Tag Archives | three dimensional characters

3 Tips from GUYS AND DOLLS

I’d never seen the musical GUYS AND DOLLS.

Until this week.

Until I saw my daughter walk across the stage as an extra in the first scene.  And then I enjoyed the excellent acting and singing.

But the writer in me popped out to analyze plot and character. #onceawriteralwaysawriter

1. Make sure opposites attract.

In order to procure a spot to shoot his crap game, one shady gambler bet another shady gambler a thousand bucks that he couldn’t get a girl to go with him to Cuba.

Except the first shady gambler got to pick the girl. And he picked a straight-laced girl who worked for the mission to convert sinners. Talk about conflict and humor.

What about your romantic leads or best friends in your current wip?

2. Make sure characters stay true to who they are.

I knew it would be a happy ending but I didn’t know how it would happen. Well, the second shady gambler gave the straight-laced missionary girl an offer she couldn’t refuse. He guaranteed her six sinners at her next prayer meeting if she accompanied him to Cuba for the day.

She couldn’t refuse when her boss threatened to close their mission because of their lack of saving sinners. #high stakes #motivation

And in the depths of the sewer, he gambled with the sinners and won. They all went to the prayer meeting.

Do your characters show change and growth while staying true to themselves?

3. Make sure all secondary characters have motivation, a stake in the plot, and a character arc.

  • Shady gambler one: He wanted a place to run his crap game.
  • Shady gambler two: He not only wanted to win the bet but then he fell in love and wanted to help the girl.
  • Shady gambler one’s girlfriend: They’d been engaged for fourteen years. She just wanted to get married.
  • The missionary girl: She wanted to save her mission and learned to look past the sinner at the person.

Each of these four characters could have been the main character.

Do your secondary characters have a story goal and character arc?

No wonder GUYS AND DOLLS is famous and has been around forever. Clever plotting. Well-rounded characters. Humor. Emotion. Believable.

What I thought would be a yawn-filled night surprised me. What’s your favorite musical? What tips could you learn from it?

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The biggest newbie mistakes – I made.

N is for Newbie mistakes

1. Revision

I was so excited. I’d finished my first manuscript and knew it was ready to go. Many sources told me I needed to revise and rewrite but I read it over and I couldn’t find anything. So I fixed a bunch of typos and threw in a smell or two.

Ha ha ha ha. I know much better now.

Now I look at structure; scenes that are unrealistic; scenes that don’t move the story forward, scenes that don’t have enough tension or the emotion needs to be fleshed out.

And I rewrite, cut/slash, delete scenes, write new ones. #iwillhavethelastlaugh

2. Show don’t tell

I knew showing on a bigger scale – as in don’t narrate. But my first year writing I still didn’t quite get that showing meant a lot more than that.

  • It means showing emotion instead of naming.
  • It means using specific body language instead of vague clichéd ones.
  • It means allowing the internal conflict to show through internal dialogue that isn’t just spitting out information the reader already knows.
  • And all telling isn’t bad. The best writing is excellent telling.

3. Sensory details

I could have sworn all I had to do was add a smell to each scene and I had it covered.

Now I know that sensory details make the story come alive and draw the reader into the world. And through more than just smell, but touch, taste, color, sight and more.

4. Three dimensional characters

I was convinced that it just meant knowing more backstory on your character. But it doesn’t matter how many quirks or details or history you know about a character they will not come across three dimensional unless the writing is excellent: incorporating showing, description, sensory details, internal monologues, internal conflict and more.

5. The power of internal thoughts

I often skimped on the internal thoughts because I thought for sure readers would be bored. I mean, who cares? Well, I was wrong. The reader does care. That’s where we see how a character reacts, how they grow, how they interpret their world. Without it, a character will certainly be flat.

These are just the biggies. I made many other newbie mistakes. And the biggest thing I learned is that we can read a 1,000-page book on craft but until we struggle through our writing and experience the light bulb moment, they are nothing more than black words on a white page.

What are your newbie mistakes?

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Jocks and Stereotypes

J is for Jocks and Stereotypes – my favorite male leads

I only have to look at my some of favorite books in the last few months to find my favorite male leads. PERFECT CHEMISTRY, WICKED LOVELY, NIGHTSHADE…

These main guys could’ve been a stereotype. And I guarantee I would not have liked the book as much if they were.

What do Alejandro, Seth, and Ren have in common?

They all had potential to be a stereotype.

Alejandro, the Mexican, belongs to a gang, lives in a low economic area, good with mechanics, and has tattoos.

Seth, the bad boy, lives alone, tons of piercings, hot, somewhat of a playboy.

Ren, the alpha werewolf is tough, demanding, cocky.

So what made me fall in love with these seemingly shallow stereotypes?

Alejandro loved his family. He was willing to cross lines and visit Brittany in her home. He was sweet. He was willing to die for his family. And ultimately, he was willing to turn his back on his “brothers” to be with Brittany.

Seth, for all his looks, put Aislinn first. He’d given up the life of a playboy to wait for her. He believed in her. He was sweet, caring, and was nothing like you’d expect to be from outward appearance.

And Ren. Yes, he was all Alpha. But there were times, where the author showed how much he cared for Calla. How much he was willing to do for her. If I were Calla, I’d choose Ren.

The only time there is a stereotypical character, male lead or not, is when the character is underdeveloped.

Who are some of your favorite male leads? What did you like about them?

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Creating the best-worst character. Do you need to?


A couple friends asked if creating the worst possible character for your story was absolutely necessary. Remember that SAVE THE CAT is a book for screenwriters. And Blake Snyder assumes that when writing a screenplay a writer would like to snag an agent and go to Hollywood. If so, that means writing a high concept screenplay. Let’s investigate.

What does this mean?

Creating the worst possible character means finding the person who by just a glance would fail at the story goal, either because of lack of skill or lack of desire. (Loads of potential may lie beneath the surface.)

According to Blake Snyder this means finding the character who offers the most conflict in that situation and has the longest way to go emotionally.

Some examples?

Anna and the French Kiss – Anna absolutely did not want to be left at a private school in Paris. (How different would that story have been if Anna was headstrong and couldn’t wait to break away from her parents and travel?)

Before I Fall – Samantha was an unlikeable self-centered popular girl before she died and started living the same day over 7 times. (If she’d been a humble, kind outcast she wouldn’t have had as powerful an internal journey.)

Heist Society – Cat Bishop leaves the family business to be a normal girl – even though she has the skill to be a thief.

Princess for Hire – small town girl has to sub for royalty? Clearly worst possible choice – but turns out to be the best.

Harry Potter – Need I explain? What if Harry had been more like Draco?

How does it relate to high concept?

When creating a high-concept logline and story premise you want the reader to immediately think of potential scenes, see the potential conflict, and root for the character. And that means finding the best-worst character.

Is it absolutely needed for your story?

What do you think?

I don’t think you have to create a character like this. It depends on your story. But if your character isn’t the worst possible choice for the role then she/he must have flaws/problems – and lots of them.


  • Instant internal and external conflict
  • Creates reader empathy
  • Creates lots of potential in the reader’s mind for your book

Let’s brainstorm in the comments when it’s okay not to follow this concept. Can you think of any successful examples in literature? Sherlock Holmes anyone? There are lots of them. What made those characters successful then?

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Friday 5-Reasons to include a Nerf gun in your current story.

**I did not receive any compensation from the Nerf company for the use of Nerf guns in this post.**


It’s all about the symbolism, right? The thematic statement of your story. Just think about what a Nerf gun can represent – war, peace, hatred, love – deep stuff. But primal, which is what you want.

Let’s use an example of two teens, Alex and Julie.  Picture this: The Nerf gun lies on the floor. Forgotten. The two teens arrive home from a party where Julie’s best friend flirted with Alex. And he’d flirted back. Tensions are running high. As they march through the door, Alex trips over a small trinket on the floor. A nerf gun. The symbol of their upcoming battle. Very subtle but will sink into the subconscious of your reader.


Subtext is important. You know, all that stuff that is really happening in your scenes but no one is talking about.

So, let’s go back to Alex and Julie. Same scene. Julie is pissed. They enter the house, but instead of fighting and tripping over the Nerf gun, it lies on the kitchen counter. With stiff, jerky movements, Julie uses her domestic expertise to cook up a bag of microwave popcorn. With kernels popping in the background, Alex nervously talks about the Nerf gun. I’m not sure what exactly he’d say about it – maybe he always wanted a Nerf gun when he was in 3rd grade and now, he always wants things he can’t have. Scarred for life. But really, he’s not talking about the Nerf gun but Julie’s friend. Julie lets the popcorn burn.


Foreshadowing is all the cool elements you scatter through out Act I that hint to what will happen in the future.

Okay, Alex and Julie. Maybe two days before the party where Alex flirts with Julie’s best friend, Alex is fooling around with the Nerf gun (because of his traumatic past) and he shoots it and accidentally knocks over a framed picture of them. The picture falls to the floor and the glass shatters. Uh-oh. Not looking good. (I realize that’s not very subtle, but you get the point. Cut me some slack.)


Even a serious story can use a bit of humor.

Same scene. Except this time, the Nerf gun isn’t even in the room. Alex and Julie storm into the house. Julie burns the popcorn. As she’s bringing it over to slam on the counter in front of Alex; her pesky little brother, who wants to be a secret agent, aims and shoots. His orange Nerf dart pierces the air thick with tension. Julie, who thought her pesky little brother was at Grandma’s, jumps and spills the popcorn everywhere. Instead of fighting, Julie and Alex start a food fight with her brother and end up laughing. The fight put off. For now.


We all want three-dimensional characters in our story.

Think about Alex’s long and complicated history or backstory when it comes to Nerf guns. As a writer, if I weave that fascinating tidbit about Alex’s childhood earlier into the story, then the power of the Nerf gun in this scene will triple fold. All of sudden, the reader will empathize (or not) with Alex for flirting with Julie’s friend. Or we’ll feel for Julie and hope she tells Alex to suck it up and move on. Either way, you have character with deeper motivations for their actions and dialogue.

Other benefits:

  • Nerf guns will not date your story. I think they’ll be around for a while.
  • Sensory details – the pop, pop, pop.
  • Colors: The nice sunshine yellow of the gun, the orange darts, the red laser.
  • Nostalgia: Boys reading your story probably had a Nerf gun at one point in their life and will remember those days and like your story even more. Girls will remember when their annoying brothers kept hitting them in the face, making the symbolism and humor even greater.

**I would like to dedicate this post to my kids’ Aunt Susan and Uncle Philip who gifted our family with a set of Nerf guns in December.**

What are some other benefits of including Nerf guns in your story?

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