Category Archives: Characters

Do your dreams affect what you write?

Do you dream about the same thing over and over?

For years I had theme dreams. How I wish they were of nice things. Meadows. Carnivals. Melting ice cream cones on a beach. I’d even take being naked in public.

Machete Man

Nope. Mine were scary. A man with a machete looking to whack off my head. Or falling through snow to a burning lava river below. Slice and burn. Not my choice to exit this world. And I can’t forget the wolves racing across the tundra to devour me.

Of course I never actually died in these dreams. I always wake up just before being diced. Dreaming in color just makes it that more vivid.  Especially when its monster armadillos riding motorcycles throwing giant cupcakes at you.

I think we are fascinated with dreams. My friend Jessica Cooper wrote a great YA book about dreams called REM, which recently made it to the Top 50 semi-finalist round with Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award.  Read my interview with her here on it. In REM when a group of kids discover a machine to record their dreams they soon discover how using it transforms them, in fantastic and terrifying ways.

Perhaps we’re better off not remembering our dreams – or re-living them over and over. Perhaps they need to stay as dreams to ward the dark away.

But back to machetes. I ran for miles in my dreams avoiding decapitation from that unknown machete wielding maniac. He swung blades of steel seeking my neck. Across dark woods. Through houses. Down lonely roads. He chased me.

Then one day a crowd came. They surged onto the machete murderer and whacked him to death with garden hoses. He disappeared and never returned. For the first time someone came to help me. And they destroyed the thing that haunted me most. They gave me hope. Someone finally came to my rescue.

Maybe this is the reason I write from the darker side with a touch of hope.  No matter how dark things are, there is hope for salvation. And then it hit me. The machete man was awfully familiar to the antagonist in my book, A Human Element, being released by Echelon Press in March, 2012. The power of dreams, right?

I looked up what this machete terror-filled dream could mean. When someone wields a machete at you it’s time to be brave enough to walk away from a situation that may be causing you to feel threatened and under attack. Check out what your dreams could mean here.

Death by garden hose

The man with the machete has never returned. I think he hides inside me and comes out when I write, and that is the only place he’ll remain safe from now on. If not, I’ll send back in the angry hoard of garden-hose attackers to get him good.

I wouldn’t mind the garden hose dream.  To dream about them suggests a washing away of mistakes, thereby giving a fresh opportunity to grow as a better person. I’ll take that.

Do you have theme dreams and do they affect what you write?


Filed under Characters, Inspirational

Tormented characters: Love em’ in pain

Ahh, a tormented soul. Love them.

They fill my favorite books and movies. Angst in all forms. I love to write them. In my novel, A Human Element, coming out March 2012 our tortured hero loses loved ones through tragic circumstances and goes on to lead a life of abuse and self destruction. Can he be redeemed or redeem himself?

I loved the challenge of writing a tortured soul.  I embraced it as my comfort zone. And perhaps that’s why we love the tortured hero. It forces us to step out of our safe world for just a bit and find comfort in the uncomfortable.

I love to see how much torment we can pile on a character, how lost they become, how near the brink of desperation they reach. And then either redeem them or let their demons take them. What is it that drives us to write tormented souls? In a way we must relate to their pain on some level and that brings out the flawed humanity in them that we all have.

What about you? Are there any tortured heroes you particularly love?

Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff

Some of my favorite (and obvious) tormented souls: Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Maximus from Gladiator. The English Patient from the movie of same name. Maxim de Winter from Rebecca (yes, I love Laurence Olivier). On a subtler note, Newland (Daniel Day Lewis) in Age of Innocence and Lewis in a totally different role as fierce Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans. Let’s not forget the ladies, more recently with Maggie in the tragic and sad Million Dollar Baby.

A quest for peace never to be found

And I love tormented Tristan in Legends of the Fall. A massive beautiful movie, fraught with tragedy and  wonder. Add the grand landscape of Big Sky Country and sad sweet music. In a way it’s a modern King Arthur tale of unrequited love, competition for love and a lot of fighting, in war and family.

So much pain inside

Tristan is hopelessly flawed, breaking hearts and family apart with his demons. A wild child who is one with nature. Okay, he’s totally self-absorbed and thoughtless but he’s tormented. He just can’t help himself, right? As the old Indian family friend says, “He was the rock they broke themselves against”.

I love that. Have you ever done this at times in love or friendship? To the point where you lost yourself and had to break free or be dragged down? Or have you been the rock? Have the characters you write?

Okay, I admit that I am not a Pitt fan but his character got me in this movie. It may promote the cliche that women prefer jerks, but hey – aren’t some redeemable? Apparently not with Tristan. But you can understand Susannah’s attempts and years of trying to. She can’t help herself either.

He can only love when the bear inside him sleeps

Tristan’s demons never went away. They moved about inside him. He was always restless, seeking peace in self destruction over his part in his brother’s death. He could never find that peace until the bear lay sleeping inside him. He could only give in to love when the bear was dormant. When it awoke it was his master. He gave in to it in the end. He became the bear and in doing so found peace.

One with the bear

Watch the trailer again below, remember the sweeping epic of a wide open country and the beauty and darkness that comes from it. Feeling like I need to see the movie again…

Who’s one of YOUR  favorite tormented characters? Tell me here and why!

Next week its back to the bad asses. We’re getting close to Halloween so a good bad ass is just what we need!


Filed under Characters

Best selling author L.J. Sellers on when a character won’t let go

I am thrilled to have best selling author on today L.J. Sellers.

Author L.J. Sellers

She is an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, Passions of the Dead, and Dying for Justice. Her novels have been highly praised by Mystery Scene, Crimespree, and Spinetingler magazines, and the series has been on Amazon Kindle’s bestselling police procedural list.

L.J. also has three standalone thrillers: The Baby Thief, The Suicide Effect, and The Arranger. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.

Today L.J. tells us what happens when she just can’t get a character out of her mind.

Lara Leaps Into the Future
by L.J. Sellers

What do you do when a minor character is so much fun you can’t let her go? You plot a novel just for her. That story became The Arranger, a futuristic thriller involving two wildly different concepts: a software technician who devolves into a killer and a national endurance competition called the Gauntlet.

This unusual story developed from several concepts that came together for me: a character I couldn’t get out of my mind, a vivid opening scene I had to use, and a growing concern about the effect of long-term unemployment on our country.

The protagonist is Lara Evans, one of the task force investigators from my Detective Jackson series. In the fifth book, Dying for Justice, Evans had a major role, and I had such a good time developing her character and writing from her perspective that I knew she needed her own novel. After five Jackson titles, I was ready to take a break and stretch my creative side.

One day as I watched paramedics carry someone out of a house, I thought: What if they had witnessed a crime? What if the paramedic became a target? Instantly, I had a premise and an opening scene. Of course, I thought of Lara Evans, who had been a paramedic before she became a cop.

Around the same time, my concern for the economy led me to wonder: Would jobs become commodities that were ripe for exploitation and crime? From there, my antagonist was born, and I knew I had to write a futuristic thriller. But I didn’t want it to be dystopian or supernatural. Like my police procedurals, I wanted it to be gritty and realistic.

Now I had 1.) a protagonist, an ex-detective working as a freelance paramedic; 2.) a setting, a distressed economy 13 years in the future; 3.) a premise and opening scene; and 4.) an antagonist to exploit the situation. All I had to do was find a way to bring it all together.

Lara Evans’ energy and physical fitness led me to create the Gauntlet, an intense contest that also includes an intellectual component and provides jobs as the prize for the winner’s state. So I plotted a story set in a bleak near-future, in which a paramedic witnesses a crime and becomes a target for a killer, then competes in a national contest. Believe me, it was the most challenging outline I’ve ever developed.

Yet writing The Arranger is the most fun I’ve ever had as a novelist, especially the breathless competition scenes. I also became quite attached to my antagonist, and his role in the story developed into a character study. Readers have already asked if this is the first book in a new series, but I don’t know yet. My own future is a little harder to predict.

Catch up with L.J. Sellers here:!/LJSellers

Buy The Arranger on Amazon and Barnes and Noble


Filed under Authors, Characters

Love the bad ass: guys who inspire characters

I love a bad ass. I do.

Bad ass Russell

Always wanted to be one. Failed miserably at it. But I love them in the movies and books. And I especially like to write them as characters. Real life bad asses give me inspiration.

In my one book my MC lets his mean foster father go up in flames, drinks, gets off with prostitutes, but has a sweet spot for the weak and gets his butt kicked trying to be a hero. Who gives me inspiration to write this guy?

The ultimate bad ass. Russell Crowe. He kicks butt gladiator style in the movies and real life at times. He doesn’t care what you think of him. Piss off, mate. As Maximus said, “are you NOT entertained?!”

Russell kicking butt gladiator style

Let’s see if Russell fits in to the Urban Dictionary’s description of a bad ass:
The epitome of the American male. He radiates confidence in everything he does, whether it’s ordering a drink, buying a set of wheels, or dealing with women. He’s slow to anger, brutally efficient when fighting back. The bad ass carves his own path. He wears, drives, drinks, watches, and listens to what he chooses, when he chooses, where he chooses, uninfluenced by fads or advertising campaigns.

Cool and mysterious

Yep, that’s Russell all right.

He lives his roles in real life. “If you’re gonna be a pirate, wear a patch,” has been his motto.

Then there’s the claims he threatened to kill a “Gladiator” producer with his bare hands and described the climactic scene of the film, for which he won an Oscar for best actor, as “sh*t.” And the many public fights under his belt. Let’s not forget biking and smoking while eating fast food – now that’s bad ass.

Biking + smoking = bad ass

How can you attain bad ass status?
Forget about societies rules and conventions. Nothing illegal but step away from “normal”.

Be honest all the time. Speak your mind anytime it is necessary.

Master the art of brooding.  James Dean had it.  And yep, Russell’s got it.

Be mysterious. The more people know about you the more normal you are.

Have a bad ass look. Wear all black and cool sunglasses. Be a tad unshaven.

Be physically fit. Shoot a gun, ride a motorcycle, drive a stick, hold your own in a fight. Be intimidating.

Have a soft heart for the weak. Back to Russell and Robin Hood. A bad ass always sticks up for the underdog.

Get bad ass hobbies. Ride a motorcycle. Smoke. Play in a band. Throw out a good curse when necessary. (Russell. Russell. Russell. Russell…ok, I am not advocating smoking only that bad asses do it)

Be ready for anything. Most bad asses carry a knife. You gotta be handy with the steel.

Walk with a swagger that says “I don’t care what you think about me, and that’s how I know you want me.”

A good brood = sexy

Have a mean stare. Cross your arms whenever you can. And never lean against anything.

Always be nice, until it’s time to be mean. In the words of Patrick Swayze from Roadhouse, “be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” Rest in peace, Patrick.

So there’s my bad ass for today. More to come. Cause I like em’ bad.

Who’s your favorite bad ass?


Filed under Characters

We create characters from real life: good and bad

My new nickname by a pal is Crash. Ever since I crashed my bicycle twice this past year. Both times with different results.

I admit to being a speed demon. Adrenalin junkie on how fast I can go. It’s why I ended up in a full length cast after breaking my leg skiing. Swish. Zoom. Race to the mountain’s end. Cartwheel down instead.

But back to crashing my bike more recently.

Last summer I suffered a serious concussion and contusions when I swerved to avoid a pedestrian I had been calling out to quite loudly ‘On your left!’ But she decided to move into my path. I swerved fast. I flew through the air. My head and body slammed into concrete at 30 mph. My helmet split in two. It took me two weeks to fully recover. It took me a month to brave getting on a bike again.

I was so shaken and dizzy I couldn’t get up. I lay sprawled on the concrete struggling to sit up. The woman I had avoided hitting stood over me hands on hips. “You shouldn’t have been biking there,” she said, triumphantly. Then she turned around and continued her morning walk. Dazed, bleeding, and seeing double I stumbled home with my bike.

Later, when I recovered I realized:

1. How lucky I was to have survived.
2. I would never bike without a helmet again.
3. I couldn’t believe a human being would so disregard me.

And then I realized, besides being glad to be alive, that I was also glad to NOT be like that woman. That if I had caused a biker to crash I would have stopped. Helped them to their feet. Asked if I could call someone. Asked if they needed help home. I knew then that I was glad to be ME. And I was saddened that there were such people in the world as that woman.

And I knew I would never forget her. She would be filed away and used as a character in my next book. Friends couldn’t believe that someone would act like that.

Oh, yes.  I know they do.
In real life.

I know what goes around comes around. It has to. I also never saw that woman before on my regular morning route. I have never seen her since. Perhaps she was a wake-up call for me to go slower, not be so invincible.

But still.

Then I had my second crash this year in the spring. Heavy rains came. I went biking one morning along a path that wound around a creek. Speeding along (helmet on) I came around a turn fast. The creek must had risen and crossed the path leaving a deep path of mud inches thick. I hit that mud and skid. Slammed into the ground, once again, sliding for what seemed minutes.

Stunned, I rose from the mud shaken. A lovely family of three witnessed my crash and came to my aid. Helped me up. Found my glasses in the mud that went flying. Asked if I was okay. Asked if I needed help getting home.

Favorite Fall biking in Stockton, NJ

What wonderful folks they were. I felt cared for. I felt the world’s humanity pour over me. I knew I would never forget them too. They showed me that there are people that care. Like me. They cancelled out the mocking “evil one” who had stood over me as I suffered, arms crossed, and carried on her way. They gave me faith in the human race again. Not all are bad.

These folks too would be filed away. Used as characters in a book. Showing us our humble humanity. We all hurt the same. We all can heal the same; with words, with a caring response.

And I knew the encounters with both of these types of people would seem real in my writing. Because they were real. Good and bad. And both reside in our world. All kinds of people in the world fuel into making real characters in our books.

I have to believe that more of them are good than bad.


Filed under Characters, Inspirational

Write-On Wednesdays! Thriller Author D.L.Wilson On Making Characters Count

I am excited to have  thriller author David Wilson on today, writing as D.L. Wilson.

D.L. Wilson

He is the author of the bestselling thriller, UNHOLY GRAIL, by Berkley Books which has been translated into 8 foreign languages and is getting international rave reviews. Check out his latest thriller, SIROCCO, by Mont Clair Press.

Find David here :
Read the first 9 chapters of SIROCCO SiroccoFreeChapters
Listen to an audio excerpt here

David gives us his in-depth view on how to make your characters count.

Making characters count
During my introductory years as I attempted to learn the basics of novel writing, I heard repeatedly the importance characters contribute to the success of a novel. Authors kept repeating the fact that characters count and they count big relative to the success of most novels.

Characters Must Come Alive
An author must create characters that readers can relate to. The people in our stories give meaning and dimension to the plot. Characters must come alive with the words we use to describe them. Readers must be able to visualize each character and relate to them as if they were real live people.

Thriller author Michael Palmer writes a detailed 2-3 page summary of his main characters’ lives—upbringing, family, habits, likes, dislikes, living situation, job history, education, and personality traits. I even go so far as to find physical traits of actors and actresses from TV and movie magazines that give me a visual image of my characters. I clip out a number of pictures relating to each of my primary characters and include them in the profiles. I scan the pictures into my character profiles summary of each character.

Use Computer Technology
I use two monitors on my computer. One is for the manuscript of the novel I am writing and on the other monitor I either display my Novel Analysis Form, photos of scene locations, technical research relating to a scene, or my character profiles. My Novel Analysis Form is a detailed outline of the novel done on a Word Table. It includes columns for Chapter/Scene, Time, Story Line, Point of View, Characters, Tension/Conflict, Setting, and Comments.

When I’m writing about any of my main characters, I keep their profiles on my second monitor to provide me with an intimate glimpse of who they are. It is important to make characters real and believable, as well as very exciting, allowing readers to relate to each character and try to project what they will do next as the plot progresses.

Thriller Characters Should Thrill Readers
Some readers and authors will say that the characters are not as developed in thrillers. Characters play an important role in every genre including thrillers. They may not be the primary focus of some novel genres, but they must always be interesting, captivating people. I try to provide the characters in my thrillers with both external struggles relating to the basic premise of the novel to solve the escalating threat and internal struggles relating to his or her life.

The interplay of these two types of struggles continues until, at the climax, the resolution of one gives the protagonist the skills, insights, and wherewithal to resolve the other. The internal struggle helps the readers empathize with the protagonist, and the external struggle helps drive the momentum of the story to an exciting climax. In thriller novels, the characters should thrill readers.

Your Characters Should Be Real Live People
Creating real live people requires your characters’ language and speaking to match their personalities. Dialogue must add dimension to your characters. Readers must hear them and visualize them in order for them to be a real part of the story. Every bit of dialogue should contain some level of tension that will advance the story.

Dialogue should be straight and to the point, not filled with extraneous words and phrases that would make it boring. When I review my lines of dialogue, I think about eavesdropping on a conversation in a restaurant. If you wouldn’t eavesdrop on the dialogue you have written, rewrite it. Good dialogue is hard to master, but it is vital to creating characters who count.

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Filed under Authors, Characters, Writing Techniques

More Hot Tips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Character

Still lots of good stuff to report on from the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference June 3-5!

More notes on character – presented by Gregory Frost, Author of ShadowBridge and many more works.

Grab readers in your first para with the MC’s voice. Create image of MC in our mind from the get-go.

Don’t rely heavy on character description. We need their voice to build character in our mind.

Don’t give reader everything in building character.

Don’t stop the “movie” to explain. Avoid all urges to explain. STOP. Repeat. Again. Avoid all urges to explain!

Present events and let them pass before reader’s eyes so they can judge what is going on.

Characters must show reactions to situations, not reactions by the author.

Don’t lead reader by the hand. Let them find out.

TIP: Write first draft of few pages to explore characters. Start out intuitively to write these first pages of your novel. Stop so far in (20+ pages). If it seems to be working then stop and outline entire book.

Element to characters:
Desire. All that happens in the novel occurs because of desire.
MC wants something bad enough and will do anything to get it. Your MC must yearn for something. Show us early on in the book what your MC wants, yearns for.
Not sure who’s story it is? Pick the person who suffers the most, hurts the most. Make it that person.
Decide who tells the story best.

Exercise to do to create a detailed character:
Choose a container, wallet, jewelry box, laundry basket, any etc. and make a list of what your character(s) keeps in this place. Choose the right items that ring true for each character.  Make it detailed to create a unique an identity from this list. Can you find elements for narrative thread from the list?  (ie. Theater stubs, what happened before/during or after). If so, add them in to book.

NOTE: Get Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction (book). Used as textbook across campuses. Expensive. Try locating on EBay.


Filed under Characters, Writing Conferences, Writing Techniques

Hot WritingTips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Character

Back from the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference June 3-5. Lots of good stuff to report on! I will post hot tips and techniques over the next week on what I learned during this past weekend from a round of excellent presenters.

On Character – presented by Gregory Frost, Author of ShadowBridge and many more works.“You paid for this pain” – quote on his critiquing our work.
Darn right.

All good fiction is 3D
Desire + Danger = Drama
The danger part is the impediment – add it. Get your MC out of their comfort zone.

Dramatize it, don’t tell it
Show drama through dialogue and action. Have the characters reveal things as they go along, don’t just tell us.
Exercise: Imagine scene. A married couple is fighting. One wants to divorce, one doesn’t. At the end of dialogue one has convinced the other of their argument. Write 1 page of dialogue only for this scene. Now write 1 page of exposition only of this scene. Find a way to combine them.

Identify the gap in characters
Make characters rich in symbolic self. People act on the basis of how they see themselves and who they think they are. Ie. Priest lives one life, then is a pedophile behind public life. Ie. A politician rails against homosexuals, he is one himself. Find the gap between character’s actions and how he sees himself. Symbolic self is very powerful and drives character to do what they do.

Cool character names
Names evoke a visual. Names matter. They can be found walking through cemeteries. Names of long ago can be unique and not mainstream now.

Character Chart
Create a character chart that list in detail their physiological, sociological and psychological traits. In doing this your character will come alive to you and can be referred back to as you write. They may reveal new things about themselves.

Characters have a life before your book
This is true for your multiplex characters not simplex characters (nameless/faceless characters such as delivery person, etc). Get to know them by interviewing your multiplex character asking 20 questions or free write about who they are.

Create a triangle of characters
Triangle keeps characters from agreeing with one another and adds conflict. Don’t forget siblings – they make great secondary characters.

Check filtering words
When revising, eliminate words like ‘realized’, ‘noticed’, etc. Keep reader in the story through eyes of the character. Ie. Change “Ben noticed the fire burned fierce in the wind” to “The fire burned fierce.”

Get to action from the start
Don’t start your novel with the character sitting around alone in exposition. Need action! If he is sitting around, then skip and start at Chapter 2 or 3 –  wherever the action finally starts. Get right to it. Ie. Read Accidental Tourist intro scene.

No backstory in the beginning
Don’t add in all the backstory in the first scene. Wind it in later. Don’t inform the reader of all that is going on, the characters know. And they don’t need to tell each other what they already know. Character development is delivered as you go along through the book. Tip: Find a way to start at near the end of your story and then go back.

Check out: Lajos Egri’s book The Art of Dramatic Writing.

Watch for more hot tips and advice over the next week! Now to working on my MS from this workshop. I like pain. Pain is good.


Filed under Characters, Writing Conferences, Writing Resources