Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Best of Seekerville from the Archives and First Five Pages Critique

Looking Beneath the Surface: Things Aren't Always What They Seem
by Missy Tippens

Missy, here. Don’t you just love this photo? I took it this summer after dropping my daughter off at horse riding camp. Each day that I drove her out into the country to the farm, I would admire the pastoral setting. It relaxed me. And each morning I would roll down my windows and enjoy the fresh air, the quaint duck pond.

So about the third day of camp, I stopped and took this photo with my cell phone. When I picked up my daughter that afternoon, I told her I got the photo. Well, she just died laughing. “What?” I asked, figuring that she was embarrassed (once again) by mom doing something so silly as stopping in the middle of road to snap a photo of some person’s yard.

Then she (with way too much enjoyment) informed me the ducks weren’t real. That they hadn’t moved all week.


So the next day, I slowed the car and took a good look. And yes, sure enough, those stupid ducks didn’t move at all. :) Oh, boy. This mom felt silly. That relaxed, peaceful feeling zipped right out my rolled-down windows, and my peals of laughter rang across the water.

This beautiful, peaceful setting looked good on the outside…but had no real substance.

Kind of like story characters can do if we’re not careful.

So, you have your photos of just what your characters are going to look like…red hair, blue eyes, freckles. And you know her favorite food is pizza. She may even have a quirky habit or two. You know her job. You know where she lives. And you maybe know a bit about her family. You may have even filled out a big ol’ character chart with a gazillion questions.

But do you know enough about your characters to know what choices they’ll make that lead them to the big black moment of the story? Do you know what their character arcs will look like? We have to dig really deep—deeper than hair color, jobs, sibling order, family of origin.

One of the best workshops I ever attended was at Moonlight & Magnolias, and I think I also attended again at RWA National. It was taught by Debra Dixon and titled Climbing the Slippery Slope. Deb’s focus was on how everything we put in the story builds toward that big black moment (BBM).

And I think to do that, we need to know two big things. First, what’s the hero/heroine’s biggest fear? And second, what does he/she long for? Show it fairly early in the story, then show him gradually moving toward security (working through his fears), risking reaching for that longing or dream. But then bam, in the BBM he’s hit with what he fears most. In His Forever Love, my hero’s biggest fear was that he wouldn’t fit in (like he didn’t fit in as a child and teen). He longs for family and to have a place to belong.

He starts off in the story feeling like an outsider but gradually (through scenes where I show small steps) starts to feel like maybe he has a place in the affections of the heroine. He hopes to have his Granny move to live with him, to finally have family nearby. And he starts to dream of the heroine coming to live in his world and being a part of his life with him.

So with a guy like that, what’s his BBM going to be? When he declares his love, is she going to say, no, sorry, you don’t make enough money? Or no, sorry, our beliefs are too different? Or nope, I’ve decided you won’t make a good father to my children? Of course not. I’ve built the story so that even though he’s fearful and scared to fall for the heroine, he finally risks it all. And what happens?


She can’t leave her family obligations—can’t leave her world, the place she fits in so well, to make a life with him. And to add to that he realizes his granny needs to stay in her own world with her new love interest and the heroine. So they all belong together…without him.

In my original ending, I planned to have my hero decide that he’s found his place to fit in, so he chooses to give up his blossoming career to stay in the small town he’s finally growing to love. But as I was nearing the end of the book, it hit me that, sure, that would be a great ending for my heroine. But for me, the story had turned into my hero’s story. For once in his life, he needed someone to choose him. So I changed the ending from how it was in my synopsis. And…spoiler alert once again…I had her give up her secure life (and I revised the story so that it was the best thing for everyone involved if she left) and to go up to Boston to tell him she’s there for him.

That’s how you climb toward the slippery slope. Set up your characters for that fall! And they’ll develop into much deeper characters. We’ll relate to them more and root for them more. They’ll grow and change and work toward earning their happy ending.

What do y’all think? What deepens character for you?

Missy Tippens’ next Love Inspired, A Family for Faith, will be out in April 2011.

This post first appeared in Seekerville August 17, 2009.

Don't forget...

Today is the last day to be considered for our weekly critique.
More info here.


  1. Coffee pot's set.

    Good reading, Missy. I need to go back through it again at a slower pace.


  2. Hi Missy,

    This was quite helpful. Seems like the repetition may be repetitious, but it's FINALLY starting to sink in. (First novels are such steep learning curves.)

    Yes please on the critique, if you wouldn't mind a little K9 spy... If not, noooo problema. I'm a children's author hanging out in a romance world but I love it. :)

  3. Missy, this struck me as much this time as the first time I read it, and from two directions:

    Things aren't always what they seem. I was at an M. C. Escher exhibit in Boston last week, and discerning what's in his work is amazing. And now what it seems.

    And second:

    Setting the scene. Sure, those ducks weren't real, but your feeling of peace was, so if we set a scene that deepens the plot to FEEL REAL, then even if we're using fake decoys it helps the reader see and feel the world we're creating.

    Love this, kiddo. And it's the weekend so I brought custard Danish, a delicious bit of wonderfulness, very old-fashioned.

    And rice and sausage casserole, another old-fashioned breakfast treat. Dig in, Helen, thanks for the coffee, LOVE YOU, and I'm going to go see what's up in Hannah and Jeff's world.


    My word veri is: SKINES

    Is that a hint from God to stay on my diet for the weekend?


    Our God doesn't hint. He commands.
    Give me some danish.

  4. This is FABulous, Missy! Great stuff!

  5. I love MC Escher. Lucky you, Ruthy.

    Just year..NYC for RWA...museums, restaurants..the town is ours.

    Anyhow I digress..Holiday Blend Java for breakfast. YUMMMMM.

    Missy, an excellent post that ages like fine wine.

    Morning, Helen, KC, Joanne!!

  6. Hi Missy:

    Having read this post twice, I just have to say this: if you had kept the first ending I would have thrown the book against the wall!

    The heroine needed to spread her wings and experience life. All the opportunity for growth was with the hero – for both her and him!

    Besides: what ever happened to the Bible?

    “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, [or] to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people [shall be] my people, and thy God my God.

    I hate to think how close you came to a very unsatisfactory ending. PTL.

    On your question: I like to deepen characters by having them experience a change in their world view. After the experience, they see things differently with greater understanding of their place in the world. (Like having the hero go to a black African country and have him experience, for the first time, what it is like to be in a true minority position. Perhaps I’d have him experience an act of discrimination.)

    In any event, I'm happy you chose the right path. (It is always wise to do as Ruth does. : ))


    P.S. I really love being put in the same heroic company as Derek Jeter! Thanks, Tina.

    vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

  7. This one is going in my "Writing Helps" file.

    I love the Archives on Saturday. It gives me an opportunity to read all this great stuff without spending all day glued to my computer mining for all these lovely nuggets.

    Thanks Tina for picking such good reruns.

  8. Hi, all! I've been away all day. We had our annual church choir retreat to practice our Christmas music. We decorate with a tree and put on Christmas music. :) Give away door prizes (ornaments). Some even wear Christmas clothes. Lots of fun. Long day but very rewarding. And now we feel better about how our music is progressing!

  9. Thanks for the coffee, Helen! I need it this afternoon. I'm freezing! (It's 61 degrees outside, but I just can't get warm enough after freezing at the retreat.)

  10. Glad you're entering for the critique, KC! We love K9's around here. :)

  11. Very interesting point, Ruthy! Those people with the "duck" pond really did set the peaceful setting.

    I've never had sausage and rice casserole. But it sounds so yummy!

  12. Vince, I'm so glad you didn't have to throw my book against the wall. :)

    And yes, we should aways listen to Ruthy--er, Ruth. ;)

    Thanks for your great suggestion for deepening characters. Nice example.

  13. I'm glad you like us doing this, Andrea. It was Tina's fantastic idea!

  14. I am totally late to the party! The coffee is cold, and all that's left of the Danish are crumbs...sigh...that will serve me right for sleeping in and messing with my morning ritual before heading off to work! This blog is new to me and chalk full of helpful information. I love reading about characters of substance so I want to write about them as well. It seems so mean to set them up for a fall though. I'll have to put my Grinch hat on when I write. :-)

  15. Wow, Missy! GREAT post! Sorry I didn't get here earlier in the day. My son had his 13th birthday this weekend and I promised him homemade steak, potatoes, salad - the works.'s been a busy day.

    What really struck me was your talk about the big black moment. Mary C. knows the BBM in my novel. It's BIG. But, what struck me was that I didn't realize I was following the the "unwritten" rule of having a BBM. It just happened.

    This is actually the second BBM in my heroine's life, but the first one happened prior to the novel. But, it's essential in helping Beth become determined to not let fear rule her life any longer. Even though she now has more reason for fear to rule, she's dealt with enough consequences of living in fear that she finds her backbone and works hard to overcome her paralizing fear - all with God's help.

    I'm really excited by this revelation (thank you very much!), because I was concerned that I was over the top with my story-line. I originally wasn't going to allow the moment to be quite so black, but when it came down to it I felt compelled to write it, that there was no way around it. It became essential to Beth learning to put her complete trust in God - trusting Him even in the blackest moments of her life.

    Great post! Thank you for sharing!
    I'm always up for a critique!
    lr. mullin at live. com


  16. Missy, I loved the ending of your book, as well. I kept thinking toward the end, "Why doesn't she just go with him? Who says HE has to be the one to move?" Too many times, it's the hero making changes for the heroine in such cases. It was a refreshing change! Thank you!!!


  17. I just returned from the Auburn - Georgia game. I'm always up for a Seekerville critique. :-)

  18. Oh, Missy, I remember this great post, which has me hankering to reread His Forever Love!! Great blog and great book, my friend!!