Develop your characters personalities and values:
Use action and dialogue to help a reader get to know your characters. SHOW your characters taking appropriate action—reveal their thoughts.
If the character is evil, show him or her committing an evil act, do not simply tell your reader about it—make it happen in front of his or her eyes. If you want a character to be admired, let your reader see your character taking an admirable action.
Again, every reader comes to your story with an image or stereotype of the characters you write about. It is up to you to give enough description of each character’s uniqueness to modify your reader’s stereotype or image so your characters can seem new and real and their lives worth reading about.
Keep physical description of your characters sketchy, but make sure to give your reader enough to picture them clearly, even your minor characters.
It is not necessary to fully describe your characters physical attributes. Use oblique references to their height and hair color. Possibly offer a comment about the way the character’s clothing fits or how the color matches her eyes.
Notwithstanding a sketchy description, reviewers and other readers often describe my heroes as “handsome.” One can only assume they fill in my scanty written description with their own preferences.
Include everything you need to make the conclusion of your story work:
If your character is going to need a handgun, a knife, a computer or a newspaper to get out of a pivotal scene in your story—make certain he or she owns the object or acquires it early in your story.
Your reader will laugh at you, or perhaps throw your book away if, in the middle of a big scene, your heroine suddenly finds – leaning handily against a nearby fence post – the bicycle she desperately needs to escape the villain.
Do not make a big deal of an inanimate object or a character trait if that object or character trait is not going to be necessary to your story later:
This rule is simple—deliver what you promise your reader. If you describe your character’s horse or dog as a killer—the animal must kill or try to kill someone before the end of the story.
If you describe one of your characters, perhaps your villain’s lawyer or girl friend, as having shifty eyes, you have planted the idea of that character’s shiftiness in your reader’s thoughts. You must have this character do something your reader understands as shifty before the end of the story or he or she will feel disappointed, or worse, cheated.
Never promise your reader something is going to happen in the story and then forget it. YOUR READER WILL NOT FORGET:
Whatever you foreshadow must eventually materialize in your story. Readers always notice and always remember. It is necessary to do one complete revision of your completed work to look for proper placement of foreshadowing and motivation for your character’s actions. I recommend you write any passage that contains foreshadowing in a special notebook to guide your last revisions. If you can wait until your second or third revision to add foreshadowing, it is easier to keep track.
Give your characters an obvious reason for everything they do:
Do not have your character’s take an action surprising your reader so much she or he will see that action as unreasonable or unbelievable. Build up to things gradually. Always include adequate motivation for each action. This motivation should almost always come before the action.
If your heroine is going to fight off a big, husky mugger or two in one of your scenes, give your reader some hint of what is in store early in your story. Find a way to show your reader this character is strong and athletic and possibly trained in martial arts long before she is called upon to demonstrate her ability.
Do not wait until the last convenient minute to explain things. Make certain your reader expects or at least suspects a character’s capability long before the scene that includes the incident.
Develop your story as a series of increasingly serious conflicts:
One way to emphasize conflict, the life-blood of any story, is to get your hero down and kick or stomp her or him increasingly harder. This conflict is not literal in every case, of course. If the central conflict of your story is psychological, the smaller conflicts, making up your scenes will be psychological, as will the resolution of the final conflict.
Make sure your hero/heroine and the villain appear at least equally strong to your reader. Notice that in many stories, the villain appears much stronger than the hero/heroine. This device works well as readers love to root for the underdog.
In order to make your reader care enough about what happens to keep reading—to keep turning pages—your hero or heroine must be required to employ extraordinary, almost super human effort to finally prevail.
Carefully craft each step in your story’s conflict so that each small and large scene carries the story forward to its final resolution. Remember—big, critical scenes that push your story forward as if on wings – must always include your important characters.
Always give your hero/heroine the opportunity to confront the villain:
This confrontation is the reader’s “payoff” for staying with you through sixty to one hundred thousand or more words. Do not cheat her out of the true ending of the basic conflict of your story.
Let nothing in your story happen at random:
Carefully think through a conscious reason for everything you include in your story. Think more than once about everything you write—from naming your characters to the way they treat their horses, dogs, house, cars or clothes. Each of these things reveal character.
Consider carefully what sort of law your character might practice—the specific kind exactly fitting your story and your character. Be deliberate about choosing the color of a character’s dresses, suits or shirts. Remember that your characters’ choice of friends and enemies can make or break your story.
Take care that the details you employ fit your characters’ personas. Cars, clothes, and pets chosen—the way a house is decorated—cleaned or not cleaned is important. Consider if your character’s home should be cluttered with family pictures and interesting books or austere and cold with no revealing personal items in view. Every detail of your character’s life reveals something about his or her personality and motivation.
Craft a climax:
Present a carefully crafted final conflict for your story. Always let your hero or heroine and the villain come face to face in the final conflict. Your reader will feel cheated if critical action happens “off-stage.”
Be certain your reader fully understands what is at stake in your story from the beginning scene to the end. Keep reminding the reader through the thoughts of one of the characters if necessary. The reader must understand that if your final conflict is lost, everything gained throughout your story will also be lost.
Whatever resolution you craft for the final conflict in your story, be careful to plan it to use only the abilities of the characters your reader has come to know. A mild-mannered, cooperative gentleman might lose control and beat someone to death or steal the crown jewels in the end, but your story must offer your reader some warning, however subtle, that this about-face could happen. Such an ending cannot be a complete surprise.
Yes, a somewhat surprising ending can be satisfying for the reader—it often is. However, changing your characters’ personalities or endowing them with new abilities to contrive the ending is not the way to make it happen. Your reader will feel cheated and probably not read your next book.
Do not introduce something new just to help with the resolution of the final conflict:
Romance novels published early in the twentieth century often included a surprise climactic event acting to solve all the main characters’ problems. This event usually made it possible for the hero and heroine to “live happily ever after.” Writers and readers now refer to such endings as a “freight train coming through the story” to contrive the wanted ending. Solve your final conflict with the character’s abilities and personalities your reader has come to know and accept.