A Return to Productivity by Karina Cooper

I believe I mentioned my hobby last week called, “Learn to plot a book.” I thought I’d found the solution. The end of the road. The Way to plot, and I could give up the hunt forever.

Then I came across a mention of this blog on Facebook, and my eyes perked up. My ears sparkled! I couldn’t NOT read it.

Karina Cooper has some great suggestions for plotting (a great writing blog!) so I thought, What the heck. Why not share Karina’s post? So I asked her and she very sweetly agreed to let us repost.

Here it is. (You can thank me later.)

Today’s blog post is late because I ended up waking up and getting—gasp—right to work. For reasons that will be detailed in another post somewhere down the way, I am totally surprised and also totally not surprised to find my heretofore empty plate filled to overflowing with deadlines.

So! Let’s get right to it, shall we? Because some of you are asking me about my process, I figured I’d use that as this week’s You Better Work Monday.

Ready? Then you know what’s next…

Author, You Better Work

In previous posts somewhere that I am too lazy and/or burned out from working out to take the time to find, I mentioned Cathy Yardley’s Rock Your Plot. Up until just recently, I had a homebrew way of developing my characters, and it was light on the introductory work.

What I’ve done is taken elements of Cathy’s prep work, bits of what Cherry Adair taught me, bits of what I developed on my own, wrapped them all together, cut out the bits that didn’t work, and developed a kind of mish-mash that works exactly the way I want it to.

What I learned, first and foremost, is that I can’t dodge the prep work. Not if I want a clear understanding of who my characters are and what they want. I write too fast and too cleanly to mess around with a thousand revisions, and though I’d love to be like the really great authors—the ones who don’t outline or do much exploratory work because they think it ruins some of the exploration for them—I’m not that gifted.

Like many of us, I have to work a whole other rhythm to tease out what I need.

Talking Character

There are four things I must have before I start anything else on a project. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Name.
  2. Birthday/Astrology Sign
  3. Picture
  4. Character Traits

Name and picture are self-explanatory. I can’t start until I have the perfect name; it’s something about the way I link up personalities to names. Once I’ve used one, I’m extremely loathe to use it again.

As for a picture, it’s a rare case when anyone but me sees it. Sometimes, I won’t know what hair or eye color I’m looking for until I see it. Sometimes, it’s all in a specific expression, an intensity, a smile. I comb places like Pinterest or Model Mayhem for good pictures, and I save them to a file every time I find one. This gives me a pretty solid bunch of photos to rifle through when I need one.

I also don’t just collect the hot ones. I never know when I’m going to need a guy whose features are strange and compelling, or a woman who isn’t pretty but has that something-something that translates into a kinetic force of personality.

Once I have those two, I see to the rest.

It’s All in the Stars

I happen to be a believer in astrological signs. As a Virgo/Libra paired with an Aries, I’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb as a post not to see all the many and varied ways we aren’t compatible. (Ah, the power of the love…)

However, you don’t have to be. What this becomes, then, is a tool, rather than a belief system.

Let’s use Naomi West from Lure of the Wicked, the second in the Dark Mission series.

I decided, using a random number generator, that her birthday was January 15th. That’s right, our aggressive missionary was going to be an Aquarius. “But why should that matter?” you ask, clearly disbelieving. It matters, delicious one, for this reason:

Every astrological sign as a list of adjectives and traits that they like and are, and don’t like.

Cherry Adair put it best when she said, “Pick ones that describe the sign. Decide if your character is like that. If she isn’t, then you need to decide why.” Boom. Immediate character background hints.

For example, I’m a Virgo/Libra, born on the cusp. Both Virgos and Libras don’t like clutter, they tend to be neat. I, however, am the farthest thing from neat and organized. Why? Because my mother was a neatfreak, and one too many episodes that ended with me losing my stuff—or forced to put it all away from a pile in the middle of the floor—pretty much guaranteed that I’d go the exact opposite way.

If we were writing me, we’d jot that note down as “mother issues”. Because, let’s face it, everything is bigger when writing about it.

Aquarius folk tend to treat obstacles like things to saunter around and avoid. (Check!…Waste energy on a problem? Pfft.) They tend to want to make the world better. (Check!—even if she’s doing it one dead witch at a time.) They are good with social networks and tend to have a lot of contacts and friend. (Erm… No. Why not? Because the people she trusted most abandoned her. Boom. Backstory.)

You see what I’m doing?

A google search on any of these can help you find astrological traits, but you can also pick up a copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. Although the language is a little dated, the concepts are sound, and you can ignore all that fluff about ladies doing what they can to snag a man. It was written in the ’70s.

Pick a Few: Character Traits

The last thing I do is pick four traits that describe or suit the character best. Cherry also taught me this, and it’s something I write down and keep close at hand as I plot.

These traits don’t have to be adjectives. For example, you could write down a trait that says “stubborn”. It’s perfectly justifiable—if a little too easy. That’s an adjective. She is stubborn.

You could also have a trait that says “cop”. That’s it. Just cop. Why is that legit?

Because cops will act and react to different circumstances differently than everybody else. If I write down “cop”, that tells me immediately how quickly, efficiently, and instinctually a character will react to a sudden gunshot, for example. Or how he or she will process information. How they’ll deal with an aggressive person, or a person who needs help. Are they likely to condone breaking the law? No, there’ll be all kinds of pathos if it comes up.

That single trait defines that character from top to bottom.

You need four of these. because, after all, even a cop has other things that shape him. A one-trick pony is about as fun as gnawing on a cardboard cutout—and trust me, about the third time you get papercuts on your gums, you stop thinking it’s fun.

Let’s go back to Naomi. Her four traits are:

  • scared of intimacy” (a fact she’d rather die than ever admit, but which explains most of her choices regarding the hero),
  • trust issues” (colored by her background, and also explains every decision she ever makes),
  • thorough” (which can also double as stubborn because she refuses to leave a job half-assed, no matter the toll it takes on her), and
  • psychological breakdown” (which fills in everything else).

Every decision, every choice, every reaction, everything Naomi does should be colored by one or more of these. Either it holds her back, or it pushes her forward. Either she makes the deliberate choice to overcome, or to wallow. If Phin, our dashing hero, wants to get closer, Naomi’s reactions are colored by “scared of intimacy”, and of course “trust issues” as she falls for him. Then again, “thorough” also comes into play, because his facility is under investigation by the Mission. She can’t leave the job undone, no matter how badly it’s affecting her calm.

It’s a labyrinthine puzzle, if you get too sucked into the intricate details, so for now, just make those traits and make sure that you are choosing the phrase or word that most encapsulates what you’re trying to convey. The word needs to trigger understanding in you, so that when you see the word “cop”, you can think of all the ways your hero/ine is going to handle X, Y and Z. All those delicious problems you foist on their laps.

Once they’re written down and settled on, you’ll find they naturally enter into your plot choices, and are there primarily for a reminder if you get stuck.

Naomi’s template looked like this:

character template for Naomi West

You can use whatever format you like. This is the one I appropriated from Cherry’s teachings, and now always fill it out and print it off. It gets pinned to my wall or plot board, wherever I can see it, for quick referencing later.

Homework Time

Next week, we’ll start working into GMC. Not the car. No car for you. It stands for Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as tough as it sounds.

Your homework, if you choose to accept it, is to go and get a copy of Cathy’s Rock Your Plot. At $2.99, it’s well worth the price, and I will not be transcribing the contents for you. However, it really is an integral part of my plot-making process, so if you’re really interested in how to tighten up those plots, you’ll take the dive.

While you can read it all—I found parts of it super helpful, most of it encouraging, and bits of it completely not my jam—we’ll be looking at the chapters on GMC specifically, and later on, at Plot Points.

In the meantime, consider compiling a character template for your characters. Protagonist(s), Antagonist (because villains have depth, too!), and any Supporting Cast that are more involved than your average walk-on scenes.

Questions? Specifics?

If you have any questions, feel confused or unsure, send me an email or leave a comment. I’ll answer them in the next blog posts, here in the comments if it fits, and in other ways.

Last, and Not Least

Go have a glass of something delicious. Always reward yourself for a hard day’s work.


Wow, I enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing with us, Karina!

What a Character!

Gray wolf. Français : Loup. Nederlands: Wolf T...

Kathleen Y’Barbo Turner mentioned on Facebook yesterday that her character, Sadie, wasn’t speaking to her. I nearly laughed out loud!

A memory hit me. A long, long time ago, I decided to take a class on writing romance. During that class, the teacher mentioned she thought it was ridiculous when a writer said she couldn’t get her character to do this or that. “After all, the writer is writing. She can make the character–a figment of her imagination–do anything she wants.”

I didn’t agree with the teacher then (I was too chicken to tell her, though) and now after writing umpteen manuscripts and selling three books, I still don’t.


Because when you create a character, you give them a certain history. They have a specific place in the sibling line up. They’ve had one set of experiences and have developed specific traits.

For a writer (well, this writer, anyway) her character is like having a living person in her life. They will surprise you from time to time, but they have to be true to who they are. They don’t have a choice and the writer doesn’t have a choice.

That character can’t suddenly morph a new characteristic or change from a loner to a social butterfly because the writer has written herself in a corner.

So how does a writer develop a character?

I’m not sure how the big boys do it, but here’s what I do. To make it easy on myself, I’ll use my book, MAKE ME HOWL (soon to be published) as an example.


BTW: There are some very intensive and excellent Character Fact Sheets out there, but I can’t don’t use them. I have to think about my story and what specific things I need to know about my characters.

  • Story Idea. What if some people were born werewolves because of a gene rather than being bitten by another werewolf? (After all, the first werewolf had to come from somewhere. Right?)
  • Heroine. I like strong heroines, I made the werewolf of the story my heroine named Jazzy.
  • Characteristics: What characteristics would a werewolf need? If a wolf became human, what would she want? As an animal, she’d definitely think about food. How she’d get places. And in this modern world, how to attack without physically attacking.
  • Since Jazzy was born a werewolf, she’d be self-assured because, after all, she can take care of herself in just about any situation.
  • And because it’s me writing this character, she’s snarky and tends to be a little mouthy. (I got to release my inner wolf!)
  • Family? Jazzy has a twin sister who isn’t a werewolf. (Jazzy got the werewolf gene, her sister got straight hair, so it all evens out in the end.) Their parents are still living, but no grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles in this story.
  • Favorite food? Steak, nearly raw (wolves + food = raw meat. Right?)
  • Car? Power! Small, fast, two seater.
  • Career? She wouldn’t be able to tolerate having a boss telling her what to do all the time, she might have to eat his face, so I made her a very successful personal shopper in an ultra nice shopping center, who also acts as a buying office for some of the stores in the mall. (Sets her own hours and deals with large amounts of money–her own and others.)
  • Hero. A hero has to match the heroine, so Chase is as strong a character as she is, if not stronger.
  • Chase is smart, very determined, plain spoken but not as snarky. (Snarky is too girly for a great hero.)
  • Career? Since Jazzy is a werewolf and loves being one, Chase has to be a veterinarian. A good character is part of the conflict, so he believes in werewolves and he’s doing research to wipe out the gene that causes it. 🙂
  • Food? A good couple has a lot in common, so his favorite food is steak, rare.
  • Car? He has a choice, since his family is extremely wealthy and his dad likes cars, they keep a full stable of them. 🙂
  • Family? He’s the oldest, has three brothers and great parents. They live together but separately in houses that are next to each other.

There’s much more to a character’s character. Her life that she lived before the story starts has a lot to do with who she is. As Doctor Phil says, to predict the future, look at a person’s past.  The interesting part about that is learning how to enhance the story with just that portion of her life only when we need to know. Never before. But the writer has to know it so she knows how the character will respond to things.

Now you see why Kathleen’s character wouldn’t speak to her. There’s something in her life that makes her very secretive. (I have a feeling it’s more than just a snoopy sister.) Now it’s Kathleen’s job to find out what it is.


    S&N–Too Much Fun!

    Social Networking.Holly, Lynn, Jen & Susan. Wonder what they're plotting.

    Two words that can make your stomach hurt or make you shout, “Woohoo!” And they can do both in a span of nanoseconds.

    Being a big believer that, “Words Have Power” I have to say I LOVE SN! Which is really weird, since a lot of my friends from school and in my life wouldn’t be caught dead there. I understand their reasoning. It’s a time suck. (A HUGE TIME SUCK if you aren’t careful). It takes time away from other things you should be doing. It’s just one more thing for me to have to do.

    But I’m flabbergasted when I meet a writer who doesn’t at least Facebook.

    Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

    Image via CrunchBase

    When I first heard about FB, it was through my college kids, and it sounded like f-u-n! I wanted in! But they told me I had to have a college email address to do it. Before I could devise a sneaky way to get one, FB opened up to the world.

    Why would anyone want to get into Social Networking?

    • To stay in touch with friends and family in this crazy/busy world.
    • To find old friends.
    • To make new ones.

    Co-Authors Linda, Kathlyn & Lynn

    Why would a writer want to waste what little writing time she has SNing? 🙂

    • Get to know other writers
    • Learn from other writers
    • Encouragement from other writers
    • Build your platform.
    • Learn who your audience is.
    • Build an audience.

    It’s easy to do. Go to Facebook dot com or twitter dot com.  And there’s a way to set it up so your FB comments go to Twitter, and vice versa. (If you have them set up both ways, will your comments echo back and forth forever? I. Don’t. Know. LOL.)

    The one thing I haven’t done is set up a Facebook Author’s Page for myself. I know a lot of writers do that, but since I don’t write using a pen name, and I’m not in any real danger of going over 2000 friends any time soon, I haven’t bothered with it.

    I did, however, set up one for my writers group. Kind of accidentally. 🙂

    We’re called, SMART WOMEN WHO. And I thought there might be a way to set up the FB page for only the members of our group. So I picked out a picture that had most of our group in it and set up a page.


    Then I added a few pictures from our retreats and meetings over the years.

    I didn’t realize right away that it was open to the public. If I wanted privacy, I had to go back to a friends page. But with a friends page, you can only have one administrator. (I think.) I got ready to delete the silly thing, when I realized, this might be a great tool for our group.

    So I asked if anyone objected to the thing, and when they didn’t, I told everyone to send me their book covers. Most did, and you can go over and see them. (Okay, not all of Marilyn Pappano’s books, but one or two of them.)

    If you FB, come on by and say hi. (I popped over to look up something just now, and got lost in the fun. I was reading a cornbread recipe on a friend’s blog before I realized I’d drifted away.)

    If you don’t FB, Twitter or Pinterest (my newest way to lose myself) why don’t you? It’s fun!

    If you haven’t yet, come by Smart Women Who, like us, and say hello. We love our friends!

    Vanishing Act

    No, I’m not lost or leaving. Nor do I plan to. What’s vanishing are all of my “brilliant” ideas for a blog. *sigh* It’s rather strange how Susan blogged about this only days ago when I’d already come up with this idea for today’s blog. Great minds think alike, I suppose. Hmm. We could have ESP. OR we’re both just weird? 😉

    Some people find it relatively easy to blog about different subjects/topics on a regular basis. I applaud them! And truth be told, envy them. Me? I figure my everyday life is pretty mundane so you’d be bored spitless reading about it. Hence, my absence.

    In a nutshell, I’ve been hauling wood to the house to feed the stove to keep warm. (Last week.) Yesterday, I found as much to do outdoors as I could, enjoying the 70 degree weather. I had my teeth cleaned, ate lunch with a couple of dear writing friends, and later, walked the dogs. See? Boring. Oh, yeah. I’ve been working on edits, too. (Major activity there!)

    I’ve been contemplating the effectiveness of blogging in the whole scheme of the social media thing. What does and does not work for a writer and why. Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Blogging. There are other ‘new’ avenues popping up all the time that a person can pursue. But where do you draw the line? When do you get any writing done? You can social media all of your time away. (Personally, facebook is a BIG time-suck for me.)

    Is there a solution? Short of having your own personal publicist doing all the social media thing, I doubt it. Since I can’t afford one, I reckon I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Hidden out of sight.



    Winter bird in the snow

    Winter bird in the snow (Photo credit: blmiers2)

    Have you noticed that bloggers tend to fade out this time of year? (I know I titled this blog WIPE OUT, not fade out. But fade out just isn’t as jazzy, is it?

    Anyway, do you know why bloggers disappear?

    I. Don’t. But I need my entertainment, so lets figure it out. 😉

    I have a few guesses.

    1. EVERYONE is busy. Covered up. Working fingers to the bone. No time to stop and blog.
    2. It fell through the cracks.
    3. The winter doldrums.
    4. Everyone snuck off and went to Fuji.
    5. Got nothing to blog about.

    I can’t help with #1. I have my own work I’m trying to get out of. 🙂 If you’re a scheduler (I’m not) you might write it in your day planner and treat it like part of your job.

    #2– A problem with crack(s). I have a couple of suggestions for that.

    • Set up a reminder on your phone.
    • Send yourself an email.
    • Write it on your calendar.
    • Set up a Yahoo reminder.
    • Ask your mama to remind you. Or better yet, your little sister. They love to tell big sisters what to do. 😉

    #3– Winter doldrums.

    • We’ve had a lot of warmish days this winter. When one hits (we should have a few this week) get out and let that sunshine hit your skin. Walk. Grin, even when you don’t want to.
    • Go to a movie. Or better yet, treat it like a prescription and go to one movie a day for a week, and go whether there are movies you want to see or not. Then write a review about what did and didn’t work for you. The review will keep you from falling asleep AND you’ll have something to post on your blog. 😉
    • Change your schedule. However you do things, make it different.
    • Dredge up something you’ve always wanted to do  or used to want to do (Photography? Jewelry making? Fortune telling? Rocket surgery? Gold panning?) and S-T-A-R-T! Just do it.

    #4– Gone to Fuji?

    • Find a wifi hot spot and blog about the place. 🙂
    • Buy an air card and take it with you.
    • Write your blogs before you go and set them up to publish while you’re gone.
    • Bribe someone to blog for you.

    #5–Got nothing to blog about?

    • Keep a list. Every now and then when I’m out and about, it’ll hit me–I could blog about this. If I write it down, I might remember it. 🙂
    • Expand your world. Do something. You’ll have something to write about.
    • Expand your BLOG world. We don’t only blog about writing here, and you don’t have to only write about whatever your blog topic is. If it’s a recipe blog, you can expand to write about the tools you use or the people you invite to test it. If it’s a photo blog, talk about the problems and surprise successes you have.

    So there you have it. My suggestions to get you blogging again and keep me entertained.

    Have any suggestions for finding something different to blog about? Share! Have a problem finding your blog? Might be able to help with that, too.

    Oh, So Pinteresting!

    Do you Pinterest? If you’re a writers, you really should. 😉

    I know all the reasons not to–it’s a big time suck. (Yep!) It’s just one more thing I have to do. (Yep, yep.) I don’t have time. (Ain’t that the truth?) Why bother when I have so many other things that keep me busy?


    Okay, my mama told me life isn’t just about having fun, but why not have fun when you can? Here’s the deal. The ‘Net is full of all these wonderful blogs and super ideas, and we can never see them all. Right?

    When you Pinterest, it’s like everyone went out looking at the things they look at and pinning the things that sparkle for them. Many times, they sparkle for me, too, but I wouldn’t have seen them.

    Via Pinterest, I can go to them and see that sparkle, too. IT’S SO COOL! And it’s not just seeing things that sparkle, it’s craft ideas, vacation ideas, how-tos, recipes, and on and on and on.

    For anybody who hasn’t been Pinterested in the past, you create boards and Pin things to them. Some of my boards are: DESTINATION GET THERE (those are places I want to go) HEART ART (heart shaped things. I need one that’s stars, but haven’t gone there, yet.) KNITTING GOODIES, PHOTOGRAPHY, FAVORITE PLACES AND SPACES (that’s stuff for my house and yard.) I have several other boards, too. 🙂

    I follow lots of people’s boards I’ve never met, and lots of people’s boards I have. Want to know something funny? You can tell a lot about a person by what they pin.

    One woman I follow is probably a fantastic cook, because more than half of her boards are for recipes. And she’s probably very organized because she has one for cakes, one for casseroles, one for pies, one for salads.


    Another woman I follow has kids at the marrying age and kids who are having grandbabies for her, because she’s pinning tons of things for both.


    And you can learn a lot about your friends. I follow one friend from college who loves gardening, loves gifting, enjoys being organized and adores her family and home. What I like best is that her sense of humor is as fantastic now as it was all those years ago. (Maybe even better.)

    152066924888003690_d7Ox3yZe_bYou’ll know when your friends have new interests.

    118993615124197906_XW9GtTAy_bBelieve me, it’s obvious!


    So why should a writer join Pinterest? You get to see a side of people they might normally try to keep hidden. If all their boards are, “Gimme” boards (I want this diamond, I want that expensive car, I want that ginormous house) they might be a tad self-centered or selfish.

    If they have things scattered all over and the same board with different names in several places (like me. Oy!) they might be a little disorganized.

    If you Pinterest (or even if you don’t) check it out. See what you can tell about the people you know by their boards. 🙂

    If you Pinterest, share your favorite boards with us. Let us see what we can tell about you. 😉




    So You Want to Be a Real Writer

    Writer Wordart

    Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

    You want to be a REAL writer? Well, I’m just the person who can tell you how to do it.

    NOT!!! LOL.

    Actually, I’m not sure anyone can tell you how to be a real writer–except to tell you a real writer, um, writes. But everybody does it differently.

    Some writers have day jobs and write at night. Others write full time. Still others do a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

    Some make a complete and extensive outline that’s so long, it’s a short first draft, others just get an idea, sit down at the computer and go for it.

    When I think about the rules in writing, a little voice inside me goes, “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!”  And to a degree, that’s true. There are very few hard and fast rules.

    I’ll share the ones I’ve gathered along the way with you–

    1. If you’re listening to a speaker (in person, online, reading an article) and he/she tells you, “in writing, this is the only way to  . . . (fill in the blank)” stop reading or listening right then. I’ve even heard it said the listener should run, not walk, out of the room.
    2. In writing, the only way to get published . . . (Wait! Don’t run away. Please!!!) is to submit. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? To sell a piece, poem or manuscript, somebody else has to read it. And that person has to have buying power.
    3. This is not a hard and fast rule (just logic) but a writer should probably be a reader. Or at least know how to read. Comes in handy when you’re doing revisions.
    4. This IS a hard and fast rule (and not original from me, by any means–but anything I know, I’ve learned from someone else, so nothing I tell you is original. Wait. I’m lost now. What was I talking about?) Don’t bore the reader.

    Don’t bore the reader.


    Which is to say–

    • Keep the story moving.
    • Don’t beat a dead horse.
    • Believe your readers are smart enough to understand your concept without belaboring the fact.

    You’ll hear lots of other faux-rules as you learn the craft, such as, “To a writer, a day without writing is like a day without oxygen.” Or, “If a sentence has more than 140 characters, it’s too long.”

    But those aren’t rules. They’re suggestions or ways the speaker has made writing work for them. Just like there are no two people who have identical fingerprints, no two writers write the same way.

    And aren’t we glad for that? If two people wrote the exact same way, then one of them would be unnecessary. Wouldn’t they? 🙂

    So . . . I have a question for you. If any of y’all who read this have been writing any time at all (I don’t mean just published. I mean anyone who’s been writing and learning the craft for a while) come on over to Facebook and answer a question in a message to me .

    Here’s the question I want you to answer–

    What advice would your experienced self give your beginner self if you were bitten by the writing bug today.

    But remember, don’t answer here. Go to my Facebook page (Susan Spess Shay) and leave me a message.