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'09 Authors Insider Tips

Everything About Epublishing
by Angela James
Digital Publishing & Print
Common Myths of Epublishing
Ebook Formats and Devices

by Louisa Burton
Compelling Characters
Point of View, Part I
Point of View, Part II
Learning to Love Conflict
Story Structure
Keep ‘em Guessing
Keep it Simple
Keep Your Writing Real
The Importance of Pacing

Literary Streetwalker
by M. Christian
New World of Publishing
To Blog Or Not To Blog
Meeting & Making Friends
Thinking Beyond Sex
Selling Books
Walking the Line
e-book, e-publisher, e-fun
Still More E-book Fun

Shameless Self-Promotion
by Donna George Storey
Our Journey Begins
Pitches and Bios
Websites, Blogs & Readers
Publicists, Press Kits and...
Viva the Internet
Adventures in Cyberspace
Promoting In the Flesh
Make Your Own Movie
Bigger is Better
Looking Back, Planning Ahead

Two Girls Kissing
by Amie M. Evans
Questions to Ask Yourself...
Tough All Over

The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Practice Makes Prefect
5 Books for Fiction Authors
Poetry In Motions
Six Serving Men
Ashley Lister is Anal
Stealing Ideas
Celebrating Poetry

2009 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
A Year of Living Shamelessly
Adultery, Exhibitionism ...
John Updike Made Me Do It ...
Story Soup: Forbidden ...
Lessons from Amazon
Naked Lunches ...
Erotic Alchemy
Secrets of Seduction
Are You a “Real” Writer?
Don’t Fondle My Sentence

Cracking Foxy
with Robert Buckley
The Passionate Taphophile
Havens on Earth
A Knight Without Armor
Magic Carpet Rides
Getting Hammered
Keep It Quiet
Hang Around for a Spell

Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
Worked Up About Why
Worked Up About Why, Part II
All Worked Up About Porn
The Catholic Church
Purity Movement
The National Crisis
The Future
About Homosexuality
Public Indiscretions

Pondering Porn
with Ann Regentin
Premature Ejaculation
Auctioning Off What?

Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Who's Who Around the Table
Ritual Sex
Mixed Legacy
The Spectrum of Consent
Drawing the Line
Marriage without the Hype
The Distracting Smirk
Innocent Guns
Gardens of Earthly Delights

Provocative Interviews

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
Anneke Jacob
D L King
Kristina Lloyd
Lisabet Sarai
Mitzi Szereto
Portia Da Costa
Shanna Germain
Sommer Marsden
Susan DiPlacido

Guest Appearances

Marketing a Self-Published Novel
by Jeanne Ainslie


by Louisa Burton

Creating Compelling Characters


Fiction writers play God in many ways, not the least of which is the creation of human beings to people our stories. Our characters’ personalities, goals, and motivations are extraordinarily important because of the intimate way in which plot and character are linked in a well-thought-out work of fiction. Change some aspect of a major character, and it will—or should—force a change in the story. Imagine the repercussions, had Margaret Mitchell decided, halfway through writing Gone With the Wind, that Scarlett O’Hara wasn’t sympathetic enough and needed to be less of a spoiled brat. The plot of that book turns on its flawed protagonist’s sense of self-entitlement. Take that away, and it’s a completely different story.

When you start to get a bead on the characters who populate your fictional world, there’s a certain amount of information about them that you’re going to want to develop and—especially if you’re the planning type—put into writing. Documenting this information in the form of bios, interviews, and the like, will organize your thoughts and force you to spend time getting to know these people, to become familiar with their backgrounds and what made them the way they are. This applies to your protagonist and any other significant characters, such as your antagonist. Secondary characters can get a more cursory treatment, but should still be three-dimensional and unique, not just “types” from central casting.

For each major character, you want to determine at some point:

Their names and ages, of course

Their physical descriptions. Even if you don’t plan to describe them in detail, you, as the author of their world, should be able to picture them in your mind. Like many writers, especially those who are visually oriented, I “cast” my books using photographs from magazines and catalogues. As I’m writing, I keep looking at those pictures, which helps me to think and feel and talk like my characters.

Their dominant traits, such as Scarlett’s self-entitlement, and tags, or descriptors for them—for example, a gesture or phrase that the character uses frequently.

Their secondary characteristics, like the survivor attitude that’s the flip side of Scarlett’s me-me-me obsession.

Their flaws, which they might or might not overcome, depending on the type of story you’re writing.

Their interests, occupations, and preoccupations, their feelings about themselves, their sexual experience, their relationships with others, etc.

Their character arc; in other words, how they’ll change, for better or for worse, during the course of the story.

Their goals. This is a big one. Multidimensional characters have both acknowledged and unacknowledged goals. The most pivotal goal is the unacknowledged one, and if the two goals contradict—ie. what your character thinks he wants is the opposite of what he really wants—it can establish a gripping resonance within the story. This dynamic is at the heart of the film Casablanca, which Robert McKee brilliantly deconstructs in his Story seminars. On the surface, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine craves isolation, but what he really wants is the renewal of the love and sense of honor and purpose that he felt back in Paris, with Ilsa.

Think about how far your character will go to achieve his goal, the sacrifices he would make, the difficulties he would endure. Consider also why he ended up with that goal in the first place. Motivation is an essential element of character-driven fiction, in which the characters make the decisions and choices that move the story forward. Things don’t just happen to them. They make things happen. Why do your characters make those particular decisions? Why do they do the things they do? There must always be a good reason. Establish this reason and make it credible.

As Chapter One opens, your characters are doing what they do because of backstory that happened before the events you’re unfolding. Over time, they’ll experience things that will motivate them to do other things, a process that produces a sense of natural evolution within your story.

In the beginning of your story and as you move along, remember the concept of motivational foreshadowing. The things your characters do and think early on can hint at their future actions; decisions they make can come back to haunt or help them.

The all-important Show, Don’t Tell concept applies to character development on the page, as to everything else in fiction. If you know your characters really well, you can have them play out their personality quirks rather than just cataloguing them for your reader; the former is a much more powerful and effective approach. In his book On Writing, Stephen King describes how he fleshed out Annie Wilkes, the nurse who holds Paul Sheldon prisoner in Misery: “We see her go through dangerous mood-swings, but I tried never to come right out and say ‘Annie was depressed and possibly suicidal that day’ or ‘Annie seemed particularly happy that day.’ If I have to tell you, I lose. If, on the other hand, I can show you a silent, dirty-haired woman who compulsively gobbles cake and candy, then have you draw the conclusion that Annie is in the depressive part of a manic-depressive cycle, I win.”

Knowing your characters well will also help you to write dialogue for them that sounds not only natural, but unique to their particular personalities. The more real they are to you, the easier it is to just listen in on their conversations and transcribe what they’re saying word for word.

Protagonists are the characters with whom your reader will most closely identify. They’re the tour guides for the emotional journey that is your story. Therefore, whether you’re writing classic heroic fiction (which encompasses much commercial fiction, such as SF, fantasy, suspense, and romance) or non-heroic, naturalist fiction, it is imperative to make your reader empathize with your protagonist or protagonists. Make us feel their pain, their joy, their embarrassment, their struggles, their triumph. A non-heroic protagonist may have a fatal weakness, something he can’t overcome during the course of the story, but we must still be able to crawl into his skin and see the world through his eyes.

If you’re writing heroic fiction, your protagonist will be inherently virtuous and strong, despite his flaws—flaws that he may very well overcome by the end of the story. For example, like Bogie in Casablanca, he may start out consumed by self-interest, only to gravitate toward selflessness as the story evolves. In my opinion, the most intriguing kind of hero or heroine is an extraordinary person with a flaw.

Antagonists, assuming they’re human (they often aren’t; for example, a coma was the “villain” in Elizabeth Berg’s Range of Motion) should be worthy adversaries; how satisfying is it to watch your hero vanquish a foe who comes off as a wuss?  They should also be as fully developed as the protagonists they’re battling, not one-dimensional bad guys. Villains are often driven by self-interest, but even so, give them believable motivation for doing things that may seem wrong or even evil. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather was the first novel I know of in which Mafioso were treated as real human beings, with convincing, even sympathetic reasons for participating in organized crime. Puzo’s vision spawned one of the most gripping fictional worlds in modern literature and cinema.

Keep in mind that your antagonist’s actions, no matter how appalling, make sense to him. Try not to fall back on mental illness to excuse what he does because it seems easier than coming up with credible motivation. Even psychopaths operate according to a certain logic. If you want to go that route, research the particular syndrome you’ve saddled your character with.

Secondary characters should be critical to the story. If not, weed them out, no matter how much you love them. There’s no room in even the most epic novel for filler of any kind, and that includes people who don’t serve a real function in the unfolding of the story.

There are two really essential points to take away from this article:

First, always remember that your characters’ decisions—not yours—are what drive the story. The crisis, that moment when the drama peaks, is usually precipitated by something a major character took it into his head to do. In a coming of age story, this ultimate turning point may occur after the protagonist makes a difficult decision to do something he’s never done before, to take a maturing leap. In a romance, this is often an emotional resolution: “I love her, I can’t lose her.” In a thriller, the protagonist takes the steps necessary to defeat the villain, often at great peril to himself.

Second, and most importantly, make your protagonist empathetic. We needn’t sympathize with him—he could be, say, a hit man—but we must (a word I almost never use in articles about writing) be able to identify deeply with him. Readers can overlook or forgive all kinds of flaws in the novels they read—contrivances, coincidences, awkward writing, plot holes—if they’re deeply enough invested in the central character. His goal becomes their goal, his motivation their motivation, his emotions their emotions. If you can keep someone turning the pages just to find out what happens to this person, you’ll have done your job as a storyteller, and then some.

Louisa Burton
December '08 - January '09

Read more of Louisa Burton's FictionCraft in our 2008 Archive.

"FictionCraft" © 2008 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.

About the Author:
Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martin’s. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at

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'09 Movie Reviews

Blame It On Savanna
Review by Byrdman

Cry Wolf
Review by Spooky

Review by Spooky

Heaven or Hell
Review by Oranje

House of Wicked
Review by Diesel

The Office: An XXX Parody
Review by Spooky

This Ain't The Partridge Family
Review by Spooky

'09 Book Reviews


A Slip of the Lip (ebook)
Review by Jean Roberta

Best Women's Erotica '09
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Bottoms Up
Review by Ashley Lister

Enchanted Again
Review by Victoria Blisse

Review by Kathleen Bradean

Girls on Top
Review by Ashley Lister

In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed
Review by Ashley Lister

Libidacoria (Poetry)
Review by Ashley Lister

Licks & Promises
Review by Ashley Lister

Like a Thorn (ebook)
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Mile High Club
Review by Ashley Lister

Nexus Confessions: Vol 5
Review by Victoria Blisse

Nexus Confessions 6
Review by Victoria Blisse

Oysters & Chocolate
Review by Kristina Wright

Playing with Fire
Review by Ashley Lister

Sexy Little Numbers Vol 1
Review by Ashley Lister

Up for Grabs
Review by Lisabet Sarai


A 21st Century Courtesan
Review by Donna G. Storey

The Ages of Lulu
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Amanda’s Young Men
Review by Kristina Wright

As She's Told
Review by Ashley Lister

Bedding Down
Review by Victoria Blisse

Review by Ashley Lister

Brushes & Painted Dolls
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Cassandras Chateau
Review by Ashley Lister

The Edge of Impropriety
Review by Kristina Wright

Review by Kathleen Bradean

Free Pass
Review by Ashley Lister

The Gift of Shame
Review by Victoria Blisse

Kiss It Better
Review by Ashley Lister

The Melinoe Project
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Mortal Engines & The ...
Review by Ashley Lister

The New Rakes
Review by Ashley Lister

Ninety Days of Genevieve
Review by Victoria Blisse

Obsession: An Erotic Tale
Review by Kristina Wright

Sarah's Education
Review by Ashley Lister

Seduce Me
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Lesbian Erotica

Lesbian Cowboys
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Night's Kiss
Review by Jean Roberta

Where the Girls Are
Review by Jean Roberta

Gay Erotica

Animal Attraction 2
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Boys in Heat
Review by Vincent Diamond

Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Low Road
Review by Jean Roberta

Personal Demons
Review by Jean Roberta

Ready to Serve
Review by Vincent Diamond

The Secret Tunnel
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Review by Kathleen Bradean

Review by Vincent Diamond


Best Sex Writing '09
Review by Kristina Wright

The Big Penis Book
Review by Rob Hardy

Erotic Encounters
Review by Rob Hardy

The Forbidden Apple
Review by Rob Hardy

Hollywood’s Censor
Review by Rob Hardy

Lady in Red
Review by Rob Hardy

Licentious Gotham: Erotic...
Review by Rob Hardy

Live Nude Elf
Review by Rob Hardy

Live Nude Girl
Review by Rob Hardy

The Other Side of Desire
Review by Rob Hardy

Scripts 4 Play
Review by Ashley Lister