Today I’m visiting author M. Liz Boyle’s blog with my guest post, “The Importance of Fiction.” This wasn’t an easy post to write, which may sound weird since I write fiction. But sometimes when you do something long enough, you forget why you’re doing it. So, thank you, Liz, for giving me a topic that forced me to examine why writers write and readers read fiction.
One of the reasons I love having guest bloggers is that they can give you a new perspective on topics. I’m excited to have the guest blog today, “How to Write Realistic Characters” by Candice Yamnitz. Candice is new to “JPC Allen Writes”. I met her on Instagram and have been following her journey toward publication. Take it away, Candice!
Think of a character you adore. What makes that character feel real to you? There are many layers to this question in any story. I’m going to review the ones I find most important.
I’m a YA fantasy author whose debut novel, Unbetrothed, comes out February 2022 with Illuminate YA. I wrote it back in 2018. Rounding out my characters took about ten drafts. I’m hoping I can give you some insight, so you don’t have to go through so many drafts.
Give Your Hero a Lie to Believe
Every hero believes a lie. This isn’t just a matter of having an imperfection. Your character needs something ingrained into their thinking. It should be related to their goal or in contrast to their goal.
For instance, in Unbetrothed, Princess Beatriz wants a betrothal to her best friend. In order to do that, she needs a magical gifting. She believes that a person’s value is found in their magical gifting. If she didn’t believe this lie, why strive so hard to get a gifting? Yes, wanting to marry prince charming is a good enough desire to send a person on a crazy quest. But with the lie, my character has more motivation and a thought process I can use in all her interactions.
Give Your Character Quirks
In real life, I love love love quirky people. It’s so much fun to find out that a friend you’ve known for years has a strange way of eating a candy bar. Then there’s the friend who can’t stand certain textures or the one who has a squeaky laugh.
Give your characters fun little details. Consider giving your character a tick, a strange habit, and something they always do when they’re angry, nervous and happy. Plan these all out for your main set of characters and make the quirks distinct. Also, keep track of which character has which quirk by keeping a character journal. Please tell me I’m not the only one who forgets a character’s eye color twenty chapters into the novel.
Yes, you’re not alone. I also discovered that I’d given way too many characters brown eyes and had to go back and throw in some variety.
Build a Backstory
Backstory doesn’t belong in chapter 1 and needs to be sprinkled into the story. Even so, I recommend writing short stories about scenes in your characters lives before the story takes place. When I first wrote Unbetrothed, I just wrote the main story. The novel didn’t get more depths until I had written several prequel short stories.
I understood my characters more deeply. I knew and felt their wounds. I understood why certain characters behaved strangely. I could hear the hidden messages they sent in their dialogue. This doesn’t happen unless you get into your characters’ experience.
- Your main character’s deepest wound
- The start to the story if you were writing from the antagonist’s perspective
- The protagonist’s mentor’s story (ie. I wrote about Princess Beatriz’s mom.)
- The same story from another person’s perspective
- Your main character’s most treasured memory
A Note to the Adult YA Writer
When writing YA, you have to put yourself in the teen mindset if you’re not there. Go back to grappling with your identity and insecurities without adult experience. Emotions tend to be rawer and more pronounced.
I spent my college years, young adult years, and beyond mentoring in youth group. This haa given me insight in talking, emotional, social, and dating patterns in this age group. I love this age group because it’s where God reached me. Please consider spending time with teens if it’s not fresh in your mind. This will help you get the right voice, and you’ll know your audience.
Writing Sidenote: I am not a plotter. I write chapter 1, a page long synopsis, and then dig into writing my manuscripts. If you’re a planner, you might want to do all the backstory work beforehand. That’s not me. I tend to write draft 1 first. Everyone has their own process. I hope this helps you write more realistic YA characters. If you’d like clean teen book recommendations, book giveaways, and to learn about my writing journey, sign up for my newsletter here. I have some really exciting news coming up over the next few months. I can’t wait to share the cover, the exact release date, and the swag for my book.
Thanks for much for the great tips, Candice!
Blurb for Unbetrothed, coming February 2022. Candice drew these portraits of her main character Beatriz. Aren’t they gorgeous!!!!
Around Agatha Sea, princesses are poised, magically gifted and betrothed.
So, when seventeen-year-old Princess Beatriz still fails to secure a betrothal, her parents hold a ball. Forming an alliance could mean the difference between peace and war, but Beatriz doesn’t just want any suitor. She’s in love with her best friend, Prince Lux. Marrying Prince Lux will always be a silly dream as long as she has no magical gift.
Princess Beatriz will do whatever it takes to obtain a touch of magic, including make a deadly oath to go on a quest to Valle de Los Fantasmas. A valley where no one comes out alive.
If she can manage to succeed, Princess Beatriz could have everything she desires and secure peace for her kingdom. If she fails, she’ll lose not only her greatest dream, but her kingdom, and maybe even her own life.
Candice Pedraza Yamnitz fell in love with The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice in high school and hasn’t stopped reading since then. She taught in a bilingual elementary education classroom for years until she decided to stay-at-home, teaching a crew of imaginative children. So in between reading lessons and converting cardboard boxes into pirate ships, she writes YA novels with a Latin twist. She lives in her native Chicagoland.
Happy to post this author interview with Anne Clare! Anne stopped by last year and wrote about being a new author, which you can read here. Today, she’s here to talk about romance and her WWII novel, Whom Shall I Fear? Welcome back, Anne!
Which came first when writing your novel Whom Shall I Fear?—the history or the romance?
While the history ended up driving much of the final story, I must admit, the romance came first. My initial idea for Whom Shall I Fear?came from a half-recalled snippet of a dream. It was a dramatic scene set in WWII London… which I can’t detail because it would include major story spoilers. From that scene, I worked backwards. How did James and Evie—my protagonists—know each other? What had they been doing during the war? How did they wind up in that dark alley? (Oops! Right. No spoilers.) I filled two journals with their love story, and then the history—the true stories of the muddy slog through the Italian front and the struggles on the British Home Front—gave the story flesh.
On a side note, my current project began in the opposite way—the history of the Anzio beachhead first, the characters and their stories later. Each method has had its complications, but at least this time around I haven’t had to rewrite huge chunks due to timeline issues!
Was it difficult writing from a male perspective?
I find that no matter the character, it takes some time to find their distinctive voice. I spent a great deal of time reading memoirs and recollections of people who lived through the events I wrote about—especially James’s part of the story—trying to get the right tone and timbre for his voice. My husband is also an amazing beta reader and helps kindly point out if occasional things “don’t sound like a guy.” As to the romantic side of things…well, that can be tricky to do well from a male or female perspective. But that leads into your next question…
What do you think is the key to creating a romantic couple readers can root for?
So. A Midwestern man found his wife crying. When he asked her what was wrong, she sniffled and said, “You never say you love me.” He stared at her, shocked. “But, honey, I told you on our wedding day. If something had changed…I would have let you know!” Ba-doom-ching.
Why bring up an “Ole and Lena” joke here? (And if you don’t know what I mean by an “Ole and Lena” joke, well…they’re the “dad jokes” of the upper Midwest. There seems to be an unlimited supply of them, and they are all pretty painful.) I do not come from particularly emotive people. Writing “love stuff” doesn’t exactly come easily. Embracing the romantic element of my story took some time. Fretting over finding ways to write believable romantic scenes for my characters took more time. How should they talk to each other? How could I show that they were attracted to each other? How could I make the attraction justified? Would there be anything…physical?
I’ve found that I tend to focus on romance through action, meaning that I try to allow my characters the chance to show the characteristics that make their relationship believable. This took some trial and error.
In early drafts, I caught myself telling about James and Evie’s admirable attributes. Occasionally, I’d have other people talk about how nice they were, etc. It was…not great. I worked to improve this by giving them opportunities to show their personalities instead—chances for them to spend time together, to talk, to see each other at their best and to see each other struggle. Taking time to strengthen each of their scenes together, making the dialogue and action count, helped the story as well as the romance.
I also found that it can be tempting to try to “sell” the suitability of the romance too hard. I ran into that with Evie especially. I found myself writing a caricature, not a character—she was too perfect in the early drafts. Thankfully, my first comments on the novel by a professional pointed this out. After the initial “oh no!” of receiving criticism, I used it as an opportunity to explore her flaws, make her into a more well-rounded character, AND to improve the love story. A couple with flaws as well as strengths can complement each other, creating a more balanced relationship.
It can be so hard to let our favorite characters have flaws! It really helps to get the opinions of others.
All that Sergeant James Milburn wants is to heal. Sent to finish his convalescence in a lonely village in the north of England, the friends he’s lost haunt his dreams. If he can only be declared fit for active service again, perhaps he can rejoin his surviving mates in the fight across Sicily and either protect them or die alongside them.
All that Evie Worther wants is purpose. War has reduced her family to an elderly matriarch and Charles, her controlling cousin, both determined to keep her safely tucked away in their family home. If she can somehow balance her sense of obligation to family with her desperate need to be of use, perhaps she can discover how she fits into her tumultuous world.
All that Charles Heatherington wants is his due. Since his brother’s death, he is positioned to be the family’s heir with only one step left to make his future secure. If only he can keep the family matriarch happy, he can finally start living the easy life he is certain he deserves.
However, when James’s, Evie’s and Charles’s paths collide, a dark secret of the past is forced into the light, and everything that they have hoped and striven for is thrown into doubt. Weaving in historical detail from World War II in Britain, Italy and Egypt, WHOM SHALL I FEAR? follows their individual struggles with guilt and faith, love and family, and forces them to ask if the greatest threat they face is really from the enemy abroad.
Anne Clare is a native of Minnesota’s cornfields and dairy country. She graduated with a BS in Education in 2005 and set out to teach in the gorgeous green Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband still live. She also serves as a church musician, singing in and occasionally directing choirs, playing piano, organ, and coronet (the last only occasionally, when she forgets how bad she is at it.) After the birth of her second child, she became a stay-at-home mom, and after the birth of the third she became reconciled to the fact that her house would never be clean again, which allowed her to find time to pursue her passion for history and writing while the little people napped. Although she’s back to teaching part-time, she continues to write historical fiction and to blog about WWII history, writing, and other odds and ends at thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com.
You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @anneclarewriter.
I’m so glad to feature this author interview with Bettie Boswell today. I met Bettie through the local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She wrote a post a few years ago for me about the similarities to writing and music, which you can find here. Today, just in time for Valentine’s Day, she’s here to talk about her sweet romance On Cue.
What inspired you to use a musical as the setting of your romance, On Cue?
I have been involved in several community theater events as both an actor and as an author/composer. One of those events did involve a musical called Just Around the Bend which raised funds for a historical museum in the area. For that program, I was a co-author, did some composing, acted, and participated in the production team. That background provided me with a hands-on experience for the book’s setting without having to start any research from scratch. I was also a music teacher for many years and have always enjoyed anything involved in music making. Authors quickly discover there is always some kind of research and the musical experience in my own community provided an easy way to do that for On Cue.
Yes, it saves so much time if a writer pulls from his or her own experiences for a story.
Is it difficult writing from the male perspective?
I had two older brothers and two children who grew into fine young men. They provided me with some of the experience I needed to create my hero. I also read at least one Christian romance every week, so I have a feel for what that perspective is like in this genre. In earlier drafts of On Cue my critique partner liked Scott’s development better than Ginny’s so I had to work more on the female perspective. One writing workshop I went to emphasized the female writer should make sure the man’s voice sounds like something a guy would say or notice. He isn’t going to recognize a brand name purse or comment on whether she is wearing a flared or a-line dress. He would just notice that she looks amazing in the blue dress.
What surprised you the most about writing the romance in your novel?
I had a lot of fun with the secondary characters in this story. Many of them were not in earlier drafts and that was a shame. They added depth to the story while supporting the main characters. Those characters gave the leads someone to talk to, someone to care about or rescue, someone to add a little humor, and also provided open doors to possible appearances in sequels to On Cue. I am planning to work on one of those character’s stories starting sometime this summer, when I retire from my day job of teaching. The musical in the story has already inspired a prequel that I am working on during weekends, but my current fulltime teaching position keeps me very busy.
I love creating secondary characters, too! And it’s so rewarding when writers find characters that inspires them to write more than one story about them. Best of luck with your new story!
What do you think is the key to creating a romantic couple readers can root for?
They both need something they can overcome for both an inner journey and an outer journey. Scott and Ginny have the outer journey of unwillingly working together to put on a successful musical that will help the historical museum in their community survive. For their inner journeys they struggle with overcoming issues of trust and forgiveness that have arisen from past experiences in close relationships. Main characters have to be real enough for the reader to identify with them. They need to make the reader smile, cry, relate to their faults, and feel their frustrations and victories.
What advice would you give a writer who wants to write romance?
Read as much as you can in the genre. Find a critique partner who has the ability to correct and encourage. Both are critical to the writing process. Don’t give up. On Cue evolved over the course of several years and many of its earlier forms drew rejections from multiple publishers. Always strive to grow your craft by attending conferences, workshops, and supportive groups like local chapters of ACFW. Those activities helped me realize what I needed to do to improve On Cue. Attending those types of events led me to know about my publisher, Mt. Zion Ridge, and led to the opportunity to write for them.
Connecting with other writers and professionals in the industry is so critical. Thanks for the advice!
When a college sweetheart used Ginny Cline’s dreams for his own glory, he stole her joy of composing music and her trust in men. Years later, encouraged by prayer and a chance to help the local museum, she dares to share her talents again. Unfortunately a financial backer forces her to place her music and trust into the hands of another man.
Theater professor Scott Hallmark’s summer camp benefactor coerces him into becoming the director of Ginny’s musical. The last thing he needs is another woman who uses him to get what they want, especially an amateur who has no idea what they are doing.
As Ginny’s interest in Scott grows, her confusion arises over Honey, a member of Scott’s praise band. Mix in a couple of dogs and quirky cast members for fun and frustration as the couple work together to discover that forgiveness and trust produce perfect harmony.
Bettie Boswell has always loved to write. During her career as a teacher she has written everything from worksheets to musicals to articles in educational journals. Recently she stepped out of her classroom and into the world of publishing. She dipped her toe into the profession by contributing to several teacher education books and eventually wrote a leveled reader, “Side-tracked,” relating the adventure of two boys as they work for the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad. Those train tracks still run from Toledo, through Sylvania, (where Bettie teaches,) and into Michigan. As an active member of Ohio’s SCBWI and ACFW, she is involved in critique/support groups from both organizations. She became aware of submission information for a short story collection through the Ohio ACFW group and contributed “Fred’s Gift” (inspired by the memory of her father) to a collection of tales called “From the Lake to the River.” Her debut Christian Romance novel, “On Cue,” was released on November 1, 2020. Follow Bettie on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
I have never had an ambition to write a screenplay. I’m having enough trouble learning how to write novels and short stories. But a few of my writing friends in American Christian Fiction Writers have written plays or tried their hand at screenplays. One author gave a presentation on the basics of writing a play for our chapter meeting. Some of her advice could also apply to novel writing.
I found this post on Almost an Author on the benefits of screenwriting when applied to writing a novel full of helpful insights. Some of the lessons the author describes I have learned from writing short stories. Over the past three years, I’ve tackled both nonfiction writing in blog posts, poetry, and fiction. I’ve learned there’s a lot of cross-pollination between these different genres.
Have you ever tried writing a screenplay? What was your most valuable lesson?