Thursday, July 22, 2010


Cara here. I’d like to welcome fellow Thomas Nelson author Colleen Coble to Seekerville! Colleen’s thirty-five novels and novellas have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA, the Holt Medallion, the ACFW Book of the Year, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, the Booksellers Best, and the 2009 Best Books of Indiana-Fiction award. She writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail and love begin with a happy ending.

Ever since I started writing, I’ve heard that it’s tough to get published. And it is. But it’s not really tougher today than it was last year or the year before. It’s always been hard. But you can do it! Editors today are looking for stories that really stand out. How do you make your book stand out, you ask? Good question so I’m going to tell you.

Good layers are often the key to making an editor sit up and take notice. So much of the time, stories that hit the editor’s desk are so similar. Romance especially can be tough to make fresh. But it’s all in the layers.

Here are the layers I work on with every story:
1. Setting is huge for me. A character who lives in Boston is very different from one who lives in Indiana. The culture that shaped him/her is different too. Think about where your characters are. Read newspapers from that area and see if you can find a plot layer in what is going on currently there. Is there a culture group that’s strong there? In my Rock Harbor books, the Finnish culture had a huge role and was fun to layer in. The Lonestar series is set on a ranch in Texas that rescues abused horses and matches them with abused children. That idea gripped me by the throat, and that’s what you want your idea to do.

2. Character types. Take a look at character types and pit different types against one another to play off weaknesses and pet peeves. This can add a really great layer of conflict that’s ongoing. Maybe your female lead loves the wilderness and the hero’s idea of a great vacation is a cruise where everything is served to him. Maybe your heroine makes gourmet chocolates and the hero breaks out in hives from the aroma on her clothing. You get the picture!

3. Can you give your protagonist an obsession? That can really springboard you to plot ideas as she pursues it. This is often where to layer in your theme. In The Lightkeeper’s Daughter Addie was obsessed to discover who had paid the lightkeeper to raise her as his own child. And why.

4. Interesting occupation. This leads me to story ideas all the time. I’ve written about a SAR dog team, a dolphin researcher, a smokejumper, an antique quilt expert, and an old time telephone operator at the turn of the century.

5. Think of plot layers that are problems for your main characters. Try to come up with at least three. For example, in Lonestar Homecoming, Gracie is running away in her wedding dress from men who just killed federal agents in front of her. She has no money and no way of supporting her daughter so she agrees to be a nanny to a man’s two children. She’s estranged from her father because only she knows she was responsible for her mother’s death. Keep piling on the problems! Torture your poor character. The problem with many manuscripts I see is that there isn’t enough conflict and it isn’t varied enough. It’s not enough to have just ONE conflict.

Layers will life your book out of the rejected pile. They will add depth and interest to your characters and your plot. If you’ve already written the book, it’s still not too late to tear into it and make it something special. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch and add the things that need to be there.


Vince said...

Hi Colleen:

It’s too early for coffee.
I don’t even know if decafe is kosher for writers! Who wants to sleep when you could be thinking?

A question: Would you consider it layering to have your story mean different things at different levels? For example, Pygmalion can be read on several levels: a simple play, social commentary, political criticism, sociology, even as a little exercise in language philosophy.

Mark Twain wrote on several levels. Have you done this in any of your works?

Sometimes I think when romance authors give children major roles in their novels, the children’s actions need to be read on at least two levels.



Anonymous said...

Good post, Colleen
Hey this is Tina Pinson and strangely, All this talk about layering has given me a hankering for 7 layer dip.

Go figure

I agree layering is important. Without it the reader can pretty much tell you the plot after the first couple chapters if not sooner

I'm sure I could always use more.

Thanks again for coming by

Amber S. said...

Thanks for the great post! I think it's so true that layers and conflicts are key in stories. Characters need to have room to grow, and in real life there are many different conflicts going on in many different levels.

Of course, all this talk about layers reminds me of the movie "Shrek." Are books like onions...or cake...or parfaits? ;)

Thanks again for the advice and encouragement! :)



P.S. Two things: Since Vince thinks it's too early for coffee, I guess I'll leave that to someone else. ;) How about some ice cold water instead?

The second things is...if anyone is still up within the next 45 minutes or so, would anyone care to follow my blog? I'm kind of OCD and I thought it would be fun to have 50 followers on the day of my 100th post. But it's only 48 minutes until midnight! ;)


Oh, and I do a lot of reviews, themed weeks, author interviews and such on my blog, in case you were wondering what my blog is about! It's called "Seasons of Humility" and I hope God uses my blog as an encouragement for others!

Mia said...

Great post, Colleen! :) I'm starting to experiment with layers now, and it's not as easy as I thought. But the results are definitely worth it. I'm especially have fun with your second point (character types).

I have a father/daughter relationship in my book (they hadn't seen each other in 4 years, until circumstances threw them back together), and he's a health freak, she's addicted to soda and ice cream, he's over protective, she's not scared of anything and doesn't want or need him hovering over. Bits of conflict always pop into the story from this ;)

Debra E. Marvin said...

Thanks Colleen. I love hearing encouragement to make my characters' lives more miserable.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Colleen.

The coffee is hot and the visitors are warm and friendly.

Excellent post, thank you.

Kirsten Arnold said...

Thank you, Colleen for the helpful post. Your points on character types and giving a character an interesting occupation (especially my heroine) gave me something to really examine in my current WIP. Take my characters out of the cookie cutter mold and shake things up a bit.

I’ll add some freshly baked berry scones and Danishes (assorted fruit and cheese). It’s all I could get this morning.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ice water?


What're ya' thinkin', kid????

Oh, thank you and saints be praised to high heaven, Teeeeena has come along with much needed coffee.

Bless you, my friend.

Colleen, great points, awesome, clear, crisp, concise... Thanks so much for coming to Seekerville today, sharing your expertise with us.

I have breakfast ready, going light today because we have to fit into clothes for Orlando next week...


Cottage cheese, wheat toast unbuttered, no jam, poached eggs...



What am I DOING?????

I refuse to give into societal food and waistline pressures, so:


Panera is on board with pastry trays, stuffed croissants, egg/ham/cheese bagels and assorted muffins. Dig in. We'll jump rope en masse later.


April W Gardner said...

Great post Colleen,

The opposite problem can also exist. I think I have the layers thing down so "well", I struggle to resolve them all! I get my characters so messed up, even I can't see how they're going to survive to the end of the book. Ha!

Amber, I'm all over that ice water!! Got my own sweating glass right here. Coffe is my passion, but in the heat of summer? How about an iced mocha? Yum!

Julie Lessman said...

COLLEEN!!!! Welcome to Seekerville, my friend, it's SO good to see you here! Kudos to Cara for the invite.

Boy, talk about timely!! Your blog couldn't have come at a better time as I just started the last book in the O'Connor saga two days ago, which features a brand-new heroine (not an O'Connor sister or friend previously introduced),so I am infancy as far as characterization goes. You've certainly given me a lot to think about because if there is one thing I love, it's layers!!

Thanks for the great insight ... can't wait to toss in a few quirks and obsessions to the mix as well as other layering.


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Colleen! Excellent post on layering. Conflict is so much fun, as long as the suffering is on the page.

I love the cover of Lonestar Homecoming. Just lovely. As is your new headshot. Congratulations on 35 novels and novellas and all those awards!

Ruthy, I'm having the light breakfast. Can't believe we'll be together in less than a week. Wahoo!


Julie Lessman said...

VINCE ... oh-oh, I see you're at it again ... exercising that gray matter!! Who wants to sleep when you could be thinking??? Uh, only you, Tina and Mary as far as I know ... oh, and I guess Helen, Amber, Tina P. and Mia with Debra and Ruthy the early risers. Yawn ... makes me plain tired!

AMBER!! Congrats on the 100th blog, my friend -- hard to believe you haven't been doing this forever because you're doing such a wonderful job!!


Dianna Shuford said...

Thanks for the advice, Colleen! I've actually been working on layering in setting, emotion, and body language into my story. You've given me a few more things to think about. It is a delicate balance to achieve, but so worth it when you can get the words to come together the way you imagined. The layers make such a difference!

I've got to run now. My daughter is having oral surgery. So to those Seekerville prayer warriors, prayer would be appreciated for her quick recovery.

Cara Lynn James said...

Good morning everyone and welcome to Seekerville, Colleen! Thanks for joining us today.

I loved your post. I'm finishing up a manuscript and this is really helpful to me. I think I need to think through more ways to bring the hero and heroine into conflict. When I don't have enough I tend to add external problems but not problems between the hero and heroine. I hate to see my people suffer!

Kelly Freestone said...

Thanks, Colleen!

I really enjoyed reading your post.


I'm plotting just thinking about the layers I could add.

It made it really clear when you said, "Torture your poor character" I'd love to make it rosy, but nothing really is rosy, except for seekerville, of course, lol.

I've learned a lot here, thanks, girl.

KC Frantzen said...

Dianna, prayers coming your way for your daughter. Thanks for letting us be part of the prayers for her oral surgery today... and for YOU too!

Hey Colleen
(beautiful name by the way)
Thanks for swinging by Seekerville today. This is GREAT info. I'm so needing to start book 2 so I'll be ready for that "2 book deal" when "it" happens. I'm sorting back through my first ms. (middle grade adventure about May the K9 Spy) this next 2 weeks so this is very timely. Thank you for your insight and congratulations on all your success! Nice to meet you!

Anyone else going to SCBWI Mid-South in Nashville in September? I signed up for the conference yesterday!

Ruthy - yesss - oh yesss - let's jump rope - WHAT?!


This is virtual food, remember? Sign me up for Paneras.

And Amber, I'm with you on the ice water - got some Evolv right here. Yum and it's helping my little gray cells try to keep up with Vince too. :) Haven't stopped by the blog in awhile so will do. Thanks for reminder. 100!!! Good on ya!

Go Vince! I like it! Hoping to do just that with May. We'll see what others think if it is succeeding at that. At least I think it is... in my head anyway. ha!

Another really full day today, with a great Seekerville topic - y'all enjoy!

Missy Tippens said...

Hi, Colleen! It's great to have you here!

And thanks for your fantastic post. This a the perfect reminder for me as I'm finishing up revisions!! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Tina P, we can always eat 7-layer dip around here!! LOL

Jessica Nelson said...

Great tips! Thank you. :-)

Missy Tippens said...

Amber, I tried a few times to follow, but there are technical difficulties. I'll try later. Good luck! :)

Colleen Coble said...

Coffee? Did someone say coffee? I'm sniffing the air. :-) I am a coffee FREAK! It must be fresh ground and brewed in a Cuisinart. LOL

Oh if you can get your story to have a layer of extra meaning, that is GREAT, Vince. :-)

Great fun with those characters, Mia!

Thanks for the warm welcome, friends! I see a lot of familiar faces here. :-)

Sherrinda said...

Oh, this was just what I needed to hear as I am plotting out my next story. Conflict, conflict, conflict. The more the, miserable. Great post!

Renee said...

Hi Colleen, I'm currently layering. Not sure what I'm layering or which layer I'm on, but I'm layering. :)

Regina Merrick said...

Colleen, I'll bring you a cup straight from my Cuisinart Grind-n-Brew!

Thank you so much for your post. Sometimes I feel like I've gone over my manuscript too many times, but it seems like every time I do, I add a layer. Thanks for making it clearer!


PatriciaW said...

Hi all! Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Colleen. I'm starting a completely new draft of a story I worked on previously and which I struggled a bit with my plot and characters. This gives me a lot to think about.

Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Colleen. Welcome to Seekerville.

Colleen may not remember this but she once saved my life in Denver. My husband and I were hopelessly lost.

I believe Colleen's rescue came in the form of her POINTING. "You're going the wrong way, idiot."

Okay, I'm paraphrasing.

I love the post.

I love trying to figure out who a character is right to the bone. Use their background to affect their word choices, their reactions, the daydreams.

Myra Johnson said...

Great post, Colleen, and thanks for sharing your wisdom in Seekerville!

I love the idea of layering. For me, as a seat-of-the-pants writer, it comes in stages as I get to know my characters in action. Just watching their lives unfold on the page (or computer screen, actually) often reveals things about them I could never have planned in advance.

Kav said...

Colleen, I just finished reading 'Lonestar Secrets' and talk about layering!!!! I can't believe you tied everything up so nicely by the end...nary a loose thread blowing in the wind. I can see that you follow your own advice because you pretty much covered all your layering points in that book. And does it ever up the conflict!

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Colleen,

Lovely post today. And, like Janet, I think your pic is divine!!!

Loved reading your Steeple Hill books. You helped to launch the suspense line, didn't you? I was with you at lunch with Krista in Atlanta at RWA--a fun day!

I also enjoyed your ACFW workshop about your dynamite blog--an evening chat with the whole group. Sort of like the Seekers.

Thanks for the great tips today. Your mention of conflict was right on the money. IMHO, no conflict, no story. Too often writers forget both internal and external. Not Seekers or Seeker friends, of course. Everyone here knows the importance of both.

Colleen Coble said...

Ah, that coffee was so good, Regina! Totally hit the spot! -)

Mary, I think we were a BIT nicer than that. LOL that was a fun day!

And yes I did help launch the Steeple HIll suspense line with the pen name Colleen Rhoads. Those were fun books. I miss Krista by the way. Miss seeing her at ACFW, doggone it!

Would you believe I'm pretty much of a pantster myself? I've tried to plot. Really. But it takes all the fun out of it for me if I know what's going to happen next. So I start with an intriguing premise. Then I let my subconscious take over and layer, layer, layer in the fun stuff!

Colleen Coble said...

I forgot to mention that you all are going to be surprised to see me at conference. I've lost 65 pounds and should be down another 15 by then. :-)

I had to share. LOL

Vince said...

Hi Colleen:

No teasing!

You can’t just say something like:

“I've lost 65 pounds and should be down another 15 by then. :-)”

and not let all us who need to lose 65 pounds (or more) how you did it?

Please! : )

BTW: I’m pleased as punch that you spell ‘Pantster’ the same way I do.


Amber S. said...


Some people actually appreciated the water. You know, it's actually refreshing and good for you. Just saying. ;)

Missy and Mary,

Thank you for becoming followers!!! :D I'm now at 51 for my 101st post, so I'm happy. ;)


Thanks for the congrats!!! Your encouragement means so much to me!

I love Seekerville! :D


Mary Connealy said...

I'm sure you were nicer, Colleen. Regardless of what I DESERVED, you were very polite and helpful.

You know I spend most of my time under my porch, right. Making up conversations between imaginary friends.

I'm makin' money doing that.

Colleen Coble said...

I've done a diet called the HCG diet. Tons of my author friends have done it after seeing me too. It is amazing! Women lose 20-25 pounds in 6 weeks and men closer to 30. It resets your metabolism too so it's hard to regain the weight. And you aren't hungry. I'm one of the veterans on the big international forum that is here:

I'm on my 5th round. You can only do it for 6 weeks then you have to take a break of 6 weeks. With every round, the length of the break gets longer. It reshapes your body too--you lose it where YOU need to lose it. For me that's below the waist. For the first time in my life, my jeans fit at the hips AND the waist. :-) I just LOVE it!! I tell everyone. There are clinics around to go to but they are expensive so I just get the hcg from an overseas pharmacy. Some of my author friends have used the homeopathic version as well. But it totally works. :-)

Gina Welborn said...

Hi, Colleen! I hear what you're saying about layers. In the last year, Laurie Alice Eakes has been teaching me on how there's the story and then there's THE STORY.

As I've been working on a manuscript the last couple days, I've stopped and pondered over each detail and asked myself, "Why does character wear that, say that that way, do that?"

It's not just heroine has X hairstyle.

It's heroine has X hairstyle because _______ because _____ because_____.

LOL. Not that every detail has that intricate an explanation.

Still, there's the story, and then there's THE STORY.

KC Frantzen said...

Hi Colleen,
Congratulations! Bet you FEEL like an entirely new person too!
Wondering if that is what my cousin did last spring/summer? Injections, weighing portions of EXACT foods, supposed to reset her metabolism. It worked, but it was hard to do. Haven't seen her since last summer. I think she's still doing well. Good on ya!
I tried to look on the site but didn't find any general information. Thanks though. Will keep looking!
Totally agreed with one thing I read on there - get off synthetic thyroid if you're on it. BIG difference...

Walt M said...


Great post! I'm trying to think how I can apply some layering to my current WIP. Piling on the heroine is the only thing that's coming up so far

Julie Lessman said...

WOW, Colleen, 65 lbs.??? Will I even be able to see you when I see you???
How exciting!!

My prayer partners and I have been PRAYING about losing weight, so maybe this is it! Thanks for the tip.


Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Colleen, You were one of the first Christian writers I met at my first Christian writers conference in Mt Hermon. You and your friend gave away a conference fee and I thought that was so cool.

Loved all the hints on layering.

Soooooo layering hmmm (your manuscript) and unlayering hmmm (your body). Sorry. Couldn't resist.

I'm using a Christian program PRISM which is very healthy and natural for losing and it works too. Basically. Don't eat so much.

Which is why I love the cyber food. Thanks Ruthy, for getting the good stuff out. So I can't fit into my favorite pants YET.

And Amber, the ice cold water is DELICIOUS. Very important after flying from Tahoe to hot hot Phoenix. And then on to Orlando - hotter still. yikes.

Vince said...

Hi Colleen:

Thanks for sharing your diet information. I will check it out. Good luck on the rest of your plans.

I notice that “Lonestar Homecoming” is available for the Kindle. I’m going to read it paying special attention to how you layered the story.



Colleen Coble said...

Thanks so much for having me, friends! It's been really fun!