Get a Free Ebook

Five Inspirational Truths for Authors

Try our Video Classes

Downloadable in-depth learning, with pdf slides

Find out more about My Book Therapy

We want to help you up your writing game. If you are stuck, or just want a boost, please check us out!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Building Believable Characters

by Linore Rose Burkard

[I'm honored to be joining the talented writers of Novel Rocket who really show what it means to have iron sharpen iron. Thank you, Novel Rocket, for having me! This month, I share a portion of a workshop I give for newer writers.] 

Author Joanne Reid has said, "One of the leading causes of rejection by a publisher is poorly developed, one-sided characters." Just as deadly for an author is to have a reader reject his or her work after publication for  the same reason. Cardboard characters. Like Flat Stanley, they lack depth. In short, a lack of character development means a failure to enchant the reader. 
Don't let "Flat Stanley"enter your novel!

So the question becomes, how do we avoid being that writer? Is there a key to creating characters that aren't one-sided?

Publishing experts agree there is. Believable, well-rounded characters share basic building blocks that any writer can use. Some may seem obvious, but even published authors can fail to include one or more of these elementary features of a well-rounded character, so take note.   

1. Individualized Appearance 
Seems intuitive, right? But I read a book that despite being generally enjoyable, failed to let me know what the heroine really looked like! I had a great sense of who she was emotionally, but I wasn't even sure of her hair color. Don't make that mistake. 

From hair color and style to fashion statement or lack thereof; posture, facial expression, body language--it all counts and you can use any single feature to distinguish a character simply by highlighting that feature. Anything that sets them apart from the crowd is what you want your reader to notice. It doesn't even have to be something "different" as much as something peculiar to that person. 

 At the same time, don't overdo it. Keep description short unless you have a thematic reason for emphasizing it; but be specific. Include the basics such as ethnicity, hair and eye color, stature, etc. Don't make it a boring catalog or include every attribute, but use context to convey  information in as unobtrusive a manner as possible.  

Example: At six-foot-two, Jared's height made Sheri feel like a dwarf; she didn't like it. (In one sentence you learn how tall Jared is--and Sheri isn't. You also learn Sheri doesn't like feeling short.) 

2. A Solid Background
Heroes, heroines, and all main characters need a past, a history that is specific. Most of this history will not need to appear in your book, but if you are going to write the character well-rounded you'll need to know it. Many authors find they rely heavily on the past history of their characters as they write, often creating plot twists that work ONLY because of that history. Nearly all of Jane Austen's novels use this as a plot-device. She carefully hides details of a character's past until the seemingly sudden twist rocks the world of the novel--at which point the truth is revealed (discovered), everything makes perfect sense, and the story can end satisfactorily. 

Never forget that the reader desperately wants your story to make sense. It gives a feeling of completeness to the book, a satisfaction that mustn't be denied them. Your characters don't have to be likeable or loveable--but they must make sense. Even if they are comprehensible to no one else but themselves (and the reader) they must at least be that. Background is the key to what makes sense for them. 

3. Emotion (or Motive) 
This digs deeper into the idea of a character making sense. Their actions must align with their beliefs, or result in conflict. If actions result in conflict, it has to be crystal clear why they did whatever they did. One of the driving forces in some novels is simply a quest to answer that question: Why? Why did Johnnie kill Susie? Or, why did Susie marry Johnny? In other words, motive and emotions are everything in a novel, just as they are in real life. Real people do things for a reason, and don't do other things for a reason. Fictional characters have to be similarly engineered.   

When it comes right down to it, most plots hinge on the emotions or motives of characters, because conflict arises where feelings and obstacles meet. When you have a character who is forced to do or say things he or she doesn't really mean or want to do or say, you have conflict. When you have conflict, you have a story. 

A character can be at odds with himself, his surroundings, his family, even God--any obstacle can work, just as long as the reader understands why it's a conflict. This means you have to imbue your character with emotions. Figure out what makes your protagonist tick--then put something in the way that makes them reel, and you've got a plot that's moving forward.      

That's about all I can fit into one post, but if you suspect your characters are flat, try using these building blocks to flesh them out: Individual Appearance, Background and Emotion. Soon, instead of a cardboard dummy like Flat Stanley, you'll have a genuine person on your hands. 

What about you? Do you have a favorite device or "building block" to flesh out your characters? Share your method with us in the comments.  

Happy Writing,

Linore Rose Burkard is best known for historical regency novels with Harvest House Publishers, including Before the Season Ends, the award-winning The House in Grosvenor Square, and, The Country House Courtship. As a writer noted for meticulous research as well as bringing people to life on the page, Linore’s books delight fans of historical romance with “Heyeresque” humor and Austen-like manners.  Linore teaches workshops for writers with Greater Harvest Workshops in Ohio, is a homeschooling mother of five, and has recently finished a YA novel. Keep up with Linore by subscribing to her free newsletter at

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What If?

A Fork in the Road

By Marcia Lee Laycock
I was at a crossroads in my life. I had graduated from high school over a year before and had worked hard to save enough money for one year of university. But which school and which program should I pick? There was a good journalism program in a school only one day’s drive away (Plan A), but there was a creative writing program at a bigger school on the other side of the country (Plan B). I studied the catalogs of both, my eyes often shifting from the more pragmatic alternative to the one that drew my heart. I weighed the pros and cons and added the figures over and over again. Plan B just wasn’t viable. I couldn’t afford it and the prospect of getting a job at the end of the four years was unlikely.

I chose Plan A. I lasted two years. I learned some valuable lessons and skills, but decided journalism, at least the kind of journalism I was required to do in the nation’s capitol, was not my cup of tea. Frustrated and disillusioned, it would be many years before I pursued my dream of becoming a writer.

I know God had a plan for my life even back then but I often wonder about that choice. I often wonder, ‘What if...’

Recently I came across a video clip of famous actor Denzel Washington, talking about his faith. One of the last things he said in the interview struck me – “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.”

And again, I wondered, ‘what if ...’ What if I’d had that perspective way back then. What if I had that perspective today?

Jesus said something similar to his disciples one day – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25,26).

He also said. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

It took me many years before I was willing to follow that advice but once I did the world became a brighter place, because I had discovered my place in it, as a writer, and more importantly, as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Washington also said something else that resonated with me - “Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer. Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding,” he said.

Start with prayer. A good idea. A good Plan A.

What if? ...

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was also short listed in The Word Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print and has contributed to several anthologies. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan.

Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded here

Her most recent release is the first book in a fantasy series, The Ambassadors

For more information on Marcia’s writing/speaking ministry, visit her website

Interested in learning to write devotionals of distinction? Online course begins March 30th.

Sign up to receive her devotional column, The Spur

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lighting a Fire to Your Writing Career by DiAnn Mills

By - DiAnn Mills

When writers realize the embers of their careers are dying, stomping out the few remaining flames is not the answer. Instead, effective writers look for new ways to promote themselves that explode with ingenuity and creativity. 

Are the flames of your writing dying?
Is your career on the verge of smoldering? Try adding a spark to your marketing and promotion plan with these ideas.

1. Brainstorm with other writers about your brand and marketing and promotion efforts. I could write several blogs on this topic. In short, brainstorming is the best method I know to expand creativity from the writing process to branding and promotion.

2. A new professional photo. Invest in a good photographer who will not only create a great new look for media but will also snap a few candid and fun pics that can be used for social networking.

3. Update your website. Now may be the time to consider an exciting design that uses your brand as the focus. Your website is your calling card. It must reflect you, your writing, and your uniqueness.

4. Author bio. A writer uses his/her flair for words to enhance a bio that draws readers into your world. Make it personal and professional. Also develop a shorter version for those times when media has space for two or three sentences.

5. If you’re social media networking includes only Facebook or Twitter, stretch yourself. Dive into the advantages of Goodreads where a writer can communicate with readers. Take the time to read all the benefits of Goodreads for writers. Pinterest is addictive, and the many uses of images in marketing and promotion are endless. Don’t limit yourself! Are podcasts in your future?

6. Use Buffer or Hootsuite to organize and simplify your social media posts. This relieves the stress of watching the clock and questioning when followers are online. Analytics provide information critical to posting and content. Other methods are available, but these are my favorites.

7. Is blogging a part of your plan? A successful writer understands a blog is only as good as the subject matter and how the material is presented. Use images and make it fun.

8. Commit to reading blogs and books about marketing and promotion for writers in your genre.

9. Are you taking care of yourself physically? A writer who’s not healthy or regularly exercising can’t expect the brain and heart to engage to maximum potential.

10. Are you ensuring each book is written better than the previous one? Are writing challenges met with determination by studying the craft, deepening skills, and evaluating your own work?

11. Prayer. This should be first. Seek God’s guidance for ways to glorify Him as we seek to entertain, inspire, and encourage readers.

Perhaps one of these eleven ideas have motivated you to add fire to your writing career. Determine today to light a match to one of them. Write on!

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

Friday, March 27, 2015

Don’t Wait for the Mood to Strike to Write

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

For me, writing is a way to process the world around me.
I began writing like most of you did—as a creative outlet—a way to process the world around me. 

I kept diaries, started stories and books, played around with articles. But all of these efforts had one thing in common. They were written out of my own emotional overflow. When that overflow dried up, so did the words.

Fast forward many years, to one of my first professional jobs. I worked as technical writer, composing instructions for a publishing company. Again, I got to work with words, but this time they were precise. My goal was plain, visual words that would allow someone to follow directions to an end result. There wasn’t any emotion involved, except for the thrill I got from managing words.

Now skip ahead again a few years, once I got my kids to a manageable age. I had a driving ambition to make writing my full-time position. But I wanted more than a position writing instructions. I wanted the emotion back in my words. So I turned to fiction as my artistic outlet, and used freelance writing for my bread-and-butter writing.

I hit a wall until I figured out how to write
when I was NOT in the mood.
This was when I hit a wall. I couldn’t figure out how to get the emotion in my writing unless I was in the mood to write. How did professional writers do that? The question left me stumped, and I began to research how working writers churned out all those beautiful words, no matter what was happening around them.

They had learned the secret of getting past writing only when they were in the mood, and into the discipline of writing whether they felt like it or not.

Wow. That seemed an awful lot like work, as opposed to art.

And that simple revelation is the foundation that all working writers build on. We write when we feel like it and we write when we don’t.

It’s both that simple and that difficult.

And it takes some practice. So here are a few tips to help you move forward if you find yourself not in the mood to write.

Write on a schedule.
1. Write on a Schedule. You’ll read a lot of advice that says you must write every day. I think that’s good, if it’s an option. But for some it just isn’t. But what you can do is schedule your writing. This will build your writing muscles so they don’t fail you when you need them most.

2. Write in a lot of different disciplines. Don’t just stick with fiction or articles or essays. Force yourself to try new things. What you learn will prove invaluable, no matter what your writing focus becomes.

3. Find a Writing Group or Partner. I know it’s scary, but it’s necessary if you want to move ahead. Getting honest critique can help you with a lot of things.
First, it gives you some much needed perspective. Writers have two opinions about their writing—it’s either genius or it sucks. And these two extremes are almost always false.
Second, it forces you to improve. No one likes to hear what they’ve done wrong, but that’s one of the most important things we need to grow as writer.
Third, it makes us brave. If your goal is to become a working writer you need to be querying and submitting. This is the first step.

Set some goals.
4. Set Some Goals. I used to resist setting goals. I’m much more of a go-with-the-creative-flow type person. But after five years of spinning my wheels I finally gave in. When I did my career took off.

5. Send Regular Submissions. When I first started as a working writer, my rejections outnumbered my acceptances about nine to one. Getting that many rejections between acceptances is depressing, at leas for me. So I turned the process upside down. I began setting goals for the number of rejections I got each month. To reach that goal, I had to send out submissions. So I turned a defeat into victory.

6. Invest in Your Writing. Yes, money is part of that, but it’s not all I’m talking about. Spend time reading writing books, writing blogs, attending workshops and classes, and going to conferences. Chances are most of you are like me, and going back to college for a creative writing degree isn’t really an option. Learning on your own will become college. You’ll get a practical education that will stand you in good stead as you navigate the path to working writer.

These are the things I’ve done to move from wanna-be to working writer. What has helped you?

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains ChristianWriters Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for SouthernWriters Magazine and the Senior Editor for Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook. Don't miss her new book from Worthy Inspired, coming in May WHILE MY SOLDIER SERVES.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Insert Title Here

by Thomas Smith
No, that's not a note to the editor. The title of this month's missive is just that: Insert Title Here.


Because I'm hoping what you’re about to read will spark something different for each of you.
This is not a how-to article, although I’d be willing to bet it will show some of you how to improve some aspect of your writing. It is not a lesson on point-of-view, though I imagine something in here will flip the “a-ha” switch in your head and help you solidify your voice. And it is not a lesson in the use of effective description techniques, thug I won’t be a bit surprised when someone emails me and says, “…after I read your column, something just clicked, and I was able to see a scene and make it pop for the first time.”

So what is this miracle column you hold in your hands (or see on your computer screen)?

It’s a meandering walk through my head with a single, simple message.

So, lets meander.

I have two stones in my office. One sits on my desk and the other sits on a bookshelf against my copy of When the Water Smokes (by Bob Simpson). The one on my desk is about the size of a baseball. It is rough and jagged in places and it looks like it would cause some real damage if someone threw it at you. It came from a field in Zebulon, NC. It is, I think, much like the stones that a crowd of men held just after they brought a woman and threw her down in front of Jesus. They had caught her in the act of adultery and were ready to stone her. So Jesus said, “OK, you caught her fair and square, and the law says you can stone her. So the one of you who has never sinned, YOU go first. Then everybody else join in.  Soon, there was just Jesus, a grateful woman, and a field full of stones. Like the one on my desk.

I keep it there to remind me not to throw stones.

The other stone, the one on the bookshelf, is small, round, and well worn. I picked it up near a pond I Chapel Hill, NC. I picked it up n one of my father’s occasional outings. From the time I started elementary school until I finished high school, I could count on seeing my father standing in the doorway of my homeroom class waving for me to go with him. He would take me out of school for the day and we would just go off together. I never knew where we were going. Often he didn’t either. He’d just decide it was a good father and son day and he’d come get me and off we’d go. In fact, the first piece of pizza I ever had from a real restaurant (Shakey’s Pizza Parlor) was the byproduct of one of those trips. Cheese. Ad we lived dangerously and added mozzarella cheese and a few red pepper flakes from real glass shakers. But on one of those trips, we went to a pond near where my father grew up and spent the afternoon skipping rocks like he did when he was a little boy. And while we skipped rocks,
he told me what it had been like back then.

The stone on my bookcase? It reminds me to slow down and remember the good days.

I have a press pass that Charlie Daniels signed for me after I had spent the better part of an afternoon hanging out with him on his tour bus just before a show in Aiken, SC. Charlie Daniels is a gracious man who has a strong faith, a great view of life, and is loyal to his friends.

I have books signed by writers I am fond of, many of them are friends and acquaintances of mine, and the majority of them have spent time on the NY Times Bestsellers List. An each one of tem reminds me that it is a noble thing to do what you love. But it is also a hard thing. A lonely thing. And that’s OK.

Over the past year I have been involved in some interesting projects. A couple of my short stories have been made into audio dramas. I’ve written greeting cards, book chapters for various projects, had 2-3 short stories published, done some ghostwriting, have completed the first 3 parts of a 2 year curriculum project for a major Christian publisher, and have a novella under consideration by the 2014 Horror Publisher of the Year. I’ve written some magazine articles, been published in Writer’s Digest (twice), and Chicken Soup for the Soul. That’s just what I remember off the top of my head.

Oh yeah, and I developed a character for NY Times Bestselling writer, Jonathan Maberry to use in his award winning Joe Ledger series. Montana Parker is one tough girl, and from what he tells me, he is having a blast writing her into the series.

As I look around me, I see dozens of pictures taken on my various travels. There’s my wife smiling as we take an ATV trip across the island of St Maarten. And below that is a picture of Pedro and his “horse” (and I use the term loosely) Dynamite. We hired him to take us on a tour of Cozumel. But we didn’t want a tourist tour. We wanted to see the real Cozumel.

So he hitched up his cart and took us to the places the tourists don’t see. At one point he turned to us and said, Would you like to see my community?” we said yes, and fifteen minutes later we were moving through a poor section of the city. And in the midst of the community was a squat, cinderblock building. It was painted pearl gray and had a colorful painting of an eagle on the side of the building.  He stopped across the street and drew our attention to a group of children walking across the lawn. The girls ere dressed in khaki skirts and blue blazers. The boys wore khaki pants and blue blazers.
“See those uniforms?” he said as the children entered the building. “We bought those last year. We’re the only school in this area that has such beautiful uniforms.” And as I listened to him tell the story of the American church group that came and helped them build the school, and watched his face light up as he related the hard work and wonderful community suppers that had brought in the money for uniforms over a period of a year, I realized that there’s nothing in the city where I live that is as magnificent as their little school. They have such great pride in what has become the center of their community.
We have no edifices as grand as a little gray school building built with pride.
And not the kind that “goeth before a fall.” No, this is the kind that says even in the midst of poverty there is great treasure.

In my office there is a poster (America’s Team…Just the Beginning) signed by the artist: Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean. He
is one of only 12 people to ever walk on the moon. The caption says, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It reminds me that anything is possible.

So much so, that you can even go back in time.

I know, because I’ve done it. When I was a reporter for the Aiken Standard, I was a witness to an amazing event. I drove out to a little Anglican church outside the city limits, got out of the truck, and prayed that the church door was unlocked because it was cold outside.  Fortunately it was, and we went inside. The church was warm, but the only light came from candles in the windows. The photographer was trying to find enough ambient light to take a picture. As I watched him, a figure emerged from the darkness, planted his staff on the floor, and said, “I am Nicholas. Bishop of Myra. What you call modern day Turkey.”

For the next hour we were in the presence of Saint Nicholas. The predecessor of Santa Claus. And as he told us about his life and his subsequent desire to help others, the event was so powerful and so real that the photographer took only one picture, and all I could say at the end of the hour was, “Thank you.”

We returned to the newsroom in silence, and I still get goose bumps when I think about it.

I’ve watched people die, watched them being born, I’ve seen them at their best, and at their worst. I have sailed the Caribbean and walked country roads. Had my heart broken and broken the hearts of others. I remember seeing my new bride for the first time a half hour before the service when someone brought her into the room where I was waiting. She was stunning (still is) and I was so happy that we had decided to see each other before the service and not during. That moment was just for us and not meant to be shared.

As I look back over my life, I see that I have been blessed. Fortunate. And my guess is, if you take an honest look at your life, you have been too. Your life has been different, certainly. But it has also been one experience after another. Some memorable, some not so much.

So what is the great writing lesson buried in all this foolishness?

Some of you have already figured it out.  Some of you have always known it.

The best lesson guaranteed to make your writing sing is living. Draw on the deep well of your experience. Mine the feelings. Relish the giggles and the tears. Then bring them to the page.

Because the color in every good story is the color of life.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Big 3

by +AneMulligan  @AneMulligan

Voice ... Brand ... Platform ... Yikes!

Each of these is something a writer must discover or develop. They have nothing to do with the mechanics of our craft, yet everything to do with getting published.

Platform takes time and development. It equates to how wide your circle of influence is—or how many books you can sell. There are tons of great articles out there on platform, so I'll leave it to them. I want to talk about voice and brands.

Voice means when someone picks up a book, whose cover was torn off ages ago, and looks at the first page can say, "Oh, this is a Gina Holmes novel." Why? Because of voice. The way she turns a sentence. The way she strings words together. The sound.

When I read Les Edgerton's book Finding Your Voice, he says look to your old letters. Friends of mine told me my Christmas letters were the only ones they read, because I waxed humorous over all the year's happenings. And Edgerton says that's where you'll find your voice.

Sandra D. Bricker says in an interview in CFOM: "When an editor at Summerside Press asked me to help launch their Love Finds You line by writing something “light and funny” for them, I wondered why they thought of me. After all, everything I’d submitted to them had been serious. It turned out that they’d found my emails amusing and quickly spotted what it took me a while longer to figure out: looking at the world through a sideways, funny spin is who God created me to be."

The same can be said for brand. Not always, but often someone else will notice your brand before you do. I know Brandilyn Collins's brand wasn't developed from her emails, or no one would ever answer her. Yet, everyone knows what to expect in a Brandilyn Collins book.

I wasn't even looking for my brand, when during an ACFW Southeast Zone loop discussion, Rose McCauley branded me from my emails with "Southern-fried fiction." She was right. It describes what I write ... Southern towns and Southern people with a little deep-fried humor.

When Pam Meyers was talking about brand with me one day, I saw what she hadn't noticed: the commonality in all her stories is a sentimental journey. 

So, don't try to brand yourself until you've got a few completed manuscripts or even published books. Then talk to your crit partners about their commonality.

Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She's a novelist, a humor columnist, and a multi-published playwright. President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, she resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband, their chef son, and two dogs of Biblical proportion. Her debut book, Chapel Springs Revival, released Sept, 2014.  "With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel." Following will be Chapel Springs Survival, Oct 2015, Home to Chapel Springs, May 2016. You can find Ane at her website, Novel Rocket, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+