Posted by: nancycurteman | August 16, 2016

How to Create Characters Readers Can Relate to

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Readers like to read about characters they can relate to—characters who have experiences, problems and emotions similar to their own. Readers want to understand why a character does what she does whether good or bad. They need to think: I would have done the same or I wouldn’t have, but I get it. Readers need to feel they’ve known or heard of people like the characters in the story. Writers must give characters real feelings, looks and behaviors. In order to make this happen, authors must create relatable characters. Here are some ways to do it.

Write complex characters, not one-dimensional cookie-cutter story people. Not all good or all bad. Give them flaws and have them acknowledge those flaws.

Reveal your characters’ attitudes and values. Do they value education, success, family, freedom, fame? Are they biased, conservative, liberal, honest, religious?

Share some of your characters’ personal stories. Maybe they ended a marriage or a sibling died. Give your characters hopes, dreams and aspirations. These are universal. Readers can relate to them.

Create real life problems for your character. For example, he forgets his glasses, misplaces his car keys, loses his cell phone. Readers will relate to his frustration.

Have your character struggle against his vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Readers struggle against their own vulnerabilities and will relate.

Character physical details contribute to creating relatable characters. You might give your character scars, tattoos, freckles, high-pitched voice, piercings. Have him dislike some things about himself—large nose, big ears, moles, overweight.

Motivation is universal. Describe what motivates your character—money, fame, respect, pride.

Add details about your character’s lifestyle. What are his favorite foods, music, colors, hobbies?

Give your character pain and fear. Let him fail at something. Readers can relate to these experiences.

Give your character a sense of humor. Readers will appreciate a little levity in their lives.

When readers see situations a character faces as ones they’ve experienced they see themselves or someone familiar to them in that character and they relate immediately.

More Tips:

Perfect Characters are Paper Characters
Developing Characters is No Mystery

11 Characterization Strategies

Posted by: nancycurteman | August 2, 2016

How to Avoid Character Lookalikes

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In a novel every character, both major and minor, must be unique. If characters are cookie cutter copies of each other even a good plot will not save your story. Sometimes it seems like a formidable task to come up with a multitude of individual traits particularly if you have a large number of characters. Take heart, here are some approaches you can use to avoid character lookalikes.

Consider the different elements that make up a person–appearance, behavior, interests, background, goals, mannerisms, motivations, style, actions, reactions to story events—and work from there. You will not address all of these when creating every character, but they provide a treasure trove of possibilities. Let’s look at a few of them.

Actions create interesting story people. What they do can induce sympathy, affection or hatred in your readers.

Mannerisms make your character more human. You can have him stutter, limp, lisp, jingle coins, clear his throat, grit his teeth, bite his lip.

Style relates to how your character dresses, styles her hair, uses cosmetics. Is she a fashion model or a hippy or a cowbird?

Interests can provide insight into character personality. A stamp collector will be quite different from a rapper.

Background will influence how story people react to events in your story. A character brought up in a strict religious family will respond differently to a given event than one from a worldly free-to-be background.

When you avoid character lookalikes each character brings something different to your story.

More Tips:

How to Create Sympathetic Mystery Novel Characters

How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | July 21, 2016

North Beach: An Historic San Francisco Village

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North Beach was the historic center of the beatnik subculture, a stereotypical group of intellectuals who wrote and read poetry and dressed in dark clothing and sported sunglasses. For 50 years bohemians hung out in establishments on North Beach’s Columbus Street.

In the 1800’s thousands of Italians moved into the area and brought with them Italian foods and wines. In fact, during the great 1906 fire Italians saved their village by opening wine barrels, dousing blankets in the good Italian red wine and draping them over their houses to keep them from catching fire. Ask any Italian they’ll tell you it’s the gospel truth.

th-4Italian restaurants abound in North Beach. I have three favorites. Capp’s Corner with it’s basic, old-fashioned Italian dishes and feisty servers. Another favorite is the wedge-shaped Michelangelo Restaurant, again good basic food. Finally I love the Stinking Rose. It specializes in garlic dishes. As they say on their Facebook page, “Follow your nose to the Stinking Rose.”

North Beach is a center of San Francisco nightlife where cafes and night clubs along with strip clubs line Broadway Street. On Grant Street you will find The Saloon, the oldest bar in San Francisco and famous for its blues music.

SFNL6BeachBlanketBabylonVAL300dpicolor_54_990x660_201404181451-1A trip to North Beach wouldn’t be complete without attending the great musical revue at the iconic Beach Blanket Babylon that has been performing satires on pop culture and politicians for more than 40 years. You’ll love the hats.

After you visit the small boutiques on upper Grant and the Beat Museum to learn a bit about Kerouac and his beat generation friends, end your tour in the tranquil Washington Square Park for a few quiet moments.

More Tips:

5 San Francisco Activities Dear to San Franciscans

The San Francisco Village of Chinatown


Posted by: nancycurteman | July 11, 2016

The San Francisco Village of Chinatown

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ff57401c412f63bea0e529c08ff0560eSan Francisco has been called a city of small villages. Each neighborhood has its own culture. Chinatown is one of those villages. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the second largest Chinese community in the United States. Established in 1848, it is the oldest Chinatown in North America. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. But it is also a community in which you will find people engaged in the tasks of everyday life—shopping, dining out, visiting and strolling. It is an enclave that retains its own customs, languages, places of worship and cultural identity.

The grand entrance to Chinatown is through the famous Chinatown Gate at Bush Street and Grant Avenue. A pair of guardian lions, one male and one female, provide protection from harm for the inhabitants. There are two main streets in the community. One is Grant street. It is lined with curio shops and decorated with red lanterns. These red and gold lanterns represent wealth, fame and prosperity. The streetlights along Grant are supported by golden dragons that represent strength, wisdom, intelligence and

Venture on to Stockton, the other main street, for a totally different view of the neighborhood. Here you will see the parade of daily life. Browse produce and live animal markets. Check out Chinese apothecaries and small restaurants. Enjoy the interesting art of people watching.

For a peek at the religious culture, visit a couple of temples such as the Tien Hau that houses a temple on the top floor dedicated to the Goddess of Heaven. Another temple is Kong Chow famous for its colorful altars.

Like Cantonese food? Try the Great Eastern Restaurant on Jackson Street. Another fine restaurant is House of Nanking on Kearny Street. After lunch, be sure to stop by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where you can watch the cookies as they are created. You can also sample fresh fortune cookies. Make a stop at the Red Blossom Tea Company. Taste imported teas and purchase some to take home.

The Chinese Cultural Center offers guided tours. For about $30 you can learn a lot of history about this unique and interesting San Francisco neighborhood. Chinatown is one of the most interesting San Francisco Villages.


More Tips:

5 San Francisco Activities Dear to San Franciscans

Posted by: nancycurteman | July 1, 2016

How to Write Flash Fiction

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flashfictioncartoon-300x300Art Carey, author of “The Gender War,” A Novel, and Flash Fiction writer extraordinaire, is my guest blogger. He offers a brief, to-the-point piece on the art of creating Flash Fiction, a style of writing that is very popular in today’s fast-paced world. As a former newspaper reporter and journalist instructor, Mr. Carey provides concise how-to-write information on Flash Fiction. Enjoy his piece below.

Learn How to Write Flash Fiction in a Flash

Why write flash fiction? Change of pace, less time required, no research, challenge, opportunity to be published.

Flash Fiction is story telling in a box. The box is the maximum number of words.
Micro—Fewer than 100 words
Extreme—Fewer than 500 words
Usual—500 to 1,500 words
Sweet spot—1,000 words

Minimum length: Whatever works. Ernest Hemingway’s classic six words: For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
My six-word example: (Not a classic but published in penny fiction): My bad… The gun was loaded.

Characteristics—Often similar to longer stories with: protagonist, conflict, obstacles, and resolution.

Omissions—Anything wordy: monologues, flashbacks, prolonged description, digression.

Things to keep in mind:

Remember KISS: (Keep it simple, stupid)
Limit the number of characters.
Make something happen.
Have a strong ending.
Pick a single theme.
Surprise the reader.
Polish language.


Both print and the Internet offer possibilities. Consult Google for “flash fiction publishers.”

Internet sites to see:

Flash fiction—Wikipedia
Flash Fiction Online
Flash Fiction Magazine
Top 20 Places to Submit Flash Fiction
DuotropeFlash Fiction Online ($50 membership required. Valuable for active writers.)

Looking for a challenge? Write a story with an exact number of words. No more. No less.

Some online possibilities with word limits:

50-Word Stories
Blink-Ink 50
Prime Number Magazine 5
101 Fiction
200 CCs  185-215
Nano Fiction 300
Fewer Than 500
Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize 750
Word Count is your friend here. Add and subtract words to fit.

Final thoughts: Writing should be more than just work. It can be fun, too. Start by reading examples of flash fiction online. Then dive right in.

There you have it. Art Carey’s advice on writing Flash Fiction in a Flash.


Posted by: nancycurteman | June 19, 2016

5 Ways to Prop up the Droopy Middle of a Mystery Novel

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Contrary to common belief, the most difficult mystery novel chapters to write are not the beginning and ending ones. They are the middle chapters. The middle is the section in which the story often starts to droop. If the middle chapters droop then readers will either skip those sections or stop reading all together. Don’t allow your middle chapters to put your readers to sleep. Here are 5 ways you can prop up the droopy middle of a mystery novel:

  • Start by reviewing the chapters and cutting any sections that are boring.
  • Add a new challenge for your main character—another murder, increase the obstacles he must conquer or introduce a moral dilemma.
  • Add a new antagonist. Someone who creates problems for the protagonist. You might turn a trusted friend into an unexpected antagonist. Betrayal is always painful.
  • Have your protagonist discover that a truth he believed is false or a person he suspected was guilty was actually innocent or someone he thought was innocent is in fact the culprit.
  • Add some humorous or romantic scenes or subplots.

Remember, throughout the middle of your novel it’s essential to continue to increase the obstacles—emotional, physical, moral—that your protagonist must face and master.

More tips:

Make your Middles Sizzle Instead of Fizzle

Posted by: nancycurteman | June 6, 2016

5 Elements of a Well-Written Mystery Novel

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thThere are five core elements for a well-written mystery story: character, theme, structure, scene and author voice.  In this post I will provide a basic definition of each with links to posts that examine each competency more in-depth.

This involves the process an author uses to reveal the personality of a character either directly (author description) or indirectly (the reader must infer what the character is like).

Themes may be major or minor. A major theme is an idea the author returns to frequently in the novel. Minor themes are ideas that may appear a couple of times in the story. For mystery writers a major theme is “crime does not pay.” A minor theme might be “overcoming adversity”—despite failed relationships a character finds a new romance.

At its most basic level, story structure relates to the beginning, middle, and end of your novel. These three elements are the base of the pyramid on which an engaging novel is built. Story structure is the skeleton of a novel. It’s important to ensure the bones are strong enough to support an interesting fleshy story.

Think of each scene as a mini story with a beginning, middle and ending. Effective scenes must provide change that moves the plot forward. Think conflict, tension, suspense, emotional stress.

Authorial voice and character voice are closely connected. A writer’s voice is usually embedded in the way a point-of-view character speaks, thinks and most important in his attitude.

To explore these concepts in greater depth, click on the above links.

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 26, 2016

How to Write Compelling Dialogue

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th-1In order to use dialogue effectively you need to understand its purpose. Dialogue must reveal character, advance plot, make characters real and suggest or provide action. Your job is to imagine ways you can use dialogue to meet these goals and still hold reader interest. Here are some strategies to ensure that your dialogue does its job:
  • Vary the length of dialogue lines. Don’t have characters speak in long, complicated sentences unless you want to create a boring story person.
  • Intersperse dialogue with action: Mary threw open the bedroom door. “She’s gone!”
  • Interject interior thoughts: Mary knew John would be angry if Sam appeared at the door. She tried to act nonchalant but she had to figure a way to get him to leave as soon a possible. “I had a great time. Call me.”
  • Insert some setting description: Mary realized she had overdressed for the dinner date. High heels and a silk dress didn’t work for a roadside restaurant with old wooden tables, hard-backed chairs, greasy menus and truck drivers in jeans and sweatshirts. She searched for something to say. “Is this one of your favorite restaurants?”
  • Replace some dialogue with short summaries: John and Mary chatted for awhile about the movie they’d just seen. Mary checked her watch. John caught the hint and stood.
  • Pair action with dialogue: “I’m sick of your nagging,” Mary said and slammed the door as she left the house.
  • Use action to identify a speaker: “I’m sick of your nagging.” Mary slammed the door as she left the house.
  • Add simple actions to dialogue: “Yes,” she said, taking of sip of water or noticing the mailman or stirring the pasta or picking threads off her pants.
  • Interrupt dialogue with sounds unrelated to the conversation: She paused at the sound of screeching car brakes or a yowling cat or the baby crying.
  • Replace words with gestures: He shrugged or nodded.
  • Eliminate unnecessary chit-chat and social niceties. We use them in real life but they are boring in print.
  • Use informal language with incomplete sentences and some incorrect grammar. Real people don’t always speak in complete sentences with perfect grammar.

Do you have other ideas for ensuring that dialogue is readable and advances plot, reveals character and add action? We’d love to hear them.

More Tips:

How to Solve the Interior Monologue Mystery
Dialogue: Body Language Communicates More Than Words
4 Ways to Keep Dialogue Interesting

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 14, 2016

Old Québec City: A Jewel in Canada’s Crown

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th-2Québec City, the capital of the Province of Québec, is the oldest city in Canada. It has its roots in Stadacona, a St. Lawrence Iroquoian Indian village explored by Jacques Cartier in 1534. These First Nations people settled the region in the 14th century. The 400 year-old city was founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 as a trading post. The center of all this history is Old Québec, a UNESCO world heritage treasure.

Old Québec is the only walled city north of Mexico. It is made for walking. The ancient streets are narrow and winding. As you stroll it’s cobblestone streets you will find it’s a living history lesson which includes heritage, art and culture.

Basse-Ville or lower town situated on the banks of the St Lawrence River harbor was the original neighborhood of the city and is filled with quaint stone buildings and historic treasures.

Place Royale is a square on the site of the garden of Champlain’s Habitation constructed in 1608.

Parc des Champs-de-Bataille preserves the grassy, cliff-top Plains of Abraham where the French lost the battle that ended their hopes for an empire in America.

Citadel is the largest British-built fortress in North America. Today it houses the Royal 22nd Regiment, the only Francophone infantry contingent of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Quartier Petit-Champlain is the oldest shopping district in North America filled with little boutiques and cozy cafes housed in restored cottages. One of the houses belonged to Louis Jolliet who discovered the Mississippi River.

Notre-Dame Basilica with its neo-Baroque interior, has stood on the same spot since 1647. It is gilded in shimmering gold leaf and contains historic religious paintings and treasures that date back to the French colonial period.

Old Québec is the historic heart of Québec City and the soul of French culture in Canada.

More Travel Tips:

Posted by: nancycurteman | April 30, 2016

How to Perfect Pacing

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Pacing is the manipulation of time and controlling the rhythm and speed of events in a story. However, when we look in depth at pacing we see that it isn’t so much about the occurrence of specific events but more the way those events are presented. An event consists of a build up, an action and an aftermath of the action. These elements will vary with each genre.

The build up is about decision-making, planning, and preparation. In a police procedural or suspense story it may be quite long. This is the section where we would create moral conflict in the mind of the main character and where we create fear and worry in a reader. However, in an adventure story this section would take up far less story space.

The action is what a character does or experiences that advances the plot. This element may be fast-paced or slow paced. For example in a mystery novel, thriller or adventure story the pace is usually fast while the pace of a suspense novel will be slower in order to build fear of what will happen.

The aftermath is the reaction or change in characters or plot due to the action. This section might thrust your character into an immediate new obstacle or it might take a bit of time to analyze the emotional impact on that character. In a romance novel this section will be longer in order to show the depth of sorrow, misunderstanding or love resulting from the action.

Attention to the role of these three elements will help perfect your pacing.

Here are a few additional suggestions to keep your pacing at a level that will hold reader interest:

  • Start a scene where the action starts.
  • Add backstory in small pieces within the context of the current story event.
  • Keep characters in motion when they are talking or thinking—twisting shirt buttons, scratching, chewing gum, pacing.
  • Write some scenes that are not wild and wooly action. Give your reader a rest.


Pacing can be tricky, but it’s as essential as character development and setting. Give it the same level of attention.

More Tips:
Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel
Secrets of a Well-Paced Nove

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