Monday, January 27, 2014

Blending Character and Story

I hope you enjoyed the blogs by my two friends, Deb Mullins and Jenna Kernan. I know I did! My revisions are in and a new set landed on my desk, but I'm feeling chatty, so let's keep going about characters.

The last time I posted, I spoke about how, basically, you should "interview" your characters for the job of filling the roles you need to have filled in your plot.

But what does that really mean?

Goals, motivations and conflicts drive story. They should provide all those moments of tension and surprise and overwhelm and desire (both sexual and goal-oriented) that make up your plot.

That means your character should have the kind of past that motivates his or her goals...and provides those necessary conflicts.

Once I've established the barebones of the plot...usually that involves knowing how I want the beginning to turn at the end of act 1, how I intend to keep the middle from sagging and how that middle becomes a black moment...Then I create characters who have the pasts necessary to play those roles.

Then I write a one or two-page overview of the story, including how the conflicts drive the plot. And
only then to I go to the storyboard. That's where the real magic happens.

Your goal is to take those very real characters you created and combine them with the plot in such a way that their movements...their steps on the journey...are organic.

Which, of course, means that the steps flow so well readers believe your characters are driving the plot and not being dragged by the plot.

The best way to do that is to not be married to specifics of the plot (certain things may have to happen but maybe not at the place you think they should), to create your characters as soon as you know enough about your plot to know what jobs your characters will have to do, and then to let your characters show you the organic steps they would make to tell the story you want told.

I consider writing a novel to be a back and forth exercise. You can't know your characters until you know what you're going to want them to do. But you can't pin them down too much or the story won't be organic.

The system almost seems haphazard and clumsy, but, trust me, when you start working back and forth and not trying to shove your characters into a story or force your characters to totally create the story, you'll see that it works.

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading

susan meier

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Grieving Your Losses

Again...this is a blog for readers. :) Writers can read it too. LOL But if you're looking for this week's writer's blog, scroll down to read a great blog by Jenna Kernan about description. Readers...Keep reading. :)

Watching TV the other day, I heard a pundit on one of the news showing talking about how to improve your life. One of the things she stressed was that we should grieve our losses.

It's funny. When we think of grief, we think of someone dying. But we all have many, many more losses in our lives.

For instance, we hope to get jobs we interview for. Sometimes we can even see ourselves in the position, and then suddenly they choose another candidate, and all those things we hoped for are gone in a puff of smoke. You can be pragmatic and say, well, that's life. But you're smarter to take an hour or so, acknowledge that you didn't get something you wanted, and make a positive statement like: I'll do better next time. Or maybe something like: The job I have provides a good salary. Maybe I'll try to make this one better. Or maybe now that I know I want to leave my present job, it's time to start looking for a new job in earnest.

But there are other things that require mourning that surprise us. Every mother has dreams for her children. When our first son was born, I had visions of him being super smart, super good looking, super successful...LOL! What mother doesn't? When he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder, those dreams began to crumble. Oh, I still hoped for him to overcome the odds, but he wasn't one of the lucky people who could.

I accepted it. We were so busy trying to organize his life and give him the best options available, some of my dreams for him were forgotten. But one day, it all came crashing back. I remembered how I'd envisioned him. Watching him go off to college. Watching him get his degree, find a girlfriend, get his first job. I remembered hoping for grandkids. Seeing him become a dad. Sharing all that with him.

And I realized it was like that guy I'd envisioned had died. Almost as if he were a second person. And I had to grieve him -- and all the losses associated with him.

We're so stoic, so determined to plow our way through life, to make the best of things, to have the best life we can ... and there's nothing wrong with that. But we sometimes need to be kind to ourselves, to see our losses, to grieve them. And to still move on, but this time a little kinder to ourselves.

Happy Reading


Monday, January 20, 2014

CHARACTERS: Description

This week, my friend, Jenna Kernan, talks about Character Description! Jenna and I have also been friends for a long, long time. She's one of my favorite conference buddies, but the best thing about Jenna is that she comes up with the most wonderful, most unique story ideas! Unusual characters play a big part making her stories are so unique. She writes for Harlequin Historical and Harlequin Nocturne...Please welcome my friend Jenna Kernan!

by Jenna Kernan,


Lately, I've been trying to make the perfect triad of description.  For me that means a blend of physical appearance,  some trait or action that illuminates personality and some reaction, reflection or assumption made by the POV character based on what they see or hear appearance, trait.

·         APPEARANCE

·         TRAIT or ACTION                                              =  Perfect Description Triad



The following are examples of each one of the triad from by July 2014 Harlequin Nocturne release, THE VAMPIRE'S WOLF. 

APPERANCE:  Green eyes, pale and lovely as polished sea glass.

TRAIT or ACTION :  Both the boy and his sister ignored their parents in favor of their electronics throughout the meal. 

OBSERVER'S REACTION/REFLECTION/ASSUMPTION :  There was an energy about her, like a static charge that made his skin tingle as if her fingers stroked him. 

If you can get all three of the perfect triad into one or two sentences, you are really cooking.  Here's an example from, THE VAMPIRE'S WOLF, July 2014.

As he leaned in, (action)  she stared at his icy blue eyes (appearance) and in that instant she decided that she had made a terrible mistake (reflection). He was a soldier, hardened, heartless (assumption) and she would find no pity in his heart.

Another way to look at protagonists in a romance is to have one character describe/experience what the character looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like and, perhaps, tastes like.  This is a genre convention in romance.   Here are all five senses excerpted again from by July release, THE VAMPIRE'S WOLF.

LOOKS LIKE: If he were immune to her terrible powers, then why was he staring down at those soft green eyes, those parted pink lips?

FEELS LIKE:  Next he noticed the slender bones of her wrists and the silky-softness of her skin. 

SMELLS LIKE:  She smelled like a summer breeze off the Gulf of Mexico.

SOUNDS LIKE:  The voice was deep, commanding and totally unfamiliar. 


TASTES LIKE:  His tongue slid against hers, bringing a sweet rush of delight and the taste of strong coffee.


But descriptions can do much more than reveal appearance and personality and deepen the readers’ insight into the observing character.  They can also intrigue and raise questions.  Here's an example, again from THE VAMPIRE'S WOLF: 

Four long raised scars slashed across the right side of his chest.  One had missed his nipple by a hair's breadth. What had happened to him?

Remember to give enough details for the reader to be able to create a picture but not so many that they become bored.  So that's my triad, the five senses and an intriguing description, all in less than 500 words.  Thanks for reading and have fun!

For more articles on craft, visit my website:
Jenna Kernan
The Vampire's Wolf, July 2014, Harlequin Nocturne

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cabin Fever

My husband retired last summer. So last winter we learned firsthand how much a golfer hates winter. LOL Cabin fever doesn't even begin to describe it.

This year I thought I was ready for winter. I bought him lots of puzzle books and made sure he had access to plenty of golf on TV.

And do you know what happened? Our first big snowstorm, I WAS THE ONE to get annoyed, bored and antsy for spring...and let's face it, people, on January 14 that's not a good thing.

So now I have to figure out ways to entertain myself! Or find a budget to move south for the winter!

Anyone have any good cabin fever cures?

Happy Reading

susan meier

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fleshing Out Your Cardboard Characters By Debra Mullins

My first ever guest at the Susan Meier Blog for writers is here to continue the discussion on Characters. Deb is a Rita Finalist, who has written for Avon and TOR and is currently working on the third book in the Atlantis series. Characters are Deb's strong suit! I always love her books. So, please welcome Deb Mullins.


I’d like to thank Susan for allowing me to guest on her blog today. She asked me to talk about writing characters. Below is the technique I use when creating mine.


Every memorable story has a memorable character, and whatever is happening with the plot, it’s the character that people remember. But characters are more than just names on a page.  Character is about who these people are.  How will they react to the situations in which they find themselves?  What do they need to learn in order to earn the prize at the end of the book?  Basically, characters need to be just as complicated as real people, and we have to build them that way.


Below are seven things you can do to flesh out a character that seems too flat on the page and make the people in your head come across as people you might meet on the street.


1.    Dominating characteristics. Every character starts with dominating characteristics that are necessary to the story and are usually integral to the internal conflict. Is your character angry? Happy-go-lucky? An optimist? Someone burned by love? Distrustful? Blindly loyal? Why is he like this? The writer needs to decide the dominating characteristics to form the first outline of the character.


2.    Cultural Heritage. Everyone comes from somewhere, and ethnicity and cultural heritage play a big part in how characters look, their views on the world (including the opposite sex), and which values they hold dear. You can find influences of cultural heritage around food, holiday celebrations, and religions, just to name a few. Think of your own family and your own cultural heritage. What foods and traditions have been passed down in your family, and how do they affect you? Can you even imagine life without them?


3.    Picking the right name. For me, picking the right name is essential to creating the right connection for the reader. Once I name a character, the character then becomes a person in my head, with all kinds of quirks and personality traits. I once named a character the wrong name. I needed a loner of a bounty hunter for a western I was writing, but I named my character Donovan. Instead of my loner, I got a charming smooth-talker, and that wasn’t going to work for my story. I changed the character’s name to Jack and suddenly I had my loner. Think about all aspects of the name, like meaning and sound. Hard sounds like G and K and T create a tougher image than soft sounds like S or C. Take into account the dominating characteristic you are trying to convey (loner) and the cultural heritage of the character (illegitimate son of a saloon girl in America’s old west). The name can help you build that image.


4.    Give them a family. Where and how characters grew up and which family members were involved in their upbringing can put a stamp on things like religious outlook, pronunciation/word choice in dialogue, manners, ethical choices and even things as simple as how they relate to children, the elderly, authority figures, and so on. For instance, someone whose grandparents died before he was born might be uncomfortable around the elderly, as opposed to someone who was raised by a grandmother. Even if family members are not in the character’s life, the writer needs to know what happened to them since this, too, plays into how a character reacts to situations.


5.    Negative characteristics and quirks. While dominating characteristics often can be positive, no one is without negative qualities or even simple quirks that make them unique. Determine the negative qualities the character may have and how this can play into the internal conflict, as well as how quirks can make a character jump off the page. A good example of this is Adrian Monk from the TV show Monk. Here we have a socially stunted detective with a laundry list of obsessive-compulsive disorders, whose fears tend to make for very humorous situations. However, his obsession with neatness and order has also created a man who notices when the smallest thing is out of place, making him a great detective.


6.    Determine core beliefs.  Core beliefs tie into internal conflict and are decisions made about life that are formed at a young age, often as the result of a traumatic incident. An incorrect core belief is a core belief that the character formed that is actually not true, but it can’t be changed until its fallacy is proven to the character. This occurs by constantly challenging the incorrect core belief by the events around the external conflict. These challenges create internal conflict—a fight the character has within himself—and drives the story. How the character resolves this conflict and changes his incorrect core belief is the meat and bones of the story and motivates the character throughout the story. It also makes for a very realistic character.


7.    Stay in character, except when it’s more important to step out of character. What makes stories fascinating is that moment when the character does something that seems completely out of character, such as the straight arrow law man robbing a bank. As people, we are automatically fascinated by why our protagonist stepped out of character. An example of this might be Eve Dallas from the J.D. Robb In Death series. Eve Dallas is a tough New York City homicide detective who doesn’t go in for fancy clothes or girly stuff. However, when her best friend Mavis gets pregnant, Eve throws a baby shower, complete with all kinds of fluffy, female trappings. This is completely out of character for her, since she absolutely hates fuss of any kind. Why would she do something so uncharacteristic? Because she loves Mavis. For Eve, loyalty to her friend is more important than her tough image. And this says tons about her character.


I hope you found this article helpful. January 2014 marks my 15th year as a published author, with 15 books under my belt. To celebrate, I’m writing a blog every day of the month. Anyone who comments gets put in a drawing for that day to win one of my backlist titles. Please stop by the blog at and see what we’re chatting about!



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dear Readers -- Starting the New Year Right

I had a great 2013. Great. It had been so long since I had a great year (not just good...not just tolerable, but great), that it was almost impossible to process it.

But on December 31, when I evaluated the year, I realized that in spite of all the greatness, I'd done some things wrong.  For one, my closets were filled to the brim with clothes that didn't fit me. LOL

I have at least three sizes of clothes that I bought as I put on weight. I may lose that weight this year (hoping to!) but, even so, I don't need this much clothes. So on January 2, I closet cleaned. So many of the things I don't need can be put to good use by people working in offices.

Now, my closets are cleaned and my excess clothing is at Good Will!

I also hadn't cleaned my office in months. I have found that the clutter in my office is directly proportionate to how cluttered my mind is. :) So, on January 3, once I began sorting through the extra papers, requests for things, old bills that needed input into the accounting system, my head cleared. LOL It became easier for me to decide which projects I wanted to work on in 2014.

I don't have a good schedule. This one isn't past tense because I haven't yet worked out what I want to do. But, to lose weight, I need to get to the gym for an hour every day. To keep my son happy, I need to spend time playing games with him every day. I need at least 4 hours per day for writing. And I want to read more. 2013 was a bad year for me and reading and I missed it! I need at least an hour a day to get through the 300 books in my Kindle! LOL

Somehow I have to juggle those until I come up with the perfect formula.

Now that my closets are cleaned and my office is decent, that's my ongoing project. Making my schedule work.

How about you? I'm not a fan of resolutions for New Years, but I do think we all know in our guts what we should fix or change. So what are your new years projects? Any ongoing things?

Happy Reading...

susan meier

Monday, January 6, 2014

Stories are about People

Remember at the end of the year, I said I thought we should do a few more serious "how to write" blogs? Well, we start today with a few thoughts on Characters...

A year ago, I was invited to speak at the 2014 Pennwriters Conference. Liking the idea of having a whole year to write the workshop, I asked for a topic and they said Characters.

I sort of laughed. Pennwriters is a multi-genre group so I have to come up with something that will interest everyone from comic book script writers to erotica writers and there is no better topic  for that than characters.

Every book has them.

In fact, one of the great changes in my writing came when I realized books were not stories about situations, but stories about PEOPLE in situations.

Your plot should evolve from your characters' actions and your characters' actions should evolve from their motivation. Motivation is a combination of goals -- what they want to have happen in the future, and their experiences -- the beliefs they formed from things that have happened to them in the past. (If a character was in an abusive marriage, for instance, she will have formed some beliefs about marriage and maybe even about men. Those beliefs will impact how she behaves.)

That's how you keep a story believable, but it's also how you write organically. You put your characters into a situation and then let them resolve it the way they would realistically resolve it given their pasts and their goals.

Right now some of you are balking. You say you know your plot! Your characters must do what you need them to do. You can't just let "them" resolve the issue. It has to be resolved a certain way.

Well, sure. I hear ya. What I say to you is...Choose your characters carefully.


Look, if you want to write a book about a spy who falls in love while on a mission to kill the heroine's boss, and the ending of the book revolves around her being taken hostage, I'm not telling you to abandon that story in favor of letting the hero and heroine run around willy nilly.  I'm telling you to create characters who will rationally decide to do what you need them to do. Who will fight the villain to the death because they have the right personality types, the right motivations and/or the right beliefs.

Or, in a romance, create characters who will fall in love but honestly not be able to commit because of something real, something vital, in their pasts. A belief that tells them they shouldn't fall in love, they aren't worthy of love or the person they are falling in love with is the wrong choice.

A few decades ago, I wrote one of my first workshops about characters. I called it interviewing your characters for the job of staring in your story. (Not very catchy. It took a while to figure out how to come up with good workshop titles.)

The takeaway from the teaching was that the first character who pops into your head might not be the one you should choose to be your heroine...or hero. He or she may not have the right past or the right personality type. Or the right life experience to handle the big jobs in your plot.

In the same way that you sometimes have to discard beloved sentences or chapters or scenes, sometimes your first choice for your protagonist just isn't right. You may have to totally get rid of him, or, conversely, fixing him might be a simple matter of changing his past. Give a hero a dead child or a stalker ex-girlfriend or an automobile accident that left him with a limp, and nine chances out of ten he'll go from being a cocky, simplistic guy to someone with substance.

Change your heroine from somebody with money to someone struggling for rent, and you'll have a character who is a little more willing or able to take chances. Or reverse that. Maybe your struggling heroine wouldn't take a risk, ever. She can't afford to. So give her some cash. Or give her a goal that makes her bold. And she'll do an entirely different set of things than the things her original version would have done.

Characters are created years before the date they appear on the first page of your book. So give careful thought to how a past forms a personality. Especially if there are things your hero and heroine must do. Otherwise, you could end up with one of those books where it looks like your characters are being pulled along by the plot, doing things those character types wouldn't ordinarily do.

Make sense?

Happy reading...

susan meier

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dear Readers: Shabby Chic

Yes, this is a real dear readers blog. LOL Over the years, I've been very happy to write posts for other writers, and I'll continue that, but I love to write blogs that appeal to average people and I've missed that so in 2014, one of my goals is to write a real Dear Reader blog every week. (Writers...scroll down to the next blog! It's a good one.)

We begin with Shabby Chic.

I'm a nut about dressing. Lots of women like shoes, but I like the whole deal. Clothes, makeup, jewelry, shoes...You name it. I want it.

Because of that it's a little hard for me to dress down. When I'm wearing jeans, I add some bling. But my favorite Shabby Chic is to wear my aunt's vintage mink jacket with jeans. This coat was passed from person to person for a while because no one really knew where to wear it. But I felt my poor deceased aunt's disappointment that the coat was just hanging in closets and I decided t let it get out and about.

What about you? Do you like to play dress up? (LOL) Do you have favorite things you do?

I'm going to mess around with my iPhone camera today and see if I can get pix of the mink and the bling. Feel free to post your own bling!

Happy Reading

susan meier