It’s All About Character

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

Our ability to engage our readers, surprise, delight, antagonize, or even offend them when we want, all comes down to our characters. Compelling characters make a compelling story — and keep readers wanting more. Even if you write fast-paced, plot-driven fiction, no one wants to head down that road unless the character is worthy of the chase.

So what do we do to create such characters? Ones who “jump off the page” and keep the reader glued to their ups and downs late into the night?

I offer these suggestions:

  1. We feel multiple emotions simultaneously – so they must too! When writing Lizzy & Jane, I realized you could look at your sister and feel (off the top of my head) five emotions instantly: fierce love, equally fierce dislike, jealousy, loyalty and adoration – especially if you’re the younger sister. Use that! Layer the emotions for your character just as you feel them layered within yourself. And the more those emotions conflict, the better! They’ll bring depth to the reader’s experience and the character’s substance.
  2. Look at all those emotions (even list them) then choose any but the most obvious. The reader will feel that one instinctively. Again, in Lizzy & Jane, Lizzy was angry with her sister. She felt betrayed. And, while those two emotions came through often, it was more interesting and in many ways more realistic when I explored Lizzy’s adoration, hero-worship, and yearning for Jane’s acceptance and love. Anger was the lens through which the reader found those softer and more vulnerable feelings. By bringing those emotions out, through and beneath the anger, I also increased the micro-tension between the sisters – that’s the push and pull beneath what’s written on the page.
  3. Make sure what your characters do is an extension of who they are. I use profession, dress, reading preferences, food tastes, decorating, season, quirks, hobbies, and more… Everything is planned to express an aspect of character, either to the positive, the negative or the unexpected. When writing, you have tons of descriptive detail to lay out, don’t let a single size, color, shape or nuance go to waste.
  4. Take a blank page occasionally and “talk” to your character. You don’t need to make it formal, but do write it down. As a writer, that’s how you think and how you communicate – so make sure you don’t just chat, make sure you write down that chat. By doing this, you’ll learn more about your character’s cadence of speech, inner thoughts, and expressions. It’s an interesting exercise and can reveal things that surprise you… Only by doing this, late in the manuscript process, did I learn how truly angry Sam Moore (Dear Mr. Knightly) was by all that happened in her childhood. This changed later scenes and made the story more authentic to her voice.
  5. Have fun! I end every post with this because it’s so important. Enjoy your characters – even the “bad” ones. The more you enjoy them and explore them, the more real and expressive – and unexpected – they become. And that’s more fun for you and for the reader.

Thanks for spending time here with me today. Please find me and connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or my website at I’m always out and about…


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Sheholds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and isa wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

Emotional Dragons Eating Authors: Emotions and YOU!

Peter Leavell
Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho.

I heard dragons devour authors who write boring books. Or maybe dragons burn the books. I can’t remember.  

Repeat after me—my writing will not be boring.
Jesus wasn’t boring! (Jesus juke!)

You know what deflects boredom? Not reading a boring book. 

But even better, add this key ingredient:


Galadriel: “The quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail to the ruin of all.” LotR
Your quest is to evoke emotions in readers. 
Emotions and Me

I hate waiting. Groans, pleadings, cries for mercy come from my side of the car at every red light. Why? Anger covers my boredom. Makes the dull moments manageable. I’m not emotionally engaged in the bored moment until I’m angry. 
David Banner: “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” TIH

Love can work the same way. Humans are intolerable. We’re writers, so we can admit that little secret. But love makes me want to be with my wife every second of every day. 

Miracle Max: “Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world-except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe. They’re so perky, I love that.” PB
Getting Philosophical

Postmodern America. Emotions reign as king. Emotion is truth. Science is proved and disproved and proved again with no answers to the meaning of life. Philosophy is depressing, and worse, confusing. Religion builds massive structures then erects signs to advertise like banks, promising huge rewards for deposits. How can that be truth?

To most, how I feel is the only motivation that matters. It’s the only truth we can verify. We’re told we can’t control how others feel, only ourselves. So if we control our stimuli, or situations, then we can have a pretty good time. 

*Special INSERT: Christians
The truth is Christ. But if Christ is king, then emotions are prince. We look for joy and peace from Christ. God delivers. Beware of guilt, though. We work to assuage guilt, then the lack of guilt is pleasure. Is lack of guilt true joy? For some.
Col. Jessep: ”You want answers?”
Kaffee: “I think I’m entitled to.”
Col. Jessep: “You want answers?”
Kaffee: “I want the truth!”
Col. Jessep: “You can’t handle the truth!” AFGM
Practical Writing Tips

Readers desperately want to feel their pain reflected back through our work. They want joy. They want boredom squashed. They want to learn so they can feel as if they are getting smarter. Evoke emotion!

These are extraordinarily boring for today’s readers:
Endless Flashbacks.
Narrative longer than Tweets.
Mindless monologs.
Action with no point.
Kissing and sex with no point.
Gardening. Just kidding. Gardening is awesome. 
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. -Greek Proverb
Last Tidbits of Advice You Can Skip But Shouldn’t:

Sometimes we see the world in a problem/solution kind of way. Society and religion, yes, they have problems. But we use our fiction to dispense solutions. That’s not art. That’s propaganda. Stop it. It’s boring. The line is too fine to walk. Focus on story, and if there’s a statement in there somewhere, great!

Tension on every page? It’s a cheap emotion and readers grow immune. Vary emotions like you would vary sentence structure.

What’s exciting for some is boring for others. Vary the thrills.


Counterpoints can be set out like drinks for every problem that enters the café. But there’s one truth we can’t get around. Boring doesn’t sell well, unless the professor assigns it. Emotionally engage your reader. Give them something to feel. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll feel alive.

Doc. Frankenstein “It’s Alive! IT’S ALIVE!” YF

Hit and Run Emotions by DiAnn Mills

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

While driving back from the grocery store, I was hit by a truck and the driver took off. The emotions I experienced were shock, anger, and a twinge of fear. The latter one was probably because I write suspense, and my mind always goes into story mode. But the truth is, fear often results from the unpredictable and suspicions from those who harm us.

Are you guilty of hit and run emotions?

The same applies to the characters in our stories. What happens when a writer has a character encounter a traumatic incident and there’s no reaction? Or what happens when a character responds to a minor incident with drama-queen emotion?

Both scenarios can destroy a reader’s reality check and toss the reader out of the story. Future purchases from that writer are nil. Sad, but true. Not much opportunity for a second chance when there are so many writers competing for our attention.

To avoid hit and run emotion in our stories, we can take steps to ensure our characters’ reactions to events are met with responses that are in character, realistic, and slide into genre.

In Character
For credible emotion, we writers must thoroughly understand our POV characters. This means taking time to develop their personality, unique traits, and backstory. A character who handles anger by stuffing it may logically end up with an ulcer. A character who deals with anger by breaking noses may need anger management classes. The first key to overcoming inappropriate reactions lies in characterization.


Many writers keep a journal of the happenings in their lives and how they reacted. It’s been said that if a writer is unwilling to seek resolution to life’s explosions, then the writer will never be able to write about those same emotions effectively.

Dramatic reactions to small incidents initiates skepticism in the reader, unless the writer is gifted in humor. Even those stories must be crafted with care. When a hero or heroine appears callused to tragedy, displays an absence of wit or logic, or is over-the-top in dialogue, readers no longer care about the character or the story.

Don’t hit the reader with a drama queen!

The many genres provide us an opportunity to show our stories through a variety of techniques. The criterion dictates the story world’s dialogue, culture, goals, setting, and symbolism. The seven universal emotions stated in Tonya Reiman’s,The Power of Body Language are surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, happiness, and contempt. Every POV character experiences these emotions according to genre guidelines. Here are a few examples:

Contemporary: Today’s world is filled with instant information from various communication devices. Problems arise from dealing in a world where change is the norm. A character is continuously assaulted with situations that involve coping devices according to traits and backstory. Contemporary characters filter a whirl of happenings through their personal data bank of their past.

Historical: The past is known for its slower pace of living. Communication from local,
national, and worldwide events shape the future many times before the character learns about them. Culture and gender often dictate how a character receives and processes emotion.

Romance: Romance is an emotional adventure. This aspect of novel writing can be woven into any genre. A thread of romance invites a reader into a dreamlike world of fresh and breathless love.

Create emotions for your fantasy world.

Speculative:This genre has a broad range of categories from fantasy to sci-fi. Here the setting and culture blends with character to show how emotion is received and processed. Because the story world is unusual, how a character views emotion is according to the writer’s discretion.

Suspense: Suspense can be written into any genre, much like romance, but the character’s reaction to a state of anxiousness or uncertainty with a blanket of fear leads the character down a path of uneasiness and often apprehension. Heroes and heroines walking through suspense are survivors who have learned to manage and compartmentalize their emotions in a way that is healthy and believable.

Hit and run emotions. We writers don’t have to be labeled with this criticism because we understand the power of character, reality, and genre.

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

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
(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

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
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

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.