Crowd Control (in your series, or in your war)


Jack Campbell  A science fiction writer of five series, (I recommend the Lost Fleet, Beyond the Frontier, and the Lost Stars series)   Jack Campbell names characters only if they are important–so the admiral gives the order to the “watchstander” instead of naming him Ensign Henri Olson. Over 13 novels,  being given fewer names to keep track of is a real blessing. (Think David Weber and the Honor series for the opposite).


The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.       When I finished the series, I wondered how she had kept so many characters clear in my mind, so I went back and counted, 26 including a dead father in the first book. This is the average character count for a novel, so how come it felt like so many more were in there? “Mob references” were used throughout the series, “people from the seam,” “no one from District 12,” “I had heard that in District 4”, “people in the Capital”, etc. Then she gave the same characters several references, the tributes from  District One, their names, and the nicknames they had acquired. These techniques helped make the book feel much more densely populated than it was. Great for portraying a war.

What techniques do you use to handle your crowds? Let us know.

Write on,



Paragraph Rules

The Paragraph Rules, for it is here your story lives or dies.

Your story is a succession of scenes/sequels composed of paragraphs. In a paragraph, every sentence should relate directly to the topic of the paragraph, or it should be eliminated.

Start a new paragraph whenever:

  • a new person is speaking
  • a new character comes along
  • a new event happens
  • a new idea is introduced
  • the setting changes
  • time moves forward, or backward.

When proofreading your work, check the end of each paragraph to make sure the flow between them is smooth.


Take several pages of your current draft and read them aloud. Then, edit them by paragraph for unity and flow. Read the new version aloud. To me, it is this step above all that makes your writing sound “professional.”

What do you think? Did it take your work to a higher level?

Write on,



When I recently finished the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, I actually threw that third book against the wall. While I had liked the first book, the other two had been a declining experience. But I hung on to the bitter end, curious as to what the author had in mind. Perhaps it was her statement about perceived superiority, or the determination of people to segregate.

No guessing, she broke a cardinal rule of theme by having a character state it openly, considered preaching “people can be cruel.”

I had read one good, two mediocre books, for that? A theme much better served by the classic Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

I have read entire books on theme, but never have I heard it been described so briefly, and so well, as in the writing book Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.

What does the story tell us about what it means to be human? What does it say about how humans react to circumstances beyond their control?

Knowing your theme in advance helps because it gives you a gauge by which to measure your characters’ responses to the situations they find themselves in.

What is it I want my reader to walk away thinking about? What point does my story make? How do I want to change the way my reader sees the world?

While you may be reticent to share the plot of what you’re writing, how about telling us your theme?

Write on,


Creating Compelling Characters (Physical description)

“…in order to create a character—think him up, animate him, stick with him for five hundred pages—a writer has to be enthusiastic about that character. Even if not everybody else is… All this is much easier if you have created original, complex, individual characters in the first place…”

Dynamic Characters: How to create personalities that keep readers captivated, Nancy Kress, now contributor to Writer’s Digest (monthly columnist to WD for many years)

Nancy advises to make the reader’s first encounter with your character memorable.

  • create a visual image, so we can picture the character in some important way
  • tell us something about the person inside
  • convey an impression of individuality, of someone unique and interesting, whom we will want to know more about.

To indicate personality, you can use a character’s appearance, her own reaction to her appearance, choice of clothes, details of the home, personal taste, and mannerisms. And you can use appearance to indicate a temporary situation, change of style, clothes when one who was poor becomes rich.


  1. Choose details that create strong visual images.
  2. Choose details that add up to an accurate, coherent impression of your character’s personality.
  3. Use word choices that further reinforce this impression.
  4. Don’t choose too many details. Quality over quantity.
  5. Use your effective details the first time we encounter your character, so we will want to keep reading.
Write on,

Creating Compelling Characters

Whenever I led writers’ groups, I found writers stretched to the limit. Squeezed between work and family obligations, grabbing spare minutes to write, they bought the recommended writing books that came along, but they had no time to read or apply the techniques the tomes contained.

Frequently I found myself condensing, combining, copying bits from here and there and passing out sheets at the meetings. One week might be some comedy techniques of Doug Adams, next week it might be on establishing tone.

That’s my task here. Every day give you a morsel to digest, use ASAP. Keep it short, simple.  KISS

Whenever possible, I use books written by the best—today it’s some tips on character from mystery writer Elizabeth George, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. Tomorrow, some from Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress, tops in science fiction. I’ve read novels by both, they deliver what they’ve preached.

Each main character gets a character analysis, a complete bio.

She free writes, stream of consciousness, to start exploring the relationships.

“Create characters who are real to the reader, who evoke an emotional response within the reader, and you create suspense because the reader will want to know what’s going to happen to those people once the status quo is shattered by the primary event

One way to do this is to give the character an intention. This produces interest in the reader. It produces anticipation. If the reader cares about a character, the reader anticipates the problems he’s going to face. Using time also works to promote suspense.”

5 unique things that she does for each bio

  1. She establishes the character’s core need. This is something essential to him that, when denied, results in whatever constitutes his psychopathology.

Examples: need to be competent: good at everything you do.

flip       Self-castigation, he’d never act out.

  1. The supreme stress he’s ever under will be when his core need is thwarted. His pathological maneuver is the flip side of the core need.

Delusions, compulsions, addictions, denial, hysterical ailments, hypochondria, illnesses, behaviors harming the self, behaviors harming others, manias, and phobias are all possible maneuvers.

If the core need is internal, the flip will also be internal.

  1. A character’s sexuality, history and attitudes.
  2. An event in the character’s past that has had a huge impact on him. This may never be stated in the novel.
  3. What does the character want in the novel? In each scene?

That’s enough, get writing.


Plot Defined

Plot is what happens.

What  your characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is the sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters.

These events are presented and organized as scenes and sequels with an emphasis on causality. The first scene must trigger an event that follows and so on down the line. Each scene must contain some conflict and It must trigger a subsequent scene.

There must be a climax, and then resolution.