Workshop Tales: How Secondary Characters Can Make or Break Your Novel

hlayer_richards-u3552A Guest Post by Ramona Richards

When I open my workshop on secondary characters, I often tell about editing one of the first novels of a best-selling Christian author—and how I delivered the news to her that she needed to cut one of her secondary characters.

She wasn’t happy. I could understand her concern. This young man had a significant role in her book from Chapter 2 right up to Chapter 40. He was the heroine’s friend and sidekick. But, despite all her intentions, he had turned into much more than a sidekick; he was a distraction. He drove much of the action by making decisions that should have belonged to the heroine, and for 300-plus pages, the reader became more interested in him than the hero.

He was a prime example of how secondary characters can easily kill a book, especially in romance novels, in two ways:

1) They’re too weak or too strong. Neither is good when it comes to secondary characters. If they’re too weak, they can fail to perform their duties, which is to engage the reader (and editor!) in all aspects of the H/H’s lives. If they’re too strong, they become as dynamic or more so than the lead(s). They take over roles and duties that should be carried out by the leads, thus weakening the lead’s character development.

For instance, one of the most infamous “secondary who took over” characters in movie history has to be Captain Jack Sparrow. According to the writers, the protagonist of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie is Elizabeth. The film opens with her, and is primarily her story. But it’s not her entrance that people recall when they think of the film.

2) They proliferate like little bunnies. There are so many of them, no one can keep them straight. In addition to having a secondary character who tries to take over, the easiest way to lose an editor’s attention is for your story to be confusing or annoying. By the time you introduce, describe, and give a life history to the 20th secondary character, an editor is going to be both.

For instance, everyone knows that it takes hundreds of crew members to make a cruise ship run smoothly. But if you set a romantic suspense book on a boat that size, don’t involve your reader with everyone on the ship’s manifest.

Take a moment to think about some of your favorite secondary characters, either your own or from well-known books or movies. Any of them take over? Which ones would you like to see have their own story told?

As we go through the workshop, I’ll give tips and guidelines on developing fully your secondary characters—making them special—while still keeping them in line. We’ll also talk about levels of characters, character archetypes, and what role the antagonist plays in all this.

I hope to see you there!

mmq-cover-revised-by-ramona-richardsMeet Ramona

Ramona Richards is a speaker, writer, and editor whose latest book, My Mother’s Quilts, is from Worthy Publishing. Ramona has been an editor for Abingdon Press, Thomas Nelson, Rutledge Hill Press, and Ideals magazine, and has freelanced for more than a dozen others. The author of seven novels, three books of devotions, and numerous magazine articles, she is a frequent speaker for women’s and writers’ groups, and has presented at numerous conferences across the country.

Ramona can be found online at:  Facebook   Twitter    LinkedIn

Ramona’s Workshop

Shoot the Deputy: How Secondary Characters Can Make or Break a Novel

Secondary characters are often too prolific or too underdeveloped. This workshop provides tips on controlling your supporting cast: how different levels of characters should be revealed and built into the plot, explanations of how flat secondary characters can kill a sell, and tips on how to layer your characters in order to build interest and curiosity without taking over a book.


Growth Through Writers Conferences

hlayer_grace-u3532A Guest Post by Nancy Kay Grace

Attending writer’s conferences is necessary for improving skills, learning publishing trends, and networking. Seasoned authors encourage the new writers. The enthusiasm of the new writers inspires the experienced ones. Each time I’ve attended a conference I’ve been at a different place on my writing journey and hoped to hear from God.

Conferences have given direction for my next step. I had planned on self-publishing a book created from the content of my speaking presentations. When the deal fell through, I lost hope for a book. Discouraged, I attended a writer’s conference hoping to hear from God what my next step should be. I hadn’t planned on talking to any publishers, but when an appointment opened up, I took the opportunity to pitch an idea for a book of devotionals from my newsletter. To my surprise, the publisher was interested. God showed me another path, if I would do the work of writing a proposal. Eventually the small Christian publisher offered me a contract. I’m grateful to have attended that conference.

It is possible to get your writing on the web to encourage others in faith, although blending writing and technology can be intimidating. At the Mid-South Christian Writer’s Conference I’m looking forward to presenting the workshop “Toes in the Water: Getting Your Feet Wet in Blogging” to minimize the fear factor so you can publish on the Internet. If you’re new to blogging, I hope to de-mystify the WordPress platform by sharing tips about the elements of a blog post, simple SEO, and online writing.

I hope to see you there!

grace-impact-cover-by-nancy-kay-graceMeet Nancy Kay

Nancy Kay Grace is a speaker and the award-winning author of The Grace Impact. She has published numerous magazine articles, stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and several devotional compilations (Abba’s Promise, The One Year Life Verse Devotional). Nancy is the host of Living Life Unedited, an Internet radio show on the Christian Women Affiliate network.

Nancy and her husband Rick live in Springdale, Arkansas where Rick is the senior pastor of Spring Creek Fellowship. They have two married children and five grandchildren.

Connect with Nancy:  Website & GraceNotes newsletter   Facebook   Twitter   Living Life Unedited   Pinterest 

 Nancy’s Workshop

Toes in the Water: Getting Your Feet Wet in Blogging

This session is for writers who want to learn more about blogging. Nancy will help minimize the fear factor for tech-challenged writers. Topics covered are online writing techniques, simple guidelines for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), elements of a blog post, and tools used in blogging. Nancy uses WordPress and will refer to this platform although some of the basics would apply to other platforms as well.

Announcing 2017 MSCWC Workshops

coffee-1869820_640We’re offering NINE workshops on various aspects of writing at the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference. Be sure and check the schedule so you can choose the three you most want to attend.

So bring your laptop or go old school with pen and paper. You’ll want to take plenty of notes. We’ll provide the beverages.

How to Combine Riveting Suspense with Heartwarming Romance – Sandra Robbins

Participants will understand the elements of romance and suspense that combine to appeal to the reader’s heart. They will learn how to balance a story about a once-in-a-lifetime love that is threatened by the worry and concern of an impending crisis that will keep the hero and heroine apart.

Mystery Writing 101 – Deborah Malone

So you want to write a mystery! Mystery Writing 101 covers the ABC’s of writing a mystery. Topics covered are What is a Mystery, Characters, Setting, Clues, Point of View, Dialogue, Plotting, Editing and Tying up the Package.

Organizing Research Notes: Keep It Simple – John Burgette

Learn a simple strategy for organizing and sorting research notes/citations by themes or topics. An optional technique for using the notes to develop a final outline, which can be very useful for non-fiction, research-specific, or historical fiction writing, will also be discussed.

Seven Steps to Successful Self-Publishing – Hallee Bridgeman

Best-selling indie author Hallee Bridgeman will go over the seven steps to successful self-publishing and then show you tips and tricks for the current market.

Shoot the Deputy: How Secondary Characters Can Make or Break a Novel – Ramona Richards

Secondary characters are often too prolific or too underdeveloped. This workshop provides tips on controlling your supporting cast: how different levels of characters should be revealed and built into the plot, explanations of how flat secondary characters can kill a sell, and tips on how to layer your characters in order to build interest and curiosity without taking over a book.

Telling the Story: I Wrote It My Way – Johnnie Alexander & Patricia Bradley

You may be a plotter, outlining every scene before you begin, or you may be an organic writer, writing by the seat of your pants, or you may be somewhere in between. Two experienced novelists share tips and ideas for writing fiction the right way—that is, the way that works best for you and for your story.

Toes in the Water: Getting Your Feet Wet in Blogging – Nancy Kay Grace

This session is for writers who want to learn more about blogging. Nancy will help minimize the fear factor for tech-challenged writers. Topics covered are online writing techniques, simple guidelines for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), elements of a blog post, and tools used in blogging. Nancy uses WordPress and will refer to this platform, although some of the basics would apply to other platforms as well.

Writing Devotionals for The Upper Room Magazine – Andrew Breeden

Participants will learn how to write devotions for The Upper Room Magazine. Through group discussion and instruction from an Upper Room editor, the session will explore what makes a strong devotion, how to connect personal experience with scripture, setting pen to paper, and the unique global ministry of the The Upper Room. Our writer’s guidelines can be found at

Writing with Banana Peels – Jim Watkins

Based on Jim’s college text book, this seminar provides practical strategies for communicating more effectively with humor. If nothing else, you’ll laugh a lot!

10 Tips to Streamline Your Writing Time

A Guest Post by Edie Melson

Edie Melson

Edie Melson

So often we make things harder than they have to be. Sometimes we do it because we’re used to doing things a certain way, or because it’s the only way we know how. But things change quickly these days, and it’s always a good thing to take a look at your routine with a fresh eye. Today I’m going to share some tips to streamline your writing life. Some you may already do, some you may not have ever considered. Just take a look at the list with an open mind and see if there’s anything on it that can make your life easier.

Tips to Streamline Your Writing Life

  1. Take a look at your goals. It’s important to have goals—and it’s important to have written goals. It’s easy to just float along, taking things as they come. But when we do that, it’s hard to make progress—and it’s even harder to evaluate progress. Beyond that, there’s something almost magical about writing down your goals. Having them recorded somewhere gives them weight and makes it easier to make them a priority.
  2. Evaluate how much time you’re spending on social media. If it’s more than thirty minutes a day, it’s time to re-evaluate. After thirty minutes, your return on investment takes a severe nosedive in the downward direction.
  3. Let go of your expectations. No this isn’t  a contradiction of #1 above. There is a huge difference between goals and expectations. I bet if you’re honest with yourself you have quite a few expectations—from what you expect from yourself, to what you expect from others. For me, when I took a hard look, a lot of those expectations were totally unreasonable. So spend some time and take a hard look at your expectations. The ones that are reasonable, make into goals and priorities. The rest of them . . . well . . . just throw them away.
  4. Determine when, in a 24-hour period, you are most creative. Some of us are night people, some are morning people, and some of us work best in the afternoon. But we each have a specific time when the words and ideas tend to flow easier. Look at your internal clock and figure out when that time is. Then, guard it like you’re guarding gold. Really that’s what you’re doing. Our income and dreams are locked up tight with our ability to create. When we figure out the time that work best for creative work, it’s like someone has handed us pure gold.
  5. Come up with a way to schedule your time. I know not everyone can have a detailed schedule. But truthfully, if you’re trying to carve out time to write (and who isn’t?), you need to schedule that time. There are lots of methods to help with time management from an old fashioned spread sheet to the Pomodoro Technique. Do some research and find something that works for you.
  6. Commit to quit talking negative to and about yourself. When someone bashes our ability and/or our manuscript, it takes time to recover. The same holds true when we do it to ourselves. So take a page from my author friend, Alton Gansky, and QUIT IT!
  7. Take care of yourself physically. This means getting enough sleep, eating well, and especially exercising. The sedentary lifestyle of a writer can quickly take its toll on us physically and mentally. Sure these things take time—often time we don’t feel we can spare. But even though this may seem counterintuitive, it will streamline your writing life. You can accomplish so much more when you are physically healthy and mentally alert.
  8. Build in regular breaks. Especially when I’m on a deadline, I’ve found that taking regular breaks greatly improves my productivity. A good friend and spiritual mentor of mine Kent Pate has a saying, “Divert daily, withdraw weekly, abandon annually.”
  9. Surround yourself with encouraging writers. You don’t just need encouraging friends, but also encouraging writers. We writers are an odd lot, and we need others around us who understand our thought process, our struggles and our quirky joys. These writers should be active and growing—not those who just talk about writing, but those who spend time writing.
  10. Engage a prayer team. This may seem odd, especially if you’re fairly new to even calling yourself a writer, much less having something published. But the truth is, this life is hard. When we answer God’s call to step out and share His message, we’re going to encounter spiritual warfare. For that, you need people to pray for you. If you’re also building a ministry, trying to grow an income and/or beginning to speak, that’s even more of a reason to surround yourself with prayer. These folks don’t have to be writers, but they should have a connection to you.

These are just some of the things that do to help my writing life stay manageable. I’m sure there are lots of other things that would help as well. Be sure to chime in with your suggestions in the comments section below.

ConnectionsMeet Edie

Edie Melson—author, blogger, speaker—has written numerous books, including While My Soldier Serves, Prayers for Those with Loved Ones in the Military. She’s also the military family blogger at Her popular blog for writers, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month, and she’s the Director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Connections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers is a print expansion of her bestselling ebook on social media. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy, the Social Media Director for Southern Writers Magazine, and the Senior Editor for Connect on Twitter and Facebook.

Edie’s Workshop

In addition to being our keynote speaker, Edie is presenting one of our workshops: Plug-In to the Digital Revolution–Without Stressing Out!

Did you know that the college class of 2014 considers email obsolete? According to the Beloit College Mindset List, they’ve also never written in cursive, and with cell phones to tell them the time, they see no need for a wristwatch. If this makes you feel old and out of touch, don’t panic, I can help you develop a web presence that puts you back on the cutting edge. Learn the basics of setting up a blog, working with Facebook, and tweeting on Twitter. Beyond that, I’ll give you the tools and resources to help you keep current with all things digital.

Sharing Abundance

alice portrait (2)

A Guest Post by Alice Fay Duncan

An excerpt from my book

Hello Sunshine–5 Habits to “Uncloud” Your Day

Recently, I watched a newscast that featured a basketball star and his young son. They entered F.A.O. Schwarz to buy toys for poor children in New York City. I noticed that the little boy buzzed happily around the store, selecting expensive items that he knew quite well were not for his personal pleasure.

The news anchor asked, “What do you want your son to gain from this day?” The star athlete made some thoughtful reply about gratitude and good fortune. However, the greatest lesson for me was in the little boy’s eyes.  He was thrilled to shop for gifts that would serve children he did not know.

Sharing your abundance is the one gesture that will brighten your day in an instant.  This is what the little boy revealed as he shopped in F.A.O. Schwarz.  Giving to others was the very action that put a smile on his dimpled face.

Meet Alice Faye

Hello SunshineAlice Faye Duncan has been writing children’s picture books since 1995 for publishers such as Simon and Schuster, Atheneum, Zonderkidz, Trolls, and MacMillan. Her book Honey Baby Sugar Child, a mother’s live song to her young child, is now in its seventh printing with Simon and Schuster. Her most recent publication, Hello, Sunshine: 5 Habits to UNCLOUD Your Day, is an adult nonfiction book. When Alice is not serving as a school librarian or writing, she can be found visiting local art museums. Her favorite artists are Carroll Cloar, Kadir Nielson, and Frank D. Robinson, Jr.

Alice’s Workshop

Writing for Young Readers—A How-To Guide

This workshop will discuss the steps needed to write and publish books for young readers. Present trends in children’s publishing will be addressed while encouraging participants to write books, articles, and poems that are meaningful and important to them. Participants will receive a collection of handouts including a list of reference tools, picture book template, list of publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts for young readers, and list of reputable literary agents seeking new clients who write for children.

Faculty: Gregg Bridgeman

gregg bridgeman (2)Meet Gregg

Gregg Bridgeman is the Editor-in-Chief at Olivia Kimbrell Press. He is husband to best-selling Christian author Hallee Bridgeman and parent to three. He continues to proudly serve in the US Armed Forces and has done so in either an active or reserve capacity for more than twenty years as an airborne and air assault qualified paratrooper, earning a Bronze Star for his service. Most importantly, he was ordained in October of 2001 after surrendering his life to Christ decades earlier.

Gregg’s Workshop

FREE (or nearly free) Tools Every Writer Should Know About!

This workshop includes instruction in completely FREE (or nearly free) tools that assist authors with Word Processing, Editing, Formatting, Graphics, AudioBooks, eBooks, and basic Productivity. This entertaining and interactive class employs real world examples and live demonstrations of available applications. Stuck in a WORD rut? Need a more powerful or flexible word processor? Like to translate your books into Braille? Interested in a free ebook compiler? Have to create Press Quality PDFs? Take this class!


Introducing Guideposts Books

JonWoodhamsHeadShot (2)A Guest Post by Jon Woodhams

While this will be my first year at the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference, I have represented Guideposts at five ACFW conferences and one Mount Hermon conference. At each one, lots of folks come up to me to say hello and inevitably say something like, “Oh! Guideposts! Yes, my grandmother got that magazine.” Some might remember that Guideposts was founded by Norman Vincent Peale (author of The Power of Positive Thinking) and his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale. The first issue of the magazine rolled off the press in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, so Guideposts (and Guideposts, the magazine) just celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. Today, the little digest-sized publication enjoys a circulation in the millions.

After my conferee friends’ initial enthusiastic profession of familiarity with Guideposts magazine, however, I’m often met with furrowed brows and puzzlement when I tell them I don’t work for the magazine but for Guideposts Books. “I had no idea Guideposts did books!” they’ll say. And when I tell them I am a fiction editor for Guideposts, they are often in for a second dose of surprise.

So despite the title of my blog post, Guideposts is not new to books. A number of now-classic Christian books originated with or at least were published by Guideposts over the years, including such titles as The Hiding Place and God’s Smuggler, written by John and Elisabeth Sherrill with Corrie ten Boom and Brother Andrew, respectively. On the current nonfiction side, some of you might be familiar with our popular 365-day devotionals Daily Guideposts or Mornings with Jesus. And Guideposts is no stranger to fiction, either. Guideposts offered Catherine Marshall’s classic novel Julie to its audience in 1984.

In recent years, Guideposts has built a robust and successful fiction program that often flies under the radar of many avid Christian fiction readers because it is sold exclusively through our direct-to-consumer (mostly direct mail) channels. I have been with Guideposts since 2011, and during my tenure there I’ve edited four long-running fiction series (with as many as 25 books each) that could be described as Nancy Drew for Christian adults. My series have included Miracles of Marble Cove, Secrets of the Blue Hill Library, Mysteries of Silver Peak, and a new one slotted for release this summer. In addition, I’ve edited several one-shot fiction offerings, including four volumes of short Christmas fiction called A Cup of Christmas Cheer, the three-book set Nantucket Dreams, two volumes of Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries, and more. And those don’t represent the limits of our current fiction catalog, which also includes Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries, Patchwork Mysteries, Mary’s Bookshop, Tales from Grace Chapel Inn, and more. But because we sell them primarily through mass mailings, most of our fiction is not available at your local Christian bookshop or even through or

I’ll be candid: many people who take appointments with me at writers conferences have walked away disappointed. They are looking for a publisher to publish a book they have written, and, with virtually no exceptions, I am not able to help them with it. But I can, and do, inform them about the opportunities for writers that Guideposts can provide. We really don’t acquire or publish in the traditional sense. Instead, we create series, characters, settings, and even stories, and we contract skilled and experienced writers to bring them to life for us.

While our publishing and sales model is not typical, it also is not unique. A handful of other publishers work in the same vein—selling directly to consumers, hiring writers to create to-spec work-for-hire manuscripts, and quietly forging highly successful publishing programs that will never see the best-seller lists—though their sales numbers can easily exceed those of CBA best-sellers.

So, other than learning a bit about Guideposts Books, what is the takeaway for you as a writer? In a roundabout way, I have just shared with you a secret that many writers don’t know: there is a whole world that exists outside the traditionally published trade fiction and nonfiction that routinely populate the ECPA charts. It is not easy to break in (we work virtually exclusively through literary agents, for example; only a handful of writers are chosen to contribute to our series, through a rigorous audition process; and we really look for authors who already have a proven track record of publishing), but if you have the requisite skills and are willing to look beyond the boundaries of what we often think of as Christian publishing, it can open up new possibilities for you as a writer. And doing so can make the difference between being an author who receives rare advances and sporadic royalty payments and being an author who makes a steady, reliable, and decent living from your writing.

Meet Jon

Jon Woodhams has been involved with Christian publishing since the late 1980s when he began working at David C. Cook Publishing, where he worked (with some brief hiatuses) until 2005, when he joined WaterBrook Multnomah. He has been a fiction editor with Guideposts since 2011.

Jon’s Workshop

Writing for Continuity Fiction Series

Using Guideposts’ successful fiction series as a model, the workshop will explore the often-untapped potential of writing for continuity fiction series. In addition to learning about Guideposts’ unique place in Christian fiction, topics will include how the Guideposts model works, the ideal writer for a continuity series, how writers collaborate to create a series, the unique skill set needed to succeed as a continuity writer, and more.