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Suggestions from Susan Elizabeth Phillips

At the RWA National Conference this year in San Antonio,Texas I was pleased to attend a session by author Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She is a New York Times bestseller and a three-time RITA winner. Her goal was to demonstrate how to give your characters depth and dimension.

The room was packed and I was pleased to be able to find a seat. Her first comment was, “Absorb what works for me.” That was a timely reminder as every author is different and it is critical to find one’s own approach to writing a novel.

She reminded us that the reader wants a heroine who has:

  • strength
  • humour
  • the ability to grow

The heroine should be:

  • passionate about something

And most importantly, the reader wants to:

  • care for and root for the heroine

Of course, to be considered ‘real’ she must possess some bad traits as well.  Ms. Phillips stressed that the author has to flesh out the standard archetypes -the girl next door, the vixen etc.

Here is an interesting point that worked for me. She suggested using ‘detail’ to show rather than tell. She asked the audience to create a heroine who is a bossy CEO, who is up in the ski mountains and is consumed with frustration.

My example was:

Samantha jammed her cell phone into the pocket of her ski jacket. “I hate this, I hate this,” she shouted into the wind. “I expected to connect with Mathew from here. I’ll lose the contract! What an idiot! He promised me that the reception was excellent.”

And finally, she suggested reading through your scenes from the hero’s POV and then the heroine’s POV.

Just a couple of strategies from a prolific and successful author.

Have you tried to weave in more details to your characters’ actions?