Why the Hallmark channel is bad for your male dialogue.

My exposure to the Hallmark channel has always been brief and unpleasant, like getting a finger pricked for a blood smear. And no, it isn’t just the acting, although that alone is cringe-worthy.

It’s the male dialogue.

One scene in particular stands out in my mind. It’s from a prairie romance called Love Comes Softly. (I can’t remember the names of the characters—sorry.) Here’s the scene: pregnant girl who’s lost her husband is staying with prairie widower and his daughter. Gal is in labor, Guy comes in to assist. Gal freaks out and frantically tells Guy she doesn’t want him in there.

Guy: “Gal…Birth is a natural process.”

*choke, snort, cough* Sorry, Guy, but you lost me there. What man in his right mind would try to calm a freaked-out woman by telling her that birth is a natural process? (Especially in an era where childbirth was NOT seen as a disease.)

Here is my rendition of what Guy would have said if he were an actual, real-life man.

Guy: “Look, Gal, this ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve delivered calves and foals and even my own daughter. This is your first, and if I’m not mistook, you’ll be wanting help here in a while. I’ll be on the porch; I’ll check in on you when you start hollering.”

Ah, now that’s so much more man-like! Practical, unwilling to intrude too much into her womanly role, and maybe a little annoyed that she doesn’t think him capable of catching a baby.

So here’s a little advice to the Hallmark channel’s script writers: don’t think like a woman when you write male dialogue—think like a man.

Meet the Cast

What is a story without the people? As I’m going through the alpha reading phase of Doctor and King, (which means I’m reading it to my husband for insta-feedback) I’m getting reactions not just to the story, but to the people themselves. That gave me the idea: why not have a “meet the cast” day?

So, without further ado, here are the major players of Doctor and King.

Gervaise: [Jer-vayz] The young king of Averon who mixes his own tonics and doctors animals as a hobby. After all, every king needs a hobby to keep himself sane. Gervaise has a bit of a sweet tooth, preferring to start breakfast with a pastry. He does his best to live up to the expectations everyone has of him, but secretly wonders if he’s really the great king everyone thinks he is.

The Queen Mother, Margaret: A bubbly personality with an intense inclination towards mothering her only child, Gervaise. She does her best to keep “her boy” safe from intrigues and make sure he is steered toward filling her late husband’s shoes as king.

Sedgwick: Gervaise’s servant, who prides himself in maintaining an even keel and doing what is best for his master. Even when his master may not agree.

Evangeline: The princess of Sharrilock, a kind-hearted young woman who finds the charades of those who call themselves nobility insufferable. She enjoys the occasional bout of sarcasm, and hopes to one day try her hand at raising bees.

King Oberon: Evangeline’s father, a stern-looking man with a temper, but with a sincere heart and a desire to provide for his daughter as best he can.

Clara: Evangeline’s cousin, a micro-manager extrordinaire. She hates men, due to bad experiences with a drunken father, but is not above trying a few rounds of swordplay with any man willing to try his skill against her. She usually wins.

Constance: Clara’s sister, a timid personality who relies on her sister and clings to her, but is secretly afraid of her. Evangeline is her best friend, and the two share many secrets, but Constance won’t share this one with anyone—not unless she has to.

I’ve figured out what my theme is!

I’ve figured out what my theme is!

So, here’s the story. Someone recently challenged me to figure out my personal stamp on writing. So I’ve been asking myself: what defines me as an author? What am I about? How do I best convey that?

Well, after much considering and mulling, (like the famous statue The Thinker) I have figured out my theme as a writer!

Here it is: I write stories about people who often struggle to understand their adventures, but when they get to the end, they are able to see what they have learned through their difficulties.

What does this revelation mean for me? It will help me to decide what story ideas to pursue. If an idea works well with my theme, I’ll know it is worth pursuing. If not, then I’ll know to leave it alone.

Toad Tales: two ways to start a story

A few days ago, I received an important phone call. Ok, so it was my eleven year old brother calling, but that is still important.

A little background on my brother: his favorite animals are toads. He has a huge pit dug in the backyard which serves as a cave-like terrarium for dozens of the warty amphibians, complete with a system of ledges for his pets to hop along.

He’s also been reading the Redwall series, which features only animals as the characters.

So, when my little brother called me, I was not surprised when he started telling me about his idea for a story. Toads are always the bad guys in the Redwall books, he informed me. And toads just don’t get much attention in literature in general. So he wants to write about amphibian kingdoms, and make his main characters toads.

I was honored to be the person he called for writing advice. His biggest question was this: How do you start a story?

For a first scene, usually you start with (one of) the main character(s). The main crisis of the story has not yet happened, so life is fairly normal for the MC. However, there should be a conflict of some sort to create interest; maybe an ongoing life conflict; or maybe a foretaste of the main crisis. Either way, you start at the beginning, which is a very good place to start. (Yes, I just referenced The Sound of Music.)

Occasionally, however, you might begin with the villain. Star Wars begins with Darth Vader capturing Princess Leia’s ship. This brings to light a hint of the crisis before the main character, Luke Skywalker, is introduced. This adds suspense, because you keep wondering when the MC is going to cross paths with the villain.

So there you go! Two ways to begin a story. I’m not sure which one my little brother will pick…

Creating Flawed Characters

Have you ever been around a goody two-shoes? You know, that one kid who never seems to do anything wrong and is always telling you what you *should* be doing. And you just can’t wait for them to slip up and get in trouble, just to prove to them they aren’t as perfect as they think.

Switch topics to storytelling. In the same way a goody two-shoes is annoying in real life, they are annoying as a character. Sometimes you can’t help but want a perfect character to mess up, just to breathe some life into an (obviously) fake persona. So let’s dust off our creativity and give our character some flaws.

The good news is, it is super easy to find character-appropriate flaws.

The bad news is… Well, there isn’t any bad news, so let’s get on with the good news!

See, every person has strong points. Maybe a particular character is a great leader. (Let’s name her Kristy.)To make a flaw for Kristy, all we have to do is find out what the flip side (a.k.a. “the dark side”) of leadership is. Incrementally, the dark side of leadership is: bossy, domineering, tyrannical.

So, if Kristy is our protagonist, (the good guy) we might just make her bossy; or, if she’s struggling with her character, we might make her a little domineering. If Kristy is our antagonist, (the bad guy) we might even make her downright tyrannical.

So there you have it! The super-easy formula for creating flawed characters.

Two Milestones

I’m celebrating two milestones right now. One of them is the first birthday of my adorable little son. *throws confetti* Happy birthday!

Here’s the second milestone: I’ve finished the manuscript of Doctor and King! What does that mean? It means I’ll be revising and editing for a while. Also, after I’ve finished revising, I’ll be looking for beta readers.

What is a beta reader? Well, a beta reader is super special. They get to read a book before it is published, and give vital feedback on whether the story flows well, or if there are gaps or places that are confusing or boring. (I personally enjoy beta reading.)

Some fun facts about Doctor and King:

  1. This is the first time I’ve written an entire novel in first person. It has been fun and challenging to do something different.
  2. This is also the first time I’ve attempted a major romance thread in a story… I am so not a big romance person*, so that was really tough for me. (Fortunately the characters are similar in personality to myself and my husband, so I kind of based the dynamic between them on my own romance.)
  3. Here’s how I came up with the plot: I asked myself how a fairy tale like Sleeping Beauty could have originated in real-world circumstances. So, this is kind of my re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty with no fairies, magic, or spindles. Volia! Doctor and King was born.

*Side note: My mom and sisters were going to watch Ever After, a Cinderella re-make movie, and I wasn’t interested. They convinced me to watch by telling me that the main character climbs a tree in her underwear. (Underwear was totally modest in those days.) I caved and watched the movie.

I Simply Remember My Favorite Things

I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad. Yes, that is a line from The Sound of Music.

Here are a few of my favorite things. Or at least a few of my favorite books. 😉 (I’ll include some other things too, just for fun.)

The Cat of Bubastes by GA Henty. The tale of a captive in ancient Egypt, and his master’s son who accidentally kills a cat, which is punishable by death. Historical fiction with tons of cultural details.

Escape from the Island of Aquarius by Frank Peretti. I gotta admit, I wish I had more of Peretti’s writing, as much as I enjoy his children’s series. Plenty of adventure and Bible verses to go around.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. An old favorite. Tolkien’s hobbits are just too relatable to pass up. Plus, they have furry feet. What’s not to love?

Crescent Tides by J Aaron Gruben. A new favorite! Historical Fic meets SciFi? Yes, please! (You can read my review of it here.)

Dorian the Daring by Yours Truly. Am I allowed to have one of my own creations as a favorite? Sorry, but I just get all excited when I read it, even though I know what happens next. Crazy, huh?

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. A wonderful tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to save their village, even though the villagers exiled them. Plus, there are cute rhymes that get stuck in your head.

Okay, now for the other favorite things.

Ripe mangos. Yum! Messy, but divine.

Goats. Gotta love them goats! As long as they stay on the inside of the fence…

Cheese. Cheese comes from milk, milk comes from goats, which is another reason I love goats.

Swords. Epic duels, anyone?

Chocolate. If you don’t like chocolate, that leaves more for me.

How to Write a Fight Scene

Epic fight scenes are one of those must-haves for a good portion of modern movies. The inspiring hero music and expertly choreographed stunt moves gets our hearts pounding, and we leave with the feeling that something truly heroic has taken place.

But how do we depict an epic fight scene in a book? We can’t rely on music to stir our feelings, and we can’t describe a ton of stunt moves because—let’s be honest—it would bog down the narrative.

Here are a few tricks I use to create an epic fight scene.

  1. Describe individual moves when needed, but only when needed. Remember that part about bogging down the narrative? We can’t get too caught up in the minutia if we’re going to create a sense of rapid occurance.
  2. Include point-of-view narrative. Just because it’s action doesn’t mean we can forget about the POV we’ve been following. Thoughts and feelings will help us get a sense of how the action is affecting our character.
  3. Include the character’s expectations. Does something happen exactly the way he/she thinks it will? Or does it take him completely off guard?
  4. Add key details that make an impression on your character. Not just physical motion, but also sound, color, or whatever other sensory details your character notices.

I just finished writing a multi page fight scene in my WIP Doctor and King. The main character, Gervaise, is fighting a lop-sided duel against two of the villains. Here is an excerpt—see how many of the above points you can identify.

Brute strength does not come much into play in a friendly match, but it can be a vital asset in a deadly duel. Clara was strong, for a woman, and fierce, but I could strike heavy when I wasn’t afraid of the result it might have. Even with the leverage she had with her sword, I found If I struck hard and true, I could beat down her guard. My gauntlets scraped across my own blade as I used the entire length to block and then shove Clara backward. She recovered herself, and I saw her dart a glance aside, breaking her focus on me. As I sprang forward, she retreated and circled back. She set her jaw, then renewed her fury, which I blocked with equal energy. Calvin was right: skill with heart was better than skill alone.

I cannot say which I heard first: Vannie’s cry of warning or the sudden command in my soul—move! Either way, I understood both at once, and whirled away from the combat. I barely avoided being stabbed by a dagger with black etching on the blade—I saw it as it whisked past my chest. Carl bared his teeth in a snarl of rage as he struck past me. Treachery!

What are your favorite epic fights? Tell me in the comments.

P.S. Need a FREE short story to enjoy? It doesn’t have any duels, but it is epic. Click here to read The Sea Near The Moon.

Opposite gender POV? Here are 3 tips.

From a young age, most of my favorite books (with the exception of the Nancy Drew series) featured male main characters. Treasure Island, Run For Your Life, and The Horse and His Boy were titles more likely to pique my interest than the Honey Bunch series. I suppose I fell in love with the idea of adventurous chivalry, which is more suited for a male character than a female. Fast forward a few years to when I began writing. How was I supposed to portray the point of view of a guy? Was I doing it right? Did it sound silly?

I can’t say I got it all right at the beginning. I remember one particular instance where my beta-readers/editors told me a letter from Jausten (a chivalrous knight dude from my novel Royalty in Disguise) sounded like it had been written by a girl. In the end I scrapped the idea of the letter and moved on.

For my next novel, Dorian the Daring, I took on almost the entire plot from a male point of view. It was a learning experience, and I had to re-write several parts as I dug deeper into the mindset of the opposite gender, but in the end I emerged with the approval of several male beta-readers, and with a few words of advice for those seeking to write from the viewpoint of the opposite gender.

  1. Study them. Whether you are studying guys or girls, there are plenty of “test subjects.” Talk to them and get their opinions on a broad range of ideas.
  2. Do your research. Read books written by guys about guys, or by girls about girls, whichever the case may be. Pay attention to stereotypes—they may not be completely accurate but they can give you a feel for the typical outlook of a gender.
  3. Dig deep. You have to do this with any character you portray, but especially so when learning to write from the viewpoint of the opposite gender. Put yourself in the character’s position and “search your feelings.”

So there you have it: three tips on how to write from the opposite gender’s POV.

Doctor and King, first paragraphs

I decided to share the opening few paragraphs from my work-in-progress, Doctor and King. Enjoy!

I wasn’t a very imposing king, as far as kings go. To begin with, I was not tall, or especially handsome, or any sort of regal. I was not especially short, I might add — but I was enough shorter than average that only a nice set of high-heeled boots would give me the illusion of average height. And I wasn’t about to stoop to that level. Or raise to that level — whichever suits you. I wasn’t particularly buff looking either. Actually I was quite strong (I could bend a hundred-pound bow without straining, and could throw a man bigger than me to the wrestling mat with ease) but I looked more like a walking barrel than the sort of fellow you see parading down the streets with his shirt off. Not that I was fat, mind you. That is, I did carry a tiny bit of extra weight, but not much at all, you understand.

And besides not looking very imposing, there was this problem of age. I was twenty years old, and still under co-regency until I was twenty one. My mother was the co-regent. Yes, I confess she was; and that gave me the horrible stigma of being the biggest mama’s boy in the entire world. What a thing for a king to have to live down! Not that I blame her. My father set her up as co-regent before his death, and I am grateful indeed that I could always trust her. It was certainly a blessing to not have to fear that my co-regent might have other designs on me than keeping my kingdom safe. But the thing was, you see, that I seem to have inherited my lack of ruling skill from her. So we made a pretty pair of co-regents, I can tell you! Ever since it began, when I was twelve, I was clumsy and forgetful in my ruling role, constantly in need of my many counselors, and my mother was flighty and anxious. And both of us were sadly naïve when it came to politics.

That is how things came to be in the state they were when I turned twenty. You see, my kingdom (which was known as Averon ) bordered the kingdom of Sharrilok, the junction being in the middle of a mountainous area. The border was somewhat vague, apparently, which no one bothered to explain to me until it was too late. No one was concerned about the vague border, however, until we opened an iron mine right beside it. Then — oh heavens above! — the fountains of the deep broke open. The people of Sharrilok insisted that the mine was on their land. To make a long story short, we went back and forth, and forth and back in messages and complaints and all sort of other tarnation with the other king. Then we had people from Sharrilok coming in and trying to work the mine with our people, and our folks of course were angry and drove them out, unfortunately killing a few in the process, and then of course they retaliated, and so on and so forth. So really, we were on the brink of war.


I was not too pleased. In fact, I was outraged. Here I was, just trying to be a decent king, and then politics, politics, politics happened, and now I was going to have to think of a solution if I didn’t want to go to war. Which I didn’t. Most of my political endeavors turned into a mess that had to be rescued by my counselors, and I knew war would not be any different