Monday, April 24, 2017

Guest Post: (SOME) OF MY WRITING SECRETS by Jan Christensen

For this last Monday in April, we have a special guest post from our former President, Jan Christensen. This is the first of what will be quite a number of informative posts from Jan about writing and tips she has come up with over the years.


I write "by the seat of my pants." If I outline, which I dislike doing in the first place, I lose interest in writing the story--it's like reading a book for the second time immediately after you just read it for the first time.


But I've found out after writing several novels and lots of short stories, that there are some tricks that can help me with both character AND plot.

So, what I do now is think of several characters and start writing. After a while, I probably know what they do for a living, what they look like and some tiny bit about their personalities.

But I need more. I need to know their secrets. The sooner I know their secrets, the more I can ratchet up the conflict and tension for them. Because of course, they don't want anyone else to know their secrets, so they'll often do things than are unreasonable to keep them.

Each character also needs to be motivated by something. And then I have the fun of putting obstacles in her way to creative tension and conflict there, too.

So, two important ways to help yourself have interesting characters your readers will care about is to give each one (even many of the minor characters) a secret or two, and something they want badly.  It could be that what they want badly is to hide their secret.

It's up to you when to divulge the secrets. Often it's best to wait a while to do that, but other times it's good for the reader to know almost right away because it explains why the character acts as she does. And it's always delicious, isn't it, to be in on other people's secrets?

Jan Christensen ©2017

Jan Christensen lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, and has had nine novels and over seventy short stories published.


Art Taylor said...

Great seeing you here, Jan--and good points here too! I particularly like the idea of giving attention to even the minor characters, giving them a secret or two. Helps build the overall conflict and deepen the story indeed!

Peter DiChellis said...

Thanks for the ideas, Jan. Secrets make engaging mysteries -- the more the better. Interesting to use them for both character and plot development.

Linda Thorne said...

This was interesting. I'm a pantser too, but I do depend on a calendar to keep the dates of what's going on correct in my head and in a very general way, that calendar serves as a type of outline for me. I've found myself moving scenes up soon and delaying some because of how they flow on that calendar.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I need to work from a flexible, rough outline to keep the writing plot organized and avoid errors. But I agree the characters should have intriguing personal mysteries that are revealed with small bits of info as the story progresses.

jrlindermuth said...

Even those who won't admit it, love to delve into the secrets of others. Great suggestion, Jan.

Jennifer Soosar said...

I find outlining the whole thing can take some of the excitement out of the project, too. But, for a novel, I like to have a roadmap. I focus on the major plot points and leave the rest to "pantsing".

Susan Oleksiw said...

Excellent suggestions, Jan. I'll go back and look at the characters I'm working with now to see if I've given them strong enough secrets and motivations. I also can't outline--it seems to take the life out of writing. When I start on a story or novel, I usually have a general idea of where I'm going but no plan or road map. The process of discovery opens up the story possibilities.

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for sharing these secrets, Jan. I already see where I can apply them in stories I'm working on.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Secrets! Ah! Always interesting and often fun. Thanks Jan.

Jan Christensen said...

Wow, thanks everyone, for commenting. I was off-line today until now, and decided to see if there were any comments. I'm wonderfully surprised, and hope you all can come up with some great secrets in your current stories. Onward!