April 28, 2017

10 Flaws to Give Your Characters

At the same time, I don’t like reading about people who always make the wrong choices. It’s a tough balance for writers. We must make our characters human. That means they must have flaws. And, those flaws must be different from one character to the next. If they all have the same flaws, well, that just wouldn’t work.

When writing about your character and developing your character bio, think about these questions:

  1. What would my character’s friends say are his/her strengths. The things she/he does best.
  2. What would my character’s friends say that drive them crazy about my character?

In looking at those questions, you can begin to create a well-rounded character. The choices they make are not simply designed to push the plot along, but also designed to fit that particular character. For example if you have a decisive, aggressive character, you cannot allow that character face a difficult decision and not take action. You can’t put off the action because it’s better for the plot. It’s not likely the character would do that. My editor is great at flagging these things. I sometimes get a note that says, “I can’t see Jenna doing this?” or “This doesn’t sound like something Jenna would say.” Oops. I got caught.

So what are some personality flaws you might want to incorporate in your characters?

  • The character is messy. Or the reverse, the character is a neatnik. Either way, you must be consistent. A neatnik character might pick up clothing tossed around at a crime scene even though that character knows they shouldn’t touch anything. Just couldn’t help themselves and then they had to explain that behavior to the police.
  • The character is always hungry. This character is constantly thinking about food and never misses a meal. Such a character is fun because right in the middle of a chase scene, he or she might think, “I’m starving.” or “If I don’t get away soon, I’ll miss lunch.”
  • The character is lazy or the character is an exercise nut. My character is not lazy, but she has to be forced to exercise. Her best friend, however, is an exercise nut, and he’s always after her to go for a run.
  • The character runs off at the mouth. Talks all the time and that gets her/him in trouble. This requires a lot of skill as a writer. The dialogue flows but endlessly. You must be careful not to bore the reader. Use sparingly but show it enough to remind the reader of this flaw.
  • The character is a scaredy cat. This is a fun trait for an amateur sleuth. They get in bad scrapes and want to be anywhere else. Or they fuss and complain before ever embarking on the “scrape.”
  • The character makes bad jokes. This is another one that’s hard to write, at least for me. But, remember, if you have one character doing this, you can’t give the trait to others.
  • The character forgets people’s names.
  • The character is overly polite or overly impolite.
  • The character is afraid of dogs.
  • The character is always running late.

These are just a few flaws you can incorporate in your characters. There are many more.

Take a look at this book trailer. Janie and Marlene in The Clock Strikes Midnight are fraught with flaws.

When Everything Grinds to a Halt

There is a flurry of activity when galley’s come in or when a book is on its final stages. Then off it goes either to a publisher or to an editor. Suddenly everything stops. You wait. The dilemma is what to do while waiting. Normally I have another book I can work on, and I put the waiting aside. I’m distracted and somewhat relieved that I can work on a new project rather than nibble on my fingernails while an old project gets evaluated.

But, this time, I’m waiting without a new project.

My publisher has one manuscript that will be released in the fall of this year. It’s languishing somewhere in a queue, awaiting its turn. My current WIP is with beta readers. Here I sit with nothing new to write. Everything has ground to a halt.

  1. Clean out that closet that was begging for your attention during the last several months while you wrote.
  2. Write a series of blog posts that you can stack up. That way when you get into your next project, you won’t have to worry about blogging.
  3. Call a friend you haven’t seen during your writing phase and invite that lost friend to lunch.
  4. Go shopping. You know you need to!
  5. Update your website or your Facebook and Twitter pages.
  6. Clean up your computer or better still buy a new one!
  7. Take a long walk. Invite your dog who is wagging his tail and anxious to go with you.
  8. Call your mom and stay on the phone for longer than ten minutes.
  9. Go to a movie.
  10. Finish that book you left on the bedside table.
  11. Start a new writing project

Once you get to number 11, everything else will grind to a halt. So, be sure you’ve done all you can during this short hiatus before you embark on number 11.

#MyReview The German Girl by Aramdo Lucas Correa

Click to order on Amazon

It’s based on an historical fact that should embarrass us all. The ship, St. Louis, sailed from Germany in 1939 full of German/Jewish families looking for sanctuary from the tyranny at home. They were headed for Cuba. Unfortunately in route, the Cuban government passed legislation that barred their entry into the country.

The people on the ship had no idea that they would not be granted asylum. They hoped to land in Cuba and begin looking for places to relocate. After leaving Nazi Germany, most felt tremendous relief to finally be sailing away. And, most had to spend all of their savings to do so–purchasing visas for the new country and tickets for the trip. The Nazi’s only allowed them to take a small amount of money with them. It was a harrowing decision but one 937 people made.

Upon arrival in Cuba only a few (about 30 people) were granted permission to disembark. The rest had to return to war-torn Europe. Families were split. The horror of it all is difficult to imagine, but Armando Lucas Correa does so. He brings this horrendous story to life with two characters, two young girls. One is Hanna, the 12-year-old German Jewess who is traveling to Cuba in 1939 with her family. The other is 12-year-old Anna who in 2014 is searching for information about her father’s family. It turns out Anna is Hannah’s great niece.  Anna’s father was killed during 911 before Anna was born.

Without telling too much of the story, I will simply say the two girls share their experiences through alternating points of view. My one complaint about this book is that it gets redundant in the end, and I found the ending quite tedious. I also questioned why the resourceful twelve-year-old Hannah didn’t show more resourcefulness as an adult.

What makes this book so poignant, however, is that in 1939 the St. Louis attempted to land in both the United States and Canada and was denied entry by both presidents. When we examine our own country’s current policies toward sanctuary for people fleeing tyranny, we must remember our own chilling past. My hope is if Americans ever find themselves in need of sanctuary, they will not face the ugliness that others have faced on our shores.

It’s indeed worth reading to learn more about the people who traveled on the St. Louis–many of whom died during World War II–and to remember as we separate ourselves from others of different races and religions that we are all simply people, looking for a safe place to live and raise our families.

The Challenge and the Fun of Writing about Murder

Everyone writers meet advise them to “write what they know.” If writers did that, there wouldn’t be many books out there. As writers, we must go beyond what we know, but we must also base our writing on fact. Even fantasy writers must stay within the realm of believability.

Have I ever seen a murder? Has anyone in my family experienced murder? Have I personally killed anyone? The answers to all those questions are NO! So, how can I writer about murder?

One answer is that most of us think a lot about murder.

When that guy cuts you off and runs you off the road, don’t you think about murder? When a friend betrays you, maybe sleeps with your spouse or does something nasty to one of your children, don’t you think about murder? We often say, “I’m gonna kill that guy.” But we don’t do it. If we killed someone every time we thought about doing so, we’d probably have lots of dead bodies around us.

We think about what actually drives someone to kill someone else. All those little instances above probably wouldn’t drive us to kill. So, what does? Motivation to kill is a big part of writing a mystery. Our creative minds play with the all important, why.

But, we must also imagine the investigation after the murder. Again, not being privy to many murders, myself, how can I learn more about the investigation? I want my books to ring true. That means I must research. I must talk to homicide detectives and to medical examiners. I must learn the steps. I chose an amateur sleuth for my mystery series. I did that because if she makes mistakes regarding the investigation, it’s understandable. She shouldn’t be sticking her nose in things anyway, right?

Furthermore, the mystery must have some mystery. So, we not only have to understand motive and research the investigation, we must create scenarios that are clothed in mystery and intrigue. If everything is too obvious, what’s the point of reading? Real life murder is often more cut and dried. The husband killed the wife in a fit of anger. Or, the drug addict son killed the father. But, our mysteries must have more hidden agendas and clandestine circumstances.

All these factors make writing mysteries a challenge, but it can also be great fun. Anything challenging is worth doing, right?

What have you enjoyed from the mysteries you’ve read? Do you like knowing the killer, but not knowing how he’s caught? Or, do you prefer mysteries where the killer isn’t revealed until the end? Tell me more about the mysteries you like.

Here is a short video in which I talk about the Challenges and Fun about writing about Murder.

Learning to Live with the Loneliness of Writing

I’m a people person. I love being around people and I get energy from those around me. But, I’m also a writer. My work requires that I go into a cave of quiet and live in my conscious mind for hours on end. Unlike the meditative mind, the writer’s mind is busy.

Knowing that, most writers huddle alone to work. They prefer not to be around people.

Can a people person like me also be a writer? I have found that it’s possible for me to balance both worlds. Some writers have no trouble with this problem because they are introverts and prefer solitary work. Others are like me and struggle to find a balance that satisfies their need to be with people and be energized by them and their need to create through the written word.

  • Establish a writing schedule. Go into your writing cave for a few hours a day and produce all you can. For me, that’s usually about three hours. After that you can come out and be a real person.
  • Don’t try and write when others are pulling you away. In other words, don’t try and write when you go on your family vacation.
  • Meet often with friends and fellow writers. After you complete your work for the day, get some people contact. Schedule a lunch with a writing colleague. Go to the movies with a friend. Visit someone who is homebound or in the hospital.
  • Go to writer’s conferences. At conferences you will meet other writers, share your ups and downs with writing. It’s a great way to recharge your battery.
  • Join writer’s groups. If you have a group of writers who meet regularly, join that group. Again, being around people like you help recharge you and keep you from feeling so isolated.
  • Work in a public place. I tend to work in coffee shops. Right now I’m writing this post in a very busy coffee shop. I’m by myself at a table without anyone to talk to but with lots of activity around me. My mind is focused on this post, but I can glance around and find myself in a world of people.

Enjoy more tips on this short video.

What is Your Tolerance for Reading Quotient?

When I finish a book, I feel lost until I start the next one. Without the ability to read, I feel as if my life would really take a dive. What about you?

How about taking this little quiz to see if you’re on one end of the continuum, like me and can’t be without a book or on the other end, never seem to have the time to read.

Answer Yes or No to each of these questions (You can’t answer maybe!)

  1. Are you currently reading a book right now?
  2. When you finish reading one book, do you immediately start another one?
  3. Do you find that you only have time to read in the evening before bed?
  4. When reading are you constantly checking to see how many pages you have left so you can get finished?
  5. Do you have more than 5 books stacked by your bed or favorite reading chair?
  6. Do you have a favorite reading chair (or spot in your living space)?
  7. Do you talk to your friends (colleagues) about a book you’re reading at least once a day?
  8. If your doctor told you you could never read again, would you consider your life over?
  9. Is your e-Reader stacked up with samples from books you may want to read?
  10. Do you shy away from all book clubs?

Give yourself one point for each yes to questions: 1,2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and No for questions: 4, 5, 10.

If you have a score of 8-10, you are like me and reading books is a major part of your life.

If you have a score of less than 7-5, then reading is important to you, but not the be all end all.

If you scored less than 5, you tend to read sometimes, not all the time and are clearly not dependent on reading.

So, how was your score? How did you do.

If you want to find a new great read, check out this book trailer.





A Great Testimonial from a New Writer!

I had conducted a webinar for a group of students at Southern New Hampshire University. The title of the workshop was What Does it Take to Write, Publish and Sell a Novel. During that session I talked about my own discipline in actually writing the novel. What it took out of me to put 80,000 words on paper. Once that was accomplished, though, most writers then look to the arduous task of publishing their book. In this webinar I gave some tips from my own experiences related to getting my manuscript out there and eventually published. Finally, we discussed the all-important task of selling your novel to readers. Indeed, you can sell it to a publisher but if readers do not buy your book, what’s the point?

After I conducted that workshop, I put together a free e-book for people who sign up on my website. In that e-book I included all the tips for writing, publishing and selling a novel. Many people have taken advantage of this free bonus gift.

Of course, I had no idea if the people who attended the webinar or who read the e-book followed my advice and suggestions. Until last week. At that time I received this wonderful testimonial:

A few years back, you ran a seminar at SNHU in which you provided helpful details about getting a book published. Because of that seminar, I was able to publish my YA novel, which went on to become a finalist in the 2016 International Book Awards. I can’t thank you enough for providing the information that led to all of this! I was so inspired by this, that I am now president of the How to Get Published Club at SNHU, where I help online students with getting their own books published. I just wanted to say thank you and wish you luck on your novel! Best, Carla Trueheart

I might add, that Carla is about to publish her second YA novel this month. She’s really going to town and I’m proud that I had some small part in that.

So, if you want to write, publish and sell your novel, why not start by signing up here and getting this free guide.


The Painful Truth: You Must Revise This!

This month’s topic in #Inkripples has to do with Revisions. I’ve suggested some tips to writers. See what the other writers in Inkripples toss into the pond. Take a look at the ripples… Add your own… Mary Waibel’s World at Katie Carroll Observation Desk and at Kai Strand’s blog.

Don’t you hate people who say they never revise their work? That it’s perfect the first time around? Whether a writer, sculptor, or painter revisions are a part of our lives. We are constantly revising who we are and our work. No one is perfect the first time around. And when I hear people say they never have to revise, I simply don’t believe them. PS even Michelangelo revised his work!

  1. Be ready to make changes. If you send your completed manuscript out to your agent or editor and they say, “This is a great book, but it needs to be told in the first person, not the third person,” don’t panic. Don’t rebel. Let the suggestion sink it. Try it out with other opinions. And, if it makes sense to you, bite the bullet and do it.
  2. You don’t have to do everything people say. Indeed revisions are a part of our writing world, but if you try and make everyone happy, you’ll end up making no one happy. Be discerning on what you decide to revise and why.
  3. Be willing to make big changes. Sometimes the first edition of a book doesn’t work and you don’t know why. Here’s an example: When I wrote The Clock Strikes Midnight, the first version was totally different than the final book. I had an editor tell me that the story was either a YA book or it must be told from another point of view. My point of view character was 15 years old–the definition of a YA book. My choices were to change the story to fit a YA audience or reframe the book from an older point of view. Either way would have been a major revision. I agonized over the decision. After a few weeks, I decided to give the second option a try. I completely reframed the book. Guess what? It worked and it not only got published but has also since won several awards.
  4. When you finish a book, let it go. After you’ve revised and refined and tweaked, put it away. I had an artist tell me that if she worked too long on a painting, she’d ruin it. We have to know when to stop!
  5. I’ve heard people suggest start in the middle. Now, I’ve never done this, but I can see where it might work for some manuscripts. When you are struggling with the beginning–perhaps you have too much backstory or you can’t quite pull off the hook, maybe put all that aside and start in the middle.

There’s nothing wrong with making revisions. What we have to recognize is our work is fluid. Changes are possible and some changes might even make us better writers. The pain of hearing you still have lots of work to do when you’ve decided your work is finished hurts. It hurts a lot. But my suggestion is get over it and start working! You’ll be glad you did.

Happy writing and happy revising!


How Long to Wait Between Projects?

Recently I completed a stand-alone book, one I’ve been working on for about three years. In between that one, I completed a manuscript in my mystery series. Now, I find myself with nothing new to write. I’m feeling a bit lost but I also recognize the need for a break. What to do?

Usually I have two things going on at once and I’ve never really had a total lack of projects until now. I have a sense that taking a break from writing (maybe not editing) for a while might be good for my soul. Or, perhaps it would not. What are your thoughts? Won’t you please give me some guidance?

This reminds me when years ago, I left college to get married. I had two years under my belt. A “friend” told me that if I stopped, I’d never go back. Being young and rather impressionable, I believed her. I was afraid to totally stop my studies. I took correspondence courses while I worked; I took night school classes; I worried that if I stopped, my college career would be over. Well, as it turned out that was a false assumption. I completed my undergraduate studies and went on to get a Master’s and a Doctorate. I stopped several times and went back later, perhaps better refreshed.

Nonetheless, we writers worry if we stop creating, we will lose the drive, the momentum, the mysterious whatever that keeps us going.



The Perils of Self-Editing

Clearly while I’m composing or creating my story, I avoid the editing trap. I prefer to wait until I’m finished before going back and doing the work of editing, revising, correcting. Nonetheless, to get into the story before I work, I must read the last little bit I’ve written. When I do that, I’m often amazed at the number of mistakes I find. Silly little typos. Words left out. What a mess, I say to myself.

When the end comes, I begin the process of self-editing. Here is where I catch all those annoying little mistakes. Or, at least, I hope I do so. The problem is when one is creating, one’s mind is in a very different place. Furthermore, my mind thinks a lot faster than I can type. So I’m way ahead of myself. Hence, words missing. How can one write a chase scene slowly? I can’t. My fingers fly across the page with my hero or heroine. Even so, when I go back and begin catching errors, I also do a lot of re-writing. I have to fix scenes, insert information, delete events, shift things around. I, thereby, get caught with my fingers back on the keyboard where they threaten to make more little pesky mistakes. It’s an endless cycle.

That’s the price we pay for self-editing. Of course, we all must do it. Who is the best person to go back and clean up a first draft? The author, of course. It’s our job. We are the ones who know the story better than anyone else.

By the way, if you catch errors in my blog posts, please be kind.

Do the all the self-editing you can and then turn the manuscript over to an outside reader.

My first reader is someone not charged with finding typos or little errors. That reader is asked the big questions: 1) How do you feel about the characters? Are they sufficiently different? 2) Does the plot flow. Are there any inconsistencies in the plot? 3) How are things tied up in the end. Did we resolve everything for you the reader? 4) How does the setting affect the story?

If that first reader sees typos, they make a note, but that’s not their main job and it shouldn’t be.

Next, turn the manuscript over to a Beta reader whose job is to read for content.

You’ve now made changes from the first reading so believe me, there will be new errors in the manuscript. The second reader will again read for content, but this time, you also ask that reader to carefully mark for typos.

The manuscript goes to a professional reader (probably paid).

To make sure your manuscript is completely clean, turn it over to a professional reader (one you pay). This person not only reads for content but also for spelling errors, typos, inconsistencies in names or places. They catch when paragraphs need to be combined or separated. The list is endless. By now after the first two readings, you know the book is ready for a professional set of eyes. You’ve done all you can and it’s time to pass it on. You’d never want to turn a first draft over to a professional. You want it as clean as you with your limited self-editing can get it. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of money and time.

Turn the corrected manuscript over to a final reader for typos

Okay, so I’ve learned that the little errors drive me nuts and I often miss them when I’m reading the galleys on my computer. So, I turn the final manuscript–the one that’s been read by three outside readers–over to a fourth reader, unusually unpaid, whose job is to catch the little errors. Remember I got my hands on the manuscript after the professional reader. That means I probably made some revisions and those probably have errors in them that I can’t see. This final reading will get your manuscript as clean as possible before you send it to the publisher.

So, the truth is if you simply self-edit without help from several sets of eyes, you will make mistakes. You may be good, but no writer can do both well. Accept that and get help. You’ll be glad you did!