Tag Archives: characters

Top 16 Close-Talking, Double Dipping Tips to Succeeding At Nanowrimo!

Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month.

For 30 days in November every year, hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world try to get 50,000 words on paper. In a perfect world, these words would be brilliant and profound. It’s far more likely that the words are a big hot mess. If you are participating, this is the perfect time to organize your ideas and get ready! The objective is to write as much as possible, you know, yada, yada, yada, not to be beautiful doing it. Sign up here so you can participate this November!

I believe that the objective of 50K words in 30 days is doable for anyone who wants to try.

I also believe that much is to be gained from the whole exercise, even if it isn’t a coherent story. I’ve broken down the steps to writing a story for Nano into super-easy steps. If you follow them, you’ll easily make your goal. (It’s only 1,667 words a day. You can DO that!)

So here we go! (This is the Seinfeld version so I suggest you regift your label maker, put on your puffy shirt, and spare a square!)


Step One: Start your story with Did you ever notice  . . .. Is that cheating?  NO! It gets you going and now you only have 49,996 words to go.

Step Two: Pick Two Names: Almost any two will do. Let’s go with Jerry and George

Step Three: Describe these two characters. List their favorite things, their appearance, and their relationships. They also need a job that is unrelated to the genre of the book, like say, make them work for Vandalay Industries! In the import/export business! Say they really, really like velvet!

Step Four: Give them an antagonist. This determines your genre. If it’s a mean girl/boy, then it’s chick lit, (Susan?) If it’s a tall, dark stranger who they think is a pain in the butt (at first) it’s a rom-com, (Putty?) If it’s a mysterious colleague with secret who may do something violent to protect it then it’s a thriller, (Tim Whatley?) If it’s someone who had committed a crime and he doesn’t want our couple to find out about it, it’s a mystery, (Newman and what he did to that poor dog!) If it’s bigger than a personality, like, say, a government agency, then it’s a spy thriller, (Kramer probably knows something about this!) If it’s a non-human but nothing technological is involved, then it’s a fantasy. (“The sea was angry that day, my friends!”  If it’s a non-human but technology IS involved it’s science fiction.(The Bubble Boy!) Okay, so these are loose definitions, but this is Nanowrimo! There is no need to get technical, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Step Five: Give them a setting. Make it consistent with the antagonist. Delis in NYC are more for romantic comedies than for science fiction. You could also hang out in Jerry’s apartment, but the local soup Nazis will do too.  But you know what, it’s NANOWRIMO! Go ahead, break the rules, and while Jerry and George are waiting for the baddie to show up, they can order twenty-seven things on the menu, as long as they follow the rules, because that will pad you with a lot of words! Or maybe Kramer drops by because he wants something!

Step Six: Give them an objective: All this means is that the characters want something. They want to be loved. They want to be famous. They want to be secure, forgiven, avenged, or safe. These are primal needs and everybody wants them. You don’t need to worry about the specifics of the objectives, that will come later.

Step Seven: Give them a handicap: What will keep them from meeting their objective?  Sure, the antagonist will do his part, but there’s got to be more. Let’s say George is an incompetent Yankees employee who thinks uniforms should be made of cotton. Let’s say Jerry has the bad habit of bringing Pez dispensers to piano concerts. Be as nonsensical and illogical as you want because HEY! THIS IS NANOWRIMO! 

Step Eight: Give them something to say:  Open your scene with dialogue. Your pair is bickering because of something. This shouldn’t be hard to come up with. As they bicker, the reader learns about their big objective. There is no topic too small to talk about. You can talk about Snapple. You can talk about why the girl you know wears the same dress every day. You certainly can talk about Superman.

“It all became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat – it’s all been wrong.” –George Costanza

Step Nine: The antagonist makes an appearance OR someone challenges them to acquire something. They are sent off on their mission. They bicker about it some more. They get distracted. Now write about this! NEWMAN! 

Step Ten: Stuck? Tell us backstory! This is where Nanowrimo is beautiful. Tell us all about George’s struggle with his parents and how his fiancee died licking wedding invitation envelopes. Tell us about the trauma that Jerry had when he his girlfriend ate peas one at a time. Tell us about that time that Elaine, ahem, danced. In Nanowrimo (unlike your best work) you can have as much bleedin’ backstory as you want. This will add to your word count, will help you flesh out those characters, explain what happens in chapter 47 and help you understand where the story is going. Trust me.

Step Eleven: Stuck again? Put something unexpected in their path! Japanese businessmen! An NBC pilot!  A new J. Peterman catalog! Have your duo fight it out and regroup and get back to the task at hand. (That could kill a couple of thousand words right there!)

Step Twelve: Take a break and think about your ending. What do you want to happen? Do you want them to meet their objective or not? Brainstorm for 10-20 things that need to happen before your duo gets to the end. This is your very loose outline. From now on, as you get stuck, refer to this. Put Jerry and George in these situations or scenes and then get them out.

“I can’t die with dignity. I have no dignity. I want to be the one person who doesn’t die with dignity. I’ve lived my whole life in shame! Why should I die with dignity?” –George Costanza

Step Thirteen: When you get about 10K from the end, try to wrap it up. Get your main characters in positions where they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re having trouble, make a coincidence work out for them. Have a high school buddy show up with a solution. Don’t even worry about the logic of it. The important thing is that YOU ARE 10K FROM THE END! You need to fill that space up with something. Sometimes all we need to see what happens next is to put our fingers on the keyboard and plow through. You might be surprised what you figure out for your characters.

Step Fourteen: When you hit 50K, CELEBRATE!  You deserve that badge! You deserve a pat on the back And don’t worry about the story.

Put it aside for a minimum of three months. Do it, Jerry. Do it!

Step Fifteen: When three months have passed, get the story out and go on a search and rescue mission. You are now digging through the haystack looking for the needle. You are digging through the stable full of ca-ca, looking for the pony. You are mining for diamonds in the cave. DO NOT PUBLISH THIS, JERRY! I repeat! DO NOT PUBLISH THIS, JERRY! If you have any kind of sense, you will take that 50K words and see if there’s something salvageable, like an exchange of dialog, a good description, a well-drawn character or a little bit of a plot line. This is your good stuff. SAVE IT.

Step Sixteen:  Question my method completely. “What’s the point of writing like a madman for a month if all we’re getting out of it is a little bit here and there.” I’ll tell you. You are learning discipline. You are learning to think fast. You are learning to appreciate the struggle. You are learning basic storytelling elements. You are learning what doesn’t work. You are learning what is good and what is drivel. You are learning to write the hard way.

Nanowrimo is not HOW to write a novel. It is however, a way to build muscle and skills. To stretch your story-telling abilities. To gain perspective and insight. It’s good for you. And your car will look nicer too.

So, veteran Nano-ers? What do you think? How has past Nanos worked for you? 

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I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community. 

How to Write Foreigners in Dialogues

by Joanna Maciejewska

Last month I was writing about how to insert foreign phrases in your novel, but what if your character doesn’t speak perfect English? How do you write foreigners to reflect their struggle with English?

There are many ways you can convey foreigners through dialogues, and since I’m a second language speaker myself, I tend to notice my fellow non-native speakers’ struggles (not to mention my own experiences in the matter!), so I’d like to share some of them with you.


For a native English speaker, there’s a clear difference between “I saw a cat outside” and “I saw the cat outside”, but it’s not necessarily the same for the non-native speakers. Many languages don’t have articles or use them in a different way and for different purposes, so beyond knowing the school-taught rule that “a/an is for singular, and the is for plural”, your foreign character is ready to mess it up. This might lead to some confusion and make mundane exchanges between your characters more interesting.

“I saw a cat outside.”
“So what?”
“It was the same cat we saw at the murder scene.”
“What?! You saw THE cat?!”
“That’s what I said.”

Some characters, if their command of English is rather simple, might even skip the articles altogether, making an opening for some unintended humor.

“Can you give me address?”
“Why do you need a dress?”


Another great way to show your character making mistakes in English are prepositions as often they don’t translate directly. I’ll give you some examples from my native language. In Polish you don’t say that you see something “in the picture”. You see it “on the picture”. You also wouldn’t say “welcome to New York”, but… “welcome in New York”.

Of course, research will be necessary to make sure your “messed up” articles match your character’s native language.

“There’s coffee on the picture.”
“What?! I told Matt to be careful and not spill any!”
“No. I mean, the girl on the picture is drinking coffee.”

Phrasal verbs

If you’re a native English speaker, you’ve likely never heard about them, but phrasal verbs can be a real struggle for second language speakers. If you look it up online, you’ll learn that “phrasal verb” is an “idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element” (often a preposition). They come to you naturally, because you’ve been surrounded by them all your life, but the second language learners have to actually memorize them. To them, “knock down”, “knock out”, and “knock up” can be very confusing. Moreover, if they hadn’t come across a particular phrasal verb, they might not be able to figure it out without context.

Foreigners are also less likely to use them when they speak if they struggle with English. They won’t ask you to “put out” the fire: they might say “extinquish” instead. This is something that doesn’t require foreign languages study or research. You just need to find a replacement for a phrasal verb.

“We will have to hit him unconscious.”
“He’s too big. There’s no way we’re going to knock him out!”

 How to Write Foreigners in Dialogues


Since I mentioned phrasal verbs, I should cover idioms in general. They are always a great way to show the character’s struggle with the language. If you watched NCIS and got to know Ziva, you’ve probably witnessed her language slips more than enough. Sadly, throughout the seasons, it was very inconsistent from perfectly done to artificially made up, so if you want your character sound real, there are few things to remember.

Even though some second language speakers might use a similar sounding word, it’s not that common. It’s more common to use a word with a similar meaning. Second language speakers are more likely to say “don’t beat around the thicket” than they are “don’t beat around the plush”. To give you another example (it’s one of my own slips), once I said “the coast is free” instead of “the coast is clear”. I remembered the idiom had something to do with the lack of obstacles, but I couldn’t nail the right word.

Literal translations

If you’re willing to do a bit of research, using idioms can be a lot of fun. Did you know that in Polish, when someone is going to try something out on you, you won’t become their “guinea pig” but an “experimental rabbit”?

Also, people in Poland and Scandinavia don’t cross their fingers for luck, but instead they wrap other fingers around their thumbs. It’s literally “holding my thumbs”. Of course, experienced second language speakers will know idioms don’t translate directly, but if your character struggles with English, it’s a perfect opportunity to add a bit of flavor to their speech.

“I’m going in. Wish me luck.”
“You can do it!” Bartek raised his clenched fists, almost like in a boxing stance. “I’m holding my thumbs for you!”

Not all of the expressions will be good to use, as they might not be obvious, even in the context. I mentioned “don’t beat around the bush” above, and using Polish equivalent, “don’t wrap it in cotton”, would be confusing for a reader. But it’s definitely worth exploring.

False friends

Did you know that some languages have words that sound the same or similar, but mean something else? In second language learning, these are called “false friends” as they seem familiar to a learner. In English, “transparent” is adjective meaning something is see-through or clear, but in Polish this is the word for a… banner. Similar goes for “sympathy” which in English is most commonly used to describe the feeling toward someone based on relating to their misery. While in Polish, “sympathy” would be a noun and an old-fashioned word used for a person who’s an object of one’s crush.

This is a relatively easy way to mess up your character’s English as the Internet is full of “false friends” lists for various languages. There are also some available on Wiktionary (like those for Polish and Spanish), so all you have to do is get creative with it.

Lost words

It probably happened to you more than once to have a word on the tip of your tongue, but you couldn’t remember it? The same happens to the second language speakers. It’s no surprise, since they had to memorize all the words in English and their meaning in the first place. What’s interesting, it happens to even more advanced speakers. But while the basic learners will just get stuck, the advanced speaker will try to ask for the right word.

“Is everything ok?”
“I ate too much for lunch and now I have… What’s the word for when your food is in your stomach and falls apart?”
“Yes, this one! I have digestion problems.”

As a downside, this will only work with characters that are supposed to be smart and knowledgeable, because they need to be able to describe the words they’re looking for. On the other hand, you don’t need to know any second language to make it work.

Foreigners in dialogues

The speaker’s origin influences the mistakes they make, so depending on their first language, the way they speak English might differ. It’s not only about the accent and pronunciation of the words, but also about mistakes they make. If you’re lucky to have second language speakers around, you might take this opportunity to listen to how they speak and what are the mistakes they most commonly make.

But what if you don’t have any foreigners to listen to? You can always go online and read through posts on forums or social media. You can also make friends with someone who speaks English as a second language and ask them what they found different about English language or what were they struggling with the most when they were learning it. They’ll likely provide you with a plethora of examples.

Joanna MaciejewskaJoanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science-fiction writer who was born in Poland, spent a little under a decade in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona. She had stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris), and she also writes in English (“Fiction Vortex”, “Phantaxis”). You can find out more about her and her stories at melfka.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

The 9 Things Your Main Character Needs From You

Character development is one of my favorite things to do when I’m cooking up a new story.

With the development of character, it’s like I’m meeting a new friend who trusts me enough to send me on an adventure. I need my character badly for, without him or her, I don’t have a voice for my story. But my character needs me too. I have the necessities to make them come alive.

These are the nine things my main character needs from me.

A name.

This is obvious, and you can spend a lot of time looking at name meanings and overthink it to the point of ridicule, or you can call your main character Binky and be done with it. If you’re going to give a character a name, make sure that it has a distinct look and sound from the other character names (this is where I make the obligatory grumble to J.R.R. Tolkien for his choices with Sauron/Sauramon.) You also want to make sure that your name is appropriate to the setting. Make sure that it doesn’t have such a freaky spelling that your readers stumble over it. You want to make sure that there aren’t any cultural connotations with it, for example, the name Hillary. 

A general physical appearance, but not a laundry list.

Maybe I’m just lazy and impatient, but I usually skim over an author’s detailed account of their main character. I don’t care about how wide apart their eyes are, their aquiline nose, the ruddiness of their cheeks or that their hair is the red like copper, but not red like the sauce on my taco. I’m of the belief (and it’s because I’m so guilty of this) that the reader creates a mental image of the character in his own way regardless of what the author says. So unless your main character is a hobbit, and it better not be, keep your detailed description to yourself.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

An archetype.

Before you get all huffy about how archetypes are really just three steps away from a cliche’, let me explain: an archetype is a predictable and recognizable role that your character will play in the story. Example are the mentor, the waif, the professor, the crusader, the swashbuckler, the free spirit, the nurturer. And if you use these archetypes as a foundation for the purpose of your characters, then you’ll better understand what they do in the story and how they relate to the plot as well as the other characters. They will only slip into cliche’ if you choose not to fill them with an interesting backstory, quirks, secrets, fears and mutually exclusive desires.

A family — even if they are all dead.

Even if you rarely mention them. Your character has to have come from somewhere. You will need to understand their family history well, especially if they have tragedy and dysfunction. And really, what’s the point of having a story at all if you can’t give them tragedy and dysfunction? Take the time to sketch out your characters parents, siblings and any other important family members. They have certainly shaped him or her. You need to understand that well. Consider how parents’ afflictions affect their children. Don’t forget birth order. Throw in some poverty for fun.

A skill set.

Everybody can do something. In fact, if your character is really good at one thing, they will be respected by your reader, at least in this area. The only exception to this rule could be children who haven’t grown into them. Before you figure it all out for your character, think about what life skills they rock at. Think about professional skills. What about languages they speak? Their animal whispering, their ability to make the perfect omelet? Think about oddities, like they can pop their shoulder out of its socket. Or maybe they can read minds. Your author’s skill set will distinguish him, so choose well.

“Never annoy an inspirational author or you will become the poison in her pen and the villain in every one of her books.”
Shannon L. Alder

A quirk.

A quirk is something particularly unusual and not necessarily a skill. It could be a dairy allergy or an obsession with border collies. A quirk could be an eccentricity or a lack of eyebrows. By adding a quirk to your characters, you make them more three-dimensional but choose carefully. You don’t want the quirkiness of the quirk to overpower everything else in the story. The quirk, as fun as it is, isn’t enough to make a full character. Choose one that plays nicely with the other characteristics of your character and may even add to the plot.

A lie.

This lie is not something necessarily that they KNOW is a lie. It’s something that they believe that turns out to be false. In the best books it’s the discovery of this lie, about halfway in, that changes the trajectory of the story for our hero. I think the best lies are those that have set the character out on the original quest. He’s seeking his objectives under a solid assumption, then the floor falls out from under him and he discovers he was deceived all along. Oh, if you do this well, your readers will EAT THIS UP!

Writers, you don’t want to miss this! 

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A fear.

Now bear with me on this. You don’t want something benign, like a fear of butterflies, you want something that’s really identifiable, like a fear of abandonment, a fear of humiliation, a fear of losing control, a fear of rejection. It’s this fear that’s going to cause your main character to make some serious mistakes, like alienating people or forgetting their big purpose. Everybody has these kinds of fears, even if they don’t realize it. A character’s deepest fear can be the motivation that’s driving them to make the choices that they do. As you’re working on your plot, consider what would happen if their deepest fear was actually realized!

A way to process information.

This is really important. Is your character someone who takes everything literally and for face value? Or is your character someone who can read between the lines, who picks up nuance? Does your character have empathy for others who may or may not get this information? Or does your character hoard information for himself and refuse to share? Is your main character scatterbrained? Impulsive? Indecisive? Inflexible? It’s this type of distinction that can really make your character become real to your readers. Take your time on this one — and consider making your character as different from you as possible!

If you give your character all of these nine things, and you sculpt this out with care and thoughtfulness, you’ll have created someone interesting and worth reading about.

Need help with characters? You may also like,

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces or

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character



Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

12 Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice


Narrative voice is the voice of the narrator in a story.

Every novel, especially those written in the first person, tells the story from a specific point of view.  If you’ve chosen a point of view for your story that is specific, you may find that it is complicated and difficult to keep the story only to their viewpoint. If done well, your narrative voice draws the reader into the story. The details of the thoughts and dialogue work together to make the narrator a sympathetic or likable character.

But if the narrative voice is put together thoughtlessly, your reader may bore quickly, dismiss the narrator and possibly discard your book.

Here are 12 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Creating Narrative Voice

12 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Creating Narrative Voice

You may get the age wrong. If you are writing from the point of view of a teenager or a child, you may be tempted to make them sound too much like an adult. Even if you know precocious children, make an effort to listen to kids that age to fit their words to their age.

You may get the dialect wrong. Within certain parts of the country, certain idiosyncrasies come out in speech. You can play around with this, generally, without too much trouble. But if you’re going to lay your “y’all” on thick, or throw in a few “fogettaboutits,” you may want to consult someone who grew up in that area.

You may be too committed to standard English rules. Dialogue is messy. People rarely speak in grammatically correct ways. If you keep your dialogue to precise, well-written sentences, your characters will be stiff and dull. If there’s anywhere to get away with breaking the rules of grammar, it’s in dialogue. Have fun with it.

“I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

You may have too much interior dialogue. Interior dialogue is a lot like backstory. Authors think they need it and readers skip over it. Mark up every place that you have interior dialogue and cut as much out of it as you can. Limit it to questions only. Or omit altogether and see if it’s missed at all.

You may make all your characters sound the same. Your characters should sound distinctive. Ideally, you can remove all of the dialogue tags from the draft and tell who says what. Even if it’s not that obvious, you can add individuality by adding catch phrases, stuttering, repetition, whining, commands, excuses, or one-liners.

A specific narrative voice can enhance the meaning and telling of the story.

You may have the time wrong. I am not a historical fiction writer for one reason: I don’t like research. But if you choose to write in a specific time period, you must be sure that your character speaks like they would then. Teen girls from the 1920s didn’t say, “Awesome!” If you take the trouble to find out what they did say, your dialogue will be interesting and authentic.

“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
Cornelia Funke

You may put in your own cultural preferences. Because I am a middle-aged white woman, living in New England in the 21st century, I run the risk of making all my characters sound like middle-aged white women living in New England in the 21st century. To make my dialogue sound authentic, I need to consider the culture, education, and status of my characters. These are certainly revealed in dialogue, so they should be correct.

You may make feisty unlikeable. One of the problems with reading dialogue is that we can’t accurately communicate tone or inflection. What may sound feisty and flirty to you could come across as crabby and unlikeable. This can put a distance between you and your reader. Ask your beta readers if they interpret your dialogue in any way other than what you intended. And then fix it!

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You may tell the reader too much too soon. Heaven help the writer who fills their dialogue with too much exposition! While you do want to be clear, and you do want your reader to know what’s going on, it’s hard to write exposition. I suggest you make your reader work for the important information. Assume your reader can fill in the blanks. If you scale way back, you can always add. Your beta readers can help you if you have gaps that need to be filled.

“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

You may have too much pondering. This is similar to interior monologuing, but pondering raises the bar on navel-gazing. A character who does too much of this can be boring, monotonous, and come across as a whiner. Your narrator’s deep ponderings should only be expressed if this is really critical to the plot. It’s far better to have not enough of this than too much.

You may take your reader down too many rabbit trails. While it is likely that your character is deficient in attention, too much stream of consciousness can be a turn-off. The world already has a Virginia Woolf. Consider whacking some of those tangential thoughts down into the briefest of distractions. Your reader will appreciate it.

You may reveal emotions that should be saved for later. Hopefully, you plan in the great scheme of your story to have your character grow and change. Their emotional state should grow too, this means that in their narration, they should intensify at a reasonable, steady rate. The last big climactic moment, about 2/3 in, is where the pinnacle of your character’s emotions are expressed. Too soon before that and you’ll have nowhere to go.

To have a strong narrative voice, you must practice. Write, write and rewrite.

The result of your hard work could be a Scout Finch or a Nick Carroway — two prominent voices in literature who uniqueness told unforgettable stories.

If you liked this post on narrative voice, you may also like:

Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid or, 7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces

The protagonist pushes forward, but the antagonistic force pushes back.

An antagonistic force is a person in your story who is opposing your protagonist, either in small, accidental ways or in big obvious ones.

Because of the contrast and the potential for great conflict, you want to develop your antagonist as richly as you do your main character. These four destructive character types could make your antagonist richer and even more realistic.

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces



Little Miss Victim: Their life is so, so hard.

This person has mastered the art of getting others to do their work for them. They may not even realize that they are their own worst enemy. In fiction, this could be a puppy-eyed waif who has a constant look of want. This person could also be an arthritic ailing aunt who will remind you constantly of her troubles and how she really can’t do anything without help.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

These types are resistant to change, especially if the change requires something radical on their end. They also refuse to take responsibility for their own state, so this can be a point of annoyance and resistance to the protagonist. They often can’t be trusted because their own interpretation of reality is so skewed. They may be passive to a fault, lazy beyond imagination, and manipulative. They really don’t want to do anything at all to help themselves so they have an armory of tactics that they use to get others to do their work for them. They may also be incredibly charming or attractive and they know it.

These type make life miserable for your main character, and that's exactly the point.

The Secret Sabotager:  Life isn’t fair, so it’s time to even the score!

This person is full of secret resentments and bitterness. They also see themselves as victims, but instead of being passive about it, these little devils deliberately manipulate circumstances to get others to fail.

What makes them a good antagonistic force? Their deviousness!

They could feign innocence when they get the coffee order wrong. They could “accidentally” misplace something important. They often come up with the cleverest lies and they do it so well that they’re actually believed. They also fight back against any kind of accountability. They despise authority figures. And they may talk a great game about how dependable they are, but they pretty much only do what they feel like will be the most advantageous to them.

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The Self-Important Martyr: No one else can do it like they can!

 This person is definitely a hard worker, but they know it. They push the expectations of themselves and of others too far, so they often slip into micromanaging details. They have control issues, big time. And they can’t allow anyone to have credit in what happens in the office, or at the church event, or at the family Thanksgiving table.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

They complain about everyone’s lack of contribution. Want a good conflict? Put a self-important martyr and a little miss victim in the same room. The martyr will go on and on about how they are the only one to work while the helpless waif just sits there. Even if our martyr has offers from others, he/she may have such ridiculously high standards that they lose the help they want. “It’s just easier to do it myself,” they often wail. Yet they may also say, “if it weren’t for me this whole place would fall apart.” When you set up your protagonist’s goals, the martyr will be the one who micromanages them and wants to take them over.

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The Storyteller: “Guess what happened to me last night?”

This person is all about the entertainment. They long to be the center of attention at all times. They will interrupt to say what’s on their mind. They may not have a filter — so they could be inappropriate and loud. They have little regard for tasks or others’ time commitments, so they make people late with their stories. They may even have an exaggerated perspective on what a good story is.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

Even though they don’t realize it, they can slow the protagonist down with their constant anecdotes and attention-seeking. If your protagonist is on a deadline, or the stakes are high, your storyteller could block them from getting things done. If they are corrected, the storyteller may get defensive.

Storytellers also like drama — so if they can gossip, divide allegiances, reveal secrets, start rumors or make insinuating suggestions all the better. They could be maliciously aware of what they are doing or, they may be completely innocent.

The Psychopathic Bully: This could be the most obvious and the most fun antagonistic type to write.

But the danger in writing them is that you can slip into cliche'and we really don’t need another Mean Girl, do we? This character is above the rules — whatever rules you’ve placed in your setting. And could even mean rules of morality. Yikes. We’re talking psychopath here and done well, they are the most fun to read about.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

A true psychopath has no empathy for anyone. That means that there is little or no mental acknowledgment of suffering, pain, inconvenience or offense. A psychopath doesn’t care who he hurts or how. He/she is not the least bit intimidated by repercussions, in this life or the life to come. And if they show restraint, say, they choose not to do something violent or destructive, then it’s because they are just biding their time. The psychopath could easily be all of the above antagonistic types simultaneously. They agenda that they have, they will fully believe, is completely justified and they will stop at nothing to get what they want.

I’ve met every one of these character types in real life and I bet you have too.

Consider using them, without slipping too much into exaggeration, for your next antagonist.

They’ll make life miserable for your main character, and that’s exactly the point.

If you liked this post about antagonists, you may also like: 

Eighteen Ways To Write An Emotionally Abusive Villain


Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

16 Questions About Body Language & Appearance For Your Character


You’re an author, so your job is to fully communicate what your main character are thinking, doing, or even hiding.

Often you can do this in the way that you describe their body language.

In your first scene, your main character, Roy, might have just gotten his car stolen from someone he trusted. He’s going to show this in the way he stands and holds his duffle bag of clothes. Later, when he’s flirting with a cute girl in the Wal-Mart parking lot, he stands a different way entirely. He may offer her a piece of chewing gum in such a way that it feels more like a proposition. Hopefully, in the description of Roy and his antics, you can tell the reader far more more about him that what he’s letting on.

16 Questions To Ask About A Character's Appearance and Body Language

These 16 questions can help you determine if your character has something to communicate through their body actions in a scene.

Some of them could change with the action of the character. But some of these, that are a part of your character’s appearance, could communicate significance too.

These questions are not meant to be used all at once. Instead, use them for inspiration.

1. How does your character sit when no one is looking? Is your character conscious of how they sit? Are they going for comfort or for dignity? Do they scratch?

2. What makes their walk distinctive? Are they graceful or clumsy? Do they walk with a limp? Are they in pain? Do they walk on the tips of their toes? Do they clunk along?

3. When they talk, where do they usually put their hands? Hands in pockets could be a sign of insecurity. Playing with hair is a sign of flirting. Picking cuticles could be nerves or stress.

“I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one.”
Marilyn Monroe

4. Does their hair get in the way of their eyes? Do they touch it often? Women often touch their hair unconsciously when they want to get the attention of a man.

5. Does your character have any nervous tics, like popping knuckles or picking cuticles? What do they do when the cuticles bleed? Do they bite their fingernails or fidget?

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6. Would your character be strong in a particular area, say their legs or upper arms? Do they have a history of fitness? Do they walk or run much? Will this fitness play a role in the story later?

7. Does your character smile easily? Why or why not? What is it that makes them smile? Are they self conscious about anything regarding their smile, like their braces or yellow teeth? Do they ever bite their lips or fidget with cracked lips?

“Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror.”
P.G. Wodehouse

8. When your character is bored, how do they hold themselves? Where do they put their eyes? What makes them bored? What do they do when they are irritated?

9. Are your character’s true emotions visible on their countenance? Or can they hide it well?

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10. Do your characters hands have callouses? Brittle nails? Does your character spend time keeping nails a uniform length or do they not care? Do they get manicures? Does their livelihood have anything to do with their hands?

11. Are there any visible scars that have a story for your character? Were there childhood accidents that can be explained? Abuse? Last month’s bar fight?

“Appearance matters a great deal because you can often tell a lot about people by looking at how they present themselves.”
Lemony Snicket, The Miserable Mill

12. Are there any tattoos that have a story for your character? Are the tattoos a whimsical decision or one well thought out? Does your character have a specific look they are after?

13. Does your character’s self-perception of their body make a difference? Is your character insecure about anything? Do they suck in their gut around the opposite sex? What do they hate when they look in the mirror? Do they love something specific? What do they wish they could change?

14. When your character is with others, do they stand with open arms, receiving others, or do they close up to reject others? Is your character a hugger? Do they have a problem with certain kinds of touching? Do they ever overdo it?

“Posture is Paramount.”
Cindy Ann Peterson, My Style, My Way: Top Experts Reveal How to Create Yours Today

15.  Is your character’s coloring — their hair, and skin color — significant to the story? Do they sunburn easily? Do they look like a particular nationality or race? Are they ever mistaken for another? Is their hair color authentic? Why or why not? Are they trying to look younger or older?

16. Are the cares of life evident on your character’s face? Are they wrinkled? Do they have the pale skin or the wrinkled lips of a smoker? Do they have worry lines or laugh lines? Freckles? Blemishes? Unruly eyebrows?

Your characters should be rich and dynamic creations that your readers fall in love with.

Consider these questions when creating their appearance and determining their body language. Through their appearance, they can help tell a great story.

Did you like this post? You may also like:

5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters

Or, Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Why Mutually Exclusive Desires Make Great Conflicts


Your story should be jammed packed with conflicts.

You should have conflicts about the setting, like the tropical storm that’s been seen down south is heading north and could turn into a hurricane. Or, you could have conflicts about every day life, like maybe the cat is missing and he has a history of getting caught in small spaces. Also, you could have conflicts involving sickness, like a character with Crohn’s disease can’t stop eating animal crackers. Or maybe a conflict regarding money: the bank may foreclose on the family homestead any minute now.

A great story has many kinds of conflicts all layered on each other, each eating away at the main objectives of the main character.

Why Mutually Exclusive Desires Make Great Conflicts

But the best conflict -- the one that will keep your reader turning pages is on that pits two…

Mutually exclusive desires are when our character, let’s say, Steve, wants to do one thing, but he also wants to do something else.

He wants to provide his family with a good home and oboe lessons for his daughter but he also wants to play the ponies at the track. Another example could be that Steve wants more power and responsibility in his neighborhood gang, but he also wants not to whack his best friend for ratting out.

Good mutually exclusive goals can work side by side for a while, but then, somewhere about 2/3 of the way into the story, Steve has to choose.

He realizes that if he takes what he wants all along, then he’ll have to sacrifice something that he wants even more. This is the hinge on which the entire second act sits. It’s this moment that sets up the climactic ending. The reader understands that he can achieve only one of these goals. This is the type of stuff that your reader will eat with a spoon. This is the type of story telling that keeps those pages turning. WHAT WILL HE DO?

But let’s back up a minute. How did you get to this point in your story telling? How have you set Steve up so that he can get into this great climactic situation?

You start with Abraham Maslow.

Maslow was this scientist in the 1930s who came up with this hierarchy of needs for individuals in society. He was not a novelist. I’m not even sure he knew how to create a character. But what he did do was articulate how people get their needs met.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Most of this is going to make a lot of sense to you.

You’ve been in those places where you yourself had mutually exclusive needs and it caused conflict. Conflicts are not so much fun when they happen to us in real life — but they are great fun in stories. If your character, say, Steve, wanted to have this one thing in his life. But then it threatened another equally important desire. He would have to make a choice on what to do about it.

While you are plotting, consider all the needs that Steve has:

Are they at the bottom of the pyramid? He needs to maintain his immediate food, clothing and shelter needs. If your story is a wilderness adventure story, this will be obvious. Steve has to find a place away from the elements to sleep tonight. He’s not sure he has enough jerky for one more day. He also thinks he’s being followed by a bear.  If he stays here, he’ll certainly die from exposure. If he travels on, there is no guarantee of shelter. What will he do?

Or are they on the next level up? If your story is a thriller, Steve wants to keep the Soviets from destroying the military installation in his hometown. Steve is worried not just about his family, but also his neighborhood and maybe if he’ll lose his job at the bank to the communists. If he confronts the Soviets, then they could kill him. But if he doesn’t they’ll destroy capitalism anyway and he won’t have a job, but he’ll be alive. What will he do?

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Or do things get a bit complex with Steve’s relationships? If your story is a family saga, Steve’s issues may be harder to find. He may want to pursue his lifelong goal of touring with a traveling bassoon ensemble. But he’s worried what his father will say. He could lose this opportunity to play or he could lose the family fortune. His band adores him. They can’t function without him. But a cool ten million could buy him friends. What will he do?

Or Is it really all about Steve’s inner life? In the next level, Steve’s quest for significance could come from his life’s work: A book Amish Zombie Princesses. His manuscript has been stolen. The low life who stole it is really his loyal writing coach. These aren’t life and death stakes, but they are gripping nonetheless. He could fight for his book, after all it took him a whole week to write! But then he loses a friend and a mentor. What will he do?

And as for the upper level? To be honest, few books are written with those kinds of needs– the need for self-actualization. Les Miserables is one of the few novels I can think of that touch on those needs. You may find that your readers identify more with the needs on the lower levels.

And that fine, the lower the level, the more likely you have hand-to-hand combat and that’s always fun to read.

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All of this is well and good but unless you put your character in a position, about 2/3 of the way through the story, in which he has to choose between two needs.

He can also choose between two needs that are on two separate levels. Many of the great books you’ve read or films you’ve watched have this kind of choice. A great storyteller will bring his reader along for the ride. But then, a choice must be made, and to the reader it is excruciating.

What does Steve choose?

Steve makes a choice that is not necessarily predictable, but the one that makes the most sense. He can choose a third option that satisfies neither needs. He can come up with an option that satisfied both. The final choice he makes is the climactic moment. After that choice is made, the results should be final and permanent. Hopefully the reader will say, “Of course! That’s the only real choice after all.”

In your story, make sure you have many layers of conflict, but for your main character, develop his needs intentionally.

He’s going to have to make a choice. It doesn’t have to be the right one, but it does have to be the best way to end a story.

Did you like this post? Want to read more like it?

Try this:

Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict


Top 10 Things You Can Do When You Are Stuck, Either Literally or Figuratively


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character

You’ve picked out your character’s eye color, hair color, and favorite ice cream.

You have even chosen their personality type, their deep dark secret, and deepest fear. You certainly haven’t ignored their greatest desire and figured out how their objective in the story works with, or against, this desire.

So have you thought about adding a few defense mechanisms?

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character

A defense mechanism is a way that we handle stress.

Defense mechanisms are often involuntary and can be seen as a form of self-deception. Your main character needs one or two because he shouldn’t be perfect. They should have a reason that they react to certain situations certain ways. They also could have been taught how to do this in their dysfunctional childhood.

A defense mechanism is often a subtle nod to the past, a protective strategy or a bad habit. It could even be a lie that they have built their life on.

Your character should see this behavior as normal. Once you’ve decided what mechanism your character is going to use, then put them in a position where it will not work. He will have to make a tough choice as to what to do next. This could freak him out completely. Let’s all pull the rug out from under our characters.


Denial is probably the most common of self-deceptions. People just can’t admit the truth about their situation. “I can stop drinking anytime I want.” “I don’t have to tell her every day that I love her, she just knows.” People use this device because they are afraid of admitting that they are in the wrong. They also fear change, because if they fully understood what they were doing, they’d have to take responsibility for their actions. Those who deny are seeking comfort in the short term because they don’t want to deal with the future. Denial can be deadly, it can alienate relationships, it can cause disaster. Your main character should deny something but then come to a place where he has to face reality. This can set him on a series of uncomfortable changes that could be good for him.


Intellectualization is kind of like denial, but it’s the logical justification for an event that allows the feeler to deny all emotions. People who are typically colder or less sensitive may react to bad news with no expression. They may be matter-of-fact about the event and appear to everyone to have complete control of their emotions. But they don’t. They may speak about logic, “there’s not much we can do about it now.” But then, something else will happen that will pull the plug on their emotions and they will reveal how painful they find the circumstances. Their emotions at this point could be very intense because they’ve kept it inside for a long time.


Repression is another thing that people do to themselves. To repress is to forget a negative experience and to not deal with the pain and sorrow of it. People who repress their memories of bad experiences are afraid. They don’t want to relive the experience to be free from the emotional consequences of it. They also may want to avoid any responsibility that they may have. If you have a character who is repressing something significant, have them remember! Then spend the rest of the book wrestling with the fallout from this memory. Repression can stall personal growth, it can subconsciously force someone to self-sabotage their plans or activities.


Rationalization is another way that we lie to ourselves. We try to explain negative situations away. We cover up our mistakes and refuse to admit that our weakness could have caused them. The worst of us actually abuse others and then explain why we can get away with it. Rationalizers honestly believe that they will not be held responsible for their actions. They can’t fathom the idea that they are guilty. If your main character is a rationalizer, it could be that they aren’t that likable. Rationalization could be better suited for a villain who sees himself as a hero in his own eyes.


In displacement, the strong emotions, usually negative ones, are not given to the person responsible for them, but rather in another scenario. You poor main character has just been jilted by her boyfriend. He’s seeing another girl! Now your main character still has to do the grocery shopping, so she calmly gets through her list and goes to check out. The cashier asks her question, “do you have any coupons?” And our main character snaps back, yells at the cashier and bursts into tears. This is displacement because our poor jilted young woman placed her strong emotions on the innocent. Your main character can do this too!


For example, Desdemona really believes that she is too fat. She went to school, minding her own business, and realized that she had been left out of an activity. Everyone else is going except her. She concluded that this is because she is fat.  She’s projected her conclusions about herself onto another situation. There was once a father I knew who accused my children of being depressed. I went to a friend, a social worker — someone I knew who could spot depression — and she found this accusation laughable. It turns out that the father had seen depression in his own children. He projected it onto mine because he didn’t want to deal with it. Your characters could do the same thing.


This term comes to me just as I finished watching clips of “Much Ado About Nothing.” In this Shakespearean play, two characters, Benedick and Beatrice spew banter back and forth, decrying how much they can’t stand each other. But their friends secretly believe that they love each other. The friends set them up to fall in love, but therein lies the question. Did they love each other? Were those fiery barbs really signs that they couldn’t bear to be apart? This is reaction formation. This is when what we say and how we really feel are in opposition to each other. This is an intense form of self-deception and it happily plays itself out in romances. Because of “Much Ado About Nothing,” I’ve decided to put a bit of this in my fantasy work-in-progress.


If you have a character that is the life of the party, a stand-up comedian or a class clown, you may have someone who is using their joking personality as a way to deal with their pain. I know that when I’m nervous about a situation, I make jokes. Part of me believes that lightening things up a bit will make everyone at ease. But the reality is that I want others’ attention off of me and my weakness. I’d rather not deal with the pain of the situation and I’m hoping, probably falsely, that humor is a good substitute for authenticity.

A well-rounded character is one that has weaknesses and isn’t completely perfect in the eye of the reader.

If you have characters that have pain in their past, consider giving them any of these defense mechanisms as they deal with those around them.

A good defense mechanism is far more interesting than eye color. For a deeper explanation of these defense mechanisms, click here.

For more tips on rich character development, try: 5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters or Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict

Ten Questions To Ask Before Writing An Interesting Scene

In a novel, what is a scene?

A scene is a small increment of the story that progresses the story forward. A novel is full of them. And while this may seem obvious, they ain’t easy to write.

Have you written a scene and not known where to start?

10 Questions To Ask Before Writing An Interesting Scene

Ask yourself these ten questions!

The purpose of a scene is to put the characters in a new situation in which they are either pushed toward or pulled away from their objectives. Your scenes are the necessary steps that the characters take for the advancement of the story. Your characters could be in the scene deliberately, say Betty and Veronica arrived at the coffee shop to meet the woman with the dog for sale. Or they could be in the scene accidentally, say, they were pushed into the back room of the coffee shop by an armed intruder who was taking hostages.

1. Who will be in the scene? At the top of a piece of paper, make a list of characters that are absolutely necessary for this scene and no more.

2. What does each character do? Each character should have an objective in the scene. It may mean they have to keep a secret, deliver a note, or make dinner. They need to be busy with a particular purpose. Betty is there to speak to a dog owner about buying a poodle. Veronica is there because she’d rather help Betty than go home to her deadbeat boyfriend.

3. What are the consequences if the character doesn’t do what they are supposed to? If you write this down now, you can see what options you have for the scene. The more interesting the consequences, the better for this scene. Betty’s wanted a dog for a long time, ever since Foo Foo died, so if this doesn’t work out, she’ll be all the more depressed. If Veronica can’t decide what to do about her bf, Harold, then she’ll have to pay his rent again.

“Every scene should be able to answer three questions: “Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?”
David Mamet

4. What is the emotional temperature of each character? Whatever you do, don’t make them content! They need to irritated, sleepy, hungry, impatient or exasperated. They need to be fearful or stressed or in love. Whatever their state, they have to be in tension. The purpose of the scene is to either increase their tension or decrease it. Betty is on the verge of tears, she misses her old dog so much. Veronica keeps rehashing all of Harold’s sins and gets angry.

5. What do you want the final outcome of the scene to be? Next to every character make a positive + or a negative – sign. For those that will end positively, come up with at least six things that can be done or said that can bring them to the end of the scene with hope. For those that will end negatively, come up with at least six things that can be done or said that will pull them farther away from their goal. This is where their main objectives of the story may change. Betty’s change may be that she no longer wants to buy a poodle off Craig’s List, she just wants to survive. Veronica is so angry with Harold, that she has no trouble standing up to the gunman.

“[T]he success of every novel — if it’s a novel of action — depends on the high spots. The thing to do is to say to yourself, “What are my big scenes?” and then get every drop of juice out of them.”
P.G. Wodehouse

6. What gift are you giving your reader? Each scene’s purpose is to give the reader more information, to have them pulled one way or the other, to reveal more secrets, or to have them grow in empathy for your main characters. If your reader isn’t coming away with a “gift,” or better still, a “surprise” in one of these things, then the scene isn’t necessary. Cut it now not after you’ve been sculpting that 3000 word monster for a month. For example, the gunman IS HAROLD! This infuriates Veronica. She takes the gun from him and forces him to his knees.

7. What is the pacing of the scene? If there is a lot of action, then your sentences should be short and your verbs vibrant and active. If you want a slower, more descriptive or contemplative scene, then choose longer sentences. In the beginning, when Betty is missing her old dog and Veronica is just a bit miffed, the sentences could be longer and reflective, but as the gunman enters and forces everyone to the back room, the action kicks in gear. The sentences are shorter. The dialogue is sharp and to the point. Betty whimpers. Veronica is enraged.

“Structure isn’t anything else but telling the story, starting as late as possible, starting each scene as late as possible. You don’t want to begin with “Once upon a time,” because the audience gets antsy.”
William Goldman

8.How does this scene play with the scenes around it? You should be taking your reader on an interesting ride. This means that the scenes should alternate in action-packed and more passive. The emotionally gripping scenes should have a breather between them in which the main character (and the reader too) can stop and catch their breath. The scene before this one was when Betty finally got dressed and decided that a new pet would get her out of her funk. Or, the scene before this one was when Veronica had chewed out Harold for the millionth time. The scene after? Veronica is at the police station, giving a statement. Betty has snapped out of it, she’s the best attorney in the state!

9.How much attention do you need to the setting? Probably not much, unless it’s critical to the objective of the scene. Go easy on the description. Keep it to only a handful of sensory descriptions. In my example, we don’t need a detailed description of the coffee shop. You could say “hipster” and “reclaimed wood” and “chalkboard menus” and every reader in the world would know what you were talking about. With your setting description, keep it simple too.

10. What would happen if this scene got omitted? Be brutal. Unless the action or the emotion of the scene is critical to the next scene, don’t bother. Without fully knowing all of Betty and Veronica’s saga, we don’t know whether this scene is important or not. If the story is about the true love between Veronica and Harold, then it’s probably important. If the story has to do with Betty’s law career, maybe not. Take a step back and looking at the entire book before deciding.

Answer these questions before you draft!

If can adequately answer them, and then keep your notes with you, the actual drafting should be easier. It could also be that once you answer the questions, the draft takes you on a different tangent altogether — like the poodle seller is a spy, or the coffee shop owner has been in love with Betty for years.

Scene creating is slippery, but perhaps with these questions, you can get a good handle on the creation of them for your novel.

Need more help with scenes? Try these 14 Easy Ways To Bring Your Scenes To Life or What To Do When A Scene Isn’t Working



I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Eighteen Ways To Write An Emotionally Abusive Villain



Let’s say you want to write a villain who doesn’t wear black, doesn’t have a weapon and doesn’t do all the things that typical baddies do.You want an emotionally abusive villain.

Emotionally abusive villains are scarier than the Darth Vader types, in my humble opinion. They can play with a person’s mind, trick them into thinking that they are safe, twist their reality and torture their soul. In real life and in real literature  emotionally abusive villains have been responsible for all kinds of evil.

Often emotional abusers are subtle.

They don’t go for the obvious name calling. Instead they want to be see as following the letter of the law. They’ll look good, but inside be crawling with nastiness.

Eighteen Ways To Write An Emotionally Abusive Villain

This list is an idea of how you can make your antagonist more evil. You probably have met people like this. (I’m sorry. Here’s a hug.)

They interrupt. Many people interrupt, but abusers interrupt because they hold contempt for the speaker. Their words are the most important and they don’t care who knows it. Your emotionally abusive villain should interrupt constantly.

They take someone’s exact words and throws them back at them. In an argument, an abuser will use anything they can to confuse or frustrate the speaker. Your emotionally abusive villain should always be listening for secret words that they can throw back in your protagonist’s face.

Makes assumptions about your motives. Your emotionally abusive villain should have a twisted sense of reality: they’ll believe that everyone is just as evil as he is.

“It is not the the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.”
Aisha Mirza

Drones on for hours about problems, talking in circles, wearing you down so you will agree just to get them to stop. Abusers are often illogical and love the sound of their own voice. Your emotionally abusive villain should tie your protagonist up into a web of words that are confusing and baffling.

Redefines words to make them mean what they want them to mean. Abusers believe that they are the authority on certain issues and they will make sure that you are educated. Your emotionally abusive villain should believe in their own “superior” intelligence and demonstrate it at every chance.

One-ups you at every opportunity. Abusers love putting you down. They can outdo nearly everything about your life because the want to be the best. Your emotionally abusive villain should look for chances to show off and then pout if they don’t get one.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Blames you for things that are out of your control. Abusers don’t see that you accidentally fell down the stairs and broke your ankle. Abusers claim it was your klutziness that did it. Your emotionally abusive villain should take advantage of your protagonists bad luck and make them feel as bad as they can.

Exercises financial control over you. An abuser will want to have a joint checking account with you. They will want to know how much things cost. They don’t mind loaning you money if they can use the loan to manipulate you later.

Subtly attacks the things you love, like your spouse or your pets. Abusers will sneer at the things that you have the most affection for because they don’t love at all. They really are jealous of the things you’ve opened your heart to. Your emotionally abusive villain should have nothing nice to say about anything.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
Henry James

Ignores your excitement about your passions or preferences. An abuser will often react passively to your good news or your next opportunity. They withhold affection and excitement on purpose because they know they can control you. Your emotionally abusive villain should be cold. Ice cold.

Mocks or makes fun of you, even in little things. An abuser often uses every opportunity to tease you or point out your flaws. “Oh, your toes have always been so fat!” Or, “are you going to spill the soda this time like you did last time?” Your emotionally abusive villain should think that this is what a good sense of humor is and accuse the protagonist of not having one.

Makes a big fuss over little favors. Abusers will never want you to forget that it was they that had the bus fare, or they were the ones that bought lunch that day, or if it weren’t for them we wouldn’t have umbrellas! This is all they’ve got, so they milk it for all it’s worth. Your emotionally abusive villain should remind everyone around them how they saved the day! THEY ARE THE HEROES!

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Claims that they will “always be there for you” but then balks when you do need them. Abusers must be seen as the hero, even though they rarely give selflessly. Your emotionally abusive villain should find plenty of excuses not to actually help out others when they have a need, but if there is an audience  . . .

Has an manipulative attachment to gifts. They are used as a reminder later, or they are to remind you that they owe you, or they are to help you get over your anger, or they are to used to control you. Villains like this may demand that their gifts be displayed prominently. They may keep score of who gave you what so that they can be ahead and “win.” Your emotionally abusive villain should never give a gift that isn’t used for an ulterior motive.

Disrespects your belongings, such as selling things without asking. They may assume that they can take something that was once a gift from them to you. They may treat an item of yours carelessly. Your emotionally abusive villain should never respect the property of others.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Denies promises that they kept. Abusers have no trouble making promises because it makes them look good, but they have a lot of trouble with inconvenience. Don’t trust them to keep their word. Your emotionally abusive villain should deny everything if someone reminds them of promises they’ve made.

Claims that you make things up. Abusers often claim that your imagination can’t be trusted. An abuser may also questions your reality. This is gaslighting and consistent, long term behavior like this can have brutal effects on a victim’s emotional state. This is one of the most insidious forms of emotional abuse and victims have been known to take their own lives simply because they don’t trust their own reality.

Withholds money or information because they like having the power. Abusers are incredibly stingy and will only give if they think that it is in their best interest. They will not give because it is the right thing to do. They give because they want power, regardless of what it is they are giving. Your emotionally abusive villain should work very hard to remain secretive and stingy.

Pits you against other people around you. Abusers deliberately seek out the weak and easy to manipulate. If they have an enemy, and they always have an enemy, they will orchestrate drama on purpose just to cause trouble.  Your emotionally abusive villain should always be looking for an empath to take advantage of.

So, I’m really glad I can recognize the emotional abusers in my life. These type of people are no fun at all to know in real life. But in fiction, they can be a great antagonist.

What else can you add to this list to make an emotionally abusive villain real?


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Does Your Backstory Make Your Readers Stabby?


Oh yes, you’ve been working on that character’s backstory for months!

You’ve written thousands of words of backstory! You know how his parents met, how he got that scar on his pasty white tuckus, and why he gets all shaky and whiny when he’s served enchiladas. This is all important stuff you told yourself as you dumped it out into the first chapter of your work-in-progress. It sets the stage! The readers can really know him! This will make the story richer!

Your character’s backstory may have bored your reader to tears.

They left after the second or third page. They want a story: they don’t want genealogical report or long-winded childhood account. (Although that bit about the enchiladas was creepy.)

Does Your Backstory Make Your Reader Stabby? By Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Best case scenario, your readers just thought that they would put your book aside and wait for when they needs a good relaxant before bed. Worst case? All of your details and exposition made them want to take a sharp knife and stab their Kindle with the force of Hurricane Sandy.

Don’t make your readers stabby.

Here’s how to avoid it.

Ask a beta reader or critique partner to highlight only the most important of information. Go through your manuscript and evaluate every sentence that is not action or dialogue and ask, “is this information critical to the story?” If it isn’t, cut it out. It’s going to hurt. You’ve grown very attached to this character’s past. I don’t recommend mixing alcohol and editing, but if it will help, pour yourself a drink while you hack away.

Make a note of any point of view problems. You must stay in the head of the narrative character. It could be that you’ve had your main character pondering his childhood trauma with enchiladas, but let’s be realistic here, how often should he wax nostalgic? Eliminate all interior monologue rabbit trails. If the thoughts aren’t consistent with the main character and don’t add to the story, you’ll need to cut it out.

Track how much action is in the story. Action is when any character does something physically to meet his objectives. A character that moves purposefully is a character that is progressing the story. You want lots of this. You want your main character to DO STUFF that is unrelated to that tuckus scar. (Unless, of course, you write erotica. And if you do, I don’t want details.)

“Backstory is actually at its most powerful when we don’t tell it—or rather when we don’t show it. The strength of backstory is its looming shadow. Readers know it’s there, they see it’s having an effect upon the characters, but they don’t always need to know the nitty-gritty details.”
— K.M. Weiland

Give your reader credit. Your reader is very familiar with the art of storytelling. They can piece bit together without you explaining every little thing. Readers can make conclusions on their own. They can connect dots on their own. If you give them too much exposition or backstory, it’s kind of like you’re insulting their intelligence. Nothing makes me stabbier than people thinking I’m stupid.

Make a list of the absolutely most important details and then drop them in like breadcrumbs. With exposition, less is more. Your reader may want the information you’re withholding if you’ve spread it far apart enough. The little bits you do give will make them curious. That’s a good thing. Curious readers turn pages. Curious readers finish books.

Use dialogue as a place to share information. But do it well. Someone needs to not know what’s going on. Have them ask questions. Then use your main character to only give them a little big of information. Here’s an example:

Main character's date: "Why aren't you eating those enchiladas?"

Main character: "These? These?" He catches his breath, swallows, downs a glass of water and pushed the plate away. "I haven't liked them since I was six. Can you take them away? Can you take them away, NOW?"

The problem with the enchiladas isn’t fully explained, but it doesn’t need to be. The reader’s curiosity is piqued and they’ll keep reading to find out what’s going on with specific Mexican foods and this poor loser’s childhood.

Review story structure rules. My friend K.M. Weiland often says that if there’s a problem with a story, it’s almost always a structural one. I firmly believe that the best way to make ourselves better story tellers is to really understand structure inside and out. Once you do, you’ll see that too much backstory and exposition can kill a story’s pacing. Not to mention make your readers stabby. Need help with story structure? Look here. 

You CAN make your story lively, fast-paced, and gripping.

To do so, you’ll need to look at that backstory and exposition with a brutal eye. I know, I know, you worked so hard on this. The backstory creation is for you. The elimination of unnecessary details is for your reader.

If your readers are stabby, then they’re not going to enjoy your book.

They could get bored, skip over parts, put your book down and forget about it. They could not leave a review for you, nor recommend it to your friends.

By controlling your backstory and exposition, your making the whole story a richer experience.

And you’ll probably save someone a fortune in damages.

I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Four Reasons Why Authors Shouldn’t Be Nice In Their Stories

Nice authors can be dull ones.

I think that authors should be well-behaved and respectful. They should have great ethics and never be undignified or rude in public where their readers can see them. I fully believe that an author’s brand is far too fragile (especially in this competitive market) to risk alienation by their readers for their bad behavior.

But when it comes their writing, authors need to stop being meek. Instead they should be as mean as they can possibly be within the confines of their genre.

If well-mannered authors carry their sweetness into their stories too much, they risk weakening their books.

Nice people can make dull writers.

In Their Stories by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

Not-so-nice authors need to be hard on their main characters. Great stories are built on conflict and the more conflict, the more tension. The more tension? The more the readers are engaged in what’s going on. A sweet and gentle writer may feel sorry for their poor main character and ease up on them a bit. But that will put readers to sleep faster than herbal tea. Instead, once the protagonist’s goal is determined, the not-so-nice author should put obstacles and setbacks around every corner. So what if the protagonist doesn’t like it? They aren’t real!

Not-so-nice authors need to start some wars between characters. Nothing makes me more stabby than when my children argue for the sake of arguing. I am a huge fan of peace and quiet. But in my books, I need to be willing to start some personality wars. A not-so-nice author should create deceptions, misunderstandings, lies, contradictions and failures. The protagonist does need his squad around him, but some bickering would make the story more interesting. This is for book, the bickering will be quiet. Unlike my kids.

“If you actually succeed in creating a utopia, you’ve created a world without conflict, in which everything is perfect. And if there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading!”

— Veronica Roth

Not-so-nice authors need to put all of the conflict resolutions late in the second act. If a tender-hearted author decides to solve the big problems for the main character too early, the the story doesn’t feel right. Rising conflict should have a goal: that ultimate moment about 3/4 of the way in. Not-so-nice authors realize this and have the protagonist’s struggles get worse and worse up to that point. Who wants the reader to stop early? No one!

Not-so-nice authors need to use all types of conflicts in the story. Conflicts come in layers. An overly sensitive author may just keep the story to the protagonist and the acquisition of his goal. But a not-so-nice author may incorporate the main character’s health issues, the unreliable vehicle, or the impending tornado. A not-so-nice author not just uses the antagonist to thwart the main character, but has the IRS show up too. A complex series of setback and roadblocks make a story interesting. Don’t worry too much about the main character, he’s going to make it in the end and be all the stronger for it. The more conflicts a not-so-nice author puts in the story, the greater the tension, the more interesting the story and the more enjoyable it will be for the readers.

Save your niceness for your online persona.

Put that mean and torturous streak into your stories!

Are you too nice? What can you do to increase the tension in your story? 

I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters


Super powers always come from somewhere.

Does your main character have super powers? If your main character has a history of abuse then you may have a super hero on your hands. This isn’t just the stuff of Marvel Comics. In real life, victims of abuse — at least those that have sought therapy, identified all facets of their past, and dealt with their pain — often display super powers that ordinary mortals don’t.

These superpowers came from years of practice.

Do Your Abused Characters Have These Super Powers? By Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

They’re survival skills turned up to eleven. If you have a character whose past is particularly tragic, consider using some of these characteristics to portray them. Keep in mind: all abuse victims are different. Their personalities will be just as varied as anyone else. Your superhero abuse victim could only have one of these, or even ones I haven’t thought of!

These are the super powers!


  1. They often are great communicators. They are used to being misunderstood so they’ve taken extra effort to say the right words, be precise and clear in what they mean. This is a superpower because the average mortal may not put as much care into it as they do. This is also why so many troubled souls are in the creative arts.
  2. They often can size up a situation really well. Sometimes they read others’ emotional cues so that they can avoid conflict. They will see body language and facial expression nuance that others may miss. They’ve been reading their abusers for years, so they know how to observe. This is a super power because of all the practice they’ve had. It can save them, but it can also cause them to be more isolated, so tomato, tomahto.
  3. They think fast on their feet. If they’ve been in an abusive situation, they’ve learned how to survive by snap decisions. They can turn on a dime. Often they’d rather make a choice, even a bad one, that sit still because it means there’s hope of success. This is a super power because their fight or flight trigger is well worn, but it’s not perfect. Sometimes they find themselves in bigger messes.
  4. They are really empathetic. Survivors of abuse are usually tenderhearted toward others. They tear up often and show compassion to others. Rejection is a fresh wound so they can identify with others’ pain really well. This is a super power because they will be one of the first people to step up to fight for justice.
  5. They are creative. Their past may have required them to come up with solutions for problems with few resources. They can think outside the box well. This is a super power because it works so nicely with the other powers. You really want someone like this on your side.

They also have weaknesses!

Does Your Abused Character Have These Weaknesses? By Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

  1. They have triggers, some that are even a bit weird. Victims of abuse have been repeatedly exposed to certain tones of voice, certain scenarios, certain patterns. If you have someone with an abusive past, not only will your character react to specific triggers — they may react and hide it from others. This is a complicated issue and if you want to get it right, study PTSD. This is kryptonite because it can come without warning and render them useless. You don’t want that in a crisis.
  2. They have trouble trusting others. Sometimes victims of abuse make a habit of keeping to themselves because they just don’t want to be hurt again. This is Kryptonite because relationships are vital to good mental health.
  3. They’re easily manipulated. They’ve been a victim of manipulators so sometimes they have trouble discerning who is trustworthy and who isn’t. However, you could have a survivor who is really self-aware and now can spot manipulators quickly. This is Kryptonite because they are the first to fall for predatory situations. Often this is a destructive and tragic pattern.
  4. They struggle with their identity and their self-acceptance. This is a life long struggle and it comes out especially in times of stress. This is Kryptonite because they may never fully see their true value, take chances or care for themselves like they should.
  5. They have bad memories associated with major events. Sometimes they may not handle holidays well. They may self-medicate around sentimental or emotional events that remind them of past pain. This is Kryptonite for obvious reasons. All of these super powers come with a severe cost. Being a hero isn’t often that great.

People with a history of abuse are complicated, paradoxical, and unique.

These ten qualities are far from a complete picture.

If you want to get into more detail about what drives them and what’s going on in their head, check out resources like these. Characteristics of Emotionally Abused People. Profile of an Emotionally Abused Victim. Abuse victim characteristics. 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid

by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Forget about hair color and broad shoulders and kissable lips.

The best stories have characters  that are complex,  well drawn and have such interesting inner and outer struggles that readers can’t help but be fascinated by them.

There are hundreds of ways to develop character, from figuring out their favorite ice cream flavors to starting with an archetype and building on it. This is just one little list to set you thinking.  If you only manage a couple of these, your characters will be more vivid, more interesting and strong enough to carry a reader through your story.

Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

1. Give them a secret that you won’t reveal to the readers until halfway through the book. It can be a huge plot twist, like the fact that they are blind or it can be something small, like they have an addiction to reality television. This could also be a habit that they’re ashamed of, a criminal record or an unconfessed sin. The fear of exposure should be a driving force for them.

2. Give them a chronic disease. Now this will require some research on your part, but having some physical limitation or hindrance will not only make them more interesting, but it will also require them to compensate. Do a little homework though, and pick diseases that aren’t overdone by other authors. And don’t forget to research this well. A reader who spots an inconsistency or laziness will not be happy.

“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
Cornelia Funke

3. Give them an aversion or irrational fear toward something that is common, like cell phones. A fear like this has to have a cause and it also has to change their behavior in some way. Use this fear against them when the plot thickens, when the antagonist finds out about it, or the love interest can’t understand it.

4.Give them a desire that they don’t even know that they have, like security or acceptance or love. At our core, we all have desires for justice, security, love, and even sometimes vengeance. The best characters touch on this universal desires. Any struggle that your characters have with these big issues will make them more interesting to the reader.

5. Give them a significant other/sidekick/sibling/partner in crime who is their exact opposite in every way. Opposites attract, right? Make your sidekick and other supporting characters different from your main character. Pay attention to the opposing stands they take to the issues and events that your main character faces. This can add some juicy conflict and conflict is what story is all about.

“Character, I think, is the single most important thing in fiction. You might read a book once for its interesting plot—but not twice.”
Diana Gabaldon

6. Give them a significant other/sidekick/sibling/partner in crime who is just like them in every way, only exaggerated. Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Think Frasier Crane and his brother Niles. They were alike in so many ways, but Niles was more exaggerated. This similarity made Frasier look reasonable by contrast. Niles provided much needed comic relief. And together, they were pretty funny.

7. Give them a personality disorder. Don’t know which one? Check this out. Personality disorders are very, very common in real life. And if you know how to write a character who is a clinical narcissist or who is histrionic, then not only  will you get some great conflict, but you’ll also engage the reader. These types are fun to read and write about. In real life, ahem, not so much.

8. Give them a mental list of things that they will not do, ever. If you had a character who had a few OCD tendencies, say, and they wouldn’t wear the color red, say the word moist, walk on one side of the street, allow their food to touch and make their shoes always point north, then you would have an interesting character. Then, of course, put them situations where they must do them. Hehe. That’s the fun of being an author!

“The best books come from someplace deep inside…. Become emotionally involved. If you don’t care about your characters, your readers won’t either.”
Judy Blume

9. Give them a chance to order a pizza with friends. Explain every decision they make doing this. I love this tool. I find once I have created my cast of characters, little exercises like this will allow me to see them in new ways. Make sure that you’ve developed all your characters in such a way that making decisions like this will be easy.

10.Give them five favorite books. One from childhood, one fiction, one non-fiction, one that they would never admit to and one that they often give away as a gift. Why? Our bookshelves speak a lot about us. Think also about your character’s reading habits: Hardcover or Kindle version? A fast reader or a slow reader? Book club member? Audiobook lover? Any specific decisions you make about this will fill your character’s personality and preferences out nicely.

Each of these suggestions are here not necessarily to fill out that 90K manuscript.

Instead, they should be used as a way to sculpt the character better in your mind.

When you write description, dialogue, when you put them in their conflicts and when you have them react to the situations around them, you’ll know them. You’ll like them. And hopefully, your reader will too.

Got any more? Let’s here them!