Are You Helping Your Protagonist Cheat Her Way to Victory?

By Rachel Keller

You’ve written a novel that you love (ironically) beyond words and handed it to beta readers to prepare it for the final editing stage. You’ve aced all the details (characterization, plot, theme, setting). You’re sure this is the novel that will launch you into publishing. Then you receive disturbing feedback from your beta readers:

“I didn’t care about the protagonist.”Are_You_Helping_Your_Protagonist_Cheat_Her_Way_to_Victory

“The protagonist won too easily.”

“I couldn’t help feeling more drawn to the side character or villain.”

Your momentum slows as you read their comments again and again. What happened? Your character suffered greatly! She dragged herself to the end! You spent considerable time developing her story. How can they dislike her? What did you do wrong?

I had this experience on the flip side as the reader. Excited to delve into a new book, energized and intrigued by the plot. Yet, I repeatedly slammed the book down in frustration. [Read more…]

8 Common Cliches of Coming-of-Age Stories

There is a theme which abounds across a number of genres. One in which young men are torn from their farms and thrust into events which will change the course of an age,  young women rise up to fulfill prophecies, and youths are thrown into conflicts where they must fight for their very survival. The settings and characters change, but in each story a once young and immature man or woman is thrown into circumstances which forever alter their lives and thrust them into adulthood. commoncliches

The lines around a coming-of-age story are a bit vague. In them, the main character begins as a youth and reaches adulthood by the end. This can either be the focus of the book or, as in some of my works in progress, merely a result of the character development throughout the story. But, however it’s written, the meaning of adulthood ought to be clearly depicted, not fictionalized as some modern books portray.

Coming-of-age stories are only as compelling and gripping as the plot, characters, and emotions inside it. Though the focus of this article will be on the latter two points, the first one is important because it is the structure around which the character grows. Really, ‘coming-of-age’ is only a sub-theme of the greater character development which should take place throughout any book. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Hope Ann
Hope Ann is a speculative fiction writer who lives on a small farm in northern Indiana. She has self-published three Legends of Light novellas and is the Kingdom Pen Writing Team Captain. Reading since the age of five, and introducing herself to writing at age eight, she never had a question that the author’s life was the life for her. Her goal is to write thrilling Christian fantasy and futuristic fiction — stories she longed for while growing up. After graduating from homeschool, Hope now teaches writing to several of her eight younger siblings. She loves climbing trees, archery, photography, Lord of the Rings, chocolate, and collecting shiny things she claims are useful for story inspiration. You can claim one of her stories for free at:

Boxes of Tools; Tangles of Yarn: Part 2 – Practical Tips

Jackyln Crooks is back with part two of her series on writing characters of the opposite gender. Check out these helpful tips on how to make your characters believable!

Tips for Writing Convincing Guys


Boxes of Tools Pt 2 Post Graphic

So you have this great story idea, right? It’s great, and you actually like it. There’s only one problem…the main character is a guy. Actually, that’s not the problem. The problem is that you’re a girl, and you don’t understand guys, so you’ve never successfully written one. Well, here are some tips that you may find helpful. First of all, when you’re thinking through an idea, that moment when you start to go, “No, that’s crazy, it’ll never work!” Yeah, that’s the moment when a guy decides it’s a good idea. No kidding. As girls, usually if it’s risky, we back off until we can come up with a better plan. When you’re writing a guy, remember that he’s going to take risks. But they’re going to make sense to him. In his mind, they’re not cray, or stupid, or wacked out. He’s going to justify the risks somehow. Be it for his girl, for his family, or for some personal benefit down the road. Whatever the reason, it’s gotta make sense. At the same time, it’s okay for your reader to sit there, shaking their head, wondering what’s gotten into him. 

[Read more…]

Boxes Of Tools; Tangles Of Yarn: Part 1 – Know Your Character

 How To Write Characters Of The Opposite Gender

by Jacklyn Crooks


Can’t he just listen? Why does he always have to try to fix me?”

I’ve taught her how to ____ at least a dozen times, why does she keep asking me to do it?”

Boxes of Tools Pt 1 Post Graphic

These are just a few of the questions that I’ve been asked in my years as a daughter, a friend, and a youth leader. They are questions that everyone has asked, at one time or another, about someone they love. Why? Because men and women are different. Bet you didn’t see that one coming! And that brings us to my point. I’ve had several friends ask me for advice on how to write a believable character of their opposite gender.

What is she, dude, IronWoman? Really?”

He feels…fake. Like a guy version of me. Shouldn’t he have his own personality?”


Girls write soft, mushy guys, and guys write detached, emotionless (sometimes crass) girls. Why? Because we write what we know. Girls know soft and mushy – we cry when we’re sad. We cry when we’re happy. We cry when someone else is sad or happy. Guys, on the other hand, not so much. As we all know. We’re sitting in front of a sappy movie, crying into our Kleenex, and there they sit, checking the NFL scores on their smartphone (Packers are up by ten, by the way). They like big guns, big explosions, big trucks. They couldn’t care less if their kitchen rug matches the curtains hanging above it, but they’ll buy three different scopes for the same rifle – one for morning, one for afternoon, and one for late evening. And they all match.

And this is why we all struggle to write characters of the opposite gender. But today I’m here to offer you some tips that I’ve learned for writing believable characters.

The best way to start is by spending time with the people you want to write. If you want to a convincing guy, spend time with guys. If you’re writing a Christian guy your age, observe the guys at church, youth group, school, while shopping – everywhere you go, there are people to watch. It’s the same for guys writing girls. It takes time; it takes patience. And it takes knowing what to look for.

[Read more…]

Breaking The Mold

Making your characters their own people.

 By Eric Johnson

Developing characters is one of the most important things you can do—for any story. This is perhaps one of the most exciting parts of the pre-production phase; the process is easy for some writers and challenging for others. However, I have discovered that for almost any writer, there is a tendency to develop characters that are very similar to one another. This can have a very negative effect on the characters, the story, and even the writer.

If you’re like me, you may notice that your male characters tend to have brown hair and your female characters are usually blonde. Or perhaps you’ve realized that all of your protagonists are courageous and their sidekicks are more hesitant. Maybe all of your villains wear black. Then again, maybe not, but even so, according to my hypothesis, if I dug deep enough I could find a recurring theme through most of your characters. This isn’t always a bad thing, as the writer is always going to come through in the characters in some way. My point is this: too much of this and you’re going to end up with the same character twice.

Going back to the hair color example, you may wonder why it even matters what the hero’s hair looks like. Well, I’ll tell you why. I got through five completed novels (and novellas) and numerous uncompleted ones before I realized something: if I were to give a couple of my main characters personality tests, they’d probably end up with mostly all of the same answers as the other one. In the same way if I lined them up, they’d be (for practical purposes) indistinguishable (except, perhaps younger or older.) I realized then that I had to break the mold somehow. The first thing I did was start a brand new novel with a brand new main character. I gave her red hair as opposed to the typical blonde, and things took off from there.

This was significant not because the appearance of the character changed, but because this character was now officially an individual—her own person. She was no longer a character that could be confused with any of my others—even on a surface level. I decided to do this because I realized the importance of doing anything at all different from what I typically did.

[Read more…]

Unspoken: How detailed Are Your Characters?

 When it comes to characterization, sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

By Hannah Mills

As did many others, I made the trek to the movie theatre to see Les Misrables. And, as many others are, I am a Downton Abbey fangirl.



I could go on and on about the music in Les Mis, about the amazing screenwriting that makes Downton what it is, the actors, many things.



Today, however, I want to focus on some things that are more in the background.


After watching Les Mis, I noticed something. The costuming was incredibly well-thought out.



The Thenardiers, viciously money-minded people with no morals and a dramatic flair, had costumes that perfectly fit their chameleon-like personalities. The colors were bright, almost verging on gaudy. Their teased hair and heavy makeup accented their bawdy outbursts and licentious lifestyle.



Eponine, Thenariers’ daughter, dressed very differently. The costume designer stuck to earth tones, and gave Eponine’s dresses a tomboyish/trampish look. She didn’t agree with the lifestyle of her parents, and practically lived on the streets. Sweet and savvy, her personality and clothing style spoke of the clashes between what she wanted in life and what her parents strove for.



Cosette, as a young woman, was styled in soft colors and feminine cuts; touches of lace, a ruffle or ribbon here and there, very genteel and quiet. This, too, fit the persona of her role. A peace-loving person, the sort you would find curled up with a book and a kitten.



Throw these four characters into the same scene and their differences are multiplied tenfold simply by how their costumes play off each other. Without words, the swaths of fabric on the actor’s bodies are giving backstory. Showing, rather than telling, and translating the concepts of gentleness or mercenary-minded into visible images.


[Read more…]