Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gayle Roper Teaches Writers How to Improve Their Own Novels

by Donna Brennan

Not only is Gayle Roper an award winning novelist and a much sought after conference presenter, she's an encourager to other writes as well.  Several people I either spoke to personally or whose blogs I have read stated that Gayle was one of their first mentors.

I met Gayle several years ago at a one day conference in Lancaster, PA. She taught a session on layering your novel that has stuck with me to this day. I was especially taken with how she answered the questions from us novice writers. I could tell she had a heart to encourage, and she truly wanted us all to succeed. That's why I wasn't surprised when I later learned she has won special recognition from several writers conferences for her work in training writers.

I wanted to take another course with Gayle, and often went to her web site or searched the web for any local workshops or sessions she might be teaching. But everything was so far away.

So when I became the Write Stuff conference chair, Gayle was one of the first people I contacted to ask to speak to us. I asked if she could grow her layering talk into a three hour workshop, and she graciously agreed. She came up with "Ten Crucial Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Novel."

I've had a sneak preview of the the questions, and I can see how taking these into consideration can help writers make their novels more focused, more real, and definitely much more interesting. But just knowing the bare questions is not enough. I want to know the layers behind each of the questions, the thinking and rational that goes into them--the kind of thing only an experienced and successful writer like Gayle can impart to us.

I asked Gayle to share a little glimpse of what her workshop will be about.

Q: Every time we write a novel there are certain questions we have to ask ourselves as we create our masterpieces. Where do we start?

A: Writing a novel is a bit like building a house. You need a good foundation for the house to stand up to time and the elements. Our novels need a strong foundation too.

Q: And that foundation is?

A: The most basic question we have to ask, the one whose answer sets the first blocks of our foundation, is why are we writing this story? Why not another? Why this genre, this style, this perspective? Where does the passion for it come from? Is it a sustainable passion? Will I care in a year or two as I work through the writing, the editing, the promotion? If we can’t answer these basic questions, we’re the foolish man building on the sand.

Q: Okay, what next?

A: Next comes that analysis of our main characters’ personalities. What is she like? What makes him come alive? What keeps her from being stereotypical? What about him makes my readers care about him? What personality traits put them in conflict with each other? With the antagonist? What makes the bad guy bad and what makes him understandable to your readers, most of whom are nice people who don’t try and ruin others’ lives?

Q: Haven’t we hit ten questions yet?

A: Oh, no, only two with lots of sub-questions. Next might be the crucial how can I make things worse for everyone? Or what motivates the action and moves the plot? Or what’s eating your characters inside? What secrets are they keeping? And the list goes on. I look forward to talking with the class while each thinks in terms of his or her work in progress.


  1. Sounds like it's going to be a great presentation.

  2. Eager for this workshop. Her friendly disposition shines through in this photo!

  3. Writing is all about getting the basic building blocks right...that's the one constant! I wish I could make the workshop. It's sure to be beneficial!

  4. Great post. I enjoyed getting a sneak peek at Gayle's workshop. So wish I could have been there. I know you worked really hard planning it and am glad it was a great success. Donna, it occurred to me that if I still lived in Hazleton, PA I probably would have been part of your writers' group!

  5. Character motivation is super-important. This workshop sounds good!