Thursday, September 9, 2010

Character Arcs: How to Take a Hot Guy from Here to... sigh... There

Ruthy here, ready to talk character arcs because a friend pointed out that we needed to. I ALWAYS listen to my friends. Kind of. And when I don't and they're right and I'm wrong I NEVER get really mad and stomp my feet and throw a Junie B. Jones type hissy fit. Usually.

ANYWAY: We interrupt this lecture for a message from our sponsor, Steeple Hill: 

Made to Order Family has been released! It's on bookshelves now. Like: NOW... How cool is that? How utterly wonderful? How amazingly God-is-good-all-the-time-and-all-the-time-God-is-good????  (that's a quote from my friend Fr. Bernard Dan.)

AND: (there's more, you ask? Of course, there's more!)

I just finished book two of the "Men of Allegany County" series, "Small-town Hearts" slated for June, 2011. Oh my stars, what a fun book to write! Danny and Meg's story is delightfully sweet, funny and wonderful, so to celebrate the successful conclusion of another book AND Made to Order Family's launch, I've got a $20 Starbucks card and a copy of Made to Order Family to go to one lucky commenter today.

Okay, back to the nuts and bolts. Today you NEED to interact. You NEED to talk to me, even if I give you agita. Even if I give you canker sores. Even if I give you cold feet. Because all the plotting in the world will not save you if your characters can't go from HERE to THERE in a way that delights or torments the senses. I write emotion-driven books. I love emotion-driven books. But to inspire that emotion in your characters for the readers' full enjoyment, you've got to have them travel a path that illustrates a complete emotional arc from evil to good, sad to happy, faithless to faith-filled, desperate to peaceful. Simply put, they gotta walk the walk and talk the talk.

Imagine a rainbow. We're at the north end. We need to go south to get the pot of gold, but we have to climb the colors first, then slide down to the end. That's what I'm talkin' about today. Making the climb and slidin' into home....(Come on, it's September, you KNEW I'd get baseball in somewhere, right???) And isn't that Francisco Cervelli (NY Yankee back-up catcher) stinkin' adorable???

Yankee back-up catcher Francisco Cervelli: A-stinkin'-dorable!

I digress. Of course I do. It's me, after all, and it's time for a candy break. Hold out your hands, I'm throwing small packs of M&M's to the crowd...

In Carla Capshaw's THE GLADIATOR, we have Caros, the quintessential alpha, tough, scarred, angry, self-made rock of a man who starts the book arrogant, aloof, hidden-in-plain-sight because no one knows his inner self. Throughout the course of a 70,000 word book, Carla takes this man from cold, hard beginnings to an ultimate sacrificial ending where he's willing to give up everything, including his life, for his woman and his God.  Carla turns the lion into the pussycat, a trait that holds true in great historical writers like Julie Garwood, Madelyn Hunter and Sara Donati. For some reason we tend to see historical men as bigger, brawnier, bolder than many of their modern-day counterparts. I blame it on the iPod. What guy looks HOT with an iPod?

None that I have ever seen and I'm okay with Steve Jobs getting mad at me for saying it. iPods are NOT sexy. End of rant.

In Sara Donati's "Into the Wilderness" we meet Nathaniel Bonner, a man firmly caught between two worlds, son of a Scots couple raised among Native Americans, a born woodsman and frontiersman, savvy, strong, protective. What could possibly be wrong with him, you ask? How is he flawed?

A much younger Nathaniel married the wrong woman, a precocious Indian girl whose weaknesses became her undoing, but all Nathaniel sees is that his lack became her downfall. She died, leaving him a beautiful daughter. Through his love for his daughter Hannah we glimpse the soft heart within the hard man, and when he's tempted by Elizabeth Middleton's "modern" and "independent" ways, Nathaniel's warmth and humor become increasingly evident. Sensing a rare strength in Elizabeth, he's drawn to her but realizes that a woman fresh out from England might not make it in the New World. The weakness of her father and brother add to the dominance of the hero, making his air of decision stand out. Understated sensuality becomes downright sexy with a look here, a glance there, an overlong pause.

Understating emotion is not easy. Often it's the clever use of words and timing that trigger the emotion within the reader.

Now let's jump to contemporary, sans the iPod.

Winter's End:  Hot hero:  A farmer. Rancher. A hard, crusty North Country guy, born of the land, burned by life. His bi-polar mother abandoned the family fourteen years ago, leaving them with a six month old baby. His shaky childhood faith is destroyed, his father's dying, he's working 24/7 and he can't find time to paint his house and barns while running a farm and a feed store and taking his fourteen-year-old sister everywhere a fourteen-year-old needs to go. Marc DeHollander has a lot on his plate, but is that an excuse for being a jerk?  Sure it is, because we're starting at the NORTH end of the rainbow... Let's trek our totally hot hero south, hmm?

Chapter One:
Marc glared at the outside thermometer through semi-frosted glass. "Six degrees. Wind chill's at least twenty below. Who wears foolish shoes like that in the dead of winter?"

And a few pages later:

"Do those choices include a nurse who isn't afraid to get dirty and knows enough to wear sensible shoes midwinter?" Condescending, Marc swept her pert, polished nails and well-fitted blazer a look of disdain, his expression intimating she didn't have what it took to get the job done.

So he's being a jerk right now, first class, and hospice nurse Kayla Doherty has no idea why but it is a hospice situation so she's dealt with rough emotions before. And yet...

His anger seems biased toward her, personally.  (You want the reader wondering why... what is it about the nurse that tweaks him?) He seems to be targeting who or what she was. And that's the first clue we have that there are serious woman issues in Marc's past, the fact that he's tweaked by her nails, her shoes, her sassy style.

Chapter Six:
"How's your dad dong?" Craig macklin watched as Marc latched the stall door enclosing the spry but very pregnant horse.

"Like you'd expect. Some good days. Some bad."

"Have they given you a time frame?"

Marc stared. "For?"

"His prognosis."

Marc swore under his breath. Why was it that everyone else accepted Pete's fate? Were they last night's feature on the late-breaking news?

Ah, another hint of what's going on here. Marc doesn't want to accept the inevitability of his father's death. He wants to turn over every stone to find a cure and Pete's acceptance of hospice sends a message Marc does not want to hear: "Tag, you're it. I'm dying, take over everything, and oh, by the way, good luck." People's matter-of-fact acceptance of Pete's illness and prognosis scorch Marc and time is short on multiple levels. Displaced anger is a GREAT way to begin the upward climb of the rainbow's arc...

Chapter Eight: (Marc is dropping Kayla off at her apartment when her car won't start on a brutally cold night)

"This one, on the left."

"With no lights"

She puffed out a breath of air. "The outside lights haven't worked since before Christmas. I replaced the bulbs, but nothing happened."

How safe was that? he wondered. He climbed down from the truck. Kayla looked surprised to see him as he rounded the front bumper. "I'm fine, really. You don't have to-"

"It's dark as pitch. I'm walking you in."

Okay, now we're beginning to see him soften, even though he doesn't want to. He really doesn't want to. Kayla has "I'm LEAVING THE NORTH COUNTRY" stamped on her forehead for all to see. She's moving on, done with winters that never end and heaters that refuse to work. No way can Marc risk his heart to someone bent on leaving when he's tied to the land. The farm. His sister. His home.

Chapter Eleven: Kayla offered to stay with Pete while Marc takes his sister to the big St. Lawrence vs. Cornell hockey game.  She's tired and frazzled by things she's discovered while they were gone, but it's nothing she can share, nothing she can talk about, so she's a little sharp. Snippy.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Kayla shook her head, looking down. "Just agreeing with you, Marc."

"In that tone?"

"Yup." She straightened and retrieved her jacket.

"More like capitulating." Marc adjusted the left shoulder, then angled the sleeve to ease her arm into it. He kept his hands there, fingers clutched in the navy wool, looking down at her, those gray-green eyes thoughtful.


"Perhaps." He tugged her closer. "Let's see what you make of this, Kayla."

His mouth covered hers with gentle pressure, the kiss warm and alive. He smelled of crisp air and wood stove, hay and Old Spice. It was the most delicious combination of scents she'd ever known. Masculine and rugged. She leaned into the kiss, hands flat against his chest, reveling in the feel of him, hard muscled balancing her softer curves. She felt safe. Warm. Cherished. Three feelings she'd never experienced simultaneously. Talk about a head rush.

He's smitten. We see that. And he can't resist the urge to reach out to her, to touch her. Hold her. Kiss her. But he's solved nothing, he's still angry at everyone under the sun and his life has tanked. The glimmer of hope is there, but it's nothing more than a glimmer because he can't change the inevitable. She's leaving, his father's dying, he's staying, they stand on different sides of the faith issue, and he's not about to risk his sister's emotional stability at this point in her life.

Chapter Fourteen:  On a nursing visit not long after the first kiss. And the second. Probably the third...
I like kissing. A lot

"I've got supper in the slow cooker."

Kayla didn't dare turn. "Thanks, but I'll leave you guys to family stuff tonight. I'm going to catch up on some sleep."

"At five o'clock?"

Marc moved alongside her. From Pete's quick, tired smile, she was pretty sure he'd just given his father a wink. "You won't mind if I eat and run?"

"No." The word was close enough to be whispered, but it wasn't. As Marc clasped his father's other hand, his shoulder pressed Kayla's. "You set the time frame, Kayla."

Now we see that he's opening himself up, chancing heartbreak. Chancing hope. But he doesn't know what Kayla knows, he doesn't see the damaged woman beneath the thin facade, and when he does, when he comes face to face with her emotional scars, he knows he can't go there. He's not man enough to go there. No way. No how.

Chapter Twenty:

Marc wanted to help Kayla. Hold her. Soothe her the rest of her days.

Mission: Impossible.

He recognized the fact and still he cradled her, letting his arms provide sanctuary.

More like a temporary haven, right, Bucko?

There is little strength without faith. We see that Kayla's strong because she chose to be, refusing to let life drag her down. But by now we understand that her strength is Marc's nemesis because it came at a dear price: her emotional and mental health. And he can't deal with women who have issues. Too many reminders of mom and his parents' combined bad choices. But then withouth those choices, he wouldn't exist. Jess wouldn't exist.


Chapter Twenty-one:

He approched the steps, wrestling misgiving. It could be for nothing. He knew that. He understood she hadn't left a scarred-up house and a scrabbled yard. She'd left him, because he wasn't what she needed.

Could he be?

He didn't have that answer yet, but he knew one thing. A farm wasn't built in a day. It took years of painstaking planning, stage-by-stage growth, a focus on tomorrow. Why hadn't he realized that life and love required that much time and respect?

Step by step. If nothing else, hed have a farmhouse that looked good and a yard that said "welcome". And maybe, just maybe another chance at the gold ring he'd missed so completely that winter.

I don't read writing books. Ever. But I love teaching writing, emoting, feeling, showing the characters' flaws through actions and inactions.

An "inaction" is called for when an action offers too much closure too early in the book. I'm a mom, moms solve problems. It's intrinsic and inherent. But if you do that too soon (guilty hand raised...) you lose your conflict and your emotional arc. Oops.

An inaction is when a character walks off stage. Closes the door. Thinks about the kiss and turns away. Every time you solve a problem with an action, you're closing one door but opening another. That first kiss, so enjoyable but immediately regretted.

And then it's repeated because it was THAT NICE!  It's worthy of a repeat, but in the meantime, those characters are fighting that walk up the north face of that rainbow. See, they don't KNOW it's a rainbow. They only see a hill. A big hill. Steep. And it might rain. Or get dark. Or snow. And the wind might blow. And they don't have proper footwear. And no gloves. No food. How on earth can anyone expect them to climb this huge hill with no proper boots, I ask you?

Step by step. Some call this forward thrust, but I don't see it that way. Thrust is brute force. I like the emotional nudges and smackdowns that edge a person forward even as they cling to the handrail of the sinking ship, afraid of the drop to the lifeboat below. The ship FEELS safe.

But it's not.

And yet they cling, so we tempt them off the rail step by step, like talking down a jumper. Easing someone over a cliff. Go for the subtle, inobvious forces. The Bible is a HUGE help to you here. I cannot express that enough. With all the angst and beauty contained therein, you can find a verse to tease, torment or tame the soul to help your character's plight. Again, it does not need to be obvious, spelled out, verse and chapter noted. Fragments, bits, pieces, the spirit of the words can run through your scenes with precious little fanfare yet inspire great effect.

When you build from the ground up, Biblical verses should gently flow with the travel, the pace, the tone. They should aid your arc but not overpower it. When they do, the character becomes overshadowed rather than empowered. We want empowerment. Strength. Passion. Fierce loyalty. Sometimes the simplest words say the most.

Which I am not exampling at this moment, thanks so much for noticing!  ;)

I want to hear your  character problems today. I'm working the day job, but I'll be in and out as I'm able. Toss out a brief bit about your character, the one giving you agita, making you frown, bite your lip, the one you shake your head over and sigh because he or she just isn't quite right. Let's see if we can find ways to add some depth to their climb without dealing with a sagging middle. Point of reference:

Rainbow NEVER have sagging middles.

Coffee's on. Flavored creamers. Breakfast by Panera Bread because they're SO good.  Oh, yum.



Mary Connealy said...

Ruthy always is so strict about us learning stuff.

Let me tell you, she raps your knuckles with a ruler a couple times and you try to understand.

Character Arcs. Got it. I've got those. I think.

I mean YES! I've got those, Ruthy sir!

Mary Connealy said...

Ignore that post. It's past my bedtime.

Dianna Shuford said...

Mary, it's past my bedtime too. I blame my doctor and his annoying cocktail of medz that rev me up! Doesn't he know that I have to work tomorrow?

Ruthie, I love your analogy about the rainbow. I may have to post that somewhere near my computer so I can see it.

The character problems I'm having with my current WIP is more I'm rushing the story I think. When I write my drafts, I push the story out so fast that the story is bare bones. Then I'm required to go back scene by scene and stretch the story out by adding in the precious details I left out. I was just starting to weave in more plot twists and character motivation (which I know but still work on writing in without the info dump)to heighten the tension when I had to return to work for fall semester.

My arc is there, but it's sketchy and not filled out well enough for the reader. If you (or any Seekers) have any tricks for this process, I'm all ears. (Metaphorically speaking!)

Don't drink coffee, and can't drink anymore soda as I need to go to bed, but I'll add to the m&m's Ruthie tossed out. My cyber-contribution is strawberry shortcake. The perfect midnight snack.

kc frantzen said...

Wow so timely. May is my imaginative Schnauzer who is at the moment working on this very thing! Is God's timing great or what? Ruthy,are you an angel? HAAaaaaaa...

Right now she is too bratty and not growing fast enough. Yes, I see you have it pegged... My rainbow has a sagging middle.

She needs to be bark... Er... Arcing towards more spy stuff by now so I'm working back thru.

I remember the scenes you reviewed and found it most helpful that you shared your insights with background.

I'm up because nearby farmers are weaning calves (maybe) or there are rustlers... Our outside dawgs have been barking all night.

Speaking of rustlers, Mary, looks like you survived the speaking engagement. WTG!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Good morning my sweet friends.

You too, Mary.

Dianna, I do the exact same thing, honey-lamb, so obviously you're brilliant. Possibly beyond brilliant.


So once you've cranked out the pumped and too-fast first draft, then we layer, just like you're doing. We plant seeds, foreshadowings, hints of what could be or should be.

And that part might take several edits or applications and that's okay.

And this post was waaaay too long. Oh my gosh, sometimes I forget that people have lives.

HUGE THANK YOUS to all of you who share those lives with us!

Strawberry shortcake. I'm so in!

And Connealy, your character arcs are stellar. You made me like Wade. Love him, in fact. I didn't think it was possible, and it took you a butt-zillion books to do it, but hey, whatever it takes, right?


And did I mention that Mary LOVES me despite her online appearance?

And rumors of her death-by-talking were grossly over-rated which is good because I don't have plane fare handy at the moment. Funerals are pricey endeavors.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

K. C., sorry about the dogs, the calves, the wildlife! I'm so there with you, girlfriend. Coyotes have been hunting nightly on our just planted winter wheat fields. I think the visibility of 35 freshly planted acres is spurring the availability of FRESH MEAT beneath my bedroom windows.


And yeah, May is not allowed to be TOO scrappy, or have a sagging middle at all. Yours needs to be especially quick-moving and understandable at a child's level. In kids' books you have no room to extol and elaborate at length, and we want May to be beloved because she's slightly misunderstood.

Tight, tight, tight. And hugely fun.

That's my prescription from the Dr. Ruthy School of Writing Medicine.

Jessica Nelson said...

Good post Ruthy!
I'm struggling with making a character quirky but not annoying. *sigh*

Thanks for all the good advice!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Ruthy, Great post and I'm thinking the rainbow analogy hits the spot. Its a good way to keep that middle from sagging.

I'm so with you Dianna. I get that first draft out there. But actually I like that because the fun part for me is the revising and layering. I just have to be sure I don't stop too soon.

Mary, so glad you survived sweet thing. Because I couldn't go without more Mary Connealy books in the future.

And Ruthy, MADE TO ORDER FAMILY is my favorite so far. Love it Love it Love it.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Ruth! Seeing it all laid out like that, what a GREAT lesson! Hey it's not about how long the post is as to about getting the point across ;)

ps Even though I'm a sox fan (ducks from the week old scone being thrown) I think your Yankee cather is a cutie, wanna switch?

Missy Tippens said...

Ruthy, no how-to books ever??? Than I'd say you need to be writing one. Because you're doing all the right stuff--naturally.

So when will you be approaching Writer's Digest Books?? Huh?? :)

Great post! Thanks for sharing the rainbow of examples!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Quirky but not annoying...

That's a great one, Jess. I think for that it comes to numbers, not overdoing it. And you can heighten it by having other character's laugh about it or refer to it or imagine the quirkiness and that augments it without making the character in-your-face annoying.

I love quirky characters. Have I mentioned that???? ;)

Dawn Ford said...

My biggest problem is making my main female character stand out. All of my other characters have, well, character. But it takes until half way through the MS to get my heroine right. And, yes, I do character interviews, sketches and all that good stuff. Ugh! Frustrating.

Regina Merrick said...

Thanks, Ruthy. I've been thinking about a character that is kind of a "third-string" character in my finished MS, but is pegged to be a main character in book 3. She's bitter, angry at the hero in book 1, because she blames him for the death of her best friend. I'm trying to throw in a lot of anger, but have something redeeming about her so that we can STAND her by book 3!

And I liked this. "I like kissing. A lot." That's why we like your writing, Ruthy.... :)

Kirsten Arnold said...

Great lesson, Ruth, and thanks for laying out the example like that using Marc and Kayla. Wow! That really made it crystal clear.

As much as I hate missing an opportunity to get your advice, in my current WIP the rainbow is arcing nicely and things are on the right track (well they're currently on the wrong track, but they're getting better). :o)

Don't put me in the drawing. My copy of Made to Order Family is waiting at home.


Melanie Dickerson said...

Hey, Ruthy!!! I'm reading Made to Order Family right now! Yay! It's so sweet, just like you, Ruthy! (Is the honey dripping off my bottom lip? Oops!)

I was having serious trouble with my characters. In fact, I'd been having trouble with them for MONTHS! Then it occurred to me that I should pray about it, and voila! Things seem to be falling into place! Now I'm going to have to go back and change the beginning of the story, but that's okay. I love my hero now. He's perfect. Well, except that I'm still not sure about his spiritual arc. He starts out with something to prove, a little fearful of failure, but he more than proves himself by the end of the book. I'm just not sure about his inner growth. He's the second son, not really expected to achieve as much as his competent older brother. But he grows up with a loving family with very strong faith. Haven't quite figured out his spiritual arc yet. Maybe he starts out cocky and not very serious-minded and by the end he has more of a God-confidence and deeper compassion for his fellow man. Hmm. I need to work on that. Any thoughts, Ruthy?

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, Ruthy, there is NO question that you know how to take a hot guy from here to sigh!!! Marc DeHollander is one of my favs, I have to say!

And you said: "I don't read writing books. Ever."

At this stage of my writing career, I'm pretty much in that camp too, Ruthy, writing by instinct, feeling, emoting onto the paper (or hard drive, I suppose), but I have to say that when I started out writing to get published, I RELUCTANTLY bought a ton of writing books, all of which I did manage to read (also RELUCTANTLY) and even applied. But the one that REALLY helped me to take APMP up a notch or two was Donald Maas' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. The only reason I even read it was that our crit group was doing it together, and I am SO glad I did it -- it made APMP soooo much better!!

LOVE the chapter-by-chapter examples, Ruthy -- great job!!


Cindy Martin said...

First, let me say Thank You for creating a safe place for me to share my story and its problems. I haven’t felt comfortable enough anywhere else to talk about my actual story for fear of ridicule. I can see the honesty, sincerity and heart of this group and I appreciate it SO much.

So, you asked for it, you got it. I hope this meets today’s criteria.

My character’s name is Pete. He’s a fun-loving professional hockey player, raised by a strict, single mom. He’s doing all the right things, saying all the right things – when BAM! Life throws him a curve – the only girl he’s ever loved has cancer. And, in fear, she pushes him away.

Angry and feeling betrayed by God, Pete travels a dark road away from the things taught to him by his Pentecostal mother. In the off-season, the only teammate Pete has left in town is a shiny-on-the-surface, smooth-talking, party boy. Pete sees no harm in his new friend Brant, because he doesn’t want to see it. So Pete goes along, tired of always being the “choir boy”, and, while he’s not a full-participant in Brant’s lifestyle, he doesn’t flee from it either.

Can you tell I’m new to all of this? UGH! Anywho…..

The point is to bring Pete to a place where the teachings of his youth become his own faith – that God goes from someone his Mother told him about to real, tangible. I have attempted to do this so far by exposing him a little more in each scene to the underbelly of Brant’s shiny world – until he gets to a moment where he can’t turn a blind eye any more. He either has to do the right thing or betray everything he has said all along that he believes in. And in doing so, win back his girl by being the man she believed him to be all along.

Sorry to be so long winded. But, help, please.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sandra, huge thank yous for the reviews, Sweet Cheeks! Hugs to you and double big thank yous for liking Made to Order Family!

No little praise coming from you, my friend.

Did you bring Chocolate Velvet? Because I'd like some, please. And I agree about Mary's books, the world would be a sorrier place without them.

I'm glad we get to live in a world WITH them. And sagging middles... Sandra and I went round and round with that back in the day! Figuring out what it meant, talking heads, page fillers...

And she put up with ME, so you know she might qualify for sainthood. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kerri, you get a gold star for reading the whole thing or pretending you did.

Good job, Sweet Thing! ;)

And if it helped make that idea clearer, YAY!!!! The rainbow analogy helps me 'see' the arc even if I don't consciously plot or plan it. He (or she)'s gotta climb up before they can come down.

It's all very physical.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Missy, don't be nice to me. I'll get all ver klempt.


I think we need a Seekers writing book, a book that shows the different paths to success, what's similar, what forks work for what people.

I think that would be a great idea.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Dawn, are you feelin' brave? Tell us more.

Let us play. Even if nothing we say helps, sometimes it gets your brain quirking or tweaking in the right direction and you 'see' what's missing.

Who is this woman and what's her problem?

I love playing. If you're feeling brave enough, that is. You know I've killed before.

But I never kill on an empty stomach, so here are Junior Mints for everyone. I love Junior Mints.

Glynna Kaye said...

Great post, Ruthy! Please share with us tips to make that hero flawed enough at the beginning -- tough, angry, unreasonable, down on the heroine -- yet not making him seem "mean" to the reader. We want to show his character growth throughout the story, but if we can't show him at his "low downedest" at the beginning, where is there room for growth? You da master of this trick! Share a few more tips please!

Mary Connealy said...

I should have stayed and tormented Ruthy more last night because I took forever to get to sleep.

Insomnia...the writer's friend.

Character arcs....I have this theory I'll try and explain in under one zillion words...about characters.

A person's basic personality is set at birth.
But all people can use their gifts for good or evil.
I try and bring my characters along an arc HOWEVER you have to discover the basic personality and that CAN'T CHANGE.

I think of Wade in the Montana Marriages series. I had him go from almost pure evil, a drinking, whoring, violent, obsessed stalker.
To one of the most heroic characters (to me) I've ever written.

But the roots of Wade's evil were in abuse and a very gentle, vulnerable heart. Wade was always a gentle spirit. So what happens when a child with that sort of spirit is abused, denigrated as weak. He turns to all manner of vice to prove himself a man.
But once Wade turned to God, suddenly his weakness is a place for God to shine, triumph. Wade turns his vulnerability into a great strength.

I don't suppose that exactly is well explained. But Wade Sawyer is a character I toiled over more than almost anyone I've ever written, because I so wanted to take him from dark to light in an HONEST way.

Wade's father, Mort Sawyer, has a character arc, too, but Mort is a strong man. Not vulnerable at all So his strength is mostly socially acceptable, but he's a tyrant. Bringing him to God was a much harder task because Mort didn't need anything. He was doing just fine in life in material ways. He owned an empire and ruled over it with no problem, crushing anyone who came in his path. A law unto himself.
Of course he needs God as badly as anyone, but to bring a man like that to God was, to me a much harder prospect because Wade was self-destructing. He hit bottom and knew he couldn't survive without help.
Mort didn't need anyone or anything to continue ruling his world.
To bring Mort to God, and I left that a somewhat open question as to whether I managed it or not, I broke him physically. I always felt like that was cheating a bit, but how to break him emotionally, financially, was daunting and I decided to snap him like a twig. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Regina, you've touched on the Ruthy-phobia. How to have a character that people hate and then love.

I can't do that. I don't think most writers can, effectively. Mary did a beautiful job of it with Wade throughout her series, bringing him around book by book, but I tend toward not seeing stark reality in that. In my experience most jerks stay jerks, despite any and all efforts to change them.

Now there are exceptions. I know that. But you've got to be Darth Vader good at being evil with a redeemable heart and that's tricky, especially (yes, I'm going to say this out loud) for a woman. Because our fantasies tend toward redeeming men, but women... Evil women are fairytale stepmoms for a reason because once a witch, always a witch.

That doesn't mean you can't do this, though, you just have to be careful. So give her a reason to be witchy, but soften it slightly with something redeemable. A hurt animal, a stuffed animal left from childhood, a cause, a garden, something that tweaks the reader into allowing her a space to 'grow' enough to have her own rainbow arc by book three. If she's a loner, make people wonder why. If they know why she's a loner(just an example), have them intimate that.

In Wade's case, we knew his father was abusive, so Mary had planted a seed of possible redemption by making the father worse than the son.

KC Frantzen said...

wawzah - Seekers writing book - NOW yer talkin'...

that is more than a GREAT idea...

Melanie - isn't that just the way? Struggle struggle struggle - pray.
OH YEAH!!! PRAY! Works every time!

Yes - the doctor is in - Ruthy - forgot to say congrats on your latest! Woot Woot Woot! (and yes - we have coyotes also - haven't heard them in awhile though. Saw a bobcat once too. Never dull...)

*of note - that earlier post was my first foray into using my new fandangled device - aka blackberry - to access the internet. glad to see it wasn't completely botched. interestingly, my 'word' showed up immediately whereas here on the PC, for months, i have to go to edit first, then it appears. weird.)

Jason and Emily said...

Wow! Great article. Really inspired me to think more deeply about the secondary characters of my current WIP who are "batter-up" to be MCs for book 2 (still floating amorphously in the vast blank spaces of my head....)

It's too easy for me to not go deeply enough and/or not allow them to really painfully wrestle with the stuff they need to. Thanks for the tangible examples!!! I LOVE learning by examples -- seeing things played out.

KC Frantzen said...

Wow Mary,
Your latest comment just appeared... Beautifully explained.

When y'all give specific examples and your reasoning for handling them the way you do, it makes a great deal of sense and seems SO simple.

V8 moment.


Mary Connealy said...

I've thought of another way to say this.

Clay McClellen will always hate crying.

No matter how far he comes as a man surrounded by women, he cannot stand a women's tears.

Belle Tanner Harden will ALWAYS want to run her own ranch. No matter how much she loves and respects her husband's ranching skills.

Cassie Dawson will always be a meek obedient little sweetheart who's first reflex is to say, "Yes, Red."

In Doctor in Petticoats I have Mandy McClellen in a strong sub plot trying to deny almost everything she is to keep her husband happy.
She twists herself around trying to be obedient and submissive to a man who is an idiot.

I spend three books bringing her along until she's in a place where she's allowed to be the woman she truly is. But Mandy's basic personality never changes, she just learns to stand on her own feet, be her best self.

Cindy Martin said...

Mary -
This comment really struck me:

because I so wanted to take him from dark to light in an HONEST way.

I am struggling mightily to make sure Pete's journey is authentic and honest.

Which book in the series should I read to study how you accomplished this?

Thaks, Cindy

Dawn Ford said...

Hmm. Let's see. My main female character is a 21 year old college student on spring break. She has led a straight laced life to date, but wants to let go of all that and get wild. Live for a change. Then she is kidnapped by the bad guy (a demon...did I mention I write speculative fiction?) who plans on marrying her. It's a power trip for him, being a demon and all.

I have my character seduced by this demon, hating herself for it, trying to escape, succeeding but falling back into the hands of her demon captor. All along the way she finds the wild life she desired wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

My heroine continues to fight against giving herself over to God until the end when she finds herself facing the truth that it was her own decisions that took her down this path of destruction.

She's a bit whiny. A crier. Someone who gets mad and makes rash decisions that get her into trouble. Not at all the strong person I had envisioned. Maybe that's just who she is going to end up being.

I had the end mixed with the beginning didn't I? Well hit me in the head with a pan and call it Sunday.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great post, guys.

Love the rainbow analogy.

Mary, for Wade's conversion, was there a particular incident that makes him turn to God? Or do you build in little things that turn him around?

Sometimes I think my faith arcs are too subtle! LOL.

Thanks for sharing!

sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

Myra Johnson said...

Super-Ruthy strikes again! You really know how to explain this stuff so that it makes sense.

That part about action/inaction jumped out at me. Especially early in the book, just when an important answer or explanation is on the verge of being exposed, I find some way to interrupt the scene. A more urgent problem comes up, or the POV character has a sudden compulsion to clam up and keep his secrets, because if she found out . . . it would be over before it began!

Digging for Pearls said...

Great post Ruthie!

I'm trying to soak it all in. I think my problem is that I second guess myself and wonder if I should restart my WIP. I'm only on chapter four but have felt that things progressed too quickly. Do I go back and edit now or try and finish the rough draft before going back?

I feel there is so much I need to learn. How do you recognize when you are telling vs. showing? How do you write those characters that grip your heart? Do I have what it takes?

I digress. Your book sounds great.

Jodie Wolfe

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kirsten, I LOVE that it's going well! You keep that arc curvin', Chica!

Angela Bell said...

Great post Mrs. Herne, and congrats on the release of Made to Order Family! :)


Mary Connealy said...

Cindy, one thing about Wade is I took THREE books to bring him along. Mostly a writer doesnt have that luxury. Of course he was a secondary character in the first two books.

I guess if you know he's the bad guy in Montana Rose who is saved at the end, but the end of the book is day one of his salvation.

And in book two The Husband Tree, he's a Christian but he's struggling--not to believe in God, but to believe in himself. So I suppose book three Wildflower Bride, when he's finally confronting his father is the one you should read.

Of course my advice is you read all three of them, and then read all the rest of my books multiple times. And then begin giving them as gifts to everyone you know.

So, if you're asking me.........

Mary Connealy said...

I spend most of Montana Rose just sinking deeper and deeper into sin. But it's also a crucial time in his life because he begins it as a loser jerk still under his abusive father's thumb, but he breaks with his father and he becomes, instead of the nasty, heavy drinking son of a the area's biggest rancher, this pathetic beaten down character.

One thing I tried to do was show the reason he was obsessed with Cassie. I wanted him to see himself as saving her. Wade alone really understood how cruel Cassie's first husband was to her. And Wade wanted to rescue her from that. So when her first husband dies, he is awful outwardly, but inwardly he sees himself as a rescuer, a white knight, very delusionally romantic. He imagines that Cassie wants him to save her. He projects all the cruelty of Cassie's first husband onto noble, wise Red Dawson.

So I wanted Wade to be evil, but for a REASON. I think making three dimentional BAD GUYS is one of the trickiest things to do as an author. It's just so much easier to have them just be thugs.

Mary Connealy said...

Weren't we talking about hot guys?

Sorry to take it into the villain realm.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mel, prayer opens my mind. It really does. And letting my soul feel what the hero and heroine are feeling helps me.


Younger brother.
Lower expectations.
Something to prove?
Maybe he's a Milquetoast and has to become worthy like the young king in Robin Hood...

How does being in big brother's shadow ALWAYS make him feel? Think Prince William and Prince Harry, the old phrase "an heir and a spare"...

How hurtful is that to the #2 son? And here's one for you, an idea I've been exploring: What happens if the #2 son (think birth order and placement and expectation) becomes the #1 son because of death or criminal activity or mental illness... What if something thrusts #2 into the position of #1 and he can't handle it?

Because he THINKS he can't handle it.

His spiritual arc will be dictated by his emotional arc. When he's beginning the rainbow ascent, he sounds too cushy. Great family, light discontent, maybe something to prove. What about if he totally mucked up something so he knows he can't ever prove himself? No redemption, no second chances?

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cindy, crying baby.... I'll be back.

Grab some M&M's because I'm loving Pete already. A good guy, but tempted, and a hockey player to boot. Oh, honey, right there you have a SLEW of temptation comin' at this boy, a huge pile of stuff from girls to 'roids to drugs to politics of any major league sport.

Ponder that while I snuggle my little friend.

Sheila Deeth said...

Wow. Great post. Thanks.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Okay, Cindy....

I love this, first off. I love sports figures, I love that they're constantly tempted to do wrong and I'm always gratified by how many REFUSE that temptation.

So Pete's got a solid basis but no father. Use that, that despite his mother's beliefs, her marriage or relationship tanked.

You can put whatever spin you want on that, either for him to see marriage in a bad light or a good light, but you can arc that in either direction.

He's in love. She has cancer.

That's too simple. She pushes him away. A hero wouldn't take that without a fight, and then go off and be tempted by Brant's shallowness in an adult novel, usually. It could work in young adult or teen novel, but if we're talking a romance or adult novel, he wouldn't just walk away, depsite her thrusts.

So maybe he doesn't know. Maybe she lies to protect him, save him, knowing he's got a gallant heart. Then you've got her self-sacrificing deceit (which isn't right, but it is understandable) and then you have to look at what kind of cancer...

Is she dying? Unable to have children? Will she be deformed? What exactly is she turning her back on and shielding him from?

Then we can craft his arc to counterattack hers.

We can't let him be 'led' by Brant though, in a grown-up version. It works in YA because of the lesson learned, but if Pete's our hero, heroes don't get led astray in the present generally. They may have done so in the past, but they learned to either avoid people or temptation.

So if he's reacting to her breaking up with him (assuming he doesn't know about the disease and the prognosis) he can do something dumb that he immediately regrets (we've all done that so the reader will forgive it) but he can't dawdle, being ambiguous. To dwell on the outskirts of Brant's world without admittedly seeing what's going on also weakens his intelligence factor.

I would love to see him thrust into a situation during the off-season where he HAS to interact with the heroine. Where we TORTURE this totally hot hockey player, where ice becomes his only cool zone. That can come from a variety of reasons:

His team has pledged hours to build an inner city rec center and playground and she's the structural engineer of the building, so they're destined to see each other. She hides her treatments, he senses something's wrong.

In the meantime Brant and a couple of dudes are getting deeper and deeper into something risky, gambling, drinking, drugs, whatever and she's turned off by their on-the-job antics because her brother died of a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning or a rowdy bar crowd fight went out of control. She needs a reason to hate proximity to the party-boys, but again, this is her project and she has to see it through, even with her treatments or post-treatment.

I'm just spilling ideas as they come into my brain, but picture a place where these people MUST be, they have no choice, and the inter-action will naturally occur because of their inherent differences.

I must pause to grab chocolate.

If anyone else has a different opinion on that, jump in. The water's fine.

Kav said...

Reading this post has made me want to re-read Winter's End. Just reading those snippets brought me right back to Marc's farm. I swear I'd recognize it if I drove by. :-)

The character giving me a wee bit of problem in my WIP is the heroine. She's had a hard life and pretty much comes up from dirt poor to the fringe of respectability now that she's graduated from college and starts a new job. Trouble is she can't shake the feeling of not being good enough, which is something she battled during her childhood and adolescent. She can apply grace, forgiveness and compassion to everyone around her but not to herself. She has a hard time letting people in...even believing that they'd want to share any part of her life...particularily the hero. But she's quirky and funny and impulsive too, so there is a lighter side to her personality. And she loves dogs :-)

Anyhow, her character arc is about letting go of her past by stages. The pivotal moment is when she can let go of those fears and actually see herself the way the hero does.

I'm afraid that my inbetween bits are a bit saggy -- too many times when she pulls back or goes all prickly -- it's like she's stagnant in places and I want to keep her gradually moving forward.

Does this make any sense? No? Well that's because I've typed it up in four word stints all morning at work. LOL.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Glynna, first, excellent timing on that one because no one starts out more tortured than my buddy Brooks Harriman, the hero of Made to Order Family.

He's not mean, he's nice.
He's not gruff, he's amenable and funny.
He's not a jerk, but he COULD HAVE BEEN A TOTAL JERK...

Because life tore him apart, ripped him to shreds and spit him out, leaving him bereft of family and an alcoholic on the streets of Baltimore.

Take a decorated Delta Commander, an Army captain who served his country well, a calm, faithful, solid guy whose fiance sleeps with his minister brother and gets pregnant: We've taken our gentle trained killer and turned him loose with Captain Morgan.

Not pretty.

Twelve years later he's a loner, runs a great business, doesn't set foot into a church because he KNOWS what ministers are capable of. He lives alone, ordered, structured, stuck in a pattern that bears no right or left turns, but appears to be fully ingrained in town life, in AA as a leader, in business.

He's hiding in plain sight.

So when you first meet Brooks, you realize he's got issues, but he's funny. Cute. Endearing. And he doesn't let Rita whine or pout because WHO WANTS a whiny, pouty heroine?

Short answer: no one.

So he teases her out of funks, but you can feel the protectiveness, the soldier on guard, the ever-watchful persona, wanting to smooth the road for his friend, but not too much. Just enough. Taking Brooks on this journey was way more fun than it should have been because he is so structured. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Enter a woman with the same addiction, three kids, one of whom is a perfect brat, and a dog. A really nice dog. And no way does Brooks want a dog, but the dog wants him. So we start with a man totally removed but ingrained with the town, and we slowly immerse him into Rita's life because he knows that's where he belongs, but he also knows he must face the past he left unresolved twelve years before. And that means facing his brother, his cheating fiance, his parents who wanted to love BOTH sons in a horrible situation, and his niece and nephews, the children he might have had if things had been different.

His path is a great arc, a full circle, a God-given second chance.

You guys will seriously love this book. I'm not even kidding or bragging, it's a great tale.

Okay, maybe bragging a LITTLE. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Emily, thanks, kiddo!

I love working books 2, 3, 4, etc. in my head as I'm creating book 1.

Some brains just work that way.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, that's it exactly. You're born with certain attributes and a writer can soften or develop them, but they can't be changed and be believable.

St. Paul is an exception, LOL!

And you worked Wade brilliantly and the only reason I'm agreeing with you is because it is one of my pet peeves.

And I was glad you didn't try to tie up Mort with a ribbon at the end of Wildflower Bride.

I'd have gagged, a little, in my mouth.

But you left him OPEN to redemption, to change and that was well done, just the right touch. I get irked when everyone in a novel must be saved by novel's end or series' end.

Where are those people livin'????

Thanks, Mare, very nicely said.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Dawn, extra points for bravery!

Speculative fiction allows you more leeway than many other types, but you still need to harness this heroine.

Whiner? Crier?

And she wanted to get wild...

That's at odds and I'm having a hard time working that in my head and having it believable because if she's daring enough to want to be a wild child then I can't see her crying often, if ever. Or whining.




You betcha.

Occasional temptation to tears?


But WHY did she want to get wild? What happened to push her over the edge? That's the real story right there, not the outcome of demon-held fiance', but WHY she walked off the edge of decency.

And that's her story, the part of her that cannot ever be denied but can be harnessed.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra, exactly. Too much too soon stagnates a story and makes it all too easy.

Why would we even need to write the rest, right?

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jodie: Do you have what it takes?

Oh, honey, we've all been THERE.

The answer is: only you know that, but I'll tell you this: What it takes is perseverance. Not quitting. Staying the course.

Edison said: "The art of invention is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration."

Yes, you should restart your book and I'm going to tell you why....

Because you're asking, you're not quite satisfied with that opening, and you're only on chapter four.

But more than restarting or editing or forging through is write, write, write.

Connie stopped by yesterday (not here in upstate, although I'd LOVE that and I would let her feed the rooster) and said that she was spending too much time thinking about writing and not enough time writing.

She's right.

Keep writing. Play. Have fun with these characters. Learn to plot or go by the seat of your pants, but write.

And then write some more.

Do you have what it takes: Of course you do, honey. It's just a matter of whether or not you can tap into it!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mrs. Herne thanks Angela Bell from the bottom of her lil' bitty heart!

Digging for Pearls said...

Thanks Ruthie!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, the occasional villain is the best way to show off a hot guy, LOL!

And I agree, if you have the luxury of developing a character over several books, that's a wonderful thing.

I love series work. My brain works in a series fashion, so it's a good mode for me, and Mary's works the same way.

Except my brain likes M&M's more than hers.

But it's fun to plant characters early on and see how they develop over the course of a book or two and I would encourage everyone to do that. It's so much easier than trying to come up with a made-up sequel later if you've added some interesting characters into the first book.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sheila, furiously waving to you from upstate!!!!

Dawn Ford said...

You're pushing me here. That's a good thing. I think.

My heroine is from Iowa (isn't that reason enough to want to have a more interesting life?) Her doting father died in an accident which leaves her with a mother she never got along with. No siblings. She's rebelling.

She does argue, with the man who would save her. She has fits and is tempermental. She's mad at her friend for leaving her alone in Mexico where she got kidnapped (It's all HER fault after all). She's mad at herself because this captor's appeal is real to her. He's rich, handsome, taking the place her father had and dotes on her. But he's evil and she can sense it.

There are some redeeming qualities, she survives traipsing through the Brazillian forest to find help. Makes it through an earthquake, an invasion of the Brazilian police who try to maintain peace in the chaotic aftermath, and the spiritual stalking from the demon.

Poor girl barely gets to take a breath. I'm afraid I put her in too much danger (Mary, help me please!) which leaves her emotionally vulnerable and hopefully doesn't lose the reader as being too much.

As you can see, I don't get out much or talk these things through enough see if I'm making sense. Most people get a bit scared when I say I have demons and angels in my story.

Cindy Martin said...

Ok, I can see that I need to strengthen my boy's character quite a bit. Thank you so much. Your feedback is going to take some digesting.

Can I work on fleshing this out some and repost? Or do I need to go off the board at this point? Not 100% sure of the etiquette.

Thanks so much!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Dawn, I love the sound of this.

And yes, there is a possibility of too much danger, but it all depends on how real it is.

Case in point: If you have a gang situation in LA and opposing factions are at war, then danger is constant.

In war, danger is constant.

So if you've thrust her (by her own choice, just be careful to make her inner conflict real, not just "my mommy wasn't nice to me and never made me pancakes for breakfast" )into a fierce setting that draws on real things happening, it can work just fine.

But you need that strong internal emotional pull to draw the reader in unless your subject matter and speed (think Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code) draws the reader to the action.

REAL is the operative word here. Like Mary said (and I'm ALREADY TIRED of quoting her, the smarty-pants, and it's only 3:14 Eastern time) you need to stay true to the person they are and work within that parameter. They can stretch and grow, but keep it based in reality.

Mary Connealy said...

NOBODY'S brain likes M & M's more than mine.

I have actually documentation verifying that. Notarized. Available upon request.
There will be candy coating on the forms, but the chocolate melted in my mouth, not on my hand.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cindy, you're so doggoned cute.


Our etiquette is we like to help people like we were helped, so you're fine. And you can always e-mail me at and chat it up some more, but yeah, I'd have some fun with that boy and that girl.

And do not be discouraged. It's fun to begin at the beginning, to see where our stories work and don't work, what needs tweaking, what doesn't.

And nobody has to ever go 'off' here. We're here to help and you're always welcome.

We do like food though, so if you've a mind to bake something, that would be nice, dear.

I've got homemade melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies here to share. I missed lunch, sorry, hope you all caught something on your own, but the LDR CHAR PIT, down in Charlotte (the sector of Rochester NY along the beach of Lake Ontario) is catering supper.

Burgers to die for.

French fries.

Homemade onion rings by my friend Patty.

Real ice cream milkshakes. Oh, so good!

Hot dogs, loaded.

Beef on Weck sandwiches.

Call in your order, Patty and the gang will take good care of you when you get hungry. For now, snack on cookies and milk, tea, or coffee.

I need coffee.

Mary Connealy said...

I kinda lost track of what Dawn was saying at 'she was seduced by a demon'

My M & M soaked brain just had a... uh .... let's call it a FIELD DAY with that image.

Dawn Ford said...

Ruth & Mary,
Thank you!!

I promise to leave you alone now. At least until after Indy. :)

Cindy Martin said...

Hmm… Maybe I’m writing a YA novel and don’t know it. (Don’t laugh! I know I should know that…)

Part of the dynamic between Lucy (the girlfriend) and Pete is that Lucy has found a lump in her breast shortly after Pete has convinced her to have sex. My characters are relatively young – early 20’s. She thinks she is being “punished” by God and blames Pete.

Pete’s mom was a pretty strict disciplinarian, big on the whole “fear of God” theory – mostly out of fear for her boys (Pete has a younger over-achieving brother). She knows what the world is like and wants to protect them, as any mother does. But, she’s wound a little tight about it. She has had to be strict, strong, disciplined. Pete’s father died when he was only 3 and the younger brother was 2 years old. She has educated herself and made a way for her sons and she did it through sheer force of will.

So here you have Pete. Twenty-three years old, hacked off at the world. Girlfriend has breast cancer, believes it’s his fault. Over-achieving younger brother, already has his degree and teaching, married, baby on the way – he’s the “golden boy”. Pete, after all, just plays a game for a living.

I don’t know that I have him so much “led astray” by Brant as much as ambivalent to what’s going on around him. It’s only over a series of a couple of weeks – and he has a huge amount of inner-conflict over it – should he speak up? Call Brant on the way he treats women? Pete’s moment of realization comes one night after leaving a young girl at an event in Brant’s company, only to find out that Brant has abused her when she refuses him. Pete confronts Brant at practice the next day – beats the snot out of him. And comes to the realization that he abandoned this young girl much the say way he abandoned Lucy in her time of need.

I know, it’s a hot mess. But, I’m so madly in love with Pete and Lucy. I can’t give up on them now – those crazy kids!

As for baking, I’m all in. How about some cinnamon chip scones? I have a fantastic recipe that goes wonderfully well with a great cup of hot tea!

Marilyn Brant said...

To quote Ruthy: "Oh my stars!" And, yes, that Francisco guy *is* seriously adorable!! I may finally start watching baseball... ;)

I love your rainbow metaphor and all the wonderful thoughts on creating strong character arcs. You know I LOVED Winter's End and thought those characters were fabulously well drawn.

HUGE CONGRATS on Made to Order Family!!!! Really looking forward to reading it! :)

Rose said...

Made to Order Family...That's the ONE I bought last weekend!!!!

I like the rainbow/arc idea for those sagging middles. I try to hold something back or hint at something then "drop the bomb" so to speak in the middle of the story to keep it interesting.

Do not enter me in the drawing because again I BOUGHT THAT BOOK!!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, oh, oh.....

I just found out the title of my September 2011 release with Steeple Hill, an absolutely beautiful story of post-traumatic stress because WHY ON EARTH would I just have fun with a book????

Mended Hearts, Steeple Hill Love Inspired, September, 2011

Let me just say: I love this story enough to write it and while it's an honor, it is not easy.

And that's all I'm sayin'.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kav, your heroine is the same prototype as Kayla, and you sound like you're doing fine with it.

Sagging parts that can't be helped by a better bra...

Now that's a problem.

I think what that might need (sight unseen) is to make those in between parts emotional. Either make 'em laugh, make 'em cry or tick 'em off, but get in their heads and let emotion drive the actions. For those parts (as long as the story is moving forward emotionally) it's not as big a matter of WHAT they do, but WHY and HOW.

So if she's dying to be accepted into a local women's book club that has exclusive membership, have her imagine the request, the meetings, being smart, looking the part, having imaginary conversations, waiting for the formal request to come in the mail or by phone or a visit from a committee...

And then...

And then........

She refuses. Politely. Her inner self tells her she doesn't need to be something she's not because of how much she already is.

Those growth moments take characters up the north slope of the rainbow and they can be big or small moments, God-moments, self examination or self-revelation.

Sometimes it's those brief, poignant scenes that wrap a reader's heart around a story, that bind them to your characters.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary's lost in seduced by a demon, whereas I (being more mature and self-affirmed) am busily helping wonderful readers/writers achieve their dreams.

But I was lovin' the seduced by a demon thing, too, and think that speculative fiction is going to have a great future at some time and everyone will say: "Oh, where did that come from????"


Cindy W. said...

Ruthy, I just want to thank you for your superb teaching. I always feel like I attended class when I come to Seekerville. I'll have to pass on the coffee's almost my bedtime. But I'll fill up in the morning.

Have a blessed week!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.


Kav said...

Ruthy, does your brain hurt from working so hard today? Thanks so much for giving your time and energy and encouragement! It's amazing how things click just reading your brainstorming. :-)

And Heart Mends sounds fantastic!!!! I can't wait until February (which is when I think it's due out)!!!!!

Pepper Basham said...

I liked Marc - but I REALLY liked Brooks.
And I've missed so much fun - but I just got in from work and will have to think through WHICH character to ask you about.
There are so many heroes of mine who need a good dose of Ruthy-meds. Seriously.
Especially since I've known one of them for 7 years and might be a little tooo close to the situation ;-)

Mary Connealy said...

Mended Hearts.
That's beautiful, Ruthy.

I can't wait!!!!

Pepper Basham said...

Ruthy likes quirky characters.
Wonder why? ;-)

I agree with Mary on the new title, Ruthy. Lovely.

My hero is my heroine's best friend. He doesn't have a strong commitment to God - even though he was raised by a Godly father.
His mother abandoned the family when he was 15 years old.

12 years later, after his younger brother was presumed dead from a ship sinking, Sam's mother returns. Reformed. Wanting a fresh start and forgiveness, but the hero isn't willing to give it.

Women cannot be trusted. But he watches his father slowly allow his mother back into his life and heart, offering full forgiveness - and though Sam says that it's his father's weakness, inside he's stunned by his father's ability to offer his unfaithful mother a second chance. Showing God's grace to her.

Later in the story, Sam is faced with the same dilemma. The woman he loves had lied to him because she was afraid to face her own past - and now, after her apology, Sam has to figure out if he can forgive her. If He understands the grace he'd seen his father share.

Anyway - there ya go. Not sure if it's what you're lookin' for.

Cynthia said...

Great article. Thanks. I've stopped working on one story because I'm stuck exactly in the middle. I have the beginning and ending done--it's the middle I don't like a lot. My heroine lost her husband and baby in a car accident a year ago and is dealing with her bitterness against God. She also has to deal with her best friend becoming pregnant. I'm stuck on a natural transition of her going back to God, overcoming guilty feelings of being the sole survivor, and admitting her true feelings for the hero. I should pray more about it. :)
Thanks for having the book drawing.
cynthiakchow (at) earthlink (dot) net

Anonymous said...

I have not read any of your books, but am very anxious to so please enter me in the drawing! I enjoy your posts (and your comments to readers)!!! Thanks!!
jackie.smithATdishmailDOT net

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, my buddy Marilyn Brant whose book "According to Jane" I loved right back!

Waving to you, kiddo! And I'm totally honored that you loved Winter's End. Seriously.

Huge thank yous, and glad you agree on Francisco. Yum. ;)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cindy, there's nothing wrong with writing a YA novel, right? (And I'm not always right on this stuff, Mary will ASSURE you of that, so would Teeeeeeena but she's working right now) If you go for an adult novel, I'd suggest raising their ages a bit.

But if you decide you like the idea of the YA novel (and they're clamoring for good YA novelists right now, and about time, too!) then proceeding that way keeps a lot of what you've got intact.

Remember that keeping your hero/heroine in the foreground is huge. Write THEIR story and augment it with bits and pieces. Make them real. Deep. Give reasons for their actions or have those reasons reflect the characters' personality, their profile. Then the reader is drawn to the character because he's guy-next-door cool or girl-next-door pretty.

Your story idea is a great beginning, so imagine building a sundae. You've got great home-made ice cream as the base, now you want to layer on all the toppings and the best toppings slither and slide throughout the sundae, swirling through the ice cream eventually, so you can't remove one without some of the other.

That's how a book should feel. Amalgamated, not constructed.

Do I get extra M&Ms for using the word amalgamated. Cause I think I should!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Rose, my buddy, THANK YOU for buying Made to Order Family!

Hugs to you, girlfriend!

And let me know what you think, seriously. I'm tough. I can take it.


But of course what I hope is that you'll LOVE it and then send me cyber hugs.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cindy W., you're welcome, kiddo. We aim to please.

And I'm making fresh coffee for the morning, of course.

We all figured out after I wigged out in Orlando that coffee is fundamental and needs to be good.

Not pricey.

Just good.

Hugs to you, my dear girl!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kav, I hope that helped. I love brainstorming and not because the answers drop out of the air, but it gets my brain going down different tracks and THAT'S my ticket to finding out what I need to have happen.

We tend to get stuck in what we 'see' in our heads and diverging from that is hard sometimes until someone tweaks my brain, or I hear a bit of music, or see a situation and it melds inside my head. Along with everything else, including the strange people, who live inside my head.

It's a crowded venue.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Did you guys note that Mary was VERY NICE about the title????

I think this is my first book that Mary didn't name, or close anyhow.

Thanks, sweetums. I'm going to miss you guys next week.

Sniff. Sniff.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pepster, Sam's journey reflects Marc's in a lot of ways so OF COURSE I think you're right on track.

Grinning here.

And you and I have had the pleasure of working together, so I've seen some of this delightful tale. Rather, I've red-lined this delightful tale...

And you were brave enough to let me, LOL!

Silly girl.

You've got several factions going on in this book and I think what it might need is paring. Pull out the old knife and slice at will.

Mind you, I am known to be WRONG, but I think you might have a couple of extra story elements going on that weaken the hero and heroine's plot lines. Extra story (family sagas, sweeping sagas, HUGE Sara Donati, Julie Lessman or James Michener type books) have room for exploration, but for most purposes, romances should be about the romance. It can be longer, but the crux of the story should be their story.

A long historical allows you more room, but I think this story is kind of caught between the long historical and the slightly shorter one, but your writing is strong enough to slice and dice as needed.

That was the hardest lesson I learned, but I'm going to promise you, learning how to pack a punch at a lower word count was the best gift God could have given a new writer.

It's easy for me to punch up a story at 90K.

60K was MUCH TOUGHER. I had to learn to arc more quickly, push that couple up that north face of the rainbow, but not seem like I was pushing them along. And then before you know it, they're sliding toward the end and I'd be scratching my head saying, "But... but.... but..."

In the end, it's been the best lesson learned because I'm not afraid to make every sentence, every word count, but I need those words to mount the emotions even as I trim.

Great lesson. Super great in fact. It's amazing how much stuff I found I DIDN'T need to tell the North Country stories once I wrapped my head around slice-and-dice.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jackie, you're in, sweet thaaang!

And thank you, honey, for stopping in today.

And posting, you brave soul!

Grinning in upstate!

Pepper Basham said...

Thanks, Ruthy.
(though I don't mind being compared to Julie Lessman ;-)

or you -for that matter.

Quick question:
Would it make a difference if the story is a women's fiction instead of a romance, or am I just really confused. (which is quite possible ;-)

Cindy Martin said...

Thank you again, Ruthy, (can I call you Ruthy? :)) for taking so much time and putting so much thought into your responses.

Once I got deeper into my story, I began to feel like I was starting in the wrong place - but I had put so much into it - I couldn't seem to stop myself. I'm hard headed and sometimes have to go all the way around the block when turning left would have gotten me there faster. But, I always get there and usually on time.

Thank you again to all here for creating a safe place to learn and grow.

barbjan10 said...

Hello Ruth, You make a lot of good sense in your writing on this blog. I'm interested in hearing and learning more. I'm new to this business of writing, and at my late age, I need plenty of good advice and tutoring to learn how to get started. I have plenty to write about, it's deciding on which story and how to write it that is baffling. I liked your rainbow analagy and you do make it seem more simplistic than I've been imagining, Where else can I find you?

Your "Made to Order Family" is very appealing to a way, I have one of those! I'd love to see if your family is like mine.

Thanks for urging me to share.

Sharing God's Love,
Barb Shelton
barbjan10 at tx dot rr dot com

Anonymous said...

Hello! Thanks for the link Ruth! I haven't read all the comments yet but I'm reading a Love Inspired now that has a hero who was a total jerk in the previous book and I'm already feeling sorry for the poor guy. Bride in Training by Gail Martin. He's the brother of the hero in the last book and it's been a while so maybe my near-hatred for the guy (ok actually DID hate him but didn't wanna admit that on a christian blog)! but he's softened some in this book.

I've all 3 of Ruth's and liked them all. I remember thinking the hero was so mean to her in Winter's End but boy the one in that Storm book was something else treating her like garbage just because her family was bad. She hadn't done anything to deserve that and thank goodness he knocked it off once he realized that!
I like the characters to be real though I've never cried as much in a Love Inspired as I did these 3. Just finished another good one yesterday by an author in this line I like - Winnie Griggs' The Heart's Song Ithink was the title but I wanted to see a bit more of how the hero came back to God..he was so angry with Him then suddenly everything was hunky dory but I guess for him that's how it was! *shrugs*
I've gotta try ya'll's books that have been published..I've read a couple of MaryConnealy's - Petticoat Ranch and Nosy in Nebraska that had 3 storiesand liked them both but haven't gotten to the others many books in mt. tbr!
I also have The Gladiator in my tbr so will have to move it on up - I'd heard it's excellent. don't have that other book though and it sounds good too!