The Power of Words

I watched a stunning conversation unfold on Twitter this weekend, wherein an individual asked a simple question of another, and the person responded with a tirade that would make a sailor blush. (with all due respect to sailors) Both are public figures. 

I don’t know the background – I don’t need to. Here’s what I know: one individual was professional in their approach, the other immediately took a dive right to the bottom of the gutter. 

Who did that hurt? 

While it probably didn’t feel pleasant to be on the receiving end of the name calling, I can tell you who it didn’t hurt. 

We’ve all touted the “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” mantra. This statement couldn’t be more untrue. 

Words are like daggers – they cut deep. The damage can’t be undone. 

“A fool cannot hold his tongue.” — Plutarch

Scripture is full of verses that talk about being cautious with our words, but James 3:8 hits the nail on the head — “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (KJV) 

I’ve not only been on the receiving end of such poison – I’m sorry to say I’m guilty of giving it. As much as I wish I could take back the hurtful words I’ve spoken in moments of anger, I can’t…and I’ll have to live with those consequences for the rest of my life. 

“The tongue has no bones but is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words.” — Anonymous

We want to be right. We want to feel justified. And often, we do most certainly have a right to be angry! But in the example I gave at the beginning, right or wrong, the individual who responded so viciously lost the respect of many with just one 140 character tweet. Imagine how much more damage we do when such things are said in person to the people we love?

Was it worth it? I don’t know. But the person claims to be a Christian. 

As a believer, I have a choice. I can use my words to encourage or destroy — “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Proverbs 18:21. In this example, not responding would’ve been a better choice. 

How often do we react immediately out of anger? Easy to do, isn’t it? 

This week, as we approach Christmas, and spend a great deal of time with family members who tend to push all the buttons…let’s choose kindness, or silence. Let’s use words that are life-giving, filled with gratitude and praise — always remembering Who we represent. 

RV Life

Almost nine months ago, my husband and I sold our car, home, nearly all our furniture, and bought a fifth wheel.

Contrary to the way most normal humans do things, this wasn’t part of some sort of grand plan. Nope, we are the fly by the seat of your pants sort, so we jumped right in. Experience level: beginner.

We’ve joked with our daughter for years that we were going to someday pull a cousin Eddie move (from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) and just show up on her curb with an RV, but clearly we weren’t serious. Owning an RV was something other people did…we admired the lifestyle, but never seriously considered it for ourselves.

Then the housing market went nuts. With the help of family and friends, we just about killed ourselves getting our house ready to put on the market. It was a fantastic time to sell, not so much to buy.

John retired in March, so one day I casually mentioned the idea of temporarily living full time in an RV…the rest, as they say, is history. THEN is when we came up with a bit of a plan: live the RV life for 6 months and re-evaluate.

As much as I’d love to tell you we’ve taken some sort of grand adventure, reality is, we stayed fairly close to home. Our first move was approximately 30 miles south, where we stayed near my dad and brother for two months. That wasn’t the plan, but neither was getting sideswiped by a semi. So we were thankful to have a spot to land while our truck was in the shop and enjoyed the extra time with family.

Next, we closed up the RV and headed to Alaska for a week with our daughter and my work family. When we came home, we headed further south, to the Carolinas, where we spent a month camping close to our daughter. Then we headed to Gulf Shores, AL for a month, back to the Carolinas for a month, back to VA for a month, and now back to the Carolinas.

Exciting, right???

Both my husband and I work remote, so that enables us the freedom to travel and continue working. Given that we were newbies at this lifestyle, we constantly get a lot of questions, so I figured I’d answer a few here. (please feel free to comment below with yours!)

Why did you choose a fifth wheel?

We explored all the different options available, and loved the class A – the type that looks like a bus. We even considered a smaller version of that – the class C. But in the end, a fifth wheel gave us the most space, and that’s why we went this route.

What do you use for wifi (assuming you need that for work)?

We use Starlink. That works beautifully as long as we aren’t parked under a bunch of trees. Some parks offer great wifi, but as a general rule, most do not.

What do you love most about the RV lifestyle?

We love the flexibility the RV lifestyle offers. It enables us to pick up and go where we want or where we’re needed. I’ve found the RV community as a whole to be incredibly welcoming – so we make new friends everywhere we go.

What’s your least favorite thing about the RV lifestyle?

We’re both writers, and value routine. We were warned when we began this adventure that we would feel like we’re on a perpetual vacation and that establishing a routine is a challenge. I think we both rolled our eyes at that at first, but it has proven to be 100% accurate. We love to explore new places, so being in a new spot every month does very much feel like a vacation.

We also miss our home church.

What about the RV lifestyle is easier than you expected?

The biggest negative everyone painted for us as we considered this was “oh, you’ll have to give up all your stuff – that’s going to be so hard!” And it wasn’t, aside from the massive undertaking of actually doing it. Neither of us has missed all the “stuff” – living this lifestyle continues to teach both of us that we can and should live with less.

What about the RV lifestyle is most annoying?

John would say dumping the sewage – something I fully admit I haven’t yet done. For me, it’s not having an oven. I have a lovely stainless steel oven – one of the nicest I’ve ever seen in an RV. However, when it was being installed, apparently something broke, and we’ve been waiting since we purchased our rig for the part to fix it. It came this week. Our stovetop works beautifully, but I’ve been unable to bake. We’ve been using a toaster oven, but it’s not the same.

How in the world are your dogs able to live in that tiny space?

We have two very large german shepherds who are VERY happy as long as they are with their people and get plenty of exercise. Rainy days are no fun for them, but they’ve otherwise done amazingly well.

Isn’t an RV bed SO uncomfortable?

No. In fact, John and I have joked that we’re not all that sure how we’re going to be able to sleep when we move back into a home! The RV came with a very basic, thin, pathetic looking Serta mattress. We didn’t have high hopes and were advised to replace it immediately. Instead, to save money, we decided to just purchase a Costco memory foam AND a MyPillow feather mattress topper. That combo is like sleeping on a cloud. Combined with the blackout shades, our bedroom is a bit like a cozy cave, and that’s probably our favorite part. Hardest thing? Getting out of bed in the morning!

How long does it take for you to set up and break things down on travel day?

We’re pretty quick at setting up, when there aren’t any hiccups. That usually takes us about an hour, and includes getting unhitched, plugged in, slides out, and unpacking all the things we stashed for travel. Packing up to move takes us a little longer – I think the last time we did it, it took a little under two hours, which is much too slow. The biggest obstacle: juggling two dogs who are VERY excited to be going for a ride.

Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve traveled so far?

That’s tough, because we lived in the Shenandoah Valley not far from Shenandoah National Park and the Appalachian Trail prior to selling, so our first camping spot was on a hill with a million dollar view. By far, that was the most beautiful. However, we loved the month we spent in Orange Beach, AL. The spot was the nicest we’ve rented – the beaches are beautiful, and the people are welcoming.

What about living the RV life has impacted your life the most?

We were told by a LOT of people that we’d be ready to kill each other in under a week living in such close quarters. I am happy to report that this most certainly is not the case. We’ve had a great time! We’re human, so of course we each have our moments, but living in a small space hasn’t hindered our relationship in the least. In fact, we’ve learned to work even better as a team.

Getting caught up in that vacation mentality I mentioned above and finding it so difficult to establish a daily routine has had an enormous negative impact. Neither of us spend much time fretting over it, but we both recognize the need for that to change.

Any learning curves?

To simply say “yes” would be an understatement. Any time we go through change, there’s a learning curve, but unfortunately when you’re pulling an RV, those can be costly. We’ve had a few mishaps – like going down too steep an incline and bumping the truck to the underside of the fifth wheel. Scratched the RV a bit, but no further damage.

The night we did too tight a u-turn on a dark, country road was a bit scarier, and we both later admitted, caused us both to wonder what in the world we’d gotten ourselves into. That mistake took out the back window of our truck and we had to travel a bit uncomfortably for a couple hours to reach our destination. Lesson learned. Thank God for insurance.

And there you have it! Those are just a few of the many questions we get. While we have loved this lifestyle and do plan to continue traveling, we have decided to purchase a home in 2023 to give us a spot to land when we need it. We plan to venture out west next summer, God willing, so stay tuned.

Additional questions? Comment below!

Back At It

I’ve decided, come hell or high water, I’m going to start writing here every day. I’m not sure what that’ll look like some days – procrastination is a real thing, at least for this writer. I figure I’ll start today by writing about writing. After all, that’s what I know.

Jerry Jenkins says the term “writer’s block” is a myth. I got mad the first time I read that. Then I read the rest of the piece where he explains what “writer’s block” really is: fear, procrastination, perfectionism, and distraction.

Well, then.

He got me.

Had to quit using that excuse.

So, for a long time, I bailed. I just quit.

I wrote for work, because that’s what I do for a living…but I quit all personal writing. And…well…I may as well have cut off one of my limbs.

Most writers write to figure out what they think. I do. I recently heard Sean Dietrich talk about the commitment he made long ago to write every day, regardless how nonsensical it turns out to be. So, I decided I’m going to follow his example. One of the greatest periods of growth I’ve experienced as a writer happened years ago when I started blogging, so I know he’s onto something. (besides the fact that he’s got an incredible daily column and boatloads of readers)

Two days ago, I made the decision to begin writing here every day. My husband and I had just finished walking our dogs on the Swamp Rabbit Trail – a 22-mile trail that stretches from Greenville to Traveler’s Rest, SC. (more on that another day) We didn’t go 22 miles…in fact, we barely made it a mile before dark, so we decided to call it a night, order [gf] pizza, and head home.

As I sat in the truck waiting for John to pick up the [gf] pizza, I started trying to figure out what I would write about that night. I prayed out loud, asking the Lord to give me something.

Anything, Lord. Just help me see.

Our truck was facing the trail. I’d left my phone at home on purpose (something I highly recommend you try once in a while), so I just sat there quietly, listening to the silence, and my panting dogs.

A few minutes later, as I watched the now empty trail, an elderly man appeared on his bicycle pulling a trailer on which his crippled dog was strapped. That dog looked like he was having the time of his life.

I melted.

Of all the things I thought I might see that night, a crippled dog being pulled by his elderly owner was not on my radar. But boy, was it powerful.

John came out a few minutes later, we headed home, and like most evenings, I got distracted, and forgot all about the writing.

But that man pulling his dog keeps popping into my memory, so here I am.

I don’t know if God meant for me to see it this way or if it really was just a guy on a bike giving his dog a joy ride, but I can’t help but think about how inadequate we often feel about our ability to do the things He’s called us to. I think He absolutely did mean for me to see the old guy and his dog to remind me…

He’s got it handled.

I just need to hang on tight and enjoy the ride.

The Hemingway Editor: What is it and Can it Improve Your Writing?

(originally published as a guest post on

If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, it’s imperative you become what Jerry calls a ferocious self-editor.

There’s no way around it.

Little irritates an agent or a publisher’s acquisitions editor more than having their time wasted by a writer who doesn’t edit and revise his own work before submitting it for consideration.

Given the vast array of training and resources for doing just that, now available on the internet, there’s no excuse.

You don’t have to be an English grammar expert to write well — but you do have to know how to self-edit. It takes work and perseverance, and most writers face a learning curve.

But in the end it’s worth it, and it can revolutionize your writing and your chance at success.

While learning to recognize and remedy your mistakes, an app like The Hemingway Editor can help save you time and frustration. And it can also make you a better self-editor, and thus, a better writer.

What is the Hemingway Editor?

Ernest Hemingway was a pioneer in a simple, direct writing style, exactly what the Hemingway App seeks to deliver.

It’s a web and desktop self-editing tool created by Adam and Ben Long that highlights the overuse of adverbs and passive voice, and flags wordy sentences — common errors writers make.

It does not, however, highlight most grammatical or spelling errors, and is not intended to function as a comprehensive editor.

The web version of the app is free. The desktop version carries a one-time $19.99 fee and is available for both Mac (OSX 10.9+) and PC (Windows 7+) systems.

How the Hemingway Editor Works

As editing apps go, this one ranks high in the easy-to-use category. Both versions allow you to work in write or edit mode and easily switch between the two.

Write Mode

The writing mode works like any word processor, but it won’t distract you by highlighting misspelled words as you go. To use the online version, simply highlight the sample text, delete it, and paste in or create your own.

But beware: There’s no automatic way to save or back up your work — so unless you copy and paste it into Word or something similar, if you lose your connection, you may lose your work.

You’re better off writing in a separate program and copying and pasting it into the Hemingway App before using the app.

Once you’re ready to edit, click on “Edit” mode in the upper right hand corner.

hemingway editor

Edit Mode

Edit mode displays formatting options at the top and allows you to view the Hemingway App’s suggested edits (highlighted), which are also summarized in the column on the right.

The varied colors allow you to easily identify each type of error.

In the case of words or short phrases, simply hover above the highlighted area for suggestions to appear.

Once you make the suggested edits, the highlights will disappear.

The Hemingway Editor also gives your writing a readability score, and displays just below it other specifics like word count and reading time.

Blue: highlights weak words, typically adverbs.

hemingway app editor mode

E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and one of the authors of The Elements of Style, suggests you “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives andadverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”

For additional help, I recommend Jerry’s post 249 Strong Verbs That’ll Instantly Supercharge Your Writing.

Green: highlights the use of passive voice.

hemingway editor remove passive voice

Instead, eliminating as many state-of-being verbs as you can will tighten and clarify your writing.

For more on this common issue, read Jerry’s post, How to Fix Passive Voice.

Purple: highlights complicated words or phrases and sometimes suggests a replacement, aiming for clear, concise writing.

hemingway editor omit complex words

Yellow: highlights complex sentences and paragraphs and suggests shortening them.

Red: highlights complex, very hard-to-read sentences and paragraphs.

hemingway editor readability score

Free vs. Paid

Two primary differences between the free and paid versions:

  1.  The free version does not allow you to export or save your work.
  2. The paid version not only allows you to save and export your documents, but you are also given the option of publishing directly to WordPress or Medium.

Both versions offer the full Hemingway Editor analysis.

Bottom line, for short pieces and quick help, the free version is sufficient. If you’re writing anything longer, or planning to publish online, the paid version may be worth your investment.

Hemingway Editor Pros and Cons


  • It’s easy to use.
  • You can test it without obligation.
  • The offline editor is worth the price of the app.
  • The free online version is sufficient for editing short pieces, though you will have to cut and paste when you’re finished.
  • It’s great for helping you learn to be more concise.
  • The separate modes allow you to edit while you write, if you wish.


  • The free version doesn’t allow you to save your work.
  • It’s not a comprehensive grammar or spelling checker.

How Does the Hemingway Editor Stack Up Against the Competition?

If you’re looking for a free app to help you self-edit, The Hemingway Editor can be a great addition to your writing toolbox.

For a more comprehensive editing program, ProWritingAid or Grammarly may be a better fit.

Hemingway App vs. ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid helps you edit every aspect of your writing, so it’s far more thorough in helping review and analyze your writing.

ProWritingAid also offers a less comprehensive free version that allows you to try the program, as well as an annual membership option with or without the plagiarism check.

hemmingway app

Like the Hemingway App, you are able to download the ProWritingAid app for ease of use. It’s compatible with Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or any other writing program.

For more on ProWritingAid, click here to read Jerry’s full review.

Hemingway Editor vs. Grammarly

Grammarly is closer to the Hemingway Editor in terms of purpose, however, you must download the app to use it.

Grammarly beats the competition by spotting spelling errors and highlighting grammar and punctuation issues. It also spots passive voice, redundancies, and complex sentences.

The free version may be all you need, but the more comprehensive version will cost:

  • $30 per month for the monthly subscription
  • $60 every three months for the quarterly subscription
  • $144 for the annual subscription (billed as one payment)
hemingway app editor vs grammarly

For more on Grammarly, click here for Jerry’s full review.

The Hemingway Editor: Can it Really Improve Your Writing?

If you’re a beginning writer or just looking for a free or reasonably-priced app that helps you tighten your writing, the Hemingway Editor could be a useful tool.

The app is helpful in recognizing complex, wordy sentences and passive voice, but because it misses so many other issues, it ranks below ProWritingAid and Grammarly for me.

Nothing replaces actually doing the writing and learning to effectively self-edit. Tools like the Hemingway Editor can help you, but they won’t write for you.

My Favorite Go-To Websites for Advice on Gluten Free Eating

Were you recently told you need to switch to a gluten free diet and you’re scrambling around trying to figure out what in the world that even means?

Or are you already gluten free and on the hunt for some advice on how you can change things up?

Maybe you’re someone who’s heard just enough about gluten free eating to know it could help you feel better – whatever the case, I’m here to help, this time with my favorite list of go-to websites.

But first, for any newbies, let’s briefly discuss what gluten is.

A common misconception is, if you have to eat gluten free, you just need to eliminate wheat from your diet. Not so fast…while it’s true you do need to eliminate wheat, that’s not the whole story.

Gluten is the protein naturally found in some grains including, but not limited to, wheat, barley, and rye. It’s a bit like a glue that holds foods together and gives things like bread and pizza dough their stretch. Without it, dough can be pretty crumbly.

There are a dozen or so unconventional grains that also contain gluten — I’ll let you google these rather than diving that far into the subject on this post. One very common naturally gluten free grain is oats, but they aren’t often labeled as such because of cross-contamination either in the growing or packaging process.

Those are the obvious gluten sources. Where we can all tend to get into trouble is with the less obvious (or totally hidden) sources like soy sauce, dressings, and foods containing modified food starch (often disguised as a filler).

Be vigilant. When I started eating gluten free about 16 years ago, my choices were quite limited, especially when eating out. (Stay tuned, I’m working on another blog post about restaurants) Since then, a trip to Whole Foods or Trader Joes (or honestly, even Costco!) is like a trip to the mall when I was a teenager. There are gluten free substitutes for nearly everything – you just have to go to the right grocery stores.

Back to the subject at hand, however, here are just a few of my favorite go-to websites for recipes, or health and fitness advice in general.

My Favorite Go-To Websites

Danielle Walker

By far, my favorite website and Instagram page for all things gluten free is Danielle Walker. She’s written four cookbooks, has another one in the works, and recently released an excellent book about her life, called Food Saved Me.

Danielle’s family is clearly the light of her life. I love that following her is like having an old friend that knows (from personal experience) a little bit about the health struggles I’ve faced in my own life – although hers are much more serious.

Her old website, Against All Grain, is full of great recipes, as well. Be sure to check it out! You won’t be sorry.

Max Lugavere 

Although not everything he offers is gluten free, another one of my favorites on both his website and Instagram, is Max Lugavere. His podcast, The Genius Life Podcast, is always a fun listen, as well. He just released a new cookbook called The Genius Kitchen, but I don’t own it yet.

Max gives down to earth, common sense advice about a variety of health related issues, including fitness and healthy eating.

Ben Greenfield 

Although this one isn’t entirely food-related, I couldn’t resist including it.

Whether you follow him on his website or on Instagram, you’ll quickly realize Ben Greenfield is more than just a little bit serious about all things fitness, healthy eating, and bio-hacking. He’s a bit extreme in some areas, but I thoroughly enjoy listening to his podcast (called Ben Greenfield Fitness) and learning everything I can. Every episode is an adventure, and I value that.

Mark Sisson 

One of the most brilliant minds in diet and fitness today is Mark Sisson, author of Primal Blueprint and numerous other books about the paleo lifestyle. Mark’s website Mark’s Daily Apple is chock full of recipes, health, and fitness advice.

My family and I eat primarily paleo, and Mark is second only to Danielle Walker for who I consult with any gluten free eating-related question. When it comes to fitness, Sisson is number one on my list.

Michelle Tam

I only recently found Michelle, on her fun website called Nom Nom Paleo. She’s got a wealth of great recipes both on her website, and in her three cookbooks, which read a lot like comic books. She also offers her own great line of spice mixes.

Michelle makes gluten free cooking fun – let’s be honest, we can all use a little more fun when it comes to cooking gluten free!

Andrea Hannemann

Last, but certainly not least, is Andrea Hannemann – otherwise known as Earthy Andy – who offers incredible gluten free, vegan recipes and is just a joy to follow on Instagram.

I first heard Andrea on a podcast interview years ago, when she shared her story on how and why she switched to eating vegan. It was so interesting and inspiring, I’ve been following her ever since, and now own her beautiful first cookbook, Plant Over Processed.

And there you have it – my favorite go-to websites for all things health, fitness, and gluten free eating!

I’d love to hear – what are your favorites? Please leave a comment below and let me know!

Dynamic and Static Characters: The Difference and Why it Matters

(Originally published as a guest post on

Memorable, believable characters are crucial to every good story.

Consider what makes these literary classics so unforgettable:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Each has a cast of flawed characters whose growth—their character arcs—makes all the difference.

Two essential types of characters exist in a story: dynamic and static. Understanding them can help you compel readers to keep turning the pages.

What is a Dynamic Character?

dynamic vs. static

One who, because of the internal and external obstacles he faces, and the lessons he learns, experiences significant change by the end of a story.

The more challenges, the better the story. The toughest challenges beget the most radical transformations.

Lead characters are usually dynamic, but not always.

Dynamic Character Examples:

Katniss Everdeen: She begins The Hunger Games trying to feed and protect her family following the death of her father.

But when Prim, her sister, is selected as Tribute for District 12, Katniss knows she won’t survive, so she volunteers to take her place alongside the baker’s son Peeta, the chosen male Tribute.

Peeta has had a crush on Katniss since childhood, but does Katniss feel the same way, or does she merely pretend for strategic reasons?

As Katniss and Peeta fight to survive, the twists and turns of the game keep readers wondering if either will. In the end, Katniss becomes a hero who inspires hope (and a rebellion) in her countrymen.

Ebenezer Scrooge: He begins A Christmas Carol selfish, miserly, and miserable, an old man who seems to despise anything good, even carolers trying to spread cheer on Christmas Eve.

But that very night he’s visited by the ghost of his former business partner and then the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. He watches as not a single soul cares enough about him to mourn his death.

In the end, he becomes a generous, gracious, kindhearted gentleman bent on keeping the Christmas Spirit alive for the rest of his life.

Walter White: The main character in the hit AMC series Breaking Bad begins as a high school science teacher who learns he has cancer. His insurance company refuses to cover all his treatments, putting him on the verge of bankruptcy.

He’s already working two jobs and has taken out a second mortgage on his home. A ride-along on a drug bust with his DEA brother-in-law gives Walter an idea: he could use his scientific knowledge to develop quality meth and make a bundle.

A chance encounter with a former student results in an unlikely partnership, and so begins the secret life of Walter White. Not only is he able to quickly meet the financial needs of his family, but his drug business also becomes so lucrative it ultimately destroys everyone involved.

The opposite character arc from Scrooge, for example, White has gone from high school teacher to drug lord.

Dynamic vs. Static Characters

Static characters often get a bad rap, but that’s not always deserved.

While dynamic characters experience life-altering changes, the personalities, behaviors, and morals of static characters remain largely unchanged.

But that doesn’t have to mean they’re boring. It just means they don’t experience a major internal transformation like dynamic characters do.

Static Character Examples:

James Bond: In his 12-novel series, Ian Fleming created the perfect static character. Though he’s a charming, sophisticated, dangerous British Secret Service Agent who fights crime, he personally remains unchanged.

Smaug: The deadly, fire breathing dragon who captures Erebor in The Hobbit, sits atop a golden treasure he’ll protect at any cost.

When Bilbo steals a chalice, Smaug wakes and fights, which results in his ultimate downfall. His character remains unchanged throughout.

Albus Dumbledore: For most of the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore is seen as the beloved grandfatherly Headmaster at Hogwarts.

We readers grow fond of him too, as we learn his backstory, but his character remains unchanged during the series.

Only after his death do we learn more about his sins and virtues, and that he never fully rid himself of the dark side he hid so well.

How to Create a Dynamic Character

1. Give him a history.

Your character’s history—his backstory—shaped him into the person he is today.

The more thoroughly you know him, the easier it’ll be to determine where change can occur during your story.

Things you should know, whether or not you choose to include them:

  • When and where was he born?
  • Who are his parents?
  • Does he have brothers and sisters (include names and ages)?
  • Did he attend high school? College? Graduate school? Where and for how long?
  • What’s his political affiliation?
  • What’s his occupation?
  • How much does he make?
  • What are his goals?
  • What are his skills and talents?
  • What does his spiritual life look like?
  • Who are his friends?
  • Who is his best friend?
  • Is he single? Dating? Married?
  • What’s his worldview?
  • What’s his personality type?
  • What triggers his anger?
  • What gives him joy?
  • What’s he afraid of?

2. Give him human qualities.

To be human is to be flawed and vulnerable.

Even superheroes have weaknesses. Superman’s is Kryptonite. Daredevil’s is a high-pitched sound. Thor is stronger when he has his hammer. The Green Lantern can stop just about anything unless it’s made of wood.

If you want readers to identify with dynamic characters, those characters must have human weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Just make sure those faults aren’t irreparable—don’t make your protagonist a fearful, wimpy slob who can do nothing right.

3. Give him heroic qualities, too.

Plunge him into terrible trouble and allow him to learn valuable lessons as he tries (and fails) to fight his way out. But eventually allow him to show readers what he’s made of.

Have him develop courage and conviction. Make him grow strong, selfless, honest, and determined. Give him moral integrity.

Maybe he begins as the underdog deathly afraid of spiders or heights, or has an unhealthy addiction. But in the end, he must rise above his flaws, overcome the challenge, and become the hero who keeps readers turning the pages

4. Make sure there’s internal and external conflict.

dynamic vs. static

Conflict is the engine of fiction—and that’s usually external.

But what happens to your character internally is also important. What your hero thinks, feels, and tells himself directly influences his eventual transformation.

Draw upon your own experience to create a whole character, inside and out.

What are your innermost doubts and fears? How do you respond to danger?

Mix and match behaviors from yourself and others to determine your hero’s natural internal and external responses.

5. Show, don’t tell.

Like Jerry always says, this is the cardinal rule of fiction.

Show readers who your character is through his thoughts, actions, and dialogue. Then trust readers enough to let them deduce the rest.

That gives readers the best reading experience.

Start Developing Dynamic Characters

Positive growth or not, a dynamic character always changes over the course of a story.

Explore dynamic characters in stories you read to learn what makes them work, and how you can do it.

Develop dynamic characters who feel real, and they’ll become unforgettable.

For additional help developing your characters, visit:

12 Character Archetypes You Can Use To Create Heroes Your Reader Will Love

(originally published as a guest post on

There’s no way around it:

If you want to write a story that pulls in readers, you must include compelling characters.

They need to feel:

  • Believable
  • Mysterious
  • Relatable

But that’s difficult to pull off—one reason most stories are unpublishable.

Maybe you’re feeling this tension right now.

Maybe you’ve created a character with an amazing backstory that includes everything from where he was born to his hair and eye color, where he works, who his best friends are, and what hobbies he enjoys.

Yet it’s obvious something is still missing. And you can’t put your finger on what that is.

That’s why I wrote this character archetype guide: to give you a shortcut to giving your characters a set of desires, fears, and struggles that feel familiar—and because of that, believable.

For a character to be believable, he needs to be realistic.

[I use male pronouns inclusively here to represent both genders to avoid the awkward he/she or him/her, fully recognizing that many lead characters are female, as are a majority of readers.]

For him to be realistic, he needs to fit a certain psychological profile. Within that profile, there’s lots of wiggle room—things like motivation, his reaction to the variety of circumstances you’ll plunge him into, his background are all important—but who is he?

  • What does he fear?
  • What motivates him?
  • What does he care about most?

In other words, what makes your character tick? Figure that out, and your character’s archetype will jump off the screen and give your readers a character they’ll love.

character archetypes

What Is a Character Archetype?

Merriam-Webster defines archetype as “the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies.” 

A character archetype is a pattern of behavior inherent in a vast number of people.

If you think this method will make your writing too predictable, remember: you’re in control of the story. A character archetype is merely a pattern—and, just like real human beings, every character has his own quirks and idiosyncrasies that make him unique.

So then, how do you take a character archetype and use it as a starting place to create a unique character?

How to Use Character Archetypes

While the study of character archetypes can be helpful for character development, be careful not to let it influence you too much.

Educate yourself, read stories that feature the kind of characters you wish to create, then set everything aside and let your imagination take over.

Create unique characters that make sense and tell your story.

12 Common Types of Character Archetypes (with Examples)

The 12 Main Character ArchetypesThere are hundreds of character archetypes with their own categories and subcategories—far too many to list in one post. All can be useful tools in creating believable characters.A few of the most common (based on personality tests like the Enneagram):

1. The Reformer

Always a leader. He has a deep desire to do right, to feel useful and valuable.

He’s rational, idealistic, principled, and at his best has self-control.

At his worst, he’s a perfectionist. He fears failure.

Conflict comes easily. Others must see things his way, or he becomes critical and cutting.

Examples: Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird and Lady Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey 

2. The Helper

Always focused on improving the lives of others, he truly feels privileged that others choose him to be a part of their lives.

He does everything to keep people from harm. He’s humble, thoughtful, compassionate, generous, and loyal.

He has a tendency to be overprotective and loyal to a fault. He’s a people pleaser. He wants to be loved and will bend over backwards to make that happen. He manipulates people with his good nature.

The helper wants to avoid conflict, to the point that he often plays the martyr.

Example: Robert McCall in The Equalizer

3. The Individualist

By definition, he likes to be alone but doesn’t necessarily always prefer it.

He’s a creative visionary who hates restrictions. I’m sure it won’t shock you to learn that he’s also an independent thinker.

At his worst, he’s fragile. He cares deeply about what others think of him.

While he wants to be loved, he feels no one knows him well enough to love him fully—so, he usually ends up alone, or just aloof when he’s with people.

The individualist is a bear when it comes to conflict, because he loves to dredge up the past.

Example: Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire 

4. The Achiever

An ambitious, successful individual usually seen as a role model. He’s success-oriented: practical, flexible, and driven.

But he’s very concerned about how others see him.

He needs to feel important and valuable to those he loves. One of his worst fears is becoming irrelevant or useless. In conflict, he needs to be right and will go to great lengths to prove he is.

Example: Frasier Crane in Frasier

5. The Investigator

By definition, he enjoys discovering why things work the way they do. Problem solving is what he does best.

He’s brave, determined, intelligent, and creative. He loves exploring the unknown.

At his worst, the investigator is a loner. To his credit, he’s also an observer. He feels it best to take things in from a distance and contemplate, keeping his information close to the vest. He trusts only a very few people.

In conflict, the investigator is usually the calm, rational one because, remember, he’s the problem solver. He’ll ask lots of questions and get to the bottom of it one way or another.

Examples: Fox Mulder in X-Files, Sherlock Holmes

6. The Peacemaker

More than anything, he wants everyone to get along. He’s content, easy going, modest, and unassuming. He trusts easily and is emotionally stable.

At his worst, he’s complacent.  He’s a worrier. He’s not someone who enjoys being assertive, unless he has to be. He avoids conflict and often will go along just to get along.

Example: Mr. Rogers in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

7. The Challenger

A strong leader who takes charge, he’s protective of himself and those he loves.

He’s self-assured and makes decisions quickly. Friends of a challenger never wonder where they stand.

He fears losing control. Because of this, in conflict, he’s going to win one way or another.

Example: Tony Soprano in The Sopranos

8. The Loyalist

That solid friend everyone wants in their corner, he can be trusted for the long haul, always the responsible one.

He needs loyal friends who trust and support him. He deals with stress by getting defensive and anxious.

The loyalist doesn’t deal well with conflict and easily believes he’s the persecuted one. He wants, more than anything, to feel secure.

Examples: George Costanza in Seinfeld, Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings

9. The Enthusiast

A fun person, he’s always the happiest in the room.

He’s uninhibited, flexible, and excitable. He’s always on the go and acts on impulse. He’s usually independent, smart, and productive.

At his worst, an enthusiast is scattered. He tends to take on too many things at once, because he never wants to miss a thing. Boredom is not acceptable.

In conflict, he’ll do anything to avoid pain, so he often becomes combative.

Example: Ace Ventura in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

10. The Sage

That wise, intelligent guy who always knows the right thing to do, he’s a mentor, a solid friend, and usually there to assist the hero in his quest for what’s right.

The sage is constantly studying to discover truth. He’s often a pastor, a teacher, sometimes an investigator, and always an observer.

At his worst, he can be prideful. Procrastination is his middle name. In conflict, he can tend to be a know-it-all.

Examples: Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Professor Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter

11. The Protector

Great at both working alone and with people, he tends to accomplish more alone.

He leads by doing. He’s a warrior, an excellent teacher, compassionate, and honorable.

Watch out, though. The protector can often have a stubborn streak, and he gets impatient if he can’t help fix a problem. After a conflict, he struggles to forgive and forget.

Example: William Wallace in Braveheart

12. The Villain

Opposite the hero, this guy creates the need for a hero in the first place.

He has many likeable qualities—he’s a kind, worthy opponent, but something terrible in his past influenced who he has become—vengeful, proud, power hungry, merciless, and a guy who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Examples: White Witch in Chronicles of Narnia, Joker in Batman.

Use these Character Archetypes to Develop Your Own Characters

Learn to recognize character archetypes in people you know, in magazine advertisements and television commercials, or in television shows and movies.

But remember, as you write, let your imagination take over.

Trust your gut.

Tell a story that makes sense, with realistic characters who possess real emotions. Be careful not to create cookie-cutter characters—instead, create unique characters your readers long to know more about.

That’ll keep them coming back for more.

(originally published as a guest post on


Tone in Writing: A Simple Guide for Authors

(originally published as a guest post on

If you’re confused about the difference between “voice” and “tone” in writing, you aren’t alone. Many writers conflate the two.

Whether you’re writing a novel, a blog post, an article, or a poem, it’s important to know the difference so you can communicate with readers in a way that resonates.

Your writing voice reflects who you are, your unique personality and character that should flavor everything you write.

Tone is the attitude with which you write it.

So, voice is what you say, and tone is how you say it. 

That sounds simple, so let’s dig deeper.

What is Tone in Writing?

We communicate tone when we speak (whether we’re aware of it or not).

Imagine you and I have an appointment and you get caught in traffic and show up half an hour late.

You always this punctual?I say with a grin.

My smile sends a clear message—I’m not upset, I’m being sarcastic. That’s tone.

Communicating tone in writing is no different.

Avoid the mistake of telling your reader what to feel. Instead, convey your attitude or emotion with carefully chosen words that create the perfect tone for your story.

Types of Tone in Writing

The list is nearly endless—show me a human emotion, I’ll show you a tone—but here are the basic ones:

  1. Formal
  2. Informal 
  3. Optimistic
  4. Pessimistic
  5. Joyful
  6. Sad
  7. Sincere
  8. Hypocritical
  9. Fearful
  10. Hopeful
  11. Humorous
  12. Serious

While tones can vary with every character and scene, the overall tone of your story must remain consistent to keep from confusing your reader and hindering your message.

Examples of Tone in Literature

Robert Frost begins his poem The Road Not Taken with a hopeful, contemplative tone.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

By the end, he’s switched to reflection and positivity.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

In The Old Man and the Sea, his final published work, Ernest Hemingway effects a tone of loneliness, sadness, defeat, and discouragement (at least on the part of the boy). 

But, you can also read into what’s not said and detect a tone of courage or expectation on the part of the old man. Who continues to fish day after day when they’ve caught nothing?

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week.

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

In The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis writes this passage with a clear tone of self-pity and sadness that shifts to fear. 

‘I do think,’ said Shasta, ‘that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me…I was left behind…I was the one who was sent on…I got left out.’ And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.

What put a stop to all this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.

How to Develop Your Writing Tone

Have you ever written something you realized later fell flat? Here’s how to avoid this:

1. Remember your audience.

Every reader matters. Write in a straightforward, friendly manner as if having a conversation. Be real and avoid words that require a dictionary.

2. Layer in details.

Convey tone through descriptions that trigger the theater of your reader’s mind rather that being so specific that you leave nothing to his imagination.

3. Conflict is your friend.

Avoid a story that falls flat by creating what Bridget McNulty calls “an ebb and flow of tension”.

Plunge your main character into terrible trouble from the get-go and spend the rest of your story having him try to remedy the situation.

Tone can serve as one of the most important elements in writing because it gives life to a story.

Through the Tunnel to the Towers, This Foundation Honors 9/11’s Fallen Heroes

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” — Arthur Ashe

One gorgeous, sunny September morning in 2001, the “city that never sleeps” bustled like any other Tuesday morning, with students hurrying to school and professionals rushing to catch the next metro downtown to try and make it to work on time. A 34-year-old Brooklyn firefighter named Stephen Gerard Siller had just finished the late shift at Squad 1 and was on his way to play a round of golf with his brothers when his scanner crackled to life. A plane had just hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He raced back to the station to get his gear.

On his way, Siller called his wife, Sally, and asked her to postpone the golf date. He quickly retrieved his gear and attempted to drive across what was then known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (now called the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel), a nearly two-mile route that connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. But the tunnel was already closed, and traffic was a nightmare.

He parked his black Ford pickup, strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and set out on foot, running through the tunnel and straight into the scene that, by that time, had most of America frozen in disbelief, riveted to their televisions.

No doubt, Siller fought valiantly alongside his brothers that morning as they tried desperately to evacuate the doomed North and South Towers. He was last seen just outside the South Tower minutes before it collapsed at 9:59. Time seemed to stand still, as a blinding cloud of gray thundered through lower Manhattan.

When the dust began to settle, the only sound that could be heard was the shrill pitch of alarms attached to firefighters who would never make it out of the raging inferno. As the hours passed, the sounds grew less shrill, and before long, could barely be heard at all.

That terrible September day, in addition to thousands of civilians, 71 law enforcement officers and 343 firefighters perished, including 12 members of Siller’s squad. Survived by his wife of 10 years, five beautiful young children, and six siblings, by all accounts Stephen was one of a kind — full of life, and blessed with an abundance of friends and family.

It is because of his spirit and great sacrifice that the Siller family started the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, whose mission is not only to honor Stephen’s memory, but also to honor the “military and first responders who continue to make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country.” In doing so, the foundation provides funds through the “Legacy of Love” program that provides for children who are orphaned both here at home and abroad, community programs like the one that provided millions in relief and aide for victims of Hurricane Sandy, the Fallen First Responder Home Program, the Gold Star Family Home Program, the Footsteps to the Future Endowment, the National Run, Walk & Climb Series, and the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit.

The foundation is perhaps best known for “Building for America’s Bravest” — a program that “builds high-tech ‘smart homes’ around the country for the most catastrophically injured service members.”

Tunnels to Towers 5K 2016-26
Photo credit: Tunnel 2 Towers

These programs wouldn’t be possible without the amazing annual fundraising efforts in memory of Stephen Siller. Since the foundation’s creation 18 years ago, millions have been raised through the NYC Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5k Run & Walk, an event that retraces the steps Siller took that fateful day on September 11, 2001. In 2019, 55 cities hosted (or will host) the event, including Myrtle Beach, SC; North Conway, NH; Orlando, FL; Perry, GA; Cape Girardeau, MO; Buffalo, NY; Alpena, MI and many others. Thousands of runners and walkers of all ages from all over the world join the effort.

The latest fundraising effort to benefit Tunnel to Towers happened two weeks ago when Nike chose to pull their latest design that included, in their estimation, the “racist” Betsy Ross flag. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh acted quickly, got his team to design a t-shirt featuring the Betsy Ross flag, and chose to donate all proceeds to T2T. To date (9/1/19), Rush has raised and donated more than $3 million.

It’s not difficult to imagine what Stephen Siller would say were he here to witness the many fundraising efforts that allow this abundance of work to continue in his name. Stephen’s life was guided by the philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi: “while we have time, let us do good.” And that’s exactly how he lived his life, to the very last moment.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15:13

(portions of this article, written by me, appeared on Opportunity Lives on October 2, 2015. It was edited to fit current events. Photo credit: Tunnel to Towers)

I Miss Her

I don’t remember the time or the day, but I do remember the date.

February 15, 2007 – the day after mom went to heaven.

I had this thing I needed to do. For mom, and honestly, for me.

I definitely needed to do it for me. 

Before she died, mom kept fretting about her nails. And hair. And makeup.

She wasn’t the least bit vain, but she always tried so hard to look pretty for dad. She didn’t want Mr. Green, the funeral director, to be the one that did her hair, nails and makeup for the last time.

I didn’t either.

“He’ll make me look like a clown,” she laughed. “What man really knows how to do makeup?”

So, as she fretted over these silly things with a humor that only she could, I made a promise, and I intended to keep it.

I pulled into the empty parking lot, numb.  I wanted to hold tight to every last memory.

Even this.

How could it be that these would be the last moments I’d spend alone with my mother?

My friend Amy and Betty – mom’s hairdresser – met me there. I could do always do mom’s hair, but I could never get her bangs right. I’d do everything else and leave those for her to finish. So, Betty agreed to come help make sure they were right. One last time.

As a child, I never envisioned my mom not being a part of my life. Though, because of her illness, I feared losing her…I never really thought I would. We had our rough patches like most mothers and daughters – 99.9% of them completely my fault. But as I grew into adulthood, something changed: we became best friends.

I love that we had those years. 

I walked into the funeral home in a fog. Mr Green met me there, and together, we walked into the room to where he’d placed mom’s body. He left me there, alone.

Very alone. I’m pretty sure I’ll never feel more alone than I did in that moment.

A million memories, a million what-if’s…I remember asking God why.

And in that moment…that whispered why moment…the Lord put the verse in 2 Corinthians on my heart. I couldn’t remember it just right, but I did remember that for the Christian, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

She’s not here.

I can do this.

And…we did.

With the help of my sweet friends, I helped mom one final time.

We held her now cold, lifeless hands and painted her nails. I applied her makeup, careful not to make her look clownish. Together, the three of us did her hair. It was the one last thing we could do.

Leaving the funeral home that day was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I don’t remember lots of tears, I just remember wanting to hold on…just in case it was all a dream. 

The lessons my mother taught me are endless. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t remember. Twelve years later, there are still days I pick up the phone to call her, usually for a recipe neither of us ever thought to write down.

Valentine’s Day is a special day.

In 2007, it’s the day my mom got to meet Jesus.

As much as I miss her…miss us…miss the laughter and the tears we shared, I wouldn’t wish her back. Not to this. Not to the pain she lived with for forty years.

I want to finish with this passage from John 14. During the last few days of her life, my mom quoted it numerous times. She wanted everyone who came within earshot to know this Jesus she spoke of.

And on this and every Valentine’s Day, celebrate those you love. Appreciate them. Cherish every moment you have.

Just in case.

John 14

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.

Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?

Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

If ye love me, keep my commandments.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.

At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.

These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.

And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.

Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.

But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.

Mom wasn’t fond of having her photo taken, but if Anna wanted a picture, she was all smiles. This was taken during a visit to NASA.