Wednesday, June 3, 2015

There's Gold in Them There Liars

By Dawn Byrne

The Writers Coffeehouse May meeting at the Willow Grove PA Barnes & Noble struck it rich with Liars. Keith Strunk, Kathryn Craft, Jon McGoran, and Janice Gable Bashman of the Philly Liars Club led conversations on creating believable characters, breaking rules, and more. They answered questions along with author/editor Bernie Mojzes.

Chunks of golden advice surfaced in the form of a ball field and cowboy. Janice and Kathryn explained that a character may do something that seems out of left field. If the reader is clued into something prior in the story that makes the character's action or dialogue believable, even if it's subtle, the reader enjoys tying in the connecting information. Kathryn's example: If a reader doesn't know the character has a daughter, and needs to, then the writer can stage a pink bow in the character's car. She reminded us that left field is still inside the park so it's fair to allow information to come from there.

A character's value system defines how he'll act, and characters are always in character. So force him to act. Jon McGoran said, "If your character's a cowboy, you gotta shoot at his feet to make him dance."

Tertiary characters can reveal much about the protagonist by interacting with him. This can also create visuals for the reader, since a character shouldn't describe himself. Minor characters have their own background, so their actions and dialogue bouncing off the main character can make for thought provoking situations, which draws the reader into the story organically. The protagonist's true grit may surface from this perspective.

Bernie explained that the protagonist is the hero of his own story. Bernie's example demonstrates the difference between a protagonist and antagonist: If Superman is the protagonist, then Lex Luthor is the antagonist. But if it's Lex Luthor's story, he's the protagonist and Superman is the antagonist. Protagonist and antagonist each have good and bad in them.

Using the main character from the television series, "Breaking Bad", Bernie noted Walter White changing from very good to very bad, yet White's end reflects his original goodness.

New writers may do best to follow established rules of writing. Kathryn believes breaking them can make for better writing, so she's doing this with her third book. Bernie agreed that following the rules is best, but sometimes breaking them can blow readers away.

Liars and audience members with marketing background touched on how to go about shopping a project. Top five publishers, where they make all the rules? Or smaller presses who can be more cooperative with authors' ideas on how to get their books into readers' hands?

Other pieces of gold panned from this claim:

"Plot twists have to be inevitable and believable." - Kathryn Craft

"Just because something has to move the story forward, doesn't mean it's a straight line. Satisfying reader's expectations and thwarting them are like the ebb and flow of waves." - Bernie Mojzes

"It's important to see things filtered through the POV character's viewpoint." - Janice Gable Bashman

"A plot need can produce a great character. Example: the character Mike in "Breaking Bad" was a minor character that blossomed because of a plot need." - Jon McGoran

Everyone agreed cutting words from a manuscript always strengthens it. Seriously consider your critique partner or editor's suggestions.

Remember, if you're pulling something out of left field that connects with what you planted earlier in the story, or shooting at your character's feet to see how he'll handle a situation, consider your character's background and beliefs to know how he'll react. It might give your readers that 'Wow, I should've seen that coming' experience. Eureka.

The Writers Coffeehouse is held on the last Sunday of every month and free to all.  

About today's guest blogger:

Dawn Byrne, a grandmother, writes inspirational and fictional stories about families from her New Jersey home. She's a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group, facilitates the Juliette Writers' Group, and teaches Sunday School. Dawn strives to leave a small carbon footprint, reads classical literature, blogs here, and has stories featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives: 101 Daily Devotions to Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire You and Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!: 101 Joyful Stories about the Love, Fun, and Wonder of the Holidays
. Her website is


  1. Thank you so much, Dawn, and South Jersey Writers for this informative post. I feel as though I've learned so much as well. My favorite quote? Kathryn Craft's Plot twists have to be inevitable and believable. In writing, everything needs to be logical, even if it isn't in life. Thanks again, Dawn, for this info.

  2. Thank you, Victoria. It's always so great to hear the Philly Liars. And so much fun.

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