4 Steps for Organizing Plot Ideas Into a Novel

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I recently finished brainstorming for a new book. I had lists of ideas, pages full of "what ifs," and beginning character sketches.

As I sat back and looked at all of my initial work, I did what I always do before I jump into the writing process. I spent some time organizing my ideas. I've found that doing a little organizing at the forefront can save me a lot of time later with rewriting.

Here are four ways I organize all of those initial brainstorms into a workable novel:

1. Establish Set Pieces.

The term set piece is a screenwriting term that means, “The big, audience pleasing scenes that deliver on the genre elements of the movie” (according to screenwriter Doug Eboch in his post Set Pieces Sell Scripts).

In fiction writing, set pieces are the unforgettable, major turning-points or events that happen in our book. So after I finish brainstorming plot ideas and developing my characters, I make a list of set pieces—the biggest and most critical events I want to include in my book.

I usually try to put them in the general order in which they’ll appear in the book—particularly into a basic 3-Act structure: a beginning with an inciting incident that pushes my character out of ordinary life; a middle crisis that works toward the black moment; then the final climax that eventually leads to resolution.

2. Develop a Three-Strand Conflict.

I give my stories three distinct strands of conflict. First, I look for an over-arching external conflict—a problem or obstacle that my character must face during the entire length of the novel, and it usually involves an antagonist of some kind.

Second, I give my characters internal conflicts—character weaknesses, flaws they must work through as the story progresses. Of course they won’t become perfect, but they need to grow in self-awareness.

And third, I develop relationship conflicts—tension and problems that will keep my main characters emotionally apart for the entire book (which is especially critical in a romance).

My goal is to have all three of my conflict strands relate to each other. The more intertwined they are, the better. It’s my job as the story unfolds to braid all of the strands together as smoothly as possible, until by the end, the reader can’t easily distinguish where one starts and one stops.

3. Jot Down a Short Chapter-by-Chapter Outline.

Once I have my set pieces organized and my three levels of conflicts outlined, then it’s easier for me to think of the overall frame work of where I need to go with the book. I generally determine approximately how many chapters I want and how many words per chapter. (Very roughly, mind you! It’s just a guide to help me stay somewhat on track!)

Then in my spiral notebook, I use my set pieces and three-strand conflict outline to make a few notes about what I hope to accomplish in each chapter—no more than a couple sentences.

4. Plan Scenes.

Over the years of writing, I’ve come to rely more and more upon the technique of writing by scenes. In fact, in most of my books, I cut from one scene to the next with very few transitional links.

As I’ve pondered why I like writing this way, I’ve realized that ultimately writing by scenes is one of the best ways to SHOW our story. We place our characters on the stage, have them act things out. When it’s over, we drop the curtain and open it again with the next scene. We’re continually showing the action of our story without having an intrusive narrator come out between acts and fill us in on what happens between times—as if we need to know every detail to be entertained.

Before I start the actual writing of each scene, I make notes on the scene including: Time/Date, Setting, POV (looking back to make sure I’m varying these well enough). Then I ask myself these questions: What is the goal of the scene? What am I trying to accomplish? How am I moving the plot forward?

Once I finish the outline of a scene, I write it (on my laptop). I try to end the scene with a Read-On-Prompt. After I’m done, I jot down my outline for my next scene in my notebook, write it, and repeat the process until the book is done. (Incidentally, the scene-by-scene outline later serves as a great tool for organizing rewrites.)

There you have it. That’s a quick overview of my process for organizing a novel.

What’s your process? Do you follow any of my steps? What else helps you in organizing all your plot ideas?

Spicing Up a Story With Similes & Metaphors

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Have you ever read a book that felt somewhat bland? Maybe it was a good plot with well-developed characters, but for some reason it just didn't grab you.

There may be many reasons why a book fails to "wow" us. But one reason might be a lack of originality, freshness, and color to our writing style. The writer's voice is missing a unique spiciness.

Obviously there are countless ways to add seasoning and flavor to our stories, but there are three easy-to-use spices: similes, metaphors, and personification.

Here are the simplified definitions:

Simile: Compares two unlike things using the words like or as.

Metaphor: Compares two unlike things NOT using the words like or as. Uses is or was.

Personification: Giving human qualities to non-human things (a specific type of metaphor)

I used all three of the spices in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 17 of my book, Unending Devotion:

"The stiff branches above Lily clattered like dry bones (simile) . . . In the blackness of the early morning, the pale light from the tavern windows illuminated the barren, gnarled limbs. They reached toward her like claws of a devilish monster. She had no doubt they would snatch her and devour her if they could (personification) . . . Every shadow, every dark moving shape was a demon (metaphor). She heard the flap of their thin translucent wings . . ."

As we think about using similes, metaphors, and personification to spice up our writing, here are several things to keep in mind:

1. A little spice can go a long way. Think about when you're making a pot of chili. You only need a little bit of chili pepper to make the soup hot. A tablespoon or two would be plenty as opposed to an entire cup.

And the same is true with our stories. One or two well-placed similes and metaphors can add just the right flavor to a chapter. But too many can overpower the rest of the story, drowning out all of the other delicious flavors.

Likewise, similes and metaphors that are too flamboyant or forced can also distract. In fact my editor has had me rework or cut some of my "unnatural" sounding similes when I try to add too many.

2. Avoid generic (clichéd) seasoning. If it sounds even remotely clichéd, then it probably is: "The stars winked at her" or "the sun smiled down on him" or "he was as happy as a lark." Obviously, we should strive to be as original as possible in our similes and metaphors and stay far away from anything thing that stinks of cliché.

I have the most difficulty with this when I'm using personification of emotions. It's all too easy to use the tried and true, "Her her heart swelled with love" or "worry trickled through him." It's much more challenging (but rewarding) to think of original ways to personify our characters' thoughts and feelings.

3. Different people require different spices. We want to try to stay true to our POV (point-of-view) character even when we're using similes and metaphors, similar to what we would try to do when crafting our dialogue and descriptions.

Never add similes and metaphors that wouldn't flow naturally from our characters. For example, in Unending Devotion, some of my hero's similes have to do with math, money, or lumbering, since those are the things that are important to him. I wouldn't have the hero comparing anything to flowers and rainbows and honey as a heroine might.

4. Use the spice to enhance the setting or mood. Since I write historicals, I sometimes put in similes or metaphors that bring out something unique to the historical setting. I look around the stage that's unfolding and find interesting things to spotlight, objects or historical tidbits that will enhance the scene.

Or I use similes and metaphors to help create the mood of a scene. In the example I quoted earlier from Unending Devotion, the heroine is about to embark on a dangerous rescue mission, attempting to free her lost sister who is enslaved in a brothel. Through strategic similes, metaphors, and description, I hoped to give the feeling of fear, impending doom, and danger.

What about you? Do you spice up your stories with similes, metaphors, and personification? What are some other tips or cautions you would issue in regard to using them?

3 Main Reasons Why People Read Romance Novels

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I'm a historical romance writer of both teen and adult books. In fact, even my upcoming historicals (which are not categorized as romances) are based on the love stories of important historical figures. For example my historical, Luther & Katharina, which releases in October is centered on Martin Luther (the founder of the Lutheran church) who was a monk but ended up marrying a runaway nun, Katharina von Bora.

I was utterly fascinated by their love story and decided it needed to be retold to our modern generation. So one of the reasons I write romances is because I love bringing to life real love stories of the past.

Another reason I write romances is that I want to be able to present healthy models of love, chivalry, and passion to a hurting and broken culture. No, my characters aren't perfect and they have real problems. But all of us can benefit from watching imperfect couples work through issues and come out on the other side stronger as a result. Such models give us a picture of what hopeful and healthy relationships look like, the kinds of relationships that we can aspire to.

This past week I asked my readers over on Facebook to share why they read romances.

I categorized their answers into three main categories:

1. To escape from reality:

"Everyday life is serious business. TV is getting hard to watch. It's enjoyable to read a good romance story which takes you away from all of this."

"Pure escapism. Everybody's beautiful and you know it will work out perfectly."

"Love stories and those happily-ever-afters trigger my endorphins or something...Romance novels are my Prozac."

"To escape and get lost in a good sweet heart stopping story between two great characters who get their happily-ever-after."


2. To glean inspiration for everyday life:

"The challenges the couple has and the steadfastness of their faith in God and in each other is what draws me to the story in the first place. No one is without some challenge in their life so it is always encouraging to find couples who work through and persevere."

"I love that most romance is about two people who come together even with seemingly insurmountable odds against them. Gives hope."

"Hope. Overcoming obstacles, lives changing... it's hope in action

"Christian romance is helpful to your everyday life."

3. To live vicariously through the characters:

"I enjoy romances because I can live vicariously through the characters and have what I don't have right now!"

"Because my love life is dead/non-existent."

"It's what I want in life. A man who loves the Lord and loves me!"


I appreciated all of the feedback. It reminded me that as a romance writer I need to keep these three points in mind as I'm crafting my stories:

1. Readers want stories that transcend reality. They want heroes and heroines that rise above normalcy, who overcome problems, and who find victory (or are at least on their way to finding it). Readers face failure too often in real life that they read to find hope that perhaps they too can overcome and find victory. So romance writers must give readers the fairy-tale with the happily-ever-after.

2. Readers want stories that inspire them. As I mentioned, one of the main reasons I write romances is so that my characters can model healthy relationship skills, sacrificial love, and how to overcome obstacles without giving up hope. While I never "preach" at my readers, I do weave in themes and nuggets of wisdom that readers can take away when they close the book.

3. Readers want characters that are alive. Part of the key in bringing characters to life is to have them act out their hurts and problems. Have them grapple with real struggles that readers can relate to. But we can't only show them acting, but we have to show them feeling that frustration, pain, and anger. Then in the end, we have to help them reach a point where they've grown, where they're in a better place emotionally than when the story started.

My Summary: Clearly readers want to be entertained when they read (much the same way movie-goers want to be entertained). But readers (particularly romance readers) have other expectations too. To engage and please our readers to the fullest, we'd do best to pay attention to what they want!

So what about YOU? Why do you read (or write) love stories? 

The Most Important Type of Edit and Where to Get It

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Writers should self-edit their own work. That's a given.

Some writers approach the self-editing process haphazardly, putting little effort into the process. Those types of writers may rely heavily on a good copy or line editor to catch their mistakes.

Other writers self-edit a manuscript to death, striving to make every tiny detail perfect. An editor-turned-writer can often find the typos, grammar issues, sentence structure problems, etc.

However, even the perfectionists still need to get outside feedback. The truth is that no writers can view their own work objectively enough to catch all the mistakes, especially the bigger plot and character problems.

Writers become too enmeshed in their own story to be able to step back and view the whole thing from start to finish with a cold, critical eye. Writers gain that critical eye usually after they've stuck the manuscript in a drawer for several years. Then they're able to go back to it as if seeing it for the first time. (And usually they're amazed at the problems they find!)

Thus, no matter how skilled writers think they are in the self-editing department, at the very least every writer should get a big picture edit (known in the industry as a macro, substantial, or content edit, often lovingly referred to as rewrites).

A big picture edit pertains to all of the things that make for a well-told story like plotting, pacing, character development, themes, opening hooks, the closing, etc. These are the elements that win readers. Sure readers will get turned off by typos and poor sentence construction. But they can overlook some of the minor issues if the story grabs them and won't let go.

Thus I would venture to say that a content edit is THE most important type of edit, but in the industry is probably one of the hardest to get.

Where should writers seek this big-picture feedback?

It can come from a variety of sources. However, since this type of edit also tends to be the most subjective, a writer needs to weigh the feedback according to the source. I've listed them in order of degree of helpfulness (least through most) (although the order can vary depending upon many factors!):

1. Beta Readers: Beta readers can be anyone– family, friends, readers, fans, other writers, etc. The job of a beta reader is read the book with the "reader hat" on and not the "editor hat" and provide constructive criticism on what works and what doesn't. A writer can give beta readers some directive (issues to look for), even going as far as having a short questionnaire to fill out. Or the writer can simply ask for overall impressions. Beta readers should know they're NOT to edit or spend a lot of time making comments within the manuscript (if any!). They're simply reading.

2. Critique partners: Critique partners (or critique groups) are usually other writers at or about the same level of writing skill. These writers use a reciprocal exchange system for giving one another feedback on manuscripts. The exchange should contain overall impressions (similar to a beta reader's), but usually goes beyond that to include comments about writing techniques that need adjusting.

3. Mentors: Mentors are usually published authors who are above the skill level of the writer. Mentors can be found by entering contests and gleaning feedback through the contest judges. Mentors can also be found at writing conferences via paid critiques. Sometimes mentors can even be found through local writing chapters or an author who is also a good friend.

4. Agents: Although agents don't often have the time to give specific feedback on queries, sometimes they do. And when they offer advice, writers should listen carefully. Experienced agents sort through thousands of manuscripts and can usually spot what works and what doesn't. If a couple of agents are saying the same thing (i.e. that an opening doesn't grab them), then a writer should definitely take note of the issue.

5. For-hire editors: Over the past few years, many people have hung out a shingle offering editing services. However, before hiring someone, look at how long the editor has been in business, credentials, recommendations from current clients, and what levels of critiques the editor offers. The more intimately the editor knows your genre (and the more experienced), the more weight you'll be able to give their big picture feedback.

6. In-house editors: Editors who work for traditional publishers and have been in the publishing business for years are often the experts in their genre. They work closely with their marketing and sales teams and usually know what concepts, ideas, and issues sell better than others. They're often intimately in tune with what readers of a genre like and don't like (based on reader feedback and sales trends). Thus, in-house editors can offer an expertise to editing that is difficult to find elsewhere.

All of the above can be incredibly valuable methods for getting big-picture feedback. No matter which source, there is always some level of subjectivity (personal preferences) that come into play. Because of that, I never rush off to change anything (even when my in-house editors provide me feedback).

Even so, I always weigh each piece of advice carefully and thoughtfully. I lay aside my love-affair with my manuscript and try not to take the criticism personally. If I go into the content edit process with an eager desire to improve my story, then I'm better able to analyze the feedback and figure out what will help and what won't.

Usually if multiple people (at a variety of levels) are pointing out the same problem, then writers can rest assured that the issue needs to be addressed (and possibly changed).

How about YOU? Are you getting big picture feedback on your stories? If so, who's giving it to you? 

Why You Might Benefit From Having a Virtual Assistant

In the modern publishing industry, the demands on writers have escalated at an overwhelming rate. Life is already busy enough researching, writing, editing, and marketing one book a year, but many authors have moved to writing multiple books per year (often a combination of novels and novellas). That means an author doubles or triples the research, writing, editing, and marketing.

On top of that, authors also maintain some sort of online presence via social media whether that's through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogging, Pinterest, or all of the above. Authors also have an enormous amount of communicating to do via emails on a daily basis with publishers, agents, readers, other writers, etc. There are websites to update and maintain, guest posts and interviews to be written, Facebook chat parties to plan, book giveaways to mail, etc.

With my current publishing schedule writing for three different publishers, I knew that I would drown if I didn't get some support. So last fall I began the process of searching out help, namely in finding what is known in the industry as a Virtual Assistant (VA).

After getting recommendations from many different authors and chatting with several VA's about their services, my search finally led me to Rel Mollet who is well known in the CBA industry for her work with authors and publishers. She agreed to answer a few questions on my blog today in order to share a little bit more about VA's and why YOU might benefit from having one.

Join me in welcoming the awesome and talented Rel!


Q & A With Virtual Assistant, Rel Mollet

What is a Virtual Assistant?

Wikipedia defines a Virtual Assistant (or VA) as “generally self-employed and provides professional administrative, technical, or creative (social) assistance to clients remotely from a home office.”

This works, but it isn’t that cut and dried. Not for me. Being a VA to authors is not just a job, it’s a partnership between myself and my clients. And it’s my passion. I love journeying with authors as they negotiate the business of writing. In coming alongside them, my goal is to help them find a balance between writing, family commitments, day jobs, and the curve balls everyday life throws. By alleviating some of my authors’ writing-related pressures, I help them do what they do best—write!

What kinds of writers can benefit from hiring an assistant?

I’ve spent the last decade immersed in the “writerly” world via my book review blog, as a contributor to and, and making connections with authors, publishers, and publicists. The cry of despair I most often hear from authors is the difficulty in finding the time to write. A good VA assists authors by tackling administrative tasks that have become such a large and burdensome part of being published.

Many assume only big name authors can afford to hire an assistant. Not true. While a wealthy author may be in a position to employ a VA on retainer, paying a weekly or monthly fee, those working with a limited budget can still utilize the talents and time of a VA.

A debut author may request services for initial promotion work to help plan for release day.

Midlist authors benefit from an assistant establishing and managing the street team they intended to set up when—if ever!—they found the time.

Established, multi-published authors faced with the reality of publishers who require more from them in terms of marketing, social media presence, and newsletters can turn that list over to an assistant.

Then there are indie authors whose plates are so full they overflow. Everything to do with writing, publishing, and marketing falls to them, so assistance with time-consuming tasks can ease the way to publication and give better results when their books hit the virtual shelves.

What are some specific things that VA's can do for writers?

A great VA will do whatever they can to support their clients, although I might draw the line at eating bugs so a client can figure out the best way to describe a character’s response! To give you an idea of the various tasks a VA can tackle, here’s a starting list.

**Note: Not all VAs offer these services. Discuss with your prospective VA what they are willing/able to do.)

Administrative Tasks:
  • Input blog posts
  • Influencer development and coordination
  • Publisher/marketing liaison
  • Website updates/additions
  • Newsletter compilation

Social Media Tasks:
  • Facebook Page updates
  • Twitter feed updates
  • Pinterest Boards – set up and maintenance
  • Authorgraph - set up and maintenance

Marketing Tasks:
  • Street team/influencer team – creation, maintenance, and accountability
  • Graphics for promotions/giveaways
  • Giveaway coordination (eg. Rafflecopter)
  • Research target audience bloggers
  • Request and arrange blog reviews

Editorial Tasks:
  • Proofreading
  • Audiobook proofing
  • Manuscript critiques
  • Research

  • Marketing
  • Self-publishing timelines
  • Social media focus
  • Target audience
  •  Cover Art ideas and feedback

In addition, a great VA provides a listening ear, support, encouragement, and even a pep talk, as required ;-)

What is the average cost of a VA?

This can be a little like asking how long is a piece of string! The hourly rate for a VA varies from as little as $10 per hour to upward of $40 per hour. Many VAs offer package deals with the hourly rate decreasing with the number of hours purchased.

Monetary matters are not the only consideration in selecting a VA ~ experience, expertise, and industry knowledge all play a part. It may be more cost effective to pay a little extra for the benefit and insight you will receive from a VA with specialist knowledge of the publishing industry.

Thanks for sharing with us today, Rel!

If you're interested in finding out more about Rel's Author Support Services, you can contact her over on her website:  Relz Reviewz

What about YOU? Are you overwhelmed at times with the demands placed upon you? How do you keep from drowning? Have you considered the possibility of hiring a Virtual Assistant?

5 Ways Writers Get Lazy

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I just finished writing my 20th full length novel! Yay! (Can you see me doing the happy dance?! ) Each and every novel is such a HUGE accomplishment, that it's hard to believe I've gone through the process 20 times.

However, the more books I complete, the more I’m realizing how difficult it is to keep producing fresh, vibrant stories. Not only does it take more work to keep the plots from being repetitious, but authors have to find new ways to describe the characters, romance, and even the settings.

Yes, writers are sometimes bound by genre constrictions. And yes, readers also expect a certain type of story when they pick up a trusted author's book. For example, my readers know they will get emotionally charged characters, a dangerous antagonist, lots of sizzling romance, and plenty of historical details that are woven into the story. If I neglected any one of my "trade marks," readers would wonder what happened.

However, expectations placed upon us by publishers, readers, or even our genre shouldn't hinder multi-published authors from striving to keep things new. When we reach a point of having written numerous books, we have to continually push deeper into the recesses of our minds to find original, creative, and fresh material for our stories. We have to dig around in the untouched areas of our imagination to bring out something new. And that digging requires a lot of effort.

Sometimes amidst the busyness of the writing life, we don’t always have the time and energy to go that extra mile. We’re working hard to keep up with deadlines or trying to get our books out in quick succession. Instead of shoveling deep and finding new treasures, we sift through the front lobe of our brains and rehash the old stuff—because it’s easier to stay there.

Here are five ways we can get lazy:

1. Using Cliches. Most of us know we need to avoid those well-known clichés. But the more books we write, the harder it gets to find original ways of saying things, and the clichés start to creep in. We have to remember if the phrase slips easily off our tongue, then it’s likely one we should avoid. I’ve found that I can reduce clichés by using more similes and metaphors—especially those that relate to my character’s interests or to the setting.

2. Telling of Emotions. Another major way writers get lazy is when we decide to tell how our character feels rather than showing it. We obviously can’t always show every little emotion and detail. Sometimes we have to name the emotion to clarify what’s going on. But when we’re tired and writing fast, we may find ourselves telling too many emotions rather than going to the hard work of showing them. We need to make sure that we’re mostly bringing our character’s feelings to life through dialog, actions, or internal narration.

3. Overusing Adjectives and Adverbs. I’m not an all-or-nothing gal. I still believe in adjectives and adverbs—if used in moderation, particularly when we can’t find a strong enough noun or verb to fit the situation. But . . . as with clichés and telling of emotions, it’s so much easier and quicker to tack on an adjective or adverb. Instead, we need to persevere to find a stronger, more telling word.

4. Camping on Pet Phrases. I always seem to land upon a pet word or phrase while writing my first draft. Thankfully, if I don’t catch the phrases myself, my editors alert me to the repetition. A simple search for the word can help me locate the trouble areas, and I’m able to delete some or find more creative ways to express that pet phrase. I also need to be careful of overusing phrases between books as well. That’s a little bit harder to catch.

5. Rehashing the Same Plot or Story. After we’ve written multiple books, we may begin to find that our stories start to sound the same, have similar threads, or even have characters that resemble one another. Perhaps we’ve even gotten tired of a favorite author because “all the stories are too much alike.” Yes, our voices will remain the same in all our books. But we can’t let our voice be an excuse for getting too comfortable with the same old, same old. We need to constantly be exploring new plot territory and searching for unique and fresh stories.

My Summary: Indeed the task before the modern writer is daunting. The bar continually rises. If we hope to keep our readers happy with each book we write, then we can’t afford to get lazy. We have to resist what comes easily to our minds, and instead be ever-exploring deeper into the creative labyrinths of our imaginations.

How about you? Have you ever gotten tired of an author because his or her books started to sound the same? What are some ways you attempt to keep things fresh in your books?

How to Keep Readers From Hating Your Characters

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

One surefire way writers can garner negative reviews is by making one or more of their main characters unlikeable. In fact creating unlikeable heroes and heroines often exasperates, irritates, and frustrates readers more than anything else.

Readers are usually willing to forgive a plot that drags in certain points. They may forgive a too-quick ending or a flat antagonist or a few clichés. But they rarely will rave about a book if they don't like the characters.

This year I'm branching into writing historicals based on the lives of real people. If you've read any of my books, then you'll know I already do this to an extent. But with my Luther & Katharina book which releases in the fall, I'm delving into a fuller, richer look at historical couples with the hope of bringing to life women who've been overshadowed by their more popular husbands.

As we all know, real life people aren't always likeable. Martin Luther was one such man. While he did incredible things during dangerous times that changed the course of history, he was caustic, abrasive, and had bouts of melancholy.

There's nothing wrong with making our characters flawed and realistic. We want to portray humanity as it really is.

But . . . how can we do that without making our readers throw our books against the wall because they can't stand our characters? Readers simply don't want to spend hours with idiots, jerks, or even whining wallflowers. They have to spend time enough with idiots, jerks, and whining wallflowers in real life and want an escape from that when they pick up our books.

In essence readers want to find flawed BUT still loveable characters. People who make mistakes BUT still have qualities that rise above normalcy.

That's why they're called heroes and heroines, because they transcend the ordinary to be extraordinary.

That's why it's called fiction because although our stories embody real people in the real world, fiction takes reality one step further by ultimately portraying life as we would ideally like face it– fighting, striving, surviving, and then finally rising above the odds.

Such characters and stories inspire us to live better, be better, do better.

As I wrote the Luther & Katharina book I had to dig deep to bring out Luther's likeability. As I'm writing my second historical about an unlikeable guy, I've had to work even harder to find ways to make him likeable. I've had to balance the reality with the good man he is yet to become. It's been difficult but essential if I hope to create a story that readers will enjoy.

What are some ways we can make sure we're keeping our main characters likeable enough?

1. Give them noble traits that outshine the negative traits. Perhaps we’ve given a likeable quality to our main character. But the mounds of negative traits overshadow that one tiny likeable quality, drowning it out so that the reader can’t see it. We have to flip that around. Yes, show her flaws, but outshine the negative by giving her a trait(s) readers can admire (like a love for the downtrodden, self-sacrificing for others to the point of being willing to die for them, etc.).

2. Make sure the reader understands the cause of the flaws. One way to generate reader empathy for our character's flaw is make the negative trait a result of something that the character didn't choose to happen to her. For example, maybe she was abused or teased or rejected at some point in her life. When we share the history that drives the negative traits, readers will be more forgiving of the negativity.

3. Never give the character an unforgivable trait or action. We might have made our character likeable, but then she does something (or several things) that the reader finds unforgivable, completely unlikeable, and irredeemable. The event or action leaves a bad taste in the reader's mouth and often they’re unable to resume their fullest love of our character after that.

4. Make sure to bring out the likeable traits early enough. Sometimes we wait until too late in the story to bring out the likeability factor. We can’t have our character acting like a spoiled brat until the end when she finally changes. We need to have her acting, thinking, and behaving in heroic ways right from the start.

5. Let the reader inside the character's head. If the character is behaving in an unlikeable way, show the disconnect between her actions and their emotions. Get inside her head and play out her internal narration, letting the reader see that she doesn't want to be that way. A reader will be able to feel more sympathy when they realize the internal thoughts reflect that the character is really hurting or hiding something.

6. Make sure the reader can really relate to the character's flaws. Give her struggles that readers are also going through–fear, lack of self-worth, damaged pride, intimidation, need for control. If the reader can relate to the internal struggle, they're often more willing to forgive negative behaviors because they've been there and done that themselves.

7. Beware of making the character a helpless victim. No matter her past and no matter her current dangerous situation, modern readers want to see an inkling (or more!) of strength coming through in our heroine. She must have a spine which doesn't have to equate snark, sass, or spunk. Sometimes quiet strength is just as riveting.

My Summary: It’s often very difficult for us to see how we’re portraying our characters. We have an image in our minds. But what comes out on paper, what readers see, isn’t the whole picture we envisioned.

Ultimately, we should ask ourselves, “What can I do to ensure that my hero is truly a hero.” 

What about YOU? Have you ever made your characters unlikeable? Do you have any other advice on how to avoid falling into the unlikeable character trap?
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