Category Archives: Character Studies

Weather Outside is Frightful….Use That!

Caught in the StormI don’t know about you but here in the Pacific Northwest the weather has gotten positively scary. We got down to 23 degrees this morning! Now I know for some of you I sound like a wuss but that is darn cold here and I am staying in the house. As I sat writing this morning however I realized something else about the cold weather…it made great fodder for a short story!

This is the time of the year when the weather will chase a lot of us indoors and that’s okay as long as you don’t waste the time. The colder weather is a great time to be a captive audience to your craft…heck…what else are you gonna do? I decided this morning that I was going to insert the cold outside into my writing. I realized that tend to write about weather I know…weather I am comfortable with. Looking outside this morning I realized that the cold weather adds an element to my stories that they have never had before…the element of OMG its cold.

Using the weather allowed me to totally change up my story. There are a lot of things that happen in the colder weather that wouldn’t in the summer weather. The cold makes it harder for my detective to solve his/her case, it makes it tougher for my killer to bury the body and it challenges that serial killer who has to go out into the cold to look for victims. And what if my main character, good or bad, has never had to deal with the cold at all? Now there is a monkey wrench worth exploring.

My point is the colder weather is full of ideas and challenges for your characters. Many writers don’t really think about environment or weather or if they do it is a secondary consideration. What if you made it a first consideration? Take your main character and drop him in the snow or the wind or the ice. How much fun could you have with that???

© The Writer’s Advice, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Posted by on December 5, 2022 in Character Studies, Writing


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Give Your Characters Some Character

3D-Character-DesignHave you ever met someone who seemed…well…cardboardish? You know what I’m talking about, stiff, boring and if they weren’t standing upright you would swear they might not have a pulse. What do you usually do when these folks are around? You leave right? You need to think about that when you are creating your characters.

Despite what non-writers will tell you our characters are real people. They have to be or the whole story isn’t believable. You characters have to ring true and the only way for that to happen is to make them as “real” as possible and to do that you have to give your characters some character.

People are not one-dimensional. In fact most of us have some sort of split personality. I know that I am different with my peers than I am my spouse and my children know an entirely different side of me. This is not to say that all of these personalities don’t bleed together; they do but if I am honest I have many, many sides. People are complicated because there are so many sides to each of us. Your characters have to have this aspect of being as well. Your main character, for instance, has to have “things” that make him/her your main character. They have to be strong and resourceful. They also have to be interesting.

So what can you do to give your characters more character? You can….

  • ·         Give him/her a backstory – Everyone needs history to work off of. Our history is what shapes us.
  • ·         Make sure the personality fits the name – Bob will never be a super hero but Mika will. Think about what you name your characters; it’s important.
  • ·         Give him/her issues – We all have them…those things that we drag around with us. Emotional baggage is very helpful when defining your characters. There has to be a reason why they do what they do.
  • ·         Give him/her a physical trait – When describing folks to other folks we often hear things like, ‘she has a limp’ or ‘he has sleepy looking eyes’. “Real” people often have something that makes them stand out from others. Make your characters memorable by giving them a physical trait that makes them unique.

These are just a few things that you can do to give your characters character. Remember that you want readers to like your characters, relate to them or downright hate them…strong emotional reaction is a good thing. So write a more memorable story by making sure that your characters are as real as it gets.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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My Chance to be The Leading Man


There are some perks to being a writer. For instance, I can kill off people I don’t like or who slight me. I can live anywhere in the world and the plane ticket doesn’t cost me a cent. I can be an expert at any number of things including cool stuff like bomb disposal and international spy. I can be good at anything I put my pen to…AND I can be the lead in any story I choose.

I think that we writers are lucky because we get to create worlds at will. I can sit down at my desk and create a whole world where the possibilities are endless. Sure I need to make those worlds believable because I don’t want to lose my readers but with just the right amount of detail, I can make the reader believe just about anything.

I think of writing as sort of a therapy most days. If you read my books (and I think everyone should) your will discover that, over the years, I have worked out quite a few things through the pen and paper. I have dealt with child abuse, bad marriages and relationships, death, my feelings of insecurity and even redecorating my office, all through stories. I have also dealt with not having been one of the pretty people in the world.

In high school I was the clown. I was the one who made everyone laugh and so I was accepted into just about every group of people that populated the school yard. One thing I was not however was the charming, always-know-what-to-say, good-looking guy that the girls fawned over. I was charming enough but I was also “funny” and you know what happens to the funny folks, they are forever stuck in the “friend zone” when it comes to dating. That was me…always the friend never the one with filled Saturday nights; being a writer changed all that for me though and now…well…folks think I’m pretty cool both within my stories and in the real world.

Writing can be a lonely occupation but it is also what you make of it. Writing should open up the world to you in such a way that you don’t have to feel like the wallflower any more. You can get the girl and so much more. So I said all of that to say this…realize that writing has it’s perks and that no other job in the world can make you feel like you can have it all with the exception of writing. Use the story pages to work out your life…it’s okay…working things out gives your writing that human element that draws readers into your story. Don’t be scared to pour your emotion onto the page…use that emotion, wield it like a sword fighting your way off the wall at the school dance to become the leading guy. It’s one of the perks after all…it’s your story and it can go anywhere you want it too.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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1383997_10153354398325207_557417490_nMy mom is almost 70 years old. For most of her life there were no computers, e-mail, Facebook or any of the other technical advances that our generation was born into. When someone needed to get ahold of you they called the “house phone” and hopefully your brother or sister was not on the phone at the time or the caller would get a busy signal and have to “wait” until the phone was free. (Don’t think for a second that “call waiting” changed that because we all learned to ignore the beeping in our ear when someone else tried to call in) And when someone needed to have an actual conversation they had to actually meet face to face for lack of texting, blogging or IM-ing. For folks like my mom technology is both good and bad for all sorts of reasons.

When Mom discovered e-mail and Facebooking she waded into it with the caution of a bomb disposal team. She started by texting “hi” and waiting for a response and then she graduated on to actual sentences. Now, she over texts, meaning that often, while having a conversation with her, she will actually talk over me by texting before I can answer her first question.  But perhaps the most annoying thing that my Mom does, and no one can seem to make her stop, is messaging in all caps.

I don’t know what it is about my Mom’s generation but they all text in caps at some point. Does my Mom realize that it makes me feel like she is yelling at me? She probably doesn’t. Does she realize that texting in caps conveys a tone? Nope, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t get that either…but I do and therein lay the point of this column. As writers we have to watch our tone.

We can convey a “tone” with the way we write. My Mom does with her all caps but writers do it also in various ways. Tone can be found in the way a character speaks or in the actions he/she takes. Often times we can change a characters tone and never even realize it until someone else points it out. My spouse and I have a long running conversation going on about the “tone” I often take with our kids…I say things like, “that’s not what I mean” or “they misunderstand” a lot when if I just listened to my spouse I would realize that often what I say comes out in a tone that does not convey my true emotion. This can easily happen within your writing too.

So remember…when you are building those characters or giving them dialog watch your (or rather their) tone within the story. You don’t want your characters or your story misunderstood.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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Trying Not to Embarrass Your Mom


I have written more than a few books. All of them are mystery-thrillers however buried within the mystery is often a bit of romance as well. What good story can survive, after all, without a little smooching? Any fiction novel just isn’t complete without a torrid sex scene of two. Which brings me to an age old questions most writers have to face sooner or later….how hot should I make my sex scenes?

When I wrote my first sex scene it was in the throes of the story. My main character met a lady became overwhelmed with passion and they did it, right their on the hood of 1968 Mustang. Yep it was hot and it was steamy and it got me yelled at by my mom. Keep in mind that I was 15 at the time and I am pretty sure that my mom was still holding out hope that I was oblivious to anything having to do with sex at all. She read it, yelled and then later, said that while it was a good scene, it was also inappropriate for a high school short story assignment. Needless to say I had to write a whole new story void of anything sexy.

Now days I am quite a bit older and my mom has become less inhibited so I have a little more freedom when it comes to inserting those scenes but my mom did have some advice for me that I took to heart when it comes to writing those types of scenes. She said, “Sex is okay as long as it’s a part of the story, never forget that”. What did she mean? Well it’s simple really; if the sex is a part of the natural flow of the story put it in. If you are putting sex in for the sake of sex…don’t, it won’t work.  We have all read authors who think that a chapter isn’t complete without sex; those writers bore me. Sex sells, that’s true but if you want to be known as a novelist and not a chapbook author, only use sex where appropriate. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of writers out there who write what my mother refers to as “smut books” and that’s great if it is your “thing” but it is important to draw a line in the sand if you don’t want to be known for those types of books.

So how do you gage when sex is too much? I have to go back to what my mom said; it’s good as long as it goes with the flow of the story. We all know how it works…two people meet, fall into passion, whether it is love or desire, and have sex. Afterwards how they react to each other speaks volumes of them as people, their relationship and even progresses the story along. That is the right amount of sex. Your reader wants your story to be as really as it can be and, let’s face it; most people are not falling into bed every other minute so keep that in mind when you are creating. And guys, try not to embarrass your mom too much…make sure that your sex scenes come with a little class whenever you can.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Posted by on October 15, 2022 in Character Studies, Writing


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Do Not Disturb…I’m Killing Someone


I hate to be interrupted when I am killing folks. Nothing is more annoying than when, in the middle of offing someone, the kids come in and bug me. Seriously…don’t they realize how hard it is to kill a person?

On the one hand, I hope my kids never learn how hard it is to kill someone unless that is; they are a writer like me. One the other hand, I do wish that those around me would realize that when I am in the mode or the moment, I really need to be left alone. I live in a household with kids who have been raised to talk all the time. I was a newspaper reporter for a long time and needless to say they get their excessive need to vocalize constantly from me and, trust me, I am paying for it now.

It is really important to set boundaries when you are a writer. First, you work from home so to most folks in the family that mean easy access. Second, you are “just typing” after all, so the concept of interrupting is not as foreign as say if you were a bomb maker. (No one wants to bug that guy for some reason) And finally, because there is no way for a person who does not write to truly understand the process, well, folks just kind of sluff it off. “You aren’t really doing anything important…”

So how does a writer set these very important boundaries? Truth be told it depends on the age of your kids. If you have toddlers you can’t very well slam the door in their faces so with them set a time to write during nap time or after they go to bed at night. With teens, they get it so just simply make the rules known and then enforce them. Set your writing time and then declare it off limits. As for your spouse, they married you so they knew what they were getting into, just talk to them, they will understand. And if that doesn’t work, the next time they are taking a nice relaxing bath, go into the bathroom and go potty….this will reinforce the need for privacy, trust me.

As a writer you have to have time to write uninterrupted. Most of us either work from home or we are fitting our writing in during the time we are off the “real” job…this demands some periods of writing that can be done so that the stream of your scenes and story flow uninterrupted. So don’t be shy, demand that folks adhere to your boundaries and if they don’t there is always that bathroom thing which just may work on the teenaged kids too.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE IN HERE! When You Have Too Many Characters


Creating characters is fun. I know that personally there are times when I get all excited because the writing is really flowing and I start over creating characters. Over creating? Yep, I start over crowding my story and you can no longer truly see the story, much like the train in the photo above.

Sometimes a story can appear to require a lot of people to support it. We have all read that epic novel that has a gazillion characters in it and seems to work well but the truth is those are rare. A story that can carry all those characters has to be epic and long and, well, extraordinary; most of us don’t do extraordinary on a regular basis. So what is a writer to do when they are pecking along on the keyboard and suddenly realize that there are way too many people in their story?

-          Decide who the story revolves around – The first thing a writer needs to do when they discover an overabundance of characters is determine who the story is about. It sounds easy enough however sometimes it can be tricky. Your main character is the center of your writing universe. Determine who that is; it’s key to figuring out who you need.

-          Cut all the fluff – We all tend to add in characters that really don’t have anything important to do in the story. I once added a woman into one of mine just because the character sounded cool. Turns out she was a character for a whole different story.

-          Create your main character’s universe – This is where mapping software is cool. Center your main character and then branch out all the character’s connections. You will end up with the universe of your story.

These are just a few suggestions, I’m sure that some of you have more. The bottom line is that if your story is crowded it will be tough for your readers to see the actual story. Extra characters are a distraction for both you as a writer and for your reader. If you cut the characters correctly what you will end up with is a full-bodied story with characters who feel like they belong.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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What Choo Talkin About Willis?

rde4640lI have a friend who thinks that he is really good at mimicking other accents. His french accent sounds Italian, his Canadian sounds Hispanic and his “London” accent is a hodgepodge of Scottish, Irish and something that sounds vaguely like Elmo….he’s a great guy to take out to the bars and get drunk because you know that somewhere during the night he’s gonna get his butt kicked by someone with an accent who is greatly offended. And none of us can tell him that he is destroying language in general because, well, he thinks he’s great!

My point in introducing you to Kenny (and that is his real name…) is because I know that you guys know writers out there that do the very same thing. For me, reading a book that has dialect in it that destroys someone else’s concept of a culture makes me want to cry. I, for instance, am from the south. I have a distinct southern accent, especially when I am tired or mad. I worked for years as a kid to get rid of that accent once I moved to California because other kids made fun of me. Now, I don’t speak naturally because adults try to mimic me and it’s downright painful to listen to. I swear if one more person says “ya’all to me I might punch em. But when I am on the phone with family, or worse, at a family event, it all comes flooding back and the way I naturally speak comes out. It does so because it is natural.

So what does a writer do when they want to use a dialect they are not naturally familiar with? Well, first let me advise you, if you don’t have to write in a dialect you aren’t familiar with…don’t. If you decide that you just can’t help yourself, do your research and I don’t mean Wiki. In order to get a dialect right you can’t read about it, you have to hear it and you have to hear it over and over again until you get the sound of it. There is no excuse in this day and age not to be able to do that kind of research because YouTube offers videos on just about everything. Make sure however that you are looking at the right dialect from the right region…and this is why I caution writers on using unfamiliar dialect at all…not only do you have to get the dialect right but you have to get the region right. A great example is Louisiana; if you are going to give your character a Creole accent you have to figure out which one they need. Folks in south Louisiana speak differently than those in the north or the west and people from around New Orleans have a dialect all their own. Trust me, you screw that up and you will hear about it.

Using different dialects can open up a lot to a writer but it is one part of the writing process that needs extra care of it is to be breached. Once you have committed to a character that is of a different culture or country, you have to understand what you are doing. Get the language wrong and you may as well have killed that character off because your reader, if they are anything like me, will be killing that character in their minds every time the character opens their mouth to speak. It may seem like a rather small thing in the grand picture for your story but trust me, speaking as a person with an accent, it’s annoying when you get it wrong and as a reader, annoy me too badly and I probably won’t read anything else you write…..ya’all know what I mean?


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Character Creation - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is Dead…As a Writer, Should You Care?

th(Writer’s Note – Article owing 2 of 4)

The President of Venezuela passed today. He has long been the subject of curiosity in the United States because he was sort of a likeable communist who claimed democracy. He was, at best, a complicated man who often made the US government nervous.

So why should you, as a writer, care if this guy who is a zillion miles away has passed away? For a number of reasons…

  1. He has long been a thorn in the sides of the United States government but he has been intriguing as well. Chavez brought spies into focus again by claiming that they were everywhere. Reading his background would be gold if you are a writer of thrillers.
  2. He was a romantic leader and not in the girl love boy kind of way. Chavez always tried to show that he loved his country. He stood in front of the world and declared his loyalty in the way they did it in the old days. If you write historical novels, he would be a great character of a rogue country.
  3. He was a conspiracy theorist all the way to the end. The VP in charge of Venezuela is now claiming that Chavez’s enemies “gave him the cancer that killed him”. This guy was so open minded he would entertain anything at all if it meant that he could make sense of it. If you are the writer if conspiracy novels, this guy is your Yoda.
  4. He was complicated. As a character Chavez lived a life that was outside the bounds of normal. From his beliefs to his practice of having dinner with Sean Penn, the guy was a pile of contradictions. We writers would have a difficult time making a guy like this up. Attempting to understand what made him tick would make a great spy thriller all by itself and what an intriguing main character.

Chavez is, of course, only one part of the story. The country, the remaining government and those who want to unseat the current government are as interesting as it gets. Forget the politics (unless you write political novels) and get into the design plans for this amazing moment that we are all watching unfold in history. There is literally something for every kind of writer to carry away from all this. So before you turn that television channel tonight and pass it off as just another dead world leader…take a moment and see what you might gleam from this guy’s story. I’m telling you…there are buckets full of useful material. (We do, by the way, wish his family peace during their loss)


© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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Unbelievably Good – When Your “Good Guy” is too Good

560862_260582717362829_253529148068186_573475_115163462_nEvery story has good and evil in some form. It doesn’t matter what your story is actually about there is a yin and yang to it…there has to be or it isn’t a story. Even when my 12 year old daughter comes home with a story about something that happened at school there is a good guy (Candice was just sitting there not bothering anyone) and a bad guy (and Tom came along and kicked her for no reason), it is one of the universal laws of humans.

Now I know that you all enjoy creating the bad guys because, well, let’s face it, that’s fun. But what about the good guys? Surely it is impossible to screw up creating a good guy because he/she’s so good right? Wrong. The good is the thing that can actually make your good guy bad…confused? Let me explain…

If your characters are to be believable and if your readers are to connect with them they have to have flaws, especially the good guys. A good character can be too good to be true and when that happens the reader has nothing to relate to because, let’s face it; we are all flawed no matter what our intentions are. Case in point; if your good character saves a grandmother from a burning building, sets her down on the sidewalk and runs back into get her cat, saving it too and then provides the grandmother with a new place to live, a new car and set of steak knives…wow…great character, but who does that? Now if your good character saves a grandmother from a burning building, drops her on the front lawn, runs back in to save that cat but trips on the front foyer rug, falls on top of the cat that was trying to run out of the burning house and kills it and then buys the grandmother a coffee out of guilt for killing fluffy…well that is a tad more believable. Your good guy’s heart was in the right place but he/she is human right? Crap happens; it is what keeps us all humble.

Now I am not saying that your “good guys/gals” all have to do utterly stupid crap but they do need to have flaws to be believable. Make them good but maybe they over eat or tend to be late all the time. Maybe they always forget to tie their shoes and often trip into little old ladies or perhaps they are just notoriously bad tippers…whatever the flaw, it makes them human thus allowing your readers to relate.

So while writing those “good guys” stop for a minute and ask yourself…what makes this character human and then give him/her something that does. Trust me, your readers will better relate and your story will have that authentic ring that every writer wants.


© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.



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