Six F-words for Compelling Characters

Got you at F-words, huh? That's okay. All these f-words are fine to use in whatever company you happen to be in right now. No one will wrinkle a brow once they get past the title, so there's no need to angle your screen or slouch and look over your shoulder. In today's world of publishing, catching—and keeping—a reader's attention is rarely easy. Today I'm sharing six words to help you craft characters that no one would dub as "cardboard." Incorporate as many of these ideas as your story can handle, and you will also create backstory and plots that readers can identify and connect with, no matter the genre you write. Failures: Whether it's in the past or the present, or looms in the immediate future, failure is a shared human experience. Whether it's the fear of future failure, the frightening effects failure can have on a character's life (can you imagine a lawyer's failed arguments that send an innocent client to Death Row?), or failure in the past that affects a characters belief system or perspective, failure has many degrees and always carries unseen ramifications. Flaws: From minor to major character flaws, everyone can sympathize or form opinions of a character based on their flaws. When these flaws are skillfully revealed through backstory,…

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Host Your Own Writers’ Retreat

It's been almost ten years  since I hosted my first writers' retreat. It was a low-key get together for my five-person critique group, which had been meeting for just a few months.  We already met weekly for face-to-face chapter critiques, but we wanted time to discuss writing, trade ideas and things we'd learned from books, conferences, and hard work. I volunteered my house and the food (breakfast and lunch). I made sure all the food was prepared—a quiche and fruit salad for breakfast and a salad bar for lunch, with chocolate goodies for dessert. I wouldn't have to spend any time "in the kitchen" other than to set out our meals, and I knew everyone would help. It turned out that life interrupted and only two of us ended up spending our writers' retreat day together. That turned out to be a really good thing. At that time, Laura Drake and I didn't know each other that well. I'd gone through my library and pulled out the craft books that I had duplicates of. I also had a Goal-Motivation-Conflict poster board, gridded off for placing sticky notes for plotting. I piled up my stack of RWA chapter newsletters, a couple of thesauruses, a dictionary and notes with craft and industry tips. Laura brought craft books she no…

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Best Memory Ever

Today I'm sharing an emotional memory, a memory that I recalled while working on my WIP. For me, connecting with my past feelings can really open up my writing by connecting emotions with my characters. I received my best Christmas present years ago. My father went to Chicago on business the week before Christmas. He bought a fake-fur-lined hat that had ear flaps, along with a pair of gloves, and a heavy coat for the trip. It's the only business trip he ever took, and I was a devastated five-year-old Daddy's girl when he left the house in a taxi. I'd never seen a taxi before that night. My mother had to have earned sainthood that week. All I did was ask how long until Daddy got home. I used to run out of the house when my dad drove in the driveway, home from work. He'd pick me up, ask what was for dinner, and carry me up the four stairs to the front door. Every day he was gone, I waited for him to drive up the driveway. My mother and I baked Christmas cookies for him. A lot of cookies, a batch everyday he was away. Amazing, I didn't eat any of them. I saved them all for him. Finally…

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Crossing Lines

I've always obeyed the rules. As a child I told my parents when I did something I wasn't supposed to do. But crossing the line—or several lines—is different. I've always been a boundary pusher. (Please note: The views shared in this article are entirely those of the author.) Many of the boundaries in the Young Adult genre are there for a reason. Young Adults are, by definition, not yet adults. Experience and wisdom earned by years of life give adults a different perspective on what happens to them, while to young adults, most of the growing up and coming of age trials are present and raw. When I was a junior in high school, I "really liked" my chemistry lab assistant, a cute senior guy whose best friend lived three houses from mine. I spent too much time walking my dog back and forth in from of my neighbor's house when my lab assistant's car was parked in front—just to get a glimpsed of him when he was leaving. Was I ready for a sex scene in a book? Not a chance. Was I ready for reading about longing for a boyfriend? Absolutely. But society—and books—are different now. Sex is one of the big lines in a YA. Books range from no mention of sex…

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Write My Story!

I didn't set out to become a writer. And when I started writing that first story, which became a book, it was only for me. I never intended to publish anything, except the math textbook I co-authored years ago. I remember talking to an English teacher friend who'd lured me away from reading only science fiction to reading science fiction romance. For three months, every night when I went to sleep,  characters came to me, and it was like I was watching a movie. I'd watch the previous night's scenes, revise them and then see what the new scenes brought until I fell asleep. I thought maybe I was going just a bit crazy.My friend suggested that, since the characters were "sticking around," maybe I should write their story, which I did. When I saw her once a month at a state education committee we both worked on, I'd take the chapters I'd written to her. She read them when she got home. The third month she called me the day after we'd flown home. The previous night she'd taken my pages to bed. When her husband was ready to go to sleep, she wanted to keep reading, so she went into their bathroom and kept reading…until there were no more pages. I'd…

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Why do I Write?

I have loved stories all my life. Listening to them, reading them, telling them. And writing them. I was a voracious reader and still would be, if writing didn’t limit my reading time. Writing, for me, is the ultimate indulgence. I construct a world, make rules for its inhabitants, and throw thunderbolts at my characters. Wow, that last sentence makes me realize that maybe I have a God complex.  But then, if I do, so does every other writer, published or unpublished. I used to write only in times of dire stress. The process of putting words on the page and making order of my thoughts and feelings helped me through many situations that may have, otherwise, turned out badly. Luckily, life is more settled these days and my writing is more a creative outlet than a valve to let off steam. And I have a whole lot more fun telling the stories of the characters who show up, wanting to share their lives. Which is not to say it’s all joy and light, as any writer would tell you. Sometimes just the right word is elusive. Sometimes the characters steal the story and I have to work really hard to make everything fit neatly together. Sometimes the business side of writing brings…

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