Lynnette Jalufka


To me, plot is the road map of your story. It’s how to get from point A to point B to point C, and so on. Therefore, it’s helpful to have a general idea of how you want the story to go. Write it down. Keep it where you can see it, so you won’t get off track.

In editing my novel, I noticed that I could have a romantic mess between my heroine and these three men in her life. She could be forced to marry one and secretly in love with her best friend’s betrothed, while the last one tries to get her attention because he’s in love with her. But I’m not writing a romance. It’s not the purpose of the book. It’s about her pleasing her father when others think she’s crazy to do so.

In writing, nothing is set in stone. You may change your mind in the middle of the book, or your characters may change it for you. But knowing where you want the story to go helps with plotting, like a map helps get you to your destination.




Lynnette Jalufka


Novelist Angela Hunt once said, “Take a character and torture him for 300 pages.”

When I consider Hunt’s words, I think of Harry Potter. He dealt with the everyday challenges of growing up: schoolwork, competitions, and relationships. But he also had an evil villain who vowed to kill him, which greatly complicated his life. Throughout the series, Harry faced one obstacle after another, both physical and emotional, in his efforts to stop Voldemort. They increased in difficulty until Harry is left with one heartbreaking decision.

I’ve noticed in my own stories that I love putting my favorite characters into dangerous situations, including hanging off the side of a cliff. I can imagine one telling me, “You don’t like me very much, do you?”

Don’t make life easy for your characters. That’s boring. Readers want to see them overcome their situations. The more you throw at them, the richer your story.




Lynnette Jalufka


“There’s been much talk about dialogue and tags on this blog, eh?”

“Aye, my lady. But you can have a block of dialogue without tags.”

“True, it creates action. But if ’tis too long, I forget who’s speaking.”

“Then you have to go back and reread to figure it out.”

“Oi, at that point, I’d rather plunge a sword through the manuscript than reread it.”

“Or tie it to a pole and charge at it with a lance.”

“Good idea, Sir Knight. That’s much more fun.”

“Aye, but we’d be destroying countless hours of hard work.”

“The author deserves it for taking us out of the story.”

“Besides, even dialogue gets boring after a while. That’s why you need tags. How else would the readers know how we’re reacting to each other? You could be laughing or giving me that look.”

“And what look is that, Sir Knight?”

“The one you’re giving me now, my lady. The point is tags are important to the story.”

“So long as they’re not overdone.”

“Aye. Where are you going?”

“To find a book worthy of a lance.” She turned back to him. “Coming, Sir Knight?”

“As you wish, my lady,” he winked.



Lynnette Jalufka


Sometimes I think I should write screenplays instead of novels. Screenplays are mostly dialogue, and dialogue is my favorite part of writing. You can learn a lot about dialogue by watching movies: flow, tension, emotions. The main difference between it and a book is that the audience can see who’s speaking and their reactions, which help convey the emotion of the scene. In a book, you don’t have that luxury. You convey emotion through tags and action beats. And stories are all about emotion.

Here’s an exercise for you: take a piece of dialogue from a movie and write it as if it was in a book by adding tags and action beats. Write so that a person who hasn’t seen the movie can get the emotion of the scene.



Lynnette Jalufka


Characters are supposed to sound different from each other, but if your readers have to reread the dialect to understand what’s being said, you’ve taken them out of the story. But how can you write a dialect and still make it readable?

One way is shown in Sharon Ewell Foster’s novel, Ain’t No River. In this example, Garvin, a female lawyer in Washington, D.C., is having a conversation with Miz Maizie, a janitor, in the ladies’ restroom:

“You let me know, now. I’ll call for some help.” The “I’ll” sounded more like “Iya” and the “help” sounded more like “hep.”

“No, Miz Maizie, I’m still above rim.”

“You know, Garvin, I heard of lots of little children—” Garvin heard chirren—”falling into them old-fashioned outhouses, and you ain’t too much bigger than they were.”

Foster does not spell out what the words sound like in the dialogue. Instead, she describes how certain words sound to Garvin. Otherwise, she uses word placement to convey Miz Maizie’s southern dialect, and this technique continues throughout the book. This way makes the dialogue easier to read while still maintaining its uniqueness.



Lynnette Jalufka


Look at this section of dialogue from Brian Jacques’ The Legend of Luke,part of the Redwallanimal fantasy series. How many characters are speaking? What can you learn about them and the plot? I’ve removed the tags and numbered the lines for reference.


  1. “Et be a gurt pity, ‘cos we’m be orfully near ee seashores. Oi cudd feel et in moi diggen claws.”
  2. “But we can’t go any farther now.”
  3. “…Cheer up, pretty one, or you’ll have it rainin’. Leave it to me, I’ve got a plan!”
  4. “You’m got ee plan, zurr?
  5. “Why d’ye think they call me Prince of Mousethieves? Of course, I’ve got a plan, you ole tunnel-grubber!”
  6. “I hope ’tis a plan that’ll work, matey?”
  7. “Oh indeed, an’ did you ever know any o’ my plans that didn’t work, O swinger of swords?”
  8. “Aye, lots of them, O pincher of pies!”
  9. “Well, this won’t be one of that sort, O noble whiskers!”
  10. “It had better not be, O pot-bellied soup-swigger. Now tell on.”

Dialogue has two purposes: to advance the plot and show characterization. The above passage does both. How many characters did you count? There are four. Dinny speaks lines 1 and 4; Trimp, 2; Gonff, 3, 5, 7, and 9; and Martin, 6, 8, and 10.

What did you learn about the characters? Dinny seems a little slow by the speech pattern and is equipped for digging tunnels. (He’s a mole.) Trimp is beautiful. Gonff is an overconfident, plump mouse who steals pies. Martin knows how to use a sword and has whiskers. (He’s also a mouse). Martin and Gonff are good friends.

What’s going on? The characters are going to the seashore, but something has prevented them from continuing their journey which requires a plan to overcome. (They must travel through a wood filled with savage killers.) Do they make it? You’ll have to read the book.

Here’s an exercise for you. Look at the dialogue passages in your favorite novels, block out the tag lines, and see what you can learn from them.



Lynnette Jalufka

Character worksheets. They abound in writing books and online. Some are one page; others cover many more. They include details about physical appearance, professions, likes, dislikes, and backstory.

In the past, I’ve rolled my eyes at all that detail. I knew my characters in my head. I only needed to write down how they looked, so they had the same eye color on page 215 as they did on page ten, right?


As I went back to revise my novel, I discovered I needed much more information about my characters. This included speech patterns, motivations, relationships, and their role in the story. There was no way I could keep everything about each character consistent in my head. I needed to fill out those worksheets completely. They can’t have too much information. If I would have included more detail in the first place, I would have saved myself a lot of backtracking. I’ll remedy this when I start my next novel.

Every detail in your character worksheets does not have to appear in your story. Only a fraction should make it into the final work. But because you know your characters, your story will be richer for it, and your readers will come back for more.



Lynnette Jalufka

One day, two of my coworkers were pushing carts down a walkway, heading toward each other.

One shouted, “Whoa!”

The other kept going, until the carts collided, spilling their contents on the floor. “Why didn’t you say ‘stop?'” he asked. “What’s ‘whoa’ mean?”

Obviously, one coworker has had experience with horses, and the other has not. I can relate. Because of my equine background, I say, “whoa” instead of “stop” all the time. I also respond faster to “whoa.” It’s part of who I am. It’s part of how I connect to the world around me.

The same goes for your characters. Their background and experiences should color how they see the people, places, and objects in your story. In my upcoming novel, I show that my protagonist is a horsewoman by how she constantly does comparisons to the equine world. She evaluates people by their horses first.

Drawing from your character’s own experiences will give them depth and personality. In short, making them alive to your readers.



Lynnette Jalufka


I was flipping TV channels one day when I came across the beginning of a movie. A small boy was ordered to fix breakfast by his aunt and uncle while his selfish cousin bullied him. I immediately cared for this orphaned kid with the big round glasses. I wanted to know what happened to him. He ended up at a strange school, with a mystery to solve and a villain determined to kill him. By the end of the movie, I was applauding him.

Apparently, other people liked him, too. I watched more movies about him, and when I ran out of movies, I read the last two books of the series. I wanted to see how he prevailed against this villain. I eventually bought all the books and all the movies. I even went to a midnight premiere showing of the last film. All because I cared about this character.

Such is the power of a sympathetic hero. So, have you guessed who he is? He’s the famous Harry Potter. And the movie that started it all? Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Your protagonist must have something your readers can relate to, sympathize with, care about. Without it, why would they finish your story? They need someone to cheer for to the end. Who knows what can happen after that?