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Monday, December 18

8 Tips for Creating Characters

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I'm well into week two of a terrible cold, but just well enough to get something accomplished, so I'm dipping into the archives again. Here are some tips to consider when creating a character.   

Characters make the story. No matter how intriguing the idea or exciting the plot, if there isn't a character there we care about (even if it's just curiosity or fascination) the rest of it falls flat.

There are all kinds of ways to develop characters. One of the more common ways is the character worksheet--long lists of questions you fill out that determine physical characteristics, likes, dislikes, history, etc. For many writers, this is a useful way to develop and create a character.

I'm not one of those writers.

Saturday, December 16

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Historical Middle Grade Opening Hook You?

Critique By Maria D'Marco

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: One 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through December 23.

This week’s questions:

Does the opening hook you? Do you want to read more? Does it give enough information for the reader to understand the setting and the critical issues the MC will face? Alice is 12 and Henry 10: does the dialogue seem too mature for contemporary readers? Does the opening suggest adventure and a bit of mystery?


Market/Genre: Middle Grade Historical Novel set in 1893

On to the diagnosis…

Friday, December 15

4 Tips on Writing Action Scenes

action scenes
Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

This week's Refresher Friday takes an updated look at another favorite from the archives--exploring ways to write great action scenes. Enjoy!

I like action in my entertainment. Books, movies, TV shows, even games. I also enjoy a great story to go with it, but I like the external forces that cause the true nature of a person to bubble to the surface. I want to see what people do and discover why they did it. 

At this point in my career, writing action comes pretty easily to me, but that wasn't always the case. My early work was way too descriptive in how my fight scenes played out--I explained every detail, I created special names for fighting styles and whatnot. It took longer to read the action that it did to actually perform the action.

Thursday, December 14

Understanding Pay-Per Advertising

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy

Part of the Indie Author Series


Welcome back to my ongoing series on advertising as an indie author.

If you haven’t read all the previous posts in this series, I recommend you start from the beginning. We’ve already looked at a big picture overview of when and what we might want to advertise, and we talked about whether there’s ever a time when it’s okay to lose money on advertising.

Then I threw you into the math deep-end because we needed to figure out whether we’re earning or losing money on our ads and how read-through affects our investment.

Last month we moved on to one of the different options available to us for advertising—newsletter ads.

This month I’m continuing on with “pay-per” ads.

Tuesday, December 12

The Ultimate Guide to Character Motivation (Part 2)

character motivation, laurence macnaughton
By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton

Part of the How They Do It Series (Contributing Author)


Why do heroes and villains do what they do? In Part 1 of this article, we explored Greed, Revenge, and Acceptance, three of the most powerful motivations in literature. Now, let's find out how you can you can create fascinating characters driven by the need for Identity, Love, or Survival.

I is for Identity


Who am I? That question lies at the core of countless stories.

A character driven to establish their identity often begins the story in a negative place, and then has a moment of clarity that tells them why they need to fundamentally change who they are. This is a common motivation for characters just starting out in life who strive to become someone better. It also works for mature characters who have fallen from grace and need to redeem themselves.

Saturday, December 9

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Opening Work?

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Two 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through December 23.

This week’s question:

Does this opening work?


Market/Genre: Unspecified

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Please Note: This submission went over the word limit, but I’ve included the extra text in the submission because I do refer to it in the diagnostic.

A soft finger slid down the bridge of my nose. Tender lips kissed my eyelids. I opened my eyes from my pretend nap and stared at the gorgeous man settling near my bare feet. First class recliners were my favorite way to fly.

Eli handed me a shot of whiskey. “You’re seriously going to sleep the whole way home?”

Given his loosened tie and mussed hair, he looked like he'd already had several shots. I downed the soothing liquid and smiled. “That was my plan.” The best way to avoid discussing hot topics.

He refreshed my drink. “It’s time to discuss our relationship, Maze. Stop putting it off.”

I glanced at two elderly passengers nearby. From the looks on their faces, they were enthralled with Eli. It was understandable. The handsome congressman resembled a young Robert Redford.

I sat up and pulled out my purse, removing a tube of moisturizer. “Fine. If you insist.” My stomach knotted as I applied the soothing lotion to my skin.

Eli cracked a smile, one I doubted I’d see after our conversation. “I insist.”

“Eli, darling, I’ve told you since we were fifteen I needed until I was thirty-five to decide.”

He set our glasses down and lifted my hand, caressing my fingers between his. “You turn thirty-five in less than a month. I’ve put up with your dating game for twenty years.”

“And now, I hope you’ll put up with it for one more month. I’m going to find that mystery man I've been seeing around town, Eli. I’ll get to the bottom of what our bizarre attraction means.”

His brow furrowed, and his jaw tightened. He grabbed my moisturizer and squirted a blob on his hands, then rubbed his with mine. “Could it be you’re just scared to settle down with me, so you use this as an excuse?”

“I’m not afraid, I just need time.” Time to figure out everyone's motives. Even yours, Eli.

Our fingers entwined, and he grinned. “I’ve allowed you to limit our relationship to one hundred days a year. I’ve watched you date football players, baseball players, actors, and anyone who turns those green eyes of yours flaming red.”

“I promise, this is the last time you’ll have to watch me disqualify a marriage prospect.” Releasing my hands from his, I slid the moisturizer back into my purse. “When we get home, I’m searching San Francisco, and I’ll find him before you and I marry. I shook my head. “You’ve gone out with your share of women. Please, don’t pretend you’ve been pining away.”

“We’ve both enjoyed our youth, but it’s time.” Eli placed a blanket over my legs and brushed a hand through his soft hair. He changed the subject in the smoothest way politicians must learn in the womb. “I know your family is a forbidden subject to discuss but…”

“No exceptions, sorry.” I pulled him toward me and kissed his cheek. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you”

“I’ve always agreed, except now, I see that approach hasn’t worked for you." His serious congressman face appeared. “What happened before I arrived in Zurich?” He pushed my blanket aside and stroked my ankle bracelet, rubbing the ancient gemstones with his sensitive hands. “What’s going on? Instead of mellow and sexy, you’ve been cold and indifferent.”

“I was forced to grow up and face my destiny.” I reached into my purse and pulled out a sleep mask. My fingers molded into fists around the lace edges. "I can't answer the other questions today, I'm sorry."

My Thoughts in Purple:

A soft finger slid down the bridge of my nose. Tender lips kissed my eyelids. I opened my eyes from my pretend nap and stared at the gorgeous man settling near my bare feet. First class recliners were my favorite way to fly.

Eli handed me a shot of whiskey. “You’re seriously going to sleep the whole way home?”

Given his loosened tie and mussed hair, he looked like he'd already had several shots. I downed the soothing liquid and smiled. “That was my plan.” [The best way to avoid discussing hot topics.] Makes me curious what that might be.

He refreshed my drink. [“It’s time to discuss our relationship] On a plane seems like a weird place for this, so “it’s time” felt off to me. Maybe more of a "I'm done waiting?" type phrase? Maze. Stop putting it off.”

I glanced at two elderly passengers nearby. From the looks on their faces, they were enthralled with Eli. It was understandable. The handsome congressman resembled a young Robert Redford.

I sat up and pulled out my purse, removing a tube of moisturizer. “Fine. If you insist.” My stomach knotted as I applied the soothing lotion to my skin.

Eli cracked a smile, [one I doubted I’d see after our conversation.] Makes me think she’s about to dump him, which adds some conflict “I insist.”

“Eli, darling, I’ve told you [since we were fifteen I needed until I was thirty-five to decide.”] This might just be a way to show how long they’ve been together, but this feels off to me. She knew at fifteen she didn’t want to decide on love (?) until thirty-five?

He set our glasses down and lifted my hand, caressing my fingers between his. “You turn thirty-five in less than a month. [I’ve put up with your dating game for twenty years.” ] Why?

“And now, I hope you’ll put up with it for one more month. [I’m going to find that mystery man I've been seeing around town, Eli. I’ll get to the bottom of what our bizarre attraction means.”] It’s nice that they can be so open about this, but Eli ought to run if she’s put him off for twenty years over this (grin). This also makes her seem callous and unlikable.

His brow furrowed, and his jaw tightened. He grabbed my moisturizer and squirted a blob on his hands, then rubbed his with mine. “Could it be you’re just scared to settle down with me, so you use this as an excuse?”

“I’m not afraid, I just need time.” Time to figure out everyone's motives.[Even yours, Eli.] This also intrigues me, because this situation is a bit odd, so I’m wondering what’s with these two. (end of official submission)

Our fingers entwined, and he grinned. “I’ve allowed you to limit our relationship to one hundred days a year. I’ve watched you date football players, baseball players, actors, and anyone who turns those green eyes of yours flaming red.”

“I promise, this is the last time you’ll have to watch me disqualify a marriage prospect.” Releasing my hands from his, I slid the moisturizer back into my purse. “When we get home, I’m searching San Francisco, and I’ll find him before you and I marry. I shook my head. “You’ve gone out with your share of women. Please, don’t pretend you’ve been pining away.”

“We’ve both enjoyed our youth, but it’s time.” Eli placed a blanket over my legs and brushed a hand through his soft hair. He changed the subject in the smoothest way politicians must learn in the womb. “I know your family is a forbidden subject to discuss but…”

“No exceptions, sorry.” I pulled him toward me and kissed his cheek. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you”

“I’ve always agreed, except now, I see that approach hasn’t worked for you." His serious congressman face appeared. “What happened before I arrived in Zurich?” He pushed my blanket aside and stroked my ankle bracelet, rubbing the ancient gemstones with his sensitive hands. “What’s going on? Instead of mellow and sexy, you’ve been cold and indifferent.”

“I was forced to grow up and face my destiny.” I reached into my purse and pulled out a sleep mask. My fingers molded into fists around the lace edges. "I can't answer the other questions today, I'm sorry."

The question:

1. Does this opening work?


This is a case where the cover copy would make or break it, but yes, I think so (readers chime in, especially romance fans). The situation is a little odd, and I suspect knowing the general plot of the story would clear up some of the uncertainty I had about what’s going on.

For example, something feels off about her “wait until I’m thirty-five” declaration. From just seeing this first-page snippet and knowing nothing else, it appears that when she was fifteen she said something about her romantic life that she wouldn’t decide until she was thirty-five. I assume it’s marriage, though “settle down with me” is the only real indication about what that decision entails. But sticking with a “I won’t get married until I’m thirty-five” decision made at fifteen seems childish, especially if these two have been together twenty years. I assume there’s more to this, so I’m willing to read on for now. There’s a bit more about it past the opening page that shows this is an unusual situation and relationship, so it does explain a little more fairly quickly.

Her “I want to know what this attraction means” statement is also strange. She’s been dating Eli for twenty years, yet she’s still looking for a better option? Why does he put up with it? This seems so callous and cold to me that it’s a little hard to like her as a character, though I suspect there’s more here than meets the eye, and that would have been covered in the cover copy. More of this is also seem past the first page, and that makes me wonder why he's willing to have such an unconventional relationship with her. Who is she that makes this worth it?

No genre was specified in this, and I assumed romance, though by the end I wonder if this has a supernatural bent. Her comments about “destiny” have a light fantasy or paranormal vibe to them, as do her flaming eyes and off-limits family.

Overall, there’s enough here to intrigue me about what’s going on with these two, and even though Maze seems mean to Eli, I have a feeling there’s more going on that I’m not seeing. Her questioning his motives helps keep her on the right side of likable, as this suggests he’s not just a guy who’s been in love with her for twenty years while she blows him off looking for someone better. Why does he put up with this? Why does he want to marry her this badly? What is she hiding? I’m curious to know.

(Here’s more on writing the opening scene)

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

Friday, December 8

Fill in the Blanks: A Plot Template to Keep you on Target

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

This week's Refresher Friday dips into a golden oldie with another look at a fun template to help you plot. Enjoy!

A while back I shared some great plotting tips from Southpark creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I've been using them myself as I revise, but I couldn't stop thinking of other ways to apply this technique. I was also thinking about something a commenter said, and how this applied to the bigger macro issues, not just in the smaller goal-driving aspects. I was working on a blog post for that when it hit me.

This could make a really cool plot template.

The tip works on a micro level to see if your protagonist's actions are driving the plot, but when you pull back, you can also see how the entire scene works on a larger scale. The cause and effect of your scenes doesn't have to be as specific as my examples last week.

Thursday, December 7

Discriminating Against Quality: the New Low of Traditional Publishing

By Dario Ciriello

Part of the Indie Author Series


In the last few months I’ve had the good fortune to see two extraordinary manuscripts.

One of these was a developmental edit on a novel I’d critiqued the opening chapters of last year. The work is an intensely dark suspense novel set in a remote tavern in the Northeast at the time of the Revolutionary War. The piece is saturated in atmosphere, the narrative and character voices terse and spare. It’s as startling a novel as I’ve ever come across, the sort of thing agents and editors at publishing houses claim to live for. I had been impressed by the chapters I’d critiqued initially; now, weeks after returning the edited manuscript, I find myself still thinking about it.

Wednesday, December 6

One the Road: What Are Your Characters Afraid Of?

Hi guys! I'm over at Seekerville today, talking about characters and their fears. Come on over and say hello!

Here's a sneak peek:
Fear is part of every story (and not just on the writer's side!). It motivates our characters, helps our readers understand what's at stake, and gives us emotional layers to plot with. It's a natural aspect of being human, even for characters who aren't swimming in the same gene pool as the rest of us.  (read the rest here)

Tuesday, December 5

Writers: Your Number One Enemy Is Your Ego

Victoria Landis
By Victoria Landis, @victorialandis1

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Writing can be a very personal endeavor, and because of that, it's not uncommon for us to take everything said about our writing personally. But publishing is a business, so writers also need to be able to separate the personal from the work. Please help me welcome Victoria Landis to the lecture hall today, to share some tips on setting aside your writer's ego.

Victoria Landis is a professional writer and editor—and a veteran member of one of the toughest critique groups to ever grace South Florida. She’s been a member of Mystery Writers of America since 2003 and has served on the board of the Florida Chapter. She has also served as the Co-Chair for FMWA’s SleuthFest writers’ conference for 2015-2018.

Since 2008, she’s written a monthly humor column for The Parklander magazine. She has two novels out. Blinke It Away, a suspense set on Oahu, was chosen a BookRooster Reviewer’s pick for its consistently high ratings. Alias: Mitzi & Mack is a humorous crime novel that takes place in South Florida. Her latest release is a compendium of humorous essays, A Little Bit Sideways, which elicited the praise, “Victoria Landis is the Erma Bombeck of our times.” She has given seminars at the SleuthFest writers’ conference, and for the Murder on the Beach Summer Authors’ Academy and the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University. She especially enjoys the big picture editing and book doctoring.

Victoria is also an artist. She does graphics—book covers, ads, logos, and web-ready graphics—as well as oils on canvas, murals, and special effects.

Website | Goodreads | Twitter |

Take it away Victoria...