Back in 2008 I taught creative writing, and most of my students had been writing most of their adult lives, and wanted to learn tricks. There really aren't many tricks to writing fiction, but there are simple guidelines. Most classes will try to tell you there are firm rules, and yes, when it comes to grammar, spelling, and punctuation there are (if you can see what was wrong with the punctuation in the previous clauses then you are a master of punctuation!). When it comes to style, voice, or characters there are no hard rules. However, if I could create one rule, I would bestow this upon the world: if you write anything even similar to "Twilight" I will personally hunt you down and beat you with a creative writing textbook.

The one problem Stephanie Meyers runs into that eludes thousands upon thousands of readers is weak character building. Most readers don't always know how to spot weak characters, plot is what most readers look for. However if you want to write something that doesn't earn death threats, strong characters are what stand between you and utter mediocrity. Although I do admit mediocrity in the modern world will get you a movie deal. So if that's what you seek have at, but for the rest of us we need strong characters.

This has been on my mind because I so gleefully threw myself into crafting my requested erotic romance I didn't do my usual character creation process, I started cold writing (okay,albeit with a 10 page complete plot summary). At 45 pages, to my horror, I had a story about two opposite men filling stereotypes and one fairly empty woman. Visions of "Team Nick" and "Team Aiden" shirts loomed in my thoughts and I nearly had a heart attack. This was actually a common problem my students had: midway through writing they realized their characters were weak.

The best thing to do when you find yourself in this situation is stop immediately and create a character sheet for each main protagonist and antagonist. This lists important details about a character to help you flesh them out. Once done, go back and edit what you've written to include these details and change what you need to, then go on.

You have to remember writing is a creative process, similar to dreaming. Fun fact: every person you see in your dreams has the physical presence of a real person. Background people are people you saw on TV or passed on the street. However, every personality and voice in a dream is yours. Nightmares, villains, and bullies are just your worries animated. Your characters will be the same way.

They work best if you split the things you like about yourself up. In this book I'm working on there are three protagonists, Aiden, Shannon, and Nick. To Aiden I gave my strong ethics, to Shannon I gave my fierce independence, and to Nick I gave my sarcasm. Yes, I like these three things about me. I also gave them each one of the things I don't like about myself: to Aiden I gave him my obliviousness to the motives of people around him in daily activities, to Nick I gave him my hyperactivity which is not always appropriate (I have ADHD), and to Shannon I gave her my introversion which makes socializing often difficult. Aside from that I, like most writers, pull other details from myself and people in my life. Nick has a lot of the flirtatious style my friend Pawel (my photographer for Case of the Missing Millionaire) has, Aiden has the quiet strength of my friend Bekah (gender doesn't matter! just be kind when explaining this to the friends you used as character models), and Shannon has the focus and drive of my friend Emmy (who is also the model for my first book). Another fun fact: the model for Marly Jackson is the sexiest librarian I know.

How do you keep track of all this? I use a cheat-sheet (this is a docx file you can download and use) that contains lots of questions. The first thing you need is a photo. Use a celebrity or a friend, but having a photo to refer to is much better than writing down their physical stats. Fill in the questions to shape the character as you see fit. One good cheat I use is to put in the astrological sign. By looking up signs you can see general personality traits. Find the ones that fit your character best (for example a free-spirited artist would be best served by being an Aquarius while a pragmatic soul is best represented as Virgo) and note some of the traits. They'll help you design your character. Feel free to add any more questions to it that will help you. every author has a different process.

So good luck to you all, and off I go to reverse engineer 45 pages of build-up.