Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Great Characters Are Like Peanut Butter...

Our stories should be “protein” that grows and changes along with the reader, according to Ms. Yolen.  I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to the multi-award winning children’s writer who has penned over 200 books at the local children’s book festival.

Like most kids, I grew up on the PB&J diet.  Nearly every day of my school career I gobbled my white bread sandwich with Oxhart peanut butter and grape jelly.  Thankfully, naturally peanut butter has improved…in those days the end of the jar resulted in a few dry as sawdust sandwiches.

In my thirties, I still love peanut butter, but my tastes have “refined” some over the years.  Now my tastes run towards Molten Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter filling or Chicken Pad Thai from my favorite Thai restaurant.

Now granted my choice of Molten Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter filling probably isn’t the best choice for adding protein to my diet, but when Jane Yolen shared that our stories should “grow up” with us, I pondered favorite stories of my childhood.

One of my favorite children’s books is Charlotte’s Web.  As a child I read this book and marveled at the bravery of Charlotte.  As I got older I pondered what it really means to be a selfless friend like Charlotte.  As a mother myself, I lament the death of Fern’s innocence even as I know such a loss will happen in my own daughter’s life.

At every age and stage, I have delighted in the characters.  We groan over the selfishness of Templeton, have a tissue-box moment when Wilbur is told by the sheep of his future fate, and delight in laughing at the antics of all of the animals.

Charlotte’s Web is truly a nourishing read, one from which I gain something new at every stage of life in which I read it. 

I also read a certain series of books about teenage babysitters as a preteen.   These books were what I would call “twaddle” or idle chatter.  We’ve all read and enjoyed these books at times, but is there any sustaining value?  And would I gain any new insights into those babysitters if I picked those books up again?  I doubt it.

I can only speak for my own experience, but in truly memorable books, it is often the characters that stand out to me. 

How can we create memorable characters that will grow with the reader?

1)    1)   Give your main character a memorable name.
Atticus Finch
Simon Legree
Rhett Butler
Tom Joad
Lennie Small

Characters that we remember tend to have an unusual name or a name with a particular meaning behind it, especially if the meaning is in some way symbolic to the story.

I love using http://www.babynamefinder.com/ to discover new character names.

2)     2)  Give your characters unusual characteristics that will be associated with them alone.

We immediately associate Miss Havisham from Great Expectations with her unshakeable obsession to continue to wear her wedding dress many years after her sweetheart has left her life.

Who else but Dr. Watson carries a stethoscope under his top hat?

3) Give your characters an unique voice.

Anne Shirley is known for her excessive prattling and "eloquent" language.

Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby is a narrator we're never sure we fully trust.  He complains incessantly about the other characters in the novel, yet spends all his time hanging around with them.

4) Great characters are "protein" themselves, growing and changing throughout the story.

In the CBA market we are looking for the character to demonstrate growth spiritually and emotionally.  A good example of this would be Charity in A Passion Redeemed who undergoes a complete transformation in the hands of Julie Lessman.

Another great example is Morrow from Courting Morrow Little as she progresses and grows to understand the true meaning of forgiveness.

What sets your character apart from all the others out there?  Or, do you have a favorite character in literature that has changed and grown with you?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rooting Your Characters in Their Setting

 I am a lover of nature. Snapping pictures of my favorite characters (my family!) in natural landscapes is a favorite past time of mine. The best pictures inevitably happen when I can get a candid shot of my boys interacting with the "setting" not just giving me a big smile with the natural beauty in the background.

Every time I sit down and write, I find myself wanting to describe the environment with vivid imagery and paint the stage with an elaborate set.
My biggest challenge is to not get carried away with a two page description and leaving the character behind!

As I have been hammering away at my latest wip I've tried to be very aware of my tendency to do this. Here are some before and after examples to show you what I mean:
The skies were dull and forging rain clouds as we made a quiet procession home.

Dull skies forging rain clouds mirrored my spirit as we made a quiet procession home.

I think it is more worth it to the reader to use the setting as a device for developing the character.

I carried Ina on my hip, her brown skin blending with my own. We stepped onto our land, carpeted with red earth. 

Our skin blended together, a deeper shade of the red earth which carpeted our land. And when I stepped out into the new day, my feet began to dress themselves in the dust.

I feel like this grounds (no pun intended :) ) the character to her setting, by actively using the setting in a physical way.

I am still finding it a challenge to keep the constant flow between the elements of my story, but when I allow myself to construct and reconstruct sentences for that final punch, it makes the writing wrestle so much fun!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

Are you still stuffed? I know with all the leftovers lying around my house, I won't be hungry for the rest of the month. :-) Any special memories made this year around the dinner table? We had friends over and shared the afternoon over chicken (yeah don't go there, don't even try) and pie and of course, praising God for what we are most thankful for.

And now the frenzy of the second half of the holiday season has started. I don't know about you, but I get dizzy just thinking about it. But as you race from one store to the other, be not quick to forget the peace and joy of the day before and the thankfulness that filled your heart. Don't lose sight of that.

Now... what's up the street....

Monday: Find you with Angie how to mix in the perfect amount of setting with the depth of your characters and what will affect them.

Tuesday: Remember reading books when you were young? It probably planted that deep seated desire to make your own one day. Julia shares that this week with a post:  Protein Stories: What I Learned about Writing Healthy Fiction from Prolific Children's Author Jane Yolen.

Wednesday: Sarah's post for today is Writing Lessons from the Bachelor. Check it out to find out what Sarah will be sharing. :-)

Thursday: The Quixotic Pull of Your Future Novel Wendy explores the ease of being seduced by new characters when the old ones just. won't. cooperate. Anyone relate here?

Friday: What do your characters want for Christmas?? Cindy gives you a list of handy tips for finding out the inspiration and motivations behind the "whys" of your characters.

Alley news flash!
Julia has been selected to write Christian historical fiction review for Historical Novel Society!


Just a few more days until NaNoWriMo month is over! How is your word count coming along?

Freelance Writing Courses is holding a Christmas Writing Contest. Prizes include gift certificates to courses offered by Freelance.

Sandra Byrd author of adult and YA fiction will be on Operation Encourage an Author this coming week.

Julia entertains author Cathy Bryant on Dark Glass Ponderings with an interview and giveaway on December 1st.

Do you like bookmarks? Casey has a whole bundle she would love to share with you! Just email her with your mailing address if interested. All bookmarks are for Christian fiction

Mary is hosting Christian fantasy author, Bryan Davis on Monday and Tuesday on her blog

Enter to win The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund on Writing for Christ this week.

And we leave you to enjoy your weekend with a Ally Cat/Seeker sighting! (to steal a Seekerville term. :-)

Debra Marvin, Ruth Logan Herne, Julia, Joy Tamsin David at a book signing in NY for Ruth's fiction.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday: What's on YOUR list?

 It's 2 a.m.

Some of you are still snug in your bed... blissfully unaware of the chaos.

Others of you are turning off your alarm and searching for your tennis shoes and jeans in the dark, trying not to wake your spouse who thinks you are an utter moron.

Still others of you are in a sleeping bag. On the sidewalk. Outside Best Buy or ToysRUs.

Me? Well, I'm not sure what I'm doing yet. I'm writing this a week earlier and my plans are unclear. *Usually* I'm a 4 or 5 a.m.er. Not crazy enough to camp out, but just a touch of lunacy where I do get up an insane hour to go get a few good deals.

It's the thrill of the hunt. The ability to say, I woke up early, I saw, and dad gum it I GOT IT! This year, well, this year sleep is more valuable than normal. But so is money. I'm still tossing around my plans. We'll see.

Because yes, it's Black Friday, folks. Gotta love it.

So as we turn our thoughts toward Christmas and gift-giving, I thought I'd give ideas to add to your list.

This is...

The Writer's Christmas List.
  1. The NOOK Wi-Fi eReader. Best Buy Black Friday: $99.99
  2. MacBook. Best Buy Black Friday: $999.99 plus $100 gift card.
  3. Limited Edition RED WII!!! (Seriously, we sit around writing all day, this IS A NEED! Red stimulates... uh, brain cells so we can write better! Yeah!) -- Best Buy Black Friday - $199.99
  4. 26 cubit feet French Door Stainless Steel Refrigerator - Only $1799!!! We need food people... Subsidence! And a nice pretty fridge to keep it in and hang all our rejection... er acceptance letters!
  5. Canon EOS 60D SLR Camera! Holy Cow, this thing is a MUST HAVE for all your research trips!!! Or even when you're in the mall and spot that PERFECT hero figure and need to snap a few pictures. Careful to be discreet thought. No need getting arrested for stalking... Only $1299.99!!!
  6. Karaoke anyone??? ToysRUs has one for sale for $49.99!! A GREAT way to unwind after a hard day of making our character's lives miserable!
  7. Starbucks gift card. A no-brainer. Even us non-coffee drinkers can enjoy this... great hot chocolate too!
  8. Apple 8GB Ipod Nano -- Target has them for $145 with a $15 gift card. Music is a great way to calm down and get in the "mood" to write. Totally a tax write-offable gift too, right?!?
  9. TomTom GPS -- $79.99 at Target. A must have for all those car trips to conferences and book-signings and writer's groups!
  10. And the top thing on EVERY writer's Christmas Wish List -- A 6-figure advance book contract.
We can dream right?!?

What's on YOUR Christmas list this year? Go ahead. Dream big. (Just don't get your hopes up...)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Gift of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving only comes around once a year and is more than just a chance to gorge on pie and stuffing. It is a moment to truly reflect on what God has given us. As writers we have amazing creative minds. You don't have to be published to be able to put words onto a computer screen. To have characters "talk" to us and speak the words of their story until it refuses to allow us anything but the utmost desire to put words down, to release them through our fingers.

On today, the biggest day to give thanks in America, think about who you are giving thanks to. And what all He has given you. We are special, created in His image, a one of a kind creation. Don't waste what He has blessed you with.

May I pray?

Dear Heavenly Father,

On the day when the succulent smells of the holiday fill the home accompanied by love and laughter of those dear to us, may it be a time of contemplation and thanksgiving. In each and every one of us is something special. Be it the ability to write, the desire to spread Your word or the gift of ministering for You in the workplace, whatever it is, I ask that we would be made keenly aware of it. And give thanks and praise for the gifts You have bestowed.

As the family gathers around the table, as stories are shoved to the back of the mind may we take the experience around us and turn them into inspiration for our novels. Plant that bit of dialogue, the characteristics or motivation before our eyes to be filed away as fodder for a later date.

But more than anything Lord may we be continually reminded today and always that the outpouring of words comes directly from You. We are nothing without the Fount of all love, grace and wisdom. You are the reason we write. And may that never be forgotten.

All thanks and giving unto to You today Lord. All praise on this day!

In Jesus' Name,

May this Thanksgiving be filled with love, laughter...and the bounty of God's grace.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Writers Thanksgiving List

I was the last one to say my topic for this week.  The others snatched all the humor, comedy, and tickle your funny bone ideas before an idea popped into my head. I chose to be the serious one.  

Someone had to get real. Who would uphold the tradition and consider the true meaning of Thanksgiving for writers anxious to take a break from their work to be enlightened, encouraged, and/or empowered with a stimulating post? 

So, here is my Thanksgiving List dedicated to you, our beloved readers and my fellow contributors (Pepper, Casey, Sherrinda, Krista, Angie, Julia, Sarah, Cindy, and Wendy)

I am thankful for.......because

Mosquitoes: Consider the invigorating exercise you get as those buggers hum by your ears, (just the thought makes me want to flail my arms), and the fresh oxygen to your circulatory system...hear those fresh ideas humming into your brain?

Traffic Jams:  Hours and hours of listening to your favorite radio station or CD.  How relaxing. 

Math Tests and Doing Taxes:  Stumbling through line by line details...great for enhancing editing skills. 

Crowded Shopping Malls: Golden opportunity to bump into a future character for your WIP...perhaps the villain.

Blizzards: Even when the power goes out, families and friends come together.

Writing Partners/Crit Groups/Blog Contributors: Who else would we purposefully ask to slice and dice our work and thank afterwords? 

Seriously, I am most thankful for Jesus 
and what He did for us.

Let us know what you're thankful for..
humor is very acceptable :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Top Ten Ways To Get Word Count In During The Holidays

For those of you who are attempting to write 50,000 words during the month of November for NaNoWriMo, you might be wondering how to get your word count in during the busy Thanksgiving Holiday. Well, I'm here to tell you...I don't know. Seriously, I'm so far behind on my word count that I've been wracking my brains, trying to figure it out myself.

After a bit of brainstorming, here are a few ways I've come up with:

  1. Get up early and stay up late. Yeah, I don't like this one either. It makes your Cranky Pants beg to come out of the closet. Maybe do one or the other, but still, it's not optimum if you are having family come in. Sometimes these get-togethers are stressful enough without the bad attitude that comes with little sleep.
  2. Hole up in your room during the Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day. Hubby won't mind...he'll be yelling at the tube with the guys anyway.
  3. Have your witty cousin write your story for you while you take a nap and sleep off the turkey "sleep" hormones. What? Not everyone has a creative family member? Awww, that's so sad.
  4. Cry "Headache" when the family wants to go see the traditional Thanksgiving Day movie, then whip out a couple of #1k1hr sessions while they are gone.
  5. Be strong and say a huge NO to the Black Friday shopping spree. Spend the early morning hours writing, and be thankful you still have your fingers! There are some crazy shoppers out there that will scratch and claw for their bargains.
  6. Claim that you are really, really tired from all the cooking and go to bed early, sneaking your laptop into bed with you. The family will want to stay up watching movies and eating, while you get some quiet time to write.
  7. If you live in Texas like I do, you can go sit in the piles of leaves in the backyard and write, surrounded by the pretty fall foliage. (Notice I did not say beautiful. Hey, it's Texas...not Boston!)
  8. Say you have to run to the store for last minute food items. Sit in the parking lot with your laptop and write for an hour or two. You can claim the supermarket was packed with last minute shoppers!
  9. Ditch the traditional huge Thanksgiving meal and have turkey or ham sandwiches. You can buy Little Debbie snacks for dessert...or little fruit turnovers if you are feeling sad about not having pie. A new tradition is set and instead of cooking, you have time to write!!!
  10. Just give in, forget NaNo, and enjoy Thanksgiving with the family. It only comes around once a year and NaNo is just a motivational tool anyway. No monetary prize involved. I set the rules, right?
So there you have it, my Top Ten ways to get some word count in during the holidays. What kind of tricks do you have for writing during the Thanksgiving holiday?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gather Round the Fiction Table - A Character's Perspective

It wasn’t your typical Thanksgiving lunch. In fact, not one living person was present. Just us fictional characters. We’d decided to get together while the computer was turned off and the author couldn’t rearrange our lives any more. Not that she had much power anyway. We had minds of our own. Sigh.

Sure, she started a sketchy plot, developed some general physical guidelines, typed the words on the page, but after that…once she breathed personalities into us – well, it was only a matter of time before we took over the stories.

I've never understood why she puts so much conflict into our stories. It felt unending. Conflict, conflict, conflict. One of her favorite writing quotes is ‘conflict is at the heart of a good story.”

Bad news if you're a character.

So I called together some of the heroine’s to discuss this unfair life over a little Thanksgiving dinner.

“I haven’t been to a Thanksgiving meal in eight years.” Dr. Adelina Roseland said, her face glowing with excitement. “Thank you for inviting me, Eisley. I know you must stay busy as a single-mom of three, but you always seem to have time to entertain.”

I shrugged. Entertain? Yep, with a lot of unintentional comedy involved. “It’s my pleasure. I think it’s such a treat to get together from the author’s different genre, and time periods.” I nodded toward Ashleigh in full Edwardian attire. “We can certainly celebrate too.”

“Exactly. A brilliant notion.” Asheigh Dougall unpinned her broad-rimmed hat and revealed a mass of dark curls underneath. She had a sweet smile, but it never seemed complete. Like a piece of her was missing. I wonder if the author has even discovered the missing piece yet. Sometimes we surprise her halfway through the story with our little secrets. I love it when that happens. "Though we don't celebrate Thanksgiving in England, I can always think of something to be thankful for. Of what have you to be thankful?”

“I’m thankful that there isn’t one piece of red meat on the table.” Sophia Quinn sighed back into her chair and rolled her dark eyes up to the ceiling. Some of the other characters said she was a vampire slayer, but that couldn’t be right. The author would never write a story about vampires. It must be a literary term. Like code name for vegetarian feminist or something like that. “I see enough blood in my job, the less I have to look at it the better.”

Ashleigh’s fork filled with chicken salad stopped in mid-air and lowered back to her plate. I think all the blood-talk kind of got to her.

“Well, I’m thankful the author finally finished writing chapter three in my story.” Adelina shook her head. “How long does it take one person to write a few pages?”

“You must be teasing, luv.” Ashleigh stirred her tea, her face a mirror of understanding. “You do realize the author wrote my story eight years ago and has revised it so many times I don’t even know the ending. Besides that, she’s changed the spelling of my name twice and my sister’s name three times. Poor girl, I attribute it to her…um…what did you call it, Eisley?”




“No, I think you once referred to it as creative divergence. Yes, that’s right. Although all of the above are most likely involved.”

“If I was that indecisive in my job, I’d be dead.” Sophie grimaced and grabbed a spoonful of mixed fruit. “I’m sure I could write a much better story than she can.”

“No worries,” I said. “Whatever the ending, it will be a happy one. She always writes happy endings.”

“Sure she does.” Came Sophie’s sarcastic reply. “I’m trying to be thankful here, but my story ending doesn’t look promising. I don’t know how she gets to the ending, because she’s skipped about fifteen chapters to write the last one – and it doesn’t look pretty.”

Ashleigh laughed. “You’re only a first draft, Sophie. There are no certainties at this point. Not even an ending at all. Just be thankful you’ve not been stashed into the...” Ashleigh lowered her voice to a whisper. “The drawer.”

I cringed and Adelina dropped her fork with a clang against the table.

“Now, Ashleigh, don’t go passing along horror stories.” I placed my arm on Sophie’s shoulder, but she pulled away. She wasn’t the huggy sort. “Just because a story goes into the drawer doesn’t mean it won’t come out again. She resurrected one just for my contemporary romance. My story has been the most revised, I think. Four times through for a complete revision, and about seven to ten full edits. This last edit, she cut out about fifty pages from the original story. I felt my life getting shorter with each cut. Sometimes I wonder what in print she’s doing.”

“But your ending is still good.” Adelina chimed in. “I don’t even know what my ending is going to be, and I’m a little nervous about all these notes the author keeps taking about a submerged vehicle.”

“Precisely.” Ashleigh snapped her napkin onto the table. “She has four books on the Lusitania alone and a preposterous amount of notes on its sinking. Unless I’m wrong, I’m the only historical character at the table. This does not bode well for me at all.”

“Now guys, I know the author wants to write for the glory of God. That has to help us deal with whatever she throws at us, right? I mean, she wants our stories to send a message of God’s love to the readers.”

“That is something for which to be thankful, luv. Our stories are part of a much bigger plan, even if we can't see the outcome directly in front of us.”

“But wait a minute.” Sophie leaned forward, her unearthly emerald eyes catching the faint sunlight glimmering through the window. “The author’s own story isn’t so much different than ours then, is it?”

“What do you mean?”

We all leaned closer.

“She doesn’t know the ending of her story, not the exact ending – but she’s trusting Someone much bigger than herself to make her story a testimony of God’s love too.”

I smacked my forehead. Why didn’t I think of that. “That’s right.”

“Are you saying, God is the author of our author’s story?” Ashleigh’s smile bloomed complete this time.

“She must be very certain of his love for her.” Dee whispered and averted her gaze to the window.

“I bet she wonders what God is doing in her life sometimes, just like we wonder what in paperback she’s doing in ours.” I reached for a drumstick and shook it at each one of them. Ashleigh looked horrified. “But in the end, she does remember His love for her – and that’s why she can…” I swallowed hard. “She can be thankful for the good and bad that comes into her life.”

Ashleigh dabbed at the corner of her eyes with a dainty handkerchief. “God showed his love through the life of his Son. The most beautiful love story of all time. Despite German torpedoes, or unruly cattlemen, or exhausting ex-husbands, and…” Ashleigh lifted a brow toward Sophie. “Toothy undead. The author believes her faith, her assurance in a love like that, will be painted with literary brushstrokes through the stories of our lives – so that others can see Jesus in us.”

“As she’s learning how to trust God with her own story, she’s writing ours.” It made everything a little clearer – and a whole lot easier to bear. Our stories, even our pain, had a purpose.

“If she can trust God with her story. “ Sophie sighed, a surrender-sigh. “Maybe we should be thankful we can trust her with ours.”


"It's the ultimate happily-ever-after." Dee offered.

“Well, I’m glad we’ve settled that.” I unveiled the cake in the center of the table. “Now it’s time for sweets.”

“Chocolate for dessert.”

I laughed. “Really girls, is any other kind?”

I Peter 1: 3-9

6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Thanks for reading to the end. Sorry for the long post. It's very difficult to write short scenes :-) Hope you enjoyed. So what are your characters saying about you?

Blessings from our Alley to yours. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

Is everyone ready for Thanksgiving? Shopping list prepared? Maybe some food stuffs already purchased? The meal planned and friends and family invited?

It is just around the corner and is my favorite holiday. Not just the yummy food, but the closeness of family and the joy of sharing a day what we are thankful.

Life may have struggles and times when we wish we were anywhere else, and we can forget the good things God has in store all around us. Let's not dwell so much on the negative this week as the positives that God has overflowed in our hearts and lives. So, what are you thankful for?

I am thankful for another week at the Alley and the wonderful people that make this such a wonderful place. :-)

Monday: Gather around the table with your characters (and Pepper!). Love, laughter all over a turkey dinner, I wonder just what is in store. With Pepper at the helm, you are sure to get a laugh or two. ;-)

Tuesday: NaNo, NaNo, have you heard the chants on the 'net? Sherrinda is right in the thick of it and hopefully will have a few spare minutes to squeeze her post in. :-)

Wednesday: What is a writer most thankful for? Being that it is Thanksgiving week, it only seems right that such would be the theme. Mary shares what a writer can be most thankful for. Maybe you'll find something you weren't thankful for before.

Thursday: Happy Thanksgiving! Casey will share Thanksgiving with you with a short post in honor of "turkey day"

Friday: Black Friday. Has an ominous ring doesn't it? Krista will make sure you are all ready for your wishlist and shopping watch with a list of a writer's most wished for items.

And the winners of last week's blog party are... While We're Far Apart...Jholden!!

And for Lassoed in Texas....Charlotte Kay!

Sarah on Every Woman's Journey continues her series on time saving tips while doing your holiday shopping.

Mary welcomes Chris Fabry to her blog  Monday and Tuesday to share a special Thanksgiving story with his son. Don't miss it!

Casey will be hosting Ava Pennington on Operation Encourage an Author

And tomorrow is Casey's blogoversary BLOWOUT! Prizes galore, and it ONLY lasts on Sunday. Winners announced later that night, so don't delay and save the page!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Secondary Characters – Side-Kicks, Friends/Family, and Recipes for Conflict Part II

Welcome to Friday everyone! I want to continue talking about secondary characters today, and discuss what they can do for your novels. In Part I of this post, I explained the four types of secondary characters and their importance to stories. Today, I'm going to review the categories and give a few movie examples of the categories to show the kind of dimension they can add to fiction.

Our first category was The Side-Kick/Loyal Friend. As we established before, these secondary characters are the tag-alongs or the MC's right-hand man. These characters are there for their friend no matter what. They often join the hero in their quest and want to be in the middle of the action. Sometimes these characters can be pets.

For example, D'Artagnan from The Three Musketeers. He's loyal and with the Musketeers no matter what. He won't give up and therefore propels the story with his fearless endeavor to do right.

Also, Marley (the dog) from Marley and Me. Another loyal character that acts as the MC's good friend. Marley's loyalty and penchant for action moves the plot forward and helps to make for a great story.

The Spiritual/Moral Friend (also known as the Self-less Friend) are characters, typically friends or family, who see the good side of things. They see the good in the bad and often make the MC want to persevere. They operate by a spiritual or moral compass that guides them to give the MC advice or encouragement that will benefit them or the greater good. These characters want what's best for the MC and are often willing to sacrifice for the hero or heroine.

Beth in Little Women fits well in this category. She's a strong secondary character that has a great impact on Jo with her optimistic outlook and unwavering friendship.

Also, the MC's good friend and lieutenant in the fire department from the movie Fireproof. He provides crucial spiritual guidance that helps the MC toward the positive outcome of the story.

As far as The Well-Intentioned and Flawed Friend, this character often provides tension release or humor. This character tends to help the hero in ways that gets them into more trouble or elicits more conflict even if they're well-intentioned. Through humor or quirkiness, they endear the reader and the MC but often times they leap before they think.

Two examples of this are the brother, Jonathan, from The Mummy and the MC's friend, Riley, from National Treasure. They're both one of the good guys. One is endlessly causing more trouble for the MC's but he's well-intentioned. The other provides much humor, endears those watching and propels the plot with his knowledge or sometimes lack thereof.

Finally, there's The Antagonist. Sometimes antagonists are secondary characters. When they're used in that capacity, they appeal to readers in some way. This is often by showing some sort of redeeming characteristic or qualities that interest a reader--usually a personality trait such as humor. These characters sometimes redeem themselves or end the story with a selfless act.

For example, Tommy Lee Jones' character from The Fugitive can be considered the antagonist. He's against the protagonist, doesn't care much about who killed the protagonist's wife in the beginning, but he changes throughout the movie.

Another strong antagonist example is Ben Wade, gun-slinger and wanted for murder, from the movie 3:10 to Yuma. He's clearly the bad guy but he has redeeming characteristics, like respectfulness and high esteem for good manners. And by the end, he further redeems himself with a selfless act.

As you can see, these characters might fit into more than one category. But the important thing about them is that they add depth and dimension to a story--something that is important for fiction. They encourage, lend humor or move the MC forward spiritually, even act against the antagonist, in order to progress the plot.

Secondary characters can be powerful additions to your novel and help to present it in a more unique way. Do you give a lot of thought to secondary characters before you add them in your novel? Do any of your secondary characters fit into these categories?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Put a Belt on It—Tightening Your Sagging Middle

What’s that sound? No. No, no! It’s getting dark in here. Thud. Great, we’ve lost her for good.

Know what the above represents?

Your characters reacting to losing a reader due to a sagging middle.

We are fast approaching the perfect time of year to address sagging middles. Turkey Day. The day famous for causing bellies all across America to puff out. Did I hear something in turkey naturally causes people to become sleepy? Well, snap to it!

It’s time to put a belt on that sagging middle.

Other than ingesting small portions and snacking before a big meal, how do we rectify the problem of the sagging middle?

James Scott Bell pinpoints some excellent ways to “energize a lethargic middle” in his book, Plot & Structure:

Analyze the stakesBell suggests asking what the character will lose if he doesn’t achieve his objective.
What more could go wrong? A perfect question for this stage of a book. Ask it and then apply it.

Strengthen the adhesiveBell encourages writers to ask, “What is it that bonds the Lead and the opposition together?” Solidify that core relationship. Think of some ways their paths could uncomfortably cross even more.

Add another level of complicationOn the heels of the last point, Bell reminds us to aggravate your MC’s ease of acquiring success and merriment. Cinch that belt until it hurts a little.

Add another characterBell suggests that we don’t add just any character, but that we’re intentional with our selection and we add “one that will make the Lead’s life more difficult.” It’s our job to frustrate the Lead from achieving their ultimate goal. The time will come for peace, but not yet. Not in the middle.

Add another subplotYou pour spoonfuls of gravy onto your plate. Hence, the middle grows. Make sure if you add a subplot you maintain the flow of your work. Bell suggests writers use this solution sparingly (perhaps it’s the girdle kind of belt).

Push on through the WallYou push away from the Thanksgiving Feast. You’ve eaten your fill. Maybe it’s time for a walk? A break? Middles get saggy, especially when you consume words and ideas like any good writer does. Stories have great potential to bulge to non-attention grabbing works.

There’s hope for your sagging middle.

You can always put a belt on it.

*photos from flickr

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rejection Stinks...Or Does It?

I got my first rejection letter. It arrived in my mailbox three weeks ago, and it came from an agent who requested my book proposal at the ACFW Conference.

I filed it away for safe keeping for now. I think I might frame it in the future and put it up on a prominent wall next to my diploma.

Now don't get me wrong. I was majorly bummed when I read the words in that letter. I took a moment to have a pity party, then called my husband and had another pity party, then emailed my fellow Alley Cats and had another pity party...well, you get the idea.

But then I realized something. I had graduated from the school of Afraid-to-Put-Myself-Out-There, and this letter was my diploma.

I mean, think about it. How many fishermen buy all the necessary equipment, then sit on their front porch and cast a line at the sidewalk? No, they go to the pond where the fish are.

And in September, I stepped off my porch and went to the pond where the agents and editors were. Got a bite that turned into an empty hook, but that doesn't mean there isn't another fish in the pond that wants my worm.

The cool thing was that my rejection letter had specific feedback of what didn't work in my story. So now I can make my worm a little juicier and maybe lure that big fish over.

So yes, rejection stinks. For a little while.

But now I'll...pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.

How do you respond to rejection? Do you have any stories of how rejection made your writing better or propelled you to the next level in your writing career?

*Letter photo by Luigi Diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
*Fisherman photo by Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Guest Blogger: Chris Fabry on the Journey of a Writer

When are you a real writer? When do you know you’ve reached the moment when you can put “writer” under your name on a letter or a business card? I used to think it was upon publication. Maybe an article in a big magazine. Or after you sign a book deal or finally hold the idea you had in your head in your hands. That bright, beautiful book with your name in bold on the cover and the spine.

I was fortunate enough to have my first book published in 1995. I still remember driving to the publisher about 20 minutes away with my wife and children. I picked up a box from the receptionist and walked to the car, my kids clamoring for a peek inside. We stood there with the Illinois cloud cover and I ripped off the packing tape and handed out the first copies. I had dreamed of that moment for many years. I read every Writers Digest Magazine, read Dean Koontz’s book on bestselling fiction a hundred times, wrote for my local paper, journaled, scribbled stories in the basement of our home—words that no one will ever read. I prayed, begged, and cajoled God to let me do this.

Holding that first book in my hands, the culmination of so many dreams, I had one thought: “When will I hold book #2?”

I didn’t feel like a “real writer” after book #1. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe the publisher just showed bad judgment. And if anyone actually bought the thing, well, it showed how bereft they were of their literary scruples. The book sold pretty well, but it didn’t make me feel like a real writer.

Book #2 came out the next year. Book #3 followed a year later. Another contract brought another two books. Then, I had the opportunity to write children’s fiction with Jerry Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye. I furiously wrote 35 books in the Left Behind: The Kids Series. Following that were 20 more children’s books, two as-told-to biographies of football legends, and now my first three books of adult fiction. Almost Heaven, my latest novel, is my 70th published book.

A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting where my sales history was put forward in black and white. Undisputable numbers. I gulped. What would the numbers say? I flipped to the last page. The total at the bottom was nearly 4 million copies sold.

And still, as I sat there, that number didn’t confirm that I was really a writer. A typist can sell a lot of copies.

What I’ve learned through this journey is that I was every bit as much a writer BEFORE I was published than I am now. In my heart was a burning desire to communicate through the written word. I couldn’t NOT write. I had to get to the page. Whether anyone read it or not, this was part of the way God made me. No one can tell you you’re a writer. No sales figure will confirm it. Not even your name on the cover of a book will give you the feeling. It’s something you have to believe deep inside. Writing is something you do. Being a writer is something you are. You work at the craft, you progress, you fail and you fall and you pick yourself up each day and put one word behind another.

If God has put that desire in your heart, he’s done so for a purpose. Create. Pour out the pain and love and truth. You can’t control if you’ll be published. You can’t control how many people will read what you write. You can only be faithful to the pulse beat of the heart of a writer.

About the Author: Chris Fabry is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books for both children and adults.  His book, Dogwood was the 2009 Christy Award winner in the contemporary standalone category.  He is also a host for the daily radio program Chris Fabry Live! and co-host for several other radio shows. 

Please keep Chris Fabry and his family in your prayers this November.  Check here for updates: Fabry Family Updates.

Also, don't forget to download Chris' latest book, Almost Heaven, currently available FREE from Amazon Kindle. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Inspiring the Uninspired

So the rush from an amazing writers' conference in September didn't push me full steam ahead into the dedicated, querying go-getter that I thought I'd be as I drove the long trek back from Indiana to Iowa. Hm. Let me tell you, I have been one frustrated, self-doubting gal this past month and a half.
A few words that clang around in my mental writer's nook (which, by the way, has the fuzzy cloud of pregnancy inevitably expanding) are:
Not Good Enough
But my hope, desire, and competitiveness strive to push past this defeatist attitude. And with the help of my Writer's Alley buddies as well as my “angel” constantly reprimanding the little “devil” on my shoulder, I feel like I am emerging from this pool of doubt.
I would like to share some tips if you ever find yourself in the same mind-set (I hope I am not the only one...? :) ).

  1. Take time! Something that dragged me down, was the full-speed ahead mode that life inevitably threw at this pregnant, stay-at-home, volunteering mama. I needed to sit and truck on with writing, even if I didn't want to. I forced myself to commit to editing, and to try and write SOMETHING. (Blogging, letter to God, grocery list...well, maybe that doesn't count)!

  2. Keep Reading! I realized that maybe the reason I felt so unsettled with the writing part, is because I had neglected the reading part of the whole author thing! How could I inspire if I wasn't allowing other authors to inspire me? It may be a season of taking in, not pouring out.

  3. Reset Your Goals! UGH! This is so hard. But after being bombarded with the taunting of opened doors to publishing, at the conference...my goal was a giant leap to be published...soon! Can we say head in the clouds?? Just recently I discovered a more attainable goal for the moment- polishing for a specific contest deadline. Ah, much more achievable!

     4.  And most importantly...Put Christ first, it's not about you! If I am truly writing to inspire, then I 
         should treasure this calling in the hi's and lows, and not let "success" be my driving source.

Perhaps these are tips you have heard time and time again...but maybe it's because they work! :) I am glad to say, that I have soft, fuzzy words floating in my mental writer's nook now:
What do you do to pick yourself up and continue on the journey of writing?