Avoid Making Character Stereotypes

March 27, 2018

Almost everyone has heard of one stereotype or another–some relate to blondes, others relate to old men, others relate to rich kids, etc. A stereotype is nothing more than a widely recognized description of a section of humanity. Most readers don’t appreciate the triteness of character stereotypes. Here are some tips on how you can avoid making them.

  • Enhance common stereotypes by avoid predictability. If your character is poor and ignored by society, start with that. Then can change reader expectations of what your character does by adding characteristics not normally associated with the stereotype.
  • Allow your character to make decisions and take actions not normally associated with that character’s stereotype. One caution, however, is to make sure your character doesn’t get too far from his/her origins or your reader will feel duped.
  • Consider which stereotype your reader might assign to your character, then develop other sides to that character that your reader wouldn’t necessarily expect. Add details throughout your story to make your character stand out away from the initial stereotypical impression.
  • Show a totally opposite side of your character. If your character is a self-giving individual, have him or her do something that’s totally self-serving and unexpected. Be sure you provide the reader with the motivation for this opposite side, however, or your reader won’t accept it as believable. You can do this with emotions, flashbacks, scenes showing a part of your character that’s known only to that character, for example.
  • Offer a life-changing event in your character’s life that makes your character step away from the stereotypical actions/reactions. It could be the loss of a loved one, loss of a dream, birth of a child, or any other life-altering event, but it has to be huge and have a major impact on your character.
  • Allow your reader a glimpse into the depths of your character that shows your character always possessed what it takes to become the non-stereotypical character he/she’s become. Again, you can weave this through your story with memories, emotions, etc.
  • Use other characters to show the non-stereotypical traits of your character. Other characters can witness actions, discuss concerns, offer insights, etc. Allow other characters to help answer questions your reader may have about what makes your protagonist or antagonist who they are.

The old quote that writers are observers of life fits here. Observing people to help you avoid making character stereotypes might be one of the most fun things you get to do as a writer. Observe, note initial impressions, then ponder what could really be behind what you see. Your characters (and readers) will appreciate it. Happy writing!





Give Yourself Permission to Write

March 21, 2018

Yesterday was the first day of spring. Consider using spring as a springboard for giving yourself permission to write, especially if spring is a time that takes you away from writing in favor of other ways to spend your time.

Here are some miscellaneous ideas to get you going.

  • Consider writing simultaneous projects. Writing a variety offers you opportunity to work on whichever project speaks to you on a specific day. Getting stuck on one article or one character or one story rather than moving on to another that beckons you creates writers block. Once you give yourself permission to temporarily step away from one project toward another, you’ll find your writing flow begins anew.
  • Ignore the nag on your shoulder that plants seeds that people won’t like your story or article or whatever. Of course some people won’t like what you write. Some people don’t like fish. Some people don’t like romance novels. Some people don’t like football.  And some people won’t like your book. But others will love it. That’s just the way life is.
  • Avoid putting things in your book that don’t belong there. Instead, save those great ideas, descriptions, relationships, etc. for another project. In other words, don’t force something into your story simply because you like it or someone suggests it. If it belongs in the story, it will fit let you know. Indulge me as I tell the story of the dog we rescued four years ago. We got a telephone call from a woman we met at a restaurant a few days earlier. During dinner we talked about animals and mentioned we hadn’t had a dog is 30 years because I didn’t want to hurt over losing an animal again. She remembered us, called, and asked if we’d meet the dog her neighbor intended to have put down because the daughter wouldn’t take care of it. The dog was five and still didn’t have a name. The restaurant woman said, “Don’t worry, he’ll tell you his name.” So we met the dog. He answered to nothing. Then, a name popped into my head, I said it, and he perked up and looked at me. That’s been his name ever since and he answers to it always. My point? If something is supposed to be in your story, you will know.
  • Remember to not tell the same story twice. I read a lot of book series and am amazed at how well the best sellers tell a new story in each book. If you’re writing a series, consider keeping a chart for each book.  For example, if writing a mystery series, track the story set up, details on the killer and the victim, the crime motive, how the crime was committed, and the climax of the story. You can change character interests, change settings, change vocations, all sorts of things. Just don’t tell the same story twice.
  • Do your research. Read everything because ideas are everywhere. If writing nonfiction, make a detailed outline of chapters and subheads within the chapters. Once you’ve done that, your research will help you fill in the details. You may want to consider that for fiction as well–outline what happens, when characters meet, how they meet, etc. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you need to do a lot of research because your reader will know if you didn’t.

Writing isn’t a destination. It’s a life-long journey. Give yourself permission to enjoy it. Happy writing!

AUTHOR What You Write

February 27, 2018

I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries and thrillers lately and am amazed at how much the authors have to know about what their characters do for work,  what their characters do for hobbies, and how creative their characters are in solving problems, sustaining relationships, and bringing the book to a satisfying close. Why is so much required of today’s fiction writer? Readers are more sophisticated than ever.

I realize that today you enjoy a plethora of tools not easily accessed in previous decades, but it can still be a bit overwhelming to research and write your book, so I created these tips to help you.


  • Allow yourself time to research and write. You might have to schedule the time. You might have to temporarily give up something to create the time. If you set aside 30 minutes every day, at the end of a week you’ve written for 3.5 hours, and at the end of a month (well, four weeks), you’ve spent 14 hours on your book.
  • Understand the genre and reader you’re writing for. For example, mystery readers and romance readers read with very different expectations. Your job is to offer the reader a good read.
  • Talk to experts. Fiction contains truth about jobs, about technology, about hobbies, about relationships, etc., so when you feel you need more information in a specific area in your book, talk to experts who can help you with what you need.
  • Hold yourself accountable for originality. Yes, you do your research, but then you’re responsible for writing your own ideas and experiences triggered by your research.
  • Organize your content in a way that makes the story flow. Consider organizing chronologically, by alternating character viewpoints or scenes, or by some other way. You might try sketching your book outline by chapter, and, if you do, give yourself permission to move things around so the story makes sense as it flows.
  • Read today’s news and anything else that will help you understand your characters, their motivations, their jobs and hobbies, the world they live in, and their relationships better.

The acronym AUTHOR should help you remember these tips. Writing isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding. Happy writing!


Tips for Writing a Good Title

February 9, 2018

Most of the time we’re drawn to a book or an article by the title. But it’s not always easy to come up with a title that catches a reader’s eye. Here are some tips to help you. By the way, I took my examples from the 2017 and 2018 best-seller lists on Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites.

  • Use numbers: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Use a possessive: The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • Use one word: Grant.
  • Use an adjective: Lilac Girls.
  • Use an article with your adjective: An American Marriage.
  • Use two nouns: Milk and Honey.
  • Use a prepositional phrase: Before We Were Yours.
  • Use a verb: Live Fearless.
  • Use an entire sentence: One of Us Is Lying.

Look at the titles in your own library. Unless you bought the book simply because you love the author, chances are the title caught your eye. It might be fun to see how many titles you own fit the tips above. Happy writing!

How to Write a Personal Essay

January 29, 2018

Essay? Really? You may think the college professor in me caused me to write this, but that’s not the case. I just want you to consider a new perspective about writing and a good place to start is with a topic you know better than anyone else–you!

Here are some ideas to get you thinking (and writing).

  • Consider you’re not writing an essay, which is typically thought of as a theme. Instead, give yourself permission to write your story.
  • Start with “I” because you’ve got something worthwhile to say.
  • Show how the past significantly impacts the now (and future) by digging deeper within yourself than you have before.
  • Enjoy being yourself. Sure, lots of writers quote famous people, but this is your personal essay, and you’ve got plenty of your own wisdom/experience to share.
  • Write what you want. When you get assignments in class to write essays or themes or study papers, you also get restrictions. But this is your personal essay to encourage you to get in touch with you, so write what you want.
  • Observe life. One idea is universal–writers are observers of life. Thus, get out and observe by going for a walk, watching people, seeing and hearing what’s going on around you (both large and small activities).
  • Save notes and things that speak to you so you can journal, create idea boxes to collect your thoughts, then chunk your ideas together for future writing. You never know when the smallest detail can serve as the exact thing you need to make your next story better.
  • Remember to use active verbs when writing about your experiences.
  • Allow the muse to work with you. Writing about yourself and finding ways to connect the past with the anticipated future isn’t easy, so embrace all the help the muse offers.

The most obvious tip is to write. If you continue writing, chances are your writing won’t get worse, only better. Since only you know you so well, embrace writing the personal essay and see where it takes you and your other writing. Happy writing!

Tips for Writing Humor

January 23, 2018

This is the first month of a new year and with so many issues surrounding us, it seems like a good idea to stop a moment and take some time to nurture your sense of humor. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Pay attention to what makes you laugh. Look for patterns of things you find funny.
  • Think about the people who make you laugh, then bring those people more into your life when possible.
  • Watch comedians on television or at comedy clubs and analyze what works, what doesn’t, and why. You may take it a step further and give some thought to how you’d make what they’re doing better.
  • Bring humor into your surroundings with cartoons on your bulletin board, artwork that makes you smile, a framed slogan, or whatever you have that you find humorous when you see it.
  • Enlist the help of family and friends by experimenting with humor with them. Be careful, however, that you remember these relationships are precious and you don’t want to do anything to damage them with your humor tests.
  • Remember that humor is subjective. What one person finds funny, the next person may not. Thus humor is about perspective and perception. What you find humorous says something about you that you may or may not want revealed about yourself.
  • Look at a subject you’re considering for humor writing with new eyes. By that I mean you’ll want to find ways to come at the  subject matter from a new angle to keep your humor unique to you. Let others write about the trite and tired old jokes. Your humor should be freshly yours.
  • Brainstorm top ten lists to help you make unexpected combinations. For example, what are the top ten rejected flavors for new ice cream products? What are the top ten things you don’t expect a job applicant to say during a job interview?

When I taught my college writing classes, I told students humor is the most difficult thing to write because it’s subjective and each reader reacts to humor based on his or her own life experiences and perceptions. On the other hand, most people are less resistant to paying to be amused than they are to  paying to be educated, so why not give yourself permission to write something humorous? Happy writing!

Holidays are a Good Time to Write a Memoir

December 14, 2017

We’re in the middle of the holiday season and creating lots of memories. Seems like a good time to start working on your memoir while everything is still fresh. Oh, I know you don’t think you have time with all that’s going on, but consider taking five or ten minutes before you turn out the light at the end of the day to jot down some memory triggers you can use after the chaos is gone.

You know the old who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, so consider starting there.

  • Who warrants a place in your memoir?
  • What did he/she do to get that honor of inclusion?
  • When is the time frame your memoir will cover (holidays only or longer lifetime)?
  • Where will your memoir take you emotionally, mentally, maybe even physically?
  • Why write a memoir in the first place (to help you find more meaning in your own life, maybe)?
  • How will you decide what to include and what to leave out and how to organize your writing?

It may be helpful to see that what you write fits into three categories: history, biography, and memoir. That way you give yourself permission to include facts and relationships as well as impressions.

As you write, remember this is your memoir and you’re incorporating your thoughts with your experiences. It’s better to write something that keeps pushing you toward your goal of finishing your memoir than to worry about whether you have writing talent or not. Only you can write your memoir, so why not start while you have all the excitement of the holidays around you? Happy writing!