Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Character- the Orange with a Missing Piece

I’ve heard that there are two types of novels—character driven and plot driven. I think every good story needs dynamic characters. I’m not opposed to plot driven novels, since I my own stories are not for navel gazers, but I think character arcs are always the heart of any story.

Think of your characters like an orange. At the beginning of your story, your orange/person needs to have a section missing. The literati call this missing section the “inner wound”—I personally like the orange analogy. Throughout the story, the orange/person will learn something and “grow” the missing section, or heal the inner wound, and become complete and healthy. Often, the character won’t even know or understand what’s missing in his character or make-up until he’s called to rally and face the final showdown. He cannot face and conquer the outer demons until he’s first overcome his inner demons.

Here’s a step by step approach to finding your character’s missing orange section:
Your character’s name:
His role in the novel:
What is your character’s goal?
What happened in your orange’s past that severely wounded him? Who or what stole his orange section?

What incorrect thinking (core belief) developed as a result of the wound?

During the story, what are the turning points, situations or words that slam their incorrect thinking and force them to be proactive and grow?

What will they lose or not attain if they remain static?

What event throws them into self analysis and forces them into growth?

How does the change in thinking make them whole and worthy to go to battle and win?

Keep in mind that in a solid novel, every point of view of character needs a character arc. If you don’t want to write an arc for every character in your book then you have to stay out of their head. It’s just like in real life—we don’t know what everyone is thinking and we can only guess at their motivation. That’s the suspense of living (and reading.)

Some helpful character tools.
A character bible: A tool that will help you understand everything about your characters. The bible should include age, weight height, sex, schooling, occupation, where they are originally from and where they currently live. Your bible might look like this:
Character name:
Dramatic need:
Height and weight: (because your mom was wrong and these things really do matter)
Hair color:
Physical imperfections and quirks:
Social standing:
Home life:
Social affiliations, clubs, sports, hobbies:

Another great tool—Pinterest. Check out my Rose Arbor board for a look at my characters. I love this.

Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer lists three categories for quirks or what he calls character tags. These tags make a character memorable and distinguishable.
1.     Appearance: tall, short, moles, sloppy, hairy
2.     Speech: accent, lisp, large or small vocabulary, slang and cliché usage
3.     Mannerisms: hair tugging, nail biting, hand wringing, doodler, nose tapper

Another helpful tool is Taylor Hartman’s Color Code. The Hartman Personality Profile also known as The Color Code, created by Dr. Taylor Hartman, divides personalities into four colors: Red (the power wielders), Blue (the do-gooders), White (the peacekeepers), and Yellow (the fun lovers). Whether or not you believe in classifying people and putting them into acorn shells is beside the point—your goal is to create realistic characters and this basic understanding of personality types  and motivations is invaluable.

I know writers who base their characters on people that they know. Do not do this. Stories like this never have a happy ending.

In closing, I’m including some character advice from talented writers.

“It all begins with the moment your character walks onstage. How you introduce your character is as important as how you end their story. They must prove tasty enough bait to hook the reader.”
Christine M. Fairchild
Sexy, edgy suspense An Eye For Danger (
Free editing tips & tricks
The Editor Devil's Guide to DIALOGUE & The Editor Devil's Guide to CHARACTERS

“Since I identify with my heroines, naturally I don’t want them to lose their money or their tempers. But you wouldn’t want to read about me, because I’m boring. My heroines have to be bold where I’m cautious, and disaster-prone where I’m merely clumsy. We all want happy endings, but we have to make our characters earn them. Really earn them.”
Jackie Diamond Hyman
Writing as Jacqueline Diamond

“Stephen King wrote one of the best books on writing that money can buy. There is one idea that he says he uses and that I have adopted myself. It's a fascinating way to pull yourself out of your work and look at it with a scientific eye.

Think of your story, any story, as a fossil buried in the ground. You don't know what it is when you start, other than it is a big fossil or a little fossil. But as you chip away, sometimes removing great big wheelbarrows of dirt and other times brushing away ever so dellicately with a brush, you begin to get a feeling for what you might have. Your mind may explode with ideas, but if you keep chipping away at the fossil, it will, sooner or later, lead you in the right direction. Eventually you will pull it from the earth, clean it up and be able to say--this is something which has never been seen before, or I know what this is, but isn't it neat how compact it is, and that fluted comb: no one knew there was such a thing.

Are you getting the idea? You story, as that fossil, can cure so many things: writers block, weak plotting, the discovery of a theme. And it can keep your art young and exciting, because each new story is a potential discovery of major significance. This fossil you've stumbled upon could be THE ONE.

I play around with this metaphor at times like this, and I really haven't found any part of writing it doesn't encompass.”
Clayton Bye
Author, Technomage: FROM EARTH TO EDEN II
Editor-in-Chief, The Deepening
Publisher, Writers on the Wrong Side of the Road

Monday, August 27, 2012

How to Write a Novel in 30 Minutes

I was asked to teach a 30 minute workshop on how to write a book. (Which is kind of like trying to teach brain surgery in 30 minutes.) I plan on covering the basics, or the skeleton of a story. Even though I believe that I could write a book about each of these story bones, I came up with an idea. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea, yet, we will have to see. Here it is:
I ask my writer friends (that’s you) for the very best bit of writery advice they have ever received. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about and looking for suggestions on:
I will take your good advice, use it for my handouts and post it on my blog so that it looks like this:
I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.
G.K. Chesterton
Best selling author of In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton
Recap—In return for your writing words of wisdom, I post your name, your novel and a purchasing link on my blog and in my handouts.

The fun starts tomorrow with character. If interested, please leave a comment here or e-mail me at

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blog Hop Give-aways

I'm doing a blog hop next month and I'm wondering what to give away. I'm open to suggestions.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Then and Now

Almost 25 years ago we lived in the Pringle-Hopkins manor house in Darien, Ct. The house had a sign on the front porch that read, This house was here when the town of Darien, Ct was established in 1820.  We weren’t rich. My husband had only been out of graduate school for a few years, but through a miracle we were able to rent the old mansion on two acres for a song. The town owned the house and had intended to tear it down and build low income housing on the property, but when the historical society learned of the plan they sued. Because the house was sitting empty during the lengthy court case, we were able to rent it. The same gardeners who took care of the town parks mowed our lawn. It really was wonderful.

It was a magical time for us. In the winter, the Christmas lights from the tree in the town square shone through the trees every hour we heard the bell tower chime Christmas carols. In the fall, we would rake together mounds of fallen maple leaves and run through them. In the summer we swam in the Long Island Sound.

My husband worked in Mid-town, New York and on Friday nights I would often get a babysitter and join in him the city. We loved (still love) the theater. I would dress up, forget about being a mom for a few fabulous hours and meet my husband on Broadway.

Our world and the world in general has changed since then. We now live in California, but a few weeks ago we took our daughters to New York and bought tickets to The Phantom of the Opera and Evita. We ate dinner across from the theater and were surprised by the long line forming past the marquee. Very few women wore dresses and even fewer men wore suits or ties. The line confused us until we got through the doors and realized that every purse and bag had to pass through a security check. It used to be that if you arrived late you weren’t allowed to your seat until intermission—that’s no longer true. An usher carrying a flashlight will escort you to your seat. And at intermission—it used to be that you could buy a fancy little dessert for an outrageous price in the lobby, but now you don’t even need to leave your chair. Someone carrying a big tray, ala baseball game style, will sell you a candy bar or a box of Junior Mints for $4 dollars.

Times Square is now closed off to traffic—pedestrians only for about three blocks. There are people dressed up as Disney characters, octogenarian females wearing nothing but tiny panties and stickers on their nipples, and men in tighty-whities and cowboy boots (it was hot.)

Can I clean up Times Square? No, I can’t. Do I think I can create a production has fabulous The Phantom of the Opera in a theater as jaw dropping gorgeous as the Majestic? Of course not. Will I still go to Broadway? At every imaginable opportunity. So do I have the right to whine? Sure I do. The world has lost some glimmer and shine because the theater is not the posh spot it used to be.

I’m not complaining. I’m only stating a fact. The Pringle-Hopkins manor house in Darien eventually did become a (very lovely) condominium complex for low-income housing. I’ve changed. Going to the theater has changed. The world has changed and it’s still changing and if we mourn that somewhere between now and then we’ve lost some swank and polish—there’s nothing to do but start polishing our corners of the world. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Clean a Condo

1.      Turn on music
2.      Light a scented candle
3.      Strip beds
4.      Gather all linens and laundry and put in washing machine
5.      Spray toilet, tub, shower enclosure and sink with cleanser.
6.      Clean inside and outside of fridge—throw away all food.
7.      Clean inside and outside of oven and microwave.
8.      Wipe down all counter top appliances.
9.      Clean counters.
10.  Wipe down cupboards.
11.  Move laundry from washers to dryers
12.  Dust all furniture and framed art.
13.  Wipe down patio furniture
14.  Sweep patio
15.  Wash windows, glass doors and mirrors
16.  Clean toilet, sink, tub and shower enclosure
17.  Retrieve linens from dryer, fold, put away and make beds
18.  Vacuum every crevice
19.  Leave gift basket and a personal welcoming note on the kitchen table. Take a chocolate for yourself
20.  Turn off music and blow out candle
21.  Mop yourself out the door, turning off lights on your way out.

Why am I sharing this laundry list? Because it had to be written and some things seem so obvious—of course you have to wash the linens before can dry them and no one would vacuum before dusting, and allowing the cleanser to sit on the tile a good thirty minutes takes the scrubbing out of cleaning. Who wouldn’t reward themselves with a tiny piece of chocolate?

When I forget to turn on the music, or light the candle, or take the chocolate—everything turns to drudgery. When I don’t wash the windows, everything looks gray. Life is just so much better when everything goes according to plan, when I don’t try and hurry the cleanser or skip the vacuuming and go straight to mopping (yuck.) The gift basket, the personal welcoming note…it’s the small things that make all the difference.

But why am I sharing this? Because everyone has a mess to clean and I thought this could help.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Are you nobody, too?

Timothy 2:2 &3

that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.

I've been thinking about this scripture today and how it relates to my writing. Of course, I know Paul wasn't writing to me. He was writing to Timothy and giving instruction on how to organize the infant, rapidly growing church. I wonder if his admonition to women to keep silent (in the following verses) is not because he believed women had less to say, but because women in leadership in that society would cause disruption and discord that the struggling to survive church didn't need and couldn't handle. But that is another blog post and another discussion. Today I'm thinking about a quiet and peaceable life.

Emily Dickinson, the Bronte sisters and many of my literary heroes led quiet and private lives...and sold very little of their work. I wonder how the Emilys and Charlottes would have survived in our day of mass communication. Would they have flourished?

There's an adage that goes something like this: 'The less you say the more I listen. The more you say, the less I listen.' Which makes me ask--can I write stories, live a peaceable, quiet life and Facebook, tweet, blog, and stand on my head and pass out books? Can I just write stories without the social interaction?

Of course I can. But that doesn't mean I'll sell anything. And all the grandstanding and promoting doesn't guarantee sales, either. Which make me think that maybe the thing to do is decide on the life I want and go about to trying to create it.

It's been a little more than a year since I published Stealing Mercy. In this past year my blog following has grown by more than 300% and I've published three novels and I have another due to hit the world in about two months. I find trying to maintain a quiet and peaceable life and selling books a lot like standing on a seesaw. I don't want to fly off my seat nor do I want to crash with a jaw jarring thud. I want balance. I'm not saying I envy Emily's attic or Charlotte's moor, but their writing did flourish even without one little tweet.

On days when I'm not feeling social, I think about Emily. Was she feeling that the world was too much with her--oh wait, that was Wordsworth who wrote:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

So did Wordsworth feel the same as Emily when she wrote:

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Which makes me think--if I want to be a nobody like Emily and get away from the world like Wordsworth, maybe I'm in very good company. But then again, they are both dead. Which means I'm really all alone in my bedroom with a computer screen.

Unless I check my Facebook page.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Libraries--Shrines to Stories

As promised, pictures taken inside the New York City Public Library where I uploaded my novel, The Rhyme's Library, onto Smashwords and Amazon. I could have used the computer in the hotel's business center, a noisy place just off the busy lobby, but I think the NYC library was more fitting, quiet and was, after all, more memorable. I think all libraries are shrines to stories, but the NYC library is one of my very favorites--second only the the library at the University of Washington. See below.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fighting Over Covers

So I published my novel The Rhyme's Library, but I didn't love the cover. When I was in New York I took some great pictures in the New York City Library and I made two new covers for my book. Which one do you like best?

Procrastination and Promptness

My inauguration to the Tate way flying went like this: I, recently engaged to my husband, was flying from LA to Seattle close to the time that my husband, recently graduated from BYU, was flying with his family to Europe. The night before our so conveniently scheduled flights, we decided to leave for the airport at 7 am. The next morning, I was the only one standing near my suitcase and ready to walk out the door. After confusion, some shouting and, if I remember correctly, some sibling dirty name calling, I arrived at the airport, ran to my gate and sat down just moments before my plane took flight. I later learned that my father-in-law, a rocket scientist and master of efficiency, held the firm belief that being early was a waste of time. Most of his children live by the same waste not a moment code.

My dad has never had a speeding ticket. I’ve never known him to be late or in a hurry for anything. One of my favorite dad stories is once he was driving down a hill and a lone trailer rolled past him. He thought, that’s a nice trailer someone has lost, only to realize that it was his own. Somehow his trailer had come unhitched and he had to chase it down the hill. Maybe he hurried then, but I don’t know because I wasn’t with him. I’ve most certainly never seen him stressed.

I really don’t consider myself a perfectionist. As a mother of a large family, I’ve gone to a business dinner dressed to the nines only to discover baby spit-up on my fabulous new shoes, I’ve attended church with a half eaten tootsie-pop attached to the back of my dress, and I’ve gone to a parent’s night at the school with the remains of a candy bar smeared on the back of my pants’ leg. Wardrobe and other disasters frequently happen to busy moms. Unlike my dad, I’m often late and sometimes stressed, although never by choice.

I’m not saying that my dad’s calm methodical life is superior to my father-in-law’s not waste a precious moment approach…or wait, maybe I am.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Conspiracy Theories

Have you ever felt that heaven or hell is conspiring against you? As I struggled to upload my newly released novel, The Rhyme’s Library, I knew that I had either demons sitting on my shoulder giggling gleefully at my frustration, or editor angels trying to protect me from embarrassing myself by publishing a not ready for the world novel. I still do not know if I had angels or demons possessing my computer that day…the day I did not upload my novel.

Because I try to live by the Mom Rule of work first, play (write) later, I completed all my packing, cleaning, errands that needed to be done before our family vacation. Finally, at the end of my very long day I sat down to upload my novel.

I went to Smashwords, typed in the short description, the long description, set the price, uploaded the cover, and signed all the agreements.

And it didn’t work. At the bottom of the page it read “error.” When I went to bed there were still errors.

No worries—I was bringing a laptop and could complete the uploading at the hotel. We arrived in Philadelphia safely but the computer did not. Sigh. Four jammed packed fun filled days and three states later, I sat down at the New York City Public Library. (Never been there? You have to go—it’s one of my very favorite places in the world. Pictures to follow.) Visitors are allowed 45 minutes on the computers after a rather lengthy and tedious log-in process.

I sat down to upload my novel to Smashwords. I typed in the short description, the long description, set the price, uploaded the cover, and signed all the agreements.

And the computer froze. Mouse, curser, swearing, pleading…nothing worked. I closed down the computer and waited for it to reload. I now had 20 minutes remaining, so I completed the lengthy sign in process and…

I typed in the short description, the long description, set the price, uploaded the cover, and signed all the agreements.

And with only minutes to spare, The Rhyme’s Library successfully uploaded to the Smashwords site.

At the moment I’m sitting in the basement of the hotel next to a noisy ice machine. Another day of the sights and excitement of New York City is about to begin (after my daughters get out of the shower.) While I’m doing the things that lucky people do in NYC, my novel is floating in the cyber world, waiting to show up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple.

Are editor angels moaning in despair at my stupidity or cheering for my success? Are demons giggling at my fool-hardiness or cursing my Smashwords know-how. I might not ever know. All I can be sure of is—the deed is done. And I can always press a re-do button.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Who is your favorite poets? Wordsworth? ee cummings? Elliot? Donne? Dickinson? It’s hard to choose. Mostly, it depends on my mood and if I need a Snowy Evening or Daffodils. In college I wrote a term paper on the poems of Emily Bronte and I think it’s fascinating that someone cloistered in such a small world could have such a tremendous depth of emotion. Today anyone with internet access lives in an enormous world. From my bedroom I can talk to someone in India. From my kitchen I can try a recipe from Africa. And I can “virtually meet” multitudes.

Recently I met a poet, Gavriel Navarro, and I’m so enchanted his words that I wanted to share them here. Enjoy.

A starry silence

In the tranquility of this fresh night
a starry silence in the evening sky
saturated the palate with crystalline honey
from my savage spirit within this vastness...

So was cutting the night, an angry star
fugitive as her woven hair to the horizon
falling from the sky into my heart, vibrant still
caressing the earth with the bless of her dust

When you burst the perfection of calmness
as a chrysalis of the night without disturbing it, serene
from your place of stars fallen on a full moon

We melted into one, eternal in my memory
permanent in this starry silence, solitary
and witness of your sagacity for not turning back...

Gavriel Navarro© 2012


Ocean of My Solitude

of this accelerated heart.
I think only in the silence of bringing her near and to live
In the vast immensity of this diaphanous night with
Anxieties of waking, will she still be there? And with the
Desire of knowing her nestled within my own immensity.
I try to climb to the site she gave me, and I sigh when
The solitude is pulled
This dark street is so lonely without her. I am entangled
In the throbbing sorrow out of shape at my withdrawal;
The night sounds are different from the quietude of other nights;
Tonight I want her near, and I shiver for no good reason;
I try to reach her, but she pulls away, unsure,
I try to decipher this unconquerable torment; I rush
Out into the dark street of indecision to keep from screaming;
My steps resound with the slow echo of my torment;
I don’t want to forget her even for a moment, I want
To reach her, but she pulls even further into the distance;
The only thing in the way of my knowing her is emptiness;
I embrace the air for one evaporating breath of her;
My thoughts keep spinning in a whirlwind of passion,
And I carry on here, in the ocean of my solitude...

Gavriel Navarro© 2010


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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Covers

Here’s the cover of my soon to be released book and the cover to the novel I published in March. And here's my question--do you think my books would sell better if they had people on the covers? Stealing Mercy has sold many more copies than A Ghost of a Second Chance and I'm wondering if it’s because its genre is more obvious. Although A Ghost of a Second Chance isn't genre specific--I knew that before I published it. I knew it would be a hard sell, but since I love it I hoped others would as well.

I do love my covers, but I'm wondering if I need a damsel in distress on the cover, although that would be false advertising since I write really strong and proactive female characters. Mary Stewart, Alice Hoffman and Elizabeth George typically don’t have women draped in gossamer on the covers of their books. Should I?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Even More So

I’ve had a lot of visitors on my blog today. I’m not sure why since my marketing campaign is over and frankly after a month of having something to say (or having to say something) I’m tapped out. Yet the visitors have come and I’ve nothing to give, so I tried to post the cover of my soon to be released novel.

But Blogger wasn’t cooperating which is just as well. I don’t love the cover. I made it myself (well, I made most of it, but my son, Adam, did the tricky part.) He isn’t happy with it—he thinks it looks like I put a sticker on a photograph. I sent it to my daughter, the creator of my other covers. I’m sure that when she’s done doctoring it, Adam and I will both be happy…or happier.

Last week I got my edits back from my editor, Martha. Yesterday I finished the edits on The Rhyme’s Library and today I sent it to the formatting guy. I had my son, Nathan, format my first novel, Stealing Mercy. I paid him by the hour. Lee at Iron Horse Formatting offered to do my second book, A Ghost of a Second Chance, for free and right now he’s formatting my third book for a tiny fraction of what I paid Nathan for my first.

Here’s what I’m trying to say—there’s more to the book business than sitting in my room and writing down a story. There’s a whole lot of fingers wiggling in the pie of my book production. And yes, I do spend many hours—3 to 4 a day—writing, but I also take the photos for my book covers, I make my children dress up in funky clothes and pose in fields and on the porches of old houses, I design the graphics for the book covers and then have my children help me improve them, I hire an editor and a formatting guy, I try to be brave and promote my books.

Twice a month I go to my writers’ group and listen to my colleagues read. Everyone once in a while they listen to me. Once a week I meet with my critique partners and I listen to and comment on ten pages of their manuscripts and they listen to and offer feedback on mine. This isn’t always enjoyable. Sometimes it’s really, really painful.

In a few days my new novel will face the world and I want the world to know there’s a story behind every story. There’s a team of cheerleaders, cohorts and friends. Are they as invaluable as a team from a traditional publishing house?

For me—even more so.