Thursday, March 4, 2010

In the beginning - there were characters

Audra here.

Much like Tina and a number of our friends who left comments Tuesday on Putting Your Baby To Bed, I too am in the beginning stages of a new WIP. Over the years, and I promise not to hash over those, I’ve reviewed all sorts of methods in developing plot, character, conflict…you know, the whole enchilada.

Deb Dixon’s, GMC; Alicia Rasley’s, The Story Within; Dwight Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer and -- I don’t have room to go into all the excellent how-to methods available. All of these approaches tickled my mind, made me think. Still, no one method spoke to me until the 2006 ACFW conference.

Susan May Warren gave a Continuing Education Session on How to Get Your Groove. I wasn’t able to attend those sessions and had no idea how powerful her process was until I purchased the CDs of the conference and downloaded both disks to my MP3 player to catch up on what I had missed. I stumbled on to her workshops one evening as I walked the dog.

Oh. My. Goodness.

She spoke my language.

Pictorially. Emotionally. Simply.

Susan May Warren had the unique ability to make me look at my books as real places with real people living under extraordinary circumstances. AND, she went on to explain how she created her worlds.
Okay, enough of a promo. If you have a copy of the 2006 Conference, make sure you listen to her sessions. If not, order it.

Apparently her workshop was so successful, Susan and Rachel Hauck published this series in their own how-to book, From the Inside Out. They go over the entire process of mapping out a book, highlighting the pitfalls so common, yet so difficult to understand.

Right now, I’m reviewing the development of characters for my next book. They spend a good amount of time on characters -- good thing!! Even though I have a general idea about each one, I’m combing through Inside Out and making a list of emotions and circumstances that shaped my characters long before they realized they’d be featured in a series : )

Here are just a few questions I’m researching about each character:

1. Who am I? … or, Identity: How do I define myself?
2. At all Costs? … or Purpose: What is my noble cause in life?
3. Let Me do it! … or Competence: What am I good at? What do I rely on when I am overwhelmed?
4. Teddy Bear – Security: Where do I go for safety? What do I do when life is falling apart?
5. Zone – Belonging: Where do I fit in God’s world? Where do I believe I belong?

These questions make me think. Hard. I found I needed to develop so much more of my character than the skeletal outline to effect my plot and make it plausible. By the time I’m done talking to them about their fears and insecurities, I've come to think of my characters as friends. I know how they’ll handle situations.

And, I understand why they think they way they do.

I can’t emphasis enough the difference this method has made in my writing. There are plot driven books and there are character driven books. For my satisfactory Happily Ever After ending, I prefer a character in charge of the adventure.

If you haven’t visited My Book Therapy, I urge you to do so. Informative and friendly this blog will help you understand the building blocks of story.

Story. A really good story. Isn’t that what we’re all striving to write?

And to encourage you along your way, I will be giving away a copy of From The Inside Out. Leave a comment and your email address and you will be counted in the drawing to be announced in the Weekend Edition!!

Happy Writing, all!!



  1. I totally agree about Susie's teaching and about the book mentioned in this blog. I pick it up to review her tips often.

    The great news is that she's got a new book called "Deep and Wide: advanced writing techniques for making your characters deeper and your plot wider."

    I attended a retreat with Susan and Rachel last weekend where Susie taught from this new book. I promise you, you want it. Her tips on writing emotion are the best I've seen anywhere.

    Thanks for calling attention to this!

  2. I get the picture.

    I need to get this resource.


  3. Ah, a prescription for what ails me. :) I need this book. I need to (re)learn plotting and pacing and probably a few other basics. What a blessing for a chance to win this valuable resource!
    mahereenie at yahoo dot com

  4. Thanks for the info, Audra. I'll have to check out their book.


  5. Thanks for the recommendation, Audra. Sounds like a great resource to add to my birthday wish list.

    Just when I think I know my characters, I realize I can always go deeper with them ... kind of like real people, I guess! :-)

    Not much on the breakfast front this morning since I'm in dire need of a trip to Kroger. Maybe the Eggos or Cheerios can help tide you over until the real cooks arrive.

    leigh at leighdelozier dot com

  6. Good morning, All! I overslept a bit this morning, I have a nasty head cold and all I want to do is B-R-E-A-T-H-E !!!

    Thanks for the update on available resources from Susie, Teri!! There is something about her teaching style that gives me AHA moments right and left. Now I have to get that book, too : )

    Helen, I need an email address if you want to be in the drawing!!!!

    Ha, Kathleen, prescriptions are good things...especially right now, LOL! I hope my meds kick in soon : )

  7. Leigh, so you've come to browse from the buffet?? Well, so as not to contaminate anyone, I've had IHOP deliver a wonderful spread of eggs, sausage, and pancakes galore! Try their strawberry short cake stack!! OH my. Can feel the pounds already : )

    Coffee, too. Lots of coffee with whole milk, low fat and skim, depending on how wild you go with the pancakes : )

  8. Morning Audra, Love all the extra advice on getting those characters nailed. So important.

    Can hardly wait to read yours in your debut novel. smile

    Thanks for the goodies. Hit the spot.

  9. Oh, WOW, Audra ... your blog this morning whispered the magic word in my ear ... IHOP!!

    I am a FREAK about IHOP ... love, love, LOVE their pancakes, but ONLY if they're really, really light. I have about a 60% success rate when I ask the waitress if she could ask the cook to make my pancakes light.

    Once I gave the waitress this long dissertation on how much I loved "light" pancakes, and she promised they would be light. They weren't, she recognized it and offered to get me new ones. I don't usually do that because of the warning glare from across the table, but I did this time. BIG MISTAKE!! They came back really light, of course, but about a half hour later, I started to get sick and by nightfall, I had the worst food poisoning I have EVER had. To this day, my husband swears they spit in the pancakes ... lesson learned. :)

    But I digress ... as usual. Have never read Susan's book, but love her writing, so it sounds like a must and a keeper. Thanks for leading me in that direction, Audra.

    Now, where are those pancakes ...


  10. Audra,

    I've never read any of Susan's writing books but I do visit her Book Therapy blog often. I really enjoy her posts and have learned lots.


    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  11. Morning, Sandra : ) I can't wait for Rocky Mountain Hero to hit the selves, either : ) Remember, everyone - January 2011!!

    LOL! Julie, I'm always worried I'll get someone ticked off if I complain about the food, too. Yup, I think about spit all the time. Ornery short order cooks!! Glad I made you happy with IHOP this morning : )

  12. Morning, Rose! Glad you've discovered Book Therapy. I used to visit all the time before I went back to work full time. Great info!

    Dianna, please check out this resource. And drop in on Book Therapy. It's an adventure : )

  13. Audra, I loved Susie and Rachel's workshop at ACFW! Was it that long ago? Time flies! I need to go over my notes. "How To" info always excites me. Gives me a lift and a fresh perspective.

    When is the release of your book? I've been an Audra Harder's fan for a long time. I can't wait to read it!

    LOL at your IHOP experience, Jules. I didn't know pancakes could be ordered light. Not that I ever will risk it after your bout of food poisoning. :-)


  14. Great blog, Audra! I also went to Susie and Rachel's workshop in Denver and it was fantastic. You're so right about really knowing you characters before you begin to write.

  15. Audra,
    Great post and I was going to leave a comment 30 minutes ago, but I got distracted by the "My Book Therapy" blog. What a great resource. Thanks for sharing.

    Getting a good handle on characters makes or breaks a story, doesn't it?
    I don't know if any of you work this way (I'm weird - but that's common knowledge). I get a lot of my best writing done during revisions. That's when I fix a lot of plotting troubles, but having a guide like Susan Warren's and Rachel Haucks might help the process move a bit faster.
    I really like revisions. And I could use all the help I can get :-)

  16. Hi Janet, Hi Cara!

    I am so sorry I missed the workshop at that conference. Sounds like she had great handouts -- I really get envious when I hear *here, look at this* on the recording, LOL!

    Thanks for the plug on the book, Janet : ) All the Seekers rock!!!!

    Cara, sounds like you have such a strong base of characters, I can't wait until Love On A Dime comes out. Let's see, June right??

  17. Thanks for the info on the books and I've got her blog bookmarked in my daily reading list. I'll have to check out the book as I'd really like to strengthen my character development skills.

  18. Oh Pepper, sweetheart!! My first draft of anything is so painful to write...and read!! I love revisions! Everything spewed from my little pea brain is some easier to fix than create, LOL!

    Glad you stopped by Book Therapy. I wish I had more time to visit all the awesome blogs, but my employer just wouldn't understand : )

    Speaking of which, I need to scoot off to work. I'll catch up again between entering 4-H enrollments : )

  19. Hi Audra,

    I totally understand how some writing books just don't do it for you. I feel the same way. I start off so enthused, and then about chapter 3, I can't read any more. I have lots of partially read writing how-to books in my shelf!

    This one sounds great. Thanks for the tip. Love the title of your book, btw. Catches my attention right away!


    sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

  20. I need to study more.

    I need to strive, to learn, to improve, to aim high.

    (I HATE doing that stuff, really hard work)

    But I'm going to be a better person. Starting now.

    No, wait, I'm going to my mom's for coffee this morning. She loves me exactly the way I am.

    I'll start improving around noon. I swear.

  21. Hi Whalehugger! Glad the info was useful. Check out Book Therapy. I think you'll like it.

  22. Can I just say I'm with Mary...

    Just kidding.

    And Julie, when I head to IHOP I fancy the full fledge fat filled flatcakes then get the low fat syrup kind of evens things out don't you think?

    Getting the proper emotions for our characters and the reasons behind them are most important.

    I find if I'm not laughing, crying or getting mad with them among other emotions then I've got more work to do.

    Today's post lends itself to yesterdays well. We have to write characters that stick (like oatmeal ya know) with the reader, and you have to know where those feelings are coming from otherwise you get paper dolls. Just toss out an emotion with no rhyme or reason and you end up with Interchangeble faces and feelings. But nothing notable to make you remember the character.

    I like to think I have a handle on that and just about the time I start patting my back, I realize I can always learn more.

    I iron things out in rewrites, but that's why we have them.

    Thanks so for the post, Audra.

  23. Hi Sue,

    I know what you mean. I have how-to books coming out my ears, and I've been able to pick a idea or two from each of them.

    Just shows how different people think and learn. Thank goodness there are so many options : )

    Thanks for Rocky Mountain Hero. I kinda like it, too : )...not that I'm partial or anything : )

  24. Don't enter me, this is one of the first books I bought and I just want to second that it is great!! It covers so much, but does it in a snapshot way, so you can delve into it on your own level and time.

    I get to meet Susan in April for a conference and I am SO excited- I know I am going to learn so much!!!

  25. Mary, I love you just the way you are, too : )


  26. My email address:


    The prizes offered on here are interesting and worthy, but they aren't the main reason I come here. So I often forget to include the address.


  27. This is what I have been looking for. I am going to check into this.
    Thanks so much!

  28. Hi Tina,

    I so agree with you. I you can't individualize charactes by their emotions, you can just interchange characters without a moment's thought.

    Digging deep to see what really irks them, or touches them, or hurts them is often so hard to reveal -- maybe we reveal too much about ourselves??

    Good stuff for another post : )

  29. Hi Casey,

    I'm glad you're familiar with the book. It's great, isn't it?

    Have a wonderful time with Susan in April. She is such a hoot!

  30. Audra, you continue to amaze me. This is wonderful to-the-point info and it gets to the heart of your characters. I think it's so important to do that because that's the heart of the story, right?

    And Susan is a gifted author, speaker and teacher. Great gal. And cute as a button.

    I think that's a trifle unfair, don't you????

    Julie, Julie, Julie....

    First, most spit is clean.

    Second, the heat of the grill would kill MOST germs.

    Third, in eleven years of waiting tables I never saw anyone abuse food... Although it was TALKED about in hushed tones... :)

    Fourth... There's NEVER a guarantee that the cook in your establishment is as clean as ours was, LOL!!!

    Oh, man, that's too funny. Hey, I didn't get here to bring food early but we've got cheese and meat ravioli for lunch with a great side salad, choice of dressings. Try the pepper/parmesan, I made it myself.


    Tiramisu for dessert. Amazing.

    And let me just say that the characters in Audra's book...

    Gabe (oh mylanta, you should see that man in chaps.... Ree Drummond would be impressed. Seriously...)

    Melanie... I just want to take her by the hand and hold her close to me, let her help in the kitchen, play and pray in the garden... Great gal, just tortured enough...

    Love 'em, Audra-kins!

    Hey, I might bring ice cream for later. Abbotts' custard reopened this week. Robins, geese, finches, mourning doves and....

    Abbots Custard. Spring is around the corner, LOL!!!

  31. Audra said -- Digging deep to see what really irks them, or touches them, or hurts them is often so hard to reveal -- maybe we reveal too much about ourselves??

    Tina's reply-- yes, alot about ourselves, and I've found it to be rather cathartic. Maybe that's why there is a season for certain stories in our lives because we are ready to delve into emotions.

  32. Lol Pepper! I did the same thing. The "My Book Therapy" blog looks like a wonderful resource and I love Susan May Warren's books. Food looks amazing this morning! Overindulged on the pancakes though:) Please enter me in the drawing, Thanks
    hchristinebernard at yahoo dot com

  33. Love those questions had to write them down, and the thearpy blog is awesome! I learn so much here. Thank you.


  34. Love your post! Just stumbled on this blog,and it is so helpful.

  35. Love the Book Therapy blog and forum. Don't get to hang out as much as I would like, but I drop in from time to time.

    What was really interesting and educational was when Susan began writing a story on the blog, with input from the MBT gang, and editorial comments from Rachel. We never finished it but I sure hope we get back to it. Nothing like seeing creation in action.

  36. Oops, forgot the email addy: pwriter1 [at] yahoo

  37. Thank you, thank you! This is EXACTLY what I need right now! I'm about to plunge back into a WIP I had set aside because I just couldn't deal with those characters anymore. This sounds like just what I need to make them deeper and more human and more LIKEABLE. On my way over to Book Therapy right now.


  38. Ahhh, Ruthy. You are too good to me : ) I'm kinda partial to Gabe in chaps, myself : )

    For get the WW diet. I can't wait to dig into your afternoon Ice Cream. Never had Abbots Custard...

  39. Has anyone heard from Mary? It's after lunch and I was just wondering if she's started improving yet?
    Of course, I don't see how her writing can get much better.
    It's'just the way it is" :-)
    Ruthy! Ice cream. Yum!! Chocolate sounds good, but I'm probably influenced by the fact that a cute little three year old, sitting beside me, is wiping her chocolate covered fingers on my sleeve.
    From all the great things people are saying, I figure this must be a book I NEED to get even if I don't win it.
    Gee, I have a lot of good how-to books on my shelf that have highlighted pages or chapters in them, but I've never gotten around to reading the entire book.
    Somebody told me it comes later in life

  40. Hi Heather,
    Glad you liked the Therapy blog and the pancakes...can never have too much of either : )

  41. Hi Milissa,

    Questions similar to those run through the whole book. I love the way they make me think of new angles and quirks.

  42. Hi Faith and welcome to Seekerville!

    We're a happy crowd : ) Grab some of Ruthy's ice cream and a cup of coffee and stay a while. We've always got lively conversations : )

  43. For the record, Mary is PERFECT just the way she is. I love her. She is my very, very, VERY best friend in the universe.

    Today anyway. (She likes my book!!!)

    Great tips on digging deep into your characters, Audra. I sat in on most of the Book Therapy sessions at ACFW. Good stuff there.

    But I am like Mary in that I get to the point where I don't think one more craft book is going to make a dent in my modus operandi. So much of my writing is pure instinct. I get the heart of the story on paper (or computer screen as the case may be) and then go back and fix the picky points later.

  44. Love this! On the book I am currently working on, I had a pretty good idea about the main character but the other two "just to the side of the main character" characters were a little lost. I've been feeling the need to go back and develope them more.

    natashasiegrist at hotmail dot com

  45. I just finished Myra's latest release, Romance By the Book. I was so in love with that hero.


    And the heroine was me. Except young and thin and beautiful. But c'mon, that's what we read fiction for, right? For young and thin and beautiful.

    It was terrific, funny, sweet, wise, I didn't want it to end.

  46. Oh, oops, Pepper thanks for the reminder. No, I haven't started to improve yet and double oops, I just realized I have to go to town. I don't think I'll change how I buy Chinese food, so the improving will once again be delayed.

    But tonight, for sure.

  47. Hi Patricia,

    I used to love checking that blog out each day. So much to learn and a fun way to do it.

    I saw the them writing a group book. Great way to put the lessons to use. Hope they finish it!

  48. Hi EC,

    Glad you didn't give up on the WIP idea just because you got stuck. I think putting projects aside help us work out glitches in our mind. Then when we pull out the work and blow off the dust, it's off down a new path of discovery : )

  49. Audra,
    Thanks for a great post. Okay, I need to buy the book. I picked it up last year at the bookstore...didn't buy, just looked. Wanted to buy, really. But you know the airlines and their new weigh-your-luggage rules. I'm always overweight. (No smirking, Ruthy or Mary.) The book is a good size and would have added an extra couple pounds to my suitcase. Told myself I'd order it from Amazon when I got home, which I haven't done yet.

    So...long reminded me that I need to get their book.

    Thanks! :)

  50. Time...
    Somebody told me it comes later in life

    Ha Pepper! Don't you believe it! Your time just gets filled up with other stuff.

    Enjoy those babies to the fullest!!!

  51. Your post, Audra, is so helpful and I appreciate the info you gave. I'd love to win From the Inside Out. Thanks for the insights.

  52. Failed to mention that Susie and Rachel are the greatest!

  53. Myra, ain't it the truth! I have a definite rhythm in my writing, but plot elements stop me every time.

    Mainly I have to ask if this something is relevant how it makes an impact on the over story.

    Leaves me scratching my head more often than not : )

  54. Good luck, Natasha!

    It's just a snag on the trail you've hit, not a stone wall. Keep at it, the ideas will flow!

  55. Oooo Debby. How can you pick somthing up and not buy it?? I know, my husband says I need therapy--it's a disease : )

    Susie and Rachel are wonderful teachers. At least I learn from their instruction.

    And you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks : )

  56. Lisa Jordan was just telling me about this. Now on my to buy list at Amazon.

  57. Audra, I love this book, too! I went to their workshop at ACFW and learned so much!

  58. Pepper said -- time. Someone said it comes later in life

    Tina responds -- hahahahahaha

    Yep take the advice to love your little ones while you can

    hugs to you Pepper

  59. Isn't the weight limit on luggage 50 lbs? I think mine was 45 plus.

    Scarey, the charge for going over is MAJOR. Not to mention it will probably be so heavy it'll bring down the plane.

    So yes, Amazon Debby. Definitely.

  60. Tina and Audra,
    Okay - got the point. ;-) Anyway, I was wondering the other day what I'll do when all my kids are grown because I'm more productive when I'm busy. Can't stand NOT being busy. (and this is without meds ;-)

    I wouldn't mind a teensy bit slower pace eventually though, less mind-spinning ;-)

  61. I'm more productive when I'm busy. Can't stand NOT being busy. (and this is without meds ;-)

    Pepper, find something mindless to do. My daughter is in college and my son is graduating from high school this year. I took a job as our 4-H secretary cuz that's really all I know about : )

    It's data entry, phone talk, office full of unique personalities and even more unique ones that come into the office for plant check or insect ID.

    Find a job that furthers your writing career. Mine supplies me with a treasure trove of characters, and pays me talk to people and keep them happy.

    Who could ask for anything more??

    BUT seriously, in the mean time, you enjoy those little kids because in no time at all, they'll be gone and the worst regret you ever need to acknowledge is you didn't spend enough time with your kids.

    And if kids are your thing, do like Ruthy, rent kids during the day and care for puppies by night. It's a snap!

  62. If you like Inside...Out, you'll LOVE Deep and Wide when it comes available. I've attended Susie's My Book Therapy retreats, and man oh man, they are aMAZing. If you ever get the extra money to go, do it. Your writing will be changed forever. Just came back from the Deep & Wide retreat in Florida!

    I'm so pro My Book Therapy and I'm not just saying that because I'm her forum coordinator, either. :-D

  63. Lisa, I could listen to workshops by Susie all day long : )

    I didn't even know they'd published Deep and Wide, until Teri commented about it. Wow, I know what I'm getting next paycheck : )

    Glad you had a great time in Florida. I'd love to attend a retreat, and maybe someday, I'll be able to : )

  64. Pepper,

    I watch my grandchildren, am admin/bookkeeper for our family business. People say wow you can take time off whenever you want. Perhaps. Alot of times we have to carry the hours longer.

    When we're not at work or watching children, hubby wants to run or hit the gym. Sometimes I feel like I never get writing done.

    Now a days I have to put my foot down. When the boys were younger and in school I had my days.Led women's study and did some part time work.

    While I don't want to return to those days, (all though I do think about it) I do wish I didn't feel so pulled.

  65. This is one of the things I need to work on. I'm doing well with setting on my book, but need to inject more passion into my characters.


  66. Hi,

    Please enter me in the drawing. I can always use extra advice.

    Linda Cacaci

  67. Oh, I need this book so much. Please include me in the drawing for The Inside Out & thank you for the opportunity.

    May God bless you.

    Cindy Woolard


  68. Revisions? We doan need no stinkin' revisions?!

    Oh man, that's hitting me where I live.

    On this WIP, no issue with characters since I live with them. :)

    But the sequel - yikes. Uncharted territory.

    Please enter me into the drawing - certainly sounds like something I need around here! ksf895 at citlink dot net.

    ANOTHER blog? It sounds great! But. Operation Overload is about underway in middle Tennessee. Anyone know how to do the Vulcan Mind Meld on resources? I need to upload directly into the brain.

    So much to do, so little time. And y'all left the table sticky... That's what you get when you show up late.

    I'm still toying with The Writer's Edge from this week. Anyone else have experience there? I've printed out the form. It's here, staring at me.

    Audra, hope you feel better soon. So sorry.

    Rent kids by day, puppies by night. Such a deal.

    Everyone have a SUPER day/weekend/month!!!!

  69. This was wonderful advice, and it reminds me how often writing advice can be applied to living. We need to ask ourselves these same questions, digging into our past and into God's Word and prayer for the answers. Thanks so much.


  70. Sorry about the mess we left behind, KC. That's what happens when everyone leaves the room scribbling on notepads and scratching their heads : )

    Ha, Vulcan Mind Meld. I could use some of that at times : )

    Megan, isn't that so true? We forget about the characteristics PEOPLE have. And then we want our readers to believe the thoughts and emotions of our characters??

    Lots of prayer involved everyday : )

    Walt, think about sports. Bone jarring; mind numbin sports.

    Then spray some elusive fragrance around your head. Snuggle with a velvet blanky. Listen to Lionel Richie in the background.

    With you nimble fingers on the keyboard, transfer the power.

    Does that help the passion?

    Thanks for the great day, guys! Now, let's get ready for the weekend!

    Remember, the drawing will be announced on Saturday...

  71. Hi Audra

    Thank you for your inspiring post and for the book recommendation. I’d love a copy of that book as I have such passion for inspirational writing, yet am still seeking the book that speaks to me (especially regarding plot). It sounds like this might be the one!

    Thanks also for your encouragement and the note about the My Book Therapy website. That looks like wonderful resource.