Friday, March 28, 2014

Your Cast of Thousands

Day 28 of Speedbo and your manuscript's cast of thousands is growing. This post idea developed from my own cast in my Love Inspired, September  2014 release, Stranded in Paradise -newly titled for publication as Stranded with the Rancher!

I write about communities and families (usually large families). That translates to lots of characters.

Of course it hadn't occurred to me that my most recent work of genius could possibly have too many characters, that is, until one of my Beta readers pointed out that he couldn't keep up the growing list of names AND the fact that half of this list was mentioned in chapter one.

What's a writer to do?  Let's talk about the tools I used to manage crowd control, so you can apply them, as needed, to your manuscripts to keep your cast manageable.

1. Chapter One Casting Call

The first chapter is the most important part of your book. So if, like me, you have a large cast be very careful to make them distinct and meaningful.

An easy technique to cut down on the numbers is to combine characters. Your secondary character Mabel can run the general store and be the postmaster. 

In my case, I deleted the two unnamed sisters and combined Elsie and Bea into one character. Three people gone.  

Secondary characters are very important in our stories, but we don't just create a cast of thousands to fill the pages. Each character must have an identified role. 

Linda Seger (Creating Unforgettable Characters) defines it this way: "A supporting character can serve several functions in a story. These include helping to define the protagonist's role, conveying the theme of the story, and helping to move the story forward."

And Dwight Swain (Techniques of the Selling Writer) says:. "Every person should contribute something: action or information that helps or harms, advances or holds back."

Give that some thought as you consider each character on your casting call list. 

2. Will the Real Hero Please Stand Up?

It should go without saying that in a romance novel, your reader should be able to tell who the hero and heroine is. Traditional romances aren't about waiting to the end to say SURPRISE, she picked bachelor number three. It's all about the developing romance. 

Be careful if one of the first characters introduced in your book is a strong character who is not the hero or heroine. Don't lead your reader astray!

Readers assign importance to your characters according to how much detail, dialogue and stage time you give them. Decide who's important and who is not and tone them down as necessary. If a secondary character is stealing the show, cut back on their time in each scene.

3. I'm Sorry. What Was Your Name?

When you name your character has a very unusual and/or formal name, the repetition can tedious. 

 For that reason I try to pick names that allow me to shorten the names and apply nick names for variety. I also use titles to vary names.

Dr. Susanna Branch becomes Sus, Suz, Suzie, Susan.  There is also the option to identify those closest to the main characters according to how they address her. Susanna  is what her mother and father call her. Dr. Branch by a colleague. She's Doc Branch or Dr. Susanna to her patients. Susanna by an acquaintance. Suz, to her friends. Suzie-Q to her boyfriend.

Cheryl St. John (Writing with Emotion, Tension & Conflict)  shares the importance of naming your characters that goes beyond picking your favorite name from the baby book on your desk. "Choose a name worthy of this character, and make the character worthy of the name." 

4. Seussing Up Your Characters

Once your reader is in your story, your goal is to pull them out as few times as possible. In fact, your ultimate goal is for them to stay up all night, losing sleep reading your book. 

One of the easiest ways to pull a reader out of a book is character name confusion.

Consider these characters:

 Billy, the hero, and his BFF Freddy and the heroine Cassie and her little girl Suzy.

 Or the bride Ann and the groom Dan and his best man Stan. 

How about a cast consisting of Mary, Michael, Maureen and Mitch.

Then there is Anna-Marie Trifiligetti and her college roommate, Gina Spaganogellani.

Or the villians, Al, Phil and Gil.

Unless you're Dr. Seuss, don't do it.

 5. I Remember You
Characterization consists of the qualities and traits that make up an individual character.

Dwight Swain (Creating Characters) breaks down characterization into the following.

"Appearance, ability, speech, mannerisms and attitude"

But when most of us are first learning the craft, we tend to rely on dialogue (speech) and a cliched description of appearance to impart characterization.

It's only when we learn how to peel the onion that our characters become three dimensional, and MEMORABLE.

Thoughts on characterization:

"Don't tell us who your characters are. Show us."-Self-editing for Fiction Writers-Brown and King.

 "Bring your character onto the stage and let the reader see who she is and how she feels by how she acts when alone and with others, not by what she says or thinks." (How to tell a Story-Rubie and Provost.)
Think about one of your favorite characters from a book who is brought to life in a movie. We know those characters inside in out. We identified with them. Gary Provost (Make Your Words Work) says "identification is why we read." That shared identity.

When we read books where the author skillfully enables us to become those characters, we know their appearance, abilities, speech, and attitude. We also know their motivations.

Lawrence Block puts it this way "Characters are most effective when they are so drawn that the author can identify with them, sympathize with them, care about them, and enjoy their company." (Writing the Novel)

Consider Stephanie Plum,the protagonist of Janet Evanovich's twenty-some books. Her readers know Stephanie inside and out, thanks to the author's great job of characterization. Additionally, readers relate to Stephanie Plum because the shared identity is an underdog-she's divorced from a jerk and down-on-her-luck. Don't you want to do lunch with Stephanie and Grandma Mazur? I do.

The reader also instinctively knows Kathryn Heigl is in no way Stephanie Plum. Right? I think we all can agree that Sandra Bullock (pre-botox) would have been a great Stephanie Plum.

 “In spite of all the sparring that went on between us, I sort of liked Morelli. Good judgment told me to stand clear of him, but then I've never been a slave to good judgment.”
― Janet Evanovich (Two for the Dough ).

 6. Cast Party!

A few words of caution about group scenes. (Especially with families where everyone has the same last name and there is a Joe Sr. and Joe Jr. and Little Joe.)

Decide who really needs to be in the scene. Then then kick I mean, remove, as many people as you can out of the kitchen before you begin the group discussion. If they all must stay, then decide who will contribute dialogue that will move the plot forward. The rest of the characters can fade into other activities, like washing the dishes.

Use dialogue tags often, but don't create 'he said/she said' ping-pong conversations. Vary how you start your sentences.

Additionally, use but don't abuse interruptions (Em-dash and not hyphen. See Chicago Manual of Style usage here) and trailing sentences (ellipses). 

They too irritate the reader! 

Questions? What annoys you about a cast of thousands? Please do share a little about your current cast today!

One commenter will receive a digital copy of one of the following books referenced here today. Winner's Choice. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition

And I have a surpise book to send to one reader. Speak up!

"Writers, good ones, don't tell stories. Characters show stories. " 
-Fiction is Folks-Robert Newton Peck.

Tina Radcliffe is a character. She lives in Arizona and writes inspirational romance for Harlequin Love Inspired and romantic comedy as Tina Russo. 

She's teaching Self-Editing for Beginners in the April Night Classes in Seekerville. Sign up now!


We WILL be interrupting our regularly scheduled comments to Snoopy Dance for the Stage 2 Killer Voice finalists.

 On Friday, March 28, starting at 9 a.m. Eastern time the Love Inspired editors will be announcing the 75 authors who will be moving on to Stage 2 of The Search for a Killer Voice. They will announce one team, consisting of 15 authors, per hour here.


  1. Tina, the more you write about the family, the more I get to love them. But I don't think I can keep a cast of thousands, straight either. So, I'm hoping your series is about a family. I enjoy revisiting them! (Oh, yes, I'm supposed to tell you I'm a reader, right?)
    Oh, and I found a Tim Hortons coffee today at Arena in Glendale!

  2. Tim Horton's!~ The toast of Western New York.

    What is Arena??

  3. Tina, I love your post. there is so much to learn. I have been enjoying this learning process.

    I am now up to 19,333.

    Thank you for all the encouragement.

    I do get confused if a story has too many characters.

  4. TINA, this is such a good post. I sometimes wonder if I've introduced too many characters in the first chapter of my WIP. Since we as writers are very familiar with our characters, I think we often assume that readers will be able to keep up with them as easily as we can. :)

  5. Exactly, Jennifer. Hope the post helps.

    It helped me, lol.

  6. Just coming up for air--and guess what. I just made my Speedbo goal!!!!! I have three chapters and an outline of my new project. With time to spare!!!

    And I got cover art for my second book today.

    There's extra coffee for those who are pushing toward the finish line.

  7. One thing I really dislike as a reader is being introduced to way too many people, way to early in the book. I read a book a few years ago that introduces about twelve people withing the first ten pages and I was lost as to who was who. My own WIP right now has about five characters that are highly involved with the story with of course lesser characters coming in and out. My names are Daniel, Sarah, Jason, Margaret,and Tom.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  8. LOL -- don't unless you're Dr. Seuss. LOL. Love that. I read a suspense a while ago where one minion bad guy and one minion good guy had rhyming last names -- only the first letter was different. Every time I read a name I was like, wait -- is he the bad one or the good one? It pulled me out of the story every time. Really surprised that got passed an editor.

    I think I have the opposite problem though -- instead of a cast of thousands, I only have a few which can be a problem too. Might have to add some people in the edits.

    This is great advice, Tina. Thanks!

    HELEN -- cheering for you up here in the frozen wasteland! Hip Hip Hooray!

  9. Tina IS a character!!!!

    Oh, that is beyond truth, that's like Ultimate Truism

    And so fun!!!!

    I love creating characters, I love the Campbell family of Kirkwood Lake, big, brawny blonde men who are now matched up with Mexican and Italian wives....


    But my daughter developed name charts for me to track my name usage because I'm a dolt and I use the same names multiple times. Presently I'm carrying on a long-standing love affair with the letters "M" and "J" for naming characters.


    Hence the good effect of a beta reader!!!!

    Family saga with a happy ending. I love it. Families are redeemable, romance is CLUTCH.


  10. Wilani!!!! Good for you!!!! Hooray!!!!!

  11. Great post, TINA! Excellent points to not overwhelm your readers with too many faces and personalities, especially in those opening chapters when you want them to identify with your hero and heroine.

    I always find it challenging to write scenes with more than two people, because you end up with multiple "she" or "he"--trying to keep them clear for the reader without overusing their names can be quite a task!

    If by necessity I have to have my hero and heroine planted in a scene with quite a few others (say a large family, work, church or other social situation), I try to "isolate" them in conversation with only one or two others at a time rather four or five or six people chiming in all together--even though I know that's often how it is in real life.

    It's helpful for me, too, to have introduced characters one at a time, sprinkled throughout the story, before they MUST come all together in a scene. That way they're already "locked" in the reader's mind as individuals.

    Great info, Tina! Definitely a keeper!

  12. Tina,

    Love the post and graphics!

  13. Tina, good post! And yeah, it's easy to get lost in a cast of thousands. :-)

    It really bothers me when I have to keep going back and rereading to remind myself who's who in the story.

    Names that sound alike and start with the same letter are real story stoppers—well, maybe not stoppers, but speed bumps for sure.:-)

  14. I'm with Mary Hicks, the names that start w/the same letter are so confusing.

    My first book, I had Lance, Lauren, Lindsey, Josh and Joey. The heroine's mom and sister were Contessa and Collette. I hadn't done it on purpose.

  15. Tina
    Thank you for quoting from all the great reference material. This post is another keeper! With my speedbo, I have several naming issues with two important characters. As father and son, they share both the first and last name. I stumble around trying to untangle these two men using some of the techniques mentioned. I nicknamed the hero, giving him a shorter version of the same name, and identify the father with expressions like 'the elder Gracey' or 'his father'. However, when they are in a scene together, 'tis tricky indeed not to confuse them.

    Would love to have any of those great books!

  16. Great post, Tina. I'm so close to the end, I'd hoped to finish today, but it'll probably be tomorrow.

    I don't like a whole lot of characters in a scene when I write, especially in the beginning of my story.

    Thanks for a great month!

  17. Team Elizabeth: 9 a.m.
    Mary L. Ball –Voices of Suspicion
    Kathryn Barker—Catch a Falling Angel
    Lynn Huggins Blackburn—Need To Know
    Lillian Duncan—Game On
    Leigh Herren—If Walls Could Talk
    Rhoda C. Hill—Glorified Manor
    Megan Kellett—Strangled Love
    Dena Marie Lopez—Deadly Homecoming
    Dana R. Lynn—Oblivion
    Jenna Night—A Sentry by Her Side
    Mary Ellen Porter—The Last Find
    Shirley Riggins—Trade Winds of Love
    Patricia H. Rushford—Deadly Deception
    Lucy Sawyer—Deadly Secrets
    Karen Sims—Terror in the Ozarks

  18. Congrats to our very own Kathryn Barker.

  19. i'm not good following a large cast. i end up backing up a few pages to double check identities if i get confused. but i do so love big family casts in books. they bring added dimension to the hero or heroine. the advice this in the post will be quite helpful to me in the future.

    there will be no snoopy dancing for me re:Killer Voice entry. after reading a nice email from the editors laying out what deep-sixed pages not making the cut, i took another gander at mine. bleah. first on their list was front and center my entry.

    too bad i can't get a mulligan and let them see my new and improved first page. but i will be snoopy dancing for the others from Seekerville who entered. i'm quite sure there will be a few who make the cut.

    (woulda - coulda - shoulda brow beating myself for not applying wisdom learnt here better)

  20. Dwight Swain was right. He was always right.

  21. Congrats to everybody who made Team Elizabeth!

  22. oh and p.s.
    i like the graphics you have for the post. where did you get them? pretty cool.

  23. DebH, here's the thing. You can revise your manuscript and submit through regular channels. Killer Voice is not the only way.

    And with LI you can sub via email.


  24. Dwight was an Okie. OKIES ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.

  25. "It's helpful for me, too, to have introduced characters one at a time, sprinkled throughout the story, before they MUST come all together in a scene. That way they're already "locked" in the reader's mind as individuals."

    Another great idea, Glynna.

  26. See? I knew Seeker villagers would make it.

    Yay, Kathryn!!!! Love the working title.

  27. Helpful post, Tina. I have faced the "cast of thousands" many times. When I was writing "Trail," my Oregon Trail story, I could have gone nuts and I think I initially did before trimming back to make sure every secondary or minor character had a reason for being in a scene. Just having them for comic relief is neither funny nor relieving.
    I am struggling with the same issue in the sequel, "Town," which takes place in the Oregon Country town where some of them settle. The first scene is a crowd scene. On the gentle advice of my crit group, I scaled back on the introduction of characters and am gradually working them in.
    I'm doing okay on my Speedbo. I'm finishing the draft of the book I started in NANO, and have amassed 9,900 words. I need to write two more chapters. May not get it done by Monday, but it won't be long after. It's in pretty rough shape, but at least I'll have a book under my belt.

  28. I'm breaking the rules and bringing in carbs today.

    Cheese Danish and fruit are ready to go. Help yourself.

    It's FRIDAY!!!!!

  29. I see I am not the only one with CAST issues.

    But as the director, writers have the final say.

  30. Very helpful post, Tina! I just read a book last night that frustrated me because the H/H simply didn't have enough time alone together. How are they supposed to fall in love if other people are constantly in the way? Needless to say, I skipped pages to get to the end.
    These are some great tips. I'm working on the 7th book in my family-oriented series, and it's difficult sometimes to keep them all from popping into the story. I try to feature the next book's hero or heroine so that readers will get to know that character a bit more and look forward to reading their story.

  31. thanks TINA.

    i knew that. it's what is keeping me from extreme flagellation. well, that and how great you ladies at Seekerville are.

  32. Good point, Karen! Looking forward to that next release!

  33. Step away from the wet noodles, Deb H.

  34. aww, do i hafta? the angel hair pasta was working so well... ;)

    thanks again Tina, you rock.

  35. Ah, "cast of thousands," a subject I am most familiar with, not only in my own life (one of 13 kids), but in my books (the O'Connor saga has no less than 15 main/subordinate characters).

    I LOVE rounding out a book with flesh-and-blood characters who have lots of color and quirk, but I ran into a problem on my later O'Connor books with this.

    Although each subsequent book in this family saga was a continuing story about a hero/heroine within a large family, I also had to write each as a stand-alone because obviously it would be the first book some readers would ever read of mine.

    Consequently, I started introducing my cast of 1000s in the first chapter since I needed to flesh them all out quickly to retain the family feel I love. My editor would go nuts with all the names and quickly had me trim down the names in the first chapter or two, telling me to sow them in more gradually, just like Cindy W. and Glynna said.

    One regret I have with my O'Connor family saga is that I wish I had included a family/name chart at the beginning of the book like Cindy Woodsmall does.

    Great post, Teenster!


  36. Family charts only work if you are Nora Roberts or Julie Lessman. Yes. We do need a score card in those cases.


  37. Team Emily K.: 10 a.m.
    Liza Brandt—In the Line of Duty
    Annie Wright Burnett—Deadly Assignment
    Karen Cogan—An Unlikely Duo
    Karen Collier—An Eye for an Eye
    Jim Cook—Z-a-z-z-y Spells Murder
    Nancy J. Farrier—Hide and Seek
    Denise Frazier—Mountaintop Danger
    Jessica Hayes—Tempestuous Love
    Delia Latham—The Cottage Caper
    Barbara Lukow—Sinister Legacy
    Janelle Mowery—Found Hidden
    Connie Queen—Killer at Kiddie Kampus
    Marilynn Rockelman—Nine-One
    Marina Teller—The Inheritance
    Anna Zogg—Flying Blind

  38. Connie Queen! Annie Wright Burnett and Nancy Farrier. Did I miss anyone? WOOT!!!!

  39. Yay, Kathryn!!

    And I also know Lynn Blackburn. So exciting!

  40. Oh, YAY!! Look at the next list of those moving on in the Killer Voice! Very exciting for all of you!

  41. Tina, I loved this post! Such good reminders about letting the characters reveal who they are.

    And I also love the idea of getting extra people out of group dialogue before it starts (sending them off to wash dishes or whatever). Great advice and something I've never thought of!


    Angela Arndt—One for Sorrow
    Rebecca Ashby—Hijacked
    Lorelei Bedford—Desperate Measures
    Laurel Blount—Reckless Endangerment
    Amara Brooks—Capsized
    Allyson Carter—Against All Odds
    Meghan Carver—The Lawyer’s Last Hope
    Mary Curry—Christmas in Hiding
    Lauryn Eason—Betrayal
    Joanne Graves—Blue Creek Protector
    Caitlin Hemphill—Flirting with Danger
    Michelle Karl—Iced
    Jennifer Laird—Lavender Skies
    Shawna Mumert—The Ties that Bind
    Jenna Victoria—Heirloom Secrets

  43. Congrats to these fabulous authors as well!! Emily Rodmell is my editor and is wonderful!

  44. Yay Mary Curry!!! Seekerville's intrepid RWA reporter!!! Congrats to Connie and Katheryn as well. Woot!

  45. What a great lesson, Tina! I'm doing my final read-through on a book today, so I'm going to pay attention to the good points you made.

    I realized about 2/3 of the way through this current book that I had a Will, a William (though he is dead) and a walk-on Willie. Now Will is not a word you can simply find and replace (!) so I went through the whole process of searching to rename this fella.

    And then I debated about the name of a young female character, because I was never satisfied with it, but decided to wait until the book was finished. Finally at the end, I tried to choose another name, but by then I was invested, so her name stayed. She's Jane.

    The names I do love are the two sisters in my story. Ruby is fiery and impulsive. Pearl was gentle and mild-mannered. My working title is Song of Home for HH.

    I am honored and excited that you're giving away a copy of my book today! THANK YOU! xoxo

  46. When reading the part about combining characters, I immediately thought of Ramon from The Proposal. Hilarious and he just KEPT showing up in all these various roles.

    Okay, a little over the top, but it was funny and then after awhile, you just waited for him to pop up again.

    And, then you mentioned Sandra Bullock at the end. GMTA.

  47. I recently read a book with the hero and heroine and a sibling of one of them all with names starting with the same letter. All same length names.

    It drove me crazy. I was so confused in the first chapter trying to remember who was who.

  48. I agree with everything in this post. Haha. Nothing is so annoying as forgetting who a character is. Also, I don't like when characters have strange names that I don't know how to pronounce. I usually rename them in my head.

  49. Can the editors in the Killer Voices contest steal an author? That would be cool! :)

  50. Tina, thanks for the excellent in-depth look at managing our characters effectively and tips for getting it done.

    I've been guilty of giving characters names that start with the same letter or even repeating secondary names from another book.

    I've heard that a secondary character should make three appearances that are important to the plot or they should be cut. I used to believe that secondary characters were just there to ease tension or up the humor. But that's not reason enough for them to exist.

    I love and need the reminder that characters act. Showing them by their actions is far more powerful than telling the reader via the character's thoughts.


  51. Congrats to those on the list of Killer Voices!! This is such a fabulous opportunity!


  52. I love the point by point advice for thinning the crowd and making characters memorable. Please enter my name in a great drawing for books. Hope to finish Speedo strong after having the flu for 3days. Looking forward to Tina's class on Monday.

  53. TEAM GISELLE 12:00:

    Jodi Anderson—Unraveled
    Victoria Austin—Fire on the Mountain
    Sybil Bates McCormack—Grave Injustice
    Sadie & Sophie Cuff—The Favor
    Rachel Delane—Jungle of Secrets
    Victoria Ellis—Security Breach
    Nicole Fabre—Delivery Deception
    Louise Foster—The Prosecutor’s Dilemma
    Autumn Macarthur—Nowhere to Run
    Alice Myers—Innocent
    Lorraine Nelson—Her Cowboy Protector
    Anne Marie Phillips—Survival Camp
    Anne Prado—Fatal Profile
    Janet Rockney—Caught in Pursuit
    JoJo Sutis—Assumption of Guilt

  54. Congrats to this next batch! One more to go!

  55. Woo Hoo! Look at all those familiar names in the Killer Voice teams!!!!

    Congratulations to all :)


  57. Meghan Carver, Mary Curry, Jenna Victoria!!! YIPPIIEEE!

  58. Sybil Bates McCormick!

    Anyone I missed???

  59. Cheryl! Wow, search by hand to replace is no fun!!!!


  60. "I've heard that a secondary character should make three appearances that are important to the plot or they should be cut. "

    Janet, this is a great way to remember it.

  61. I love this post, Tina!

    In my current WIP, I have way too many walk-on characters.


    Job #1 when I start revising is killing some of them off.

    Names can be a bear, especially when you write Amish fiction. There are a limited number of last names in the Amish community. Then there's an additional challenge in that during the Great Schism (second half of the 19th century), whole families went to the Amish Mennonite church, while others stayed Old Order Amish. And then there's an added glitch because sometimes the families split - and sometimes they changed the spelling of the name and sometimes they didn't.

    So one name can be spelled several different ways: Hostetler, Hochstetler, Hochstettler, Hochstedler.... It's enough to drive a writer crazy.

    And the similarly named families often live in the same community!

    The poor reader!

    When you add in the fact that many Amish name their children from the end up without a lot of variety.

    No wonder all the Amish stories end up sounding the same - the authors are working off of a very small list of names.

    Thanks again, Tina!

  62. Oh my stars, happy dancing for all the finalists on the #KILLER VOICES teams!!!!!

    What a fun and crazy roller coaster ride this is!!!!

    So happy for youse!

    Waiting for Shana Asaro's list at 1:00 Eastern time.... CHEERING!!!!

  63. Well, I didn't know that about Amish first names and last names, Jan.

  64. Wow, tons of great advice and things for me to watch for in books that I read. I recently read one where I couldn't figure out who the main character was- it was kind of like the show West Wing- switching between viewpoints often and no one character is dominant. It confused me at first but then I got used to the style once I realized what the author was doing.

    Put me in for the surprise book for the readers! Thanks!!!

  65. Hi Tina! Fun post. I personally LOVE picking names for my characters, and had so much fun picking them when I wrote my first MS that featured a set of sextuplets (they are all mentioned by name but only one that "matters"), and then a family of nine kids. Out of the nine, only four make an impact on the story.

    I've already thought about how to handle a large cast in my symphony murder mystery. While there are literally about 75 people in a full orchestra, there is a core (chamber) orchestra of about 40. Even so, out of those 40 musicians, in real life, I only mostly know the first and second chairs of each section. Out of THOSE, I'm only going to have three or four as characters in the story.

    Funny this post came up today, because last night when I was writing, I introduced a new character who is going to help the character solve the murder. I had him named, characterized, even down to his habits. However, I had chosen two names that could be used as either first OR last names for him, and I kept mixing them up. So, I decided to give him a totally different name, and lo and behold, a new character was born! He's nothing like I had imagined him to be, but I think he's an improvement on 'ole Mr. Mixup Name.

    Congrats to the Killer Voice Teams!

  66. Symphony Murders!!! I LOVE IT.

    75! Wow, and I thought I was looking at a full cast.

  67. I do get a little cranky when I am rooting for one male character, only to discover he is not the hero, Heidi.


  68. Team Shana: 1p.m.
    Shanda Arnett—A Night to Remember
    Lisa Christenson—Hawk of Wa Pu Ta Creek
    Deb Harkness—What Lurks Beneath
    Tammy Johnson—In the Wind
    Janice K. Olson—Run…But You Can’t Hide
    John R. Pickens—Desert Rain
    Kavanagh Rees—Death by Number
    Muna Sheik—Shotgun Dead
    Dianna Shuford—Hidden Motives
    Anne Marie Sinclair—Unbroken
    Tanya Stowe—Danger in Dhofar
    Angela Ruth Strong—Presumed Dead
    Therese Travis—Guardian of Angels
    Alexa Verde—Lost Solitude
    Terri Weldon—Dead on Monday

  69. Well, Deb H, I guess you were wrong. YOU finaled.

    Congrats to everyone! Terri Weldon AND Dianna Shuford.

  70. If you didn't final, check out these notes from the editors:

    The next step for those of you moving on to Stage 2 is to send in a 3-5 page synopsis by April 7. Please review the formatting guidelines for specific details, Shana’s blog on writing a synopsis, and the Love Inspired Suspense writing guidelines before submitting.

    If you aren’t moving on, we encourage you to still follow the Killer Voices threads and blog posts. We do not consider this a rejection. You are welcome to write your books and submit through regular channels. In last year’s, Happily Editor After pitch, Heather Woodhaven got a rejection, and decided to study the line, rewrite her book and submit it through regular channels. She ended up being the first person from HEA to sell to LIS. So don’t give up.

  71. HOLY SMOKES! (can i write that for LI?)

    well color me shocked. (white, i believe)

    i think i'm going to show Shana my edited first page to see if she thinks i improved it.

    and thank you Seekerville ladies for this blog. i'd have NEVER tried this without you.

  72. Courtney Phillips, I am just chuckling at your comment about renaming characters in your head when you can't pronounce the names.

  73. I normally find it hard to keep up when reading a novel with a lot of characters - but, have to say, in the case of Julie Lessman's novels - "the more the merrier", so to speak!! I have loved every single one of her novels - each with it's own "cast of thousands"!!

    Tina, I loved your short story in the March 31st issue of Women's World!! I don't normally buy magazines, as books usually occupy my spare time, however - had never read of your work, and will be buying more!! Thanks for the "heads-up"!!


  74. I have a question. I am wondering how many pages my book would be now if it were printed today. How do the number of words correlate to pages. Just curious.

    I hope everyone is having a good day.

  75. Hope you are feeling better Olivia.

    Class starts Tuesday. Yahoo group invites will go our between tonight and tomorrow morning.

    Busy. Busy. Busy.

  76. The average rule of thumb used to be 250 words per page, but now publishers go by word count.

    I know my books run around 55-60k and end up about 250-300 real time book pages.

    In computer word count they would be 300-340 pages.

  77. Cheering for all the names I recognize in the Killer Voices lists!!! YAY!!! So proud of all of you! Woot!!! Villagers rock!

    Tina, great lesson on the cast of characters! I've probably made every mistake you've mentioned, at least in the beginning.

    Naming characters is more important than one would think. I was totally stalled on my current WIP until I found my hero and heroine's authentic names. Started off calling them names that totally didn't work. Evidently they were peeved at me and didn't give me any inspiration. Once I realized the names were the problem, I renamed they say, the rest is history. The story took off. Thank goodness! May I repeat? Character names are important.

    Another thought...Donald Maass says to take two secondary characters and combine them into one person. A good tip I often use.

  78. I've been accused of having a cast of thousands on occasion. In series especially, they can sneak up on you!!!!!

  79. Woot -- I'm on Shana's team! Very excited and completely terrified too. :-0 And so exciting to find names that I 'know' from Seekerville scattered throughout the teams. Shows just how inspiring Seekerville is. You ladies rock and are the best mentors ever with all your encouragement and great posts that help newbie writers in their pursuit of publication.

  80. Helping watch grandkids today so behind on everything! Great post, TINA, and right on target! I get so frustrated when reading a novel with so many characters I can't keep track.

    It's even harder when the author briefly describes the characters the first time they're mentioned, and then fails to give me at least a little reminder about their appearance the next time they come onstage. I can't remember if Mr. Brown was the tall, old guy with glasses or the chunky young hotshot who wears flashy ties. It just takes a detail or two to remind the reader.

  81. Great post Tina. I have a Molly and. Misty in my new book and I'm not liking it. Molly may get a name change.

    Piper, I've been out CONGRATS on being a Golden Heart finalist!

    Congrats to all the Killer Voices moving on to the next round!

    I was the last name on the last team. Talk about nail biting suspense.

  82. I need the humorous touch today, thanks for a terrific blog.
    Oh boy, I like surprises. Cheryl St. John's book it top of the heap excellent.

  83. I'm not editing my work this month, but it was supposed to be is.

  84. Kav aka Carole -which one of these is you????


    Team Shana: 1p.m.
    Shanda Arnett—A Night to Remember
    Lisa Christenson—Hawk of Wa Pu Ta Creek
    Deb Harkness—What Lurks Beneath
    Tammy Johnson—In the Wind
    Janice K. Olson—Run…But You Can’t Hide
    John R. Pickens—Desert Rain
    Kavanagh Rees—Death by Number
    Muna Sheik—Shotgun Dead
    Dianna Shuford—Hidden Motives
    Anne Marie Sinclair—Unbroken
    Tanya Stowe—Danger in Dhofar
    Angela Ruth Strong—Presumed Dead
    Therese Travis—Guardian of Angels
    Alexa Verde—Lost Solitude
    Terri Weldon—Dead on Monday - See more at:

  85. And you must be Kavanagh. SNEAKY. SNEAKY. SNEAKY!!!!

  86. Okay, on this new list, SO MANY FRIENDS!!!!! I knew Kav's name because I saw her entry, but I'm just over-the-top delighted to see so many of my buds on the teams.

    Holy Marconi!!!!! This ROCKS!!!!

    AND ANGELA RUTH!!! I started your book last week, I've been thinking of you a lot and now this! SO PROUD OF YOU!!!!

  87. Hi Tina,

    Great post. Especially loved the cartoon characters!

    Congrats to all the people in that wonderful contest (forget the name). Wishing you all the best going forward.


  88. This is Angela Ruth....

    Angela's Blog

    Wonderful storyteller!!!

  89. Terri Weldon, your name has success written all over it these days!!!! Go, you!!!

  90. AND DEB HARKNESS!!!!! Rolling on floor, cheering from upstate!!!!!! Hooray for you, my brave friend!!! Oh, I can't even THINK of mocking Tina or Mary today, just being so happy with these results!!! I can't find the normal MEAN WORDS to say!!!!


  91. Someone help me out here. Is Angela Ruth-Andrea Strong?

    Is Kav really a guy?

  92. LOL -- yep Kavanagh-- Kav -- get it? My two grandmother's surnames. Kavanagh Rees. That's me. :-) It's fun trying to figure out who everyone is. I know at least one person from Ruthy's Feb. class.

  93. Oops! I just read a soon-to-be novel like that. My first comment back to the writer was, "Yeah, opening the book at a wedding with a zillion people there kind of gave me a headache as I tried to figure out who everyone was."

    I tend to fall into the opposite category and forget I need more than just the H/H in the book. My cast of significant minor characters is usually limited to maybe two or three others, if that.

  94. Great post, Tina!

    I haven't written many scenes with multiple characters in a big conversation. Guess I've been kinda lazy that way. Ha! I love to read a scene from those who do it well, though!

    Just read a scene from Jody Hedlund's "A Noble Groom" and she had seven characters in a heated discussion with several more people in the room. Like you said, everyone's names were unique and different, and the attribution tags were well done.
    I also remember a scene Mary Connealy did in Over the Edge where 5-7 characters were arguing, couples discussing the issue in tiny asides while randomly interjecting exclamations into the main argument. All with a baby crying on one of the women's hips. Loved that scene. :)

    Congrats, Stage 2 Killer Voice finalists!


    Tina, thanks for the all the tips in this post.

    My word count for this post is 897 for today and a total of 16,699 for the month. My daughter and grandson are coming to visit stay with us tonight so no more writing for me today :))

  96. Radcliffe, you're cracking me up!!!!

    Pouring rain here.

    The last time it rained my new roof leaked. The same new roof they put on twice last summer.

    I'm really hopeful that there are no leaks in Ruthy-land tonight. And I'm diving into working super early tomorrow, my Saturday "get 'er done" fest because we're celebrating Dave's birthday on Sunday.... it was last week but he was sick, poor fellow, so I have to COOK..... You know I used to love cooking...


    I'd rather write!!! But I'll cook for Dave because he's a stinkin' cutie.

  97. Yay, Kav!!!! I'm so glad to find out that's you! :) :)

  98. Pat. W., that's a solid, wonderful word count.

    I'm so stinkin' happy for you!!!!

  99. Not Italian or Irish, I am guessing, Naomi. :)

  100. Oh, and DebH and Dianna and Terri and so many others! I'm thrilled for all of you!

  101. What great timing for this post, Tina. I got a comment on a submission to get rid of some people so the focus is on the H & h. But I couldn't figure out how to do that and keep the small town community feel I was aiming for. I think your tip to combine a few characters into one may be part of my solution. And then I may need to be the bouncer and kick a few more out per your other suggestion.

    Also, Janet's comment that..."a secondary character should make three appearances that are important to the plot or they should be cut" sounds like a good way for me to figure out who to kick out.

    Sadly, I've had a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" Speedbo. I thought after Ruthy's inspirational "Back in the Saddle" post I was back on track, but life had other plans. I think I have regrouped again, and plan on trying Speedbo Part II during April.

    Congratulations to all the Killer Voice finalists!

  102. Mine wasn't too memorable a Speedbo either, Lee. BUT..did we get more done than usual? That's the question.

    My answer is still yes.

    So it's all good.

    Glad the post was helpful.

  103. Great words of wisdom, Tina! You listed some of my favorite writers' books, especially King and Swain. Maybe I should re-read them!

    I tend to have cast of thousands (especially in my opening chapter), but my crit partner always mentions how confused she got. I can't see it but she can. Thankfully.

  104. Me too, Cara. Some have info dumps, but I have people dumps. They all show up!!!

  105. Thanks to everyone for their Killer Voices congrats.

    And congrats from me to the rest of the ones moving on to stage two!It's so great to see so many friends from Seekerville!

  106. Tina,

    I deal with this problem on a regular basis in my Japan-based novels. I keep character numbers to a minimum. In one manuscript, I have a hero named Tsuneomi. I shorten his name to "Tomi," assuming that people will think of him as "Tommy."

  107. Wow, what to do if you realize you have too many family members at the table and you're nearly complete with the story? Hmm?

    Maybe a shadowy character arrives at the door with a pizza and turns out to be a jihadist? Boom, the party is blown and only the twin sisters survive and then both fall in love with the delivery guy? Woops, forgot he was the one with the bomb strapped on. Maybe... his half brother, (the aspiring rodeo clown), is waiting out in the car but the engine dies? Do you think this has potential?

    Seriously, I think a larger group of characters can work provided one takes time rolling them out. Returning also to individuals from time to time if they will be important to the story.

    I'm working on a novel that involves church meetings where several are present not to mention angels and demons. So far it's working, but maybe I need to eliminate some of them.

    Hmm, maybe I need a pizza delivery...

  108. It's such FUN to see all these familiar names on these teams. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!

  109. Fabulous post! I especially like the Dr. Suess-like naming, which describes me perfectly. Not for my main characters, but for the side characters that I spend less time on their name. My critique partner no-nos me a lot on that.

    This is very timely information for me. In the novella series I'm working on, I'm basically building a community so I've been definitely struggling with a cast of hundreds. (It's a small town.) So, thanks for the great advice, Tina!

    Thanks for the congrats, everyone! It has been a harrowing day. Good moments (Killer Voices Announcements) and bad moments (work related of course). But, I made it through only slightly ragged. My students thought I was a little strange today because, of course, my name was in the last group so I kept forgetting things and had a bad case of wandering focus.

  110. Mark, have you thought about emailing Dan Brown about this problem????

  111. Dianna-Killer Voice trumps work blues.

  112. Oh my goodness, Tina. May I borrow some of your characters? I'm just realizing now how small my cast of characters is in the current book. Time to find some friendly faces. :)

    Thank you all for the KillerVoices congratulations. I am so excited to be on Emily Rodmell's team. I absolutely love the story I'm writing for this. It's my Speedbo story. :)

    Special thanks and a shout out to Debby Giusti who so graciously offered to read my page and offer her thoughts. Obviously she has killer instincts!

  113. So what is the final tally of Seeker villagers in the Killer Voice quest?
    Just curious, since apparently I'm not as familiar with names as I thought I was.

    Thanks for the well wishes too. I was so SURE I wouldn't make it. The synopsis scares the spit outta me.

  114. The final tally. 12

    LOTS and many are in Speedbo (almost all).

    Kathryn Barker
    Sybil Bates McCormick
    Deb H
    Mary Curry
    Nancy Farrier
    Connie Queen
    Meghan Carver
    Annie Wright Burnett
    Jenna Victoria
    Dianna Shuford
    Terri Weldon

  115. Great post TINA and one I hope many writer will read. With the popularity among publishers now to have a series from an author, I really do get confused sometimes when too many characters show up in the beginning, middle and throughout the whole book.

    I like your guidelines and they are great to heed even if you only have a couple of extra characters.

    Thanks for the info.

    Only three days left of speedbo. Where did this month go????

  116. I'll tell you where it went.


    I'm exhausted.

  117. Im late posting had a ct scan yesterday and had to travel to do that so was wiped when I got home. today have upped the meds so still tired.

    I like books where if there are lots of characters there is a family tree or something in the beginning so you know who is who. More so in series.
    To many can get confusing especially if they are not in much of the book. For example if you have all the family mentioned at the beginning I would think they would be right through the book but if some are not mentioned again I as a reader would be thinking where is so and so etc. Its different if in the book say the hero say my sister did such and such as its a reference to her but shes not actually in the book as such.

    I hope I made sense this new med has taken away the feeling of being stabbed with an icepick but has also made me fuzzy and tired. (we dont mention dizzy and the other side effects)

  118. congrats to all going through to the next stage.

    Could someone tell me what the Killer Voice is?

  119. Jenny, Harlequin is having a contest for their Love Inspired Suspense line. The contest has 4 stages and several Seekerville friends advanced to the second stage.

    It's awesome opportunity to get to work w/the editors and other aspiring writers.

  120. hi Jenny
    I hope the new meds don't keep you too fuzzy. I'm glad your pain is less. I'll be praying that your side effects lessen while keeping that icepick pain away.

    The Killer Voice is Harlequin's Love Inspired Suspense editors' search for new authors to help cover the increase of books they want to publish. They are searching for authors with a "Killer" Voice - hence the name.

  121. This is wrong... but it's friday night and I have nothing of great importance to say right now but I'm going to bother you ladies anyway. I'm sure I will think of some dire question before I leave.

  122. Loved this, Tina.
    I enjoy books with enough colorful characters - - but not so many that I get confused (which is easy for me to do, anyhow LOL).
    And I try to make sure to have a variety of names in my own writing (especially names beginning with different letters as others have mentioned).
    CONGRATS to all those on the Killer Voices Teams - - YAY!!! :)

  123. Killer Voice is a competition that Love Inspired Suspense is holding to find new suspense authors.

    Hope you feel better, Jenny.

  124. It has FOUR stages. I didn't know this, Connie.

    What's the next two?

  125. Hi Patty Jo. (waving)

    Did you bring food??

    I'm so bad.

  126. I use j too much in my names. I'll fess up to that one. Jesse. John. Jane. Josiah. James. I should probably fix that. I love my main character's name because I have so many nicknames for it. Cat, kitty, Cathy... it just makes me happy.

  127. I use j too much in my names. I'll fess up to that one. Jesse. John. Jane. Josiah. James. I should probably fix that. I love my main character's name because I have so many nicknames for it. Cat, kitty, Cathy... it just makes me happy.

  128. Awww... thank you Tina. So not the word ex boyfriend would have used. He preferred stubborn. I've also heard tempestuous. Grouchy. Cute, that's a new one. Thank you so much, this week has been brutal. I want to crawl in bed for the weekend, but I think I'll pull an all nighter with the laptop for my sanity' s sake. Mmmmm... I'm feeling m&m' s and potato chips.

  129. Hey, Tina!!! I get annoyed when I can't keep up with all the characters. I also get annoyed when two characters have names that start with the same letter! GRR! I easily forget names. So I try really hard not to do that.
    Thanks for the great post! :-)

  130. Not Connie, (but you knew that, Tina), but I can answer.

    The next stage is synopsis. If you make it past Stage 2, you go on to submit the first three chapters (Stage 3). Stage 4 is a full submission.

  131. Thanks, Melly.

    And thanks for the update, Mary Curry!

    And thanks for the chuckle, Haven. Pass the red M&Ms please.

  132. thanks for the info. had a nap and I see its past midnight your time (not sure a 3 hour nap is a good thing!).

    I did go search Killer voice and found the info. I love the LIS line also and wish you all well.

  133. It's another day in Seeker Paradise.

    Congrats to us and congrats to all of you!! And the finalists..BIG CONGRATS~!~~

  134. Wow, look at all the comments! This post musta hit home with more folks than just me. :)

    This is something I've been wondering about. In my WIP my hero has a large family. It's part of who he is and also part of their culture since it's a biblical fiction. To make it more complicated, they all have names that start with the same letter. I chose to do that because I wanted to give the reader that big happy family feeling, but it's been tricky, hopefully I can pull it off.

    Any suggestions on how to make this work?

  135. I just saw this article this morning and it made me laugh out loud. Your points really hit home. I struggle with those scenes because it feels as if I'm confusing the reader with the back and forth dialogue. But I also love writing about communities where characters all come together for a common goal and present themselves in situations where they enjoy fellowship. But, you're so right. You must proceed with caution. By the way, love your title for the September book.

  136. Tina,

    Love your article! Unfortunately, I can't write with casts of thousands, I think, because I have a hard time reading a book with casts of thousands. If I'm not careful reading those types of books, I've got Grandma Edna saying what Uncle John actually said and thinking what Cousin Mary Ruth thought!

  137. Amber, best advice is to get a Beta reader's feedback. That's how I found I was confusing the reader.

  138. It is a hard one to pull off, Edwina.

  139. I have to disagree with number 3. It's confusing to have your character called differently by different characters. I can understant for someone to use one variation of the name, but more than that it's tedious to read.

    What's your name?! I would be screaming. If it's too much work, I won't read more of it.