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Welcome to The Inkwell, the blog site of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) of Colorado.

Each week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you can find a wide variety of topics and insight
from inspiration to instruction to humor and more!

For detailed information on ACFW, click here to visit their main website.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Hold on to Your Pants! + Peak Writing Conference

Before I wrap up our month on Characterization, I wanted to put in a plug for the 2nd Annual Peak Writing Conference.

If you haven't heard about it, it's fantastic one-day conference that will be taking place on Saturday, February 27, 2010. Three amazing speakers are set to share their wisdom and knowledge, and with a multi-author book signing, some of the newest releases from the many authors present, and the delicious food prepared by our very own Kimberley Woodhouse, the day promises to be a fun and informative one for all who attend.

Three sessions, two snack breaks, one scrumptious lunch, and a Q&A session with our speakers at the close of the day. All of that for just $50 if you're an ACFW member or $55 if you're not. But you must pay by Sunday, January 31st to secure the early bird price. After that, the fee jumps up $10. It will be $60 for members and $65 for non-members.

For more information, check out the Events page on this site.

* * * * *

Now, back to characterization. Evangeline posted on Monday about being a seat of the pants writer. I am as well, although I tend to call it "intuitive" instead. :) Regardless, it usually means you jump into a story and let things happen as the story unfolds rather than planning and plotting every scene.

Earlier in the month, I shared a sample list of questions I sometimes use to interview my characters, but I confess. It's not often that I make it all the way through that list I have. Don't get me wrong. It's an excellent way to learn a lot about your characters, but in all honesty, knowing that much about a character can be boring. :)

It's far more entertaining to take a character, throw him or her into a situation and see what happens. Wouldn't you agree? I mean, what if you have a character walking down the street, when all of a sudden a dog chasing a cat both run in front of the character. Fairly par to course normal occurrence, right?

But, let's amp up the situation a bit, shall we?

What if that character had an unfortunate encounter with a dog and a cat during childhood? Perhaps a bad bite or scratch that left an indelible mark on the memory. Ever since, the character has avoided cats and dogs and doesn't even like to be in the same room with either one. So, revisit that simple, everyday walk, and all of a sudden, it takes on an entirely different meaning. The character would scream, jump or run in the other direction. Might even be scared stiff and unable to move. And if that walk was one of purpose, this delay could set forth a chain of events that could alter the entire scene or chapter...even the story.

And see? If I had planned out that background for the character, the scene wouldn't have been as much fun. *winks*

So, are you an intuitive writer or a plotter? Do you know everything about your characters before you sit down to write the first sentence? Or do you let things happen as they will? Maybe you write with a combination of both? Feel free to share your style with us.

Tiffany Amber Stockton is an author, online marketing specialist and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart. They have 1 daughter and a border collie. She has sold eight books so far to Barbour Publishing, is a columnist for the ACFW e-zine and writes other articles as well. Read more about her at her web site:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Heinz-57 Look at Characters and Characterization

As I’m sure you know by now, this month’s blog focus has been on characters and characterization. Rather than give my two-cents worth on the subject, I thought it would be fun to quote other seasoned authors and get their perspective. Enjoy!


“Keep them people, people, people, and don’t let them get to be symbols. Remember the [human] race is older than the economic system.” Ernest Hemingway

“People are not the principal subject of fiction; they are its only subject.” William Sloane

“Every character who enters fiction needs vivid rendering.” John Gardner

“The moment when a character does or says something you hadn’t thought about. At that moment he’s alive and you leave him to it.” Graham Greene

“Of course, that wonderful thing, a character running away with you—which happens to everyone—that’s happened to me, I’m afraid.” E.M. Forster

“I followed Caddy around and wrote down what she did.” William Faulkner [when asked how he wrote The Sound and the Fury]

“Flawed characters are the unforgettable ones.” Susan Shaughnessy

“If they aren’t in interesting situations, characters cannot be major characters, not even if everyone else is talking about them.” P.G. Wodehouse

“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” Henry James

“A writer begins by breathing life into his characters. But if you are very lucky, they breathe life into you.” Caryl Phillips

“I’ve never taken ideas but always characters for my starting point.” Ivan Turgenev

“If one is not going to make cardboard characters it is important to say that even people who do terrible things are not unrelievedly terrible people, or at least that they are not always terrible: there can be moments when they behave well.” Salman Rushdie

“Character is the kind of thing which discloses the nature of a choice.” Aristotle

“Make the people live. Make them live. But my people must be more than people. They must be an over-essence of people.” John Steinbeck

“I have such a man, such a woman, in such surroundings. What can happen to them to oblige them to go to their limit? That’s the question. It will be sometimes a very simple incident, anything which will change their lives.” Georges Simenon

“It would be a great joke on the people in my book if I just left them high and dry, waiting for me. If they bully me and do what they choose I have them over a barrel. They can’t move until I pick up a pencil. They are frozen, turned to ice standing one foot up and with the same smile they had yesterday when I stopped.” John Steinbeck

“I can ease my heart inside another character’s until I feel what he or she feels and think the way he or she thinks.” Terry McMillan

Jane Eyre is one of the most outstanding of . . . the character novel, and that is not simply a novel in which character plays a great part—because character does that in all novels—but one in which the story is architected round a single person, and one in which, usually, such persons show power to influence their own destiny so that the story springs from them. Things happen because of what they are and what they do. In themselves they precipitate situations.” Elizabeth Bowen

“The characters’ responses to the world around them gives the reader insight into their personalities, just as it does to anyone you see on the street. Let the sun, wind, rain, and objects in their immediate surroundings help reveal your character’s thoughts and feelings.” Othello Bach

“It might seem that the writer needs a gift of mimicry, like an impersonator, to achieve this variety of voices. But it isn’t that. It’s more like what a serious actor does, sinking self in character-self. It’s a willingness to be the characters, letting what they think and say rise from inside them. It’s a willingness to share control with one’s creation.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“A story involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality. I lent some stories to a country lady who lives down the road from me, and when she returned them, she said, ‘Well, them stories just gone and shown how some folks would do,’ and I thought to myself that that was right; when you write stories, you have to be content to start exactly there—showing how some specific folks will do, will do in spite of everything.” Flannery O’Connor

“People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer’s assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time.” Ernest Hemingway

“My characters never show the depth of my feelings and they would be wrong if they did. You have to leave space for the reader’s feelings to meet yours.” John Fowles

“To have sympathy for any character, you have to put a good deal of yourself in him.” Flannery O’Connor

“The writer’s characters must stand before us with a wonderful clarity, such continuous clarity that nothing they do strikes us as improbable behavior for just that character, even when the character’s action is, as sometimes happens, something that comes as a surprise to the writer himself. We must understand, and the writer before us must understand, more than we know about the character; otherwise neither the writer nor the reader after him could feel confident of the character’s behavior when the character acts freely.” John Gardner

“I can only tell you that if you see a character starting to breathe, you do not shut him up, you do not sit on him, and you do not ship him out. You stay with him.” Martin Cruz Smith

“Characterization is the presentation of the nature of the people in a story. Characterization is really the presentation of motives. We understand a person if we understand what makes him act the way he does.” Ayn Rand

“Also, when you begin writing, write only as much as you are sure of. Do not force your characters into artificial behavior. . . . If you do not know what a character would do or say, you simply have to give it some more thought.” Ayn Rand

“Work them until they breathe, or as Faulkner said, until ‘they suddenly stand up and cast a shadow.’” Ulf Wolf

“I have a warm feeling for all of my characters, even the bad guys, and when I finish a book I often find myself thinking about them, wondering what they’re doing, maybe sitting around like mannequins waiting for me.” Elmore Leonard

“A novel that is at all complex often requires flat people as well as round, and the outcome of their collisions parallels life . . . accurately.” E.M. Forster

“If you know everything about your characters, then you will always succeed in visualizing them for the reader in one way or another, even if you never resort to a descriptive sentence.” William Sloane

“For me, what happens to characters as a story progresses depends solely on what I discover about them as I go along—how they grow, in other words.” Stephen King

“Novelists may wish to indulge the worst kind of totalitarian whims directed against the freedom of their characters. But often as not, they scheme in vain, for characters always manage to evade one’s all-seeing eye long enough to think thoughts and utter dialogue one could never have come up with if plot were all there were.” Thomas Pynchon

Monday, January 25, 2010

Seat of the Pants Character

I confess I’m a seat of the pants writer. I start a book with a general idea of the story and am often surprised by the twists and turns that show up between Chapter One and The End. But, until recently, I didn’t realize that I used a similar approach to character development.

What does that look like? Well, instead of using complicated character charts that detail everything from shoe size to food allergies, I let my characters emerge from the story in a more organic way. Not that character charts are bad. I have nothing against that method. It just doesn’t work for me.

Since I’m about to start a new project, I thought I’d give you a snippet of how this works for me.

In the first chapter my character, Julien, is going to get in a street fight late at night. That’s a plot point really, but what can I learn about my character from it? Here are a few possible character traits that might emerge from Julien’s altercation.

1. Julien is not a coward.
2. Julien probably doesn’t spend most nights at home reading by the fire. OR,
maybe he does. Maybe the fight is totally OUT of character for him.
3. Julien may have one of the following:
a. A strong sense of justice
b. A hot temper
c. Really bad luck

No matter what traits I choose to ascribe to Julien through this plot point process, I cannot fail to deepen his character. And, the next time Julien comes up against a similar situation, I have a precedent for his reaction. Viola—seat of the pants character development.

So tell me, how do you prefer to develop character? Do charts and character exercises work for you? Or, do you get to know your character as you write?

Evangeline Denmark has storytelling on her heart and in her
blood. The daughter of novelist, Donita K. Paul, Evangeline grew up
living and breathing good stories. Now she enjoys creating stories of her own. She has co-authored two children's books that are under contract with Waterbrook Press and writes novels as well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Deep, Dark Secrets

I have secrets. Secrets that one or two of my closest soul mates may know, but that I intentionally keep hidden from the rest of the world. Are you curious?

The truth is we all have skeletons in our closets. They take on many forms—past wounds, previous mistakes, missed opportunities. These things are part of us. We may have let them go. We may have been healed from them. They may no longer weigh on us and hold us back, but they are still part of us in one way or another. They still shape how we see ourselves and the world around us.

I often know after reading the first chapter of a book whether or not I will connect with the main character. More often than not, I know after reading the first couple of pages. And in going back to examine the characters who have stuck with me and haunted my mind long after I put the book down, I have noticed that they are the characters who had secrets.

I read a recent example of this concept in Athol Dickson’s Winter Haven. Here are the main character’s thoughts eight pages into the book:

“I allowed myself to dream of Siggy. Knowing I was going to collect his body, it seemed safe enough to let my brother in again, or so I told myself. Of course I really knew there was no safety in my memories.”

Isn’t that a powerful line? Though it’s only a simple sentence, it reveals so much. It tells us that this woman has past wounds, and that they’re so painful she still feels them years later. This simple revelation made me want to keep reading. To get to know her. To learn what had hurt her so deeply. To discover what she’s still running from.

Another great example is found in Lisa McKay’s My Hands Came Away Red. The opening lines in this book gripped me and threw me straight into the character’s world.

“It only takes a day and a half for the dreams to find me again. I wake just before dawn sweating and shaking, the sheets all tangled around my legs. I can’t get back to sleep. If I close my eyes, I can see the flames and hear the voices.”

Right away I had to know what happened to her. I had to read her story.

What about you? Can you think of examples like this? Characters who revealed the smallest secret that hooked you in the beginning of the story? It’s a simple way to give your characters more depth and intrigue. Give them secrets and keep the reader guessing.

A lifelong storyteller, Sara Richardson is passionate about communicating reasons for hope. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, an Internet communications manager, and a whitewater rafting guide. In addition to writing fiction, Sara has published nonfiction articles in parenting and family magazines. As a member of MOPS International, Sara enjoys speaking to moms’ groups. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University. Visit her at

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What makes a Character?

When I was a kid, my mom used to say I was "quite a character" when she introduced me to her adult friends. I would smile and blush, and shuffle my feet around a bit, embarrassed by her flattery of my obvious gifts and abilities.

Only many years later did I learn that being a "character" isn't always a compliment.

This month, as we explore characterization, perhaps we should understand what a character is. Many of you are probably rolling your eyes just about now -- really, everyone knows what a character is, right? So go ahead, define it. Just what makes someone, or something, a character?

Our first reaction is to say it's a person who appears in your book. And that would be right. But what about if your book doesn't have any people? Maybe the story is told through a dog's eyes. Okay, so a character can be an animal.

If you read "The Old Man and the Sea", you will also discover a character can be a thing, as in this story, the sea, is. A book about mountain climbing could have the mountain carrying the job of being a character.

A character is any one or any thing that moves the story forward. It doesn't have to be a person. It doesn't even have to be a living thing. A character simply must move the story forward.

When you create characters that are people, it can be easy to get to know them, to use some of the techniques described in other posts, such as asking them questions. But, when your characters aren't people, knowing them, and therefore, telling the story through them, can be more difficult.

If you've ever listened to Kids' Point on AM910 (KPOF) on Saturday mornings, Nature Corner teaches us a lot about getting to know our non-human or inanimate characters. Every Saturday Uncle Bob interviews something from nature. They have birds and fish and other animals, and sometimes they have a star, or a kind of rock, or coral. Cool stuff. And they give it a life, a voice, a personality.

Creating memorable inanimate or non-human characters requires you to give them the same things your human or animate characters already have -- a personality. Give them an attitude, a reason for being, a purpose in being in the story.

In a current WIP I'm working on, one setting is the Brown Palace. Older than dirt, that building has a history, an attitude, an air of regency, which I am weaving into my story. I want to draw the reader into a genteel time in the past, where people thought different than we do now, they acted different, they had different expectations. And one of the ways that time was manifested is in the Brown Palace.

Take a look at your current work in progress and see if there is a setting, a building, a mountain, an ocean, that can tell an element of the story from a different perspective. I'm not telling you to have talking cars in your story, but, hey, Stephen King had a best-seller based on the character of a car, Christine.

Characters are everywhere, and they aren't limited to people. Look for an undiscovered character in your story.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Interview Your Characters

Our local boards got together this past Saturday for our quarterly area board meeting. Several of us joked about these themes each month and remarked about our post days falling later in the month. What if all the topics were taken by the time it was our turn? Then, what would we write about?

I'm thankful this topic is so broad and so many different topics can branch off from it. Today, I'm focusing on a way you can flesh out any character and discover some amazing tidbits that will not only liven up your writing but will help your reader connect to your characters in ways you never imagined.

There are times when I joke with others I see or meet and say, "Be careful what you say. I might put you in a book." :) That comes from the fact that I often compile my characters from composites of people I know or have met at one time or another. I'm careful to not make any one character exactly like one person. Sort of like the "names have been changed to protect the innocent" clause. :) But, that's just one way I develop my characters.

A good friend and mentor, Tracie Peterson, once provided me with a long list of 100 interview questions that can be asked of any character. The first time I utilized this list, I was amazed at what I discovered of my characters. There were some surprising tidbits in their backgrounds that explained why they did or said what they did and why they reacted in certain manners.

Here are just some of those questions:


There are 88 other questions about their jobs, family, friends, place of work, place of birth, school records, and so much more.

This questionnaire has really helped me make my characters more real to me and my readers. After all, people connect with people. The same goes for readers connecting with a book. It's more than just the story. The people living that story have to be real too.

Now, it's your turn. What tips or tricks do YOU use to make your characters come alive?

Tiffany Amber Stockton is an author, online marketing specialist and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart. They have 1 daughter and a border collie. She has sold eight books so far to Barbour Publishing, is a columnist for the ACFW e-zine and writes other articles as well. Read more about her at her web site:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ah, the Joys of Writing...

***NOTE: only after I posted this did I realize that we had a theme this month of characterization. I don't have any excuses, other than I missed a memo... somewhere. So, since my brain is fried (after reading on, you'll understand why) just imagine that I'm writing a suspense-filled plot with an accountant whose author/client dies by bleeding to death from paper-cuts. ***

It's that time of year. Tax season.

Tomorrow morning, I have an appointment with my amazing accountant for all my business related (writing/author)"stuff." He's been handling all this for several years, and as the business has grown, I've had to learn A LOT. Last year, he told me that it was a good idea to purchase QuickBooks Pro for my "stuff."

This is what has happened since:

I went straight to Costco and purchased said program.

Six months later, I realized I better figure it out to input the mountain of receipts/deposits/inventory... i.e. "stuff."

Looked at it.

Decided it was complicated.

Went and brainstormed a new book instead.

Looked again at pile of receipts.

Felt guilty.

Called a QuickBooks expert trainer to come teach me. (Thankfully this person still likes me after that craziness.)

Was so proud of myself after getting everything into the amazing program.

Then... I went on a six-week book tour.

Returned mid-November to face unpacking, laundry, the holidays, homeschool, and several more speaking/appearances.

Avoided the monstrous pile awaiting entrance into QuickBooks.

Moved my office, re-organized, scrapbooked, wrote, blogged, wrote some more, i.e. - avoided my "stuff."

Today, there was no avoiding it. And after my amazing assistant and I discovered that I had input over 200 duplicate receipts, I spent hours deleting all the doubled-up entries.

I whined and complained. Dented my desk from banging my head on it. And then moved my purple "complaint free world" bracelet several times for my behavior.

Daughter Kayla - and my writing partner on our suspense series set in Alaska - came in smiling with a hug for me and said, "Mom, I wish I was old enough to help you, you're working too hard."

What an encourager. Sigh.

Wait a second... I'm imagining a new and complex math project for the kids for school...

No. That would be cruel and unusual punishment.

for more information on the "complaint free" bracelet check out
A Complaint Free World

Kimberley Woodhouse is a wife, mother, author, and musician with a quick wit and positive outlook despite difficult circumstances. A popular speaker, she’s shared at more than 600 venues across the country. Kimberley and her family's story have garnered national media attention for many years, but most recently her family was chosen for ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Montel Williams Show, and Discovery Health channel’s Mystery ER which premiered in 2008. Her story, Welcome Home: Our Family’s Journey to Extreme Joy, is available now from Focus on the Family/Tyndale Publishers. And be watching - Coming in 2011 is the first book in a three-book series set in Alaska, written with daughter, Kayla from B&H Publishers. Kimberley lives, writes, and homeschools in Colorado with her husband of eighteen years and their two children in their truly “extreme” home.
Check out Kim's Website to order her books!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Real" Characters

Even after making the schedule, I forgot to post last week when it was my turn. So . . . I'm slipping in here today to add my thoughts on characterization. (And hopefully I won't be so absent-minded next month!)

We've all read books where the characters literally jump off the page and become real-life people. As a young reader, that was Anne Shirley, better known as Anne with an "e" of Green Gables. And not only Anne, but Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Diana, and everyone else who peopled the pages of L. M. Montgomery's books.

Since then I've read other books where the characters were so real, I've caught myself praying for them as they work through their troubles on the written page. (Blushing a little here.) And wondering how they are doing for days or weeks after finishing the book.

As a writer, I want to accomplish the same thing for my readers—characters so real the reader believes they are.

In my current wip, I've based my main characters loosely on my maternal grandparents. In fact, the original idea came when my mother told me how they met, how my grandmother literally ran away to New York City to avoid giving in to the marriage plans of her Christian "superiors," and how my grandfather eventually went after her and convinced her to marry him. The romance intrigued me. However, once I started brainstorming, my bent for mystery came to the forefront and now I have an historical romantic suspense with very little, except my characters, sticking to the facts as Mom gave them to me.

Except in my mind my main characters need to act and react as I remember my grandparents acting and reacting. So . . . how to make them real? Every time I sat down to work on fleshing out these characters, I felt blocked. I had a plot. I had characters, but even to me, they were flat. Cardboard cutouts.

After taking several Nangie clinics at the Colorado and Philadelphia writers conferences, I knew how Angie Hunt likes to use the Meiers-Briggs personality inventory to create her characters. But the book containing those personalities intimidated me.

Then Jeff Gerke came out with his Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist. Since I had my plot first with this book, I checked it out. Complete with templates and questions to ask your character and the directed focus of the worksheet, it was an answer to this writer's prayer. And Jeff encourages the use of the Meier's-Briggs personality inventory. He also includes a short summary of each personality so I could narrow down my research to the few that seemed to fit my characters.

Now my characters are real to me. Which goes a long way toward making them real to my readers (which right now consists of my fabulous crit partners!). I highly recommend Jeff's book and template to help you develop your characters.

Have fun!

Marjorie Vawter is a freelance editor and writer. She currently serves as the ACFW Colorado Area Coordinator.

Monday, January 11, 2010

To Thine Own Self Be True

The above quote from William Shakespeare's Hamlet has two meanings for me. One that has to do with my writing journey and one that has to do with characterization, our theme for this month's blog posts.

On October 30th of last year I decided that I would work on a completely new project for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for those who were clueless like me). I threw all my other ideas out the window and pursued something that I was interested in - ice hockey. More specifically, the world of professional ice hockey. Thus, the first meaning of being "true to myself". I decided to write about something that was a passion for me.

Two days before writing was supposed to start, I scrambled to do research on my characters, setting, etc. I tried to do both throughout the first week, but the writing went faster than my research so I was filling in details about my characters as I went along. After that first week, I had the privilege of interviewing a woman in the NHL who has the same job as my protagonist. This led to my next dilemma.

What should I do when the plan I had for my character collided with the reality of my research? Do I tell myself that it is called "fiction" for a reason and who is going to know if my character would never behave that way or couldn't possibly do that on the job? What is my obligation to my sources to be true to the things they shared about their profession?

As a writer, I was faced with these questions about how or if my research would affect my characterization. I had to answer for myself not only how would I feel when the people I had interviewed during the course of my research read my book and saw that I had distorted or discounted what they had told me, but how important was it to me to be realistic in my portrayal of a character in their profession. Would I be true to reality even though I am writing fiction or would I go for "creative license" and write what worked for my story? Not only that, but as a Christian, what do my answers say about my perspective on the truth and how does that reflect on my integrity?

The complete quote from Hamlet is as follows:

"This above all: to thine own self be true.
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

I decided to be true to my character. To make her as real as possible. As research revealed more about what choices my character would make in her profession, I used that information to make my character one who is believable to those who are familiar with that world. Even though only a handful of people might know if it was true or not. It matters to me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Characterization - Show, Don't Tell

I'm staring at this blank screen while I crunch popcorn covered with left-over nacho cheese sauce from my kids' New Year's Eve party, a party which was attended by 13 people under 21, and not a single adult besides my husband and me.

I suppose it could have been different with a little effort on my part. All it would have taken was some brain power directed at what I wanted instead of using up my energy making sure each of my children had at least one special friend coming and that the house was adequately stocked with junk food and a huge kettle of healthy soup. If I'd taken a moment to identify and invite a few friends, the evening might have included something for me other than staring at my husband as the roar of teenagers emanated from the basement and vacuuming silly string out of the carpet until almost 2 a.m.

Then again, while I'm no sacrificial saint, I don't really look back on that evening with regret. Instead I feel the glow that grew inside when my son, with his broadening on-the-brink-of manhood shoulders, put his arm around me and said, "Thanks, Mom."

So what does my little story have to do with characterization? Pause a moment and think through everything you've surmised about me from those paragraphs. What all did you learn? (I'd love to hear about it in the comment section!)

In case you didn't guess, the above paragraphs attempted to help you know my character by SHOWING.

I could have just told you like this:

I'm a forty-four year old married mom of four who was bored on New Year' Eve 'cause my children had a bunch of friends over, but I didn't. I take mothering, hospitality, and homemaking seriously. I could learn to think a little more about my own wants and needs, but overall I'm pretty content creating memories for my children.

Both scenarios say close to the same thing, but I'll bet you connected a lot more with me when you discovered who I was as the story unfolded than you did when I simply told you how I perceive myself. I'll bet in the first scenarios there was an unconscious decision about whether or not you and I could be friends. You probably just blazed through the second scenario, bored.

Showing who a character is mirrors real-life relationships. As humans we connect with new friends as we watch them. We get to know their strengths, their quirks, and how they respond to life. We don't make a new friend because she says, "Hi, I'm a mother and wife with blond hair, green eyes, and four children. You can trust me." We deepen our relationship with someone because we've grown to trust them a little more as we've observed how they interact with their world. We offer friendship as we get to know them. And while we may appreciate that twinkle in our friend's green eyes, we'd love her no matter her eye color.

It's the same with a good book. We choose to engage on an emotional level with our characters not because we're told they are tall, dark and handsome, or pert and clever, but because we see how they respond to life and draw our own conclusions about who they are. It's FUN to get to know someone new, whether on the page or in the room with you. If we looked at them and instantly knew everything about them, it would spoil the adventure of pursuing them and glimpsing their heart a piece at a time. When we write we should invite our readers to befriend our heroes and heroines by SHOWING who they are.

Back to our examples. Often it's the little details that draw us into a character's world. It doesn't really matter that I eat left-over nacho sauce, but don't I feel more real to you because you know that? When we read these little details we subconsciously plug the information into our perception of the person. For example, I must not be too stuffy if I'm cleaning out the left-over cheese sauce from the fridge. And it's pretty certain that I'm not lactose intolerant or a granola mom who never allows junk food.

Those little details also bring up subconscious questions. Maybe you're wondering how heavy I am if I sit around eating cheese sauce. And just how much junk food are my kids allowed? Am I irresponsible with food? Or was the cheese sauce just a party treat? Or maybe I'm fairly balanced. After all I DID have a kettle of homemade soup on the stove next to the chips and dip.

But why was there silly string on the carpet? Do I have no authority in my home so my kids buy a mess in a can and destroy my carpet? Or maybe I'm a fun, easy going personality who BOUGHT the stuff thinking a few minutes of giggling chaos is worth the 45 it took to clean it up. Isn't it contradictory that I would be relaxed enough to allow silly string on the carpet, but instead of going to bed and leaving the mess I'm vacuuming at 2 a.m.?

Unless you know me pretty well, you don't know the answer to these questions. That's why you come over for a cup of tea and watch me for a while--or keep reading that novel to unlock the mystery of that character.

Let's think about the two scenarios again. In the first I told how my son, on the brink of manhood, noticed my efforts and thanked me. That said a lot about who I am. It said there was relationship between me and my kids. You felt the aching pride I had in my boy who is crossing the line to adulthood. You heard his kind words and saw his affection.

In the second scenario you don't know much about that. You know I tried hard to serve my kids, but you don't know why. Is it because I love them, or because I have a strong sense of mom duty? Do my kids interact with me, or am I just the servant who keeps the chip bowl refilled? Have I waited on my kids hand and foot resulting in self-serving egocentric brats, or do the kids see and appreciate my efforts?

This aspect of our example brings up an important component of showing in character development. How our character interacts with others and how they treat him says more about who he is than if we simply TOLD the reader. I could have written, "I have a good relationship with my kids who are grateful for the things I do," but you wouldn't have experienced it. If you don't experience it, you're never really sure if you can believe it. You also miss out on the joy of the moment. Wasn't it sweet to picture that big kid hugging on me?

Next time you set out to develop a character for your novel, think about showing him to your reader. Let his personality unfold through his responses to life, little details about him, and his relationships with others. If you do, you'll help your reader make a new friend.

Oh, and if you're wondering what I'm going to do now that my nacho sauce is gone, I'm headed to the living room where I recently found silly string dried onto the light fixture.

A writer, speaker, and homeschooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God’s grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website, Soul Scents, offers a free weekly devotional, and you can visit her blog at GraceReign. Paula serves as president of HIS Writers, the north Denver ACFW chapter. A devoted Pride and Prejudice fan, she loves good conversation, peppermint ice cream, and walking barefoot. Her greatest desire is to be close enough to Jesus to live His fragrance.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Minor Characters That Strike a Chord

So, if it wasn't hard enough to develop your main characters, now it's necessary to pull your minor characters off the page! Why? I don't know. I heard that somewhere.

And ever since I heard it, I've worked at making those walk-ons people the reader wants to get to know better. At least, that's the goal.

So, how do you give depth to a character that is in only one scene? Well, in Merely Players, (currently available through Amazon in the 3-in-1 bundle, Florida Weddings) I had a character show up in the last quarter of the book. He was a helicopter pilot tasked by the hero to take him over a hurricane devastated area so he could find the girl he nearly left behind--for the second time. At first, I wrote this character into a long scene that I had to cut, so I knew quite a bit about him by the time I was through. In the end, instead of spouting off about his war missions, I simply gave him a ball cap that read "POW-MIA Lest We Forget." Now, we instantly know that since he's flying a Vietnam era copter and has that hat on, this man has a history. He's not just a flat walk-on.

In God Gave the Song, available here, I had a blast creating a gaggle of hippies, all fifty-ish women who still went by the names Lark, Daisy, Saffron, Quail, and Emerald Dawn. Oh, and Agnes, who, according to the hero, Skye, could have benefited from a flowery name.

In the following excerpt, I use description to give an earthy, tie-dyed, groovy picture of the Bohemian flock:

Paul noticed Skye and shook his hand. “Hey, glad you could make it. Ruthanne called me to say you were coming.” He looked down at her. “I notified the girls.”

Her hand flew to her open mouth. “You didn't!”

Skye looked at Ruthanne and then at Paul. “The girls?”

Ruthanne's gaze darted around the foyer as she placed her hand on Skye's arm. “Four of Hannie's friends. They are remarkable artisans and have sort of formed a club with Hannie as their leader.”

“What? Like the Ya-Ya Crafthood?”

“Something like that. They're all about the same age and—”

“There he is!”

Skye turned at the sound of a woman fast approaching him, her sandaled feet slapping the tiled floor. Short, burgundy hair adorned her head, and she seemed weighted down with the turquoise jewelry around her neck and on each finger. Three other women trailed after her like naturally greying tails on a brightly colored kite.

Oh, great! Granola-fueled earth mothers.

For a visual on how this is done, watch Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Jimmy Stewart has a broken leg and to pass the time, he watches his apartment dwelling neighbors out his window. We never meet any of the minor characters that he observes, but we know all about them by their actions. The most poignant being the one nicknamed Miss Lonely Heart, who can't seem to get an even break with the men she brings home. Just when it looks like she's about ready to kill herself with pills, a song drifts into the courtyard from the musicians that Stewart is also watching. She stops and listens to the song, and we know that she's decided not to commit suicide. Later, we see her in the apartment with the band, telling them how much she loves that song, and we know the song saved her life.

Minor characters should have their own song to sing, and it's up to us, the writers, to allow them their spotlight.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Out with the Old, In with the New

I’m sitting in our Mesa, AZ, condo watching the Parade of Roses, our New Year’s Day tradition. Soon my hubby will start clicking back and forth to “check out” the football games. All part of the tradition.

And before anyone thinks, “Wow! How on earth does she rate a second home in sunny, warm Arizona?”, let me explain. Roger works for a company based in South Carolina. They build churches all over the country. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many jobs for them in Colorado, so he travels . . . a lot. Which means I do, too. Good thing editing and writing is portable, right? Anyway, the church pays all his living expenses while he’s on a job . . . hence the condo. J They also pay for either me to travel to where he is for a couple of weeks each month, or for Roger to come home for a weekend every other weekend when I can’t leave because of other responsibilities that keep me home.

I love the beginning of a new year. With my birthday on New Year’s Eve, I tend to reflect on the past year and set some goals for the year ahead. This week, the Lord directed my attention to a passage in Isaiah 43. (I saw it first on Kathy Kovach’s status on Facebook and borrowed it for my own.)

“Forget about what's happened; don't keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new. It's bursting out! Don't you see it? There it is! I'm making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Isaiah 43:18–19)

While in many ways 2009 was a good year, it still was a difficult year on a personal level. It was a year-long ordeal of distractions and derailments from best-laid plans and intentions to write more and keep up with reading as well as editing. Yet as I look back, I can see the Lord’s hand in it all.

There were times I wanted to throw out all my goals and best intentions and start over with a new career. Except the Lord kept using many of you to remind me that the race isn’t easy, but it is worth it all the trials when we persevere in the call the Lord has on us. Including writing.

One thing I’ve learned this year, and I’m not perfect by any means, is to put the past in the past, forget it, and move on . . . looking forward, keeping my eyes on Jesus, the goal. I can’t change the past, much as I might like to. But God does work all things together for my good and His glory. And when I do this, I experienced the blessed relief of His peace.

So I invite you to join me in putting 2009 (and all other previous years) in the past and focus on the goal of Christlikeness, placing all our goals, including our writing-related ones, in God’s hands to work as He sees best. For some of us, it may mean we need to lay aside some dreams for a while. For others, it will mean we need to persevere in spite of obstacles and distractions.

Whatever 2010 has for us, we can know that God is totally in control . . . and He is working all things for our good and His glory. I hope you will join me in declaring with the apostle Paul: “By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us” (Philippians 3:13–15 The Message).

Marjorie Vawter, the ACFW Colorado Area Coordinator, is a freelance editor and writer.

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