Antagonists Are People Too!

imagesI am beginning a revision on my book in the near future, and one area I really need to spend time on is character development. As indicated in previous blogs, while I’m taking time away from my completed first draft to refresh, I am researching the areas that I know need the most attention. So I thought I would take a closer look at my antagonist.

When you are creating an antagonists, you must remember they are people too. Help your reader to empathize with them and understand why they act like they do. Even bad people have weaknesses and can show love towards others. They are more than just a device to move your plot in a certain direction. Flesh them out!

Get into your antagonists head. Help people to see things from his/her point of view if possible. If not, have one of the view point characters mull over and try to understand the antagonists point of view. You don’t want him/her to be seen as pure evil.

It is highly recommended that you don’t use abstractions, such as, corporations, disease, or war as your antagonists. They are unrelatable. One of my antagonists is a medical condition. I do have a character that serves this purpose as well, so I may need to look at shifting some emphasis.

If you do feel the need to use an abstraction, it’s recommended that you put a human face to it.  Instead of organized religion you may consider a resentful pastor seeking revenge. Instead of corporate greed, you may consider a Bernie Madoff type.

You want your antagonists to be strong, smart and capable. At least as much so as your protagonist. This serves to give the story balance and maintain interest.  It also helps to increase tension and suspense. You know the antagonist is capable of defeating the protagonist. This story could go in many different directions.

Hope this helped you as much as it did me. There is a lot of information on the internet about perfecting your antagonist. The purpose of this blog was to provide you with some useful information and get you thinking about the antagonist in your own novel.

-Jan R


Antagonists Are People Too!

Is Your Novel Believable?

Writing fiction can be fun. You get to create your own world with your own characters and you can take your story anywhere you want to go. Right?Unknown

Well that statement is true to a certain degree. You do have a lot of leeway, but keep in mind your story has to make sense. It has to be believable to your readers. That’s were research comes in. Your plot may be fictitious but your details had better be correct.

Anachronisms-details out of place and time-can break a reader’s suspension of disbelief if they notice the error. If for example a character in ancient Egypt consults his watch instead of a sundial, or maybe, Scarlett O’Hara, from “Gone With The Wind”, comes prancing down the stairs in stilettos and a mini skirt; your reader would be instantly  drawn out of the story. These are extreme examples but I think it helps to make the point.

There’s no excuse for anachronisms or lack of detail.  Once you know what you are writing about, immerse yourself in the subject. If you want to write about fireman, you do a ride along, shadow a precinct, or become a volunteer firefighter. If your novel takes place in a school, interview teachers or volunteer.

You can also use social media to learn about people and places, by watching videos or listening to interviews.  The internet puts everything at your fingertips. My novel is set primarily in the Carolinas, but my main character is deployed to Iraq for a short period of time. I’ve never been to Iraq and have no intention of ever going there.  For that short, but important segment of my book, I watched a documentary and actual footage from Camp Baharia. I also read pages set up on the internet by marines returning from the area describing what it was like for them. My oldest son is a sergeant in the Marines and has served in Afghanistan, so I was able to glean some information from him as well. Point is, I did some research and found what I needed to make that small but very important part of my novel believable.

It is always best to set your novels in cities that you know.  A good example of this would be Nicholas Sparks. His books are set in North Carolina. That’s where he lives. He understands the culture and can provide the details his readers expect.

One word of caution is to remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story, don’t make them center stage. Resist the urge to show off how much research you have done. You don’t want to bog your readers down with unnecessary information.

-Jan R

Is Your Novel Believable?

Are You Sure You Want To Write A Novel? (Revised)

imagesp0ntllo0If all you want to do is write, go for it.  You don’t have to get permission or a license.  All you need is a pencil and paper or maybe a computer depending on how serious you take your endeavor. If writing a novel is a future goal, then writing is one way to hone your skills.  Many professionals recommend that you start out small.  You could write an article for the local paper or a magazine, and even consider a blog. Blogs not only improve your writing skills, but also help build the platform and resume you will need later when approaching an agent/publisher.

If you do want to write a novel, you should know it’s hard work. Those people who say, “Anybody can write a book, how hard can it be?” They’ve never written a novel and most definitely never had one published. Writing isn’t just putting pen to paper, but I’m preaching to the choir. Writing is a skill that you develop through years of practice. As I’ve mentioned in another blog, you don’t just wake up one day a brain surgeon,  just like you don’t wake up one day an author. Just because you want it, doesn’t make it so. You have to pay your dues and learn the craft.

When I began this process, I completed my story and sent it to five literary agents. I was really proud of my work, I had a great story. I was now an author. Or at least I thought so until the rejections started flowing. One of the agents did take the time to tell me what wasn’t working-which was pretty much everything.  My dialogue dragged, I had numerous grammatical and structural errors, and I was head hopping. I almost forgot the on-the-nose writing. The only thing she liked was the premise itself. I didn’t know author-eese, What in the world was she talking about? I had to back track and learn the proper way to write. I have to admit, I’m still learning, but I now know exactly what she was talking about for each of the areas she cited.

Another thing to keep in mind, your first novel probably won’t be a masterpiece. This is true of every writer of every first novel. That does include Nicholas Spark and J.K. Rowling. Keep in mind you are learning the craft as your write. You will need to understand how to work dialogue, pace your book, construct a plot that is plausible and cohesive, build tension, and create characters that your reader likes and can relate to. Experts say it takes about 10,000 hours of writing to prepare you to write a publishable novel.

images-10I don’t meant to discourage anyone. I just want to make sure you know what you are getting in to.  Most books take 5-10 years to get published.  I’m on year 5 so maybe I’m approaching the finish line 🙂  I sure hope I was a fast learner. If this is what you want to do, improve your skills by reading and writing. Yes you need to read. I would also recommend that you take classes, attend seminars, research, and join writing groups (Scribophile is a great option). You will get there. The biggy is DON’T GIVE UP!

-Jan R


Are You Sure You Want To Write A Novel? (Revised)

Are Your Characters Stealing the Show?

imagesyf49r9sdSo I’ve finished my first draft and am officially in the revision phase. From everything I’ve read, I need to step away from my work for a month or so. That’s really hard for me since this novel has taken up the majority of my waking hours over the last year.

I know my major weaknesses are Character Development and Description, so I thought I would take this time to research and learn as much as I can prior to picking up my manuscript and beginning the arduous process of revision. While I think it will be fun in a way, I have no doubt it will offer challenges as well.

When I started writing, I had a great premise and even though I didn’t do a character arc, I had a really good feel for my characters, and how I thought they should look and act. Once I started writing, I found my characters were taking on a life of there on. I know that sounds crazy, but if you’ve ever written a novel, you know exactly what I mean.

It’s like they came alive, and were leading me in the direction they wanted me to go. Some of my characters changed considerably. I must confess, I didn’t stop them. I kept writing and let things play out to the end.

What I discovered was some of the changes were good and some were not so good. I will be taking a closer look at my characters during my revision and try to figure out what worked and what didn’t for each of them.

During this process, I need to remind myself that characters are not sacred. If I need to sacrifice a character to save my story that’s okay. I can’t allow them to run the show.

This leaves me with three options:

  1. Make my characters play the role they were meant to play.
  2. Fire the ones that aren’t working and create new ones to take their place.
  3. Let the misguided characters continue to ruin my story.

I’m not sure if a character outline would have helped or not. They went from being the people I planned, to the people they wanted to be.

What do you think?

-Jan R


Are Your Characters Stealing the Show?

Description is Icing on the Cake

ccf_lindasfudgecakeI’m not very good at writing description and have a tendency to avoid it. This is reflected in critiques that I receive on my work. ‘You need to help me picture the setting in my mind. Where is your MC? It’s like looking at a blank canvas. There’s nothing there’.

You may be like me or you may be on the opposite side of the spectrum. I have critiqued some beautifully ridiculous descriptives. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. Imagine your reader picking up a book at the bookstore and reading page after page of description on the gowns at a regency ball or the inner hull of a slave ship. They, like me, would probably put it down immediately.

Think of bad description as that one teacher you had in high school who went on and on putting the class to sleep. Good description is more like the teacher that got everybody involved in the action. She provided the information we needed but didn’t bog us down with a lot of fluff.

Avoid Huge Lumps of Description

In the past, Authors could get away with this but in today’s society, unless a reader was actively seeking out writers known for lyrical descriptive passages, they wouldn’t put up with it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few who get away with it, but it’s only because they are really good, and in all reality, many of their fans are skimming those passages.

Make Description an Active Part of Your Story

You must find a way to use description in combination with action . Descriptions that come out of nowhere and do nothing but describe, are known as ‘narrative lumps’. A great example I read during this research is as follows:

Zara grabbed her mug and gulped it down, shivering when a few drops of the ale trickled under her leather top. I didn’t have to say….The ale was cold or She wore a leather top. That information was provided in the action sequence.

Describe what your Characters Would Notice

Remember you are seeing the world through the eyes of your main character. If that character works and goes to the same office everyday, they aren’t going to stare at the craftsmanship and detail of the bookshelf housing a  wall of books in the office library. They see it everyday, but they are going to notice if a substantial number of volumes were removed. They aren’t going to look around their office and go on and on about the lavishly decorated room-unless they just had it up fitted. They will notice  a vase of red roses sitting on their desk.

Words, Words, Words

Use Strong, active, concrete words. The stronger the writing the better the description. Remember, nouns and verbs are your friends. Adjectives and adverbs can be your friends, depending on how you use them.

Avoid adjectivitis. I wish I could claim this word, but again I read it during my research. Adjectivitis is when you use to many adjectives to describe something. The rule of thumb is no more than two.

And you also want to limit your trips to the thesaurus. I know what it’s like to try to come up with different words, to avoid overuse. But when I have to stop reading a prose to look up the word the author has written, or I stumble over a  rarely used word, chances are, that author took one to many trips to the thesaurus.

Use all the senses

Most writers concentrate on sight and sound but you can really bring a scene to life by incorporating the other senses. Don’t forget about touch, smell and taste.

Fit the Description to the Type of Story

Fast paced action novels will have less descriptive as you are trying to get your main character from point A to point B in a hurry. Slower paced novels may take the opportunity to smell the roses, but be mindful of how long they are smelling them.

Avoid Excessive Name-dropping

It’s all right to use brand names in your story. But there are a few basic rules: Get the name right and do not portray the product in a disparaging light. Do not say your main character got food poisoning from the Golden Corral. (Go to the Publishing Law Center website for more information)

You don’t want to go overboard with brand names, but it is a  way to provide your reader with a good concrete description. When you say Chevy Silverado-people know instantly and can picture it in their minds.

Don’t Let Description Hang You Up During a First Draft

Remember you can always go back and add it later. When I started writing my novel, I had a great plot idea and my characters sketched out in my head. I put pencil to paper and wrote until completion.

As a matter of fact, that is were I am, and why I am writing this article. I have completed my first draft and am now beginning the process of icing my cake.

I hope this review on description helps you as much as it helped me.

-Jan R

Description is Icing on the Cake

No Power? You’ve Got to be Kidding!

454749So it’s been a crazy week so far. I live in the hurricane Mathew zone, and we had no power or internet for the last two days. It was like an unplanned camping trip. We do have a generator, so we didn’t have to rough it in the sense that many of our neighbors did, but it was definitely an inconvenience.

I was so thankful to all of our friends who reached out offering encouragement, a hot shower, and a warm, comfortable, place to stay.

We are so blessed, and don’t really realize how much so, until it is taken away.  Going through a situation like this, only reminded me of how much I take for granted. I pray that we do not become so complacent with our everyday lives, that we forget to Thank God for the favor he has lavishly poured on this nation.

Stay safe, and for those of you who are still dealing with the aftermath of Mathew, you are in my prayers.

-Jan R




No Power? You’ve Got to be Kidding!

Creating Multidimensional Characters

imagestjy0h2vcI’ve just completed the God knows what number revision of my novel(I lost count a long time ago). While I have to admit it is one-hundred times better than the first draft, it is still not where it needs to be.

I hope this isn’t coming across too negative. To be honest, while I’m not where I want to be, I’m a lot closer than I use to be, and from my way of thinking, I have a cake that needs to be iced. My icing is a mixture of character development and imagery.

I made a comment not too long ago that my characters were just too good. Nobody’s that perfect. So I did some research on character development to find out what I needed to do to rough them up and give them some dimension.

There are actually three dimensions of  character development. I’ve used them all at times, but never made a concerted effort to  put them all together in one particular character until now. Yeah I seem to do everything the hard way. Comes from inexperience.

So what are the three dimensions I’m working on?

The first dimension is surface traits, quirks and habits.

This one is easy. We all know we’re suppose to describe our characters and help the reader picture them in their mind.  Is their hair blonde, red or brown.  Do they have blue eyes, green eyes or brown eyes. What about that annoying mole on the chin that makes you think of a witch.

Maybe they have an annoying laugh, or have a nervous habit of tapping their left foot up and down. I play with paper clips when I’m the lead in a group meeting. It calms my nerves.

These are all things you can see, when you look at the person.

The second dimension is backstory and inner demons.

Backstory allows us to see where they came from, and why they act the way they do. We see the scars, the memories, and the dashed dreams that leave them with resentment, fear, and weakness.

We understand where they came from so we can empathize with them and form an emotional attachment.

The third dimension is action, behavior, and world view.

This dimension looks at moral substance or lack thereof. It’s defined not by backstory or inner demons, but by actions and behaviors.

A hero takes a stand, takes risks, and makes decisions.

A villain rationalizes behavior and is insensitive. He refuses to take responsibility.

As a story teller, it is your job to integrate all three realms of character development convincingly and compellingly. Nobody wants to read a story with one dimensional or shallow characters.

What’s your thoughts. Any suggestions or tips that might help me flesh out my characters during this revision.

-Jan R





Creating Multidimensional Characters

Writer or Author-You Decide

Authors who are published take the craft of writing seriously.  They understand the work involved to prepare your manuscript and aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and dive in. So what do they do?

They read countless stories and analyze what’s going on in them to make them successful. When they read, they  ask themselves the following questions.

  • How does the author make me want to turn the page?images-8
  • Why am I drawn to the lead character?
  • What makes the scene work?
  • What’s the key conflict?
  • How does the author handle dialogue?
  • How does the author integrate minor characters?
  • How’s the pace, can you feel the tension building?

Authors also read books on writing, take classes, and apply what they have learned. They have people give them feedback-editors, critique groups(Scribophile,, trusted and objective friends. They work at becoming better writers.

You will never get where you need to be to publish that first novel, if you don’t learn your craft. Like any other job, writing requires work. You don’t wake up one day  and you’re an author, just like you don’t wake up one day a brain surgeon.  Just because you want it to be doesn’t make it so. Pay your due diligence and learn the craft. It will save you so much time and heartache in the long run.

Being the novice with a really good idea, I thought all I had to do was write my story down on paper. I knew how to string sentences together.  I did a minimal amount of research, and got a mediocre story set up for rejection.  The responses I got from the literary agents shocked me and hurt my feelings. I didn’t realize how bad the work was at the time, because I didn’t know any better, and I obviously didn’t take the time to learn the rules. Yes there are rules! Hard fast rules! I broke every one of them.

One of my rejections letters was from an agent who I’m sure knew I was new at this writing thing, and she took the time to point out the major issues with my work. “It’s just not ready. You have a really good premise, but it is riddled with grammatical and structural errors. You are head hopping,  and your dialogue is dragging.”

What was I suppose to do with that? I didn’t even know what head hopping was, and I understood dialogue, but I never knew it could drag. If I had researched and taken the time to learn the proper way to write a novel, I would have known exactly what she was talking about.

The question you need to ask yourself: Do I want to just write or do I want to be published?


-Jan R

Writer or Author-You Decide