Sunday, May 11, 2008


A WOW Salute to MOM

By Valerie Fentress

How could we WOW women pass up the opportunity to give a big THANK YOU to all the Moms our there? (By the way today’s mother’s day if you forgot)

I encourage you to take a moment (after you call the mom in your life) to think about the impact of Moms. None of us can escape having one, and each have a unique impact on our lives. No matter if you have the best mom in the world, or never knew her, she made an impact. She pushed and pulled you. Molded and shaped you. In someway made you into the person you are today and the person you will be tomorrow.

Since Moms have such a great impact on us as individual, have you ever thought about what kind of mom your characters have? Consider who Holden Caulfield’s mom was, and what an impact changing her characteristics would have had on Holden’s outlook in Catcher in the Rye. What about Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice? If she’d been a sensible woman would Lydia have run off with the mischievous Mr. Wickham, or have caused such drama between Darcy and Lizzy.

Almost any novel can completely change if you remove or add in a motherly characteristic, and that says a lot about Moms. So let that be an encouragement to the Mom’s out there. Your job is one of the hardest and we would need to celebrate Mother’s Day year round for centuries to truly reward and thank you for the people you have made us. We know it’s not the easiest title to hold, but the impact can last forever.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


The List

By Valerie Fentress

We all want to be on it. We all want to bask in the glory of the prestige, but how do books reach the New York Times Best Seller List?

Well the best way to make a goal is to know how the beast operates. And surprisingly the list isn't put together by the New York Times Book Review department. (Which could be a blessing or a curse, depending) The list is actually put together by the News Surveys department.

The list is based on weekly sales reports obtained from selected samples of independent and chain bookstores, as well as wholesalers, throughout the United States. The sales figures are widely believed to represent books that have actually been sold at retail, rather than wholesale figures, as the Times surveys a number of actual booksellers in an attempt to better reflect what is actually purchased by individual buyers.

"According to Alan T. Sorensen of Stanford Business School, who studied sales of hardcover fiction, the majority of book buyers use the Times’ list to see what is worth reading. Therefore, according to Sorensen, relatively unknown writers get the biggest benefit from being on the list, while for already best-selling authors such as Danielle Steel or John Grisham, being on the list makes virtually no difference in increasing sales." (^ "Readers Tap Best-Seller List for New Authors", Stanford Business Magazine, February 2005. Last accessed December 2006. See also Alan T. Sorensen, Bestseller Lists and Product Variety: The Case of Book Sales, May 2004.)

So how does one get their book on the Best Seller List? Most of the efforts in increasing sales has to do with marketing and public relations. The more hype you create through interviews, book signings, and the efforts made by your publisher/agent. Each play a large roll in creating a buzz within the book world, which in turn will get more and more of the individual buyers interested.

So it is important to learn the steps to marketing that manuscript as it is knowing how to write it. The NYT list changes weekly, which shows us it is possible. And a lot of is comes down to timing and effort.

Best of Luck, and I hope on day to see you on the list.

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Monday, April 21, 2008


Technical Times

By Valerie Fentress

Whether we like it or not technology is what runs the world, and even more so the writing world: Microsoft and Apple, desktop to laptop, email and the internet. These things permeate our homes, our workplaces, and even our writing. So what are some of the tricks and trends that we writers need to know?


The first thing to understand and be aware of in your writing is the format of your work in progress. Fiction or non-fiction, article or novel, each come down to how they are presented once printed or sent as an attachment. Most publishing companies and magazine editors are usually pretty clear on what formatting to use when submitting work to them, so be sure you check their guidelines before sending anything their way.

But, in general, most want you to use 12pt. Times New Roman font, minus any pretty colors or graphics. The reason for not using fancy graphics and pictures is they rarely transfer well. Pictures have a way of relocating to odd places within a document when you email it to someone, often because of a differing set up between you and the editor you’re sending it to. Even if you print it at Kinko's or some other print shop, it’s hard to ensure that the graphic will remain where you intended. So, if you have unique pictures and graphics that enhance your WIP then attach them as a separate file with insert references in the original document. This way, your WIP goes to them in its purest form, without the editor having to figure out what you were trying to do.

Also, it’s best to have a one-inch margin on all sides of your document. Just so the document comes out uniformly. It’s not recommended to use justified alignment; it creates odd spacing that can hinder the editor reading process. Even though it does make the left and right margins look pretty, it can really mess up a reader's flow. When submitting documents, we want to make the reading experience for the editor pleasing so they choose our piece and want us to write for them again. It’s best to use left alignment, unless otherwise mentioned in the guidelines for that editor.

Also, don’t forget to DOUBLE SPACE (MS Word- Tool bar: Format-Paragraph-Line Spacing) This allows the editor to make notes in the document if they choose, and provides for easier reading, even though it often doubles the page count.

Always look to the guidelines of the publishing company or magazines to double check your formatting before submitting any piece of work.

Saving Files

Now, most writers I know are paranoid about saving their documents while writing, but I’m sure there have been moments of terror when the computer freezes or shuts down and you don’t know if those last few perfect sentences were saved or lost to the void. One saving grace is to set your save function to automatically save every ten, five, two, or every minute if you’d like. In MS Word, you can go to Tools: Options and click the Save tab. In the middle of the prompt is the option to automatically save at whatever increment is in the box. I set mine to save every two minutes, just so that I hopefully don’t loose a single perfect word.

Another important thing to remember when saving your work is to have a backup. Don’t just rely on your computer’s memory to hold all your precious pieces of wisdom. Be sure to make a back up CD, or use a back up flash drive to hold on to those precious works in progress. You can back up monthly, weekly, or daily depending on the amount of writing you do in those time periods. Backing things up will make sure that your words will be kept safe if your computer decides to rebel against you.

One note on working with flash or thumb drives: NEVER work directly off your thumb drive. Meaning: if you open your flash drive file and then open the document listed and then begin working and editing in it, you are in danger of not being able to save your work properly. A flash drive is only a storage device it is not another operating system like your computer. It’s almost like your computer is translating the information off the drive into the PC’s actions, so if your computer acts up in this process, your unsaved work can be lost in translation. There are file recovery programs that can help, but even those rarely are able to maintain the integrity of your document. So, if you use a flash drive, it’s usually best to make a copy on the immediate computer you are using, and work off of the copy before saving your final work back on to the flash drive. I know many writers who have lost several chapters of work by working from their flash drive instead of a copy on the computer, so be careful.

Internet Resources

Always be careful when using referencing from the internet. While it is a great resource, there is very little monitoring as to the truth/fact that is posted. There is only so much faith we can put into the information we are basing articles and plot lines on. It’s always good to double and triple check your information through hardback information at the local library, before submitting a piece of work based on poor information. Researching takes time and the more thorough you are the first time, the more the editor or publisher will appreciate it. This even goes for fiction writers, because the greatest fiction comes from the re-imagination of real events.

Happy Writing!

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Thursday, April 10, 2008


Fueling the Fire: Conflict

by Valerie Fentress

What makes you read fiction? Is it the pretty cover, the back cover copy, or the characters and plot? Most would answer the plot, and what makes up a good plot; conflict.

All great novels contain strong conflict. It’s the internal and external conflicts the characters are facing that drive us through to the last page. But how do writers keep the conflict strong and realistic through the course of a novel?

Conflict first starts with knowing your characters. Even if you don’t outline your novels before you write, you at least need to know who’s going to take you on this 300 page journey. It’s important to know their history, even if you never tell the reader. Know their fears, hopes, and insecurities. Being able to know what drives your characters is how you will know what events will lead to the greatest conflict and change in your characters

The second key to creating conflict is dialogue. My husband and I get into more arguments over how we speak or interpret what we say to one another than anything else in our marriage. This is because individuals bring their own experiences and expectations to any conversation, and if people don’t understand each other that can cause endless pages of conflict.

In Donald Maass’ book Writing the Breakout Novel, he spends a lot of time discussing conflict, because it is the driving force behind plot. In one of the exercises Maass asks you to take your character and define what that character wants most. Then he asks what would happen if your character didn’t obtain his goal? Then taking it further, ask what would make this worse, and what would make this loss of goal matter more than life. These are great questions to ask when trying to develop conflict. Maass also assigns a test to the flow of conflict in your novel. The test being once you’ve printed out your completed novel throw all the pages in the air and let them scatter to the ground. Then sit down and pick up page by page and see if that page has conflict. If not consider cutting that scene. Cause if conflict isn’t driving your plot forward than your novel will fall flat and not engage the reader.

One thing to be weary of when developing conflict in your novels is to keep things realistic, even in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. No reader enjoys cliché conflicts, or the situations that always lead to the worst that can happen. You have gauge your WIP so that your conflict makes sense with what your trying to accomplish and not just constantly creating the worst case scenario.

Remember conflict is what is going to drive the reader from page one to the end, so keep it real.

Happy Writing!

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Friday, March 28, 2008


All things must come to an End

It is a well known fact that all books must come to an end, even the Harry Potter and the Left Behind series finally had a completed resolution come many books later. But how do you decide how you will tie things up when you are doing the first round of plotting.

Yes there is a high probability that your ending will change as you flesh out your characters and their motivations, but often there are times you have to come up with an ending when you’re pitching your ideas to editors and agents. And YES you do have to tell them the ending. Much of your command of how your story ends reveals your strength and capabilities as a writer. They need to know you can put together a complete story which means a completed resolution to the conflict.

Now comes the question of what type of ending do you use?

A lot of this depends on the genre, so be sure to spend time researching the market of books you’re hoping to slip your manuscript in with.

There is the Happy Ending.
The Bittersweet Ending.
The Surprise Ending.
The Twisted Ending.

Each of these endings and the many other out there have had success at one time or another. But with whichever choice fits your manuscript it is important to consider what you want your reader’s response to be. For most writers they want one of the following responses:

It puts me in a good mood
It makes me remember the book better
It makes me want to recommend it to a friend
It makes me want to read the book again
It makes me want to cry
It leaves me feeling satisfied
It makes me rethink my view of the world

Any of these responses is what’s going to draw your reader to pick up the next book you put on the shelf. Once again, expecting one of the responses above. And no matter your inner reason for writing, the draw of your readership is what’s going to keep you in the good graces of your agent and publisher.

So how will it all end? How will your Hero or Heroine solve the mysteries of your plot line? It is a question we must all face in our writing, cause all stories must come to an end.

For Commenting Fun: What type of endings do YOU enjoy the most?

Happy Writing!

For more on great endings check out Keys to Great Endings by Crista Rucker

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Saturday, March 15, 2008


The Writer’s Proving Ground: The Conference

By Valerie Fentress

This week I have had the privilege of attending a writer’s conference in California. Any conference is an amazing experience to open a writer’s eyes to new ways of thinking and new ideas coming to the publishing market. What makes conference such a priceless experience is that you truly find out what you are made of.

At most conferences you are surrounded by a large group of people in different stages of their writing career. There are editors, agents, multi-published, and the unpublished. Most people in this environment become the ever expanding sponge, but what is not known is how much you are going to learn about yourself.

Many times we can ‘talk the talk’ of writers, and have all the confidence in the world in our own homes. When it comes time to talk face to face with the people that can truly influence your career all that confidence can escape you with your next breath. There are some writer’s that could have a conversation with a wall if they choose, and then there are those that prefer to sit back and listen rather than get involved.

I would fall in that last category. I’m better in small groups rather than 400+ people all trying to pitch the next great thing. After my first day of introvertness, I had to dig deep to find that inner sales person, that inner socialite that can chime into any conversation. Where she came from I don’t know, but she had the passion for my work that I feel towards my writing but don’t always say to strangers.

If a contract comes out of this conference I will be ecstatic, but there is something more to say about discovering you CAN DO THIS. You can have a normal conversation with people in the biz, and glean information without selling your soul.

There is such a thrill that comes with sharing your passion for writing, to talking the talk with people that have made it. And there is nothing more exciting than learning more about something you’re passionate about, well maybe expect that contract.

But given all the things that you learn from a conference I would trade it all for the confidence and joy of stepping out of my comfort zone to really make steps toward my goal.

What makes stepping out of your comfort zone so hard is that fear of rejection. Now we could probably line up all of our rejection letters and cover the Great Wall of China, but no matter how tough your writer’s skin is there is something about being rejected face to face that can melt us to Jello. But just like those rejection letters it’s a badge of courage and another step toward your writing career. Cause conferences give you the chance to get critiques to find out why you received rejection, rather than just a form letter. Sometimes even gives you the chance to sit down and pick the brain of the person you got the rejection from. These opportunities are why it’s so important to go to conferences, and to choose your conferences wisely.

Take the time to review the options that are available. See if there is a focus toward fiction or nonfiction. Are there critiques available? Are there opportunities to sit down with editors and agents? Contact the organizers to get all the information you need, or even see if they have CD’s of the previous year’s workshops. But the most important thing is to GO. Go to learn. Go to network. But just go. Conferences are valuable resources and if you haven’t been to one yet. Check them out. If 400+ people freak you out then start small and work your way up. You writing can only improve.

Happy Writing

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Sunday, March 02, 2008


A Day of Rest

By Valerie Fentress

For hundreds of years no matter your background, it's usually tradition to have one day of the week as a day of rest. But for writer's committing a day to step away from the grind is often hard to do because of deadlines, or internal and external pressures to make a goal.

Granted sometimes the creative process does require a nap or two during the week, but the 'Day of Rest' is not meant just as a day to sleep, but a day to step away, enjoy family, catch up on that book you wanted to read for fun.

Iknow you're saying, 'I don't have time for that. There's too much going on.'

But I ask you, how is the quality of your work?

I find my work to suffer greatly if I don't step away from it all and just let my mind be free. Free of the to do list, free of life's pressures, free to contemplate those crazy ideas swimming around up there. For some your greatest inspiration comes from the speed and pressure of life, but how are you feeling when you step away from your work? Tired? Drained? Unmotivated?

Not matter your personality or work style our human little bodies need rest both physically and mentally. So if you feel the pressure rising and the words aren't coming, take the day off. Go for a walk, read for FUN, chat with someone you've been meaning to. Your creative mind will thank you for it. :)

Happy Writing!

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Monday, February 18, 2008


To Critique or Be Critiqued that is the Question...

By Valerie Fentress

When I first started writing seriously four years ago, there was only one person I felt comfortable to give me feedback and that was my husband. My poor husband. Reading really isn’t his thing but somehow our stars aligned and he married a writer. Needless to say I had to use many methods of persuasion to get him to read my work and critique it.

But lucky for him at my first writer’s conference I met a published author living in my city that ran a casual critique group, my hubby was ecstatic. He was more than willing to let me disappear once a month as long as he didn’t have to read my stuff.

Now I don’t know how many of you are part of a critique group, but I know some of you are saying…

I could never have someone else read my work.
What would they think of me?
What if I’m not any good?
What if they hate it?

Ah… the writer plight. We want to write. We want to publish, but to have someone actually READ what we write that’s just crazy.

These were some of the hurdles I had to get over before I stepped into my first critique group. I must say I was the youngest one there, but I was never more welcomed and encouraged in my writing than I have been in the last three years with this group.

At the time I entered the group I did have a completed manuscript, but from what I learned and how my writing grew dramatically within the confines of that little group, has caused me to put that manuscript aside cause it needs a massive overhall to match the strength of my writing currently.

In being surrounded by poets, non-fiction writer’s, curriculum writers, and fiction writers, such a mixed batch gives you such a resource to draw from. That’s the wonderful benefit to critique groups everyone is on a different portion of their writing journey and can share the tidbits you need to get your writing up to par. As well as getting a general sense of who would be interested in reading what you are writing.

Now the above does sound a bit like the fairy tale critique group, and I know there are many writer’s that have been burned and scorned by in person and online critique groups. This is not to scare anyone from joining a critique group, but it is important to join the right one for you.

It’s important to do your research before joining up with a group and sharing all your writing ideas and allowing the people access to that vulnerable spot in your soul, your writing.

For in person groups, attend a couple sessions to see the format and how people interact with one another. It’s important to be encouraged by the people you are sharing your ‘baby’ with. Do the people in the group want to make your writing style like there's or challenge you find and develop a style all your own? In part this sounds silly, but do you get along with the people in the group. I was part of a group that there were more people that got on my nerves than helped my writing. And it’s hard to accept critiques from people you don’t respect, so take that into consideration.

For online groups, ask a lot of questions. See what group or association they are associated with, abd how often they share manuscripts. Get a few of the names of the members to Google them and see what their writing history is. It’s good to have at least a couple in the group that are published to ensure the critique’s have merit and the experience to help you in your publishing journey. Try to review past critiques to see if the flow and style will be helpful to your work.

These are overall suggestions, and surprisingly choosing a critique group can be just as important as choosing your literary agent. Because this little band of writers will be pushing you toward your goals, and that is a treasured bunch of people to have at your side during the ups and downs of the publishing world.

But I must say in my own experience, I probably would still be annoying my very supportive husband and my writing wouldn’t be were it’s at today with out the help of my critique groups. It’s good to be with people of like mind to try to convince my husband I’m not the only crazy writer out there.

Happy Writing.

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Monday, January 28, 2008



by Valerie Fentress

There always seems to be this continuous argument about whether or not writer's block exists. Each writer has their opinion, and each has their tricks to avoid such a phenomenon. But I must say I believe less in writers block and more in Life Block from the events surrounding me in the last few weeks.

It's not that my creative spark is running on the last piece of coal, but more that my mind is overwhelmed with the crazy stuff going on at my house. I won't go into detail, but I must say I feel like a character in one of my own stories heading toward the climax. Everything that could be going wrong is, and there doesn't seem to be a way out.

But how do we conquer these times of Life Block and step back into our writing life with more inspiration?

Part of it is taking the time to wade through the craziness of our own lives before sitting down at the PC to crank out character, plot, and word count. If we try to force out the things that are vital to our WIP without taking care of the nit picky items surrounding us, we won't be able to deliver quality work. I know for me the nasty to do list on the fridge tends to haunt me while I'm at my keyboard, and no matter how many words I want to get done in a day I fall short because my mind is on other things.

So sometimes you have to take a step back from the keyboard and deal with the odds and ends piling up around you in order to sit down with your WIP and have a clear head to pump out the best you can offer.

Is there something weighing on your mind, this Monday morning? Something that's keeping you from those amazing words you know are in your head. My suggestion is to take the time to push through those odds and ends in order to let your creative mind fly.

Happy Writing!

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Monday, January 07, 2008


The Power of Words

By Valerie Fentress

Okay, bear with me. This maybe a little deep for Monday morning, but it’s something that hit me over the holiday season. My family was watching the movie ‘The Kingdom’ with Jamie Fox and Jennifer Garner, and the scene just before the credits hit me hard. I’m not giving away any spoilers, I promise, but the last scene focuses on four words that were the driving force of the entire movie, which got me thinking. What kind of power do words have?

Now we’ve all heard the adage, the pen is mightier than the sword, but it's not so much the actual pen that is mightier, but the words the pen scribbles on paper. As ‘keepers of the written word’ as I like to say, this is a question for each of us to consider. So how do we apply this concept to our daily writing routines?

When I sit down to start a new project there’s one phrase I like to fill in before I get started. This phrase helps direct my writing throughout the entire process, almost as a motivation and encouragement all in itself. The phrase is:

I write to you _____________, that you might know________________.

Filling in the blanks help give me an audience and a purpose for my writing, because no matter how you boil it down, writing is about conveying knowledge, fiction and non-fiction. Whether you’re a big reader or not, words etched in stone, stories on parchment, journals or scrapbooks each fascinate us to some degree. It is in our very nature, as human beings, and defiantly as women, to spread knowledge. So let me ask you, what are you sharing?

I know this is a personal question and each one of you will answer it differently. But I know the desire I have for all the WIP’s in my head is for each of them to make an impact. To challenge people to look at their world differently and I know many of you feel the same way or you wouldn’t call yourself writers.

Words have the power to tear down and uplift, to challenge and encourage. Take the time to consider your impact, whether small or large. Being writers is not an easy calling, but the ripples we can make in the world is alarming.

Here’s another movie that proves this point. M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Lady in the Water’, is about a muse that is sent to the human realm to inspire an author to write a book that will be the driving force behind a great world leader in the future. And that’s the impact writer’s have. We have the power to inspire others, encourage people to think differently, and pull them from the world that surrounds them. It is an awesome power, and ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. (Sorry, I watched a lot of movies over the holidays)

So what will your impact be as a writer? How will your words encourage the people around you in 2008?

Happy Writing!

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Sunday, December 09, 2007


Making Manly Men

By Valerie Fentress

I don’t know if you ever did this when you were younger, or last week at your sister’s wedding, when your aunt bugged your cousin about when she could be mother of the bride, but we women make a list of what our Mr. Right will look like. Often having features of Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, or Johnny Depp, while also being sensitive, enjoying the arts, and would describe the perfect date as a picnic under the stars telling you how your beauty out shines every star in the sky. Okay, maybe this is a little too mushy, but you get my point. We as women sometimes want certain characteristics in the men in our lives. But if you’re writing for a male and female audience, sometimes these ‘Mr. Rights’ qualities can seem a bit flamboyant or stereotypical.

So how do we as women make it sound like our men are really men?

Well we have to ask, what makes a man a man? Dangerous question I know, but worth asking if you’re going to spend a lot of time talking with or through a male character. When I set out to write my current work in progress (WIP), I made the decision to make the protagonist male, a risky task without a Y chromosome. So the first person I went to was my husband, and I asked him what makes a man a man? Well his first answer was a bit below the belt, but once I got him on characteristics this was his list:

• tough
• take charge
• act first ask questions later
• competitive
• hands-on
• reliable
• rarely emotional
• logical

Whew…that last one got me. I think I need a Kleenex. Okay, so this is a general list, but most men at least have more than one of these qualities. So how do we turn this into a realistic character in our novels?

For starters, I think reading books by men writing in your genre is a good place to start. Watching how they write their dialogue, expositions, and the actions of their men is a great tool to use. I try to make notes on sentence structure, commonly used words, and how that is different than their female characters. But once again we run into the problem of men writing as men. So what general trends can we apply to our male characters?

First, think about the most recent conversation you had with a male of our species. Did you notice anything? If you listened in you probably picked up on the fact that they didn’t say much, and what they said was without fluff. Few adjective or adverbs, just too the point, here ya go, no beating around the bush. How does that compare to the male characters in your WIP? Does he have a plethora of expressive words, or just down to basics, noun + verb = sentence. Of course your male character’s vocabulary does depend on many other factors when developing your character, but in general a guy is going to use few descriptors and keep to the action.

Also, as a general rule, men use more contractions in everyday conversations than women. If they don’t have to speak it out they won’t. Once again hitting on the action based, don’t beat around the bush attitude. Sometimes I think if women didn’t have the need to express themselves verbally, men would still be grunting in caves. (Sorry boys)

Now that we’ve gone over what comes out of manly mouths, we need to look at what goes on inside their heads. Make sure the safety rope is tied tight, and we’ll pull twice is if gets to hairy in there. In comparison, women are emotional creatures, not to say that we all cry at the drop of a hat, but our emotions drive our feelings, actions, and thoughts. Silly old boys are less likely to wade through their emotions or think about how and why they are feeling a certain way. They are more likely to speak and act first, and run out their ‘emotions’ on the treadmill, or in the business of work.

The greatest literary example in my mind is Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. For chapters upon chapters, he talks down the Bennett family and then out of nowhere suggests that it is logical for him and Lizzy to get married. He gives very little thought to the emotional implications, just a straight up, direct thought to mouth. This same manly quality can be seen in the movie, Father of the Bride, when Brian gets Annie a blender for their anniversary. ‘Annie likes shakes, so I’ll get her something to make shakes.’ Just simple 2+2=4, when we women know it more like, 2+7-3+12/3+4-6 is greater than or equal to 4, if not more complicated than that.

The great thing about male characters is they are able to balance out the female characters in your story, able to act, fix, and empower. That is why you rarely find a novel without a hint of female or male influence in the plot or back story. That is how women and men were made, to compliment and support one another. So when writing thoughts and words for our male characters, it’s important to keep the above things in mind. Writing manly men into our novels can be complicated, men are not simple creatures, they are just, as John Gray put it, men are from Mars, and that’s what makes them men.

Happy Writing

Valerie Fentress

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