Give your heroine a makeover!

Day 18753 of reading the Outlander series; I am on page 567 of book #4, still 12,698 pages to go. But I’m still hooked, and not just because of the hero, but because of the storyworld, the writing, and the heroine, who continues to intrigue me as carves out a life in the past, in an untamed world, so different from the one she left.

I keep asking myself. . .would I give up modern medicine, hot water, electricity and my cell phone to follow the man I love into poverty and near-death adventures?

Okay, maybe. If he was wearing a kilt. But Claire is an intriguing heroine, one I’m still trying to unpack, four books into the series.

Truth be told, I used to hate romances. Why? Because I didn’t respect a woman who had to have a man save her. But I did respect a woman who allowed a man into her life to make her better, stronger, more noble, more complete.  This is Claire – she needs Jamie, but she saves him just as often as he saves her.

So, what makes a fantastic heroine?

Goals Give your heroine a measurable goal. Both your hero and heroine need to have a goal, but it’s essential for your heroine. She needs to be proactive, to fight for something she believes in.

Claire is a modern day woman living in an old-fashioned world, something that gets her into trouble repeatedly. Until book #4, Claire’s goals were clear – get back to Frank, then save Jamie, then stop Jamie and his kinsmen from getting killed, then get BACK to Jamie (after being separated from him).  Now, in book #4, her goal is to keep Jamie alive (because, being a time-traveler, she saw his death and hopes to change it).

These are all goals we can get on board with and fight the fight with her. Making her proactive and strong makes her noble—and someone worth spending time with.

Competence Give her a skill, something she does well (and make her confident about this skill!)  Claire is a healer, (a surgeon back in the present), and this skill is used to save herself (and jamie) even though it lands her likewise in trouble.  Use this competence/confidence as a character strength, but also a source of conflict for your heroine.

FlawYour heroine needs one realistic flaw, one that she can start to overcome because of the hero. It’s easy for a heroine to have flaws—mostly because we write about ourselves, and we all have flaws. But don’t give her too many!  Claire’s flaw is that she is headstrong (of course, because she is from our time).  The more she learns to trust Jamie, and the more she realizes this is a different world, the more she begins to soften.

Fear Give her a fear, something realistic and based on something in her past, or a realistic fear of the future. Don’t make it about “being single.” And make her fear deep, something the hero has to figure out, even pry out of her.

Claire’s realistic fear is that Jamie will die and leave her stranded, alone, in the past.  She’s seen his grave, after all, and she knows she can’t go back to the present without dying.  A great fear isn’t just conjured up – it has a strong basis for belief; strong enough that the reader relates and fears the same thing.  Every time Jamie goes out for a hunt I am desperately hoping he returns and doesn’t leave Claire and I stranded in the one-room cabin in the wilderness.

Beauty – Give her a special kind of beauty, both inner and outer, that only the hero can see/love. Something special, that’s only hers. Maybe it’s her eyes, but also the way that she can look right through him and see what he needs. Or maybe it’s her patience. Maybe it’s her strength to see the good, or believe in the good.

Jamie loves Claire not for her beauty, (but yes, there’s that), but her strength and courage.

How to give your Heroine a Makeover:

  • Goal – What does your heroine believe in? What is she fighting for?
  • Confidence – What is your heroine good at? Give us a reason to applaud your heroine. (Think life skills, career, even spiritual gifts.)
  • Fear – If you asked your heroine “What are you afraid of?” what would she say? Think about that dark moment in your heroine’s past—did that create a fear in her life that carried over to today?
  • Flaw – Your heroine is less than perfect. What’s your heroine’s flaw? Ask: What do you do when life gets tough?
  • Beauty – What unique trait makes her beautiful?

Have a great writing week.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

smw sig without background

Give your Hero a makeover – Highlander Style!

I gave it my very best shot.  I’ve longed believed that a great writer also READS, so I try and read a great book every weekend.  I love Friday nights – searching through my TBR pile to find the book that speaks to me, then settling down with a great novel late Friday night, reading it after Saturday morning chores are finished, and spending Sunday afternoon on the sofa finishing the book.

Unless that book is, say, a Diana Gabaldon novel.  Yes, I did it – I jumped into the Outlander series to see what all the hubbub was about.  At 550 pages, book one is daunting. . .until you start reading. (I’m on book #3, and while I spent 12 hours reading yesterday, I only managed to get half-way through the 870 page tome. . .but I will not be denied!)  Yes, it’s long. . .and frankly, a lot grittier than books I normally read.  But . . .

The Hero.  Oh, the Hero.  Jamie Fraser.  What is it about this Scottish Highlander that is so appealing?  The kilt?  The brogue? The fact that doing battle for his woman is second nature?

Or is it simply that Jamie embodies so well the 5 traits that make a fantastic, heartthrob hero? 

Honorable – Jamie is a highlander, which means he runs with a crowd of other kilted men. But Jamie is not like the others – from the verra beginn’ he has a sense of honor, a way of protecting the heroine, from wrapping her in his plaid to keep her warm to telling her that as long as she is with him, she’ll be safe. Despite his renegade past (he is an outlaw. . . but falsely accused), he treats the heroine with chivalry.

Flawed – Jamie also has issues. . .namely, he’s prideful. Which is played out in his stubbornness. So stubborn, it nearly got him killed, led to the death of his father, and gets him into one peck of trouble after another. Why is he so stubborn? Because his pride is all he has left after the English have taken everything else from him.  I talked about FLAWS in previous blogs (find them HERE), but the great trick about a flaw is that you can use it to cause your character to make powerful plot decisions. For example, it is Jamie’s stubbornness that also allows him to rescue Claire (the heroine) over and over again (armed with nothing but his bare hands and an empty pistol, in one pivotal scene). And it is his pride that is eventually taken from him at the end of book one. (*warning, this sequence of events is particularly gritty/disturbing.)

However, it’s seeing him overcome this flaw, slowly, and finally emerging into a new person who can forgive himself and accept help is part of the heroism of the character.

Fearful – Our hero has to have a fear if he is to be real. Jamie is deeply afraid of losing the people he loves (he’s lost his father, believes he failed to save his sister’s honor, and fears, in the end losing Claire.)  For Jamie, this fear is embodied in his greatest enemy, Black Jack Randall.  This fear of losing the ones he loves is what causes him to make stupid – and heroic – decisions.  But without a fear, a character can’t be manipulated, can’t be changed. Can’t overcome.

Sometimes a novel will start out with his fear being realized, and the result is so horrible we understand why he will run from it. Or, the fear is built slowly, with revelations, to the Dark Moment story. Most of all, the fear will build until the Black Moment Event makes it real. And then, his  courage to face it will cause him to change forever.

Courageous! – I’m not talking about his ability to pick up his broadsword and fight the English. Yes, he’s very heroic as he goes to battle in his kilt, but his greatest courage is found in his willingness to change. We don’t like heroes who are stuck in their ways, that don’t see their need for change. Jamie has a powerful come-to-Jesus moment when he realizes he’s married a woman who doesn’t conform to his highlander expectations of a wife and he has to choose between tradition and finding a new pattern for marriage.

Tender – Okay, I know this is where we say – hello?  Is this hero realistic? But yes, a great hero has to have tender, heart-revealing moments. (Just keep them real!)  Jamie is a warrior – he spends a lot of time ordering Claire around, telling her how to behave, and even dragging her headlong into trouble (and her, him!)  But in between those moments, he’s not afraid to reach into his heart and pull out something swoon-worthy. One of my favorite scenes takes place after he rescues Claire from Black Jack Randall. He is furious with her because she didn’t obey him, thus getting herself captured. They get into a terrific fight until he says (my paraphrase), “You’re just trying to punish me for (essentially) not protecting you.”  He then goes on to tell her how, when she was taken, he stormed the castle armed with nothing but his bare hands and an empty gun.  And how she is “tearing his guts out.”  Not the most romantic thing to say, but somehow this revelation is overwhelmingly tender and suddenly, we forgive him for everything he’s just said to her in anger.

How to give your Hero a Makeover: (Highlander Style)

  1. Make him honorable! If he’s a rogue, give him a good reason for it.  And always treat the heroine with some measure of respect/protection.
  2. Make him flawed. . .and have him fix that flaw (mostly) by the end of the novel.
  3. Give him a real, founded fear, and have him face it (sometimes more than once).
  4. Show that he has the courage to change, by giving him small then increasingly larger changes through the story.
  5. Give him tender moments of revelation. (but make them realistic!)


Of course, it doesn’t hurt if your hero has russet whiskers, curly red hair, broad shoulders, blue eyes and always manages to show up just when your heroine needs him, ready to save the day.

Go! Write something brilliant!

smw sig without background







Do I like you? (creating LIKEABLE characters!)

I’ve been on quite a few planes lately as I travel to conferences, and one of the blessings is meeting new people. And every once in a while, I get lucky and sit next to something not only unusual and fun, but who is a hero.

Such was the case last week when, travelling from Minneapolis to Dallas, I sat next to a guy named AJ.  Who was a. . .firefighter!  Not a volunteer, but a professional, full-time firefighter for a town in New Jersey.  And, he was willing to talk about his profession and give me a plethora of great story ideas.

It wasn’t just his profession, however, that made him heroic. . .that was just the foundation. It was his quest.  AJ was flying down to Dallas to pick up a DOG of a friend who had passed away and driving that dog to a new home back in Jersey.

Sweet, I know.

We’ve been studying the Character Change journey over the past few weeks (  We started with understanding the steps, and building the Story Equation, staring with the Dark Moment Story.  Then, we added a Goal, fueled by the Why and the What.

But it all starts with the WHO.  Who are you and why should we like you? 

When your character walks onto the page, this is the first obstacle an author must address. . .making a reader LIKE your character.  Often, a reader resists going on a journey because they simply don’t like the character.

It’s a delicate balance because the flip side is that your character must have a FLAW.

The Flaw is key because it is through the flaw that we understand your character’s change.  A flaw is the outward, behavioral expression of a character’s fear.  We avoid relationships because we are afraid of getting hurt.  We are overprotective because we don’t want our children to be killed.  We make rash decisions because we fear losing opportunities.

(I’ll bet if you look at your flaws, you can trace them to either a past fear or a future fear).

Because a great story confronts a hero’s greatest fear, and offers an epiphany, which then heals his flaw.  It’s a visible character change.

But if we don’t like the character enough in the beginning, if his flaw is too great, we’ll never stick around to see the change.

Which brings us back to likeability.  Often authors start too strong with the flaw.  They know their character has issues, and they start with him in that dark place.  Danger! If he’s too much of a jerk, the reader immediately thinks:  why should I hang around with this oaf of a guy (or gal.) They’re suddenly looking through the free books on their Kindle.

Let’s fix that.

Enter, AJ.  I am sure the guy has flaws – I didn’t hang around with him enough to know, however.  But he made a great profile for a character. Someone who, at the core, was heroic.  And that core propelled him to a heroic purpose.

When you’re creating a character, you must start at the core of your character – WHO he is, drilling all the way down to the Dark Moment Story.  But don’t stop there.  Ask your character his Happiest Moment Story as well. This is the opposite of the Dark Moment Story, but it functions on the same way.  It is something in his past that produces a greatest dream and helps cement his WANT.  (You can also use this to determine his happily ever after ending.)

AJ’s father was a firefighter.  There’s a story there, I know it.  (I didn’t want to make the guy ask for a seat change, so I didn’t pry that deep.)  But something in his past – probably good – propelled him to be a firefighter.

The Dark Moment and Happiest Moment stories comprise his core.

Now, everything he does emerges from that core.  Like saving people  (as AJ mentioned, he’s not there to save a house, but to save the lives in that house).  And, saving a dog.

So, how does this translate onto the page?

  1. Start with the core of your character. (Dark Moment Story/Happiest Moment Story).  Who are they at the core?  Teacher? Healer? Rescuer?
  2. How does that translate into a Noble Quest? (saving the dog!)
  3. How can he SHOW that core element at the beginning of the book, just a little (for example, as I was putting up my bag, I saw AJ glance my direction, as if willing to help. . .in a book, the hero might take that step, even if it might be reluctantly.) I call it the Boy Scout moment.  (James Scott Bell calls it Pet the Dog, or Save the Cat (Blake Snyder)).

Now you’re free to add in the FLAW.   Show him helping the gal with her bag, (maybe it’s about to fall on him) and when she turns to thank him, he shrugs it off . . .not willing to engage in conversation.

Characters should be complicated – because people are complicated.  But they also need to be likeable.  Start your journey with a hero (even just a hint of one) and your readers will sit down with him and hang out all the way to Dallas.

Go! Write something brilliant!

smw sig without background



The ONE EASY Trick to SHOWING character change  

We’re giving our characters an Extreme Character Makeover over the past month – check out these posts (Nailing the Character Change Journey, and the KEY to building character motivation for change).  But nailing true Character change is hard to SHOW, right?  Because so often change happens in the inside. . .or does it?

At MBT, we teach the Story Equation – the idea that all character’s start their journey propelled by a Dark Moment Story, or some event in their past (recent or early on) that has created in their psyche a fear, a lie and a wound.

From there, the character change begins, moving your character from the LIE he believes, toward his Black Moment (Greatest Fear) his epiphany (TRUTH) and finally that Final Battle, or the thing he can do at the end that he can’t at the beginning.

But here’s the problem. 

While all that looks like INTERNAL change, it must be displayed on the page as EXTERNAL action.

So, how to you show this change? 

Here’s the TRICK:  Give your character a FLAW.

See, we all have flaws, and if you look closely at them, you’ll see that they are most often a result of our fears.  A mother fears her children getting hurt, so she overprotects. A man fears failing in his job, so he becomes a workaholic.  A woman fears being rejected, so she molds herself into being someone she isn’t.  A man fears getting his heart broken so he plays the field fast and loose, never settling down.

Our fears create our flaws, and our flaws are visible.

However, as our fears are slowly overtaken by truth, our flaws begin to change, to be healed.

So, too for our character in his journey. When our character begins to develop skills to face his fears, his flaws will begin to be healed.  During Act 2, he makes a choice contrary to his current behavior because his is no longer afraid.  And, after the epiphany, he is able to overcome his flaw and embody his triumphant final act.  He is able to “storm the castle,” or declare his love, or take the throne – whatever action he couldn’t do at the beginning because of his fears.  

But to do any of this, your character must have that Dark Moment Story to start his journey. Without this, you have no greatest fear, and thus, nothing to build his flaw on.  You’re simply picking a flaw from thin air.  In other words, your character needs a good reason for his flaw.

Here’s a bonus trick:

  • Men’s fears often stem from the past, something they don’t want repeated.
  • Women’s fears often stem from the future, or something they are trying to stop from happening (or something they are trying to make happen, because they fear it won’t).

So, when you’re developing the FLAW, look at the FEAR and determine the external behavior motivated by that fear. Then, show your character’s change by seeing the flaw at the beginning, show him slightly overcoming the flaw in the middle, and finally stepping into healing in the finale.

And remember, it all starts with the Dark Moment Story.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

P.S.  If you need help plotting your story, starting your story, or even getting the story on the page, we have a RARE, FREE Open House this Thursday, May 7, 2015.  Get a rare sneak peek at what goes on behind the scenes at MBT, as we continue our Build-A-Book series, diving deep on the Inciting Incident and Telling Yourself the Story!

Click HERE to sign up.

P.P.S  And May the Fourth be with you.