GUEST POST: Two Approaches to Portraying Characters Three-Dimensionally by Pamela Nicole

Posted by Ryder Islington, Author of Ultimate Justice, A Trey Fontaine Mystery,and coming soon: Ultimate Game, A Trey Fontaine Mystery
I hope all of you enjoy this article as much as I did. She may only be eighteen but Pamela Nicole has a a working knowledge of how to build a character. Read on as she shares her knowledge.


2 Approaches to Portraying Characters Three-Dimensionally


It’s not uncommon for readers to blame it on the characters when they haven’t enjoyed a book. In fact, poor characterization, Mary-Sues, and flat characters, are the reasons why some books just don’t work, in spite of having a great plot. And that’s where writers begin climbing the walls and request the deity of literature to please make readers just see what perfect characters they have.


So, maybe your beta readers have told you the characters aren’t really there for them, your critique partners aren’t convinced either, or perhaps you, yourself can’t get over the feeling that they’re lacking something.


That’s okay. In order for this post to be useful, you’ve got to accept you may be doing something wrong, or need to do more.


Readers know their thing. If they say characters are your weak point, it’s worth checking it out.


Let’s get to it, then.


Approach #1: The Dialogue and Action


By now, it’s understood you have your characters. Let’s say they are Jane and Joe, BFFs. We’re going to focus on how to use dialogue to portray Jane and Joe in a way that seems believable, and not forced. If you have been reading about shy Jane for now 156 pages and then Jane gets all ‘Let’s Party!’, you might want an explanation. But if this explanation never comes, or it’s just not enough, you have a characterization problem there.


Dialogue plays a important role in characterization, because, while we enjoy reading thoughts and conclusions, it’s what characters say and do what really stick with us.


I’m sure you must be at least okay at writing dialogue. No biggie. Your dialogues are not bad. Maybe there really isn’t anything wrong with them. But I assure you, you can make it even better and make good use of it for the benefit of the characters.


Here are some ideas:


  • Read some of your dialogue aloud. Do you feel like you want to laugh? Gag? It needs revising.
  • Tweak it so everytime there’s a conversation, the speakers show a trait. (It’s a good idea to keep a list of personality traits for major characters in order for this to be easier)


And for Actions


  • Try to always keep your characters in motion, or you’ll bore readers.
  • Every thing they do must have consequences. I repeat: Don’t forget the consequences.
  • Pay close attention. Jane and Joe do what Jane and Joe typically do, unless they have a reason to not to. Ex. Joe is afraid of the dark, but he enters a dark cave, albeit sweaty and shaking, to rescue his best friend, Jane.Note here that Joe isn’t happy about confronting this fear.


Approach #2: Opposite/Similar Character Traits


This is something I always strive to do. Do you sometimes feel your characters are hard to tell apart from each other? This is the solution. And it’s two-fold. Apart from being the answer to your characterization prayers, it also offers a much needed element in your story: Conflict.


Consider Jane:

  • Shy
  • Studious
  • Likes Gardening
  • Bossy


And Joe:

  • Friendly
  • Movie geek
  • Likes Videogames
  • Bossy


Now, these situations:

  • Jane going with Joe to a party. Jane is unconfortable and this can lead to several embarrasing moments.
  • Joe stuck in a study appointment with Jane and preferring to clean rather than study.


And then this one,

  • Jane and Joe are working with other classmates in a group project. Both have different but good ideas.


See what I mean? If you dig a little deeper, you can easily build a network of interactions between your characters that brings out the best/worst in them, gives them a distinct voice, and also offers situations you can use for the benefit of the plot.


Happy writing to all!


Fit In or Fit Out

Book Blurb:

Every person is the main character of their own story, and no one is less important thant anyone, right? Then, why do we have such a hard time understanding this simple concept? Why do we push people away and keep the wrong one close? In this work of non-fiction, written by a teenager herself, the subject is analyzed to some hard-to-admit depths, using famous quotes and relatable examples, the truth about high schools and human nature in general is revealed.





Pamela NicoleBio:

Pamela Nicole is an Ecuadorian 18-year old writer and blogger. After several attempts at productive hobbies, she discovered she could finish a YA book in three hours and forget about the real world in that time. So, after reading more, and more, she started writing short stories online and a novel draft. She published a short essay based on her own highschool experience. Pamela is currently working on her second novel.





My Middle Is Sagging!

As all writers know, it’s that sagging middle of a manuscript that can make us crazy. My WIP has a great beginning and a bang up ending, but that darned middle looks like a string hanging down between two pieces of wire.

I don’t know how authors put out two, or three, or a dozen books a year!. How do they take the characters from safe and happy in the beginning, through a maze of problems, and bring them out the otherside? Well, I know all about bringing them out the other side. The ending of my WIP is kick butt rock solid. If only I knew what to do with those twenty chapters before the end, that keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. Well I did it once, so I guess I can do it again. But for the life of me, I can’t remember how I did it the first time.

I’d love to hear from other writers as to how they manage to fill in that middle. I’ve found that it’s not so hard to get the characters in trouble, but getting them out in a believeable way is the trick.

BOOK REVIEW: What’s Your Agatha Christie I.Q.? by Kathleen Kaska

Review by Ryder Islington

This is such a fun book! For those of you who are Agatha Christie fans, you’ll really enjoy the quizzes and puzzles. And for mystery writers it’s a great way to learn the basics of writing mysteries through the master mystery writer, Agatha Christie. Ms. Kaska put in a lot of work to make this book fun, interesting and also a great teaching tool. This is a great book for kids as well as adults and for writers as well as readers.

The quizzes include Titles and Plots, Murders, Motives and Victims, Murder Weapons and Victims, First Lines, Last Words,  and quizzes on specific titles from the prolific writer of the mystery genre.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I recommend this book for all lovers of mystery. If you like crossword puzzles, brain exercises, or just the fun of learning facts about one of the foremost authors of the century, pick up a copy of Kathleen Kaska’s What’s Your Agatha Christie I.Q.? 

You can find Kathleen Kaska at where you can read about all of her books, including the newest, The Sherlock Holmes Triviology and Quiz Book.

Welcome Guest Blogger Author Judith Marshall

Today we have a guest blogger, author Judith Marshall, with an intersting article on writing badly. Enjoy.

Take it away, Judith!

Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly

When I look back at the first draft of my novel, “Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever,” I’m appalled. How could I expect to interest an agent or publisher in this drivel? But while I was pounding out the words, I didn’t know it was bad. I only knew I had something to say.

For all you aspiring writers out there, I want you to know that it’s okay to write badly. It’s okay not to have an MFA in writing or even any knowledge of the craft. The main thing is to get it down from beginning to end. Why? Because writing is about revision. There will be plenty of time to correct mistakes, beef up the plot and hone your characters later.

But first you must silence your inner critic; that voice that keeps telling you your writing is crap. This voice does not like to be ignored. She wants you to be precise, to choose just the right word, to use the proper punctuation. She wants you to be inspired, prolific and brilliant. Wouldn’t that be nice? But if you wait for that to happen, you’ll be staring at a blank computer screen most days.

If you want to be a writer, you have to start somewhere, and most often it begins with writing badly. Writing badly is the first step toward producing anything worthwhile.

Thanks, Judith. You hit the nail on the head.

Below is a great photo of Judith, with a cover shot, and you can contact Judith at

Trey and Georgia at Breakfast–Backstory for Ultimate Justice A Trey Fontaine Mystery

I thought I’d share this scene which was cut from the final draft of Ultimate Justice A Trey Fontaine Mystery. This scene shows the relationship between Trey Fontaine and his mother Georgia. I hope you enjoy it.

Trey changed into loose-fitting black jeans and a black tee-shirt, pulled his boots back on and headed out the door. He’d promised to meet his mom at her house. Looking at his watch, he was pretty sure of what she had in mind.
As he drove, he considered what might have happened to Samantha Warren. Assuming she ran a legitimate business and hadn’t done anything wrong, she might have learned of her daughter’s disappearance and decided to come looking for her. Or she might have met Prince Charming and decided never to return to her life as it had been.
He pulled up the long dirt drive to the front of the house and turned off the engine but didn’t move, his mind still working on the possible fate of the missing girls.
Trey looked at his mother’s home, the one she’d bought a few years ago. The perfectly groomed yard and white siding with black wood trim. That was the way he liked things. Black and white. And that was why he didn’t look forward to this visit. The only thing about Georgia Fontaine that was black and white was the outside of her home.
Trey’s mom was not the ordinary cop’s widow. She’d never re-married and he’d never even seen her with another man. As far as Trey knew, she’d never worked outside the home and for as long as he could remember, there had been a woman who came three times a week to keep the house in order.
Trey had called her Tuesday and told her he was in town on a case.
He found the door key on his ring and started to slip it into the knob. What if she’s not alone? The thought slowed him, but didn’t stop him. Whatever he found inside, he would deal with. He always had.
To his surprise, what he found was his mother standing at the sink, smoking a cigarette and gazing out the window. She wore a shiny bright blue tank top with thin straps over the shoulders and a close-fitting creme skirt that hit just above the knee. Her almost platinum hair was  short style, with every hair in place.  Made up to perfection. That was Mom.
“Well, it’s about time you got here. I’m starved,” she said, turning on the facet, dousing her cigarette. “Are you ready for some lunch?”
He knew what that meant. Crawdads. She slipped her feet into gold lame sandals with rhinestone-covered straps and wound her arm through his.
Georgia drove her red 57 T-Bird convertible to Willie’s Crab Shack. Trey smelled the crawfish before they reached the parking lot. His mom left the windows down and the car unlocked and they walked arm-in-arm to the dining room, the screen door slamming behind them as they entered.
There was nothing like Willie’s. Hardwood floors painted dark brown. Trey pulled out a mis-matched chair for his mom. He looked through the screen walls at the river, the water flowing gently toward the gulf.
Ceiling fans circling lazily overhead. Condiments consisting of Louisiana Hot Sauce, Reuben Peppers and Wasabi.
“Miller Lite,” his mother said.
“Hey, you’re driving,” Trey complained.
His mother unhooked the long decorative key chain from her belt loop and tossed it to him.
“Iced tea for me.” Crawfish and iced tea. Oh, well.
The waitress placed the bottle of beer, the mason jar of tea and two bowls of clarified butter on the plastic red and white checkered tablecloth. She returned with two bibs, two hand towels and a plastic tarp covered with boiled crawfish.
Both of them dug in, twisting and separating the tail from the head. Trey peeled the shell off in a circular motion to get to the sweet meat. Hot, tender and delicious. Then he pinched the tail, pulling the meat from it and discarding the shells on one side of the table. Juice ran down his arms to his elbows and puddled on the checkered plastic. His mother matched his efforts.
Despite the comfort of being back at Willie’s, he couldn’t keep his mind from returning to the missing girls. If he didn’t find something soon, this project would go back on the shelf. Not one shred of evidence had turned up to indicate foul play. Which probably meant there was nothing to find.
His mom wiped her face and took a long pull of beer, then grabbed another crawfish and repeated the shelling procedure. The beer made his mouth water but not enough to drink and drive. He swigged his tea and dug into the pile.
Shifting in his seat caused pain to shoot in all directions, but his mom didn’t know about his being wounded and he intended to keep it that way so he masked his moan of pain with closed eyes and noisy chewing. Even as good as Willie’s mudbugs were, they didn’t make him forget the sting.
Now that he’d spent some time with his mom, he could leave town without guilt and go back to New Orleans. A few more days of searching for the first piece of evidence in a possible case. With each new bit of information, Trey felt more sure there was really nothing to investigate. This assignment was a compromise to allow him to be on duty and not sit at a desk. It was the only way he could return to work.
Was there a killer on the loose, abducting young women, making them disappear? Or had Trey been sent on the proverbial wild goose chase to re-direct his energies and get his mind off the old case that occasionally tore open his soul?

My Favorite #Reference Books

This is the third blog of the Rolling Mystery Writer’s Blog Tours roll for Wednesday. The two blogs on this roll before mine were Nancy Lauzon’s and Katherine Wagner’s. If  you haven’t yet visited their blogs, the addresses are below, along with the other blogs featured today on the subject of Reference Books. 

And now, on to my article:

I have a lot of reference books, and I plan to list most of them at the bottom of this article. But I do have a few that I depend on for every novel I write.

First, I have an unabridged dictionary, a thesaurus, Allen’s Synonyms and Antonyms, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and Body Language by Fast. I don’t use these every day, but I know I have them, and they are vital on those days when my brain doesn’t function well. I think every writer needs these basic reference books.

Then there are my absolute must have favorites:

1. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.  I’m not a good plotter. But this book helps me to create a very nebulous skeleton of a plot. Others take more from it, and learn to plot according to mythic structure.  In addition, it has some great descriptions of mythic character types that help me shape my characters into believeable people. It has great examples, including the break down of several classic films/books to show exactly how the mythic journey works.

2. 45 Master Characters, Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. To really round out those characters of mine, I use this book as well. It explains the mythic models, and adds supporting character types, gives examples of what those characters look like by use of book, TV and movie characters, and shows how characters change, according to their type.

3. The Writer’s Digest Character-Naming Sourcebook by Kenyon, with Blythe and Sweet. A character’s name is important. Both the given name and the family name. They speak to the character’s history and age, and sometimes personality. This book is indespensible.

4.Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. This books helps me take all the information I’ve gathered from the previous three, and create a strong plot and believeable, three dimensional characters. It discusses areas where the writing profession has grown and changed, allowing writers a freer hand in the creation of novels that used to be considered too complicated or out of the acceptable norm for publishers. It teaches advanced plot structures. Can’t do without this one.

5. The Power of Point of View, Make Your Story Come to Life by Alicia Rasley. This book helps me decide who’s pov to write in and what type of pov to use. It’s great for those who want to deepen the experience of the reader, to help the reader really get into the mind of your characters.

6. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King. Once I have that first draft done, this book helps me edit thoroughly. It reminds me of all those things that are so important to the polish and preparation of a manuscript.

These six books sit in a basket beside my desk, within arms length along with a few specialty books on language and mystery writing, which I will list below. The  basket also holds a few gold nuggets, primarily in the form of notes from classes I’ve taken from some of the best writers and teachers I’ve ever known.

Here is an additional list of books that help me on occasion, especially if I’m having issues I can’t solve:

  • The Plot Thickens, 8 Ways To bring Fiction To Life by Noah Lukeman
  • Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld
  • Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble
  • The Crime Writer’s Reference Guide, 1001 Tips for Writing the Perfect Murder by Martin Roth
  • Cajun Vernacular English: Informal English in French Louisiana by Louisiana English Journal Special Issue 1992
  • Writing Mysteries, A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America

There are writers out there with MFA’s and others with perfect memories, and some that just seem to have so much talent they don’t need guidence. I don’t fit into any of those catagories. I’m, for the most part, self taught when it comes to writing. The simple art of putting sentences together has always come easy to me. Storytelling is one of my natural abilities. But novel writing is a whole other animal that requires a lot more than what I have naturally, or as a result of education. I’ve found that I need a lot of help, and I’ve found that help in the books listed here.

Below is a list of the participants in today’s blog roll, which ends with John Hines. His blog not only has a great article on this subject, but also a plethera of articles, ideas and opinions. Please stop by and check it out. For information on previous blog rolls, see the other articles on this site dated July, 2011 and newer.

Nancy Lauzon–
Katherine Wagner–
Ryder Islington–
John Hines–

Genre Bending and Blending

This post is part of the Rolling Mystery Blog Tour. My blog was third on this list for this roll, which started with John Hines, who was followed by Kathleen Kaska. All of the participants of today’s roll are listed at the bottom of this article, and all have written articles on the subject of Genre Bending and Blending. Please take time today, or this week, to visit all the blogs on the list. And now, on to my article on Genre Bending and Blending:

This topic wreaks havoc with writers, especially unpublished writers. We plot and plan, write and revise, polish and submit, and our manuscripts are often returned for the simple  reason that they don’t really fit into the category the agent or editor represents. I have a friend who is in the midst of writing a wonderful story. It has a literary feel, but with mystery, and unending sexual tension. So, what genre is it, really? I don’t think it will pass for a romance, though it has hot spots. It might be a mystery, but not the typical who-done-it. It’s not a cozy, or a thriller. If we can’t name it, put it in a nice, neat slot, does that mean it deserves to sit in the slush pile for ever? If the storytelling is wonderful, the writing is crisp, and the plot is intriguing, if the characters are well-rounded and interesting, and the script has been polished to within an inch of its life, but it doesn’t fit anywhere, does the writer deserve to go on being unpublished just because her writing is unique?

Fortunately, there are small presses out there that are willing to take a chance on those of us who have trouble fitting our writing into preconceived notions of what is and isn’t publishable. And with the advent of ebooks, and the ease and availability of self-publishing, almost anyone can get a book published. The kicker is, readers need to be able to find your books, no matter what you write. So if your writing doesn’t readily fit into a genre, how will readers know what to expect?

As the publishing industry continues to go through growing pains, and readers become more open to the bending and blending of genres, it will get easier for those of us whose writing doesn’t quite fit the molds out there. But until that time, writers may have to hold on to those manuscripts they have worked so hard on, or else, compromise their writing to fit into the stereotypical genre of the week.

There has to be an answer to this problem. There must be a way for writers who bend and blend genres to let readers know what to expect from their writing. One way is to blog about it, and to set up their platform so that it praises the newness, the uniqueness of the writing. We need to find words that fit our writing and use them to put our names and our work out there for readers to find. Celebrate your uniqueness, and then make sure readers are able to find that uniqueness and celebrate it with you.

The next stop on the Rolling Mystery Blog Tour for this roll is Mollie Cox Bryan. Mollie has a great blog and her articles are full and fun. Below is a  list of blogs participating in this roll of the rolling blog tour. Please enjoy the articles on Genre Bending and Blending at each of the blogs.