Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Jade Lee was scheduled for today but unfortunately was unable to visit. We'll catch up with her later.

My guest, is fiction editor, Beth Hill. Her topic is on creating characters the touch readers. If you get the chance, do stop by Beth's Blog and check out her archives. She has some fabulous articles on craft and they are a great resource for writers.

I was recently talking with a frustrated writer, frustrated because beta readers were finding fault with her lead characters.

Some readers didn't like her male lead; others had trouble with the female. They said the characters were unsympathetic, unkind, or just not nice.

No, her leads aren't rotten; they aren't the bitch and bastard referred to in this article’s title. They are simply characters with character.

And isn't that what we want for our stories, characters who stand out, who grab our attention? Don’t we want characters who make us notice them? Characters with character, characters we’ll remember for their bold actions, characters who stir our emotions? Don’t we want stories peopled with characters who aren't safe and who don’t blend in?

The characters we most enjoy have some growing to do. They aren't necessarily nice. They certainly aren't insipid.

They don’t always do the right thing, say the right words, and have the correct motivations. They aren't always politically correct and they may hurt others, both willingly and unknowingly. They may never apologize. They may make excuses. They may lie or cheat or steal. Characters who are bold, who aren't always nice or polite or solicitous, are the characters readers will remember.

So why all the fuss from beta readers?

My guess is that the readers don’t want the writer to submit something they think won’t be popular with either agents or editors.

Yet characters that stand out, who are outrageous or who stumble or who push the readers’ buttons, are exactly the kinds of characters agents and acquiring editors are looking for.

Who wants to read about nice characters, characters who don’t ruffle feathers or who don’t get into trouble or who always say the right thing?

Don’t we want bold characters who are different from us, who speak their minds—even when fearful of consequences—who press ahead despite fear and anxiety and feelings of worthlessness?

Nice characters don’t create tension—they’d work to diffuse it. Nice characters mean bland scenes and ho-hum motivations. Nice characters mean not-so-nice stories.

And lest anyone take offense, I’m not talking about doing away with characters who are good, who stand on the side of justice or integrity or decency. Good characters can be strong and bold and powerful. But nice characters, characters who don’t take a stand and who have no outstanding quirks and who don’t rock the boat are not strong enough to be the leads in a novel.

Characters without flaw are flat and the stories told about them can’t draw the readers’ interest the same way stories about imperfect characters can. What surprise is there when a perfect character defeats his enemy? Doesn't he always defeat his enemy? Was there any doubt that he’d win again?

But what about the imperfect character who’s admitted to cheating to get ahead—can he win the biggest challenge in his life without resorting to cheating again? Will those around him let him forget what he’s done before and pull for him or will they always stand against him, no matter how honest he now is? Can a rude or belligerent character change enough to get other characters on his side when it counts?

If your lead character is perfect, how will he grow? If he’s perfect, how will his next victory be any different for him than his last? If he’s perfect, how will the reader relate?

The writer I was speaking with said the characters didn't resonate with the beta readers. Yet after hearing some of the comments her readers had made, I told her the characters certainly did resonate. They had those readers upset. The characters had succeeded in touching the readers.

And that’s exactly what you want your characters to do.

Consider Rhett and Scarlett, whose movie was on TV just in time to bring them to mind for this article. Neither Rhett nor Scarlett are perfect, but they are good characters. Great characters. They give us reasons to both loathe them and root for them. They are bold, brash, audacious, and larger than life. They pull us into their lives not by their goodness, but by their manner. Their personalities. Their daring and confidence. Who would work his way through Margaret Mitchell’s tome without the reward of Scarlett’s nerve and Rhett’s disregard for propriety?

So, be bold in ruffling feathers of both other characters and your readers and don’t be afraid of writing characters who stir the puddin’. Certainly don’t shy away from giving characters unlikable qualities. Give them those negative qualities and make us like them anyway. Or make us root for them, even if they have flaws.

No, characters don’t have to be bastards or bitches or cruel or crazy or repulsive. But they could be. And if you write them well, readers will enjoy reading them. 

Don’t play it safe with your characters. Create characters that are boldly imperfect. Write strong fiction by creating characters that are far from bland and nice. Your readers will thank you.


I love the written word, the ability we have to create worlds and emotions with well-chosen phrases. It’s my intention to share tips and insights and encouragement with writers at all levels, to help you craft stories that will entertain and satisfy your readers. That will help satisfy you as writer as well. I am both writer and editor. My editing focus is on long fiction, primarily novels. I also mentor beginning writers.


Monday, August 19, 2013


And the thing is, Mom, Dad, I've lived upstairs since I was three, and it's been great. Tripp, Failure to Launch, 2006.

Failure To Launch, a romantic comedy, was nominated for People’s Choice Awards in 2007 for favorite movie comedy. And it was funny but under the humor it addressed a real problem of the rise in young adults, ages 18-31, still living at home.

I was reading the PEW Research report on Social andDemographic Trends and learned that the estimate, in 2012, of young adults between the ages of 18 to 31 still living at home was 36%. Granted, half of home-dwelling millennials are college students, Pew found; most (56%) haven’t hit their 25th birthday yet. Just 16% of adults aged 25-31 live at home. The economy plays into this, as does student debt (average of $27k upon graduation). Still, that’s 26.6 million young adults still living with their parents in 2012.

It boggles the mind.

I was on my own at 18. I was proud of the fact I was living independent of my family. Granted, I didn't have a lot of skills but I had been raised to be a self-sufficient adult and that meant working at whatever job I could to pay my bills. In the early part of my 18th year I lived with a couple of roommates until I could save enough money to buy a car. Once I had a car I moved out and rented a room from an older widow with kitchen privileges. I was attending college and working. It was great not having to share quarters—I had my fill of that. Not long after that, I found a better place renting from a widower who broke his huge house into 3 separate living quarters. I had the bottom half of the house and shared the kitchen with him. I had a four-room apartment and I loved the country setting with a huge yard, lots of trees and flowers, and at least 10 acres between neighbors and me. I could have my dog and my cat with me. The upstairs was a separate apartment and the tenet was an older woman in her 40’s. We all got along well but we had our own apartments to retreat to. There was a feeling of freedom and safety. It was a nice arrangement for a few of years. After college, I moved to take a full time job and my own ground floor apartment. Alas, my dog had to go to my parents’ house for a while. Eventually, I transferred to Virginia Beach and moved into a small house with cat and dog as roommates.

I had been on my own and independent for five years when I met the man who became my husband. I was 23. When we married, I gave up my small house and we found a larger place, ironically, only two streets over from where I had been living. It was a nice subdivision with large yards and close to work and the beach. J

I could not imagine moving back to my parents’ house as a young adult. In my mind that would have said I had failed to um, launch. It would say, I couldn't take care of myself.  My parents wouldn't have said no if I needed help. I received no financial help from my parents (who were still raising 7 other children) once I left home. I had to take care of me. It was my turn.

I’m not sharing this as a way of saying, look how good I am/was. It was more to give my mindset after graduating high school. Independence and self-sufficiency was a big thing for me.

But this generation, the Millennial generation born after 1980 and were between the ages of 18 to 31 in age in 2012 seems to be failing to launch. My son is on the tail end of that generation and he’s 18 now. On one hand he wants to be on his own but on other hand, he’s not quite ready to make that leap. I’m not surprised since males tend to take a bit longer than females to mature emotionally and gain their independence. Young women have a tendency to reach certain targets quicker than young men. 

This gender gap was addressed in the PEW study, The men of the Millennial generation are more likely than the women to be living with their parents—40% versus 32%…" There is another study I found interesting and also talks about the gender gap and it was conducted by the BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY, entitled, TwoDecades of Stability and Change in Age at First Union Formation and addresses both the play of gender and education in the process.

I’m not inclined to shove my son out before he’s ready. J However, we have made it a point to let our son know that he needs to make wise decisions that will allow him to live independent of us. I expect him to find his own place and be self-sufficient with in the next couple of years. This past year was vocational college. The next step is finding a job and saving up for a car. I’m not giving him one although I will help. I think one has a greater appreciates for what one has to earn. We've also talked about giving him a section of the property to either build or move in a mobile home until he can build. That won’t happen until he can support himself and has a solid track record of being responsible.

  • What are your thoughts on this tendency of this generation and it failure to launch?

"Look, many young men who should be able to move out, simply can't. It's called "failure to launch"…I promise you, when this is over; Tripp is going to be an independent, self-sufficient adult." Paula to Tripp's parents, Failure to Launch, 2006