Tag Archives: Writing Toolbox

Toolbox 11: 5 Things to Include When Building Characters

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


Someone made a comment about my method of description. It got me thinking about what I do and why I do it.

It starts with tagging

Many of you know I outline and when I’m getting the ideas down, none of my characters have names. Just as in a logline, my characters are: 16 yo misfit, honest cop, alien cop, vic, ex-girlfriend, obvious enemy, best friend. I use place holders for each character I need.

I outline the now and the history, giving most characters a common background. I’ve discussed before how a shared history can bump up the drama and motivations between all the characters. It may seem like work but once the history is in place, the rest takes care of itself.

appearance is about climate, lifestyle and how they thrive

A character’s appearance can be chosen by weather, time for hygiene, what they eat/drink. I have a cop in my latest WIP and he works hard—sometimes too hard—so he’s not clean shaven, his shirt has stains of sweat, fast food and coffee. It doesn’t bother him because he’s too focused on what he needs to do next. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and because it rains a lot, he wears a fedora and a trench coat. For the record, he’d never make it as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.

Tags must be unique to each character

The trick is give each character individual traits. All of them can have brown eyes but one. All of them can be dark haired but one. All medium build but one.

For example, my cop is the only character with thinning mousy hair, blue eyes, trench coat, and fedora. He may share other features with the rest but I don’t focus on them.

How they say it

My cop uses a brutally honest manner without an internal editor. He thinks he’s a people person as he storms around invading pretty much everyone’s personal space.

Early in the story he’s given a secret that he has some major trouble keeping. If it wasn’t for his partner, he’d have blabbed right away.

not actions but reactions

I tag his emotions (reactions) with specific actions. He pokes a finger in faces when he’s angry, expels breath like steam when he’s trying to maintain control and blinks surprise when others don’t see him as the person he thinks he is.

Who wouldn’t love a forthright, honest man, who would do anything to protect the innocent.

When he puts it that way he sounds great… but is he? Most see a loud mouth cop, who thrives on conflict.

(freebie) Characters bloom a little more with each revision

Every time I go through my WIP everyone becomes more unique and assertive. Feedback–thanks everyone–has helped make each character their own person.

What about you? Any tricks to characterization you’d like to share?

Update: still nothing from Nelson PD. I plan to phone and see what I can glean from the assistant that passed on my request. Feeling all shy again. *sigh*


Toolbox 10: To Hook is to Engage

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


As writers, we’ve all read about hooking our readers. It starts by grabbing their attention with cover art, and book blurbs. Then piquing their interest with the first sentence and sealing the deal with each following chapter.

Hooking readers is not a magic trick

It’s industry lingo for connecting with other people.

We read about hinting at what’s to come. Or weaving a sampler of our abilities into our first chapter, offering a taste of our style and voice. It’s suggested that we create characters that are likable or at least relatable. Drop readers into the action and not into mid conversation. Forget about description if it’s more than a paragraph. No info dumps. No backstories. No lengthy explanations.

All these rules we stress over make it clear: there’s no sure recipe.

Consider this

People naturally connect through sharing. They gather over meals, call, or texted. Verbal or written words spouting about the latest happening. What’s exciting?

Finding love at any age is thrilling. Someone driving another crazy, even in a good way, is worth seeking a sounding board. What about dreams, regrets, and everything in between? Most of us don’t try to keep it quiet.

Unless it’s a secret, all of us need to share. Besides a few good manners, we have no rules on reaching out. One advantage remains however, when face to face, we can see if we’ve engaged our listener.


A spark in our chests burns bright with anticipation. Our eyes shine and our breath catches in our throat. This feeling… this rush hits us when we have something exciting to share.

Engagement happens everywhere. It’s being done right now over a backyard fence, or at the grocery store among the breakfast cereal. Gossip spreads for a reason. Curiosity draws people together in masses.

And writers? What do they have?

a story to tell

Some of us write details that spin a story into a comedy of errors. Others express a volcanic venting, or heart pounding encounters. All stories, personal or otherwise, come from the same place. We forget sometimes because our stories take a while to get right. We want to perfect them. And as we work, our enthusiasm may slip.

They don’t seem new and fresh because we’ve reread them twenty-thirty times. We’re human and humans get tired.

But never forget

If the public is able to entertain over a coffee cup, we have no excuse. Before you release your work, make sure the reason you began the project is still thriving within its pages and each carefully chosen word shines as bright as your eyes.

When polishing your early chapters, what do you focus on? I’m dying to hear.

More on the subject:

A quick note: I’ve reached out to the Nelson Police Department and they promised to bet back to me. The communication has begun. Yay, me. “\o/”


This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.



In the Review Tab of MS Word I Select Compare & Merge. I put two feedback documents together and choose a new document naming it–Project Title All Feedback. Then using the All FB Doc, I add another feedback doc, using the revised document bullet. I repeat until I’ve got all feedback merged into one document.

Immediate and Spontaneous Reactions

I truly enjoy spontaneous comments and my readers know this. Everything is fair game. There are surprises where something is funnier than I expected. Other things fall flat. Those comments help me see if I’ve connected or not. Every writer needs to know where they land.

Red Flag

If everyone shares a negative about a portion of the story, it’s a huge a red flag and can’t be ignored. Hopefully they are clear and precise about what the trouble is. If not, emails would be in order asking specific questions and quoting from the project as a reminder.

Green Light

Now just as Red Flags are obvious, so are the Green Lights where everyone agrees that something is wonderful. Savor those moments. Bookmark them when things get tough.

Tie Breaking

Reading two entries that contradict help me see that feedback is subjective and I’m the tie breaker. I make my decision based on where I want the story to go and what I’m trying to achieve. Again I’m thinking hard about what I should do and what my vision is for the work.

Side Note

No one gets rave after rave without criticism….. So if you are, then you need to find new readers. Your friends and family love you too much to hurt your creative feelings.

I understand this. But the consequences are you’ll never grow as a writer. Find some honest soles that will offer constructive criticism. They will fuel change, make your work better, and that is one step closer to being published.

Why One feedback document

One document is time efficient and stops me from being overwhelmed. I focus on one chapter at a time—I’m so Sagittarian it hurts.

Enthusiasm can ebb away with repetitive tasks. Mistakes get missed and we all get tired.

I guess what I’m saying is…

“Work Smarter…Not Harder” by Allan F. Mogensen

Being Grateful

If the work does get published, make sure to thank everyone who took the time to help you. It takes a team to get any project out in front of readers.

Toolbox 8: Feedback Makes Us Better Writers

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”

~William W Purkey

Some Writers add:

Write like nobody will read it.

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

~Margaret Atwood from The Blind Assassin

To get better we have to let go, share our truths, then seek out feedback

And yet we do let people read our work. We start with ourselves as we rework the prose and revise, revise, revise. Then on to our support team of critters and beta readers. Then there is submitting.

Sometimes I wonder which is worse.

It’s no wonder as writers we feel fragile.

Feedback is huge

Yet the best advice I can offer any new writer is be sure to listen to your support team. Put the hurt feelings away and mope later. If you want your work out there, it’s got to be the best you can do. Let your beta readers point out flaws, perk new ideas and help you discover your blind spots.

Once you’ve done this a few times you’ll know your weaknesses. From there you can make lists for self editing, ask specific questions and dive in deeper for more self discoveries.

The trick to improving is being open to any and all feedback.

Use it or toss it

That doesn’t mean incorporating every suggestion into your work. It means considering each suggestion and asking if it will improve your project. Not all feedback will and your source of feedback already understands that only you know where the story needs to go.

In my case, I’m always surprised when someone finds a plot hole after I’ve fussed over my narration for hours. I’m blinded because I know the stuff that is not on the page. That’s the trap.

When reading for other writers

And here we go again with writing the truth.

To keep it from becoming an attack, I’m very specific about what I share. I call myself a reader and focus only on the words in front of me. If I don’t usually read the genre, then I focus away from that aspect, knowing another reader will offer feedback on genre. I zero in on structure, characters, dialogue, style, and immediate impressions. I strive for only one thing and that is to improve the work in front of me.

To be honest, I don’t see a fragile ego waiting for the ax to fall; I see a hard-working author striving for a bright and exciting future.

More advice if you’re interested:

Toolbox 7: Elements of a Mystery

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


What I’m focusing on is my favorite genre.

Elements of writing Mysteries are broken down into: victim, suspects, villain, hero(es)/police, support cast + series potential, clues/red herrings, violence + sex, and setting + cross genre.

Here’s what I try to do with them.

I work out who will die and how my hero will become involved in the crime. Here I determine how/why the person died.

The victim, suspects and villain must have a connection. They’ve all crossed paths and each has left marks on the others. Strong emotions  and unresolved issues flow between them, leaving room for confessions, unpleasant truths and/or discoveries. At first everyone has a motive, opportunity and an alibi (several false).

NOTE: I write out the incidents that left the marks and use these as the source of motives.

My crime solving cast will be the hero, best friend, information source, tech guy, nosy neighbor/mother/pain in the neck, possible lover. Now I mix and match and put several of the people together  in one character depending on what I need . I usually have three: Hero, best friend (pain in the butt) and information source.

When I’m putting together, my crew of crime solvers I also consider series potential each and every time. They need their own ARCs—goals and hardships—as they assist/hinder the hero.

I include romance and love interests but I choose to close the door on sex and violence. It happens off stage–mostly.

Setting brings with it a possibility of crossing genres. I’ve written fantasy, contemporary paranormal, science fiction, and am trying my hand at magical realism. The core of the story is always a mystery, with a touch of romance.

I’m still striving to improve my craft. While I’m learning and growing, I’m enjoying the journey.

what’s your favorite genre and why?

Here are some of my favorite sites: