surface early in your story and you won’t be hampered by the wimp factor.”
WIT – Wit can rescue a character from a moment that can become just maudlin self-pity, or be overly sentimental, almost sappy, and will enliven even a negative character. As Bell says,
“Find an instance when your character can gently make fun of himself. Work that into a scene early in the book. This makes for a great first impression on the reader.”
IT – “It” means “personal magnetism – sex appeal as well as a quality that invites admiration (or envy) among others. Someone who walks into a room and draws all the attention has ‘It’.”
Bell gives several suggestions for making sure your lead character has “it”, including:
“Work into your novel an early scene where another character is drawn to your Lead character. This can be because of sex appeal, power, or fascination. It can be subtle or overt. But this will set It in the minds of the readers.” (Revision & Self-Editing)
And don’t forget to give your main character plenty of attitude!

Don’t wimp out on us
“Fiction writers too often forget that interesting characters are almost always characters who are active—risk-takers—highly motivated toward a goal. Many a story has been wrecked at the outset because the writer chose to write about the wrong kind of person—a character of the type we sometimes call a wimp.” (Jack M. Bickham, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them))
As Jessica Page Morrell says, “Your characters can be neurotic or despicable, vain or shallow, but they must always be vivid, fascinating, and believable, and their actions, decisions, and motives must propel the story to an inevitable conclusion. […] Usually the writer simply doesn’t realize that his character is a dishrag type because he modeled the character after a real person or he doesn’t realize that fictional characters differ from us mere mortals.” (Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us)
So don’t model your hero after someone you know. He needs to be stronger, braver, more resourceful and more intelligent. As Morrell puts it, “fictional characters venture into physical and emotional territory where most of us would fear to tread.”
Make sure your protagonists aren’t boring, perfect, annoying, or wimpy. Make them appealing and memorable by giving them charisma, flaws, likeable traits, and above-average moral and physical strength and inner resources.


Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, romance, YA, and historical fiction.
Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to light final copyediting and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques.
Check out Jodie’s website at and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at

Monday, March 28, 2011

Column: Critiquing Your Critics by Mandy Houk

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, but when I decided to actually pursue writing as a career, the first thing I did was join a critique group. The group consisted of six ladies—some poets, some essayists, some fiction writers—ranging in age from 31 (me) to 75. (Before I joined, the youngest was Bonnie, age 62). We met every other week in a local community room and read our pieces out loud while munching cookies and sipping hot tea.

While the ladies were soft-spoken and mild-mannered, they spoke their minds when it came to critiquing. My first night there, I read a poem, thinking I’d receive polite applause, smiles and nods. It took about two minutes for me to read the poem, and fifteen to twenty for the ladies to comment. By the time I’d finished making notes on my page, my poor poem was nearly obscured by all the marks and carets. Nobody apologized for ripping apart my precious darling—every comment was delivered calmly, matter-of-fact. And when I rewrote the poem using their suggestions, it was clear that these ladies knew what they were talking about. I should have known: each of them had been published many times over.

I quickly learned that similar demographics were not essential in a critique group. But I was so fortunate with that first set of partners, I’d had no opportunity (or need) to sort out the potential difficulties.

The second group I joined, after moving several hundred miles away from my preciously picky ladies, was made up of nine fiction writers, male and female, from all over the country. We were brought together through a short story contest we’d all entered, and we set up a yahoo group in order to share submissions and critiques.

The advantage to this group, I thought, was that every member was writing fiction, and a few were interested in writing nonfiction articles. Both lined up with my primary career goals. Another advantage was the diversity of reading habits. One woman read only Christian fiction. One man read everything but Christian fiction. Another woman wrote chick-lit, while still another wrote young adult fantasy stories.

Although it is a good thing to be in a group with diverse backgrounds and goals, it’s important to filter advice with that in mind. My trouble was that I was still new enough to writing that I believed I had to make every change any other writer suggested to me. (It had worked with my picky ladies!)

This turned out to be a serious miscalculation.

First of all, the advice contradicted itself. One woman thought every sentence was beautiful, every word appropriately chosen, every manuscript destined for publication and greatness (I adore her). Another used a color-coded system to insert her remarks—and every page came back looking like it had been caught in an explosion at the Crayola factory.

One woman tended to advise chopping up sentences to make them more readable, while one man wanted long, complex sentences for the sound and the flow (he’s my fellow Faulkner fan).

One man was a big believer in making up your own details and not getting bogged down in the nitty gritty as long as the story “rings true.” One woman was adamant that details be one hundred percent accurate.

As you can see, it was impossible to make every suggested change. I wound up feeling frustrated and confused, which led to literary paralysis: with all my harried attempts at rewriting, I wasn’t doing much writing. (I spent six weeks rewriting a single funeral scene that took up about a page and a half in my manuscript.)

My whole perspective changed one day when the group got “off-topic” and started talking about current popular books. There was one book in particular that I had on my “to read” list, but I’d never picked it up. I wanted to read it because it was literary, and I’d heard it was favored to win the Pulitzer Prize (it did—it’s Gilead by Marilynne Robinson). One of the women in the group wrote passionately of her experience reading the first page: she hated it. She found it murky, hard to follow, and could not understand the critics’ adulation. This contradicted what I had heard from a fellow English teacher friend, so I logged onto and pulled up the first page to see for myself.

I am not exaggerating to say that, by the end of the first paragraph, my mouth hung open and tears had pooled in my eyes. Not because it was sad. It wasn’t. I just found the writing to be that incredibly beautiful. It’s the kind of writing that puts an ache in my chest and makes me think I ought to quit writing.

I immediately started to wonder what I had changed in my own manuscript based on the advice of this critique group member. Let me be clear: I love her writing. I envy her ability to get a laugh out of me with just a few perfectly chosen words, and to bring me to tears in the very next sentence. She has also become one of my dearest friends.

But we view lyrical writing differently, so I need to take that into account when I read her comments on my manuscripts. If her opinion is that a certain passage in my novel is too meandering and wordy, I need to remember that she never enjoys meandering and wordy—but I do. This doesn’t mean that I discard her opinion. I don’t. I look at the passage in question to see if she has a point, and I only make changes if I truly agree.

This experience led me to take a fresh look at each of my critique partners. Do they read what I read? Do they habitually offer praise, and no criticism? Or do they habitually offer criticism, and no praise?

Once I started paying attention to where each critique partner was coming from, their comments were much more useful. I was able to retain my own writing identity and preferences as I considered their advice, and my changes became constructive rather than destructive. And I was able to move forward in my manuscript, rather than continually tearing into bits what I’d written already.

Over time, I’ve learned that each critique partner has a different role in my writing. The one that doesn’t go in for lyrical, for example, is not only the best sounding board when I fear I’m being too sentimental; she’s also the quickest to find my grammatical and punctuation errors. The one that loves everything she reads is a wonderful blessing when I’m feeling like a hack (like the best friend who insists your butt doesn’t look big in your only clean pair of jeans, and you know she’s fibbing but you need to hear it anyway). As for the one that suggests multiple changes no matter what she’s reading (even if it’s a passage I’ve already changed to her specifications)—well, we’ve parted ways, since there was no way to sort out what was constructive and what was just nitpicky.

If you’ve struggled with finding a critique group, or with knowing how to make critique partners’ comments work for you, here are some questions for you to consider:

1.      What does she read?
2.      Can he be honest, whether it’s to criticize or to praise?
3.      Does she accept your criticism on her own work?
4.      Will he accept the fact that you may not necessarily make changes based on his advice?
5.      Can she set aside personal reading preferences, and take your own writing goals into account?
6.      What are his strengths—what comments should you pay particular heed to?

Once you’ve considered all of the above questions, it wouldn’t hurt to review your own critiquing style, using the same parameters. The best way to form a group of great critique partners is to be one yourself.


Mandy Houk is a freelance writer and editor, and woefully underpaid home schooling mom. She's sold several nonfiction articles and stories, and placed in a couple of short fiction contests, but she has yet to break into book-length fiction. Her first novel is safely and appropriately in a deep, dark drawer. Her second is in its final rewrite, and will be sent out to agents in 2011. No, really.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Conference Brochure and Free Membership

We've updated our Website with more info about the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, including a brochure.
Make sure you have all the latest information --and avoid missing important deadlines like the PPWC price increase on April 1-- by joining Pikes Peak Writers. Membership is FREE, so why not? Join... at now!
Check out the PPW Conference brochure here!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Top Ten Writing Tips From PPW Members by Julia Allen

Top Ten Writing Tips from PPW Members
 By Julia Allen
As writers, we each have our own unique process for getting words on the page. Sometimes it comes easily, and at other times it’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. There are so many great books on the art and craft of becoming a better writer that it can seem daunting to choose which one to turn to when we feel stuck.

At the recent PPW Volunteer Retreat, I had the chance to pick the brains of 10 fellow writers for the one piece of writing advice they felt was the most valuable.

1. Write to please yourself. Don’t try to write to a formula or a trend. —Richard Burns

2. Put yourself on a schedule. If you’re writing a first draft, sit down with a calendar and assign yourself a number of pages or words to finish each day. —Beth Groundwater

3. Meet other writers. Getting together with other writers is always a source of motivation and encouragement. —Fleur Bradley

4. Volunteer to house-sit for other people. This way, you can have many mini writing retreats. —Jodi Anderson (aka Jodi Dawson)

5. Join a good critique group. However, don’t let them comb the voice out of your novel. –Karen Lin

6. Learn, learn, learn. Always be open to what other writers say, in person, in books, at workshops. —Barb Dyess

7. Realize it isn’t easy. —Ron Heimbecher.

8. Stay with the project you’re working on. Be persistent. —Deb Buckingham.

9. They’re just words. Don’t be afraid to put them down on paper, or to cut them. You can change any, or all of it, later. —Barb Nickless

10. Just write! Just as musicians get better at performing by practice, and actors get better by rehearsing, writers get better by writing. —Mario Acevedo
Originally appeared in The Pikes Peak Writer, Volume VIII, Issue 5, September,October 2009

Monday, March 21, 2011

Column: The E-Book Experience by Linda Rohrbough

The Business of Writing:

The E-Book Experience

by Linda Rohrbough

Now that I’ve read several novels on e-book readers, both the Kindle and the iPad, I have some observations to make about the experience and how it’s different than reading books on paper.
I took advantage of my e-book readers while recovering from several surgeries this year. I noticed an e-book reader is lighter and easier to manage, especially when I’m tired or a little out of it. It was great to just touch a button or the screen and get a new page. I especially loved my iPad for this, propping it up using the stand I bought for it, and touching it with my finger when I wanted to turn a page. I found reading on the iPad with the stark white background hard on my eyes, until I learned I could change the background color of the paper to a light parchment.
However, one thing I find disappointing about the e-book experience is the loss of the anticipation that happens when I get close to the end of the book. Holding a book, I have continual tactile feedback for my progress, as the pages thin on the right side, building tension in the story as I get nearer to the end.
E-book readers don’t offer that tactile feedback. I can touch the screen to get a ruler of sorts that shows me what percentage of the book I’ve read and what’s left. But it’s not the same. I miss the anticipation, and didn’t realize how much a part of my reading experience that tactile feedback has been until I read e-books by some of my favorite authors.
One more point is you can’t get an e-book autographed, which is something I like to do since I know a lot of authors.
And e-books are tough to give as gifts. You can give someone a credit to buy their own e-book, but you can’t make sure they get the book you want them to have. This is a critical point, since the holidays are the biggie in publishing and a huge percentage of books purchased are sold during the months of November and December each year.
The other day, I told someone about a book I was reading and they asked to borrow it when I was done. But they didn’t have a Kindle Reader. That felt crummy. I didn’t realize how much connection there is in sharing books with friends.
However, I realized later there won’t be any friction in my friendships because autographed books was returned, got lost, or dropped in the bathtub. There’s a fourteen day loan on a Kindle book and then it’s mine to read or loan again. And now I’m hearing there are ways to share books with family members and borrow Kindle books from libraries. I love the inside of a library and checking out books. However, returning books is a pain and no trek to the book drop is very attractive.
My biggest gain overall with e-books is I can read without looking at the artwork on the cover. I create in my head images for the setting, the appearance of the characters, all of it. Back when I started reading as a child, books rarely had much art or even fonts on the cover unless they had a dust jacket, and I didn’t see those very often.
When all the artwork started on book covers, I found that a little disappointing. I try to ignore the art, though I come back at the end to see if what I have in my head matches up with what’s on the cover. But usually what’s in my head is better.
I said all that to say e-books give back to me the experience I had as a kid of making stuff up in my head. That’s true even with the iPad, where I can see the color front covers as icons, but without much detail. So I don’t have to work to hang on to what’s in to my imagination, which I like a lot better.
Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with awards for fiction and non-fiction. Her latest book, co-authored with her surgeon, is Weight Loss Surgery with the Adjustable Gastric Band from Da Capo Press. She has an iPhone App of her workshop “Pitch Your Book” and her first novel The Prophetess I: At Risk, both coming out in Spring of 2011. Visit her website:

Friday, March 18, 2011

PPW Member Interview: Beth Groundwater

Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, nominated for the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award, and To Hell in a Handbasket, released in May, 2009). She also writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, was released March 8th. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. She loves talking to book clubs, too, and not just for the gossip and wine!

Beth is running a contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents for people who comment on her virtual book tour. Please post your comments on Beth’s  post about this interview at her blog to enter:

  1. Tell us about your new book.
Deadly Currents is the first book in my new RM (Rocky Mountain) Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring 27-year-old whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. It is set in Salida, Colorado and Mandy works for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), which is headquartered in town. The Arkansas River is the heart and soul of Salida. It fuels the small town's economy and thrums in Mandy Tanner's blood.

When a whitewater rafting accident occurs, Mandy deftly executes a rescue, but a man dies anyway. But it wasn't the river rapids that killed him, it was murder. Tom King was a rich land developer with bitter business rivals, who cheated on his wife, refused to support his kayak-obsessed son, and infuriated environmentalists. Mandy cooperates with the local sheriff's department to solve the case.  But little does she know how greatly the case will affect those she loves, including her beloved Uncle Bill—the respected owner of an outfitting business, out of whose raft Tom King fell. She goes on an emotionally turbulent quest for the truth—and ends up in dangerous waters.

I'm somewhat of a “river rat” myself. I canoed whitewater rivers back east in the 1980s, and I currently enjoy rafting down Colorado's whitewater rivers. I'm thrilled to be able to share this exciting sport with mystery readers and maybe even encourage a few to try it themselves.

2. How much do you research before writing?

In two words, a lot! While developing a scene-by-scene outline, I list all the things I need to find out about the setting, the activities and occupations of the characters, the legalities of the case and how it might be investigated, and any other nit-picking facts that I'll need to get right in the book. For Deadly Currents, I started my research by interviewing a friend who is a whitewater rafting guide on the upper Arkansas River. She gave me names of further contacts, who I interviewed—a rafting outfitter company owner, river rangers, and other rafting guides.

Also, I observed one day of a three-day swiftwater rescue training classes that seasonal river rangers take, took photos, and read through all the class materials. I read the rules and regulations, minutes of meetings, and everything else I could find on the AHRA website. I read books and websites about the history, geology, and flora and fauna of the Arkansas River valley and the towns within it. I researched the catalogs of whitewater equipment vendors, and I collected accident and disaster stories from friends who had gone whitewater rafting.

I visited Salida and took photos of all the buildings, inside and out, and specific river rapids that I wanted to use in the book. I interviewed the principal investigator of the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office to see how they do things differently from my own larger county's sheriff's office, whose Citizen's Academy I'd already attended. And, I attended the FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) whitewater rafting festival a few times, which occurs in the background of Deadly Currents while Mandy does her sleuthing.

3. Your current book is part of a series. How far ahead did you plot series events at the beginning?

I don't plot series events ahead at all. I bet that surprises you! I feel that while I'm working on a book, I should hold nothing back and throw every trial and tribulation I can think of at the protagonist. In other words, I should write that book like it's the last one I'll ever write. Then when I'm done, I might set up something in the last chapter about what could be coming over the horizon in the protagonist's life, because by then, I have some ideas.

One thing I do try to do is make sure my protagonist has enough important people in her life and enough interests and pursuits that I have a rich source of material to work with to create new stories and murder cases.

4. This is not your first novel. Could share with those of us still pursuing publication what you've learned along the way?

Networking with other writers is one of the most important things you can do for your writing career. I present workshops at writing conferences and write articles on how to network and why you must do it. I met my first editor and both my first and current literary agents through networking with other writers. And when the acquisition editor at Midnight Ink asked some of their existing mystery authors about me, they vouched for me.
You need to read widely in your chosen genre, to see what kind of writing and stories are being published. Also, being in a critique group helps you improve your writing to the point where it becomes publishable. In my initial critique group of five brand-new fiction writers, three are now published in short stories, three in book-length fiction, and all five have won or placed in writing contests.
Lastly, in this business, persistence is almost more important than talent. With persistence, you can learn the craft, the structure of story and how to bring characters to life. And, you’ll hang in there and keep on submitting and revising your manuscripts while the rejections pile up. I’ve seen many talented writers give up too soon. It is very difficult for most of us to get published. You have to give yourself at least five to seven years to get that first book contract and be willing to accumulate hundreds of rejection letters in your career. As Winston Churchill said, "Never, never, never give in!"

5. You actively attend conferences and events. Any secrets to balancing writing, promoting, and life in general?

For me, family always comes first. Then comes my health and what I need to do to maintain it—exercise, sufficient sleep and downtime, eating right, etc. Writing comes after that, and it is a full-time pursuit for me. I don't have the problem of balancing it with a day-job that many writers have. Also, my children are grown and living away from home, so I don't have child-rearing duties. That means I can spend a lot more time networking and promoting than many other writers can. You do what you can do, and you constantly re-prioritize. The most important thing to fit into your writing life is writing. If I'm writing a rough draft, I have to hit that daily word count goal before I let myself go on-line.

Because I'm now on an ambitious (for me) book-every-8-months contract schedule, I've ramped back some on the conferences, events and on-line promotion activities. For instance, last year, since I didn't have a release, I attended writers conferences instead of mystery fan conferences. This year, it will be the other way around.

6. What's next for you as a writer?

I've turned in the second book in the RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, titled Wicked Eddies, to my editor. The next step is to review the copy-edited manuscript. I've drafted the third book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series and am editing that, running chapters through my critique group. I'm developing ideas for the third RM Outdoor Adventures mystery and will begin research and planning for it soon. And, of course, I'm busy promoting Deadly Currents. There's never a dull moment in the Groundwater household!

Writing from the Peak readers can check out Beth Groundwater’s website ( ) and blog ( ) to learn more about Beth and her books.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

PPW Conference--Register Yet?

Have you registered yet for PPW Conference? Rates go up after April 1, so now's the time... Check out the great faculty and panel topics here.

Hope to see you there!!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Column: What I Learned About Writing From... By Debbie Meldrum

...The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries by Charlaine Harris and True Blood, based on the books

1)      Give your protagonist a problem

Sookie is telepathic.  She hears everyone’s thoughts.  Almost all the time.  Which makes dating difficult since she knows exactly what her date is thinking about her, as well as all of his expectations.  Her gift has caused her to be labeled a freak in her small home town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. 

Groovy problem, right?  And it’s not her only one.  She needs her waitress job at the bar in order to help make ends meet at home, where she lives with her grandmother.  Her parents died in a car accident when she was little.  And her older brother’s a bit of a screw-up.

I’ve said it before, but my critique group always tells me that I’m too nice to my characters.  Well, Charlaine Harris has no problem beating up—sometimes quite literally—on her characters.  Especially Sookie.

2)      The bad guys should be dangerous

In the world of this series, vampires have recently come “out of the coffin.”  The reason?  A synthetic blood substitute, Tru Blood, developed by the Japanese means they no longer need to feed on humans. 

The problem is that Tru Blood isn’t exactly like human blood, so a lot of vampires aren’t about to make the switch.  And even if they are off the real thing, they are still incredibly strong and fast.  Some can fly.

Even when the bad guy isn’t a vampire, he (or she) is still a huge threatening presence.  Bon Temps has any number of really bad characters just waiting to do harm to our protagonist.  In addition to the vamps, there are werewolves, weretigers, werepanthers (you get the idea), evil fairies, ancient goddesses, religious fanatics, witches and just plain nasty human beings.

Wimpy bad guys don’t cut it, but I don’t want to make my antagonists look cartoonishly bad.  I don’t want a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash.  So how to find that happy medium between not-bad-at-all and over-the-top-evil? 

I once read that the perfect antagonist is the mirror opposite of your protagonist.  Think Harry Potter and Voldemort, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, Krystle and Alexis Carrington.

3)      Too many characters CAN be a problem.

I tend to like a fairly large cast of characters.  Maybe it’s because I’m from a large family.  Or it could be from reading a lot of Dickens as a kid.  Whatever the reason, I don’t get confused by a lot of characters in a book.

However…along about book six or seven in the series, Harris had populated Bon Temps and the surrounding area with more than a dozen named vampires, half a dozen or more important werewolves, at least three fairies, a handful of witches, a shapeshifter, a few weretigers, a whole town full of werepanthers, and about twenty humans. 

Even that wouldn’t have been too bad, except that she tried to fit everyone in for at least a mention.  The main storyline became diluted because of this. 

Early in the next book, Harris started eliminating some of the characters, not all of them violently.  It made for a tighter story.

I’m still working on making sure that all the characters in my books have good reasons for being there.   

4)      First person narrative has pros and cons

By sticking with Sookie, we get to know her.  She’s our window into Bon Temps.  We tend to feel about the other characters as she does.  She becomes us, or we become her. 

The flip side is that we can’t experience anything without Sookie.  The latest book, Dead in the Family, suffers because of this.  Vampire Eric is visited by his maker and a new “brother.”  A lot of really interesting stuff happens between the trio—off stage.  We learn about it just as Sookie does, while the story it told to her.  It loses a lot of the impact that actually being there would have given us.

I’ve used both first and third person narrative.  I’m not always clear why I’ve picked one over the other.  But I think it’s time to take a really good look at the story I want to tell before I make that decision.

5)      You need to let go when you sell the movie/television rights

About midway through each season of True Blood, the television series based on the Sookie Stackhouse books, my friend Jenny asks me what’s going to happen.  Even though I’ve read all the books, I have no idea at this point.  The first season stayed somewhat true to the main plot of Dead Until Dark, but there were lots of people and situations in the television version that weren’t in the book.  And the last episode veered in a very surprising way from the book.

Charlaine Harris is always positive about the series in the interviews I’ve read.  She acknowledges that television is a different medium from books and, therefore, requires a different take on storytelling.  Good for her.

I’ve also read interviews with authors who blast any adaptation of their work.  It tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth of this reader.  Yes, the story is your baby.  Yes, you came up with the idea in the first place.  Yes, the studio/director/producer/network must have liked what you wrote if they wanted to adapt it.  However, you sold the rights.  Period.

The lesson here?  Should I be lucky enough to pen something that someone wants to adapt, I had better consider how much it would bother me to have my baby undergo extensive cosmetic surgery.  Would the money being offered be enough for me to keep my mouth shut about any changes?  Could I smile and nod about the movie/television show/play while thinking about my bank account?

Could you?

Debbie is a daydreamer. A fact that caused her much grief during her school career but has served her well as a writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Apollo’s Lyre, The SCWP Marathon Anthology, and The S’Peaker. In addition to being a member of PPW, she belongs to Creek Writers Council—a tough but fun critique group.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Free Online WriteBrain: The Three Stories: Front, Back and Perspective

PPW is the proud host of "Write Brain" workshops on the craft and business of writing, which are presented monthly in Colorado Springs. 

Now, for the first time, this award-winning program is being made available to those unable to attend these workshops in person.  We launch this program with a 45-minute workshop, "The Three Stories:  Front, Back and Perspective", presented by multi-published authors Linda Rohrbough, Jodi Anderson (aka Jodi Dawson), and Laura Hayden.  Simply download this MP3 file FOR FREE, listen, learn and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Your Writing Type--A Study In Personality

Your Writing Type—Join the Study

By Kathy House

Have you wondered why some parts of writing feel easy and natural, while you struggle with others? The answer may lie in your personality type as described by Carl Jung. As a graduate project, I’ve developed a questionnaire to determine relationships between our fiction writing and our personality characteristics.

Jung’s ideas about personality type cover three elements:

• Where do you put your attention, inner world (Introvert) or outer world (Extravert)?
• What sort of information do you pay attention to, concrete details (Sensing) or patterns (Intuition)?
• How do you make your decisions, by a logical system (Thinking) or a values system (Feeling)?

This list may already be giving you ideas about what type you are and how that influences your writing.
Specifically, I’m studying how your personality type may affect your choice of genre, your writing strengths and weaknesses, and your writing process. My study does NOT say you must be a certain type to write well or write certain types of fiction. It does NOT say one type is better at writing than another. It only reveals HOW the different types may approach writing and what strategies may help people of different types improve their writing.

Each element contains both strengths and weaknesses. For example, people who are strong in Intuition don’t like to work in a step-by-step, linear fashion; instead, they see patterns and connections. This trait can result in creative imagery, as they see relationships others don’t. Yet because Intuitives’ attention goes quickly from one thing to the next, they can sometimes skip steps. They may be unaware that they’ve left out a critical narrative detail and leave their readers confused.

Another area of interest is what Jung called the “inferior function,” which is a person’s weakest element. Jung theorized that this element is our least conscious and least developed. On the other hand, this means the inferior function is connected to a lot of unconscious, undeveloped energy. As we age, Jung theorized, we seek energy renewal by developing previously unused elements. His theory could explain why many people take up an entirely new activity at midlife or bring a new twist to something they’ve already been doing. Exploring your inferior function could help you tap into new energy for your writing.

Interested? I hope you’ll help me with my research by taking the two surveys on my website (http:/ They’re free, but it takes about an hour to complete the two (you can take them at different times). You’ll get a result about your type (based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) right away and a discussion of my findings once I finish my analysis.

You have until March 31, 2011 to participate.
Bio: Kathy House has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Virginia and is earning a second master’s in psychology from Regis University. She’s been active in regional writing groups for 15 years. She qualified to interpret the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in 1998 and has studied with the C.G. Jung Institute of Colorado since 2001. She’s married, writes mystery and fantasy, and has been well-trained by a large fluffy dog.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March Workshop: Novel Beginnings and Endings

The first page of your novel sells that book.  The last page sells the next book. 

Spend a day with published authors Angel Smits and Karen Fox exploring how to begin and end your story. 
This workshop will include hands-on exercises so come prepared to write.

Saturday, March 12, 2011
10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Registration Begins: 9:30 a.m.
Lunch is NOT provided, but there will be a lunch break from 12-1.

Colorado Springs Police Department
- Falcon Substation (NOT located in the city of Falcon), Community Room
7850 Goddard Street
Colorado Springs, CO
View on Mapquest

$30.00.  Payable by cash, credit card, or check during registration.

IMPORTANT:  Please take a moment to RSVP to this event, if you are planning on attending.  It will assist us in preparing the room and snack menu.  Thanks!

Visit Angel’s website

Visit Karen’s website

Monday, March 7, 2011

Column: Guest Dog Goes Walkabout (and Other Stuff)

Guest Dog Goes Walkabout (and Other Stuff)

by Deb Courtney

Saturday is usually my day to do stuff around the house, and I am deeply involved in Getting Things In Order today as I have a bunch of cool chicks coming over to play Texas Hold 'em. I of course plan to kick butt, but I do need to get a bunch of stuff done before the butt kicking can begin.

Which means I do not need a dog gone walkabout at the moment. But life often delivers us that which we least need, when we least need it. My life does anyway.

So there I was staining baseboards (yes, that's probably excessive just for a poker party but I have an excessive personality. Don't judge me). And I get the call from Guest Dog's real owner (Guest Dog is not mine, I am fostering him, hence calling him Guest Dog). I have to hike a mile to retrieve him. He thinks this is great fun -- not only did he make two new dog friends and a bunch of new human pals who think he is an awesome and rockin' dog, but he gets a most excellent walk from his second-favorite human (his first of course being his owner). Guest dog = happy. I = not amused.


But the forced walk in the middle of what I NEED to get done got me thinking about characters and whether or not we inflict the very real and mundane stuff of life on them as much as we should. Pipes break before big parties (at my house they do), dogs go walkabout while you are on a tight schedule, half & half goes bad seconds before you need to offer it to a guest, and the grocery stores run out of the exact item you need for the dinner you have planned forcing either a change of plans or a detour to another store (several if you are me). And sometimes you can't find a bathroom when you really, really need one. Again, don't judge me.

While I am finishing the draft of my work in progress, I think I will introduce a bit more of the mundane and irritating into my main character's life. Sometimes it's not the big plot points in life that show who a person is, but the way they deal with the mundane and routine.

I will not give my character, Else, a Guest Dog, however. She is much smarter than me and would know better than to take one in in the first place.

I'm off to finish the baseboards. Then back to writing.

Deb Courtney has a degree in fiction from the University of South Florida, has published several short stories, and has written freelance for such publications as The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Business Journal. She is a frequent speaker at Pikes Peak Writers events.

She lives in the foothills in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she has a winter view of Pikes Peak (which is to say she can see it only when all the leaves are off the trees). She shares her home with a driving-age teen, two cross-eyed slightly brain-damaged felines, and likely has squirrels in her attic. And that's not a euphemism.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sweet Success: DeAnna Knippling

Good news!!!

DeAnna Knippling's short science fiction story for adults, "The Business that Must Be Conducted in the Dark" was published in the January edition of Silverthought Online.  She has also had a short Weird-West story, "Miracle, Texas," accepted by podcast website Nil Desperandum.

DeAnna is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs who is having fun ghostwriting nonfiction books at the moment.  Her first novel, Choose Your Doom:  Zombie Apocalypse, was published in November 2010 by Doom Press.
Congrats, DeAnna!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sweet Success: Fleur Bradley

If you regularly read this blog (and of course you do!), you know I'm normally behind the curtain as the managing editor. I like to put the spotlight on Pikes Peak Writers, and its great members rather than on me. But lovely PPW President Christine Mandeville urged me to share my sweet success, so...

Fleur Bradley, writing as F.T. Bradley, sold her middle-grade series to Harper Children's; here is the Publishers Marketplace announcement:

F.T. Bradley's debut DOUBLE VISION, the story of 12 year-old ne'er-do-well who just so happens to be a dead ringer for a junior government agent who's gone missing in the midst of an international hunt for one of the world's most precious artifacts, billed as the first of a new action/adventure series in the vein of ALEX RIDER and "National Treasure," to Barbara Lalicki at Harper Children's, in a significant deal, in a pre-empt, in a three-book deal, by Stephen Barbara at Foundry Media Group (NA).

So congrats to... me :-)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WriteBrain Report: Action! Write Better Action Using Cinematic Techniques

Action!  Write Better Action Using Cinematic Techniques
February Write Brain – by DeAnna Knippling
Because movies have become so integral to our society, the way we read and what we enjoy has changed:  people want to read fiction that comes across with the same excitement as a movie. Denver-area writer Ian Healy showed us how at the February PPW Write Brain.
An action scene is plot or character development through violence—if not, then it’s gratuitous!
All action scenes focus on a main character and some kind of opponent.  While action scenes can be based on a character fighting themselves, society, or nature, it’s the conflicts in which another human being is involved that are the most gripping.
All action occurs in a set piece.  Authors have to know a lot about the set piece—what the layout is, what objects are at hand, if there are bystanders, etc.  Everything in a set piece can be used in an action scene to further the goals of one character over another, such as throwing a chair, hiding behind a bystander, or swinging from a chandelier.  
Building Blocks of Action
The basic building block of an action scene is the stunt, an individual action or flurry of actions between the character and opponent (for example, a sword thrust and parry). 
One step up from the stunt is the engagement or major action scene (such as a fight or chase scene).  An engagement is a single conflict, even though it may move through different set pieces.  Engagements usually lead to another engagement in a different set piece (for example, a chase leading to a shootout) or to a new plot point (the character’s mentor is killed). 
More complex than the engagement is the sequence, multiple engagements that form a major plot point (such as a car chase plus the subsequent shootout).  An action movie generally has three or four sequences through the course of the movie; the last one will be the climax of the story.
Types of Action Scenes
There are four basic types of action scenes:  the fight, shootout, chase, and battle (from least to most complex).  A variety of techniques should be used in different types of action scenes—don’t let your characters stand in one place hitting or shooting at each other.  In fights, you can use kicks, punches, slaps, weapons, throwing an opponent, tripping, sliding along the bar, grappling, using pieces of the set as weapons, ganging up on characters, etc.  People in shootouts use all kinds of cover—from the corner of a building to a human shield—to avoid being shot and chose their locations carefully (for example, taking the high ground).  They run out of ammo and have to take time to reload (a perfect moment to yell insults).  They have to deal with wounds in a way that people in fights (with their short time and high adrenaline) don’t notice. 
In chase scenes, you can create a hybrid between a pure chase scene and a fight or shootout; you can involve weapons to add to the excitement of pursuit and increase the range at which the characters can interact.  Your characters can interact with their set piece during chase scenes—they don’t have to race along a featureless strip of highway.  They can run, jump, climb, fall, and crash through their environments (like the classic running-through-the-hotel-kitchen scene).  Chase scenes are often used at the beginning or end of an action sequence to increase the tension of the sequence.  Make sure you use your vehicles to their full advantage, too, using them as weapons and projectiles if necessary.  Ian also noted that chase scenes involve a lot of collateral damage to their environments, and repercussions from that can be fun to play with (as in Lethal Weapon, for example).
Writers should do a lot of planning before tackling a battle scene but keep focused on their main characters.  One way to do this is to break huge groups into specific units, each of which has a specific goal, planning the events that the groups will accomplish, and deciding how the other groups successes and failures make your characters’ group’s goals harder or easier. 
  • Stage blocking.  Sketch out the set piece; it doesn’t have to be artistic. 
  • Vocabulary.  Learn at least the basic vocabulary for the type of stunts you’re writing (for example, sword fighting in 1800s France).  But don’t use words that are too obscure.
  • Pacing through sentence length.  Everybody pauses for a period:  to slow down action (think slo-mo), use short sentences (and thus a lot of periods).  To speed up pacing, use sentences with a lot of clauses.
  • Make sure you do your research (especially about guns).  Role-playing games (like Dungeons and Dragons or GURPS) often have extensive research material written for the lay reader.  Role-playing games can also help you get a feel for how to set up action scenes.
  • Don’t use quick cuts, that is, very short camera shots.  It makes the reader feel lost.  Follow a main character to give a sense of order.
  • Avoid purple prose.  Describing things in great detail during an action scene can slow your pace.  Pass along backstory or other information in another scene instead.
The best POVs for writing action scenes are first person or third person close.  Seeing an action scene in a book, no matter how complex, is a lot easier when you’re not jumping from POV to POV with a third person omniscient narrator.  As Ian said, “As fun as action scenes can be, they’re still about people.  Pulling [the camera] back makes the characters much smaller in relation to the whole story.  Nobody cares about Soldier 38.  The reader cares about the main characters.”
You can find additional information about Ian and how to write better action scenes (including worksheets) at and  As a bonus, you can also submit your action scenes to him for anonymous review on his Action! website.
Bio:  DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs.  Her first book, Choose Your Doom:  Zombie Apocalypse, was published by Doom Press (  She blogs at