Category Archives: Guest post

Guest Post: 5 Real-Life Elements That Will Make Your Author Website Appeal To Real-Life Readers by Web Design Relief


This article has been reprinted with the permission of Web Design Relief.  Whether you’re just starting out or a best-selling author, Web Design Relief will improve your existing website or build you an affordable, custom author website to support your author platform, boost your online presence, and act as a hub for your social media outreach. Web Design Relief is a division of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. Sign up for their free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit the site today to learn more.

Typing on laptop glenn-carstens-peters-203007

Rather than relying on overused marketing concepts, your author website should be designed with one goal in mind: to connect with the right audience for your work. At Web Design Relief, we know that once you’ve determined who your real-life readers are, you can then offer better, more targeted content. Don’t be afraid to share your personality with website visitors—they want to know more about the real-life YOU! (Discover your web personality here.) Sharing some personal details can help readers form a bond with you and keep them coming back for the long term.

How Featuring The Real-Life You Helps Your Author Website Appeal To Readers

Tell Your Story

Your author website is the best place to showcase your books, poetry, and short stories. But don’t stop there! When you also share personal moments, thoughts, and inspiration on your website (and your blog), visitors will see you more as an actual living, breathing person and less as an anonymous face on a book cover. Sharing personal anecdotes is one of the best ways to build your personal brand, create a following, and increase book sales!

Update Your Headshot

Standard headshots are often…well, standard! There is nothing wrong with a headshot that shows you in business casual wear in front of a plain background. But this is your author website, not your LinkedIn profile shot. Post a fun headshot, or even a series of photos that captures your personality. Website visitors will want to see your playful side, not just the let’s-get-down-to-business side. Help your audience connect with you on a personal level. If you write horror stories or serious nonfiction, you might want to choose a headshot that reflects your genre. But you can still crack a smile in another photo to show the person behind the pen (or behind the vampire fangs, if that’s the case).

Uncomfortable in front of the camera? Well, say cheese, because we’ve got you covered with Headshot 101.

Integrate Social Media

Do you often find yourself tweeting, scrolling through Facebook, or uploading your new selfie or food photo on Instagram? Odds are, your followers do this too! Integrate your social media into your author website through widgets and live feeds so that visitors can learn more about the real you and share your posts—helping to expand your reach with more opportunities to market your writing.

Share A Video

Clearly, your author website visitors love to read. But if you have a video camera, a GoPro, or a smartphone, you can also share a video on your website. This can be a vlog or welcome video, a guide to your writing process, a tour of your writing space, a reading of your favorite passage, and more. Your audience will feel more allied with you if they have a face and a voice to put with your words!

Write A Dear Reader Letter

If your website comes across as too generic or just the opposite, too over-marketed, maybe a Dear Reader letter is just what you need. This welcome letter can be the place to share insight into your writing process and/or what’s going on in your life in a personal, relatable way. For more tips on writing a letter that stands out, check out the anatomy of the Dear Reader Letter.

Don’t Overdo It

While sharing personal stories and information can be a great way to connect with your audience, don’t put every aspect of your life on display. It’s always best to keep your website tasteful and secure, and your identity safe. Here’s how to steer clear of getting too personal:

  • Don’t share anything you wouldn’t tell a stranger.
  • Don’t post photos while you’re on vacation, letting people know your house is empty.
  • Avoid the gross and grand aspects of your life (no pics of your recent appendectomy).
  • Details matter, but skip the second-by-second updates of your life (nobody needs to know that you are eating toast).
  • Never, EVER share your personal address or phone number, or email address (use a contact form instead).
  • This goes double for your social security and credit card numbers: Do NOT give them out.

Final Thoughts On Appealing To Your Audience With Real-Life Elements

Sharing some parts of your life with your audience is great! It shows that you are willing to connect with them as real-life people, not just as unknown readers or potential sales. Author website visitors prefer author websites that aren’t heavy-handed with marketing buttons and purchase links. Be smart about what you share with your visitors—but don’t be afraid to have a little fun either!


Question: Which personal aspect of your favorite author’s website do you most like?

Guest Post: Margie’s Rule #9: Cliché Play by Margie Lawson


Thank you to Writers in the Storm and to the incomparable writing coach Margie Lawson for this wonderful article on how to eliminate tired and meaningless phrases from your writing.


Most writers know to avoid clichés. Every basic how-to book for writers includes a section on avoiding clichés. Those experts refer to clichés as lazy writing.

So do I.

Clichés represent weak writing. They’re easy to throw on the page. No thinking required.

Clichés don’t share the specificity and emotion as the phrase or sentence you could write.

No power words. No power.

What are power words? In my world, power words are the words that carry psychological power.

What’s wrong with using clichés?

  1. They’re predictable.
  2. They’re annoying.
  3. They invite the reader to skim, and tune-out.
  4. They don’t add specificity.
  5. They don’t deepen characterization or draw the reader deeper into the scene.

There are times when using clichés or cliché twists works well.

  1. When they are so rich, so perfect, they make you smile.
  2. When they are so twisted, they make you laugh.

Dennis Lehane, Moonlight Mile

Dennis Lehane uses two clichés in the passage below from Moonlight Mile. The one in the last line works well. It’s a perfect fit.

Set Up:  The POV character is angry with Helene, the scuzzy mother of the teenage girl who is missing. Here’s how he characterized Helene earlier: “If it smelled of stupid, Helene just had to be somewhere nearby.”

After the silence went on a bit too long, Helene said, “What’re you thinking?”

“I’m thinking how I’ve never had the impulse to hit a woman in my life, but you get me in an Ike Turner frame of mind.”

She flicked her cigarette into the parking lot. “Like I haven’t heard that before.”

“Where. Is. She.”

“We. Don’t. Know.” Helene bulged her eyes at me like a pissy twelve-year-old, which, in terms of emotional development, wasn’t far off the mark.

I’m sharing my deep editing analysis of that passage for fun, and to share the learning opportunities. After my analysis, you’ll find more examples of cliché twists. Enjoy!

Deep Editing Analysis:

Cadence – Read it out loud. You’ll hear the cadence driving the reader through every sentence. No stalling.

Allusion – Rhetorical Device – the reference to his Ike Turner frame of mind.


  1. Like I haven’t heard that before.

In this scene, that overused line carried power, strengthened characterization, and made me laugh. I approve using this cliché here.

  1. . . . wasn’t far off the mark.

It works. It’s tight. I like the cadence. And I can’t think of a better way to end that sentence.

Period. Infused. Sentences. My way of describing when the author morphs what would have been a normal sentence into sequential single word sentences. Like. This.

“Where. Is. She.”

Lehane shared what I call a Dialogue Cue. He didn’t add a sentence describing how the words were delivered. He showed it structurally. The punctuation indicates that each word is clipped, and that the character speaking is big-time irritated.

He also did something I haven’t seen on the page before, but I’ve heard it in real life. He had one character speak in that clipped style, and had another character respond the same way.

“Where. Is. She.”

“We. Don’t. Know.”

The reader knows the second character is mocking the first. But Lehane doesn’t TELL us. He SHOWS us. Smart. And smart alecky too.  🙂

Facial Expression, Amplified:

Helene bulged her eyes at me like a pissy twelve-year-old, which, in terms of emotional development, wasn’t far off the mark.

Lehane could have stopped with:  Helene bulged her eyes at me.

Lehane could have stopped with: Helene bulged her eyes at me like a twelve-year-old.

Lehane could have stopped with: Helene bulged her eyes at me like a pissy twelve-year-old.

Ah! Adding the word, pissy, adds psychological power. It taps a universal emotion in readers.

Most adults have dealt with a pissy twelve-year-old, a child, niece, nephew, neighbor. Adding pissy elicits an internal nod. It ratchets up the tension and tightens the emotional hook.

But Lehane didn’t stop with that strong sentence. He amplified the line and empowered the emotion. Here’s his sentence again:

Helene bulged her eyes at me like a pissy twelve-year-old, which, in terms of emotional development, wasn’t far off the mark.

Back to Clichés!

Writers often write body language, dialogue cues, and visceral responses in clichéd ways.

  • She arched an eyebrow.
  • His face was as red as a beet.
  • She had butterflies in her stomach.
  • Her legs turned to jelly.

Avoid them. Write fresh.

Clichés are sneaky devils. You may not catch them until a 7th or 11th or 27th read-through. Or you may not catch them at all.

According to Donald Maass, clichés sprout up everywhere. Donald Maass has a sensitive cliché-meter. So do other agents.

Some people are cliché blind. They don’t recognize them. Working with a critique group, critique partner, the clichéd phrases and sentences they miss may be caught.

REMEMBER — Compelling Cadence:

Every sentence should have a compelling cadence. Read these examples out loud. You’ll train your cadence ear.

Cliché Play from a few Immersion-grads:

Megan Menard, Pursued

Before:  It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

After:  It’s all fun and games until the river wins.

Before:  “I’m done with Little League, Ketterman. Time to knock this one out of the park.”

After:  “I’m done with Little League, Ketterman. Home runs can be caught. We’re going for the grand slam of escape. Set off the alarm and run all the way home.”

Before:  “Forget it. You’re slower than molasses.”

After:  “Forget it. You’re slower than dial up internet.”

Set Up: Seniors in the retirement home are playing poker.

Before:  …winner takes all

After:  Those scoundrels cheated and rigged the deck to beat Esther Scott’s full house with four of a kind, leaving her as the loser-takes-all new owner of Tank, the meanest cat in God’s creation.


Suzanne Purvis, Fused

Before:  My heart jackhammers.

After:  My jackhammering heart pounds get-down, get-down, get-down.

Before:  Matt throws another rock and barely misses Avis’s ear.

After:  Matt throws another rock and misses Avis’s ear by a flea’s foot.

Before: The last sentence was:  Each time, setting me up as his fall guy.

After:  He started the fire behind the Friendship Hall, the fire at the Chamber of Commerce, the fire at the library. Each time, setting me up as his fire guy.


Lori Freeland, The Accidental Boyfriend

  1. I’m selfie-conscious.
  2. This girl’s kick-boxing my ego’s ass.
  3. I didn’t sign on to be his bud-with-benefits.
  4. Tension’s strumming off me like a badly played guitar riff.
  5. I try not overthink the whole commando-thing while I’m putting on Gabe’s pants without Victoria to cover my secrets.


Click the comment link and say Hi. Or share one of your cliché twists.

Guest Post: “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” by Johannes Vermeer from Joy of Museums


Thank you to Joy of Museums for this wonderful commentary on Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.512px-Johannes_Vermeer_-_Girl_Reading_a_Letter_by_an_Open_Window_-_Google_Art_Project


“Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” by Johannes Vermeer depicts a young blonde girl standing in the light of an open window, reading a letter. A red drapery hangs over the top of the window, which has opened inward and which, in its lower right quadrant, reflects the girl’s mirror image. A tasselled ochre drapery in the foreground right, partially closed, covers part of the room in which she stands. Fruit in a tilted bowl, on the luxurious carpet that drapes table, and the peach which is cut in half, are all highlighted by the light from the window.

Scientific test and x-rays of the canvas have demonstrated that at one point Vermeer had featured a naked Cupid on the wall in this painting. For whatever reason, somebody the 18th century painted over the cupid image with the empty blank wall featured in this image of the painting. The museum has decided to restore Vermeer’s original and restorators have now removed the overpainted layer, and the original Cupid can now be seen in this painting at the museum. Vermeer had depicted a standing Cupid holding a raised bow with his right hand and lifting his left arm. The painting can now again be seen as it left the artist’s studio.

Art historians suggest that the fruit in a tilted bowl and the peach which is cut in half, revealing its pit, symbolise an extramarital relationship and that the letter is a love letter. Now that the cupid image has been revealed, is this theory confirmed? Or is she sad because the relationship has ended?

Art as a Casualty of War

“Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” was among the paintings rescued from destruction during the bombing of Dresden in World War II. When World War II was imminent in 1938, the museum was closed, and the painting was stored, with other works of art, in an underground tunnel in Saxony. Discovered by the Red Army in 1945 they were taken to Russia. After the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviets in 1955 returned the surviving art to Germany.

Most of the essential paintings from the Old Masters Gallery survived this period, but the losses were significant. Over 200 pictures had been destroyed, and some 450 are still missing today.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Guest Post: Veterans’ Day Feature – Raven Rock Glass by Donna of MyOBT


Thank you to Donna for this article acknowledging not only our military but also gorgeous stained glass design.


raven rock Dawn Jarrels/Raven Rock Glass

Happy Veterans’ Day! I’d like to say a big, warm, thank you to my military veteran readers. Today’s post is just for you!

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Guest Post–Literary Magazines And Journals: Your FAQs Answered by Writer’s Relief


This article has been reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. We assist writers with preparing their submissions and researching the best markets. We have a service for every budget, as well as a free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit our site today to learn more.


If you’re writing poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction, or essays, then literary magazines are your best friends. But at first glance, the world of literary journals can be intimidating. The submission guidelines often vary from one publication to another, and each journal seems to have its own special etiquette that you must try to decipher. And then there are the oodles of rejection letters that writers receive over the course of their careers. The entire process can be quite overwhelming. You probably have a lot of questions.

Fortunately, the submission strategy experts here at Writer’s Relief have a lot of answers. We know the ins and outs of getting poems, short stories, and personal essays published in literary magazines. And guess what? It may not be as difficult to get published as you think!

FAQs About Literary Journals And Magazines

Q.: What Is The Definition A Literary Magazine (AKA Literary Journal)?

A.: A literary magazine is a publication of collected works by various authors. Writers can submit their writing to editors of literary journals at different times during the year depending on reading dates. Submissions can be unsolicited (not requested) or solicited. Literary magazines feature poems, short stories, and essays that are written by new, unpublished writers, or by well-known authors. Each literary magazine has its own style and focus.

The number of people who staff a literary magazine can run from a single editor working alone from home, right up to a large team of volunteer readers and paid staffers who unite to put out multiple issues of a magazine every year.

Writer’s Relief maintains a HUGE database of literary magazines. The database is updated daily, based on not only the information that is available to the public, but also on insider information gleaned from managing our clients’ submissions to various editors. Tracking many years’ worth of personal comments on submissions means that we know what editors like, and we make it our goal to connect writers with the editors who will fall in love with their work.

Q.: How Much Do Literary Magazines And Journals Pay Creative Writers?

A.: Many new writers get excited about literary magazines because it’s heartening to know there’s a community eager to publish new poems, stories, and essays. But hot on the heels of a writer’s interest in a literary magazine is this common question: How much do literary magazines and journals pay?

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that a writer will be able to make any significant income by publishing in literary journals. Literary magazines are rarely able to pay creative writers for the privilege of publishing an accepted poem, story, or essay. And the literary journals that do pay writers are rarely able to pay much beyond a token honorarium.

Editors aren’t being stingy: Budgets at many literary journals are very tight. To stay afloat fiscally, literary magazines often rely on grants, predetermined budgets set by academic committees, or small subscription bases. Some literary magazines host writing contests to generate income. Many editors wish they could pay their writers for the right to publish accepted submissions. Learn more about the reasons literary magazine editors rarely pay writers money.

That said, there are some literary magazines that do pay writers for the right to publish poems, short stories, essays, and the like. Here are a few places to start your research to find literary journals that pay:

How To Find Literary Journals That Pay Writers

22 Literary Journals That Pay To Publish Poems–And Why Others Don’t | Writer’s Relief

Q.: What Are The Benefits And Advantages Of Getting Published In Literary Magazines?

A.: Most writers submit their poems, stories, and essays to literary journals in order to gain exposure for their writing. Getting published in a literary magazine is one of the best ways to build a strong reputation as a creative writer. Literary agents and publishers often read literary journals to discover exciting new voices. In the publishing industry and in academia, publishing in literary journals is a rite of passage that is, in some circles, an expected first step in a writer’s career.

Need more convincing? Read this: 33 Great Reasons Why You Should Submit Your Writing To Literary Magazines | Writer’s Relief.

Q.: What Is The Difference Between A Literary Journal And A Literary Magazine?

A.: Most of the time, the definition of a literary journal is synonymous with the definition of a literary magazine. At one point in the history of publishing, the pages of a literary journal may have been bound differently, and presented in a slightly different physical format, than a literary magazine. But these days, the distinction between a literary magazine and a literary journal has largely disappeared (especially now that so many literary journals and magazines have converted to digital format).

Q.: What Genres Are Published In Literary Journals?

A.: The majority of literary journals publish a mix of short stories, personal essays (nonfiction), and poetry. They might also include some visual artwork, interviews with authors, and book reviews.

Though many literary magazines accept a wide array of genres, some specialize in one genre. For example: One literary journal might exclusively publish flash fiction, while another might be dedicated to publishing “long” short stories.

Literary magazines can also be organized by theme (love, nature, food, etc.) or by authorial interests/ethnicity/place of residence.

Read more: 6 Surprising Things Literary Journal Editors Love To Publish.

Q.: What Style Of Writing Is Most Common In Literary Magazines?

A.: These days, many editors of literary journals are interested in publishing creative writing that has a literary sensibility. That means, the majority of literary magazines are interested in writing that’s a little challenging, thoughtful, experimental, intelligent, and emotional—writing that might not find a home at a commercial publishing house. However, you will also find literary magazines that specialize in genres that are historically considered commercial: detective stories, romances, etc.

Learn more about the difference between literary and commercial writing.

Q.: What Does A Literary Magazine Editor Actually Do For Writers?

A.: Editors at literary journals read through submissions, facilitate conversations about manuscripts and publishing, make decisions about which works to accept, write up editorial requests and assist authors with revisions, proofread and format, and much more.

Q.: Which Is Better For A Writer’s Career: Publishing In Digital Literary Journals Or Printed Literary Magazines?

A.: When literary magazines began moving into digital format, some writers resisted the change—in part because of the nostalgic draw of holding a physical copy of a printed publication. But now, online literary publications are as reputable, profitable, and career-building as print literary journals—if not more.

Publishing in online literary magazines offers benefits that publishing in print sometimes cannot:

  • Online archives have a longer shelf life than printed periodicals.
  • Online literary magazines are easily accessed by (and discovered by) readers as well as publishing professionals.
  • Online literary journals nominate for many of the same literary awards as print publications.
  • Online literary publications often cultivate larger readerships than print magazines thanks in part to simpler (and cheaper) distribution.
  • Readers (and writers) find it easier to share online literary magazines, increasing the likelihood of a work going viral.

Focusing your publishing efforts on building your reputation, as opposed to pursuing a specific publishing medium, is a stronger, smarter approach to establishing a successful writing career.

Q.: How Can You Determine The Reputation Of A Literary Journal?

A.: To evaluate the reputation of a literary magazine, there are a few criteria you can consider:

  • Professional credentials of the editors and the writers who are published in the magazine
  • Quality of production (design, proofreading, etc.)
  • The magazine’s ability to nominate its writers for major literary awards
  • The longevity of the magazine (how long it has been around can give a hint as to how likely it is that it will keep going)
  • Whether or not you personally see value in the content (because your opinion matters!)

Here at Writer’s Relief, we recommend that writers submit their work to a range of literary magazines, which means focusing not only on top-tier, famous literary publications, but also on reputable mid-size and even small periodicals. There are many advantages of this approach: So-called small publications can have a big effect on a writer’s career by way of exposure, award nominations, networking opportunities, and more.

Q.: Which Literary Magazines Publish Submissions By New And Unpublished Writers?

A.: Very few editors of literary magazines would turn away talented new writers just because they’d never been published. That said, some literary journals do tend to give priority to established writers. However, there are many others who welcome writing submissions from unpublished writers. In fact, many editors consider it a badge of honor to discover the next great writer in their pile of unsolicited submissions.

Here’s where you can learn more about how new writers can get published in literary journals.

Q.: What Formatting Rules Should Writers Know For Submitting To Literary Magazines?

A.: If the submissions guidelines page of a literary journal’s website doesn’t specify a format for submitted work, writers would do well to follow customary publishing industry protocol. Contact information in the upper left corner, standard fonts and margins, and headers that include name and page number will rarely rub editors the wrong way.

Most editors at literary magazines also like to read a cover letter or at least an author bio from writers who are hoping to secure publication.

Q.: What Are The Most Common Mistakes That Creative Writers Make When Submitting To Literary Magazines?

A.: If you’re a new writer trying to get published in a literary journal, here are the common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid!

Skipping the cover letter. If a literary magazine editor indicates that he or she wants to read a cover letter, seize the opportunity to make a personal connection.

Ditching the author bio. Some writers neglect to include an author bio in order to make a statement that only the written manuscript should matter in the editor’s decision to publish or not to publish. Other writers skip the author bio simply because they have a lack of publishing credits. Whatever your opinion, know this: If a literary magazine editor asks you for a bio, then you skip it at your own risk.

Clicking “send” too quickly. Never hit the “send” button until you’re sure your submission is thoroughly proofread. You may even want to consider working with a professional proofreader when submitting your creative writing to literary magazines and journals.

Narrowing the market. Many writers get hung up on the notion that big-name literary magazines are the only worthwhile publications. Unfortunately, this mind-set often leads to limited publishing opportunities, especially for new writers.

Submitting without researching first. Some writers send their creative writing to any and every literary magazine under the sun. This is not a policy we endorse. If you get a reputation for submission spam, you could find yourself blacklisted.

Ignoring submission guidelines. Editors have told us that their number one pet peeve is submissions that totally ignore the submission guidelines. That said, many editors are flexible and may accept valid explanations for ignoring minor elements of submission guidelines.

And the number one, most common mistake writers make when submitting to literary magazines…

Not submitting frequently enough.

If you can’t find a home for a truly good piece of writing, chances are you’ve given up too quickly. There are thousands of literary magazines out there. It can take time to find the right one. But with time constraints, research frustrations, query/cover letter etiquette questions, and countless insecurities, it’s a wonder some writers get any submissions out the door at all!

Guest Post: Dem Bones….Dem Bones by Frances M. Arnold

Guest Post: Dem Bones….Dem Bones by Frances M. Arnold

Thank you to Frances M. Arnold of Quilts and Other Stuff from Frances for this wonderful travel article from the series about her recent trip to Italy:

On Sunday morning, we decided to find a church to visit and happened upon Christ Church Anglican Church……

It was a gorgeous church, inside and out….

….and the people that we met were so kind. Fortunately the service was in English which made it much easier. It was moving to go forward for communion and have the Vicar place the bread into my hands…very different from me taking it from a tray.

After lunch we wanted to do one more “touristy” thing and picked…..

The Cimitero della Fontanelle !! Here is some of the history of this cemetery…..

The cemetery is an ossuary located in an old quarry on the high end of Naples. In the 16th century, churches with crowded cemeteries started moving the bones of their long dead in the cave to make room for the newly dead. The remains were interred shallowly and then joined in 1656 by thousands of anonymous corpses, victims of the great plague of that year. Sometime in the late 17th century, great floods washed the remains out and into the streets. The anonymous remains were returned to the cave, at which point the cave became the unofficial final resting place for the indigent of the city in the succeeding years—a vast paupers’ cemetery.

So far so good…..then things got weird!!!

To continue reading this article, click here.

Guest Post: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters by Lucy V. Hay


Thank you to Lucy V. Hay and to Bang2write for these insights on effective characterization.

Happy sillohettes

Caring About Characters?

So, you’ve been given this feedback: “We need to care more about your characters.”

Immediate RED FLAG!!!

This is a useless piece of feedback. Put whomever gave it to you on the naughty step RIGHT NOW and join me children in examining why this feedback sucks BIG TIME. (Okay, okay, the feedback-giver *means* well. And yes, just like “Show It, Don’t Tell It”, this advice probably started off good stuff).

BUT I put it to you “we need to care more about your characters” creates waaaay more problems in drafts than it solves. Why? Because writers end up spending SO LONG trying to make us “care” (WTF does that really mean anyway?), they end up shooting themselves in the foot story-wise.

Great characters are part of great STORIES. This means the two are inextricably linked. So when writers get that ubiquitous, but crappy note “we need to care more about your characters”, they inevitably start focusing on character AT THE EXPENSE of plotting and story. YARGH!

How Writers Screw Up Their Characters

5) … They introduce their characters badly

Whether screenplay or novel, your character needs to be introduced in an interesting and dramatic way.  When we meet your character for the first time – especially your protagonist – s/he should be preferably DOING something that:

a) Tells us *something* about him/her in terms of personality

b) Gives us a sense of the storyworld/the tone

c) Gives us *some clue* or indicator about the situation at hand

Yet too often we meet characters waking up, getting ready for the day ahead and/or eating breakfast; coming down the stairs or from another room (usually when someone yells for them); sitting in cafes or restaurants musing; or sitting in their bedrooms doing the same. LE YAWN.

This is nearly always because writers mistakenly believe that seeing a character in their home environment (or similar) makes us “care” about them. IT DOESN’T. It’s just dull!

Remember, readers make all kinds of assumptions not only from your very first page, but from your opening image too! Make sure you introduce your characters in ways we don’t see all the time to stand your best chances in the marketplace. Read more: How To Introduce A Character.

4) … They put too much tragic back story for characters “up front”

This is an issue that seems primarily a screenwriting-related problem. I loved the following dialogue in the brilliant WRECK-IT RALPH, which I watched recently with my Wee Girls:

FIX-IT FELIXJeez, she’s kinda intense, huh?

SOLDIERIt’s not her fault. She’s programmed with the most tragic backstory EVER.

In comparison to WRECK IT RALPH then, scribes DON’T play the notion of a tragic back story up front for laughs. Instead, the reader will have to wade through stories of child abuse; adoption/rejection; rape; bereavement; self harm and recriminations – all before the actual main story gets going. More often than not, this will mean going through an acre of flashback before the situation in hand kicks off, though sometimes there will be various arguments and/or a funeral, or even ALL OF THIS (yikes!).

Yet these huuuuuuuuge adverse life events are massive; to make them blithely “character building” feels like a slap in the face for the characters. Not convinced? Think about it:

“Oh my character has to deal with being held hostage in the bank where she works – BUT IT’S OKAY BECAUSE IN THE PAST SHE WAS ABUSED AS A CHILD, SO SHE CAN HANDLE THIS” — WTF???

Yeah, yeah ***of course*** writers don’t mean it this way; they’re trying to give their characters “layers” and make us “care” about them. I totally get that. But seriously, overly tragic back stories played up front are not the way. Characters’ reactions and the way they deal with what’s happening to them in the “here and now” tells us SO MUCH more than acres of flashbacks or expositional dialogue about their traumatic childhoods.

To continue reading this article, click here.