Monday, June 20, 2016

Put Meat, Not Fat, on the Bones of your Characters

Janet here. When we write stories, we need to grab readers immediately. A great hook in the opening is important, sure, but if readers don't care about our characters within the first few pages, they won't buy or finish the book. 

A sure way to make readers care about our characters is to give them goals that create problems. Problems that aren't easily resolved. Problems that add tension.

Characters that aren’t fleshed out are skeletal, bones, dry bones. Not a very appealing image, especially for a romance novel. To put meat on our characters bones we need to give enough description, introspection, back story, goals and motivations (Conflict may come later.) and faith issues that these people pop off the page. But we don’t want to fatten them up so much that we bog down the pace.

To have to flesh out characters early on may feel rushed, but we writers can’t be leisurely about it. If readers don’t see our characters as real people, they won’t care about them.

The hero fleshed out too much, too early
    
This hero needs some meat on his bones.
These two guys are extremes we're not aiming for. So how do we put meat on their bones without overdoing it? 

We put an ounce of meat here, an ounce there, small snippets and details that will connect the reader. 

Those snippets may be vague, even unclear, but they should intrigue.

I suggest making one thing very clear and that’s the characters external goal, what s/he wants. Be specific. Early on. (The external goal is something specific, tangible and achievable.) Then show why this goal is important. What is the motivation that drives the character to achieve it?

I’ll be sharing examples of putting meat on Carly and Nate’s bones, the heroine and hero in The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption, my giveaway today. If you've already read it, perhaps you'd like to try to win it for a friend or relative. 

1. Open the story with a hook: Create a couple of lines that intrigue the reader and show the character. If you'd like to study opening hooks, go to Amazon and look at opening lines of some of your favorite authors. Usually there's a peek inside or the publisher gives the first scene. Copy and paste these and study the different approaches. I'm guessing the good ones come back to the character. Some danger she's in. Some problem she's facing. Some hint at her wound. 

Here's the opening line of The Bounty Hunter's Redemption: I tried to write a line that would grab readers, but also set the tone and give a peek at Carly's situation.

A woman should mourn the loss of her husband. Or so Carly Richards once believed.

2. Add Details that Matter: The scent of spring and a graveside service are strong contrasts but by tying the scent of spring to Carly's dead husband, I gave a peek at her marriage.

Though the air carried the scent of mowed grass, spring flowers and fresh-turned dirt, the vile odors that had clung to Max filled her nostrils still, as if he stood at her side, not laid out at her feet.

3. Add introspection: Use the character's thoughts to put meat on their bones, to show them. Avoid long passages of introspection. Break thoughts up with action or dialogue. 


          Folks edged toward her, giving her and Henry a hug, mumbling condolences, avoiding her gaze, then hurried toward the wrought-iron gate in quiet groups of three and four, eager to escape. Not a single soul grieved Max. He had no family. No friends. At least none Carly knew of.

Add Actions/Reactions: Flesh out characters with actions. In this case, Carly's son Henry's action shows him and reveals his feelings about his father.

Her son gave a nod then stepped to the dirt piled at the edge of the grave and stomped the soil with his scuff-toed shoe.
Once. Twice. Three times.

4. Add Dialogue:

Henry pivoted back to her, lips quivering, eyes welling with tears. “He can’t hurt you now, Mama.”

5. Add Snippets of Back story: Use back story to reveal the wound, the trouble, in the character's past.

An oppressive weight slid from her shoulders. She’d no longer dread Max’s footfalls after weeks of unexplained absences. She’d no longer dread that every word out of her mouth could trigger his fiery temper. She’d no longer dread what the next day, the next week, the next month would bring.

6. Give the external goal: The external goal is something tangible, something concrete that the character wants. Here Carly thinks about her goal, to take care of her child and her shop. 

Whatever awaited Max, his eternal future was up to God. She would take care of herself and Henry. She’d run the shop. Earn a living. What she’d always done.

7. Give the internal goal: The internal goal is something intangible, not concrete.

She’d been a fool to hitch herself to Max Richards. She’d never trust a man again.
Never.

I hope these examples from the opening scene make Carly come alive, that you could slip into her shoes and feel the emotion of her situation and care.

In the next scene, I flesh out hero by putting some meat on his bones.

When writing a romance novel, both the hero and heroine are protagonists. The story may be more about one than the other, but the reader wants to see and care about both. I try to give an equal number of scenes in each point of view and make sure both have goals, motivations, conflicts and wounds. They both should have faith issues and should grow and change so their "happily ever after" ending feels real. 

The reader first sees what Carly looks like from Nate’s description of her in the opening of his scene. Nate doesn’t just notice her hair and eye color, he sees her attitude during this first encounter. Whenever possible, make descriptions do double duty. 

1. Add details that matter:

A woman stood between Nate Sergeant and a young boy like a petite, beautiful fortress. Pink lips, flushed cheeks, her fair complexion in sharp contrast to her coal-black hair, the delicate female couldn’t outweigh a hundred-pound bag of grain. Under slashing brows, dazzling blue eyes met his, sizing him up, her expression wary, alert.

2. Add introspection: I used action and dialogue to lead to Nate’s poignant thought, and a peek at his wound.

The widow groaned, rolling her head from side to side.
Her son gazed up at him, panic sparking in his eyes. “Something’s wrong with my mama. Help her! Please, mister!”
“I’ll help her, I promise.” As soon as the words left his lips, Nate knew he’d made a hasty promise to stop the boy’s pleading. A promise he couldn’t keep.
Once again. Another failure. More lives ruined.

3. Add actions/reactions: The actions they take should reveal something about them. In this example, I reveal Nate's tender side and give the first hint of attraction.

He brushed a tendril of hair off the widow’s pale cheek. Under his fingertips, her skin was soft as silk.

4. Add dialogue: What the characters say enables readers to see them more clearly. The last sentence reveals Nate's external goal, something tangible, concrete. He intends to take Carly's shop.  

          “Ma’am.”
          She turned back, eyes wide, as if surprised to find him standing there instead of heading for the door. “Yes?”
          A gust of air escaped his lips. No decent man relished bringing a woman trouble. “I’m afraid I have bad news.”
          “Worse than killing my son’s father?”
          At a loss for words, Nate merely stared at her.
          “I’m sorry, Mr. Sergeant. That was uncalled for, but I have a boy who needs my attention and a shop to run.” Her gaze traveled to the door, her desire for him to walk through it abundantly clear.
           No point in putting off what he’d come to say. “This shop is mine,” he said, settling his Stetson in place.

5. Add snippets of back story: Carly faints and triggers a bigger peek at Nate’s past and the wound that drives him. 

Nate caught her before she hit the floor. With the pale woman in his arms, his mind zipped back and remembered another woman.
“Mama!”
Nate’s head snapped up, his vision cleared.
Eyes wide with fear, the son ran toward them. “Is she dead?” he said.
Rachel was dead. Not this woman.

6. Add the motivation: Later in the scene Nate gives his motivation for seeing that his sister gets Carly's shop. 

A temptation to give back the deed slid through him. Only for a moment. Nate couldn’t sacrifice his sister’s future. Not after what she’d sacrificed for him.
Once Mrs. Richards had time to think about it, she would know, as he did, she’d lost the shop. Though he didn’t relish the pain he would cause, Nate would not help the widow as he’d promised her son.
All he would bring Carly Richards was trouble.

I didn’t put Nate's internal goal into the first chapter, nor did I give Nate's equally important goal of finding the killer he’s been after for years. Not everything has to be there but we have to flesh the characters out enough in the opening pages for readers to care, yet not so much that we ruin the pace with too much information. 


There are a variety of reasons for having trouble bringing characters to life.


  • We may not know the characters well enough. 
  • We may not have the plot figured out. 
  • We may not have given them strong enough goals to cause them trouble. 
  • We may not have made their pasts (their back story) bad enough to wound them and impact their lives now.

Even when I plan, I learn more about my characters and the plot when I write. That may necessitate going back and fleshing them out even more.  

For breakfast I brought a ham egg bake, fruit, coffee and tea. Enough food to give us strength without putting fat on our bones.   

Let's talk. Share an opening line that hooked you and reveals something about the character. 

Or share a thought, action, snippet of dialogue that fleshes out characters.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Bounty Hunter's Redemption

72 comments :

  1. Janet, this is great advice for newbies and experienced writers. Sometimes we forget this basic information!!

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  2. Wow, Janet! What a great post, and it sounds like a great story! Please add my name to the drawing.

    I'm definitely keeping your post and will use it to make my stories stronger. Thanks so much!

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  3. Hi Janet! Terrific post...definitely a keeper. I believe adding details that matter is key to keeping the reader engaged. By the way, I love how you illustrated the points with the cartoons. :)

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  4. TINA, Some stories are easier to write than others. Or maybe the characters are more cooperative. It can take me multiple revisions to put meat on their bones without fattening them up too much. It's a dance for sure.

    Janet

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  5. JACKIE, I'm delighted you found the post helpful! The great thing about writing a post on craft in Seekerville is I review what works and that helps me keep the information front and center.

    Do you have any tips on how you flesh out characters?

    Janet

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  6. JILL, Thanks! You make a terrific point. Details are key to fleshing out characters that engage the reader.

    These cartoon heroes were trying to be debonair, but they couldn't attract the heroine without gaining details or losing back story dump. The fun comes from fixing them. :-) I should've added a perfect cartoon hero. I'm going to look.

    Janet

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  7. This is excellent advice. Thank you for your thoroughness. I am saving this for when bravery and NaNoWriMo happen at the same time!

    Please add my name to the drawing. Thanks for the opportunity to win!
    jsmithg (at)hotmail (dot)com

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  8. This is excellent advice. Thank you for your thoroughness. I am saving this for when bravery and NaNoWriMo happen at the same time!

    Please add my name to the drawing. Thanks for the opportunity to win!
    jsmithg (at)hotmail (dot)com

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  9. I have a question, when writing a villain Should I make him likable? When I got my contest judging sheets back they thought my villain was my hero because he is in the beginning of the story and the hero although his name is mentioned in the first chapter does not enter the book until chapter 12.

    The villain is a challenge to develop because he is two different personalities the real person and the fake person the heroine falls for.

    Because the hero doesn't enter the picture until so late in the book I am beginning to wonder if my book is more Women's Fiction than romance. Any thoughts on this.

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  10. Hi Janet:

    I just loved "The Bounty Hunter's Redemption". It has some of the best motivated conflict I've seen in a romance. I found it interesting that with just the few opening quotes you gave in your post, I was able to run the whole story through my mind from start to finish. You gave enough information in that opening to indicate the problems the hero and heroine faced and from this set-up I was able to easily recall how the whole story played out.

    As such, I like to think of the 'hook' as not being just a clever sentence but rather the unfolding of a situation rich enough to capture the reader's interest and make that reader thirst to know more.

    I liked the idea of adding meat to flesh out characters. I'd also like to suggest that meat can be flabby or muscle. Muscle would be info that can empower actions. A scene can do one thing but it can also do five to eight things. I noticed in Lee Child and David Baldacci that they often accomplish four or more objectives in each scene. I think the more objectives you can accomplish in a scene, the more muscle that scene gives the characters.

    As for an opening I think serves well to demonstrate the points made in your post: I really loved the start of "Back in the Saddle" which had me hooked within seconds.


    The sharp metallic click meant one thing.
    Someone had a gun pointed in Colt Stafford’s general direction.

    He sucked a breath and realized two other things. First, these might be the last two thoughts he’d ever have— and that would be a downright shame, wouldn’t it?

    Second?

    It was clear he’d been away from the Double S too long when he couldn’t tell what kind of gun it was by the sound of the mechanism. Was it his father’s Ithaca Deerslayer or the vintage Remington short barrel?


    {Herne, Ruth Logan. Back in the Saddle: A Novel (Double S Ranch) (Kindle Locations 120-124). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.}

    So, can you tell us: What's next?
    Are you going to try your hand at a Contemporary?
    There seems to be a lot of poachers in the historical pastures these days. : )

    Vince

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  11. JANICE, We put our heart into our stories so writing takes courage, and even more courage to submit that story for critique. Pulling for you!

    Janet

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  12. WILANI, when a man appears early in the story, readers latch on to him, expecting him to be the hero. Can you move the hero to the opening and then have the villain appear in the second chapter? What does the heroine want? If that goal puts her in conflict with the hero early on, that would make the possibility of their romance look shaky.

    If none of this fits your story, you may be writing women's fiction. Also, some editors don't like a love triangle and would reject the story for that reason.

    Janet

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  13. First sentence from Ruth Logan Herne's Her Unexpected Family: I can't break this appointment again, Grant McCarthy thought as he bundled the twins into their car seats.

    (I'm not sure how to use the HTML tags. That whole first phrase should be in italics.)

    The feeling that Grant was running late DEFINITELY made him familiar and real as I am always late. I'm intrigued because the story will involve kids. Ruth used the words "the twins". I'm interested in finding out more because I don't know if Grant is a father, uncle, guardian, or maybe even a babysitter. I kept reading from there and only put the book down when I had to for annoying but necessary things like work, taking care of my family, and sleep.

    Part of the key to keeping someone like me reading is for the characters to be real. If someone is too perfect or too much of a mess, I can lose interest.

    Great blog post, Janet. I enjoyed seeing what goes into fleshing out a character. Please enter me in the drawing for your book. I'm interested in seeing if what I imagine happening with your characters actually does.

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  14. Good morning, Janet! You're so GOOD at this! Sharing just enough background info in bits and pieces to keep drawing the reader in without any back story dumps. Great examples. Thank you!

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  15. VINCE, I'm delighted you enjoyed The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. The thing I loved about the story was the strong conflict between the hero and heroine, which makes the book easier to write. Not all stories start that way, or should, but that strong conflict needs to be there soon or they'll fall in love too early. Once they resolve the conflict and fall in love, the story is over.

    Excellent point that the hook isn't just eye candy. It's a peek at the trouble, exactly what Ruthy does with her opening in Back in the Saddle. Thanks for sharing!

    I'm sticking with historical romance. I enjoyed writing "Daddy for Christmas" in last year's Seeker novella collection so I'm moving up in time with the next story. However nothing is set in stone. What is your favorite era? Are you a fan of contemporary or historical romances? Or does it matter?

    Janet

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  16. DAWN, I love that you were hooked by an opening line because you could relate to the problem. The author's goal is always to create characters readers can connect with and have empathy for. Thanks for sharing Ruthy's opening line and for your interest in The Bounty Hunter's Redemption!

    Janet

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  17. GLYNNA, I loved this opening from your book High Country Hearts that brought a lot of question to mind: The last time she saw Rob McGuire, he was down on one knee in front of all their friends, diamond ring in hand, and gazing up in hopeful expectation--at her college roommate.

    Any tips for layering characters?

    Janet

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  18. Janet, thanks so much for the helpful tips and reminders! I love creating opening hooks. It's funny--sometimes I've labored hours over crafting and creating just the "right" hook, while other times something witty and snappy just happens and seems to work. (Those are usually the times I've had three cups of coffee. But it helps! Lol)

    Thank you, too, for giving examples and set-up! Much appreciated! I love the Seekerville community. The willingness to share and teach is amazing.

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  19. VINCE, I totally agree scenes can provide many objectives and should, but for me, what's key in each scene is the character's objective, what s/he wants. That goal, which relates to the book length goal, means the character drives the action in that scene. So even as the character is going after what he wants,--showing his muscle--I can use that scene by the way I write him pursuing his goal to show his personality, to show others, to show the setting, to show the faith issues, to show attraction, to bond readers to him. The list is long. Than\ks for pointing that out.

    Janet

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  20. CYNTHIA, love the caffeine tip! LOL Writing books takes stamina. Nothing easy about it though occasionally, as you say, something just comes that's magic on the page. Love when that happens!

    Thanks for your sweet words about Seekerville. What genre do you write?

    Janet

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  21. Thanks, Janet. In my book the hero and heroine fall in love in college but break up and lose contact with each other four years before the book begins. He doesn't find her until two days after the villian has almost killed her and left her an emotional wreck. So I am not sure it is a love triangle in that sense.

    I am really thinking this is a Woman's Fiction.

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  22. Janet, I write contemporary romance. (...But I have ideas percolating for women's fiction, too.) :)

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  23. Wow, JANET, loved this! I've got one book completed and two more in the works, so I'm going through them today to see where I might add some "meat" to those character bones. Thank you!

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  24. I love this, Janet. Great blog.

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  25. I'm going to carry those skeleton vs fat guy pictures around in my head ... and that's probably a good thing.

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  26. Hi Janet, What great examples of that first page hook and draw into the characters. You are always so good at this. You gave us good examples to learn from. Definitely a keeper. smile


    Love the premise of your book also. Really keeps ones attention. But your writing always does that for me anyway.

    So here's the start of my current wip Does it grab you? I don't have the conflict, just who the characters are. sigh

    “HELP! GRAMMY, HELP!”
    Brian Roberts jerked upright. His surfboard rocked precariously as he twisted to spot the source of the child’s cries.
    Water splashed from behind. The woman’s board slid next to them. She looked familiar. “Lost your board, did you?” she teased, pointing her finger at the boy. Her brown eyes sparkled with humor.
    “I almost caught the wave, Grammy.”
    Grammy? Are you kidding me? This was the same woman he’d watched surf these past two days, and she definitely did not fit into his mental image of grammy.

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  27. WILANI, now I understand why he's the villain. I don't think readers would believe he's the hero if he's attacking her in the opening pages. I don't write women's fiction so I'm not sure of the guidelines. But, since the hero and heroine end up together and that doesn't always happen in WF, your story could still be a romance. If you want to pursue that, you could open the book with the attack in the dark so she doesn't know the villain's identity. The hero could save her from the villain or find her right after the mugging. To make his presence less contrived, they could both be in town for a high school reunion. Of course these are just ideas I'm tossing out. They may in no way fit the image of your story. If not, ignore me!

    Janet

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  28. I always enjoy your instructional words of wisdom, JANET! Those side-by-side images are a great reminder about the pitfalls of too much or too little fleshing out as the story takes off.

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  29. CYNTHIA, wishing you the best with your stories, those on the page and those percolating in your mind. I'm guessing you have to do research to write contemporaries, too. Do you find that to be true?

    Janet

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  30. LAURA, I love to use checklists to see if I do what I intend to do, but don't always do. :-) Have fun!

    Janet

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  31. I loved THE BOUNTY HUNTER'S REDEMPTION. And I agree with Vice (as usual) that just reading the first few lines brings the story back to me!

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  32. MARY, they say an image is worth a thousand words. Or is it a hundred words? Either way, these two cartoon guys will help me remember to flesh the hero out without dumping too much on his bones.

    I love these opening lines from Fire & Ice that show the hero and the trouble:

    The bullet spit dirt up in Gage Coulter's eyes, and he didn't even flinch.
    Wilde always missed him. Granted, he missed by inches.

    Janet

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  33. SANDRA, thanks for your sweet words.

    A character crying for help grabs my attention, but when that character is a child, I'm really hooked. My only suggestion is for Grammy or the hero to grab that board for the child so his cry for help doesn't feel contrived. I love that Grammy doesn't fit the hero's image. :-) Nice attraction early on.

    Janet

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  34. MYRA, I've fallen into that pit countless times. Thankfully with revisions, we can climb out. :-)

    Janet

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  35. MARIANNE, I'm delighted you enjoyed The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. As a reader and reviewer, you bless writers and all of us in Seekerville. I doubt you could keep track of the number of books you've read, but I'm sure it's a huge number.

    Janet

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  36. Janet, I really needed this advice. In my most recent r&r, some of the comments were that my heroine wasn't very likable. Apparently, I failed to add enough "meat" to convey the reasoning behind my heroine's snarky, untrusting, take-control attitude. I've got to figure out how to soften her a bit without making her lose her spunky personality. But first, I've got to finish the revisions on my other manuscript and get it back to the editor.

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  37. Good afternoon, Janet! What great examples...they made me eager to read your book. :-) Thank you for the pointers and the terrific images. I'll remember those for a long time.

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  39. Hi Janet:

    I agree that strong conflict adds a deeper level of realism to "The Bounty Hunter's Redemption"; however, it is not just strong conflict that is in operation. I feel the real power of the conflict is that both hero and heroine seem fully justified in their positions. Often, in dual conflicts, one side just seems wrong or bullheaded.

    The last book I read with a fully justifiable dual conflict was "The Lawman's Second Chance" in which the hero's wife died of breast cancer and the heroine is currently being treated for breast cancer.

    I think when a dual conflict places the reader in a position of not knowing which side is right or has justice on their side, then that conflict greatly increases reader involvement in the story.

    Moreover, in "The Bounty Hunter's Redemption," you complicate the situation by making everyone especially sympathetic. I mean who wouldn't want a sister like the hero has?

    You asked which I liked best: Contemporary or Historical? I love history and even took a teaching minor in history so I could teach it in high school; however, I enjoy both about the same. I read more Contemporary novels because it just seems that I follow more Contemporary 'auto-buy' authors.

    BTW: for me the 'historical period' in fiction starts before 1919. After that date is 'Early Contemporary'.

    Do you think there might be, "A Groom for the Bounty Hunter's Sister" in the future? I can see it opening on December 31, 1899 with all the hopes and dreams of a new century.

    Vince

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  40. RHONDA, I've made heroines too strong, too outspoken, too stubborn and had to soften them to make them likable. I've also made heroes too mean. We know the wounds our characters have experienced, but since we can't reveal all that stuff at once, readers don't understand why they behave like they do and dislike their behavior. It's a fine line to walk.

    Hope the softening up and revisions go well!

    Janet

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  41. MEGHAN, good to see you. Glad the images helped fix the points of the post in your mind.

    Janet

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  42. This is a great blog, Janet, and very timely! I'm working on a very unlikable hero right now - at least, unlikable on the outside. Trying to strike that balance of making him appealing to the heroine and the readers and showing how far he needs to grow.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking help!

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  43. VINCE, you make a terrific point. The conflict sometimes referred to as two dogs and one bone works best when the two dogs have great reasons for wanting and/or deserving the bone and when both are sympathetic characters the reader can identify with and care about. I don't often come up with plots that use the two dogs and one bone conflict. I think Courting the Doctor's Daughter, my second book, qualifies. Luke and Mary are the "dogs" and the little boy Ben is the "bone." Though Mary doesn't learn Luke's true relationship to Ben until near the end of the story, I hope readers understand that both care about and want Ben to have a good life. But keeping his relationship to Ben secret may have readers pulling more for Mary.

    I just might write Anna and Sheriff Truitt's story, perhaps in a novella. Will think on that. Thanks! Love the idea of setting their new beginning in the new century.

    Janet

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  44. This is a great post, Janet. I am going to have to keep it. The book I'm writing is about a town hit by a tornado, and I have four different characters to introduce. So I will keep all this in mind.

    I was in for my second cataract surgery and back home before 9 this morning. I think it will be good. Thanks for all the prayers.

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  45. JAN, softening a tough guy hero isn't easy. Introspection is a helpful tool for giving readers a peek at his motivation and heartache and regrets. If you add a "Save the cat" action moment, especially with a child or pet, that'll show your hero's tender side. I used scenes between Nate and Carly's little boy Henry to show Nate was smitten with Henry and how that upped his conflict about taking the shop from Carly. I think we've had posts on fixing the unlikable hero, but it's an interesting topic that can be revisited. And I just might. Though I think my next post will be on adding details to the setting. This is a possible title: Shine the light and bring your setting out of the shadows.

    Janet

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  46. SANDY, good to hear you're back from the second cataract surgery and all is well. I'm going to have to do that same surgery, maybe next year.

    Series romance novels like I write allow only two points of view, the hero and the heroine's. Single titles are far more generous. Have fun putting meat on four sets of bones!

    Janet

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  47. Exactly what I need right now, Janet - - thank you!
    With the h/h in my current WIP, I'm thinking the heroine is too likable--she needs some flaws to make her more believable. The hero, on the other hand, was easier to write, because a childhood experience made him withdrawn to the point that he seems unfriendly. Anyway, thanks for this post AND these great examples. :)
    I LOVED The Bounty Hunter's Redemption and happily gave it 5 stars on reviews!! :)
    Please enjoy the pitcher of Peach tea I brought---along with a pecan pie. ;)
    Hugs, Patti Jo

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  48. Excellent post, Janet! And I loved The Bountyhunter's Redemption. Your excerpts took me back to that delightful start!

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  49. Well, Janet ... how about the opening lines from Courting the Doctor's Daughter?

    Mary Graves couldn't believe her eyes. And the gall of that man.

    Of course I wanted to read more. Right away I knew the heroine had strong opinions and just perhaps some temper. I also wanted to know what the man was doing, and whether I agreed with the heroine's assessment :-)

    Your post is a gentle reminder about some basics. Thanks!

    Oh, don't enter me in the drawing. I have The Bounty Hunter's Redemption.

    Nancy C

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  50. PATTI JO, thanks for bringing peach tea and pecan pie! Both are delicious! I forgot to fix lunch but I hope everyone grabbed a bite to eat at the Yankee Belle Cafe. Thank you, too, for your lovely review of The Bounty Hunter's Redemption! I so appreciate the time you took.

    Too likable. Not likable enough. Mix these two and you'll have the perfect character. :-) But that's not how it works. Perhaps you can list attributes under each heading that will flesh these two out and make them not only believable but also people that will march off the page and into readers' hearts.

    Janet

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  51. DEBBY, thank you! Do the opening lines in your romantic suspense novels have more to do with the threat of danger than with the character? Or is it a mix of the two?

    Janet

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  52. NANCY, I'm delighted you were hooked by the opening line of Courting the Doctor's Daughter! Like The Bounty Hunter's Redemption, Courting the Doctor's Daughter starts off with a huge conflict between the hero and heroine. Mary had no use for phony remedies and the men who peddled them and doesn't hesitate to try to convince her gullible neighbors they shouldn't buy it. Which didn't put her in Luke's good graces, of course. The fun part of writing the story was Luke's remedy had value. In fact, he used it to ease Mary's migraines. And to make things worse for Mary, he was a doctor himself. They go through lots of twists and turns to find their happy ending.

    Janet

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  53. You know what..if writers would utilize this info for contests entries, they'd final more. I happen to be doing a post on contesting next week. Will include a link. Excellent info.

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  54. Hi Janet:

    Classic conflict: two dogs, one bone. Classic Romantic conflict: two dogs, two bones -- but with each dog unwilling to risk biting into another toxic bone.

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  55. Hi Janet:

    I think "The Substitute Bride" also has an ideal opening because it sets up the the story salutation in just a few sentences:

    Chicago, spring of 1899

    Elizabeth Manning had examined every option open to her. But in the end she had only one. Her heart lurched.

    She had to run.

    If she stayed in Chicago, tomorrow morning she’d be walking down the aisle of the church on Papa’s arm. Then, walking back up it attached to Reginald Parks for the remainder of his life, which could be awfully long, considering Reginald’s father was eighty-two and still going strong.


    {Dean, Janet. The Substitute Bride (Love Inspired Historical) (Kindle Locations 65-70). Steeple Hill. Kindle Edition.}

    What's so interesting about this story is that it seems to be a 'One dog, one bone' story -- with the heroine being the bone! :)

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  56. TINA, love that you're writing a post on contesting. Hope Villagers will use the information and enter!

    Janet

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  57. VINCE, this two dogs, two bones is new to me, yet you call it Classic Romantic Conflict. I guess that just proves that we never stop learning. What is the toxic bone? Would love to hear more!

    Janet

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  58. VINCE, thanks for mentioning The Substitute Bride. I'd never thought of Elizabeth as the bone but I see it clearly now that you mention it. You've got a great memory!

    Janet

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  59. JANET!!! My apologies for being so late today, but it was worth the wait, my friend!

    This is SUCH an important subject for writers because with the influx of authors out there today -- indie, traditional, and hybrid, we need all the help we can get to grab readers on the first page.

    LOVE your examples, Janet, but that's no surprise because I love everything you write, my friend.

    VINCE SAID: "I noticed in Lee Child and David Baldacci that they often accomplish four or more objectives in each scene. I think the more objectives you can accomplish in a scene, the more muscle that scene gives the characters."

    WOW, that's impressive, Vince -- I've never thought that deeply while reading -- or writing a scene, so I sure wish I had a dab of your gray matter, my friend!

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  60. I am late today. (I also have a copy of Bounty Hunter's Redemption already.)

    For opening hooks, I love a lot of Mary's openings of her novels. The below is from Sharpshooter in Petticoats.

    Tom Linscott slid backward five feet before he caught a slender rock ledge at clawed at it to stop himself from plunging a hundred feet more.

    You read three more paragraphs that really puts you into what the hero is feeling and that he's risking his life, and then there's the classic Mary bust-a-gut-laughing line...

    No woman should be this hard to get.

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  61. Hi, I was hooked by Debra Holland---Healing Montana Sky the first sentence. "Antonia Valleau cast the first shovelful of dirt onto her husband's fur-shrouded body lying in the grave she'd dug in their garden plot, the only place where the soil wasn't still rock hard."

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  62. Hi Janet:

    The toxic bone in many Romantic conflicts is a past relationship that when very badly. How many heroines have said, "I've had it with men"?

    In "The Lawman's Second Chance" the toxic bone for the hero was having a wife die of breast cancer. All his prayers went unanswered. Does he risk having another wife who he already knows has breast cancer? The toxic bone for the heroine is having had a husband who walked out on her when she got cancer. Does she dare risk having another husband betray her in the same way?

    Also very common is for a widow of a lawman who was killed on duty to never want to risk marrying another lawman.

    The fear of getting another toxic bone fuels the conflict in a many romances. : )

    Old saying: "A cat that sits on a hot stove will never sit on another hot stove again. He won't sit on a cold one either."

    Vince

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  63. Janet,

    Fantastic post - so helpful! Please put my name in for the drawing.

    Tina, I look forward to your post next week on entering contests as I'm entering 3 due on 6/30. ;)

    Blessings to all!

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  64. JULIE, thanks! You're a wonderful encourager. And your gray matter is just fine, though I suspect Vince could loan all of us a dab of his and still have plenty for himself.

    Janet

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  65. WALT, great to see you here. Thanks for sharing Mary's opening, a terrific hook with an ending that makes you laugh out loud.

    Janet

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  66. SHEILA, wow, that opening has me asking lots of questions! Thanks for sharing!

    Janet

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  67. VINCE, thanks for the explanation. Past relationships that wound our characters is a huge internal conflict writers use all the time. I'd thought of the bone as being external. This gives me a new perspective.

    Janet

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  68. EDWINA, huge congrats on getting your work out there in three contests!!! Go you!! I'm sure Tina's post will be very helpful.

    Janet

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  69. Interesting post.. I definitely want this book in my to read stack! I'm hooked :)

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  70. DEANNA, you're in the drawing. Thanks for your interest!

    Janet

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  71. I'm hooked too! This post is excellent, excellent, excellent! Thanks!

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