Tag Archives: characters

What a Character


They’re all around us. The people whose outfits demand a raised eyebrow, whose accents incite chuckles, or whose topics of discussion could give hard-boiled news anchors a full-bodied blush. They are the real-life characters in your daily routine, and they make wonderful additions to your story, too.

Most of my fictional characters are fairly normal human-beings. They all tend to be semi-well-adjusted adults of various ages, with typical jobs, cars, homes, and families. But every story needs some quirkiness. It breaks up the normal, and wakes up your reader.

man-looking-through-binocularsI like to add some fun to a story with folks like Jib Boeller, a middle-aged man who insists that he saw the aliens who abducted the missing photographer. Rowan Kirk is a character I invented who refuses to wear neck-ties – why give an attacker a weapon already in place? – and who is fluent in nearly one hundred different languages, if you count all the most common computer programming scripts. I’m currently developing Ingrid, who is 118 years old with the appearance of a twenty-something supermodel. She’s a gourmet cook who loves opera and dangerous stunts.

My eccentric players are fictional, but their most defining character traits are certainly borrowed from my reality. I have friends who “speak” computer, see aliens, and jump from one adrenaline rush to the next. Every time I hear about someone doing something outrageous, I write down the basics and look for opportunities to include them in a story.

I don’t write them in such a way so that they could recognize themselves and be offended. I just include the details that make me curious about them in the first place. I believe that if I, as the author, am interested in them, then my audience will be, too.

Go ahead and give your reader a character who wears tiger-striped pants and chews fruflamesit gum whenever he wants to remember his computer passwords. Give your hero an Aunt Gilda who wears blue-glittered false eyelashes and drives a hearse with flames on the fenders.

These quirky folks don’t have to be your protagonists, but how a point-of-view character reacts to their idiosyncrasies can speak volumes to your reader. A vignette with a peculiar personality can provide your readers with respite from an otherwise tense scene. A well-placed kooky character can also help connect you to your reader. They will recognize their outfits, their mannerisms, or their habits, either in themselves or in someone they know.

Great characters are everywhere, just waiting to be part of your next tale. Keep your eyes and ears open and your pencil handy.

Kimberly Black

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Making Your Characters Leap Off the Page


Phyliss Miranda at Podium Good ShotWe’ve had an unusually long hiatus on this blog.  We’re still trying to work out some of the kinks to doing an multi-author blog.

I thought it would be a really nice touch to open our Program season with a guest post.  What will follow is a post by Phyliss Miranda, who will be speaking at our September 21, 2013 meeting.

A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today award-winning author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at www.phylissmiranda.com .

She blogs the first Tuesday of each month at http://petticoatsandpistols.com/

She blogs the first Tuesday of each month at Petticoatsandpistols.com.  Come to our meeting at the Amarillo Senior Citizens’ Center at 1217 S. Tyler.  Sign in is at 9:00 and Phyliss will begin at 9:30.  If you sign up for a box lunch from Baker Bros. before 10:00 you can join us after that for a critique session.

Now I’ll let Phyliss take over.

Suzanne Bogue

I’m honored to introduce you to Nicodemus Dartmouth, my hero, in my September 5th eKensington release The Tycoon and the Texan.

Before we begin with the interview, I’d like to give you the background on both how I selected the plot and Nick’s last name. I truly believe it was a gift from above.

My husband and I have friends who we’ve known for over forty years and vacationed with since their boys and our girls were young.

In 2002, my DH and I were on our way to meet them in Florida when we received a call, thank goodness for cell phones, that Harry had emergency heart surgery. He was in a coma, and the future was uncertain.  We immediately turned our car north and headed for Dartmouth Medical Center where he laid critically ill for weeks.  We were determined not to leave until he and Pat were safely home under their own roof.  And, that we did.

One day while sitting in the waiting room, my attention was drawn to a show on TV, you know the ones up in the corner of the room you have to crane your neck to see and can barely hear, that pertained to a foundation’s auction of bachelors for charity.  That seeded the idea for a story about a strong, multi-millionaire who ends up buying an ugly duckling at his own foundation’s charity ball. Of course, she had to be from Texas and his name had to be as strong and willful as my character, so Nicodemus Dartmouth was born.

Now nearly ten years and many vacations together later, my story The Tycoon and the Texan came out recently andPhyliss Miranda Smaller TheTycoonAndTheTexan eBook needless to say I dedicated it to our dearest friends.

Let’s get on with learning more about Nicodemus Dartmouth. I’m gonna let him tell you about himself first, and then he’ll answer some questions.

I don’t really like being referred to as a tycoon because I see myself as just another hardworking man in his 30’s. I have to admit being a product of a wealthy, widowed mother, who I don’t always see eye-to-eye with, did have its benefits. I worked my fingers to the bone to establish one of the largest construction firms on the west coast, while being CEO of Mother’s charity … the Elliott-Dartmouth foundation.  I own a Double A baseball farm team and love to workout with my players.  Mother is pretty well appalled when I show up at the office with bloody road rash showing through a tear in my baseball pants.  By the way, Josie, the Foundation Director and mother hen, thinks I belong in the dog pound. I have one supporter in the organization, well most of the time, and that’s McCall Johnson, who used to be my secretary at the construction company until I transferred her over to the foundation when I found myself crawling up twenty stories of red iron thinking about her.

Now back to the charity auction that Phyliss mentioned. Mother thought it was a grand idea to auction off bachelorettes, while I told her from the start it was a bad, really bad idea.  She called me into the office to go over the final arrangements, including the table decorations.  I need to be out at the construction company offices arranging for a shipment of material we don’t need to be shipped to Habitat for Humanity, but no I’m standing here looking at a bunch of flowers stuffed in a vase. I won’t even tell you what I think about them because Mother sure didn’t approve of my description.

The auction was a nightmare, just as I had predicted, although it raised a lot of money for the foundation … a good bit coming from me.

The jinx I apparently put on the event began when one of the bachelorettes called in sick and our resident Texan McCall Johnson was forced to step in.  In an unexpected turn of events, and I have to admit a bit of jealousy on my part to boot, I ended up paying what McCall called “a vulgar” amount for a week-long date with her.

That began our adventures … seven days to Texas.

I wanted so badly to show her that our lives weren’t that much different, but at every turn, I hit a roadblock.  From nearly cutting my finger off trying to prepare dinner on my private boat for her to seeing a ghost on Harris Grade coming out of Lompoc, California, something got in my way of showing her that I don’t get everything I want, although she thinks I do.

It took me the full seven days, plus some while visiting her Granny’s ranch in Texas, but I finally succeeded at showing the independent, spirited, uprooted Texan that our lives aren’t as different as it might seem, only to find that we are more alike than I ever dreamed … including our secrets.

I hope you’ll go buy The Tycoon and the Texan by native Texan, Phyliss Miranda, so you can learn more about me and Miss McCall Johnson.  By the way, if I have my way, she won’t be a Miss much longer.

Phyliss Miranda

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Filed under books, character arcs, characters, description, Speakers, techniques, Writing, writing advise

When Your Story Stalls


Have you ever gotten to the mid-point in a story or novel and found that you can’t go any further?  Something isn’t working and you can’t quite pinpoint what it is.

Whether you’re a seat-of-the-pants plotter or an outline maker, there are countless things that can veer your story off course.  How do you figure out where it all went wrong?  It’s simple and complicated at the same time.  Every story should have the four basic elements: Point, Theme(s), Character Arc(s), and Scenes that drive your plot to its conclusion.  Any or all of these things can be the trouble spot.

When your plot grinds to a halt, usually the point at which you have stalled is not the place where the actual plot-related problem has occurred.  If you go back about three chapters you can usually find where the plot failed.

Check the scene functions starting at that point.  Does each scene perform at least one function related to any or all of the four elements?  Does your main character’s personality speak to your plot’s needs or impede the progress?  It is not always apparent when you first conceive of your main character whether you’ve picked the right one.  Maybe one of the other major characters is actually the one who should be the hero.  Maybe one of the minor characters has shown themselves more worthy of carrying the plot to its conclusion.   Have you advanced the character arc for your hero or villain, or have they stalled?  Does he have the right motivation?

If reading three chapters back does not reveal the sticking point, go back another chapter and continue in this fashion until you have found the place where everything went wrong.  Reading for errors at any point in the writing process is always a good idea.  More than likely you will find the problem within the first three chapters ahead of your stopping point, but be persistent until you find and fix the error.  Read through several times using this method.  If at first you don’t succeed, put it down, walk away for a day or two, and try again.

The solution is there waiting to be discovered.  The complicated part is looking at the plot with fresh, objective eyes and taking the precious time out of your writing schedule to do so.  The simple part is when you find and fix it.

As Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing.  I love having written.”

Where is your story stalling point?  What techniques are the most helpful to you?

Suzanne Bogue

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On Writing the World


I recently took a trip for my day job employer, going from Lubbock, (west) Texas to Mississippi, and on to points in Arkansas and Louisiana. You wouldn’t think there would be that much difference in the land and culture. You wouldn’t think so.

First thing you notice coming in from the air is that great big river. We have some creeks which run in rainy weather, but nothing to compare with “Ol’ Man River.”

Jackson is carved out of hills and trees, and the drive to Vicksburg is beautiful, but foreign, to a plains boy who’s used to seeing for miles and miles.

Staying at a casino hotel in Vicksburg, I watched and photographed the barges making their way up and down the Mississippi, making that grand turn at the bend.

Over the river in Arkansas and Louisiana, you see the flat ground of the Mississippi Delta. Farmland and trees, bayous and river runs.

It’s the people who make it different, though. Peddling farm implements, I meet agricultural equipment dealers. They have their own way about things. It’s like a tee shirt I saw in a touristy shop. It said, “We don’t care how you do it ‘up north.'” That’s the truth. What works elsewhere just don’t necessarily work in the Delta. And when deer season comes, well, you wait until it’s over. They are serious about deer hunting. And duck hunting. And fishing. You get the idea.

History is different there. It was settled by European interlopers a century or more before my area was. The civil war still echoes. Racial tensions, too. Palpable. Not that we don’t have them in Lubbock, but I was unprepared for their intensity the first time I went.

You may be wondering by now: what does this have to do with writing? Contrast. It’s hard to get a view of culture until you see the differences, really understand that while people hold certain common beliefs and concepts, they are unique in many ways. That contrast can breed conflict or delight, very valuable commodities when you’re penning a story.

If you want to write about the world, get out in it.

Joe Trent

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Read, Read, Read


The most common writing advice I have received is to “read, read, read and write, write, write.” When I first heard this, I thought the reading part was easy. After all, I loved to read; it’s one of the reasons I’m a writer. But at the time, I would finish a book, make a mental note of whether I thought it was good or not, and move on to the next one. Recently, I discovered a different approach to my reading. I started noticing the pieces that make a book work and applying them to my own writing. So here’s my advice on reading:

First, learn about the mechanics of a story by reading books about writing or attending writing workshops. That way you’ll know the basics of what to look for. Then, when you finish a book, ask yourself what you liked about it. Was it the interesting characters, exciting plot, vivid descriptions, or did something else jump out at you? Likewise, if you didn’t like the book, or worse, couldn’t finish it, ask what went wrong. Were the characters flat, the plot boring, pacing too slow? Reading books in this way helps you to know what to put in to your writing and what to leave out. And it enables you to reach the ultimate goal of writing a book your readers can’t put down.

Lynnette Jalufka

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