Who places first, the swordsman or the archer?


There is no doubt that 17-year old David Heiland, archery champion, is the main character in my novel, IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING. From the appearance of inexplicable runes to mysterious letters to the discovery of a parallel world on the brink of war, the story is 100% his.

Or is it?

My second main character is Eric Hamden, an 18-year old squire and expert swordsman, determined to find the solution promised by the seers to keep the realm from war.

For years agents, publishers and editors have stressed the importance of introducing your main character in the first chapter. The reader needs to know who your book is about and why they should be invested in reading it. But what happens if you have two main characters, each with their own goals, each with equal importance? Both characters share POV in the novel. Whose POV do you start with?

After several beta reads and critiques, the overwhelming consensus was that Dragon King needed to begin in Eric’s POV. Even though the story is David’s, the logical flow begins with Eric. I debated it back and forth, thinking of novels where the first chapter didn’t include the main protagonist (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is one), and after much deliberation, I changed the order of my novel to put Eric’s POV first. Then I read a couple of articles by agents stressing the importance, especially in YA, of introducing your main character in the first chapter and I changed my opening back to David’s. I threw it back out to different betas and again it came back with suggestions to put Eric’s POV first.

Now, if I’ve learned anything in the beta/critique process it’s this: if one person makes a suggestion, it’s up to the author to decide if the change is valid. If an overwhelming majority suggest the same change…odds are they’re right. In this case, their suggestion coincided with my gut instinct so I changed it back to Eric’s POV first, and there it will stay.

In this case, the swordsman beat out the archer in order of appearance. It’s the only logical decision I could make as Eric’s POV leads directly into David’s story without the need for a Prologue. Let’s hope the publishers and editors agree with all the betas and my gut instinct.

Have you ever had two main characters in your story? Did you ever have to make a decision like this? How did you decide and did your gut instincts pay off?

What I love about my W.I.P.


The lovely Susan at mywithershins posted a fantastic idea for authors:  write a love list about your work in progress.  (the idea originated from Stephanie Perkins on Natalie Whipple’s blog).  The reasoning behind doing this is to keep you, the author, focused on what is important in the story and to keep the creativity alive.  There is no one particular thing you need to focus on.  Simply write a love list of everything you adore about your W.I.P., from characters, to settings, to the writing and or editing process.  I decided to try it because it sounds like the ultimate motivator to keep my muse in gear.

As In the Shadow of the Dragon King is my pride and joy, as well as the two novels in the saga that follow it, I’ve created a love list for the series.  I’ve been working on this series now for seven years off and on, for the last 2 years seriously.  Over the past year, personal issues have kept my muse and me from progressing forward.  Hopefully, this love list will get us both back on track

The Chronicles of fallhollow love list

1) Main character #2 – Eric Hamden – I am in love with this character, more so than the primary main character, David Heiland.  He is 18 years old, cocky, strong-willed, sensitive while remaining quite ‘mannish’.  He speaks his mind, is respectful when he needs to be, and defiant when called for.  He is a squire to the most admired and respected knight in the kingdom of Hirth and is afforded ‘rights’ other squires are not because of that relationship.  He comes off as slightly arrogant, but it’s because he gets irritated by people feeling they are entitled to things just because they’re in a position of power or because they have no power at all.  He abhors those who take what doesn’t belong to them, and he believes an offensive posture in war trumps a defensive position.

2) Main Character #1 – David Heiland – David is almost 18 , wealthy and lives in an 1860s antebellum mansion in Havendale, Tennessee (that’s near Bristol).  His parents are dead.  He is an archery champion, valedictorian, and his best friend is Charlotte Stein.  David likes to think he’s independent and assertive, but he’s actually very trusting…until he realizes his life has been nothing but a  lie.  He is impulsive, acts first and questions later.  His life is filled with drama.  He often feels the need to run away if he feels stuck.  At first, he balks at challenges, then comes to realize he can’t live without them.  He doesn’t like being told what to do, especially by other guys his age.  He’s into classic rock and plays an acoustic guitar.  While he doesn’t like war, he believes defense is better than offense.

3) YA/New Adult Fantasy Genre – I adore this genre. I’ve always been drawn to romantic and not so romantic fairy tales of knights, dragons, fair maidens and castles.  Anything magical and make believe.  When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of books in this genre, which made me want to write in it.  I figured I couldn’t be the only kid in the world who loved reading fantasy tales where the heroes were kids or young adults.  Practically every story I wrote involved a dragon or some other mystical creature and kids.  I am glad to see the genre evolve over the years and know I have a place my writing can call ‘home’.

3)  Setting – When I first started this series, it began with a group of fairies fleeing their homes because of a war.  The story has changed some much since then.  The series transcends two worlds – Havendale, Tennessee and the fantasy world of Estaria and the realm of Fallhollow.  The bulk of In the Shadow of the Dragon King takes place in Fallhollow.  The second novel brings the characters into Havendale for the majority of the story, and the third marries the two worlds together.

4) The Soundtrack – When my novel is turned into a movie, I want James Horner to do the soundtrack.  I also hear some Aerosmith, Credence Clearwater Revival, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, ELO, Jane Taylor, and Rebecca Ferguson.  I’d also like Enya to sing the closing song to the 1st movie.  I don’t want much, do I.  😉

5) Mythological creatures – I love dragons, faeries, gnomes, centaurs, etc.  and have included quite a few in my stories.  I’ve even created a few of my own.

6) Two points of view: 3rd person omnipotent – The story is so complex that I couldn’t tell it the way I wanted to in one person’s POV.  I chose David’s and Eric’s as they each have their feet in their own worlds.  I like the omnipotent POV because there can be slight author intrusion provided it doesn’t distract from the character’s telling of the story.

7) The Twist at the End of novels #2 #3 – I wrote the ending to novel #2 before I wrote one word of Dragon King.  It was strong with me when I wrote it and when I go back to read it now, it resonates within me even more than it did then.  I know in my heart that this is the way the 2nd novel has to end as much as I hate it.  It will also leave the reader thinking “WTF just happened!  No!  That can’t happen!  You can’t leave it there!”  The ending to novel #3 brings me to tears every time I read it.  It’s like the ending to the Hunger Games series when you want desperately for Katniss to choose to be with *fill in the blank*, but you know she has to choose *fill in the blank* because it’s the only logical decision.

8)  The Plot – War has come to Fallhollow, and unless David and Eric can stop it, it will come to Havendale and Earth, too.  But how do three mortal teens rein in a dragon, a sorcerer and a council of mages determined to annihilate every non-magical creature across multiple worlds? Enter a knight, two fae and an army of eccentric allies.  Together, David finds the courage he didn’t know he had, and uncovers a hidden truth  that changes everything.

For you writers out there, what’s on your ‘love list’?  Do you think making a ‘love list’ will help you stay focused on your W.I.P.?

Flying below radar again


Hi guys!

I’m so glad you dropped in to see what’s up.  I hate to inform you that this week will probably be another down week for me.   You see, I’ve written 3 versions of the same novel…one for me, one for the publisher, one with the publisher’s comments and edits, and now I’m working on #4…a melding of the previous three.

I understood and agree with many points the publisher pointed out to me and I am gladly working on them.  They were correct on many aspects of the novel and I respect and admire their keen eyes and editing sense.  However, there are aspects about my novel that I must keep for my novel to remain mine.  There are hints of things to come in books two and especially book three in the saga.  If I take them out, then those events don’t hold as much weight.  They don’t pack a punch, and it won’t be the story I want to tell.

I had a discussion with the publisher the other day and they are a little hesitant about my decision to leave in a certain aspect that I have to have in the trilogy.  they are, however, still interested in seeing the final result.

The melding it, the bringing all 4 versions together has been more difficult that I thought.  Scenes, once ‘acted’ out by other characters, have been relegated to only two points of view.  Scenes that weren’t there at all in any of the versions have been written.  Conflicts once suffered by others are now experienced by someone else.  I have to admit, the writing is better, the story is better, but the outlining of 3 novels into one has been a chore to say the least.  The first novel was outlined to a certain extent.  I knew what I wanted to happen in each chapter and to whom, but now that many character POVs are gone, those scenes now have to go away all together or placed elsewhere with someone else.

That means this week will be another down week for me on my blog.  I will try to pop in here and there to say hello. I’m definitely still popping in on all your blogs to say hi and keep informed of the latest news and developments.

Oh, just to let you know…in my down time I’ve been engrossed in Cassandra Clare’s Immortal Instruments series:  City of Bone, City of Ash and City of Glass.  If you haven’t picked these up, you must.  A lot of folks think she’s a bit heavy on the description.  To me, it’s just the right amount, and her characterizations are fantastic and well thought out.  If you’re looking for faeries, werewolves, vampires, dead, silent, mind-speaking ghoulish things called the Silent Brothers, all wrapped up in an urban fantasy that takes place in NY, you’ve opened the right book.   It’s sexy, fun and definitely an adventure.

Till next time,

Stay healthy, happy and keep sweet.

Me

Look! Look at what I got in the mail today!!


Okay, I said I wasn’t going to post anything this week but…

Look what I got today in the mail!!!!!

Bookmarks!  Aren’t they pretty!!!  Something I can actually sign my name to and give away to awesome people like you!  Squeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!

Who’s ready for December 3?  Who’s ready for “MAKE BELIEVE”?

Look for bookmark giveaways soon.  Maybe within the next 6 months or so I can match it with bookmarks for IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING.  That would be IN-CRED-I-BLE!!!.  *SMILE*

Okay, back to editing.  Catch you guys on the flip side.  *hugs*

Work in Progress Challenge


I was recently “tagged” by Julie Catherine in a book interview of sorts. I am glad to have this opportunity to share information about my work in progress and send my thanks to Julie Catherine and to all those down the line who continue to pass this challenge along.

1. What is the title of your book/WIP?

I have many works in progress but my baby is In the Shadow of the Dragon King.  It is the first in the Chronicles of Fallhollow saga trilogy.

2. Where did the idea for the WIP come from?

I’ve always had the story crawling around in my mind since I was young.  My dad was in the army and like a silly child, I envisioned his work as romantic, like the knights of medieval times.  Of course I always loved a fantastic fairy tale where knights and princes would come to the rescue of a fair damsel.  I always knew I wanted to combine the two together and have a young person lead the way as the knights and their army fought dangerous beasts like dragons.  The hero would always have magical folk to help (and hinder) along the way.  In 2003, I revisited an old manuscript I started years ago and piddled around with it part-time.  Then, in 2010 after I lost my job, I threw my entire being into finishing it, which I did in July 2011.

3. What genre would your WIP fall under?

Most definitely on the cusp of Young Adult/New Adult high fantasy.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Wow, you know, I’ve thought about this a lot and I keep coming back to the same folks.

David:                  Nicholas Hoult
Charlotte:        Alexandra Daddario
Lily:                     Natalie Portman
Slavandria:     Olivia Wilde
Eric:                    Cameron Bright
Sestian:            Jeremy Sumpter
King Gildore:      Craig Parker
Queen Mysterie:    Roselyn Sanchez
Trog:                David Wenham
Seyekrad:      Paul Rudd

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your WIP?

To keep him from being murdered, a passive seventeen-year old boy is kidnapped from his world and forced to fight a war steeped in sorcery.  His price of failure:  the annihilation of the girl he loves…and maybe a world or two.

6. Is your WIP published or represented?

Not yet.  It’s been to a publisher who came back and said they would consider it if I made some changes.  I’m making changes.  🙂

7. How long did it take you to write?

I’ve been at this off and on since 2003, but I seriously set my mind to finishing it in 2010.  I put “The End” on it in July 2011.

8. What other WIPs within your genre would you compare it to?

If you mean what other novels are out there like mine, I don’t think there are any.  I’ve read a lot of YA fantasy, but I don’t recall reading ones similar to this.  I’ve been told there are elements of Iron Fey meets Narnia meets Lord of the Rings with a whole lot of me mixed in.

9. Which authors inspired you to write this WIP?

I don’t think any authors inspired me to write this particular novel.  The story has always been in me.  It just took a long time to come out.  However, there are many authors who inspire me to write like: Raymond Feist, J.K. Rowling, Cassandra Claire, C.S. Lewis, Julie Kagawa, The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, and Charles Perrault.

10. Tell us anything else that might pique our interest in this project.

As an army brat, I was lucky enough to travel a lot when I was young.  I actually lived in Germany for two years and during that time, I got to see a lot of castles and visit many medieval locations.  The romanticism of the medieval times always stayed with me.  It seemed all the stories I wrote while growing up were centered around castles, dragons, faeries and magic.  The older I got, the more entrenched in Arthurian legend I became.  I became obsessed with Merlin, Arthur, Gwynevere, and Morgana, and began reading anything that was similar.  I knew when I finally wrote my novel, it would be steeped in the same sort of myths and legends, and take place in castles I envisioned and made up in my mind.  Without a doubt, there would have to be dragons and sorcerers, mages and magic.

But I also spent many years in the south, making Georgia (United States) my home.  While living in Georgia, I traveled all over the deep-south:  Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, and came to know and love many places and people I encountered.  When it came time to write In the Shadow of the Dragon King, I knew I wanted the story to take place in two worlds existing side by side, sharing much of the same landscape, and I wanted my protagonist, David, to live in the mountains.   Some of the most beautiful land in the world is located in the mountains of Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, so I naturally picked a center spot of all three states.  I created the town of Havendale which is a stone’s throw from Kingsport and Bristol, Tennessee, two very real cities.  It’s a perfect backdrop for David’s story and it’s been a lot of fun creating two ‘worlds’ to accommodate his adventures.

One final thing …

Tag, You’re It:

As a final step of this Work In Progress blog post, I’m supposed to tag other writers who are then “it” to make a blog post of their own.  I’ve chosen three blogging buddies I know who are working on something:

Jennifer M. Eaton

Julie Reece

Terri Rochenski

I hope they choose to participate in this challenge.  You should really stop by their blogs to find out.

“Throw out the visual garbage. It’s stinking up your manuscript!”


This is part 3 of my series, How to write a fantasy novel.

As with all novels, you have a Main Character (MC) and what I like to call minions – secondary characters who help or hinder your MC’s movement forward.  Even though you’re writing fiction, these characters need to be fleshed out, well-rounded and most importantly…real.

There are several things to think about before writing.  Whose view point are you going to write from?  Is it going to be 1st, 2nd or 3rd person?  Is your MC a male or female?

For me, I know instantly whether my MC is male or female.  I can hear the voice in my head.  I also know if the character is young or old and I have an idea of the setting.  These concepts, however, are just the framework.  I need to find and build the substance, the interior. This can prove to be challenging.

I know in my earlier post I talked about outlining; however, I’m not a huge outliner.  I tend to formulate my ideas and plot, do a one or two sentence ‘outline’ of where I’d like to see the story go in each chapter, but for the most part I sit down and write.  When I write short stories, this seems to work ok. My characters come alive and they take me on wild journeys.  Revisions are   easier to work through, probably because the stories are less than 10k words.  Novels on the other hand…not so much.

I thought I had really good character development with my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King (“Dragon King”), until I submitted it to a publisher.  Man, was I in for an awakening.  Here are some of the line comments:

“Terms such as the one in bold portray the character as significantly older than 15.”

“He’s [David] been portrayed as a bit of a spoiled rich boy. We’re not lead to feel any compassion for him at all. It’s important in the opener to give us as much a feel for the truth of the character as possible.”

[after the MC uses the word ‘darn’] – “Later, David does swear, and the mix up of this type of language and the latter makes him feel much younger than 15.”

Obviously, my character needed work.  He was inconsistent.  He wasn’t fleshed out enough and he wasn’t likeable.  Back to the drawing board I went.  David is now 17 and the language fits much better, and, according to beta readers, he’s much more likeable from the beginning.  The readers are now invested, but it didn’t happen by simply re-writing.  I followed the advice of many famous authors.  I created character sketches and profiles.

What does one put in a character sketch?  Anything you can think of.  You have to know your characters inside out and upside down even though you may never tell your readers half of it.  What does (s)he do during the day?  What does (s)he do for fun?  Who is his/her best friend?  What color eyes does (s)he have?  What are the character traits?  What toothpaste does (s)he use?  Is (s)he an ice cream or cereal junkie?  I found, for me, doing a character sketch helped out a lot.  I didn’t do this for all my characters, only the top four – David, Charlotte, Eric and Trog.  I found it easier to pit them against each other as well as have them support each other once I knew their strengths and flaws.  You can read David’s and Charlotte’s character sketches here and here.

Another thing I learned that can be a death sentence for your manuscript is focusing on details too much and not on the plot.  When I wrote my first draft of Dragon King, I thought it was important the reader know what color eyes my characters had, their hair color, their size and what sort of clothes they wore.  I thought it got the reader into the scene, gave them visuals.  After all, when you meet someone for the first time, you notice things like that, right?  Unfortunately for me, it took an editor to set me straight.  She wrote on my manuscript in big red letters, “Throw out the visual garbage. It’s stinking up your manuscript.”  Throughout the 367 pages, she’d crossed through the extraneous descriptions, both related to character and setting, that needed to go.  It was painful to see my manuscript bleeding profusely, but I have to admit…she was right.

Something else she explained to me was to make sure the character’s personality traits or life events mentioned define our characters.  These things must move our characters forward.  They must have some sort of role in changing who they are.  To quote:

“Your characters must grow.  They must be different in the end of your novel than they were in the beginning.  Something significant needs to occur so the characters learn more about themselves and each other.  Find your character’s weakest trait, his worst nightmare, and focus on making his every action a step to overcoming that issue.  Make me want to help him.  Make me want to reach into the story and give him what he needs to succeed.  When you can do that, you know you’ve written a well-loved, believable character.”

I’m still working on that piece of advice.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about developing your villains.  They’re not as nasty as you think they are.  They only seem that way.

N is for Names


Happy Monday, everyone!  This post is part of the A-Z challenge. Please take time to visit the other blogs that are participating.

Names.  Everyone has one.  Novelists sometimes have many.  In fact, being a novelist is one of the only professions where it’s perfectly okay to have multiple personalities, voices and imaginary  playmates (including creatures, shapeshifters, vampires, and werewolves, among others) running around in our heads constantly.  And of course, each one of those characters has a name, but what are they, and how do novelists come up with those names you love?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but some names just come to me when I write, like David, Charlotte, Trogsdill (“Trog”), Einar, and Eric from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King.  I liked the ring that each name had and didn’t really realize what the significance of their first names were until I started doing some research into a last name for Trog.  I was really amazed at how their names spoke volumes of their characterizations:

David Alwyn Heiland:  beloved/noble friend/savior

Charlotte Breanna Stine:  free man/noble/anointed

Trogsdill Domnall:     to walk heavily/mighty; great chief

Eric Finian Hamden:  forever, ruler/handsome/praised

Einar:  warrior; battle leader

Aside from having random names pop into my head, how else do I come up with character names?  I look at several things.

Era:  current, trendy names may not work very well in the era your story takes place.  “Electra” probably wouldn’t work in a story set in the early 1700s.

Place:  Where does your story take place?  “Bobby Jean” may stand out like a sore thumb in wealthy societies.

Reserved or Contemporary?:  Is your character conservative?  Maybe a name like “Arthur” would be more appropriate than a more contemporary counterpart like “Sonny”.

I’ve also learned to try and avoid famous names, and not make the pronunciations too difficult.  Readers can’t relate to names they can’t pronounce.  And, unless you’re writing a comedy or trying to make a specific point, try to avoid same sounding names, like Harry Larry or Kendell Wyndel.

Where else do I look to find cool, interesting names?  The phone book, the Bible, baby books.  There are tons of “name” sites on the internet.  I also pay attention to those movie credits.  You’d be surprised by the gems you find there.

I found that keeping a running list of names at all times helps a lot.  Whenever I hear a cool name or come up with one, I jot it down so I don’t forget it.  

Whatever I do, I try to make my character’s name identifiable and memorable.  I’ve been told it helps to make a story stand out from the others.  I hope I’ve succeeded.

What are some of your favorite character names?

D is for David (Heiland, that is)


This is a continuation of the A-Z blog challenge.  Click here to see the list of all 1935 participants!

Who the heck is David Heiland?

He’s this guy…

Okay, okay.  You’re right.  It’s not.  This is Zac Efron, but if I could cast my MC, David, from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King, this is what he would look like. Hot, right?

But what makes my Zac Efron look-alike so special?

David was born March 31 and is 16, almost 17 years old, extremely wealthy and lives with his godmother, Lily.  His father, Edward, was a fighter pilot.  Unfortunately, he died in a training mission over the Gulf of Mexico 3 months before David was born.  His mother, Jillian, died from complications after David’s birth.

David lives in an 1860’s mansion in Havendale, Tennessee, located not far from Bristol, and his favorite ride out of four cars is the steel-blue 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 his father left him.

He is a champion archer and State track star and longs to be a fighter pilot like his dad when he grows up. His favorite subject is history, and finds Geometry a complete waste of time.  He’s an honor student, and holds multiple National academic awards.  He loves to read, draw and play his guitar. His choice of music:  classic rock and roll from the ‘60s and ‘70s.  He broke his left leg while running in a track competition when he was 15.  The injury still causes occasional problems.

His best friend is Charlotte and he would do anything to keep her from harm. His greatest fear is losing her from his life.  He is not in love with her.   Their friendship is strictly platonic.

He is cunning and mentally alert.  He listens to conversations and picks up subliminal meanings.  He remembers things easily and has a photographic memory, especially when it comes to minor details. Intuitive.  He can articulate well.  He has lots of energy he’s a great organizer and a determined fighter.  He’s a great adversary, especially of mind.  Dramatic.  Tough on the outside, soft on the inside.  Charming.  Stylish.  He likes being alone.  Doesn’t like ‘socializing’ or adulation from teachers for doing what he loves to do, but he does like taking control and being a leader.

He has a need to make things ‘right’.  He can’t stand disorder.  He always has to win, to succeed in everything he does.  Must be the one to take initiative, but needs backup once the ball gets rolling.  Needs to help others, especially without them knowing.

On the downside, he is short-tempered, stubborn, with childlike tendency to see things from his own point of view and to express himself as he sees things in an innocent and youthful way. While some might see this as being self-absorbed or even selfish, he sees it as being honest and expressing his true thoughts and feelings and doing what he thinks is right.

He runs his fingers through his hair a lot, bites his fingernails and grits his teeth when nervous or angry.  He’s a klutz in spite of being a state track champion and he mumbles in his sleep.

He has to make his bed every day.  Papers have to be stacked neatly and in piles of similar size. i.e. large pieces of mail together, letters stacked together, postcards stacked together.  His clothes are color-coded in his closet and are on color-coded hangers.  He flips out if anything is out-of-place.

His greatest weakness:  he’s quick to judge.  Quick tempered.  Easily bored, even with his own concepts, and tends to wander off.  He will sometimes sit back and let others have their way.  He can be bull-headed, obstinate and doesn’t like being told what to do.  He’s impatient, aggressive but also needs reassurance he’s doing the right thing.  He’s two dimensional.  He doesn’t see all sides or all aspects, leaving him open to physical and verbal attacks.

He’s taken down a peg or two when he is thrust into the care of Sir Trogsdill Domnall, a highly respected and lethal knight of the kingdom of Hirth.  David is irritated by Trog’s methods of teaching, but when David comes face to face with a sorcerer and a dragon that are determined to murder him, David soon realizes Trog may not be such a bad teacher after all.

‘Flesh out’ your characters. What does that mean?


Congratulations!  You’ve completed your manuscript and now you’re ready to take the plunge, stand naked before your audience, and expose all to your chosen beta readers.  Two points I want to make before I go any further:

  • If you don’t have any beta readers, get some…now.  Don’t walk.  Run.  You need them before you even think about subbing to an agent or publisher.
  • Do not invite others to give their honest opinions and critiques if you are not ready to hear what they have to say.  I understand that criticism is sometimes hard to take and it can hurt.  Sometimes the critiques feel like personal attacks, but they aren’t.  Your betas have your best interest at heart.  They want to see you succeed.  Keep that in mind as you let their suggestions sit for 24 hours.

With that said, let’s look at one of the most common suggestions your beta readers might say:  “You need to ‘flesh out’ your characters more.”

What in the heck does that mean?

I know when I first started putting my novel out there for critiques, this comment always baffled me.  As a then newbie writer, I often wondered what it meant and how does one flesh out characters?

In a nutshell (pardon the cliché), it means your characters probably read like one-dimensional cardboard cutouts, always acting and/or doing expected things in expected scenarios. They’re not unique but rather born of stereotypical molds.  Not good.  In order to make your characters – and in turn, your novel – stand out, you have to make your characters unique.  Have them shatter the mold.  Make them act against their inherent nature.  Flesh them out.

How do you do this?  You have to get deliciously mean with your characters.  Deny them the things they expect, or make something happen to them they don’t expect.  For example, my main character, David, from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King, is a wealthy kid who’s grown up not wanting for anything.  He’s had everything given to him, therefore is able to fart around in his free time to do whatever he wants.  In my first draft of the story, David didn’t really grow.  He remained this sort of nice but pompous jerk who thought he had life all figured out.  In my 12th draft, he realizes he’s not the biggest fish in the sea, and he certainly doesn’t know near as much as he thought he did.  He no longer has the world at his fingertips.  He can’t go to his godmother and have her intervene on his behalf.  He isn’t privy to the luxuries of life – a comfy bed, food to eat, clean clothes, showers.  He doesn’t have access to all his millions to buy the necessities he needs:  a razor, deodorant, toilet paper.  He must learn to improvise and rely on his instincts, luck, his best friend and a few unusual ‘gifts’ if he is to survive the perils facing him.  In essence, I’ve ‘fleshed him out’.

Making your characters act against their nature exposes what they are really made of.  The reader relates to them because now your characters are no longer single dimensional cutouts.  They are now human, with real flaws and attributes, real fears and strengths.  They’ll be going through physical and emotional changes, and your readers will gladly follow along because they want to see your main characters succeed and win while seeing the bad guy epically fail.  Your readers are now hungry, salivating to find out how your characters are going to get out of the mess you created.

So, the next time your beta reader, agent or editor tells you to ‘flesh out your characters’, it’s time for you to step out of your comfort zone.  Abandon the norm.  Force your mind to do the unexpected.  Your characters will be better for it and your readers will thank you for it.

Can you guess my character’s age?


Brenda Drake has this awesome blogfest contest going on over at her blog. The topic: Can we guess your character’s age?

Being the contest nerd I am (and a huge fan of Brenda Drake’s site), I’ve decided to participate. I’m posting the first 250 words of my novel,  and I am excited to see if I’ve managed to get my MC’s voice right.

I’m going to pop over to everyone’s site to participate. I think this is a fun contest and a great way to interact with other writers. It also lets you know if you’re on the right track with your character’s voice.

So, with that said, here are my 250 words. *rubs hands and smiles really big*

***

David Heiland leaned over his desk and blew the eraser crumbs from the cat-like eyes staring back at him in his drawing.  Just like in his nightmares, the dragon clung to the castle’s battlement, a lifeless body clutched in one talon. Small horns jutted from the top of the creature’s head and two leather-like whiskers protruded from both sides of its snout. From its neck hung a pendant on a braided chain – a reptilian eye embedded in a swirling web.  Crouched in the shadow of a turret were a man and a woman, their arms raised like shields above their heads, terror etched into their eyes and mouths.

Charlotte closed the bedroom door and tossed her coat on the bean bag chair, burying the gaming controllers.  She peered over David’s shoulder.  “Wow, that’s amazing and creepy.  I can’t get over how real it looks.” She kicked off her sneakers and climbed into the center of his carved, four-poster bed. “Who are the people?”

“My parents,” David said, examining his work.  “You know, it’s funny.  Up until a few years ago, all I ever dreamed of was them being alive.”  He brushed his thumb over the woman in the drawing.  “I used to pretend the front door would open and they’d walk through it, and all would be right with the world.  Now all I dream about is this,” he said, smacking the picture, “and some woman’s voice whispering to me, ‘Your time is nigh.  Be brave’.”  With a flick of his wrist, the drawing pad sailed across the room and landed on the foot of the bed.  “It’s driving me nuts.  I can’t take it anymore.”  He leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair.

“It’s just a dream, David,” Charlotte said.  “It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Oh, yeah?” David said.  “Then why can’t I get it out of my head?”

“I don’t know,”  Charlotte said, twisting a loose thread in the bedspread.

***

Don’t forget to hop around the other participant’s sites and leave your comments!