Monthly Archives: January 2014

Character Description: Working With Your Reader

Character Description: Working With Your Reader

I hope the weather is fine where you are today!

I will continue soon with Holly Lisle’s fine series of articles on how to ‘Bring Your Novel to Life’  but I thought that today you might enjoy this fun article by Susan J. Letham that provides a different take on characterization.

It can also be found on Jennifer Stewart’s Write101 site.

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

Character Description: Working With Your Reader

by Susan J. Letham

One hallmark of great writing is that it creates an intimate relationship between writer and reader. Your aim isn’t just to tell the reader a story, but to share it with her, draw her in, allow her to use her own imagination as well as yours.
By helping your reader co-create her experience you hook her and keep her turning pages. So, how do you go about getting your reader to work with you this way?
You do it by mapping main points and leaving space for the reader to fill in the blanks, by drawing the outline and handing your reader a box of crayons. The easiest way to start putting this into practice is in connection with characterization.

Co-creation and Characterization

Stories are first and foremost about people. More precisely, stories deal with people who interact in certain ways with other people and situations.

Let’s look to life to see what this means for your writing. Maybe you have a new writer in your circle, or your kid has a new teacher, or your partner a new boss.

Once you’ve got past the names, what do you want to know about these people?
You probably want to know what they are like–not just what they look like, but the kind of people they are. You want orientation so you know what to expect. You want to be able to predict their actions, so you can tailor your responses to fit.

That’s the way your reader feels when she first walks into your story. She’s looking for orientation so she can understand the events about to unfold. She wants to know what the characters are like so she can predict how they’ll react in the story situations before you affirm her guesses by telling her. By giving your reader the information she wants, you make it easy for her to relax and enjoy the ride.
What does your reader need to know if she’s to co-create your characters? Let’s look and see how you can draw that outline for your reader to color in.

Focus on Qualities

Writers often introduce story characters through physical description. That’s helpful if appearance is a central theme but, as in real life, looks seldom mean much in connection with personality. An approach that describes traits is more helpful. Instead of first describing what your character looks like, answer the “What’s she like?” or the “What kind of person is she?” question instead.

The best way to learn this strategy is to try it out. Here are some examples to start you off. Choose a description that appeals to you and make notes about the character that comes to mind:

S/he’s the kind of person who’d…:
– keep piranhas.
– take walks in a graveyard.
– read Rilke.
– marry a senator.
– wear a pocket protector.
– buy photo wallpaper.
– picket “Victoria’s Secret.”
– love to be in “Big Brother.”
– make Machiavelli quake.

Note that the statements illustrate a ‘type’ and don’t mean that the character actually does the things mentioned, only that she might.

Describe the character’s appearance, what she does for a living, her home, her idea of a good night out. Write a scene that illustrates how your character lives the characteristic. How does a woman who’d make Machiavelli quake act in the office? What kind of office? What kind of character would she need as a lover, partner, business associate, adversary, friend? How did you do? Did you see images in your mind? I’d be extremely surprised if you didn’t see vivid images in response to the activity. The point is that your reader, too, will start to color in the outline you give her. Your reader will work with you and save you the trouble of telling her absolutely everything.

Once you’ve established that “Sarah is the kind of woman who’d buy photo wallpaper,” your reader won’t bat an eyelid when Sarah also buys a baby pink stretch mini-skirt to wear to the church dance.

A good way to practice this skill is to characterize your family and friends. If you had to describe the personalities of people you know well to a stranger, how would you make them sound intriguing by using vivid images?

Try it out:

– My partner is the kind of person who’d…
– My daughter is the kind of person who’d…
– My son is the kind of person who’d…
– My boss is the kind of person who’d…
– My teacher is the kind of person who’d…
– My neighbor is the kind of person who’d…

Character Creation Technique

Work this approach into your stories. Hook your readers by introducing characteristics before you mention outward appearance. Readers will want to read on and learn what you mean by your enigmatic character statement.

Compare these examples:

“Think we got ourselves a cult or something?”
A cult? I looked at Bruce. He must be kidding, I thought, but the look on his face didn’t seem to say so. He stood there, all five-eight and 200-pounds of him, running a hand over his blond crewcut, clearly waiting for me to give him an answer.

Does it matter what Bruce looks like at this point? Does it add to our image and understanding of the kind of person he is? Does it tell us about the relationship between the POV character and Bruce?

“Think we got ourselves a cult or something?”
A cult? I gave Bruce a ‘don’t be stupid’ glare. The only man I knew who openly read supermarket tabloids, he’d been spouting aliens and government conspiracies since the day I took office. (Kate Gerard)

By telling us about Bruce’s reading habits and the effects they have, the author of this second example paints a clear picture of his character and attitude. The example shows how the characters relate to each other.


Take some of your writing and practice this technique by rewriting the character introductions. Exactly how you word things will depend on the POV you’re using. If you’re using third person, you can have the narrator make the statement.If you’re using a limited POV, you can put the statement into the limited character’s thoughts. You can use dialogue to have a character make the statement out loud. Experiment until you feel you have something that works in each case.Your readers will love it!

© 2002, Susan J. Letham
Susan J. Letham is a British writer, multimedia author, andCreative Writing lecturer. Visit Inspired2Write and sign upfor quality writing classes and competent 1-on-1 coaching.
This article can be found at the Jennifer Stewart site.

 Cheers, Lauren
 Love changes everything. tm



Burying Your Novel’s Message

Here is part III of the 8-Part BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE Series by Holly Lisle – Burying Your Novel’s Message.

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

 Burying Your Novel’s Message
by Holly Lisle

In the first two articles, we’ve explored how essential it is to have a theme to give your novel direction, and how to find those themes that will resonate with you.
You’d think that once you have a theme, you could just sit down and write your book about that, and you’d bring powerful emotions and passionate storytelling and compelling, page-turning action to your tale—but it just ain’t so.

If you just write your theme, what you’ll have is a harangue. A message book. Something that will have the readers who agree with your precise point of view nodding along—whether it be “Global warming is going to destroy the planet” or “Global warming is a pile of cow-flops”—and readers who hold any other point of view bouncing your book of the nearest wall and never buying anything else by you, ever.


So now you bury your theme. You write about something utterly unlike the theme you fought so hard to come up with in the first place.
One of you just went, “Waaaaaait a minute! If I write about something besides my theme, how are people going to get my message? How are they going to know that global warming is evil/ irrelevant/ actually the dawning of a new ice age? How will I convince them that I’m right?”

They won’t know, and you won’t convince them. It’s as simple as that.

The theme is there for YOU. Your job as a novelist is to tell a story that entertains your reader, that makes him think, that haunts him long after he finishes the last page—maybe even that STILL haunts him long after he’s read the whole thing for the fourth or tenth or twentieth time. I get letters and emails from readers who have done that, and it’s great. They frequently tell me what they got out of the book, too, what hidden meanings they found, what they took away from the story.

Funny thing is, they never find what I put in there. That’s okay. They found something that mattered to THEM, that changed the world for THEM. So I did my job.

If you want to send a message, buy an ad.

If you want to create resonance, you work your theme in. If you want to have people love your book and treasure it for what it meant to them, you bury that theme so deeply only you will ever know what it was.

Here’s how.
1) Figure out the key elements of your theme.
I wrote one book the theme of which was “if the Democrats and Republicans don’t recognize each other isn’t the enemy and start working together toward a common cause, real enemies are going to destroy the country while those morons are bickering over pork and entitlements.”
The key elements of that theme were:
* People who had more in common than they knew fighting over trivialities* Enemies disguised as friends bearing gifts

2) Plan your hiding place.
That book was not set in this time, in the US, or even in this world. It was a high fantasy novel set in another world, on an island nation about the size of England and about the location of Australia with the climate of Alaska through the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the US. The cultures were Iron Age plus highly developed magic, with levels of sophistication ranging from 18th-Century France to the nomadic hunter-gatherer-herdsmen of the Mongol Horde.

So figure out YOUR disguise. Your most meaningful themes are always going to be drawn from the here and now, from the events in your life that trouble you and frighten you and elate you—but those themes go into Westerns and SF and fantasy and mysteries and romances and hard-boiled detective tales and mainstream novels set in every possible time and place.

3) Create your metaphors.
In that novel, the Democrats became one nation, the Republicans the other. I made a point of locating the good and the bad in both parties, and giving the two nations those good and bad characteristics. I created the real villains from current events, too, (though not from obvious current events), and worked out a complex metaphor for them, too, creating their culture from elements of a handful of different cultures. My two protagonists were from warring nations, magic was the physics of the world, and the villain was disguised as a good guy for the first half of the novel.

4) Never even hint at what you’re talking about underneath it all.
I didn’t then write a story about how the politics of the warring nations and the outside world clashed. I didn’t give a little nudge, nudge, wink, wink and call my nations Demos and Republis. I spent time developing deep cultures built not around my particular axe to grind, but around the needs of the story. And then I built three characters, one from each of the three cultures.

And the story I wrote was a love story set against the backdrop of war and peace.

I wrote about the characters, I didn’t confine them to my metaphors, I didn’t try to push any points or convince anyone of anything. I let my folks become who they were, good points and bad, and I told the story of their lives in that world, that place, and that time—and because I knew what underlay it, it meant a lot to me. And because SOMETHING underlay it, it meant a lot to a whole lot of readers.

With the possible exception of its sequel, it was the best book I’ve ever written.

That story remains a favorite for my readers, too—even though what they take from it is sometimes the exact opposite of what I put into it. They have found their own meaning in it, have felt the resonance of it being about something bigger than the story on the surface, and have taken it to heart.
And if you’re a novelist, that is what you want them to do. (If you’re still hung up on requiring that they get YOUR meaning from your book, you’re in the wrong line of work.)

In BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE, Part IV, Playing Chicken With Your Story, you’ll learn how to take the personal risks in writing that will keep your readers glued to their seats turning pages.

About the Author
Full-time novelist Holly Lisle has published more than thirty novels with major publishers. Her next novel, THE RUBY KEY, (Orchard Books) will be on shelves May 1st. You can receive her free writing newsletter, Holly Lisle’s Writing Updates at

Published At:

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm


What European City Do You Belong In?

Here’s a quiz for a snowy day and just for fun.

What European City Do You Belong In?

You Belong in London

You belong in London, but you belong in many cities… Hong Kong, San Francisco, Sidney. You fit in almost anywhere.
And London is diverse and international enough to satisfy many of your tastes. From curry to Shakespeare, London (almost) has it all!

I could live in London. 🙂 I think there are probably a lot of European cities that I could live in. Or at least visit for an extended period of time. Dublin, anyone?

How To Find Your Novel’s Pulse

How To Find Your Novel’s Pulse

Here is part 2 of the 8-part BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE Series by Holly Lisle.

Thanks Holly!

Cheers, Lauren     Love changes everything. tm


How To Find Your Novel’s Pulse
by Holly Lisle

The best novels you’ve ever read—the ones that stuck in your mind and kept you going back to re-read them, that made you think, that made you feel, maybe that scared your socks off—were not about what they were about.

Sound cryptic? It is, sort of. Novels that change the way you look at the world were written by novelists who had things going on underneath that they were working through on paper. Angry divorces, fights at work, health problems, fears for their kids, rage at politics and injustice, fear of war, loss of loved ones—the whole gamut of human trials and tribulations.

Some of these novelists knew they were burying their struggles in their books, some didn’t. But while they were writing about running into elves in the deep woods or opening a door to find themselves looking down the barrel of a gun, they were telling two stories. The one you read, and the one they lived. While you were reading, you felt the second, hidden story. That’s why you keep going back to the book, and why you can’t get it out of your head. Your gut knows there’s more in that book than meets the eye.

Do you want to write books that keep readers reading, that keep them thinking, that let them look at the world through different eyes? Do you want to find the stories beneath the stories in your own work, and make sure you put them in there on purpose, instead of accidentally hitting one just right, and never again knowing how you got there?

This is doable. It’s not comfortable—few things worth doing ever are. But it is a repeatable process. And here’s where you start. Read each step below, and write down your answers.


Plato had it right when he said, “Know thyself.” You don’t get to have a starry-eyed vision of yourself as this nearly-perfect person if you’re going to write meaningful books. You have to dig deep.

* You have to figure out what YOU did wrong in every relationship that went south on you. (Innocent victimhood is worthless as a novel-writing perspective. You end up with passive main characters who do nothing, and books that bore readers to death. So accept the truth that you have been and done wrong in your life, and buy your characters some credibility.)

* You have to admit to moments when you lied, and not make excuses about why you did it.

* You have to recall the people you hurt.

* And admit the things you did that you should not have done.

* And face the things you did not do that you should have.

This is a no-excuses zone. You did what you did, you meant to do it, consequences resulted and those were your fault.

Is this process all negative? No. But you’ll already remember all your greatest moments; saving a life, sacrificing to help someone else, opening doors for old ladies, teaching Seeing Eye dogs for the blind. Those are great. And your readers will believe your characters do those things when, and only when, you have first proved that your characters are human. Humans are not perfect. We all know this about each other, even if we don’t like to admit it about ourselves. But we know a real character when we read one, and this is where you find real characters.


You’ve admitted who you are. Now discover who you need to be, what you need to have, and what you dread. Again, skip the Miss America “I want world peace and free healthcare and kittens and puppies for all the children in the world” routine. What do YOU want…for YOU? What do you NEED? Do you need to be loved and admired? Do you need to be rich, powerful, famous? Do you need to be safe? What drives you? What eats at you at night? What haunts your nightmares? When you look in the mirror and see something wrong, what is the first thing you fear? When you hear a bump in the attic, a scrap at the front door, what do you dread?


Who you are and what you need and fear are part of why you write. But writing fiction itself is a strange process that involves baring bits of you that you may not even realize you’re baring to complete strangers. It involves creating characters who are the best of what you have in you, and it involves, if you’re doing it right, creating characters who are the worst of what you have in you.

You are, while you’re writing, your characters. You have to believe in them for readers to believe in them, and you have to find it in yourself to make them do evil as well as good—to do the things you would do IF YOU WERE THEM—knowing that if you make your characters real enough, you’ll hit nerves, you’ll hear from the readers you’ve shocked or scared as well as from the ones you’ve moved to joy and tears. So, why do you want to do that? What’s in it for you?

When you’ve answered these questions, if you’ve answered them honestly, you have your themes. The things you had the hardest time admitting to, the hardest time writing down, the hardest time facing—those will be your best themes. Because if you can take characters built from your deepest flaws and your worst fears and bring them to transcendence, then, my friend, you will have written a book with a pulse—and a story that matters.

In BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE Part III: Burying Your Novel’s Message, you’ll learn how to use the themes you’ve discovered without being preachy or obvious, and without writing a Message Book.

About the Author
Full-time novelist Holly Lisle has published more than thirty novels with major publishers. Her next novel, THE RUBY KEY, (Orchard Books) will be on shelves May 1st. You can receive her free writing newsletter, Holly Lisle’s Writing Updates at

Published At:

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm


Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?

Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?

Hi all,

Beginning today I’m going to share with you Holly Lisle’s terrific series of articles designed to help writers bring their novels to life! Thanks Holly!

The first article below is titled ‘Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?’

Food for thought, non? 🙂 I hope that you enjoy the articles as much as I have, and check back for Part II!

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm


Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?

by Holly Lisle

You’ve read through what you’ve written—your first few scenes, your first chapter, your completed novel—and you’ve discovered that your words don’t move you. They don’t make you want to keep reading. They don’t make you laugh or cry. If writing is bleeding on the page, well, you might have scratched yourself, but you don’t need a transfusion. And you don’t know what went wrong.
When you started writing, did you know what story you were telling? This is trickier than it sounds. You might have known your characters, you might have known your world, and you might have known your plot…but even with this much planning done, it’s entirely possible that you had not yet located your deep layer, the heart of your story, the engine that drove you to write it in the first place.

Odds are very good you did not know your theme.

Your theme is nothing more and nothing less than the heart of a novel. It is not a grade-school exercise in tedium, that single droning sentence you wrote that told your reader what you were going to tell him. In a novel, your theme is a living, vibrant, critical thing. It is your particular passion in this particular novel summed up in a handful of words. It is what you need to say.

Need. That’s the critical thing in a theme. If you’re writing novels, if you are doing something this complex and challenging, you’re doing it because something in you needs to write. You have something to express, some particular point of view, some set of life experiences, some driven hunger that you must put down on paper. You NEED. And you need to say what you need.

Maybe it is: In spite of having survived heartbreak, I believe in true love. Or: I believe good can triumph over greater evil. Or: If I were King of Everything, this is the way the world would be.
Your plot is the map of your story. Your theme is the map of your soul, and it is where your characters will find their direction, their flaws, their hungers, and their own passions. They only breathe with your breath, and they only bleed with your blood. Your plot may be Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl, but your theme—your take on the world based on your life, your own hopes and aspirations, your own beliefs—might be Chubby Bald Guy Deserves the Love of a Wonderful Woman.
You have themes in you. You’ve built them from love and courage, but you’ve built them from anger and fear, too. You live with them every day, when you’re muttering that argument you had with your spouse or colleague, designing better comebacks; when you’re watching the boss cheat someone and you’re getting furious about it; when you’re watching a disaster and telling yourself, Someone could have prevented that; when you’re hearing the latest political garbage and thinking, This is not the way the world should be.

I could do this better. I WOULD do this better.
And so you write.
You have rich, powerful, compelling, passionate themes boiling inside you. You have something worth saying. Now you just need to know how to figure out what it is, and how to get it on the page.
In Part II: How To Find Your Novel’s Pulse, you’ll learn how to identify your themes, and figure out which are worth pursuing.

About the Author
Full-time novelist Holly Lisle has published more than thirty novels with major publishers. Her novel, THE RUBY KEY, (Orchard Books) is on shelves now. You can receive her free writing newsletter, Holly Lisle’s Writing Updates at
Published At:

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm