Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: characters


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories


Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

I'm sure you've heard about the importance of letting a butterfly fight its way out of a cocoon without help - they must struggle or they will die. 
The same with chicks breaking out of an egg. Hatching is a process in which the chick fights and struggles...and rests...while it matures enough to live outside the shell.

The point is - struggle is natural. It's healthy. It's how things grow.

Think of a baby learning to walk: There's your little darling, so wobbly on those fat stumpy legs! Do you coddle that sweet thing? Not if you're wise. You let them try to take a step - fall - and try another step. Before you know it, you have a toddler!

Why am I repeating myself here? Because almost every author goes through the same thing - we have trouble bringing enough conflict into our stories. Softheartedness and compassion will cause us to coddle our darlings, but we must not let ourselves do it!

If we don’t let our characters go through tough times we won’t have a story.

Think of some of the great stories you’ve read or seen as a movie – we’ll look at one that most of us know: The Lord of the Rings – the movie version.

When we meet Frodo, he’s a likable sort of lad. He likes to read (a big plus!) and he’s good friends with a wizard. Life is good for Frodo, and before we’re very far into the story, he’s the lord of the manor.

Wouldn’t you love to live in the idyllic Shire? One big advantage is that everyone expects you to be a little chubby!

Except that nothing much happens. If the entire movie – okay, the entire trilogy – stayed in the Shire, following the day-to-day lives of Frodo and his friends… *yawn* … Can you imagine the extended version? Nine hours of watching hobbits eat?

The story doesn’t start until conflict enters in the form of the Black Riders coming to the Shire to find the Ring.

In my February post, (you can read it here) we started outlining a romance story. Our hero and heroine were Benjamin and Heather (no relation to Benjamin and Heather Drexler.)

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories
The day Heather Vetsch and Benjamin Drexler were married!

I started the plotting (using mirrored plot points to create a chiasm) and our own Debby Giusti moved the story along by adding a couple more plot points.

In the beginning of our story, Benjamin works for a company that produces accessible community playgrounds. He has selected the perfect site for the new playground and all he needs is permission from the planning commission.

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

Heather is a teacher who loves children and wants the best for them. But she has heard about the planned playground and opposes it because of problems with the proposed site.

There’s the beginning of the conflict.

Remember, as much as we like our hero and heroine, we can’t coddle our darlings. We must ramp up the conflict.

Will our characters suffer? Yes.

Will they be better and stronger because of the suffering? Yes.

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

 So, how do we find right conflict for these characters?

This is where character development comes in. We find the right conflict by delving into our characters’ pasts. We need to determine what happened in their past to give them a memory that they stuffed deep into a hole in their minds and won’t bring out again – until they’re faced with a situation that breaks their carefully constructed life into pieces.

One super-helpful resource for this process is The Story Equation by Susan May Warren.

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

For Heather, it’s her dad’s death. He worked at the battery plant that was once on the piece of land earmarked for the playground. She is convinced that the cancer that killed him came from years of working in the toxic environment of the plant, but can’t prove it. Her goal is to prevent the city from using that piece of ground for anything until she can convince the EPA to test the area for lingering toxins.

For Benjamin, it’s his little brother who was born with spina bifida. His passion is to build playgrounds that are accessible for all kids. He has watched his brother shoved to the sidelines because there was no way for him to play safely while confined to a wheelchair. His goal is to provide a place for kids like his brother to have fun.

Do you see how their goals are heading in different directions? When they collide, that’s conflict!

And as the story goes along, there will be one conflict after another – just when we think we’ve reached a resolution, another twist comes along and ramps the conflict up again.

Meanwhile, as our characters face these conflicts they are growing and changing. Making decisions and living with the consequences. And by the end of the story, coming to a satisfying resolution.

Next month we’ll talk about resolving conflicts, and how some of the consequences of those resolutions can lead to more conflict.

Creating conflict for our characters is one of the hardest things for an author to do, especially when we're just starting out. But can never let ourselves be tempted to coddle our darlings!

Have you faced this problem in your writing? How did you solve it?



5 Steps to Creating Characters--Step One



Excerpt -- Opening scene in

The Elements of Love, quick character sketches

They were running away from the threat of misery, pain, degradation. 

And running straight toward danger, deadly danger.

Margaret Stiles chose danger.

What’s more, she chose it for her daughters and prayed without ceasing that she’d chosen right.

            Even worse, the girls had to face that danger alone. Going back by herself was the only way to be sure the girls made their escape.

In silence, she and her three daughters slipped into the night.

She waited until they were far enough from the house no wandering servant, absently looking out the window in the night, could see.

            Then she lagged behind her rushing daughters, her beloved, precious girls. Clouds scuttled across the sky. The dew-damp grass around the house ended in a dense forest. As soon as the forest swallowed them up, she stumbled and fell. Well, truth was, she stopped running, sat down and cried out in pain. Softly. She most certainly didn’t want Edgar to hear, though he drank enough, he usually slept heavily.

            Laura whirled around and rushed back, Jillian a step behind. Michelle brought up the rear.

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Laura, her sweet, compassionate child. The blue-eyed blonde who was a fine-boned, feminine version of her father, Liam Stiles. Laura, who knew how to blow things up.

Jillian, the one with the oddly mathematical mind who made theories work. She’d been educated to build trestles across vast gorges, and build railroad tracks into the heart of a mountain. A fiery green-eyed red-head, a throw-back to her papa’s Irish grandmother.

Michelle the leader, the calm one who took charge of the sweet Laura and the fiery Jillian, and they mostly let her. Michelle the mechanical engineer who saw all the details and made everything and everyone work together. And in her spare time, she worked with machines, mechanisms to help the girl’s future project excel. She already had two patents with plans for a dozen more, if she could just get the ideas in her head to become reality. Michelle was the oldest, the brunette with the shining blue eyes who looked most like her mama.

            “Mama what happened?” Laura dropped to her knees on Margaret’s right.

I spent a while trying to figure out how to talk about characters. Putting into words something that’s just inherently hard to put into words.

Characters need to be three dimensional. And it’s hard for me to really explain what brings them to life.

These are my five steps. The first is the simplest.

1.       Make a character likeable by making someone like them

2.      Character arcs

3.      Give them quirks

4.      My main character types

5.      Avoid backstory dumps

This month I’m talking about step one

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Make a character likeable by making someone like them.
This is possibly the single best piece of advice I ever got as a beginning writer. It’s a simple sentence but when you‘re doing it, it really affects your writing. Often, we want a character at the beginning of the book who has problems, who is resistant to love, who is immature or angry or in some way needs to change her life. Something she has to change about herself. This is at the heart of the character arc. But to make a character difficult we can risk making her (or him) unlikeable and that’s going to be a book no one continues reading. Who wants a main character they don’t like?

So the act of making someone like them, changes the way your write your character. Jerks don’t have good friends, or at least their friends are also jerks. They don’t hug their old, worn-out teddy bear. They don’t have a faithful dog. If you give them a loyal friend, you have to write a character who is responding to that friend in a likeable way. Make a character likeable by making someone like them is a simple statement that really makes you change your character.

The Element of Love

Coming March 2

She mixed danger, desperation, and deception together. Love was not the expected outcome.

With their sharp engineering minds, Laura Stiles and her two sisters have been able to deal with their mother's unfortunate choice in husband until they discovered his plans to marry each of them off to his lecherous friends. Now they must run away--far and fast--to find better matches to legally claim their portion of their father's lumber dynasty and seize control from their stepfather.

During their escape, Laura befriends a mission group heading to serve the poor in California. She quickly volunteers herself and her sisters to join their efforts. Despite the settlement being in miserable condition, the sisters are excited by the opportunity to put their skills to good use. Laura also sees potential in Caleb, the mission's parson, to help with gaining her inheritance. But when secrets buried in Caleb's past and in the land around them come to light, it'll take all the smarts the sisters have to keep trouble at bay.


Creating Characters--Give them a quirk


Creating Characters--Give them a quirk

I'm the little girl in the center. You know...the CUTE ONE!!???
There are unsubstantiated rumors that I was a quirky little thing!
Also, I believe my mother is very pregnant with the fourth of her eight kids.
What can I was the baby boom!

One of the things I like to do when creating characters is give them quirks that compliment their personality or career choice, or whatever their underlying deal is.

I remember in Sharpshooter in Petticoats, Mandy McClellen Lindscott, a wickedly fast, accurate shot with her rifle, had a callus on her trigger finger.

When she was worried, or angry or even just thinking, she’d rub that callus with her thumb. That was her quirk. And it said a lot about her. How she thought of herself. The weight she carried because of her rifle skills. Negative and positive things. She counted on that trigger finger. She also had a lot of fear about how cool she got in a crisis. Cold honestly. She carried the fear inside her that she had what it took to be a killer.

Creating Characters--Give them a quirk

So right now, I’m creating a group of sisters who are brilliant and, on top of that brilliance, they are highly educated and trained to take over a big business, a lumber industry but also the other facets of the dynasty their father had built.

One of the sisters is a chemical engineer, before that was really a term. Chemicals were created and the word and job of engineer exists (in addition to train engineers) But the two hadn’t really been cut off into a specialized field called chemical engineer.

So my heroine loves chemistry and, because her father’s dream was to build train tracks up a mountainside.

Someone’s going to have to build those tracks (that’s book #3).

Someone’s going to have to invent excellent brakes, super strong freight cars able to carry massive weight.

Someone is going to have to blast holes in mountains to build the tunnels they need.

My heroine gets the job of blowing stuff up. The Element of Love coming February 2022.

The twist in this book is the sisters, so smart, but wealthy all their lives, have to run away from home because danger has come to the Stiles Mansion up in the vast, remote forest.

Book #2 of the Lumber Baron's Daughter

And they have to HIDE. So they hide out as servants…and guess what? They have no skills. Sure they can modify, improve and get a patent for heavy duty undercarriage elements for a train car. But can they patch a hole in the knee of someone’s pants?

And how in the world does a bloody hunk of unidentified meat turn into a meal?

They are doing their best to fake it but they don’t dare tell the truth because if word of their whereabouts reaches the ear of their enemy, they are in dreadful danger.

So my smart heroine is faking NOT being smart. A the woman who has always had servants is trying to fake being a servant. She is bad at it. And she’d learning a few lessons about a ‘woman’s work’ having true value. And how, though she was always polite and thankful, she may have not given enough respect to the servants who fed and clothed her while she did ‘important’ work.

I’m having a lot of fun trying to make her humble and servant-like, and having her feisty, brilliant mind sneaking out all the time.

So...quirks. Give your characters quirks to make them three dimensional.

Do you have characters that are quirky? Tell me about them.

Today, for the Christmas season, I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky commenter.

If you want, you can use it to pre-order The Element of Love...but no one's gonna check if you use it for wild living!!!

Merry Christmas

The Element of Love by Mary Connealy

With their sharp engineering minds, Laura Stiles and her two sisters have been able to deal with their mother's unfortunate choice in husband, until they discover his plans to marry each of them off to his lecherous friends. Now they must run away--far and fast--to find better matches to legally claim their portion of their father's lumber dynasty and seize control from their stepfather.

When Laura befriends a mission group heading to serve the poor in California during their escape, she quickly volunteers herself and her sisters to join their efforts. Despite the settlement being in miserable condition, the sisters are excited by the opportunity to put their skills to good use. Laura also sees potential in Caleb, the local minister, to help with gaining her inheritance. But when secrets buried in Caleb's past and in the land around them come to light, it'll take all the smarts the sisters have to keep trouble at bay.


Populating Your Story with Background Characters


We all enjoy the secondary characters in stories, right?

The heroine’s best friend, the hero’s fun younger brother, the sidekick, the pal, the mentor.

These characters are necessary to your story. They provide someone for your characters to confide in and someone to push your hero or heroine to make the move toward romance or toward the next plot point in your story.

But what about the background characters?

First, let’s define what a background character is.

These are characters who populate the third circle of your cast. They are more than a part of the community, but they don’t have as much of a relationship with your hero/heroine as your secondary characters.

But what purpose do they serve?

Unlike the secondary characters, background characters aren’t there to influence the story or your main characters. They provide a balance, a mood, or sometimes a way to ease or increase the tension of a scene.

They can also be a vehicle to give your story a reason to progress through the next scene, like an older couple in my Christmas novella, “An Amish Christmas Recipe Box.”

Let’s look at a couple background characters from fiction as examples.

First, there’s Rosie Cotton from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’ve read the books or seen the movies, you know Rosie. Sam is in love with her – we know that from the beginning – but he doesn’t feel that he can “speak” for her quite yet. Her character is part of the community, and yet a little bit more. She doesn’t influence the story like a secondary character would, but she influences Sam. In a very subtle way, we know that she is his unstated and secret motivation to come home from the quest, and his hope for the future.

Another one is Mrs. McGregor from Peter Rabbit. She doesn’t play an active role in the story, but she is there. She is pictured in the third illustration in the book, along with Mrs. Rabbit’s ominous warning to Peter: “Your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.” That seemingly innocent act of fixing dinner for her family immediately cast Mrs. McGregor as the accomplice to murder! From that point on she isn’t mentioned again, but she is there, symbolizing the fate of careless rabbits who wander into the wrong garden.

Background characters are important to your story, and they should be crafted with care. You don’t need to develop them with the same depth as your main and secondary characters, but they should have their own lives and personalities.

I’d like to introduce you to a background character in my Work-in-Progress, the second installment in my Sweetbrier Inn Mysteries. Her purpose in the story is simple – I have two artists who are at odds with one another as secondary characters, and neither one is very likeable. This character, Debbie, is also an artist, but I made her the kind of person you could sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with. She’s the counterbalance to the other two characters.

Here’s her introduction in the book:

“Good afternoon,” I said to the older couple. “You must be Rick and Debbie Harris.”

“That’s right.” Rick smiled at me, his graying beard unable to hide the friendly gesture. “We’re sorry we’re late, but we hadn’t expected the Dignity statue in Chamberlain to be so captivating.”

“Have you seen it?” Debbie asked. When I shook my head, she went on. “You have to. It is so beautiful and conveys the dignity of the Native Americans perfectly in the graceful lines of the woman. Like a dancer captured in motion.”

Her hands fluttered in the air as she spoke as if she was trying to express the movement that the statue could only represent. Her gently curled silver hair with strands of gold lowlights added to the ethereal quality of her description.

“I’m sorry.” She laughed as her hands dropped to her side like birds coming to roost on a branch. “I get carried away sometimes.” She shook her head as she laughed again.

We will see Debbie often as the story progresses since she and her husband are guests at the bed and breakfast where the book is set. She is part of the background and provides texture to the cast of characters. She might even provide some insight into the motive for the murder.

The inspiration for my fictional Sweetbrier Inn

Have you given a thought to the background characters in your story?

Tell us about your favorite background character, either in your own work or in a favorite book or movie in the comments.

One commenter will win a copy of “An Amish Christmas Kitchen,” the collection of novellas that includes “An Amish Christmas Recipe Box.” That’s the story I mentioned earlier where I use background characters to move the story along. You’ll have to see if you can spot them as you read the story!

As the weather grows cold and the nights grow long, the cheer and warmth of the Christmas season is one thing all readers can find comfort in. This collection from bestselling Amish fiction novelists Leslie Gould, Jan Drexler, and Kate Lloyd finds the beating heart at the center of the holiday and offers three novellas that celebrate family, faith, and especially the sights and smells of a bustling holiday kitchen.

Leslie Gould tells the story of how, in the wake of a heartbreaking loss, a young Amish woman finds unexpected comfort and hope in a yearly baking tradition surrounding the local Lancaster Christmas market. Jan Drexler offers a sweet tale of a shy Amish woman who decides to use her gift for sweets to woo a local Amish boy with her beloved Christmas cookies. And Kate Lloyd offers a heartwarming tale of a woman's unexpected discovery about the truth of her past, and the warm and welcoming Amish family table she finds herself invited to on Christmas.

The giveaway is for a physical copy of the collection (US addresses only) or an e-copy of either the collection, or Jan's story alone (wherever Amazon will send the e-book.)

Embracing the Marginalized: Writing Characters Who Are Considered Different by guest T.I. Lowe

Let's give today's guest author T.I. Lowe a warm Seekerville welcome as she shares her heart for writing characters who are considered different by embracing the marginalized.

Embracing the Marginalized: Writing Characters Who Are Considered Different by guest T.I. Lowe

I was asked the following question in an interview for my book Under the Magnolias and thought I would elaborate on it for you in this post:

Why did you choose to represent characters who are “marginalized” or “misunderstood” in this book?

My answer: I am just so tired of the labels and the unrealistic boxes society creates and expects you to live up to. That’s hogwash. If God wanted us all to fit in the same box, he would have created us as carbon copies. He didn’t, so that means it’s a gift to be different and I think differences should be celebrated. I did a lot of celebrating this in Under the Magnolias.

Embracing the Marginalized: Writing Characters Who Are Considered Different by guest T.I. Lowe

That’s the blunt answer, and I feel like bluntness is needed for this question. No beating around the bush.

As a writer, I think it would be an injustice to write solely about cookie-cutter characters. I don’t know about you, but I’m a hot mess. I have issues. I’m pudgy. When I’m nervous, I cannot find eloquence to save my life. And those are just some of my issues. Other folks have other issues. Honestly, that’s what makes them interesting in my book.

My desire is to showcase differences, in all forms, and to have people realize how unnecessary labels and boxes are. The ones who are typically overlooked are the ones I always gravitate toward when investing in character studies.

Labels created by society come with scarlet letters of shame. Body-shaming. Race shaming. Gender shaming. Social views shaming. I could go on and on. If one person reads Under the Magnolias and can relate to one of the marginalized characters and realize they are perfectly acceptable as is, then I’ve done the job I wanted to achieve.

Here’s a sneak peek at the interesting mix of characters you will meet in Under the Magnolias.

As the piano came to life, I sat a little straighter and scanned the small pews and felt certain the ragtag congregation near about represented any walk of life you could think of.

A fortune-teller accused of being a witch doctor. Check.

An ex-con with a glass eye. Check.

An atheist believer with a Polish accent. Check.

The town’s undertaker whose sexual orientation was questionable. Check.

The town floozy with a penchant for neon-blue eye shadow. Check.

A poor farming family with way too many kids. Check.

A madman leading them. Check.

As you can see in this small excerpt, there is quite a colorful group of people just waiting to introduce themselves to you. Sadly, they carry labels and shame formed from falsities and gossip. Mostly because those characters didn’t look or act like the “normal” townsfolk. Surfaces can be deceiving, but with a closer look, my readers are going to meet a spectacular group of people.

Embracing the Marginalized: Writing Characters Who Are Considered Different by guest T.I. Lowe
It’s time to stop the shaming and start being encouragers. I know this sounds more like a soapbox speech, but I think it’s important to grasp, in real life and in fiction. And as a Christian author, I feel like it’s my duty to love as Jesus loved. That means encouraging and not shaming. I want people to read my stories and see themselves walking through the mistakes with my characters, and I want them to celebrate in the moments of redemption as well.

Sometimes our issues or the labels placed on us due to our issues hold us back from seeking help when we need it. Shame will send us into hiding. Readers will discover how detrimental this is in Under the Magnolias. My characters hide behind the labels, become prisoners to them actually, until it almost becomes their ruin.

As a writer I have the gift of giving the story a happy ending. Sadly, this isn’t always the case in real life. Please, if you are struggling with any form of mental illness or have been hiding some other issue, I want to encourage you to get help. As Austin Foster discovers in this book, you’d be surprised how supportive those around you can be if you just let them in.

Is there a marginalized character you’ve discovered in a book you related to? If so, what book and how did it affect you? 

Share your thoughts in the comments and one reader will win a print copy of Under the Magnolias courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers.

Embracing the Marginalized: Writing Characters Who Are Considered Different by guest T.I. Lowe
Under the Magnolias
Releasing May 4, 2021
This night not only marked the end to the drought, but also the end to the long-held secret we’d kept hidden under the magnolias.

Magnolia, South Carolina, 1980

Austin Foster is barely a teenager when her mama dies giving birth to twins, leaving her to pick up the pieces while holding her six siblings together and doing her best to stop her daddy from retreating into his personal darkness.

Scratching out a living on the family’s tobacco farm is as tough as it gets. When a few random acts of kindness help to ease the Fosters’ hardships, Austin finds herself relying upon some of Magnolia’s most colorful citizens for friendship and more. But it’s next to impossible to hide the truth about the goings-on at Nolia Farms, and Austin’s desperate attempts to save face all but break her.

Just when it seems she might have something more waiting for her—with the son of a wealthy local family who she’s crushed on for years—her father makes a choice that will crack wide-open the family’s secrets and lead to a public reckoning. There are consequences for loving a boy like Vance Cumberland, but there is also freedom in the truth.

T. I. Lowe’s gritty yet tender and uplifting tale reminds us that a great story can break your heart . . . then heal it in the best possible way.

Embracing the Marginalized: Writing Characters Who Are Considered Different by guest T.I. Lowe

T. I. Lowe
is an ordinary country girl who loves to tell extraordinary stories and is the author of nearly twenty published novels, including her debut, Lulu's Café, a number one bestseller. She lives with her husband and family in coastal South Carolina. Find her at or on Facebook (T.I.Lowe), Instagram (tilowe), and Twitter (@TiLowe).

Choosing the Right Hero for Your Heroine (and vice versa)


Choosing the Right Hero for Your Heroine (and vice versa)

by Mindy Obenhaus

Take two stubborn people from completely different backgrounds, add one orphaned little girl and you just might have the makings of a happily ever after.

When I began writing my upcoming release, A Brother’s Promise, I knew my heroine because she’d appeared in the first book in my Bliss, Texas series, A Father’s Promise. Christa Slocum was a no nonsense, take-charge kind of gal who’d given up a high-power tech industry job to purchase a small-town hardware store. At forty-three, she was comfortably single with no desire to have a man in her life. So coming up with a hero who wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with her was a challenge.

Choosing the Right Hero for Your Heroine (and vice versa)

Enter Mick Ashford, a rancher who’s lived his entire life in the same small town and happens to be Christa’s neighbor. He was raised in the farmhouse she’s spent the last few years renovating, preferring to live in the rustic camp house he and his father built when Mick was a boy. Still single at age forty-five, he has no need for a woman in his life because, in his experience, women only wanted to change him into someone he wasnt.

Though Christa and Mick cross paths frequently, often butting heads, they’re more acquaintances than friends, never taking the time to get to know one another. So how did I bring this confirmed bachelor and bachelorette together?

Common goal – Every h/h needs a common goal. Something that, inevitably, forces them to spend time together. In Mick and Christa’s case, it’s Mick’s recently orphaned, five-year-old niece, Sadie.

As Sadie’s legal guardian, Mick is determined to do right by her, even though he knows nothing about little girls or being a father. So when Christa offers to help him redecorate Sadie’s bedroom, he’s more than willing to accept.

However, Christa wants to help with more than just Sadie’s bedroom. Having lost her mother when she was five, Christa understands what Sadie is going through emotionally and vows to help both Sadie and Mick navigate the turbulent waters that lie ahead.

Choosing the Right Hero for Your Heroine (and vice versa)

Overcoming misconceptions - The more the hero and heroine are together, the better they come to know one another, shifting their perception of each other.

While Christa is a well-educated, big-city girl, Mick is a country boy who makes his own sausage and lives a simple life. Yet as they become more familiar with each other, Christa realizes that Mick is anything but self-absorbed, not to mention more complex than she imagined. He learns that she’s down to earth and shares his appreciation for life’s simpler things. And they soon discover…

They complement each other – Where one is weak, the other is strong. Learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses is the beginning of a lasting relationship. In the face of adversity, they learn they can lean on one another. However, there is always one thing that stands in their way.

Fear keeps them apart – We’re all afraid of something. Things that might seem silly to others, can be very real to you and are usually based on past experience.

Every woman Mick ever dated has tried to change him. To turn him into something he’s not. Is he enough for Christa? What if she grows bored with him because he doesn’t challenge her the way a more educated man could?

Meanwhile, Christa’s had her own share of heartbreak. Everyone she’s ever loved has left her. What if Mick left her, too?

So will Mick and Christa overcome their fears to discover their happily ever after? Well, I cant give everything away. 😉

Choosing the right hero and heroine is like building a winning team. You want diversity. Different backgrounds, different strengths and weaknesses. Things that, when put to the test, will challenge them, strengthen them, bring them closer together and, perhaps, give them the happily ever after they didn’t even know they wanted.

Writers, how do you choose your hero and heroine? Readers, what do you think makes a great couple? I’m giving away a copy of A Brother’s Promise, so leave a comment to be entered (US mailing addresses only, please). Oh, and if you’d like a sneak-peak at the first chapter, you can do that here.

Choosing the Right Hero for Your Heroine (and vice versa)

He didn’t realize he wanted a family… Until he suddenly became a single dad.

After his sister’s death, rancher Mick Ashford’s determined to ensure his orphaned niece, Sadie, feels at home. And accepting guidance from Christa Slocum is his first step. But just as Christa and Sadie begin to settle into Mick’s heart, Sadie’s paternal grandparents sue for custody. Now Mick must fight to keep them together…or risk losing the makeshift family he’s come to love

Choosing the Right Hero for Your Heroine (and vice versa)

Award-winning author Mindy Obenhaus is passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. She lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, two sassy pups, countless cattle, deer and the occasional coyote, mountain lion or snake. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, cooking and watching copious amounts of the Hallmark Channel. Learn more at  

Hiding in Plain Sight: What My Characters Taught Me with guest Tara Johnson

“Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”
―Stanisław Lem

Hiding in Plain Sight: What My Characters Taught Me with guest Tara Johnson

“Tara, do you know what you are?”

My friend sipped her coffee and leveled me with a kind but far too direct stare. The kind of stare that is only earned through truth and years of hard-won trust.


“You’re a rodeo clown.”

I blinked, unable to formulate a reply in the sting of her assessment. I didn’t relish being compared to a clown. All I could see were the floppy shoes and bright-red nose. I contemplated dumping the coffee in her lap when she smiled.

“I don’t mean like Bozo the clown. I mean you stand in front of the crowd doing tricks, telling jokes, making everyone laugh. You see to their happiness while plastering yourself in makeup to give the illusion of a whimsical clown. But sometimes you hide behind that painted smile.”

Hiding in Plain Sight: What My Characters Taught Me with guest Tara JohnsonShe was all too correct. It’s easier than some might think to hide in plain sight.

I grew up as a preacher’s kid. I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly in churches. Somewhere along the way, I fell for the lie that approval and love are the same thing, but I was wrong. They are polar opposites.

Approval is a stamp that says, “You meet my expectations.” It drips of condescension and conditions. Love says, “You’re a mess, but I’m crazy about you anyway.” For too long, I lived as a people pleaser, looking for unconditional love in conditionally-minded people. I failed. Over and over again.

Thankfully I grew older and wiser. God brought amazing people—teachers, doctors, and friends—who helped unearth the wounds I kept locked away in the shadowed places of my heart. For a while I thought I had it all figured out . . . until I started writing. That’s when my characters began to teach me things I’m often afraid to confront.

Hiding in Plain Sight: What My Characters Taught Me with guest Tara JohnsonIn my debut novel, Engraved on the Heart, my heroine Keziah battles epilepsy while working as a conductor in the Underground Railroad. She struggles against the expectations of her staunch Confederate family, hiding her frailties from society’s critical eyes and pleasing the brother she adores while still trying to remain true to her own convictions. As Keziah’s story unfolded, I realized I fell for the same lie she had . . . that broken means worthless.

In my latest novel, Where Dandelions Bloom, Cassie Kendrick escapes her abusive father by enlisting as a male soldier in the Union Army. Cassie hides in plain sight yet fools herself into thinking she is finally liberated from the torment that has shadowed her life. In her quest for freedom, she comes to realize the only thing keeping her captive is her refusal to forgive her father.

While penning these two novels, I came to understand two things. First, I discovered Cassie and Keziah are reflections of my own secrets, the wounds I’ve tried to mask behind grease paint and wide smiles. Second, I realized why I write. Writing to win over the masses or for my own personal ego is a broken cistern of despair, nor do I write to escape. Instead, I start each book with a question I don’t know the answer to and ask God to reveal the answer as the story unfolds. To reveal himself.

Hiding in Plain Sight: What My Characters Taught Me with guest Tara Johnson
In other words, I write to know God.

Many writers think their main goal should be voyaging off un-pubbed island. A noble goal, as long we don’t forget why we write. Published or unpublished, they both have their place and can teach us beautiful things at our particular point along the journey. Be careful not to base your identity in being a published author or as a writer at all. The more you build your identity on something other than Christ, the greater the pain if that identity crumbles.

“The seeker embarks on a journey to find what he wants and discovers, along the way, what he needs.”
―Wally Lamb

Know why you write. The motivation makes a difference.

And if, like me, you discover you’ve been hiding behind face paint and false identities, that’s okay. Write about that too.

Why do you write? 
What unexpected discoveries have you learned about yourself or about God as you’ve delved into the world of story? 
Do you believe courage is a requirement for being a writer?

Join the conversation in the comments! Thanks to Tara Johnson and Tyndale, one commenter (US only) will win a copy of Where Dandelions Bloom OR Engraved on the Heart!

Hiding in Plain Sight: What My Characters Taught Me with guest Tara Johnson
Cassie Kendrick is on the run. Her abusive father arranged her marriage to a despicable man, but she's discovered an escape. Disguised as a man, Cassie enlists in the Union army, taking the name Thomas Turner.  On the battlefields of the Civil War, keeping her identity a secret is only the beginning of her problems, especially after she meets Gabriel Avery, a handsome young photographer.

Anxious to make his mark on the world and to erase the darkness and guilt lurking from his past, Gabriel works with renowned photographer Matthew Brady to capture images from the front lines of the war. As Gabriel forges friendships with many of the men he encounters, he wonders what the courageous, unpredictable Thomas Turner is hiding.

Battling betrayal, their own personal demons, and a country torn apart by war, can Cassie and Gabriel learn to forgive themselves and trust their futures to the God who births hope and healing in the darkest places? 

Where Dandelions Bloom... Available now! 

Hiding in Plain Sight: What My Characters Taught Me with guest Tara Johnson
Tara Johnson is an author, speaker, and passionate lover of stories. She loves to travel to churches, ladies’ retreats, and prisons to share how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled as a people-pleasing preacher’s kid.

From the time she was young and watched Gone with the Wind with her mother for the first time, the Civil War has intrigued her. That fascination grew into all aspects of American history and the brave people and stories who make up its vibrant past.

She says, “History is crammed full of larger-than-life characters. Doc Holliday, Annie Oakley, Helen Keller, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Amelia Earhart, and Frederick Douglass are just a few examples of flawed, wounded humans who battled their demons with determination and left an indelible mark on the pages of history. I suppose that’s why people are so fascinating. No matter the era, we all battle the same wounds. Abandonment, abusive fathers, overprotective mothers, loss, grief, rejection, addiction, crippling anxiety, loneliness, or the yearning for unconditional love, to name a few. We all battle the same junk and have to decide whether to fight or cave. Run or stand. Cry or smile. That’s what great characters do. They are a reflection of our struggles, our own wounds. Our own need. And, when written well, they remind us whom we need to turn to for healing.”

Tara has written articles for Plain Truth magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth Radio and Enduring Word Radio. Tara is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Todd, live in Arkansas, and the Lord has blessed them with five children: Bethany, Callie, and Nate, as well as Taylor Lynn and Morgan Lane, who are with Jesus.

Visit her website at and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Help Your Reader Fall in Love with Your Characters

by Jan Drexler 

The literary world has changed in the last fifty years. In the past, authors like J.R.R. Tolkien could spend three pages introducing us to his main character in “The Hobbit” (Bilbo Baggins,) complete with a description of his home and family history – and he does this in the first three pages of the book. I happen to like that style, and when I read “The Hobbit,” I settle into my comfy chair ready to lose myself in the story.

But things have changed! In our time, authors need to get to the action as soon as possible and leave the backstory and descriptions for later.

How do you do this?

Layer by layer.


Onions or cake. Take your pick!

Either way, we peel our character’s layers back little by little, letting our readers learn to know our characters by their actions. Or a comment here. A thought there.

It’s tempting to tell the reader everything! We love our characters and we want our readers to love them, too!

But an information dump (where you give your reader way too much information at once) is like your co-worker setting you up for a blind date with her favorite cousin. She has been gushing over this guy for two weeks, telling you all about his job, family, house, dog, his appendicitis attack in 8th grade… But really, don’t you want to meet him first? Don’t you want to be the one to decide if you want to get to know him better?

Do your readers a favor and peel away those layers little by little.

Here’s an example from my work in progress, Softly Blows the Bugle. We’ve already met the hero, Aaron, in the first scene. There we found out that he was wounded and captured at Gettysburg. First layer.

In the second scene, we begin to see him through his own eyes as he’s talking to his friend Jonas:

“But the war changed you.” Aaron let his mind go back to the angry, fiery young man he had been, hot to kill any Yankee he could find after a scouting party shot Grandpop. “It changed both of us. War will do that.”

That snippet is all we know so far about Aaron’s past. It’s just one more layer, but the story isn't finished yet.

Later in the book, but still early, we’ll learn more about Grandpop and what he meant to Aaron. Another layer.

Somewhere around the middle of the story, memories of Aaron’s mother will begin to surface. Thin layers peel away, revealing his home life as a child.

Toward the end, we’ll learn the secret of Aaron’s past, and the reason he believes the lie that has ruled his life. Peeling back layer by layer by layer.

Meanwhile, all through the story we watch Aaron’s actions, how he treats other people, and how they respond to him. Layers.

By the end of the book, if I have done my work well, we will know Aaron’s story, his struggles, his spiritual battles, and his physical battles. And we will know the inner man. The hero the readers will fall in love with.

At the same time, we need to be careful not to peel back a layer, revealing a hint of an important detail, and then never bring it up again.

For example, what if you read that smidgen of information at the beginning of the book (Aaron let his mind go back to the angry, fiery young man he had been, hot to kill any Yankee he could find after a scouting party shot Grandpop,) but then you never learned any more about Grandpop or that event? Or what if I didn’t let the readers see the process of the change between then and now? What if I never let the other shoe drop?

Among the things I look for in my revision process are unfinished trails like this. And if I don’t catch them, I pray that my editor will!

Let's chat! Have you ever experienced the "information dump" in your writing? What about in your reading? Or, does it bother you when an author leaves a detail hanging? (It's one of my pet peeves!)

Thanks for reading, and have a blessed Holy Week!

Jan Drexler spent her childhood dreaming of living in the Wild West and is now thrilled to call the Black Hills of South Dakota her home. When she isn’t writing she spends much of her time satisfying her cross-stitch addiction or hiking and enjoying the Black Hills with her husband of more than thirty-six years. Her writing partner is her corgi, Thatcher, who makes life…interesting.

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories5 Steps to Creating Characters--Step OneCreating Characters--Give them a quirkPopulating Your Story with Background CharactersEmbracing the Marginalized: Writing Characters Who Are Considered Different by guest T.I. LoweChoosing the Right Hero for Your Heroine (and vice versa)Hiding in Plain Sight: What My Characters Taught Me with guest Tara JohnsonHelp Your Reader Fall in Love with Your Characters

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