3 Tips To Brainstorming Villains


Photo by Olly Bennett

One of my very favorite parts of a book are its villains. They create the drive to will a hero/heroine to survive the worst the villain and life can throw at them. Their journey to survive and overcome are inspiring.

When it comes to inspiring the reader with a hero/heroine’s survival, the villain is key. Not just any villain will do, but the worst possible foe, with great skills in bringing about their evil schemes.

Some of the best ever villains have similar qualities exhibited in stories. Susan May Warren teaches the importance of showing an almost insurmountable ability to do evil, when pitting him against the hero/heroine. This is of huge import when trying to make a believable villain.

There are other important elements to a villain as well.

As you brainstorm villains for your stories a few tips will help you to create a villain that draws the reader to keep turning pages.

3 Tips To Brainstorming Villains:

  1. Brainstorm A Lair. A villain needs a place for his evil to have a home world. Writing mentor Rachel Hauck shared this insight with me. If there is a villain point of view, this might be a place where s/he reflects on their crimes, or looks at mementos. If not, it can be a place that others discover to uncover the plots or evil intentions of the villain.
  2. Brainstorm Incidents That Place The Villain Next To The Hero/Heroine. Placing the villain next to the hero/heroine without them being aware of the evil that is so close creates tension and a feeling of danger.
  3. Brainstorm a tell or unique behavior for your villain. This can be as simple as a smell, or sound that brings a sense of foreboding in the hero or heroine, even when they don’t know what caused it. This tell can be used at different times to create an emotion.

Who is your favorite villain of all time? Why?


3 Tips To Brainstorming Through Blank Page Paralysis

Photo by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

Photo by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

A story is a complex structure with multiple elements, each key to the overall success of a novel. Many key parts of story structure I learned through My Book Therapy’s coaches Susan May Warren, Rachel Hauck, and Lisa Jordan.

Their instruction helped me understand the spine of a novel and the elements required for a novel to be publication worthy.

Once all of the key elements are in place, an author still must put flesh on the bones of the story. It can be an overwhelming task. Is it any wonder that sometimes along the way writers get lost?

Do you struggle from Blank Page Paralysis?

Staring at a blank page, waiting for brilliance to strike can be frustrating. Instead of staying stuck, try the following strategies.

3 Tips To Brainstorming Through Blank Page Paralysis:

*Brainstorm From Setting. Determine the setting for the next scene. Brainstorm the sensory details and what is present in the setting. Determine who is there and what the mood is of the scene. As the setting begins to come to life, it becomes easier to visualize your character there and what their goal is next.

*Brainstorm From Character. Identify the Point of View character for the next scene. Brainstorm how they are feeling, what the goal is for them in the scene, and how the setting reflects their mood. Then brainstorm who and what is in the scene with the POV character that could cause obstacles to them reaching their goals.

*Brainstorm From Plot. Focus on what will happen in the coming scene that moves the plot forward. Determine where you need to be at the end of the scene and how the objectives of the Point of View character feeds into the plot. Brainstorm what could happen in the coming scene. Put no filters on the possibilities. When you are finished, select the one that best moves your story forward.

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How Do You Get Out Of Blank Page Paralysis?

How To Salvage A Plot Gone Rogue Part 2 – Tips From The Show “Timeless”

Photo by Bruno Sercocima

Photo by Bruno Sercocima

Plot has a rhythm that breathes on the page. Sometimes that rhythm goes rogue with a bit of help from the author. Not knowingly, of course, but rogue all the same. Getting stuck on a theme, or bogged down in the ordinary can create a lackluster plot.

If your plot’s gone rogue, there are a few things to analyze to salvage it from the heap. One of the key causes of a plot gone rogue is the lack of solid conflict and tension.

Let’s take a look at a clip from the new show Timeless to get a bit of insight into our stories.

How To Salvage A Plot Gone Rogue 2:

*Place the hero/heroine in the middle of the action.  Ask yourself if you have placed your hero/heroine as close to the action as possible. Notice in the clip of Timeless that the heroine is in the same booth with Abraham Lincoln. The writer realized how much more dramatic it would be to place the heroine there.

Removing the hero/heroine too far from the action, can make a plot grow lethargic and dull. Analyze your story and reposition the hero/heroine in the middle of the danger or adventure.

*Create an impossible choice between two competing values. In this clip the heroine is forced to decide whether to let Lincoln die, whom she has admired her whole life, or let him live, changing history forever. She doesn’t know whether her world will be the same, or not. A seemingly impossible choice. This is a part of plot I learned from my mentor Susan May Warren.

*Figure out what your hero/heroine’s fighting for. Recognize that deviating to far from the noble quest will result in a plot without an end point. The great climax will not occur. Slowly escalate tension in increments of least to most intense until you reach the climax.

Deescalating conflict can make for flat plot. Deescalation occurs when rabbit trails are followed away from the main plot. These can include over intensification of issues, unrelated story world or side plots, or even character distractions.

What television shows inspire you in plotting?

How To Salvage A Plot Gone Rogue Part 1

Photo by hamedreza ahmadi

Photo by hamedreza ahmadi

Have you ever had a plot take on a life of its own? You started down the path of story world with the best of intentions only to discover your plot soured and you’ve lost your way?

This can happen to the Seat-Of-The-Pants writer and the Careful Plotter as well. I land somewhere in the middle of those two and call myself a Purposeful Pantser. But whatever method you use to write, it can be sabotaged by a plot gone rogue.

Most plots can be salvaged if you don’t mind doing the painful work of cutting out the stray pen strokes that don’t belong in the masterpiece.

How To Salvage A Plot Gone Rogue is essential to meeting deadlines and avoiding writer’s block.

How To Salvage A Plot Gone Rogue Part 1:

*Identify your own personal weaknesses.  

Photo by Myles Davidson

Photo by Myles Davidson

If you’re a Seat-Of-The-Pants writer, it may be a story structure break or a side track a character took that wasn’t helpful to the plot.

If you’re a Careful Plotter, the plot may be too predictable, have missing conflict pieces, or borders on episodic.

Possibly the underlying agenda of the story has taken over the plot, hiding tension from the reader.

Being honest with yourself is the first step in finding a solution. Identifying what you struggle with can help you salvage your plot.

*Revisit your story structure spine. 

Photo by Cathy Kaplan

Photo by Cathy Kaplan

Writing mentor Susan May Warren has taught me how to develop the spine in my novel, regardless of my writing style.

It must start with a character’s belief in a lie that drives their decisions. When sent on a noble quest, they change and grow. For tips on story structure/spine, check out: How To Create Believeable Character Change  and How To Ramp Up The Conflict Idea Sparking Style. You can also check out the category Plot Development in the side menu.

If you’re looking for in depth information a great resource is My Book Therapy.

*Make sure your plot is not episodic. 

Photo by Andre Lubbe

Photo by Andre Lubbe

Television series are created in episodes. Each episode can stand alone, but there’s still an overarching theme or character’s story line that last for several seasons.

Novels must avoid interior stand alone plots, but strive to be about the overarching story.

For example:

A character’s noble quest may be to find their mother’s killer like Kate Beckett in the show Castle. But solving a murder in every chapter as they get closer to finding the answers to the overarching theme would most likely feel episodic. It allows the reader to walk away.

Instead try placing a hero/heroine on the job, while their life experiences are leading closer to the end goal. The noble quest must have conflicts on the path that escalate very clearly, until all is revealed and the character overcomes their greatest fear.

Next Tuesday I will share How To Salvage A Plot Gone Rogue Part II.

How do you salvage plots gone rogue?

How To Add Real Life Conflicts To Your Novel – Help! I’ve Fallen Into The School Bus

Photo by Holger Selover-Stephan

Photo by Holger Selover-Stephan

If you are reading this blog, chances are I survived the back to school rush of 2016. Whew!

Four kids make back to school a challenge. There’s all of the Open Houses, school supply lists, clothes shopping, and new schedules. As luck would have it, my four children are attending three different schools, making it even more chaotic.

If you are a last minute shopper, or forgot a few items, you just might be duking it out Jingle All The Way style in isle ten. And if you are looking for a TI 84+ calculator. . . sorry, we got the last one.

This past week has been full of real life conflict that is enough to make any mom want to move to Australia with Alexander. Just like us, our characters’ lives are full of real life conflict, too.

Have you built that into the ebb and flow of your novel. Characters seem real when we give them the experiences we go through every day and they must navigate the potholes.

Here are a few tips on How To Add Real Life Conflicts To Your Novel that make it easier for readers to identify with your characters.

How To Add Real Life Conflict To Your Novel:

*Brainstorm a list of real life situations your character might face at the time of year your story takes place. It helps to focus in on the time of year when your novel takes place. List holidays, professional busy seasons, personal hobbies that might draw a character away from their goals, and even key times for other characters when they are not as supportive due to outside pressures.

*Select the events that are highest in conflict in conjunction with genre suitability. At Christmas, a chic-lit novel might have shopping woes and complicated to shop for mother-in-laws. Although those might work in a suspense, it would be much more helpful to make a character more vulnerable, having to shop after dark when there is a chance their stalker would wait for them in the parking lot while their arms were weighed down with packages. (For more on plot conflict and escalation techniques check out my book here.)

*Intensify the conflict by making us care even more. If a character has to chose between the dangers of facing that parking lot when your life is at risk and not finding a special gift for your mom’s last Christmas, the tension increases. The reader cares about the character’s safety and the last Christmas for a mom and her daughter. Using these competing values is a trick I learned from Susan May Warren in her book Deep And Wide: Advanced Fiction Techniques.

What was the crazy part of your back-to-school season?

5 Qualities Of A Journey To A Carol Award – Observations in Author Beth K. Vogt

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Photo by Beth K. Vogt

Do you long to be an award winning author? Who doesn’t, right? The reality is that a journey to such an award is full of potholes and cliff hangers.

We see the end result in a moment of celebration, but we often don’t recognize the journey that gets a person to the top of the podium. Behind that trophy are years of work, tears, and dedication.

Many of my friends have received big awards. Observing their writing journeys, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with you.

In previous years I’ve seen many of my friends, including Lisa Jordan, Susan May Warren, Colleen Coble, Rachel HauckJulie Klassen and others receive a prestigious award.

What are the secrets to their success?

5 Qualities In A Journey To A Carol Award that I’ve observed in all of these recipients stand out.

This year my writing friend Beth K. Vogt won a Carol Award for her book Crazy Little Thing Called Love. I can’t think of a more deserving author. She has shown her dedication to excellence in several award winning books.

Not only is she a proficient author, she is an amazing person who I have learned a lot from over the past few years. She is one of my favorite romance authors of all time. I’ve been blessed to observe much of her journey. Here is what I discovered.

5 Qualities In A Journey To A Carol Award – Observations in Author Beth K. Vogt:

*Dedication to excellence in writing craft. Beth has taken an incredible amount of time to study the writing craft. It is not enough to be excellent once. Each book she pushes to improve her craft. Her rich metaphors and emotions that grip readers are honed in her writing workshop.

*A Mentor’s heart. Beth continues to pour her life into other authors to help them succeed. She doesn’t worry about keeping success for herself, but shares freely of her knowledge with others. In sharing, she grows stronger as a writer both mentally and emotionally.

*A supportive tribe. Learning from other great mentors and sharing the journey with a tribe of writing friends is a key to Beth’s success. She has cheerleaders and challengers to keep her on the writing path towards success. It is more than just those who encourage, but also those who would be honest with a skilled eye for writing.

*Accepts constructive criticism with grace. On the journey there are times when Beth received constructive criticism from mentors and writing friends, just like all of us. She didn’t get defensive, or angry. She replied with grace, giving thought to what was shared.

*Pursues her relationship with Christ. In writing Christian Fiction, Beth recognizes the importance of deep, abiding faith. She pursues her relationship with Christ as she writes, so that her characters live and breathe in the real world. It keeps her grounded on the journey’s roller coaster turns.

Who is your favorite award winning author? What have you learned from their journey?

3 Brainstorming Idea Sparks to Start Your Writing Day

Photo by esra su

Photo by esra su

Have you met someone who talks in monotone?

I’ve met a few. We’ve all been subjected to speakers who made us yawn from the moment they started speaking.

Imagine the last time you sat with your family or extended family around the table. Think of the different words and tones they used to communicate.

From the hippie, to the teenager, to the toddler, to the politician, they all have a unique choice of words and tone. The politician may strive to be politically correct and not offend anyone. The teenager’s words may ooze sarcasm.

Who are voices in your scenes?

Do you have enough different tones and unique word choices? These differences create an auditory pallet for your novel’s dialogue. The more diverse your auditory pallet, the more unique each character will feel to readers.

In creating dialogue today, think about how you can add richness to your story through voice. Use these 3 Brainstorming Idea Sparks to Start Your Writing Day.

3 Brainstorming Idea Sparks to Start Your Writing Day:

Tell your writing pal or a friend one of the most unique individuals you remember for their tone and word choices. Review what you wrote yesterday in the final scene. Then answer the following questions about your cast of characters.

  1. What are the different auditory palettes of my characters? You should have at least a few different varieties, if not, go back and add them in.
  2. What can I do to enrich these or add secondary characters to make a scene’s auditory diversity more obvious? Put characters with different dialogue styles in the same scenes together. This will create greater interest in your scenes. That is why we often see a side-kick character very different than the hero or heroine.
  3. How can I more clearly define my hero/heroine’s word choices and tones? Make your hero/heroine the only one who sounds like they do in your novel.

If you are looking for more Idea Sparking Tips like these, you can find them in my book- Idea Sparking: 30 Idea Sparks to Write a Novel in a Month.

One of my favorite author’s for dialogue is Mildred Taylor. Another favorite is Susan May Warren who once used the phrase, “How do you like your yellars?” (Eggs) Her newest release is: Where There’s SmokeBoth of these authors have very rich dialogue in their novels.


What are some of your favorite dialogue characters?