Wednesday, July 26, 2017

5 Ways to Create Those Cozy Characters!


Did you grow up reading any of these?

  • Trixie Belden
  • Cherry Ames
  • Sue Barton
  • Nancy Drew
  • Hardy Boys
  • Agatha Christie

My Cherry Ames books (some from my older sisters!) in an attic cache here on the farm.
Your kids probably read some of these (and maybe your old copies of the above!)

  • Nate the Great
  • Cam Jansen
  • Encyclopedia Brown
  • Boxcar Children
  • Babysitters Club
  • Bunnicula (and Friends)
Look at these! Old favorites, well-read and dog-eared, the way a good book should be!
And then we morphed to adult books... We got educated. We realized that while Arthur Conan Doyle was pretty smart, literary minds were reading coming of age (sometimes downright depressing) book-club type books. (note that I am naming no names, no offense intended... but I do have a nasty habit of THROWING THOSE BOOKS across the room. My bad.)

Now that's all well and good, but the audience for cozy mysteries hasn't gone away. In fact, with the baby boomer generation pretty much heading toward or in retirement, there's a huge and growing audience for these sweet, funny mysteries. 

The brochure from GUIDEPOSTS.COM announcing our Mysteries of Martha's Vineyard series and I love the models they used for Priscilla (second from left) and the three cousins she discovers on the island!
We talked in June about Cozy Story Structure (that blog post HERE!) and then the delightfully smart (I had to get the word delightful in there, it drives Tina bonkers.) Nancy Mehl swung by and talked about Writing the Cozy Mystery HERE... so part three of our Magical Mystery Tour is all about characters.

Have fun with your characters! They don't have to be goofy... but it's good for the reader to have Sudden Sympathy with the main character for whatever reason. If it's a series, you want that main character to grow slowly over the life of the series. Maybe gain insight. But you have to start with book one, right?

  • Is your main character a man or a woman?
  • Single or divorced or widowed? (He/she can be married, but you tie up an important component of conflict and emotion then.)
  • Age?
  • Why are they where they are? (This is a big question. In "A Light in the Darkness", my new mystery from Guideposts "Mysteries of Martha's Vineyard", Priscilla is a widowed farm wife whose family had been estranged from her Massachusetts family for decades. Priscilla hasn't been to the island in fifty years. Now she's inherited a lighthouse after a long, cold, gray, lonely winter on the Kansas prairie. She's adrift... and what better place to hang your life boat than an ocean island?)
  • Friends? Friends can provide LOTS OF FUN and FRICTION just like in any story, but it's magnified in a cozy. You can give them one-liners, one can be dry, one can be prissy, one can be engaging, one could be sacrificial... You can pick and choose, because if you develop this story into a series, you get to grow these characters along with your plots!
  • Family?  (Think of the conflicts that can arise if your dad is Sherlock Holmes. Or Miss Jane Marple is your grandmother. Or Monk is your socially inappropriate brother.) Does your main character have family nearby? Or are they thrust out of their comfort zone on their own?
  • Pets. Pets are big in cozies... heck, sometimes the pet is solving the crime, pointing out the obvious. Folks love to "see" things through the eyes of cat, dog, bird, etcetera. Don't be too wild... but let your imagination run wild!
  • Neighbors. Neighbors can be a source of irritation or inspiration, all depending on your direction. Or both! Most folks have more than one neighbor, right? And if the neighbor is an incidental pain in the bum or a motherly type who bustles and reveals clues in all innocence... Wonderful!
Love this brochure, also included in the mailing! 
Think of the future-- Yours and theirs!!!-- when casting your cozy(ies). You want the characters to have room for growth and refinement, so it's okay to let them swing a little free in this first story. Don't think about this particular plot as you develop the characters. Rather, think of the town. The neighborhood. The precinct. The parish. The community surrounding the sleuth.

The plot in a cozy is a structure, similar to romance structure. That structure can be inserted into the situation and then you tweak the setting and have the characters respond IN CHARACTER... and voila, all of a sudden, you've got the makings of a series! GO YOU!

I said before that I never thought I'd write a mystery... and then I wrote one and fell in love. With the town, with the premise, with Priscilla, a woman my age who gets caught adrift when her life takes an abrupt and unexpected turn. 

Secondary Characters are C-L-U-T-C-H.
A cozy needs humor. Quirks. Emotion. Red herrings.... and these secondary characters are the best! You want your secondaries to create balance... and disrupt the smooth ride. Use a few repeating characters from book to book (if you're contemplating a series) but it's all right to bring in new quirky or solid characters. Agatha Christie made Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple and the funny, sweet couple Tommy and Tuppence. 

Although isn't Hercule Poirot supposed to be dark-haired and dark-mustache???  Here's the trailer for this fall's new version of "Murder on the Orient Express"... which looks marvelous! Even with Poirot's hair!

A mystery needs suspects. Now these can be recurring characters who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or new characters with a reason to cause harm... Or a past that haunts them. It doesn't have to be major in a cozy. They might just be stinkin' mad about the circumstances or screening a loved one... Those personalities are what engage the reader, drawing them into the story. 

You can order the first book... written by yours truly!... RIGHT HERE! And when you order the book, add MMV30 into the "DISCOUNT CODE" box and get 30% off! 
Cozy mysteries are crazy popular... like Amish romance, there is a huge audience for lighter fare as documented by this article

Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers created an oath for mystery authors: Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

To be part of their mystery author's group, one was required to speak the oath! I (for my own part) enjoy a bit of Jiggery-Pokery now and again. :) Whatever that is! 

Genres vary. Sales go up and down. As a small business operator, it's good for authors to spread their wings. Teaching ourselves new techniques and embracing new opportunities is like a long-standing teacher changing grade levels. Ten years teaching third grade is great, but there's a wonderful growth curve when you're thrust into fifth-grade lesson plans... and that's the kind of shake-up we authors can use from time to time. Not to change what we do... but expand our baseline.

Hey, I've got a copy of "A Light in the Darkness" to give away today, book one of the Martha's Vineyard series... and I'd love to give it to you! Leave a comment inside and let's talk about what you're doing to make your dream come true this year... if a door closes, are you hunting for that promised open window?

Coffee and peach pie are on the countertop... because what is better mid-summer than homemade peach pie? And you can find my favorite peach pie recipe right here! 

Multi-published, award-winning inspirational author Ruth Logan Herne loves to chat with folks... and write sweet books. She is also this years "Chicken Coop Builder" and is soon to be listed on the docket of "Donkey Shed Builder". She takes these awards most seriously and will (no doubt) feature a woman who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty and scuffed up in an upcoming book... which might be part of her Shepherd's Crossing cowboy series, coming in 2018 from Love Inspired! Research takes on a whole different note at Ruthy's house! :)  Find her online at or friend her on facebook at Ruth Logan Herne where she loves to talk... and meet readers!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Making Every Scene Count

with guest Karen Barnett.

“I couldn’t put it down.”
“I read all night.”  
“I felt like I was right there!” 
“I didn’t want it to end.”  

Aren’t these the type of praises we most want to hear from readers? Most authors know the key to getting a reader hooked is a killer first line. But no matter how gripping the opener is, if the rest of your story sags, no one will continue reading for long. So, how do you keep them engaged and turning pages from the opening hook until the sigh-worthy final line?  

By making every chapter—even every individual scene—count.  

Sounds simple, right? Novelist Elmore Leonard is attributed with saying, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” There’s so much more, though. It’s about creating scenes that draw readers in so thoroughly they wouldn’t dare skip a line.  

Here are some of my favorite techniques to make sure every scene counts. When you are revising a chapter, comb through your pages and check for each of these five points: grounding, sensory detail, character voice, dynamic verbs, and deep point of view (DPOV). I’ll show you some examples of each point by using quotes from some of my favorite authors, plus selections from my new novel, The Road to Paradise.  

Grounding — Have you ever started reading a scene and felt completely lost? Where am I? Who’s speaking? The first line or two should pull the reader into the moment and leave no lingering doubts in their mind. If it takes more than a few lines to establish these facts, they’ll feel disoriented and will probably put the book down.  

  • Whose head are we in? (Point of view).
  • Where are we?
  • What’s happening? Or, what is the character feeling?

Here are a few scene openings that waste no time answering those questions. 

  • Pulse racing, Rebekah pressed farther into the shadows in the corner behind the wardrobe, still able to see Mr. Whitcomb’s silhouette in the hallway.” A Note Yet Unsung, Tamera Alexander. (Who: Rebekah. Where: behind the wardrobe. Action/Mood: Hiding and/or spying.)
  • “The creek beckoned Jonas. Quiet and stillness would calm his anxious soul.” Road to Harmony, Sherry Kyle. (Who: Jonas. Where: Outside by the creek. Action/Mood: Anxious)
  • “Ford entered the cavernous lobby of the Paradise Inn, the room’s warmth gripping him like a bear hug.” The Road to Paradise, Karen Barnett. (Who: Ford. Where: Paradise Inn. Action/Mood: Comforting.) 

Sensory Detail — To make the reader feel as if they’re inside the character’s skin, add rich sensory detail. Focus on the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.   

  • "The claws scrabbled through the cabin, pausing every few seconds. The more she tried to ignore the disturbance, the harder her ears labored to locate its position." The Road to Paradise, Karen Barnett. Sense: hearing.

  • "That evening, Tess opened the door to Robillard’s Bakery and inhaled the aroma of fresh-baked bread and purpose.” When Tides Turn, Sarah Sundin. Sense: smell.

  • "Their sly glances and the subtle brush of their elbows kept them both distracted by something infinitely sweeter than the bitterness rising at the back of her throat." (On Love's Gentle Shore, Liz Johnson. Sense: sight, touch, AND taste!

Character Voice — When your character speaks or thinks, it should be distinctive. The metaphors they use, the language choices, the grammar, the way they view the world—it's all a reflection of who they are. When you read through your writing, look for changes you can make to cause your character to stand out. 

In The Road to Paradise—as in many romances—the two leads begin as opposites. Ford is a gruff park ranger, raised in a masculine world of trees and hard work. Margie's a highly-educated Senator's daughter who is nature-obsessed and resorts to poetry and quotations to express herself. These traits become obvious in their word choices and dialogue...sometimes even when they're using the same word.  

  • Ford’s POV: "'You assumed wrong. A person—a man—has to earn the right to that title. We don't just hand out . . .' Ford caught himself, Harry's warnings still ringing in his ears. 'You're not a ranger. Just a naturalist. And here on trial, at that." 

  • [A moment later, after a scene change, we're in Margie's POV]. "'A naturalist.' The word coursed out from her heart to her fingertips, like a flower unfurling in the morning light. She clutched the small leather bag containing her journal to her chest. She couldn't wait to record the days' events on its crisp pages. The first thing she'd do would be to inscribe her name on the inside cover. Margaret Lane, Naturalist.” 

Can you hear the distinctiveness in each character's voice? It should practically leap off the page. Kind of like the difference between Pooh Bear and Eeyore in the A.A. Milne classic, Winnie-the-Pooh

    "Good morning, Eeyore," said Pooh. 
    "Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning, which I doubt," said he. 
    "Why, what's the matter?" 
    "Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it.” 

Choose Dynamic Verbs —You might have heard that passive verbs slow the action, but to make your scene shine, choose verbs with an extra punch. 

  • “A sharp knock at the door jarred an already fractured moment.” A Note Yet Unsung, Tamera Alexander. “Interrupted” would have worked, but how much better is “jarred?” 

  • “Crossing an ankle over his knee to untie his boot, he yanked on the lace until the bow morphed into an angry knot. His blunt, calloused fingertips fumbled against it, only managing to bumble it more. Hopping on one foot, he thudded a shoulder against the whitewashed board wall and bounced against the cement basin.” On Love’s Gentle Shore, Liz Johnson. These well-chosen verbs made me feel like I was hopping around on one foot right alongside the character. 


Deepen Your POV— Not only should each scene be taking place from a specific character's point of view, you should be so deep inside a character's skin that you experience their emotions as if they're your own. Here are a few techniques you can use to accomplish that.  

  • Avoid words/phrases that distance us from the character by telling the reader what is happening rather than letting us experience it, such as the following:

- he thought- she wondered- he saw -she guessed- he considered 

  • Try not to use emotion words that tell the reader how the character feels instead of showing them: joy, shame, happiness, anger, rage, despair, sadness, etc. 

Replace those words and phrases with ones that pull your reader into your character’s head.  

  • Internal thoughts or monologue (Warning: don’t overdo this.)
- “Candy, wait —” I tried to take a deep breath, but my lungs felt heavy. I can do this. I need to. For Elinore." The Girl Who Could See, Kara Swanson. 
- “I believe one former customer referred to me as a ‘termagant,’ which if memory served me was actually code for ‘someone who will insist on people keeping their hands out of the loose-leaf tea jars, thank you very much.’” Jane of Austin, Hillary Manton Lodge. [Also a great example of character voice, isn’t it?] 

  •   Physical (gut) reactions to action or dialogue

-"A smile spread across her face, and I felt a tightness in my chest." Jane of Austin, Hillary Manton Lodge.  
-“When Lars helped Elena into the carriage, heat flooded Jonas’s face and his hands clenched tight.” Road to Harmony, Sherry Kyle. 
- “Margie pressed fingers against her temples, the tension gathering like storm clouds.” The Road to Paradise, Karen Barnett

Back in my college days, I took a class on story telling from the great author, Walter Wangerin Jr. I still remember him talking about creating special tales to relieve his daughter’s bedtime fears. In class, he said something I’ll never forget.  

"While you are telling the tale, the child actually dwells within the story."  

That’s a big responsibility, isn’t it? If you have done your job well—through grounding, sensory detail, character voice, dynamic verbs and deep POV—then the person holding your novel isn’t just reading, they are living within the pages. Everything else fades.  

That’s when you’ll receive the treasured words every writer dreams of hearing: "I didn’t want this story to end." 

 Are there any books on your keeper shelf that fill this criteria?

Leave a comment today for an opportunity to win a print copy of The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Parks Novel. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

 The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Parks Novel

An ideal sanctuary and a dream come true–that’s what Margaret Lane feels as she takes in God’s gorgeous handiwork in Mount Rainier National Park. It’s 1927 and the National Park Service is in its youth when Margie, an avid naturalist, lands a coveted position alongside the park rangers living and working in the unrivaled splendor of Mount Rainier’s long shadow. 

But Chief Ranger Ford Brayden is still haunted by his father’s death on the mountain, and the ranger takes his work managing the park and its crowd of visitors seriously. The job of watching over an idealistic senator’s daughter with few practical survival skills seems a waste of resources.

When Margie’s former fiancĂ© sets his mind on developing the Paradise Inn and its surroundings into a tourist playground, the plans might put more than the park’s pristine beauty in danger. What will Margie and Ford sacrifice to preserve the splendor and simplicity of the wilderness they both love?

KAREN BARNETT is an award winning author of five novels who draws on her firsthand experience as a naturalist, former park ranger, and outdoor educator to transport readers to America’s national parks. She lives in Oregon with her husband, two kids, and three mischievous dachshunds. Beyond writing, she enjoys photography, hiking, decorating bizarre birthday cakes, and dragging her teenagers through boring history museums. 

Sign up for Karen's newsletter here. 

Karen Barnett’s vintage national parks novels bring to vivid life President Theodore Roosevelt’s vision for protected lands, when he wrote in Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter: "There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Developing a Daily Devotional

Don Atkinson
Click to Buy
Author of Day by Day in Ephesians
Founder of Day by Day Ministry


       Regarding content and structure, there are two basic types of Christian daily devotionals—thematic and expository.  The majority of Christian devotionals fit the thematic category in which the author moves from one Christian theme to the other with each daily devotional.  In the expository category, the author explains one or more verses of Scripture in each daily devotional.  In Day by Day in Ephesians, I ranged from part of a verse, to one verse, to two or more verses in each daily devotional.   

      The author first decides what Scripture will be covered.  The thematic devotional usually revolves around a biblical topic such as faith.  Then, Scriptures are normally utilized from various books of the Bible.  Or the author may wish to base the devotional (expository) on an entire book of the Bible.  This was my approach in Day by Day in Ephesians.  In most cases, the Scripture verses are dealt with chronologically.  This methodology maintains the organization and thought patterns of the biblical text.

      For the thematic devotional, the author can enlist the aid of variety of biblical resource materials on the selected theme.  Bible commentaries are particularly helpful for the author of the expository devotional.  If a fairly technical commentary is being used, one must remember not to include detailed or complex theological information in a daily devotional.  The daily devotional is oriented toward the typical “person in the pew”—not toward Bible college or seminary students and graduates.

      Because of the brevity of a daily devotional (approximately 300 words), the author must be careful to select only a few verses for each devotional.  The subject matter of the specific verses helps the author make this decision.  The theological depth of the verses also impacts the author’s decision.  In Ephesians, Paul wrote from a  deep theological perspective.  Consequently, I usually dealt with just one or two verses of Scripture in Day by Day in Ephesians.  This enabled me to adequately interpret the Scripture covered in the devotional.
     I always include the entire verse or verses covered that day just below the title.  I like to put the Scripture quotation in a different font than the remainder of the devotional text.  I believe this draws attention to the Scripture, which is the basis for the expository devotional.  To further set off the Scripture, I indent the quotation a few spaces from both the left and right margins. 

      To help draw the reader’s attention, I suggested the author develop catchy, attention-getting titles for each daily devotional.  In some cases, the title may seem strange to the reader until the Scripture and its accompanying narrative are read and reflected upon.  Then the reader can see the theme or concept being emphasized by the title.  Often I used a portion of the Scripture for my title.  For instance, one title I used in Day by Day in Ephesians was:  BE CAREFUL HOW YOU WALK.  This was taken directly from a part of Eph. 5:15.  In Ephesians, Paul frequently used “walk” as a metaphor for the Christian’s day-to-day lifestyle or conduct. 

      Subheadings are useful in alerting the reader that the author is shifting from one idea to another.  This feature is especially important when dealing with Scripture that is fairly deep theologically.  I frequently use a portion of the Scripture verse as a subheading.
      In addition, I often italicize what I perceive to be key theological concepts or terms in each daily devotional.  I believe it is helpful to the average reader to highlight these concepts so they will not be overlooked.

      Most daily devotional readers have not attended a bible college or seminary.  Therefore, the typical reader is not familiar with jargon such as “pneumatology.”  In the Greek language pneuma means “spirit.”  Consequently, pneumatology is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  When writing devotionals, I continually avoid using terms such as pneumatology so I do not lose the reader. 

      In some devotionals I include a short summary paragraph.  I believe it is beneficial for many readers to reflect on just one or two sentences that summarize all that was said above.  Always I conclude with a literary device that I entitled: Thought for the Day.  As here, I bold Thought for the Day (located at the bottom of the page) to bring it to the reader’s attention.  Frequently, I ask one or two questions of the reader which flow out of the truth presented in the daily devotional.  In other cases, I ask the reader to reflect on a thought found in that day’s devotional.

May you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”  (2 Peter 3:18) as you read, reflect on, and apply the truths God presents in His epistle to the Ephesians.
—Don E. Atkinson
Today we're talking about a different kind of writing. Outside the usual fiction. Let's talk about ideas YOU have to wander in your writing life. Have you ever written a devotional? A different genre in fiction? Any non-fiction? How about a poem or a song? Blog posts are their own style of writing, too, any bloggers who want to speak up? Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a copy of Day by Day in Ephesians. 
Find Don online at:

   Blog written by Don E. Atkinson, author of Day by Day in Ephesians.  For more information about Don and his daily devotional, visit his website: 

 Don E. Atkinson was born and raised in Lincoln, NE. He attended Southern Nazarene University (formerly Bethany Nazarene College) and Colorado State University securing a Bachelor of Science degree. Later he obtained his Master of Science degree from Texas A&M University. He completed a significant amount of coursework towards a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS).
     Don is the founder of Day by Day in the Word ministry. He has been active in his local church teaching adult Bible studies and preaching, as needed. Married in December of 1982, Don and his wife have three grown children.