Reader Friday: How Do You Create Characters?

There are three kinds of writers: those who can count, and those who can’t. Also, those who like to fill out questionnaires or do extensive biographies of their main characters, and those who like to make up characters “on the fly” and flesh them out as they go along. So what is your preferred method for creating original and dynamic characters for your fiction?

YA Scavenger Hunt!

Hi folks! In my new role as a YA author, I’m participating in a very cool online scavenger hunt today. The winners receive a whole stack of free books–and as an added incentive for participating, I’m posting a deleted scene from my novel DON’T TURN AROUND on the page where I’m being hosted! (This was the only scene in the book told from the POV of an adult, which apparently is a YA no-no. But this scene gives insight into what really happened to a fan favorite character in the book, Cody).
It’s a lot of fun, so dive in if you have the time and inclination…
Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This tri-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are TWO contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the RED TEAM–but there is also a blue team for a chance to win a whole different set of twenty-five signed books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage.


Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the red team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by DEC 2nd, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

Today, I am hosting Ednah Walters on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt! 

She’s the author of The Guardian Legacy series, and her latest novel is BETRAYED:

Lil isn’t just an average teenager. She’s one of the Nephilim–the descendants of humans and angels–which gives her some serious psi skills and a mission for redemption. Just when Lil thinks she’s found a balance between her normal life with human friends and her training to become a Guardian, someone starts to manipulate the people she loves… and won’t stop until she’s been lured to the dark side.

Ednah’s Bio:

I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Hardy boys mysteries and fell in love with books. I’ve written picture books (unpublished), contemporary and romantic suspense (under the pen name E. B. Walters), and finally YA fantasy under Ednah Walters. AWAKENED (2010) is the prequel to the YA series about the Nephilim, The Guardian Legacy series. BETRAYED(book # 1) is now available wherever books are sold, HUNTED (book # 2) will be released in April 2013. I’m working on FORGOTTEN, the next book in the series. My adult contemporary, the Fitzgerald books, includes SLOW BURN, MINE UNTIL DAWN, KISS ME CRAZY, DANGEROUS LOVE and FOREVER HERS. When I’m not writing, I do things with my family, five children and my darling husband of 20 years. I live in a picturesque valley in northern Utah, the setting for my YA series.

Find out more information about Ednah and her awesome books by checking out the author website or find out more about BETRAYED here!

And don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, hosted author’s name, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 6. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!


To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, VICTORIA SCHWAB!

PS…I’ll also be giving away EXCLUSIVE add on content–sections of DON’T TURN AROUND that were deleted from the completed manuscript! So be sure to check it out on Myra Mcentire’s blog!

Writing Tense Action Scenes

blade-cover4-smallI’m pleased to welcome to TKZ my guest, Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor and craft writer. Jodie is currently editing my next thriller THE BLADE (co-written with Lynn Sholes), soon to be released as an indie published e-book. Not only is she doing a great job of finding all our line and copy edit stumbles, but she’s got a keen knack for suggesting just the right content tweaks to help tighten the story. I asked Jodie to put together some thoughts and tips for writing action scenes. Here’s her terrific post. Enjoy!
Thanks, Joe! Great to be here.

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker


I specialize in editing thrillers, and I sometimes get asked how editing suspense fiction is different from editing other genres. That’s a huge topic, too long for one blog post, and would include specific approaches to various elements like premise, plot, characterization, pacing, word choice, and writing style.

For this post, I’ll just talk about writing effective action scenes, which can appear in many other genres besides thrillers.

When your characters are running for their lives, or your hero is in a race against time to save innocent lives, it’s time to write tight and leave out a lot of description, especially little insignificant details about their surroundings. Characters on the run don’t have time to admire the scenery or décor, start musing about a moment in the past, or have great long thoughts or discussions. Their adrenaline is pumping and all they’re thinking of is survival – theirs and/or someone else’s.

Of course, if the details of the setting are significant or would somehow help or hinder your protagonist, then definitely include them. Basically, put yourself in the head and body of your character under stress, fighting for her life, and see/hear/smell/feel what she does, then react as she reacts.


~ Show, don’t tell (of course!). Play the scene in real time, with actions, reactions, and dialogue.

~ Use deep point of view. Stay in the POV character’s head and body.

~ Avoid info dumps. Keep the readers right there in the scene with the characters. Don’t intrude as the author to clarify anything. If details need explaining, fit that in somehow before the tense scene starts.

~ Evoke the senses. Show your viewpoint character’s vivid sensory impressions, so the reader sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels what he does.

~ Amp up the imagery. Use the most concrete, suggestive nouns and the most powerful, evocative verbs you can find.

~ Show inner reactions. Reveal your POV character’s emotions, brief thoughts, and physical reactions, starting with their visceral responses.

~ Use tight, staccato thinking. Avoid long, involved thought processes, which deflate tension and slow things down.

~ Describe physical actions succinctly, for fast pacing and high tension. Don’t get into distracting minor details about which hand or finger or foot and exactly how high or low, unless it’s important for some reason.

~ Show other characters’ threats and reactions through their words, tone of voice, actions, body language, and facial expressions.

~ Use rapid-fire dialogue. Avoid complete, correct, thoughtful sentences and lengthy discussions among characters.

~ Write tight. Cut out any little unneeded words that are cluttering up sentences and slowing down the pace.

~ Use short sentences and paragraphs, for a tense, breathless, staccato effect. – Writers and readers – do you have any tips to add to this list?


(Well-disguised from my editing. The “after” examples are of course only one possibility among many.)


Fortunately for Jennifer, the attacker was far enough away that when he attempted to grab her she sidestepped him and delivered a sharp kick to the outside of his left knee. He grunted and fell back against the stack of wooden crates. He then got up clumsily, rubbing his arm, showing his anger at how easily Jennifer had dodged and hit him.


The attacker lunged at Jennifer. She dodged to the side and delivered a sharp kick to his knee. He grunted and fell against the stack of wooden crates. He scrambled up, rubbing his arm, eyes full of hate.


His facial expression changed from one showing loathing to one communicating unrestrained joy. Jennifer realized at that moment that she had made a fatal mistake. She looked to her right. The door leading out of the warehouse was about fifty feet from where she was standing.


His expression changed from loathing to amusement. Jennifer knew she had made a fatal mistake. She searched for the exit door. It was to her right, about fifty feet away.


An inline skater came careening around the corner and skated fast towards them, shouting loudly. Josh shot a look back at Amy as he grabbed her arm and pulled her bodily to the edge of the street out of the path of the oncoming skater.


An inline skater came careening around the corner and barreled towards them, yelling. Josh grabbed Amy’s arm and yanked her out of the way.

Writers – feel free to add a before and after example of your own in the comments!

Fire up Your Fiction_ebook_2 silversFor more on this topic and on writing tighter, see Jodie’s book, Fire up Your Fiction.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at,, her blog,, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Admitting defeat on local flavor

Our stay in Hong Kong and Taipei has been wonderful (We didn’t end up going to mainland China, because the jittery authorities there denied one of our party a visa);  my attempts to absorb the local flavor including the cuisine, however, met an abrupt and decisive defeat. 

On the final day of the stay we were treated to lavish meals including pigeon, fungus, sea cucumber, soup with the innards of some unspecified creature, duck feet (they might actually have been goose feet, they were so large), plus a dessert of curdled whey with mango chunks, which looked like something an orangutan might have yarped up. I tried to sample everything to avoid insulting my hosts. Three hours later, I was doing my own share of yarping back in the hotel bathroom.  By the time this post is published I’ll be in the air on the way back to Los Angeles– if I make it past the airport health monitors in Hong Kong, that is. In Asia they come at you wearing masks and waving handheld thermometers as you walk past cameras that show you in infrared.  I’m afraid they might mistake me and my husband, who is also sick, for a pair of Patient Zeroes. If we do get quarantined, at least it’ll be fodder for a story.

Either way I’ll be out of pocket on tuesday, so I’ll leave you with a question–what’s your favorite medical malady thriller of all time? Mine have got to be COMA and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. I’ll never forget that image of the human bodies suspended from wires. 

See you all stateside!

Shaken not Stirred

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’m chomping at the bit to see the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, and hoping that through the fog of moving preparations and children illnesses I’ll get a chance to see it before it goes to DVD (sadly I only get to see most movies after this fact!).  

Although I remember being taken to  the Roger Moore movies as a child, I really didn’t fall in love with James Bond until I read the original Ian Fleming books. These were true Cold War classics – taut and tightly plotted – they were vastly different to the slightly-camp, bloated movies that peppered the 1980s. 

That was when I went back and watched the Sean Connery Bond movies which were closer to the feel of the books. Now, with the emergence of Daniel Craig as Bond I feel the tone is returning to the original Fleming ideal (though I’m sure some of you will disagree:)) and I have the urge to re-read the books. My only fear is that they will suffer from ‘re-reading fatigue’ (you know, when you read something you loved and realize it’s not as lovable second time round – I had a severe case of this with John Fowles’ The Magus…)

So who amongst you have read the Ian Fleming books? What do you think – should I risk picking them back up? Will they seem merely dated and dull, given the current calibre of thrillers and spy mysteries out there? 

In the Bondian spirit of things, I have to confess Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond, followed closely by Sean Connery. Timothy Dalton was probably the most akin to the Bond of Ian Fleming’s books but it didn’t seem to resonate on film as it should have. My least favorite Bond was Roger Moore  (And boy was Moonraker a dud!). The best movie for me is Daniel Craig’s version of Casino Royale followed by Dr No

So what about you? What’s your favorite Bond actor and movie?Also what about villains? ( I have to confess the ‘Jaws’ guy is mine – just for sheer novelty value!) Why do we think after so many decades, James Bond can still pull a crowd (not to mention the girl)?

Will Immersive Reading Save Publishing and Kill the Traditional Novel?

In the digital book world these days most of the talk is about whether the big publishers will survive, and what the relative merits (or demerits) of self-publishing are. But simmering in the background is another issue, one that could affect all fiction writers forever. And that is whether the simple reading experience itself is on the way out.
I’m talking about “immersive reading.” Recently PW reported on Apple’s iBooks Author development initiative. This is a program intended to produce multi-media and interactive reading experiences, primarily for tablet users and the educational market. But its reach is potentially far greater than that. As the story reports:
Since iBooks Author was released, hundreds of books created with the authoring tool are being sold through the iBookstore in a variety of categories, including travel, children’s, cooking, music instruction, gaming strategy, biography, entertainment and other categories. The books are coming from a variety of sources, including big six publishers, self-published authors, small publishers, app developers and TV networks.
Thus, publishers are using iBooks Author to create “an impressive selection of enhanced e-books with everything from photographs, sound, and animation to video footage.”
Meanwhile, Hachette announced it is committing to the EPUB3 format, which allows “greater flexibility in representing enhanced content, including interactive covers, embedded multimedia and interactivity, pop-up screens for end-notes, and melded audio and text, as well as improved navigation of reference content, creating a high-quality digital reading experience.”
A few thoughts here. First, this may be the salvation of the big publishing corporations. Why? Because they are the ones who have the resources to do immersive to the max. They will become like mini-studios, putting together multi-media experiences of all types. Or becoming a content partner with other media companies.
Second, this will be an increasing challenge for indie authors, who may have to become what Hollywood calls “hyphenates,” that is, producers who do more than one thing. Which requires skill sets most writers don’t have and don’t care to learn. They want to tell stories. They don’t want to have to shell out big bucks to get a hyper-enhanced “book” out there. But will they have a choice if they want to make new readers?
The cost of producing a book that can compete in an immersive world is daunting. A new start-up specializing in enhanced books, Orson & Co., is spending 20k on its first app! How can an indie author afford to do anything like that?
Which brings up the third, and perhaps most disquieting issue: what about the future of the plain old novel? As kids grow up fully immersed, will they have the patience for a simple black-on-white book anymore (Joe Hartlaub’s wonderful granddaughter notwithstanding)? Will future generations expect some kind of multi-layered sensory experience?
I was in Best Buy the other day and saw a four-year-old pounding away at an iPad, his little gaming soul oblivious to his mother telling him they had to go. Is this our future audience?
Think about it: how many live, black-and-white TV shows do you watch? We moved from B&W to color, from live to tape, from scripted to reality, from 2-D to 3-D. 
Once immersive reading becomes the norm, at home and in schools, will the very notion of what a book is be changed forever? Will the simple reading of ordinary text go to the elephants’ graveyard?
It’s like when I try to tell young people about great films of the past, and they say they just don’t like black-and-white movies that move so slow. Ahhhh!!!
The buggy whip industry did not disappear overnight. But certainly many a tanner looked at the sputtering fruit of Henry Ford’s assembly line and began to lament the passing of the old ways.
So, novelist and reading friends, I ask you: Will there be any such thing as the simple, traditional novel in fifty years? And if so, who besides the monthly book group at Leisure Village in Boca Raton will read it? 

A Thanksgiving Birthday

I started fulfilling my Saturday obligation by writing a post about an experience which I had with an order fulfillment company. I hit page six before I realized that no one wants to read six-plus pages of a story of little interest to anyone other than myself, particularly over Thanksgiving Day weekend. Accordingly, I herewith present a much shorter story and a much better one.

Thanksgiving Day landed on my granddaughter Samantha’s sixth birthday this year. We accordingly had the traditional holiday dinner but wrapped it around the context of her special day. That meant turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and the like served out on a Spongebob Squarepants tablecloth with paper plates and napkins to match. She loved it, but enjoyed her presents even more. Her requests were somewhat outside of what one might expect from someone who regards kindergarten as a police state and has become a person of interest in the principal’s office. Samantha wanted “stuff to paint with.” Stuff, she got. Such stuff consisted of an easel with a dry erase board on one side, a blackboard on the other, a paper roller and cutter, shelves for paint cups, brushes, and of course more tempura paints than I can identify (I am colorblind, so that’s not a major deal, but she still received lots of paint). She painted all day long, and now every wall on the first floor of our house is covered with artwork, two or three layers deep, in some places.
Samantha asked for something else, however, which she also received: notebooks. Spiral notebooks, of all shapes and sizes. Done. I never thought to ask her why until she opened them. “I want to think of stories and write them down,” she said. What can you say to that? If I was physically capable of turning cartwheels I’d still be doing them. I don’t need to tell this group why, but I will: you can take all of the videogames and YouTube shorts and Facebook pages and all of the minutes that people spend with them and despair of the total, but if six year-old girls still dream of writing then there is hope for the future. And that made my holiday.
I certainly don’t think that I was the only one who had an uplifting and defining moment the Thursday last. What was yours? Or — unlikely as it might seem — did you witness or experience something on Black Friday that warmed your heart, or gave you hope? We’d love to read your story. Some of us might even need to. Please share.

Turkey Kill Zone (TKZ)

By Jordan Dane

It’s an excellent day NOT to be a turkey…or my pants. If I had been thinking, I would have stocked up on pajama jeans last year. Maybe I’ll correct that blunder on the most sacred day of the year – Black Friday. (For those who don’t know I come with a “prone to cynicism” warning label, I’m totally kidding.)

My sister Denise and her husband Chip are the brave souls who are hosting our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. So the first thing on my “What are you thankful for” list is that I’m not Chip and Denise. I dutifully made our family traditional recipe for Cranberry Chutney (Yummo) and made Dulce de Leche Cheescake bars for dessert – one of MANY we will have. (We all make desserts so none of us have to eat Dad’s undercooked pumpkin pies. Looooong story.)

I’ve been crashing on deadline, trying to get as much written before promo begins for my next release, Indigo Awakening, in December. But I am determined to take some time off to enjoy the holidays and replenish the creative well. If there is any “writerly” advice I can share today, it’s that you should embrace all people and things. Enjoy them as if you were a child seeing everything for the first time.

So here is my game plan to make the most of my time off with the people I love and laugh with every day:

1.) I will turn off my cell phone. (See Nancy Cohen’s excellent post yesterday on Cutting the Cord if you need an intervention.)

2.) I will spend a leisurely breakfast with my husband, John, and watch the Macy’s parade on TV with him. For whatever reason, he inherited a “parade” gene and I think it’s contagious.

3.) The minute I walk into Chip and Denise’s home I will thoroughly enjoy the amazing smells coming from the kitchen. They are making THREE turkeys. (Yes, it sucks three times as much being a turkey at their house.)

4.) I’m going to hug absolutely everyone I see and take my time doing it, including One-eyed Jack, her visually challenged pug that snorts when you squeeze him.

5.) My ears will be tuned into every story and my chuckle box will be fully engaged because if there is another year ‘round tradition in my family, it is laughter.

6.) In my family, we have designated BUZZARDS. These are the few, the proud, the first at the bird. I don’t know who started this (totally ME), but the movement has been passed down to future generations. My nieces and nephews have learned the fine art of swooping in for the choice pieces (without leaving fingers behind) while my dad and Chip slice the turkey. First strike earns you a bonus round and crispy skin is double points, especially if you add in a degree of difficulty.

7.) I WILL NOT, under any circumstances, eat my meal in under 30 minutes. What is up with the rush, people? It takes hours to make (days even) and we finish as if there is a race & there’s a prize for being first done. (Of course, if there IS a prize, forget what I said.)

8.) And an addendum to this pledge, I am extending these commitments to Saturday when my Dad is hosting a tailgate party for the Aggie game, a cabrito mexican dinner gorgefest. (It will suck to be a goat on Saturday. Spread the word.)

Okay, so that is my plan. What’s yours? How did you spend your day, TKZers? I’d love to hear your turkey day traditions and any family stories you’d like to share with your other online family.

And know that at the top of my list for things to be thankful for is YOU. Write on!

Cutting the Cord

Do you feel jittery if you’re away from your cell phone or computer more than an hour? Get withdrawal symptoms if you haven’t checked your email recently? Find yourself longing to get back to work when out with friends? If so, you need a vacation.

I approached our recent ten day cruise with trepidation. How would I exist without the computer? Could I go without checking my email for even one day? What would I do with all that leisure time? I’d get bored out of my mind during four days at sea. Oh yes, I had books and newsletters on my iPad and Kindle to bring along, but how long can you sit and read without getting antsy?

If you share these concerns, believe me, they will evaporate once you’re out on the high seas, ski slopes, beach, or wherever you choose to go. Out of sight is out of mind. As soon as we set sail, I powered down my iPhone and locked it in the cabin safe. No more email, until I signed on to the ship’s WiFi for quick checks later during the week. I found enough to do that I didn’t miss my inbox.

I had to make myself go online to use up the minutes I’d purchased. Even reading newsletters became too much like homework. I stuck to the fiction I’d loaded onto my Kindle and vegged out on a lounge chair to read, or otherwise I spent my time chatting with other guests, eating, walking around the decks, eating, climbing stairs to wear off the calories, sipping cocktails, eating, watching a couple of movies, and—wait for it—relaxing.

Is the “R” word not in your vocabulary? Then you definitely need to take a break. Just make sure your vacation is sufficiently long to give you time to unwind, play for a few days, and then prepare to reenter reality. And who knows, inspiration might hit along the way.

I got inspired by one lady on a prior cruise. Based on her elegant appearance, I created the countess in Killer Knots, my cruise ship mystery. This time was no exception. When my husband and I both saw this woman, the word “witch” came to mind. Likely she’ll end up in one of my paranormal romances. But even better, the cruise ship captain was a woman. Change her to a spaceship captain and we’re off and running with another story. So give your brain a rest and take a trip away from home. You’ll come back relaxed, refreshed, and inspired.

If you’re the type who loves to hang out and avoid work entirely, this article isn’t for you. You’re the one who needs a kick in the pants to sit down and write. But that’s another topic.

When you find  yourself (if you do) glued to your electronics, how do you break away?

And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for friends and family and things that enrich our lives that don’t depend upon electricity. Including you, dear readers. Thank YOU for visiting our blog throughout the year!