Creating an Compelling Character

The main character of your book is key to both the story itself and to your readers’ enjoyment. An interesting hero will keep readers turning pages and bring them back to your book again and again.

It’s the centerpiece of your story. The source of all reader satisfaction and dismay, and it might not be what you think.

World-building, romance, a good antagonist, and epic battles are all important to telling a good story, but at the end of the day, people want to read books about people. That’s why a strong protagonist is an absolute must for all-powerful stories.

Used here, strong means to describe the realism and depth of the protagonist, not their physical or emotional strength. Some of the best characters ever written actually start out lacking in one of these areas, and it’s that growth that makes their story so engaging.

Here are three activities to help you make sure you don’t end up with a flat, cookie-cutter character, but with a strong protagonist to drive your story.

A great way to get your protagonist off to a strong start is to build them a profile of interests, values, flaws, and abilities. Build a list of traits for your character using the list below, and you’ll have a solid foundation to start with.

Choose one interest:
Give your protagonist something to love! It can really be anything, as long as it aligns with his or her core values, i.e., a deeply religious protagonist probably wouldn’t have an interest in artistic vandalism.

It is advisable to make it something that fits into your story. For instance, you can make your protagonist seem more human by giving them a love of playing piano, but it won’t do much for readers if he or she never comes across a piano in the story.

Choose two core values:
Core values are (seemingly) unshakable beliefs your protagonist holds, at least at the beginning of the story. One of the most powerful storytelling devices is challenging those beliefs, but we’ll get to that later.

For now, pick two things your character believes in, that matter to him or her more than anything. Examples of these values include: religion, spirituality, family, revenge, justice, community service, advancement in a business and so on.

Choose one character flaw:
Make something wrong with them! It doesn’t necessarily need to have anything to do with morals either. A flaw is just an aspect of a character’s personality that creates challenges for them in the plot, and as such should have something to do with the conflict.

An example of an effective character flaw would be giving your protagonist the need to handle problems alone in a situation where others’ skill sets are needed. Your protagonist’s growth towards accepting help as they fail to conquer obstacles on their own makes for an interesting journey.

An ineffective character flaw would be to make your protagonist bad at math in an adventure story where the conflict revolves around a quest. It wouldn’t necessarily lead to failure, or challenges. Your character might never fail or experience adversity, which would make for a very boring story.

Choose one change to your Protagonist Profile:
This change is something that should be sprinkled throughout the story, through many minor conflicts like the alleyway experiment above. As the story goes on, your protagonist should question one of their core values, or perhaps gain a new one. They might act in a way that defies their flaw.

Your protagonist can grow, or devolve. There are endless possible paths he or she can take, but the key is to make sure your protagonist is not the exact same person at the end of your story that they were at the start.

This is just one method of piecing together the aspects of a strong protagonist. If you build them a Profile, then put them through a minor conflict, and make sure they change, you’ll have a great place to start.

Remember, the plot revolves around your protagonist’s conflict. Make sure they aren’t defined by one trait. Make sure they are a strong character, and the story should follow.
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My fictions have appeared in numerous publications, including Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings, Blue Earth Review, Micro Monday, R-KV-R-Y, Funny in Five Hundred, Blue Lake Magazine, Adanna Literary, Dying Dahlia Review, 34th Parallel Magazine, Off the Rocks, and others. The News was on stage at a Chicago Theater. I was a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Also, my book of my stories placed semi-finalist from Elixir Press.

My Debut Novel by Patricia Childers

I am having trouble writing my book.

All my life, I have been a writer. I have written stories, magazine articles, blog posts, marketing articles, research papers and so many book beginnings that I have lost count. And all my adult life I have studied the craft of writing and story structure, along with how to create a hero in either my book of stories or my mystery.

And yet, I am having trouble writing my book.

I began with an idea thought out very carefully over a period of weeks. I reached chapter three and realized that an idea, no matter how cogent, is not a story. It is simply an idea for a story. I began again when the entire story was fully developed. I didn’t get past chapter three. A story without character development is just a pile of bricks and stones.

I took time to imagine the characters as complete human beings with childhoods, goals, and flaws. My hero started to breathe, as did her supporting cast. She was angry, insecure, and funny at times. She was apt to fall in love too easily, and pull away too soon. And yet, as I said before, I am having trouble writing my book, and while I made it to chapter four, I stopped.

My book had a serious problem. There was no conflict. Without conflict, pitfalls, and wrong turns, there is no change. And a hero who cannot change is boring. I’ll admit it. The story worked and everything fit, but it was boring. I had to kill somebody.

I killed Larry. And because I killed Larry, there was a mystery to solve. There was a murderer who stood in the hero’s way. She changed from the diminutive angry woman at the beginning to a strong, self-assured woman able to solve a mystery and stop a killer from making her the next victim. Not boring.

As I begin again, I am in no way frustrated because with each step I learn so much. There is a lot that goes into writing a book, but there is so much more that goes into writing a great book. I’m not interested in writing an average book. I’ll just keep trying until I get it right and I can share the story with readers who will love it as much as I do.

Look for it in the spring. “Don’t Call Me Daughter,” by Patricia Childers.
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Patricia Childers is a writer and editorial development editor at MBH Publishing Co., and she is an advocate of good writers who strive to be better writers. She has a book in process titled “Too Much is Never Enough,” a mystery set in Georgia. She can be reached at Pat@MyBlueHorse.com.

5 Techniques to Boost Your Output

Many people dream of becoming writers. By one estimate, 200 million Americans want to write a book someday.

Whether you aspire to become an author, run a successful blog, or write in your spare time as a creative outlet, it all starts with simply dedicating the time to write.

Learning how to write is a skill that takes time to develop. Luckily, there are many techniques you can use to flex your writing muscles.

Here are some tips and advice for getting started.

Use writing prompts
Doing writing exercises is a really effective way to learn how to write more. The internet is filled with writing prompts you can use, whether it’s writing a letter to your younger self or writing about a once-in-a-lifetime destination you’d like to visit.

Sometimes, writing is more difficult because we don’t have an idea to start with. That’s where writing prompts can help. Check out Writer’s Digest, and Reedsy for creative writing prompts that can help you develop a healthy writing habit. The website 750 Words, which encourages writers to write three pages (or 750 words a day) and tracks their word count, is another great resource.

Write when you’re most productive
Some of us are morning people, while others are total night owls — and still others may find their productive peak at another time in the day. Whatever category you fall into, write when you have the most energy and your mind is the clearest.

Another thing that can boost your writing productivity is to set a timer. You may have small windows during the day to write, whether it’s 10 or 20 minutes. Set a timer and use these times to write. Having a very defined time to put pen to paper (or words on the screen) might inspire short bursts of creativity because you know the time commitment is minimal. And over time, writing 10 to 20 minutes a day adds up and can become a part of your daily or weekly routine.

Find an accountability buddy
We all need encouragement to achieve our goals. That’s why it helps to have someone to keep you accountable. If you want to write, find accountability and support in the form of a writing group or writing partner. You also can take a weekly writing class.

Do an online search to find local classes and in-person writing groups.

Read more
This may seem counterintuitive, but reading more can actually help you become a better writer.

We’ve all heard of writer’s block, but there’s also such a thing as “ideas’ block.” You can’t write if you have nothing to say. Reading more can open you up to a new world of ideas that may just inspire your own.

Just write
People often struggle to get into a regular habit of writing because they treat every word as precious and delicate. But writing is a messy, constantly evolving process — you won’t get it right the first time.

Rather than editing your work to oblivion as you write, focus on getting something on the page first. Then, you can improve it later. Just like they say in the 2000 film Finding Forrester, “You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think.”

In the end, that’s great advice for any writer, whether professional or aspiring.
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My fictions have appeared in numerous publications, including Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings, Blue Earth Review, Micro Monday, R-KV-R-Y, Funny in Five Hundred, Blue Lake Magazine, Adanna Literary, Dying Dahlia Review, 34th Parallel Magazine, Off the Rocks, and others. I was a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of my stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Also, my book of stories placed semi-finalist from Elixir Press.

Trust Your Creativity

How can you continue to create when you’re plagued with self-doubt? How can you let go of your fears and trust your creativity in order to move forward as a writer?

No one else can learn this stuff for you. So you have to find ways to put your self-doubt behind you.

Here are some ways to put your self-doubt behind you where it belongs:

• Trusting ourselves to be able to do the work of writing
• Being a new runner and learning lessons about writing from that
• Staying where your words are
• Balancing discipline with looking after ourselves
• Choosing ourselves over the approval of others
• Claiming our own experiences
• Dealing with the fears that come up around sharing our stories
• Be authentic
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My fictions appear in numerous publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings, Blue Earth Review, 34th Parallel and many others. I am a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of my stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Also, my book of stories placed semi-finalist from Elixir Press.

Writing Tips: Three Ideas

It would be great if our first drafts were the end of the hard work of writing. Unfortunately, the first draft is often the beginning.

Every writer dedicated to bringing out the best in their craft knows that the revision process is every bit as important, and every bit as challenging, as completing that ever-elusive first draft.

But not every revision is so successful.Here are some questions to ask. Why? What went wrong? And how can we do better next time?

It’s important to keep in mind that the central driving force of narrative is cause and effect. Nearly everything that happens in a work of prose, every plot beat, is in some respect the effect of what precedes it and the cause of what follows.

So when you change something, that change has ramifications. The rest of the scene may not play out exactly the same way. The next scene might not play out exactly the same way—or it might not happen at all. And that, in turn, is going to have it’s own set of repercussions.

So relying on pebbles as revisions is in some respects antithetical to the very idea of narrative. You need to dig and dam that stream.

You need to throw stones and boulders—or at the very least to be willing to do so.

If you revise with a mind toward changing as little as possible, the quality of your manuscript isn’t going to change much either.

Here are three ideas that may make the revision process a little easier.

1. Revise Like a Renegade
Some of the most impressive revisions I’ve ever seen are those in which major swaths of the manuscript—or even the whole thing—have been completely rewritten. Inevitably the result has been a far stronger next draft.

Does that mean that you should be expected to rewrite your novel from scratch? No. Of course not. But you should be willing to, if necessary.

One of the great challenges of the revision process is that it feels like it should require less work than writing the first draft, because writing a complete first draft itself feels a lot like finishing a book.

Even if you recognize there’s more work ahead, isn’t revising pretty determinedly the back stretch of the process? Aren’t you almost done? Sometimes you are. Often you’re not. And the point is that if the best and most effective route to the changes we need to see in the next draft is to blow the whole thing up—or at least major portions of it—then that’s what you need to do.

2. Revise with Care
We’re just blowing things up to watch the world burn. We’re not diverting the stream just to splash around in the puddles. Our steps may be big and bold, but they’re taken toward a defined destination. So before you apply the TNT to your previous draft, it’s a good idea to have a plan.

It’s best not to dive right into the manuscript and start revising. Take a step back first. Consider what exactly you want to do and why. It might be a good idea to write up a new outline, or to examine each character for motivation and character arc.

Determine your priorities too. The dialogue on page 153 may be awkward, but hold off on revising that until you’ve unraveled the inconsistent and undefined character arcs that lead to it.

In other words, don’t try to do whatever it takes until you know what you’re trying to do.

3. You’re Not Starting Over
Maybe the most important thing to understand is that however many or few revisions your manuscript requires, you’re not starting over—even if you are literally rewriting the whole thing. The rewritten draft could not exist without the one before. It’s the stream itself that informs the diversion. And like a stream, revision always moves forward, even when the twists and turns feel like going back.

Revision is every bit as important as writing the first draft. But if you give the revision process what it deserves, you will be rewarded with a completed draft that reflects your very best work.And you’ll be all the more proud of it knowing how much time and effort went into it.

Do you struggle with overwriting? Or have you conquered this part of the writing craft? Please leave your thoughts below.
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My fictions appear in numerous publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings, Blue Earth Review and many others. I am a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of my stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Also, my book of stories placed semi-finalist from Elixir Press.

Writing Tips: Overcoming Creative Blocks

Can you relate to this scenario?

Imagine that the planets have aligned. The stars are twinkling and shining bright over your Muse. The inspiring energy of the waxing moon has fueled your creative well and you are at the top of your writing game.
Then, in the next instant, you’re drawing a blank. Suddenly, your words have hit a brick wall, your characters are giving you the evil-eye and the stars have forsaken your Muse for a glitzy night out on the town in New York City. And you weren’t invited.

Sound familiar?

These are the moments that define us as writers; when we realize that we cannot always rely on the Muse to get creative. So, when the Muse has left us high and dry, we need a back-up plan. One that allows us to explore and engage our imaginative resources dwelling in the creative realms.

I’m going to share an alternative methods that I use to tap into my higher-creative mind.

Understanding the Higher Mind for Creativity
To understand how we can deliberately access the depths of the higher mind, we must first understand that the human mind has many layers. Cognitive neuroscientists claim that only five percent of our brain is conscious while the rest lies beyond our awareness.

The conscious mind rules rational thought and language, as well as logical processing, while the unconscious mind thinks in the expression of form such as images, memories, underlying desires and creativity.

It is the unconscious part of the mind that holds many keys to the lasting power of creativity. Creativity takes courage. As writers, we yearn to tell stories; to express a sacred part of ourselves and share it with the world.When we connect to our natural creative resources, we are actually tuning into the unconscious part of our minds; this is where we discover the pathways that lead us to glorious realms – the highest part of ourselves that defines our existence – the obscure and mystic higher-creative mind.


Raise your Vibration

It is well-established that when we raise our level of vibration, we attract influences from higher realms. While we don’t know for certain where artistic inspiration originates, this wondrous resource is available to us all and is the cornerstone of all creation. The higher the frequency of your energy or vibration, the lighter you feel in your physical, emotional and mental bodies. By raising your vibration, you become more in touch with your higher self.

Practice raising your vibration by:

1. Connect with nature – there is nothing like curling your toes between grainy sand, or feeling the soft blades of grass folding beneath your bare feet. Don’t roll your eyes and frown, because guess what? Getting intimate with the earth is like tapping into a natural reservoir of electric energy. That’s right, the earth is equipped to absorb negative energy as well as supply what is needed to achieve homeostasis in our bodies. In short, stepping on the ground electrically balances you!

2. Explore your inner-world through free writing – free writing is to the mind what yoga is to the body. Allowing your thoughts to run free without restriction through your writing develops and fosters your writing abilities, as well as drives inspiration. In addition to promoting good writing habits, free-writing unearths emotional themes and can shatter those invisible barriers stifling creative expression.

3. Contemplate your divinity and reflect – without getting too enigmatic, it is amazing the revelations available to us when we take the time to ponder the mystery of life and our connection to all that is. It is in the small, quiet moments when you’re digging your toes in the sand and gazing at the ocean, or just sitting beneath the sun and appreciating its warmth that you connect with a higher energy, thus, raising your own vibration. Acknowledging and becoming aware of your connection to the universe cannot be underestimated.
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Sue Powers also is an accomplished short story writer. She has a book of stories entitled A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness that is seeking a publisher. She is also writing a mystery yet to be titled.

Writing a Good Book

Anyone can write a book, and with the advent of print-on-demand publishing, anyone can publish a book. But not everyone can write and publish a good book, because it takes more than being able to navigate a keyboard to become a good writer.

Aids to becoming a good writer:

• Strunk & White’s the Elements of Style. A classic reference book on grammar and composition. Only 43 pages long.

• On Writing, by Stephen King. King’s book delves into the basic building blocks of writing a book, including vocabulary, grammar, the sentence, and the paragraph.

• The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, 3rd Edition, by Christopher Vogler. This is a book that explores the hero’s journey and each step he must go through to reach the elixir, a metaphor for what the hero brings back from his journey. The most basic hero’s journey is illustrated by the first Star Wars movie. Luke begins in the original world, receives the call to adventure, refuses the call, meets the mentor, answers the call and goes forward into the adventure.

• Myth and the Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure of 50 Unforgettable Movies, by Stuart Voytilla. This is a fun way to understand the hero’s journey by examining familiar movies. You’ll never watch movies the same way again.

• Read, read, read. Especially read books in the genre you write in. If your book is science fiction, read Jules Verne and contemporary writers, too. If you write mysteries, read them. If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time to write, either.

If you don’t want to educate yourself, and you’d rather just “pound this sucker out.” That’s fine. You can find someone to pay to publish it for you. Put a copy in your bookcase and tell your friends you’re a published writer. The thing is, though, there isn’t a market for bad books. Nobody wants to read them and they certainly don’t buy them.

If you want to be a good writer who produces books that people enjoy reading and buying, do the work. Figure it out. Get the help you need. Be relentless and you will be successful.
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Patricia Childers is an Editorial Development Editor at Foggy Bottom Books. She can be reached at pat@foggybottombooks.com.

I’m Writing a Mystery

If you think it’s easy to write a short story day after day, think again. Which is why I’m writing a a mystery, TWIST. Actually, it’s my second mystery. The first one I didn’t think was good so I moved it to a place where I didn’t see it.

In my second mystery, Tine and Thomas are the main characters. Tine’s friend, Bonnie, has been murdered and Thomas broke his leg, so although Tine is a writer, Tine has to proceed as if she were Thomas, the actual Private Investigator.

Tine dumped her boyfriend and now has a new guy, Carl who is a cop. She’s need information and Carl won’t give to her. So she has to find a way to get from him. Carl is a policeman and wants to keep his ethics intact. You have to read a book where the police are the main characters in order to do this because police work is very technical.

I know I should have plotted out the chapters. But that’s not how I write.

I can’t reveal the ending, although I know how it ends.

If you want to comment, go ahead.
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I have an array of publishing credits. Among my favorites are Saturday Evening Post, New Millennium Writings, Blue Earth Review, Funny in Five Hundred, Another Chicago Magazine, Happy, Facets, The Writer’s Place 34th Parallel and Samizdada. I am a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship and Grant in Prose, and two of my stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

My book of stories, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness, is still seeking a publisher.

Capturing Your Ideas

Every person has had more than one moment where a brilliant idea pops into his or her mind. Sadly, if we don’t capture those ideas quickly they may be forgotten in the busy rush of life.

When a writer is crafting her next bestselling book, capturing creative ideas on the fly is often the greatest author challenge. The last thing you want is a missed opportunity at creating something special.

What if you are out for a run and forgot what you were thinking when you arrived at your residence? For writing consistency, one must remember and capture those fleeting moments.

When you have that next idea in mind, here are ways to capture it quickly, before your thoughts move on to something else:

• Keep paper and a pen or pencil handy and write down your ideas.
• Type up your ideas on your computer
• Use Google Notes to capture your ideas.

I also read a great deal. If I didn’t, I would never write anything down. Reading provides me with ideas for my writing. I’m currently reading Sue Grafton’s I is for Innocent. Ms. Grafton is funny and sometimes she’s profound, but she knows how to write a mystery. I’m keeping notes on how she does it.

If you have other ideas, please comment.
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I’m writing a mystery called TWIST. Not finished yet.

Why Do I Bother

It seems to me only one or two people like my blog. Which makes me wonder why I bother blogging?

If you’re an author, you’re told to have a blog. Why? So when you’re book is published people can buy your book from your blog.

I haven’t found that way yet. I hope I do.
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My book of stories, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness, is still looking for a publisher.