Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unique and Universal: Part 4

This will be my last post on this topic . . . for the time being. As I have stated previously, this is one of those topics I suspect I will keep coming back to over and over again.

Today I want to discuss the fourth method of characterization that I use. This series is specifically talking about creating characters by putting myself into my work, and I have already discussed three different methods by which I do this. This method may not seem to fit that theme at first . . . but stay with me! It will make sense when I'm through.

I 'll call this the What I See In Someone method. This is the method in which I take traits and struggles I observe in other people--specifically those close to me--and use them to create a character.

This is a method more commonly used by writers hither and yon. Lots of novelists will set out to base a character on someone they know. But my reasoning for why it works may be a bit different.

You say, "Well if you're basing your character on someone else, how can you claim to be putting yourself into your characters?"

Simple! You see, when I base a character on someone I know, I am still basing that character on my perspective on someone I know. Which is ultimately still me. I can't know the entirety of a person's heart or struggles. I have only my outsider's perspective to go on and whatever I can extrapolate from there. In the case of novel writing, the extrapolation itself forms the character--though, if I am as honest as I can be, the character will become quite a strong reflection of the original.

The heroine of the upcoming Golden Daughter is a great example of this sort of characterization. She is heavily influenced by my perspective on my best friend. Her struggles, her personality, her sins, her fears, her strengths . . . so many things about Sairu are things I have watched and observed in Erin over the years. Is she perfect fit for Erin? No. But she's an excellent reflection.

Erin herself read a polished draft of the manuscript a few months ago and agreed with me--Sairu is very much her. Not exactly her, but very much her. And she was pleased by the similarities, for it enabled her to see herself in a more favorable light. To see things she thought of as weakness used to create a dynamic and singularly heroic character. Sairu is, without a doubt, the most exciting heroine I have ever written. She is also, quite possibly, the most damaged (though it takes an insightful reader to see this). But because of her damage, she has the potential to become so much bigger, so much larger than life.

I won't go into specifics both for the sake of avoiding spoilers and for the sake of my best friend's privacy. But all this to say, basing a character on someone you know takes just as much honesty as basing a character on yourself. More than that, it takes an ENORMOUS amount of empathy--the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else.

In the case of Sairu and my best friend, it was a fairly easy journey. Almost an unconscious one, really! I was probably 1/3 of the way into writing a manuscript before I realized how very much Sairu was like Erin. At that point I was able to be a little more conscious in my efforts, drawing on my longstanding history with Erin to create a mingling of vulnerability, humor, strength, protectiveness, and fear that make Erin herself such a larger-than-life person.

But I have used this technique for other characters in the past.

Lionheart was very much based on my perspective on a young man who hurt my heart years ago. Not on him exactly--merely my perspective on him. But putting that character, someone I resented so deeply, into my book forced me to step into a position of empathy--both for the real-life person and for Lionheart himself. I started with what I knew, stood a while in that other person's shoes, and extrapolated from there as honestly as I could.

And suddenly Lionheart wasn't merely the weak-willed villain of Heartless. He was someone I wanted to write more about, to learn more about. Someone to whom I found I related. So I began to blend methods together, maintaining the personality and character traits of the real-life young man, but adding in aspects of myself.

Because a universal character is just that--a universal. Someone to whom many people can relate. Make sense?

Daylily is another character who started out based on someone I knew. Someone I didn't really like. Someone I wanted to better understand. So I started with my perspective on someone else, moved into that position of empathy, and found where Daylily and I were alike. And so she became someone far more multidimensional than I ever would have expected. She became someone I wanted to write more about. Thus Shadow Hand was born.

Anyway, that's about all I have to say on that topic. Quite a long-winded response to the two part question: "Do you put yourself into your characters?" and "How do you create such diverse characters?"

I've said it before and I'll say it again--Good writing is about honesty. It's difficult to grasp this truth, more difficult still to put it into practice. But I hope this series has given you some food for thought along the way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Unique and Universal: Part 3

Continuing with my short series on characterization, focusing on the topic of putting yourself into your work. Again, these are simply methods I have used to create characters. They may not work for you. Your job is not to mimic another author's methods. Your job is to find out what writing honestly means for you.

Anyway, here's a third method I have used which I will call the Situational Method.

This method is similar to the One Key Struggle method in that I take something from my own life and extrapolate from there. In this case, I don't take a sin or a struggle--I take an experience, usually a painful one. From there I imagine greater stakes, greater consequences . . . and usually throw in a couple of dragons.

Remember: situation shapes character. So by putting a character who is otherwise nothing like you into a situation similar to or reflective of yours, you are going to create a character who is reminiscent of you. You won't be able to help but relate to that character, even if that character's reactions are all polar opposite to what yours were in your similar situation. And if you are relating to your character, the likelihood is your reader will as well.

An example:

A while back, I found myself caught up in an extremely oppressive society for about two years. It was a church that had very strict views on women's roles, and they used various interpretations of the Bible to support those views. And I swallowed it, thinking this was my godly duty, despite my father's warning that this was not a church I wanted to get mixed up in. And everything went along smoothly for a little while . . .

Until suddenly I found myself in a situation where it was my word against a young man's word. And everyone sided with the young man, because he was a man. Including girls whom I believed were my friends. And those girls were so intrenched in this mindset of women's roles, they even began to spread stories about me amongst themselves, saying that I had invented this whole situation, that I was delusional, perhaps a little crazy. And the fact that I fell into a depression and became dangerously skinny from lack of eating did nothing to help. This was taken as a sign of my "lack of trust in God" and my "refusal to accept reality." Etc. etc.

It was awful. God saved me from that situation and those people. His grace is perfect, sufficient, and mighty to save.

And He also gave me remarkably good fodder for many, many, many stories to come . . . Looking back over my work, how many of my stories are reflections of this situation? Oh wow. So many of them!

We'll speak first and foremost of Starflower. The titular heroine of that story comes from an oppressive, patriarchal society in which the women literally have their voices stolen away. That was me. I wasn't poisoned to lose my physical voice, but I lost my voice in a very real sense when it came to defending myself. I knew what I was talking about when I wrote Starflower.

I was interviewed by a lovely woman a few years back who had served many years as a missionary to Afghanistan. She had worked specifically with oppressed women from the extremely patriarchal cultures over there. Having just read Starflower, she said to me that she didn't understand how I could have written something so real on the subject of patriarchal oppression having never lived in that culture.

The truth is, I don't know what those women suffer. But I do know the roots from which that suffering springs. And I can extrapolate from there. My own, small-scale experience is ultimately a universal. It's a reflection of something so many women across the world have experienced to various degrees of horror and pain.

That same situation of mine has influenced others of my stories. Look at Lady Leta in Dragonwitch. Look at Daylily in Shadow Hand. The situation of my heroine in Untitled Book 8 is even comparable. All of their stories are different, but the situation springs from the same source.

I start with a truth. I add imagination and extrapolate. What comes out is something unique and universal. What comes out is something honest.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Unique and Universal: Part 2

I am continuing my series on putting myself into my characters.

I have realized that this series could be taken as a "how to" by some of you aspiring novelists. I want to clarify here that this is not my intention. While these are tricks and methods I have used to create my cast of characters, I am not writing these out as a formula for you to go and try to mimic. What I want you to take away from these posts is not another writer's formula that will solve all your characterization problems. What I want you to take away is the honesty. A great character is an honest character.  A great character is a mirror, not a mask.

Anyway, let me now continue with a short summary of another method I use for characterization. Let me call this method the Personality Method.

This method is the simplest when it comes to creating a dynamic character. It can also be the most painful, so you do have to be prepared for backlash. With this method, I write a personality much like my own into a key character. I then place that character in a situation dramatically different from mine. And I watch the character morph from someone very like me into someone completely unique--keeping in mind that situations will have a profound effect on shaping the soul.

I remember beginning to learn this method back in high school when I co-wrote a completely horrendous novel with my best friend. It's horrendous because it is so badly written, but we both learned a lot in the process. What I learned had to do with the Personality Method.

While my best friend wrote a heroine who was beautiful, talented, misunderstood, and completely and utterly desirable to all the best-looking young men in town . . . I wrote a heroine who was like me. She was shy. She was insecure. She was really, really wanting to be pretty, but far too awkward and insecure to actually get there. She had talents, but wasn't brilliant at any of them, and was far too insecure to let anyone see them anyway. She was generally quite well-liked by those around her, but not in a lauded or acclaimed sort of manner. She felt just kind of there and terribly shy about it.

And the only young men who sought her favor were the most awkward, ugly, immature, and obnoxious ones.

Heheheh. It makes me laugh to remember this! But that was very much me back in those days. It was what I knew and what I could write with honesty. And you know what? The precious few we allowed to see our horrendous novel all rather liked my character better. Because she was unique and universal all at the same time.

Most of us girls are not and never will be beautiful, talented, misunderstood, not to mention completely and utterly desirable to all the best-looking young men in town. But most of us girls have felt insecure and a little wallflower-ish now and then. Most us girls have felt a bit frustrated that the only guys who look our way are the last guys we want looking! At some time or another, that particular character's woes have been our woes.

So you put that character in a weird situation--and let me tell you, the situation my best friend and I came up with was weird--and it makes for both fun reading and fun writing!

While that book was a complete disaster, the method was a good one and one I kept in mind. Fast-forward now a handful of years to the summer just after I left college. I had been experimenting for some time with more Dramatic with a capital "D" characters, but struggled with writing any honesty into my work. The characters were all larger than life, but they were none of them very real. Archetypal, not universal.

So when the plot of Una's story came to me, I decided to write her as honestly as I possibly could. Who was I around eighteen/nineteen (so I looked back from the exulted maturity of twenty-one)? I was bored with my lot, looking for an exciting romantic interest to sweep in and solve all my problems. I fell in love too easily and had my heart broken more easily still. I gave my heart to a young man who told me to trust him, and I watched him forget this had ever happened and let others believe that I had made the whole thing up--thus making my subsequent depression seem like nothing more than an overblown reaction to my friends, many of whom thought I was delusional and spread gossip about me amongst each other. I became angry. Extremely, furiously, flamingly angry.

Yeah. I knew what being a dragon felt like.

So I wrote Una. I made her honest. I made her like me. I didn't just take one key struggle. I took a whole BUNCH of key struggles and combined them with a somewhat similar personality. I put me into her in a big way.

And to my surprise, I watched her become herself. Because again, the situation shaped her. And her situation, while reflective of mine and brutally honest, was significantly more dramatic and fantastic! So Una became uniquely herself. And she became universal.

Una is one of the most honest characters I have ever written. As a result, she is either beloved or reviled by readers--there's no middle ground where my foolish little princess is concerned!

Another character who was written with this method is Lady Leta from Dragonwitch. And, interestingly enough, Leta is the other female character besides Una who gets some pretty harsh criticism from the readers (though nowhere near as bad!). And she is, other than Una, the heroine most like me. Again, did I mention that using this method can create backlash? Writing honestly is not always fun!

Rose Red and Imraldera were also created with a more mild variation on this method. But really all of my characters are made up of such a hodge-podge of these various methods, it's impossible with most to single out one method that was used.

But Una, as my first major heroine written since high school, was definitely created using this Personality Method . . . it was the only method I knew how to handle at the time! And it's a great one, particularly when paired with others.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unique and Universal - Part 1

Today's post comes from two separate questions which I felt would work together to make an interesting topic. They are as follows: "Do you often find yourself giving traits or problems of your own to your characters?" and "How do you come up with such diverse characters?"

I have written on this topic before and I rather suspect I will write on this topic again many times over throughout my career. It's one I feel is tremendously important for writers to grasp and understand, but it can be tremendously difficult.

So I'll start with the first question. Do I find myself giving traits or problems of your own to your characters? My answer is: Absolutely!

And how do I come up with such diverse characters? To that my answer is: By giving traits or problems of my own to each of them.

This is not to say that I recreate my own situation in my stories. Nor is it to say that I try to write my own character or personality into my stories. But I do try to put myself into my stories. Ultimately, it's all a matter of honesty.

As I have been writing this post, I have realized there are several specific methods by which I go about this process. So I've decided to break this topic up into several parts to cover each aspect most thoroughly.

The first method I use I will call the One Key Struggle method. Using this method of characterization, I take aspects of myself--a struggle, doubt, or fear . . . honestly, the more sinful parts of my life. I'll take these little pieces of myself and begin to ask myself the all-important question: "What if?"

What if a young man who is as afraid of ever being wrong as I am was placed in a situation where his mistakes damaged the lives of everyone he cared most about? How would he, in his determination to self-justify all actions and decisions, cope?

What if I could no longer hide the truth of my vicious side--the side that secretly wants to see certain people in my life suffer? What if, despite my best efforts, I could no longer maintain my persona of perfection and serenity, because the truth was beginning to manifest itself in a completely terrifying form? What would I do? Where would I go? How would I try to protect both myself and those around me?

Like Lionheart, I do struggle with the idea of ever being wrong. And I particularly hate being publicly called out as wrong. I dread it. Absolutely dread it and would do just about anything to avoid people knowing when I've made a mistake. (One of the many reasons the writer's life is a tough one for me . . . Talk about public airing of any and all mistakes, real or perceived!)

Like Daylily, I have a secretly vicious side which no one is supposed to know about. It's private. It's my own inner wolf. If it started to manifest, if it started to gain the upper hand in my spirit . . . wow, I don't know what I would do!

Those are just two instances of characters who have traits of mine which have been extrapolated into something far more dramatic. I have never been in Lionheart's and Daylily's positions. But I have felt the same emotions, I have struggled with similar sin, and I have a good imagination . . . I can see where such emotion and sin, given the right impetus and situation, would lead.

Lionheart and Daylily are examples of personalities that aren't very much like me but who share with me a core, universal struggle. This is one way of "putting myself" into my characters. It's also a way in which I can universally reach out and connect to my readers.

Most of you, if you are honest, share one or the other of those above-mentioned struggles. Perhaps you don't want to admit it. But the truth is there. The universal is there. The manner in which your sin and struggle manifests will be very different from those around you--because you are unique. So are Daylily and Lionheart. But the struggle is the same, because the struggle is universal.

When it comes to crafting universal characters that spring off the page and become relateable to readers, there is nothing more universal than sin. And there is nothing more profoundly desirable than grace. The greater the sin in a character's life, the more profound the grace . . . and the more dramatic the contrast!

And great writing is all about dramatic contrast.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Scavenger Hunt Winners!

The Hunt is over! And the victorious winners have been announced!

Winner of the Kindle Fire HDX is . . .

Erin Connor.

Congratulations, Erin! I hope you will thoroughly enjoy your prize.

And the two winners of 33 novels each--new releases from each of the authors participating in this hunt--are . . .

Heather Hart
Lynne Tidel

Huzzah! You should be receiving your books shortly . . . and are set on reading material for quite some time, I would imagine.

And wait! There was one more winner as well. Laurin Boyle was selected as the winner of the autographed copy of Golden Daughter I offered right here on my blog. Congrats to you as well, Laurin! I'll be popping your book in the mail shortly.

I hope that all of you had a tremendous time participating in this hunt. And be certain to watch for the Spring 2015 hunt as well! I hope to participate in that one, featuring my upcoming release, Draven's Light.

In the meanwhile, welcome to all of you new blog subscribers. I've got a bunch of fun material going up over the next month, not to mention we'll be celebrating the official launch of Golden Daughter on November 10. It's going to be great!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Scavanger Hunt Stop #14

Follow the clues for a Chance to Win a Kindle Fire HDX or 30+ novels!

Welcome to the Autumn 2014 Scavenger Hunt. You have arrived at Stop #14. The hunt begins at noon (Mountain Time Zone) on October 17, 2014. You may have arrived here before the start which could mean all of the sites aren't ready quite yet. Once the official start has begun, you should go to Stop #1 ( and then work your way through the sites, gathering clues and entering bonus giveaways, until you reach the final stop which will also be on the site of Robin Lee Hatcher.

The hunt ends on Sunday, October 19, 2014 at one minute before midnight (Mountain). That means you have all of the weekend to finish it, so take your time. Enjoy reading the exclusive content the authors have prepared for you. You will collect a CLUE IN RED at each stop. Write them down as you go. At the end of the hunt, you will enter the clues into a Rafflecopter form. (The answer will make sense, even if you aren't familiar with the quote.)

The hunt is open to international entries. The grand prize is a Kindle Fire HDX. Two runners-up will receive a new release from each of the participating authors.

Robin Lee Hatcher has prepared a "cheat sheet" with direct links to each author's post in case a site goes down or a link gets broken. We hope there will be no such issues, but just in case, please make note of the URL for the Participating Authors Stops page so you can check back and be able to complete the hunt.

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce you to talented historical novelist, Olivia Newport. I have been intrigued by the lovely titles and premises of Olivia's work since her debut novel, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning. Her work has been praised for its attention to detail, elegant entwining of research with engaging plots, and beautiful style. Here is her author bio for you:

OLIVIA NEWPORT chases joy in Colorado, at the foot of the Rockies where daylillies grow as tall as she is. Her husband and two twenty-something children keep her grounded in reality when a cast of characters stomps its way through her head into a story. She is the author of the Avenue of Dreams series, the Valley of Choice series, and Hidden Falls, a 13-part serialization available in digital formats. 

Find out more at, or find her at @OliviaNewport or 

Here is a little info about her newest release:

In a struggling Amish settlement on the harsh Colorado plain, Abbie Weaver refuses to concede defeat to hail, drought, and coyotes, even as families begin to give up and return east. The biggest challenge of all is the lack of a spiritual shepherd and regular worship. When Abbie discovers the root of a spiritual divide that runs through the settlement, she faces her own decisions about what she believes. She must choose between a quiet love in her cherished church, passion with a man determined to leave the church, or imagining her life with neither.

Olivia is here today to talk about the journey of discovery she went on while crafting this newest work of hers. I hope you will enjoy!

Feature Post: by Olivia Newport

 All Baptists believe …
All Presbyterians think …
All Methodists would agree that …
All is a dangerous word—and hardly ever true in general conversation!

When I first considered writing Amish-themed novels, no doubt I was among those who thought “all” Amish believe and live in identical ways. But this is no more true than lumping all Baptists, Presbyterians, or Methodists together.

With each novel I went a little deeper—and found wider divergence. Wonderful Lonesome is the fruit of this journey of understanding.

The story of Abbie and Willem and Rudy, of Ruth and Elam, opens the Amish Turns of Time series, in which I’m having a great time exploring the variety of Amish experience and expressions of faith. Each story in the series delves into a true turning point in Amish history, and some of the results may surprise you.

The Amish are not locked in history any more than the rest of us. They’re living history just as we are. They’re confronting changing times. They’re adapting and sorting out how their values and commitments bind them to each other. They love and strive, mourn and rejoice, hope and pray.

One dimension that drew me to the story behind Wonderful Lonesome is its location—only a scenic drive away from where I’ve lived for the last eighteen years. I’ve driven through that area many times over the years. Now when I go through Limon, Colorado, I’ll always see the farms and faces of my own characters. 

 Thank you for sharing with us today, Olivia! I hope lots of folks will be eager to run out and grab this opening book to your new series.

Now moving on to . . . 


Thanks so much for stopping by my site and participating in the new Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt. Before you move on to Stop #15, which is Olivia Newport's site, to pick up your next clue, be sure to write down this Stop #14 clue: OR OFFER YOUR OWN

Also, please note: Many of the authors use Rafflecopter for their giveaways. Rafflecopter requires JavaScript to work. If you can't see the form, please turn JavaScript on in your browser in order to enter. Rafflecopter sometimes doesn't work on mobile devices. If you are on a mobile device and can't see the entry form, then you'll need to find a computer.


I want to offer you a chance to win an autographed copy of my new novel, Golden Daughter, for your bookshelf! All you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. Just click this link and enter your email address and confirm that you would like to receive The Haven Chronicler, staying up-to-date on all the newest doings from Goldstone Wood. Confirm that you have signed up in the Rafflecopter form below, and your name will be entered to win! You can earn bonus points as well by liking my facebook page, subscribing to my blog, adding my book on Goodreads, etc.

Happy Hunting!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sorting Through the Library . . .

So Dame Imraldera was sorting through random documents in her library and she came upon a long-forgotten scrap of poetry written by our favorite bard!

Seriously, I don't remember him writing this. But he does try his hand at sonnets here and there, and Dame Imraldera thought this one was surprisingly lyrical for his poetic talents. She and I thought you might enjoy it:

O! Let the light of Lumé's effulgence strong

Be doused within the churning caldron sea,

Let the radiance of Hymlumé's sweet song

Be lost as though it never was to be.

Let all the airy hosts with kindred voice upraised

Be silenced by the clapping curtain Night,

Let all the farthest fields be scored and razed

'Till Near and Far must e'en give up the fight.

Yet we two, we happy two, would sit afar

Beyond this grieving din of silence fall'n,

And our laughter lift the worlds like shining stars,

Soothing ills with symphonies of lilting balm.

Our hearts will race the dark itself and never die

As through resounding perpetuity we fly!

Sadly, right beneath this poem, Imraldera also discovered another little rhyme:

Oh, Gleamden Fair, I love you,

Forever thinking of you,

Queens of old could only dream

Their limpid eyes would ever gleam

So bright, so clear as Gleamdren dear

The sweetest flower of Ruaine!


 In all seriousness, I truly did just find a random document among my files that contained nothing more than these two rhymes back-to-back. Rhymes which I have no memory of composing. I wonder if I was trying out a study in contrasts or something? Because I don't think you could get much more disparity between these two styles!

It gave me a laugh and seemed like something Eanrin really would do.