Thursday, January 30, 2014

From Australia With Love Blog Hop: L.J. Clarkson

Australian writers rock. We know it, and we love them. But it’s not always easy to discover the Australian talent that is right under our noses.

From Australia With Love Blog Hop introduces you to 18 Aussie authors across a variety of categories and genres. Each author is hosting three of their fellow blog hop participants between now and Valentine’s Day to let you find out more about them. So follow them on twitter, like their Facebook page and visit their blogs during the blog hop period to discover more great Australian writers.

And to show how much these Aussie authors love their readers, they’ve donated some great prizes for you to win!

Today we have MG Aussie writer L.J. Clarkson stopping by.

1)    What drew you to write Middle Grade books?

It was a combination of things. At work I felt forced to act serious and not be myself. Working to deadlines built pressure and stress, so writing provided a real release. Writing for children allows me to bring out my inner child, be a big kid again and laugh at all my own jokes. On the opposite side, reading children’s books continually amazes me in terms of fantastical worlds, imagination and story lines. Nothing is impossible. The imagination truly is limitless.

2)    What are the key elements to make an entertaining MG book?

Characters, pace and plot are central to MG stories. If characters aren’t likable, they don’t have interests, dislikes, if they aren’t flawed in some way, or they lack a particular strength, then the reader can’t identify and relate with them. Conflict, pace and tension are also important because every children’s authors battles kids’ short attention spans, and has to keep things moving and exciting to keep children reading.

3)    Tell us a bit about your characters and how you came up with them?

Being a quirky person, I create characters with individual traits, inspired by friends, family, neighbours and even myself. For example, Esme is a more extreme version of me, based on my career as an Environmental Engineer, testing contaminated land and water. While I grow my own food and use natural cleaning products, Esme is the ultimate greenie, saving Agartha from the destruction of mining, and examining people’s plants and lecturing them about plant health (a bit like my Dad)!

On the other hand, Boldrick the poor, conflicted man/cat is modeled on my neighbour’s daughter, whom I used to catch out in some white lies. As a result, Boldrick became the cursed man, trapped in a cat’s body for two hundred years, unable to lie, lest his whiskers wriggle. Poor Boldrick; I throw him in situations where this really challenges him.

4)    Which author(s) inspire you?

I’m a big fan of witty writing and deliciously evil characters like those in Eion Coifers, Artemis Fowl series and Aussie author, Kathryn Deans Shimmer series. My dream is to write as well as them.

5)    How do you get over writer's block?

Funny you ask, because I’ve been trialing two new tricks lately! One is to do a series of writing sprints with a friend, where we just let the words flow and don’t stop to think for 20 minutes. I usually get around 800 or more words in 3 sprints.

The other trick, homework from a hypnotist I visited two months ago, is based on Walt Disney’s creative process. It combats the clashing of two distinct writing roles: the creative (the imaginative writer who creates the story), or the critic (the one who edits, revises and refines the story). My problem was that I was playing both roles at the same time, and the critic was blocking my flow. So now when I sit down to write, I have to be the creative only, and it’s a lot harder to master, since I’ve written as the creative/critic for 4 years!

6)   What projects are you working on that you're excited about?

My list of projects keeps growing! I’m currently writing a new children’s fantasy called Heaven and Hound, about a teenage boy with a childhood fear of dogs, employed to train hellhounds and help track down his employer’s Pop. I will be submitting it for assessment for my Masters in Creative Writing subject.

I’m also working on Indicated-a site providing all the help and resources an indie or small press author needs. It features book promotion guides, a system to help authors get more reviews etc, and a database of where to find promotional resources like interviews, guest posts, book review bloggers and more. I’m always finding more resources and adding them!

Author Bio:

LJ ‘fibber’ Clarkson tells everyone she gave up her Environmental Engineering career to study a Creative Writing Degree and pursue her writing dreams. But that's not entirely true. Ten percent of the time she sleeps in. Playing spider solitaire consumes 5% (bad, bad habit). Running Indicated, a promotional site for authors steals another 18.75%. In her remaining waking hours, she writes, laughs at her own jokes, reads and falls asleep whenever her boyfriend reels off geeky computer lingo (zzzzzz). If she were a Mastermind, she’d uninvent early mornings, grammar, broccoli, cleaning and her dog’s fussy eating habits.

You can find out more at or

The Silver Strand blurb:

Ever since twelve year old Isabelle Tresdon’s silver strand of hair sprouted, it’s been nothing but trouble: bleeding pink dust and sparking like a firecracker.  Refusing to be known as the girl with the freaky, grandma hair, she wishes it never grew and the hair withers and tarnishes.  

The only problem is, the strand is Isabelle's source of magic, and she can transform particles of energy into matter. It's also her ticket into Mastermind Academy, a secret school inside the earth’s core. Five days remain before the strand drains her magic and life, forcing Isabelle to enter into a deal with two trickster Masterminds to save it. But what she doesn't count on is that there is more at stake than just her life. 

The Silver Strand, a MG Fantasy Adventure for 9-12 year olds, is book 1 in the Mastermind Academy Series.


In honour of Australia Day, I’ve brought out the cane toad-despised by most Aussies, but you will fall in love with mine!

The toad puffed out his chest, emphasizing the yellow and brown streaks across it. “I’m Mozzy. Named after my favorite food, mosquitoes.” He shoved his webbed hand into hers and shook it. 

“I’m Isa....” She couldn’t use her real name. Sounded too human.  “I’m Warterella. Named after all my warts.” She flashed her warty back.

“Strange name.” Mozzy rubbed his chin. “Sounds like one of those fancy names they use in the city.” Mouth parted, he stretched out his neck to admire her back, pulling loose skin folds tighter.

Every time she shifted her back away from him, he’d shuffle over to inspect it. She sighed and let him study her.

“Has anyone ever told you your warts are stunning?” he said.

The thought of anyone finding warts attractive made Isabelle shudder. Unsure how to respond, for she’d never been told that before and hoped to never again, Isabelle shifted from foot to foot. “Um, never.”

“Really?” That brought a shy smile to his face.

She bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from laughing.

“Uh, that’s not to say that you don’t have lovely mustard-colored eyes.” He stuttered on the words. “I just think every single wart tells me something different about toad’s character.”

Isabelle looked at him as if he were loopy. Bats squawked in the tree above, seeming to agree with her.

He pressed on a wart on her shoulder. “This one here tells me you feel let down by a close friend. Is that true?”

She stared at the protruding fern roots and nodded. Bianca couldn’t stop all the people rushing to watch Isabelle’s hair, as if she was a freak at a sideshow. She bet her friend had only called her tonight because she felt sorry for Isabelle. Coughing back a whimper in her throat, she focused on the frog chorus in the background.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where To Find Your Perfect Critique Partner

Confession time: I read the last page of the book first. No, not the ending. I’m not all that morbid and besides, if I die tomorrow.... 

...I’ll probably be thinking of other things at the time versus “Damn, I wish I knew how that book wrapped up.” 

I mean the acknowledgments. I’m a total sucker for them! I love seeing the vast team of people who go into making a book sing and, after writing my own recently, I know just how heartfelt they can be. Front and center in my acknowledgments: my critique partners. They are the bomb diggity and I hope they know it.  At this point, they’ve all made the cross from critique partner to true friends...

... but at one point we started as strangers on the same journey. In next month’s post, I’ll blog about how to get the most from your critique partners and where and when to use them to your best advantage, but today I thought I’d start with how to find amazing critique partners of your own (cuz you know I’m not sharing mine. Well, I might.)

SCBWI: a professional organization of like-minded people is a great starting point. Many local chapters have organized critique groups that meet in person on a monthly basis and are open to all members. Generally these groups examine shorter pieces (a PB text, a chapter of a longer piece) and give critiques in person. Often subgroups form where members trade longer samples or full manuscripts on their own time.

CPseek: After Pitch Wars 2013, a number of the mentors joined together to form CP Seek, an online message board where writers can post “want ads” of sorts for online critique partners. Check them out- there’s gold in them thar hills!

Online contests: Ever enter your query or first page in a contest and drool over another entries, wishing you could read their story ASAP. Guess what? They might be drooling over yours. And maybe you can. One of my closest friends and I met when she was sorting slush in a contest, trying to choose which queries to advance. She tweeted that she found one she wished she could read right then (hooray, it was mine!), another writer friend happened to see her tweet and looped me into the conversation. Several manuscripts later, we now talk ten times a day and even our kids have become friends, despite the eight-hour drive separating us. In fact, today I’m washing sheets in advance of their visit next week.

Writing Sites: Many reputable writing sites, such as Mother.Write.Repeat and Miss Snark will periodically open the comments on a post for writers to connect with other writers seeking CP’s. Back in 2012, I responded to one along with three others. We promptly formed a Yahoo group where we could trade our manuscripts with one another. Not quite two years later, we are now the MGBetareaders, twenty-four writers strong, still trading and now blogging as a group at In that time about half of us have become agented and some have signed book deals. Most importantly, the group has become a safe environment for sharing the ups and downs of publishing.

One valuable suggestion when trading work with a new critique partner: start with a manageable chunk of your works (maybe three chapters or so) to see if you are a good match for each other before committing to trading a whole manuscript. Finding a good CP can be a bit like finding a good mate. There may be some dating involved before you hit your perfect match. 

The greatest thing about this kidlit writing community is how supportive, welcoming and encouraging we are to one another. It’s something that warms my heart and takes (most of) the sting out of the sucky rejection part of this business. We have each other’s backs and well have yours, the moment you ask for it. So come find us!!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Blog Ideas for When You Don't Know What to Write About

"What are we going to talk about?"

*whines* "I don't know!"

My sister and I have this conversation at least once per month while we're preparing to film our weekly YA Rebels video and it made me think about my own blog, where I should be posting more.

Maybe you're staring at your blog, knowing it should have more content, but you just can't bring yourself to be witty/charming/entertaining/informative that often.You still love blogging and have no interest in shutting your blog down - but we all get overworked sometimes and being creative is hard!

Here are some cheat codes for adding more content to your blog without it feeling like "filler." With these, there's no excuse for those "Hey guys, I don't have anything to say, but I just wanted to post something" posts.

1) Cover Reveals and Book Blasts

This one is a win-win for everyone involved. You get a post your readers will care about and an author gets a bit of exposure. Even if your blog only has a "few" followers, every little bit helps the author.

The best part: you can get these opportunities delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to be on a blog tour company's mailing list. I do this for my Aria Kane blog and I've seen a lot of traffic from these posts. I don't have a lot of followers, so I only sign up for cover reveals and blasts, where the author doesn't have to spend a lot of time on a guest post or interview that only a few people will read. Bonus: I'm building up goodwill for when I have a book come out.

Extra Bonus: you sometimes get to see covers before they go public!

(I subscribe to Inkslinger and Xpresso and keep an eye out on twitter for other opportunities)

2) On YouTube, these are called tags.

I'm not sure if there's a consistent name for them in blogging, but the concept is the same.

What is it?

Basically you answer a set of questions (usually themed) and then ask other people to do the same.

This is what Kayelee and I do when it's 10pm the night before we have to do our video and we haven't come up with a topic. I love these because we can still make them fun and entertaining.

3) Post a Recipe

Republicans, democrats, christians, muslims, atheists, engineers, writers, teachers, married people, single people - they all have one thing in common: Everybody eats.

Unless your blog is very hard-core business-only, a recipe is not out of place. Just remember, if it's not yours, give credit and pay attention to the creator's wishes re: sharing. I like to list the main ingredients in a narrative, share some of my own pictures, and then link back to the original recipe.

4) Share Something(s)

I love it when a blogger shares a TED talk they liked and posts a few comments about it. Did you recently discover a new musician you love? Or a blog or web series or pod cast you like to follow? It can be as simple as posting the cover/poster and blurb for the last five books/movies you enjoyed.

Peer-to-peer recommendations are the number one source of discovery for Generation X and younger, so let your readers know what you think is important & worthy!

I hope I've given you some ideas for adding worthy content to your blog without using a lot of creative energy. Do you have any blog topic suggestions for our readers?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Anaiah Press Pitch Contest

Anaiah Press have stopped by YAtopia today. You can pitch them until 11:59pm January 25th in the comments with the format below. You are welcome to pitch MG, YA, NA, or adult as long as it aligns with their submission guidelines

Word Count
50 Word Pitch

Between now and January 26, the editors will visit to check out your pitches and make requests in the comments, so make sure you check back to see if you've had a request. 

If you're not an editor with Anaiah Press, please don't comment on the pitches until after the final request date.

Anaiah Press publishes Christian Fiction. That doesn't mean that the stories need to be evangelical or preachy. But it does impact on how clean the content is within the story. 

What Christian Fiction Is? 

 Christian/ inspirational YA and NA fiction is inherently uplifting. It’s the kind of book that can elicit strong emotion, rock you to your core, or even bring out the tears. But, it will always leave you with a message of love, hope, inspiration, or faith. Sometimes, all of the above. The main difference between non-specific YA/NA and Christian YA/NA is the content. Our characters don’t generally have sex, do drugs, etc., unless some sort of redemption is the central theme of the story. Cursing is usually avoided unless it’s absolutely necessary for realism. 

 You won’t see witches or fallen angels as main characters or love interests, but that’s not to say they won’t be used as secondary or background characters. Vampires, werewolves, and the like are pretty much nonexistent in Christian fiction, but we do like mythical creatures (dragons, anyone?).

Christian fiction isn’t always preachy, in fact, outside of adult Christian romance, Christian fiction is rarely expressly evangelical. Usually, the message is implied, or put into perspective with fun, new worlds (like in the Chronicles of Narnia -- a Christian MG fantasy book series by C.S. Lewis). At Anaiah Press, the message can be express, or implied -- we like it both ways. 


Kara's passion is romance and young love. Show her strong, unique characters with real-world problems and learnable life lessons. Love triangles, dystopian worlds, cowboys, modern day retellings of fairy tales, and stories with an element of suspense excite her. Her ultimate goal is to find a heart-pounding, tear jerking clean romantic suspense. She is sure to love any story that will put her through a range of emotions. Bonus points if you can move her to tears. 


Isabel loves all things YA, but has a particular soft spot for fantasy of all kinds (high fantasy, second world fantasy, urban fantasy, etc.). Strong female protagonists are always appreciated, and well-developed relationships of all types (friendships, family, romantic love) are encouraged. Above all, Isabel is looking for stories that she can't put down and keep her thinking well after "THE END."


Eden would love to see some futuristic spec-fic, and some dystopian or sci-fi, written from the perspective of a strong male lead with a fresh voice. She's tired of the jaded, egotistical male MC’s. Show her a guy who knows how to be a gentleman, but is still strong/brave enough to save your life when it’s go time.

Two items on her personal wish list that haven’t come across her desk yet are a pirate-themed historical romance and a psychological thriller. She's still waiting for both of those.

Good luck!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

For the Love of the Anti-Hero

Is it really January 16 already? I've barely recovered from Christmas and it's less than a month til Valentine's Day! On the topic of love, today I'd like to chat about anti-heroes. I'm not talking about the tattooed bad boys with hearts of gold that seem to pervade YA and NA, I'm talking about mean-ass fiends who manage to get under our skin and worm their way into our hearts even though we know we shouldn't let it happen.


Every story has a hero - usually the MC who is good and virtuous and easy to cheer to victory - and then the villain or antagonist who stands in the way of said hero achieving his altruistic goals. Personally, I'm all about the anti-hero, about the the less-than-chivalrous dude in the back who's unwittingly dragged into saving the day when he'd really rather you didn't involve him.

Exhibit A - one of my favourite anti-heroes from YA fiction, Damon Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries. Yes, he has become the main love interest, but before he was Elena's boyfriend, he was enemy number one and decidedly more villain than hero.
Behind his smirk and charm, Damon is pretty monstrous. For those of you who haven't watched the series or read the books and don't want spoilers, look away now... right, still with me? Let's recap. Damon is a vampire and enjoys being a blood-sucking fiend. He has manipulated countless women into his bed - including the close friends of his girlfriend - which is basically rape! Every time he has a bad day, he throws a tantrum and rips out a few throats. He revels in his paranormal power and will gloat unashamedly about his many conquests. He kills humans/werewolves/witches/vampires and anyone else who stands in his way without any remorse. He harbors grudges and visits vengeance generation upon generation. He has zero problem with torture, zero problem with using people - even those he loves - and zero problem with the fact that you don't like his methods.

If he wasn't so good-looking, would we still be interested in this dude? I'm not so sure, but we are and it goes beyond tall, dark and handsome. The thing that makes us love Damon despite all his many, many villainous qualities is that we can see through the blood-stained exterior to the emotionally unstable, damaged and vulnerable gooey black centre of his heart. A lot of what he does, he does for love and while we might not be able to forgive him, we can certainly overlook his mass-murdering as long as he continues to protect the people he loves.

Exhibit B - for a more contemporary example of the sort of guy we might actually meet in real life. Here's another anti-hero from a not-so-YA TV show: Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy.

Like Damon, this guy is seriously badass and unapologetic about it. Unlike our vampire fiend who I have very little chance of bumping into in a dark alley, Jax-types and I have probably already crossed paths. Potential spoilers ahead, you've been warned...

Jax is the president of a motorcycle gang, the kind of gang that's into drug smuggling and gun running for the likes of Mexican cartels and the IRA. He's been to jail more than once and has been responsible for a significant body count both on US soil and abroad. He'll kill for his club. He'll kill for pride and reputation, for power and revenge, and he'll kill to protect those he loves without even batting an eye. Jax breaks the law - usually several laws at once - without much remorse and is not above using torture, extortion and blackmail to get what he wants even when it involves sacrificing those closest to him if it suits his end game. This does not a nice guy make. However, what ultimately makes this bad-boy extraordinaire lovable, and what makes us forgive his many villainous ways, is that we know Jax has a good reason for doing what he does and only has the best interests of his sons at heart. He's a good dad and everything he does, he does to protect his boys from the type of life he's lead.

So why do we keep falling for fiends like Damon and Jax? Anti-heroes, in contrast to the typical Captain American stereotype, are more like real-life people. They are flawed, corruptible, susceptible to weakness, which makes them easier to relate to. Anti-heroes often carry around a ton of emotional baggage, which indicates a level of vulnerability (even if they won't admit it) beneath their hard-as-nails exterior and it's that vulnerability that screams 'just hug me' to the audience. 

So what does all of this mean when it comes to writing and crafting characters?

  • Main characters don't always have to be the good guys. In fact, anti-heroes often make for more interesting characters because they are inherently conflicted and have to show us a lot more of themselves before we can start rooting for their cause.
  • Give your anti-hero something to care about so that we can see their vulnerability. If Damon didn't love Elena or if Jax didn't have his sons, there'd be no 'good' reason for him to do what he does and we'd be a lot less wiling to forgive him his long list of indiscretions.
  • Let them grow. The anti-hero arc doesn't have to be a journey towards righteousness, but the anti-hero should have some self-awareness, should at least acknowledge their tendency towards the dark side and perhaps consider the possibility of redemption.
  • Regardless of how selfish and cruel the anti-hero might be it in a book, movie or TV show, if they commit one selfless act for the betterment of another, I'm sold. This one act shows us that there is a kernel of decency buried deep, deep down inside and that they are capable of more good than they might realise.
Do you prefer traditional heroes or do you like troubled anti-heroes? Who's your favorite anti-hero?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lessons from 2013...

I wanted to start the New Year with a post dedicated to what I have learned as a writer throughout the last year, in the hope that other writers might benefit from it.

I'm hopeful that 2013 brought a year of much success for my fellow writers, though I'm sure we all suffered from a variety of ups and downs.  Writing is a tough gig and each experience can teach you something new.  For me, at least, 2013 was certainly a learning year.

Here are the top ten things 2013 taught me:

1)  Learn the rules and then experiment.  If you want to be the next great writer, you need to become yourself on the page.  Experiment with the rules, format and structure of your writing.  Try something you've never tried before.  Take time to learn what it is that makes your style truly yours.  If you try something and it doesn't work, you've lost nothing.  Every piece of writing you try teaches you something.

2)  Take your time.  And this applies to first drafts, editing, querying, being on submission.  Learn and apply.  Don't just rush out the same old habits you did the year before.  Applied learning takes work and dedication  Think about high school, college, university - all of these things took practice and studied concentration.  Your writing deserves the same.  You don't apply the things you learn magically overnight.  So slow down and really hone your craft, word by word.

3)  Voice comes from confidence.  Yeah, this was a really hard one for me to figure out.  I searched for voice everywhere.  I tried fragmenting my sentences.  Changing my vocabulary.  Adding more humour.  Less description.  But in the end, I found that studying the craft (see 2), and being confident that I could write helped my voice the most.  And concision helps.  Be concise.  Concision shows confidence in your narrative.

4)  Follow your gut.  When you get critiques, weigh up what you receive.  Some will work for you, some won't.  Be true to your instincts, not your pride.  Pride is an ugly, devastating beast.  Your gut is that small, honest voice that you sometimes want to hide from.  Sometimes it even makes you want to cry or feel rubbish.  But still follow its advice.  Not your insecurities.  Or your ego.  Follow your instincts.  Work out the difference between the three.

5)  Querying is good.  Come on, don't throw rocks at me.  It is good.  You're out there.  You're connecting.  Every contact is a good contact (as long as you are polite and professional).  I've lost count of the many friendly and wonderful editors and agents I've met through online contact.  They might not be my agent or editor.  But who knows, one day they might be.

6)  Celebrate other writers' success.  I know, this one is tough.  No really, it is.  Sometimes I'm so jealous I could eat my arm off.  I think "why not me?"  "oh no, less editors/agents for me to pitch".  This is normal.  Don't beat yourself up about it.  But be happy and celebrate your fellow writer's success anyway.  You know someone has travelled the path you're on.  You know that there IS a chance for you to make it too.  Celebrate that possibility.

7)  Write in three acts.  Your synopsis too.  See the plot curve.  This will help give your story a backbone.  An editor taught me this.  It was wise advice.

8)  Avoid saggy middle syndrome in your book.  How?  Only write the parts you love.  Sounds silly, right?  I actually thought I had to write "all the bits in between" just to get to the bits of my story I loved.  Turns out, I didn't.  I just wrote the bits I got thrilled about.  And if I needed one of those in between scenes, I stopped, waited, thought about how I could add in something that fascinated me.  When a story fascinates you, then it's easy to write.

9)  Try.  Keep trying.  Try until you can't try anymore...then keep trying.  This advice is everywhere, and sure it's nothing new.  But you got to 2014.  Every day is fresh.  Anything can happen.  Truly.  Think of the day you first picked up that pen, or got your first partial or full request.  The first day you went on submission.  How is this day different?  Answer - it's not.  This day is the same.  It can offer you the same opportunity.  Don't let the past influence today.  The past is gone.  Anything can happen.  Believe that.

10)  Have fun.  Truly.  Have fun with what you write.  Enjoy, play, relish in the world that you have created.  And believe that you have been put on this earth to tell this tale.  Because certainly you have been.

And so here's to 2014!  May all your writing dreams come true!

What have you learned in the last year?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Wound and the Want: How to Breathe Life into Your Characters

It’s January 4, which means I can still wish you all a very Happy New Year! It seems fitting that this, my first 2014 post, centers on the writing concept that had the most effect on my book, BECOMING JINN, which I teased on this blog last year. (Well, in November but that still counts as last year!)

As a reader and as a writer, nothing matters more to me than character. So it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that an exercise to create a character profile is what kicked my writing brain into gear.

Last month I discussed how having both an inside story and an outside story gives your novel a firm foundation and touched on the concept of “the wound and the want.” This surely goes by other names, but I love the way “the wound and the want” rolls off the tongue.

The idea is simple: The primary characters (and even most of the secondary ones) have a wound that makes them want something. This want is the guiding force of your story; it is what your character is striving to achieve. Essentially, the want is the purpose of your novel.

Wait, and that’s simple? Pretty heavy stuff there, isn’t it? For one thing to be the purpose of your novel?

Well, it is and it isn’t. If you don’t know your character’s wound and want, you will flounder while writing, your story will lack a depth that makes the readers care, sympathize with, and follow your characters, and your novel may not be as strong as it can be. It may not live up to its potential. But once you figure out the wound and the want, everything flows from it and your job is easier, not harder.

Need, hope, wish, call it what you will, but your characters must want something and they must want it intensely. The want doesn’t need to be some spectacular thing. It’s the intensity of the wanting that matters and that instills doubt in your readers that the character can achieve his or her goal. This gives you tension while you toss obstacles at your characters that thwart them from fulfilling their want. And the wound that makes them want? That gives your character depth, motive, and backstory.

One-dimensional characters usually lack a wound and a want. Ditto for cardboard villains. Your main character’s wound and want must be fully fleshed out and must be able to change and deepen as the story progresses in order to sustain an entire novel, but your supporting characters should also have a wound and a want. You don’t have to explore it as fully, but the wound and the want makes them who they are just as much.

So many key aspects of a novel come from these two words: the wound and the want. That’s all good right, but how do you figure out what your characters’ wounds and wants are? There are likely many ways, but I’ll share what worked for me, what I learned in the novel planning course I took that turned me into a proud (and somewhat obsessive) plotter.* It all goes back to those writing exercises I used to scoff at.

As I’ve said previously, the best part of writing exercises is that they have the capacity to surprise you, to spark an idea that may form the core of your book, something you might never have thought of (or only thought of after multiple revisions). This is because they make you think about your characters.

Character profiles can be developed in many ways: writing a letter or diary entry from your character’s point of view to help discover their history and voice; interviewing your characters and answering as if you were in your character’s head; jotting down responses to a series of simple to complex questions about who they are.

Is this hard work? Not really. But it’s more thinking than writing. And we all know how much we writers are just dying to put fingertips to keyboard and start, well, you know, actually writing our stories. As much of a believer as I am in plotting, even I feel that pull and that desire to shove all this aside and just write. But I know in the end how much better my work will be if I put in the thinking time first.

To dissuade myself from giving up on these exercises too early, I go old school: pencil and paper. I take a brand-new, spiral-bound notebook and start writing the answers to these questions by hand. I actually do almost all of my initial plotting and writing exercises by hand. Doing them this way separates them out as a distinct task. I associate notebooks with plotting, so when they are in front of me, I don’t feel that pull to write the same way I do as when I sit at my computer. (If you give it a try, let me know if it works for you!)

So finally an end to the teasing! What’s the one question that gave BECOMING JINN its unexpected backbone? The thing I would have never expected to fuel my main character Azra’s wound and want?

What is the worst thing your character has ever done?

That’s it. I won’t tell you what this thing is because that’d be a spoiler. But the worst thing she did was to her best friend. And the reason she did it is because she wanted what that friend had. And why she wanted it was because of the wound she has had since she was a little girl. Wound, want, story. From one question. Powerful stuff.

Here are some of the other questions I most use when creating character profiles. If they don’t work to spark your imagination, find ones that do. There are many books and Web sites listing these kinds of character-building exercises. Browse through, pull out the ones that get your brain churning, and customize your own character profile exercises. Then grab that notebook and start plotting!

* The writing course I took was at Grub Street with author James Scott as instructor. After two long years of waiting, his first novel, THE KEPT, is debuting on January 7. Congratulations James! And much thanks again!

** Lori is holding an ARC giveaway for Jessica Khoury's VITRO, which will be released on January 14. Enter to win by January 6!

Wound and Want

What does the character want (primary and secondary characters must have wants)?
What are his or her motives for wanting this?
Where in the story is this made clear to the reader? (And it should be.)
How do we learn what the central character wants? Dialogue? Actions? Interior thinking?
What or who stands in the way of him or her achieving it?
What does that desire set in motion?
List five things that are obstacles to what the character wants: can be inside or outside character. Rank their intensity, how hard is it to get past each one?

Who Is this Character?

Key strength               
Key flaw (and consequences of failure, which is not as important for secondary characters; but for secondary characters, do need: relationship with main character; history with MC; purpose of character in story, how affect MC)
Where live geographically? Describe.
Physical description    
Fashion sense: What would character wear in summer? winter? To a wedding? funeral? bed?
Nervous habit
Family history/relationships
Key friendships
Role models
Social status                                   
Academic performance
Special talents/hobbies         
Favorite hangout
Favorite phrase
What does he/she do on weekends?
For work?
Favorite meal? What would dinner with them be like?

Deeper Questions (for MC and antagonist)

Moral compass
Is he or she a giver or a taker?
Introvert or extrovert and how manifest in life?
Most secret yearning?
Childhood dream that never came true and why?
Worst thing ever done?
Secrets? Secret life?
What has held him or her back in life?
How many people would come to his or her funeral? Why might someone decide not to attend?
Most unlikely or most contradictory aspect?
How strong is character under pressure?
What is their character arc? How change and grow? How apply toward overcoming final obstacle? Tip: at the bottom of every page, write what you know about the character from that page to see if the character is changing over course of the novel, if new information is being given or too much is repetitive.