Feb 22, 2011

TAG! You're It! - Tuesday

Welcome to  
TAG! You're It! - Tuesday
where I ask the questions and my guests answer them.  

But that's not all, my guest also gets to tag my next victim. 
This week, Jordan McCollum has been tagged . . .  
by last week's Rachelle Christensen.

The Question:
I love that you're always giving helpful writing advice on your blog. You seem to know so much about what's important when it comes to creating a piece of literary work that readers will enjoy. Keeping in mind that ALL elements of writing are important, which element (voice, great story, flow, characterization, grammar, spelling, etc) do you think makes a book stand out from the rest? Which one will make you put the book down if it's done poorly? And what do you think is your strongest point as a writer?

Jordan's Answer:
Aw, thanks, Christine. I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately. Of course, as you say, all of those elements are important, but I think I'm going to have to go with characterization. (Which, honestly, is a little surprising to me!) As a reader, I find it really hard for the other elements of a story to truly sing without a good, realistic character at the center--someone I can get on board with and root for, someone I want to get to know better. A character I'm really into can make up a lot for poor writing or predictable plotting.

I think there are two important techniques at play here: invoking the reader's sympathy and writing the characters' emotions in a true and engaging way. Both of these techniques take a lot of skill and finesse--and feedback and revision. (This is also where a lot of those other writing skills come in!)

I've thought about this a lot over the last year, and I realized it's most often characterization problems that make me put a book down. Those problems may also be the same writing problems in disguise: show instead of telling is failing to use the character's point of view well. Character soup is failing to make the main character stand out or be unique. Even being boring can be a characterization problem--I have scenes that I knew were very tense experiences for my characters, but readers told me they dragged time and again. I finally realized I needed to put that emotion on the page and show what my character felt to really engage my readers.

Unfortunately, characters may not be my strongest point as a writer. I tend to get to know my characters as I write--though I hope I can revise enough so that it doesn't show. Like so many other writers (but certainly not everyone!), I'm fairly good at dialogue. I'm also a big fan of my plot twists and turns, especially my twist endings :D . I like to keep people guessing, and I hope I'm good at it!

Thanks so much for having me, Christine!

More About Jordan:

Jordan McCollum is an award-winning aspiring mystery author. She blogs about writing craft at JordanMcCollum.com. She's currently featuring a series on how to add emotion to your characters and your writing. Check it out!

And now it's time for Jordan to TAG a friend.  
Jenn Wilks, 
TAG!  You're It!

Come back next Tuesday to see if Jenn accepts the challenge and to see if you've been tagged.


  1. Excellent post! That's one of my biggest requirements for enjoying a book, too. Characterization is so important for me to get immersed in what I'm reading.

  2. Thanks for having me, Christine! (Like what you did with my picture, and I like your new header!)

    Glad to hear you agree, Rebecca. :D

  3. I would agree that characterization is essential. Great post!

  4. Great question and answer! I think characterization is the one I most often notice 'failed'. I still read, but I really miss it if it isn't right. I read one a while back though, that had great characterization and a stupid plot, and I think when there is a plot fail, it is even worse... (but that is in mystery/suspense--genres all about plot).

    This gives me a good idea though, for my next editing project. I had a character a reader said was boring and i think this may be it...

  5. Thanks for taking the challenge, Jordan. I love this answer. Characterization is one my favorite essentials in writing too. I can't get into a book unless I can connect to the characters.

    And, yes, I've been playing with Photo Shop a lot lately and couldn't resist giving your pic a little shadow. :-)

  6. Great tips Jordan, as usual! Your writing tips rock! I agree characterization is so important and it's important to allow character growth throughout the story too.

  7. Jordan really does have great tips. She is an excellent critiquer as well. Loved this post! :)

  8. @Hart—true, mystery/suspense is plot-driven, and plot-fail = book-fail. Usually publishing. But most of the time, character-fail = book-fail for me, too (though definitely not everyone; many of the books I couldn't finish because their characters just weren't well-used or -drawn were very popular).

  9. Erm... I mean "usually publishing companies weed those out." Yes, I'm a great editor ;) .

  10. I love a good plot twist! I wish I were better at them. And yes, I think characterization is so important, and hard to do well.

  11. I totally agree. Characters are most important in my opinion. A lot can be forgiven in a book, but characters I can't relate to on some level, or behave in unrealistic ways, etc. are something that make me put a book down. I want to care about the people I'm reading about, and that doesn't always mean I have to LIKE them. They just have to engage me in some way. Next... STORY. You have to tell a good one to get a huge thumbs up from me. :)