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.

Technology, Writing, and Chickens

hlayer_burgette-u3522A Guest Post by John Burgette

For the past few years, my wife and I have been raising chickens as a hobby.  We frequently have the opportunity to talk about it with people in our rural community.

In that time, we’ve learned a lot about raising chickens.  Although there are a variety of methods, the primary goals are to provide chickens with food, water, shelter, and protection, while they provide us with eggs.  For those starting out, it can seem very overwhelming — there are so many options!

For example, there are numerous options for sheltering chickens.  Some of these have very fancy designs, which could appeal more to the owners than the chickens.  New owners need to be careful about choosing a solution, not based on how it looks, but based on how it meets the needs of both the chickens and the owners.  For instance, owners will want easy access, while still not placing the chickens at risk from predators.  The simple question is: how well does the shelter address the  basic goals of providing protection, from both the elements and predators, and a place for the chickens to lay eggs?  Moreover, we’ve learned to not limit ourselves to just looking at “chicken-oriented” products.  In fact, we’ve found that a dog kennel can be a part of the overall protection solution for chickens.

The bottom line is, there are a lot of options available for raising chickens.  However, unless you understand the basic methods for how you need to raise them, you may end up wasting time and resources.  First, know why you need a particular solution.

New writers can face similar challenges.  As with chicken shelters, there are many technology products which can help meet a writer’s needs.  One might select computer software with a fancy user-interface and dozens of functions, hoping it will automatically lead to writing a great novel.  However, instead of that, the writer may spend more time adapting themselves to the software, perhaps “going against the grain” of what made them want to write in the first place.

john-burgette-chickensBecause I also have a computer science background, people assume that I always try to use the “latest” technologies.  I will definitely use technology for my writing, but when and how much … well, it depends.  First, it’s important to understand the basics and develop your own methods for activities such as planning, organizing, producing, and distributing your work.  Keep it simple and consider what resources you already have available for each method.  Don’t automatically disregard “pen and paper” technologies.  Once you have mastered your writing methods, you should be better at recognizing what technologies will help versus hinder, your work.  Also, just like a dog kennel can be used as a part of raising chickens, be aware of alternative options — technology not specifically developed for writing might still work for you and your methods.

I remember attending my first writers conference.  Just a few minutes after arriving, I was talking with an author about a software product we both used.  I recall discussing how the software better enabled a method that I use; it was something I did either way, but the software made it easier, so I could focus more on my writing.

The Mid-South Christian Writers Conference can be a good opportunity to share/learn methods and technologies with other writers.

Meet John

John Burgette has worked and studied in several fields, including computer/technology, leadership, group fitness, and academic teaching/research.  When he’s not helping his wife, Sandra, raise chickens and goats, John enjoys creative writing, and he is an active teacher/speaker, leader, and musician for his church.

John’s Workshop

Organizing Research Notes: Keep It Simple

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.

Ride Those Waves

hlayer_malone-u3542A Guest Post by Deborah Malone

Even though I teach writing mysteries and marketing there is an underlying message I like to share with my fellow writers. The question I ask is, “Can you meet your goals even as you are facing life’s many challenges? My answer, “Yes, you can!”

The reason I can answer yes, is because I’ve met my goals while going through some tough challenges life threw my way. In 1999, I went through a divorce after twenty-six years of marriage. To say the least it was a devastating time. Not only had I just turned 45, I had been living with fibromyalgia for several years. My disabled daughter, Niki, and I moved in with my dad who was then in his 80s and in poor health.

I became caregiver for Niki and Dad both. In 2000, I began writing articles for the historical magazine “Georgia Backroads.” This lit a fire in me to write a novel and in 2002 I started my first cozy mystery, Death in Dahlonega. I finished that novel, as well as most of the second one in the series, but life got in the way and I put them on the shelf.

It would be 2009 before I got them down, blew off the dust, and started writing again. By this time, Dad had passed away and I had caregivers in my home seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day to care for Niki. Having people in my home all the time was stressful to say the least, but it freed up time for me to get back to writing. It would be another two years of attending conferences, reading books, going to writer’s meetings and becoming a member of the on-line writers’ group American Christian Fiction Writers before my first book Death in Dahlonega was published by Lamp Post Publishing.

I’ve written a book a year since then and my sixth book, Decatur Dead, has just been published. I say all that to let you know your goals can be accomplished in the face of life’s storms. Our timing may not be God’s timing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. Everything I experienced during those difficult years led to who I am today. I would venture to say that my experiences have made my writing better.

So, if you’re riding life’s waves right now, don’t give up on your writing! Do what you can while waiting on those waves to calm down. Remember, this is all part of your journey to publication.

Meet Deborah

Deborah Malone’s first novel, Death in Dahlonega, finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writers Category Five writing contest. Deborah was nominated in 2012 and 2013 for the Georgia Author of the Year Award in the Novel category. She has worked as a freelance writer and photographer for the historic magazine Georgia Backroads.

Deborah has been featured in Tales of the Rails, edited by Olin Jackson, as well as in the Christian Communicator and Southern Writers Magazine. She is a member of the Georgia Writers Association, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

Deborah’s Workshop

Mystery Writing 101

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.

God in the Words

hlayer_breeden-u3492A Guest Post by Andrew Breeden

If you ask someone who writes and does it well, they will tell you it’s the hardest work a person will ever do. I am inclined to agree. I have dug a ditch on more than one occasion. Digging a ditch is hard work; writing is harder work.

Sometimes — more often than I would like to admit — I wonder why I keep at it. I have a drawer full of manuscripts that no one is likely to ever set eyes on — my rejects, as it were, that would probably be best used to start a fire. I sit before a blank sheet of paper feeling tired before the task has even begun, and I think to myself, Ok, this is it. I’m hanging up my hat. This time I am done. But somehow I always manage to keep going. I always do it one more time.

Occasionally I write something decent, something I think may be worth a second glance or another pair of eyes. At other times I read what I have written and throw it out the window. Whatever the result, good or bad and for better or worse, I keep writing.

I suspect I keep writing because my closest encounter with God occurs through words on a page. It is in language — whether my own or others’ — that I am most aware of God’s presence and most confident that God is there.

In the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, the essays of Wendell Berry, the poems of Billy Collins, and the novels of Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner, I meet God in the words, sentences, and paragraphs that express the complexity, strangeness, and beauty of human life. I encounter God in the mystery and depth of a good story and in the intelligence and creativity of a clever poem. I encounter God in the rhymes of an old hymn, in a well-written sermon, and, of course, in scripture itself.

My relationship with God begins in language. I was not there to witness the events I read about in Scripture and which give meaning to all that I do. I can only enter those events through language — the exceptional prose of the Book of Ruth, the speeches of Job and his friends, the proclamations and oracles of the prophets, Jesus’ parables, Paul’s letters. All words.

More times than I would like to admit, I have doubted God’s presence in my own circumstances or the circumstances of others. “Where are you, God?” I ask. “You may be somewhere, but I don’t see you here.”

In these moments of doubt, I turn to Scripture. I turn to the narratives and metaphors and characters that have endured for thousands of years. And I am reminded that God was there when the words were written and that God is still in them now.

As Christians, language links us together. And I suppose that when it comes down to it this is what keeps me writing — the hope that one day someone else might read what I have written; and in a time of confusion or doubt, confidence or certainty, find God’s presence there.

upper-room-logoMeet Andrew

Andrew Breeden is associate and acquisitions editor of the Upper Room Magazine in Nashville, TN. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and he lives in Charlotte, Tennessee.

Andrew’s Workshop

Writing Devotionals for The Upper Room Magazine

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

New Year’s Resolution: Attend MSCWC!

ny-day-fireworks-235813_1280Here’s an easy resolution to make this year:

Attend the 2017 Mid-South Christian Writers Conference.

You’ll have the opportunity to network with other writers, meet with writing professionals, and attend three (out of nine) workshops.

Plus you’ll be encouraged, uplifted, and entertained by this year’s keynote speaker, the self-proclaimed “threat to society,” James Watkins.

We hope to see you there!

Until then . . . Happy New Year!