It’s the Characters… by Shannon Donnelly

Posted on Jun 26, 2014 by   6 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized

ShannonDonnelly_NM (1)The alpha hero who suddenly goes all mushy…the heroine who’s supposed to be kick-ass but she keeps needing to be saved by that alpha hero…the bad guy who seems to want the heroine just because and who knows why he’s really all that bad…

What do all these characters have in common?

The poor characters are being pushed around by the plot.

Seeing this once too often in contest manuscripts led me to create the workshop, Plotting from Character that I’m doing for FF&P this July.

When plot pushes characters into acting ‘out of character’ or doing things just because the plot demands it, that’s a problem. It’s a problem because now the reader’s ability to believe in the story has been strained—strain that too much and you lose readers.

So…how do you avoid this?

You plot from your characters—from the inside out. And here’s some tips before the workshop to help you out with this.

Ten steps to create the story from the inside out.

1. Start at the deepest point: for every character, find that person’s core internal need. What is a core internal need? We’ll cover this more in the workshop but basically it is something that character needs inside them—a need formed early in life. Maybe a need to fit in, or a need to find courage, or a need to hold to honor. You want to know what this is and why the character has this need.

2. When looking for motivations (the why) for a character’s core need, discard the first three or four ideas (those will be clichés). And always remember motivations are strongest if tied to a specific event in the character’s formative years—create these scenes (you may use them in the story).

3. Create one main external goal for the main character. You want to set up conflict within the character between internal need and external goal. Also you want that external goal to be tangible, so the reader knows if the character gets it or not.

4. There should be consequences for failing to achieve the external goal—failure should be personally costly. This goal drives your action—but the conflict between need and goal will create a lot of tension in the story.

5. Focus the story on one character’s specific growth. That is at the heart of the book and will relate to your theme.

6. Layer strengths and weaknesses into EVERY character–compliment and contrast the characters and their abilities and flaws.

7. Create secondary characters around the main one, with clear needs, goals and motivations for every character. Don’t just throw in a bad guy for the sake of having a bad guy who causes trouble—know what every person wants and why they want it.

8. Give every character a secret–maybe even one that stays hidden during this story.

9. Leave room for characters to surprise you. And remember, even bad guys need love.

10. Let the action (the plot) come from your character’s driving external goal—throw obstacles at the character and let the character tackle them in character (instead of throwing solutions).

Character is revealed through the character’s reaction to those obstacles as he or she tries to achieve his or her goal. That is story. Plot is the construction of the obstacles in any character’s path.

What this means is you want the story to come out of the characters you craft instead of crafting your characters into a specific plot. Readers love characters—so strong characters facing big problems are going to help you get readers who love your stories, and your characters.

Shannon Donnelly Bio

Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the

The author's New Mexico homeland

The author’s New Mexico homeland

“Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA’s Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.” She is also the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire. Connect with her at:





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6 Responses to "It’s the Characters… by Shannon Donnelly"

  1. Comment by Nancy Lee Badger
    June 27, 2014 8:39 am

    When I read a romance novel, perfect men are rare and…boring. When I write, I make my heroes either hiding a dark secret, or scarred physically or emotionally. If my heroine can see past these problems, doesn’t it make the romance even hotter? You bet! Thank you for agreeing.

    • Comment by Shannon Donnelly
      June 27, 2014 1:56 pm


      Aren’t secrets just the best way to really give your character dimension? I recommend that always. Even if you don’t reveal the secret in the book, it adds depth to your characters.


  2. Comment by Leigh
    July 1, 2014 3:22 pm

    Great stuff! I made notes. Thanks!

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