Tag Archives: Barbara Kyle

Revisiting Barbara Kyle

Barbara Kyle guest posted for me in 2010 with this excellent piece about our main characters making an entrance. While the books she has published have grown as has her reach into the reading and writing world, the point of this excellent post is as valid today as it was three years ago. Visit Barbara’s website (newly updated) to see just where she is with the Thornleigh Saga.

Barbara’s reach has also extended to doing more and more talks at conferences and other places readers throng to hear writers speak. This past summer I heard her at Stratford’s Shakespearean Festival. As usual she wowed her audience.

Barbara Kyle


 by Barbara Kyle

First impressions are crucial. Your initial response when you meet a person gets imprinted on your mind and is hard to alter. This is equally true of a reader’s first impression of a character in fiction. Their response to your story’s protagonist, in particular, is supremely important. Yet new writers often waste this opportunity by introducing their protagonist in idleness or passivity. Be smart – put the visceral impact of the first impression to work for you.

Lights, Camera, Action

Think of your story as a movie, and your protagonist as the star, and give him or her a dynamic and meaningful entrance. Focus on two steps:

1. Determine the character’s defining quality

2. Show that quality through action

Action is the key. Description of a character tells the reader mere facts – it has little visceral effect. Showing the character’s defining quality through action produces an emotional response in the reader, leaving a deep and lasting effect.

Star Roles

Screenwriters do this very consciously. Watch any film that you like and notice how the scene in which the hero/heroine first comes on screen demonstrates their defining quality. In other words, it shows the character’s essence.

When actors first read a script this “essence in action” is the very thing they look for. (I know – I made my living as an actor for twenty years.) As a writer of fiction, you can use this screenwriting technique to good effect. Strive to write an entrance scene for your protagonist which, if your story were made into a film, would attract an A-list actor to the role – a star.

How It’s Done

Here are some examples of the kind of dynamic entrance I mean:

1. Meredith Stephure’s splendid and moving historical novel CIVIL BLOOD opens with Thomas de Chastelain, lawyer and loyalist, about to ride off to war, yet he takes a few minutes to deal with a small family crisis: his two bold young sons have trespassed on the neighbor’s property. We see Thomas take action, being strict but fair, and full of affection for his children. This is the essence of his character.

2. Ian McEwan’s brilliant novel ATONEMENT opens with Briony Tallis, as a precocious child, obsessing about the play she has written, and orchestrating her cousins to take the roles in her fictional world. Her need to control people, and her obsession with storytelling, are the essence of her character.

3. Lee Gowan’s novel CONFESSION shows Dwight Froese, a young janitor at an elementary school, breaking up a schoolyard fight between two boys by lifting up the bully by his shirt and calmly threatening him. Dwight’s action shows us a man who cares about justice but also has an aura of latent brutality.

4. My novel THE QUEEN’S LADY, set in Tudor England, opens with seven-year-old Honor Larke risking her life to try to find her servant-friend amid a May Day riot. When she sees the mob viciously attack a foreigner, Honor’s curiosity and pity drive her to help the dying stranger. This is her essence, shown in action.

Timing the Entrance

The examples above are all of opening scenes, but your opening doesn’t have to feature the protagonist. You may want to kick-start the story with some other event – for example, one featuring the antagonist. What’s important is that when you do bring your protagonist on stage, give them an entrance in which the action they take resonates on a meaningful, emotional level with your reader.

Whether your hero/heroine is a rogue, a lost soul, a killer, or a saint, their entrance is your chance to make them a star.

♦Barbara Kyle is the author of the Tudor-era novels The Queen’s Lady and The King’s Daughter, the latter praised by Publishers Weekly for its “complex and fast-paced plot, mixing history with vibrant characters.” Barbara won acclaim for her contemporary novels written under pen name ‘Stephen Kyle’, including Beyond Recall (a Literary Guild Selection), After Shock and The Experiment. Her historical novel, The Queen’s Captive, will be published in September 2010.

Barbara teaches creative writing courses for the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, and has presented workshops for many writers organizations. Before becoming an author she enjoyed a twenty-year acting career in television, film, and stage productions in Canada and the U.S.


The Loyalist’s Wife by Elaine Cougler


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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Authors, General, Writing Tips


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Life as a Published Author

Today I am giving a little peek into my very own brave new world with apologies to Aldous Huxley.

Have you ever dreamed of achieving a seemingly unreachable goal? Of course you have! Hundreds of them. You learned to smile, to walk, to wink, to sing, to bike, and to reach for the distant stars in so many ways.

But was it easy? Not always. And neither has my trip to publishing been easy.

From the time I sat reading in my summer porch with tears slipping down my sunburned cheeks just aching to write a novel and write well, I’ve had this dream. And last month, I realized it when The Loyalist’s Wife was published. Since then my pace has quickened with sales and signings, posts and planning. And for a people person, it’s so much fun!

Today I am on Marta Merajver’s blog answering some probing interview questions and tomorrow I’ll be at Carole-Ann Vance’s blog with a post on Whispers in Historical Fiction.

And just to ice the cake a bit, today I’m going to the Stratford Festival Theatre to hear Barbara Kyle speak. You know I’ll be buying a book and getting it signed!

Please check out Marta’s site today and Carole-Ann’s tomorrow.

The Loyalist’s Wife by Elaine Cougler is Here!

Kobo version Kindle version for Canadians Kindle version Paperback

Still available: Your free copy of 10 Ways to Improve Your Writing. Download from the link in the side column!


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Does Being a Writer Change Your Reading?

photo (9)-25_editedThree Ways My Reading Has Changed

  1. What I read has changed. I don’t have as much time to read historical fiction as I used to have. All my life I’ve kept journals of the books I’ve read and I would compare years to see what my yearly count was.I still read for about 20 minutes before I turn out the light at night and I read during the day as time permits. Okay, that last part is just funny. Time permits? Not so much. These days, what I read might be edits from my editor, how-to-write books by writers who have gone before, writing magazines–I love The Writer and the Historical Novels Review!, or books in other genres by writers I’ve met in person or online.
  2. How I read has changed.Plot. I was such a reader for plot I would forget the characters’ names and have to go back and check them out. Paragraphs of description were annoying and I became a great skimmer for the ‘good stuff.’ I preferred books that got to the details and wove in character, setting, themes, as needed and certainly not obtrusively. I still love to see how it will all turn out but I find myself looking at the writing differently. Rather than rushing through the story I am noticing just how the author wedged in that essential bit of backstory or just why he or she chose third person or first person. I see the plan behind the story like the framework of a house. I notice whether the framework is steel or wood timbers. And I learn for my own writing.
  3. How I record what I’ve read has changed. As mentioned earlier, I was a great keeper of my reading record. Now I consider whether the author might be someone I’ll interview on this blog. Shall I do a review on Goodreads? I ask myself. Or will I just let the book and my reading of it quietly die? And I love this change as I’ve discovered amazing people through interviews, reviews, and contacting the author to tell them I had written about them. Just this past weekend I finished Barbara Kyle’s 4th book, The Queen’s Gamble, a great read. And now she has the 5th in The Thornleigh Series out so I’ll put it on my list as well. How did I meet Kyle? I found her writing course online a few years ago, took it, signed up for a couple of her workshops, and now I am a Kyle convert. Just this morning I found that she is speaking at Stratford’s Shakespearean Festival this summer and I’ve marked the date on my calendar.

How have your reading habits changed over the years? What has affected them, having children, working full time, change of jobs, change of circumstance or taste? Consider leaving a comment below.


Download your free copy of 10 Ways to Improve Your Writing from the link in the side column!

Coming Soon!

The Loyalist’s Wife by Elaine Cougler


Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Authors, General, Readers' Wants


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2012 in Review: It’s Been a Pretty Eventful Year

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for me and it gave me the idea to do a bit of a retrospective. First, here is the stats report for my writing blog. I was surprised to see which post was the most popular–the one about my brother, Roger, His Smiling Eyes. Rather than talking about writing, this post is an example of my writing and has a compelling title. I suppose those are the reasons it was the most popular post of the year. Something for me to remember.

Here is the WordPress report for those who are into stats. I think it’s pretty interesting to see what stats they have chosen to report and which of my posts were most popular.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 11,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 18 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Some of the other benchmarks of my year include learning a lot about writing through two excellent critiquers and excellent writing techniques through Author Salon. I started book 2 of my trilogy, tentatively titled The Loyalist’s Luck, and went to historical fiction writer, Barbara Kyle’s workshop where we presented our first 30 pages for discussion. I got a lot of excellent feedback and can hardly wait to pick up that project and finish the first draft.

In late summer, after much deliberation, I decided to leave Author Salon and forge ahead on The Loyalist’s Wife on my own. A final work through the manuscript was invigorating and fruitful. In late October, I finished. Then I immediately began sending out a flurry of querries to agents with the hopes of snagging one, a quest I am still on. Self-publishing has also been looming on my horizons and loads of related articles have caught my attention both on the Internet and through LinkedIn author groups.

A marketing course caught my attention in August and I signed up for fellow Canadian, Danny Iny’s course. I learned a lot about blogging, writing for a purpose, and just what I needed to write to attract the audience I’m writing for. I read several books for writers and commented in various places, but the one I read for Joe Bunting at The Write Practice really made sense for me. His book was about writing short stories. I got really excited about going over my 20 or so stories and submitting them. It was energizing. I’ve sent a couple out but need to do more. One I got published in Quick Brown Fox in November.

Just this moment I’m in Victoria with family, chomping at the bit to get writing again, after 2 weeks of very little ass-in-chair time. I am back on my path, know where I’m going, and want to move ahead every day. That elusive book cover is moving closer and  closer. 2013, here I come!

Wishing you all a very productive and energizing New Year!

Consider leaving a comment with your successes for 2012 and wishes for 2013. 

Download a free copy of 10 Ways to Improve Your Writing Booklet from the link in the side column.


Posted by on December 31, 2012 in General, Personal History, Writing Tips


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3 Things For Which I, as a Writer, am Thankful

Thanksgiving in Canada

On this lovely November day when our Canadian Thanksgiving is long past for this year, I pause to think of all the notices I’ve received about the American Thanksgiving. And I am thankful for my writer’s life.

While there are many aspects of writing which I love  (and a few I don’t!), here are three jewels in my writing life.

  1. First and foremost, the absolute JOY of feeling  wondrous words tumbling off the ends of my fingers and forming themselves into settings and scenes, into people and problems, and into worlds until now undiscovered. Sometimes I feel like an explorer paddling up the French River in this wonderful ‘new world’ here in Canada. And I see the curve in the distance and wonder what I will find there.
  2. Second, the Internet world which, as much as those early rivers and oceans, teems with not fish but writers, and readers, and writers, and editors, and writers, and agents, and more writers. And I have learned so much from all of these people: LinkedIn writing-oriented groups, Twitter similar groups and followers, Facebook folk, and even a few Google+ hardy writing souls.
  3. Third, my writing friends, most of whom, I know in person. Conferences, workshops, and chance happenings have all contributed to my lovely list of like-minded writing friends. I treasure them all, for what they teach me, for their varied views across the conference table, and for knowing that these other amazing, intuitive, struggling writers really understand my frustrations. And my joys.

And so I am thankful for the American Thanksgiving added to my Canadian one. In so doing it gives me twice the time to contemplate my life.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Note To Self: Remember to put titles on my posts before publishing them as they just don’t work so well without. Last week’s guest post with the amazing Barbara Kyle went out first without my title. Dah! If you missed it, here is the link.

Consider leaving a comment on writing, on living in a country other than the United States, or on anything prompted by this post.


Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Authors, General, Social Networking


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Guest Author Barbara Kyle Gives Her Own Nuggets on Research

A big beautiful welcome today to the multi-talented Barbara Kyle, best known for her amazing historical Thornleigh series. Barbara is a former actor, a formidable author with many books under her belt, and a very helpful workshop leader. In today’s post she tells some of the secrets to research and how it relates to her books. Please consider leaving comments for Barbara and we will both reply where warranted.

“Nugget” Moments in My Search

by Barbara Kyle


Research is the lifeblood of our art. Ask any historical novelist and they’ll tell you that poring over the letters  and diaries of our subjects and reading biographies of them and books about their times is a hugely engrossing part of our work. So engrossing, in fact, that I don’t think of it anymore as “research.” To me it’s “The Search.”

It’s like panning for gold. I sit by the riverside day after day sifting through mounds of information sand – solid facts that I need to ground my stories in the truth of the period, but not exactly eye-opening. It’s the nuggets I look for. The details that gleam, the facets that suddenly spark my subject to flesh-and-blood life.

I’d like to share with you a few such nuggets Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Authors, Writing Tips


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1 Amazing Technique for Speakers

A Completed Graphic Facilitation Wall Poster by Ron Cougler

Early in May my husband and I tripped out to Victoria, B.C. so that he could attend a conference with our daughter and I could add quality granddaughter time to my writing day. And we both loved the change of pace. I worked on the opening chapter of a new book in preparation for a Barbara Kyle course back in Toronto but Ron–he and our daughter learned something completely new and exciting.

Graphic Facilitation

Now this technique involves either one (speaker draws while talking) or two people (one person talks and one draws) and the wall poster is done during the talk. The audience members watch representational graphics for whatever the speaker is saying come alive before their very eyes.

Why is this so exciting? Well for all you doodlers out there, this takes drawing to a whole new level. And the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ reminds us that learning is enhanced with visual images. I put my picture on my website but I could just as easily have described myself. The problem is that would take longer to write and longer to read. In this instant gratification society the picture is the way to go.

Why am I, a writer, so pumped about this technique? I love anything that’s new and innovative. And a lifelong teacher, I recognize the absolute necessity of grabbing the attention of my audience. Don’t you think this would do it for you? Picture yourself entering a business meeting, sitting in one of the hard chairs, all lined up in a row facing the podium. You settle yourself and check your watch. The speaker arrives with someone accompanying her. He goes to the back wall and tapes up a 4′ by 8′ length of paper from a roll. As the speaker makes sure her mic is on the facilitator arranges a wide variety of markers on a small table to his left. And then the session begins.

The speaker introduces herself and her graphic facilitator. As she talks he draws and writes. You are mesmerized. Her words become pictures in lovely colors, arrows, bubble letters, all relating to what the speaker is saying. This is graphic facilitation. It is known by a few other terms such as visual representation and graphic recording. If you Google the term amazing applications and explanatory facts will appear. You can use this process to lead your group toward a common goal.

In the poster above, entitled Useful Findings About How People View Websites, information pertaining to the subject is incorporated into icons, and structured by a numbering system. Other structures might include arrows joining ideas and taking the eye to the desired outcome of the meeting. This works well in business and private sector meetings.

The Documentation Plan for Diamond by Ron Cougler

What about writing? What about historical fiction, which is the primary subject of this blog? It can work here, too, folks. And when we can get our ducks in a row, Ron and I are going to do a video to demonstrate just how this works. Look for that in the coming weeks.

How do you incorporate new ideas and technologies into your writing? Or your life? Do you agree that innovation is paramount in learning? Consider leaving a comment with your views.

Ron’s website for graphic facilitation is here.


Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Authors, General, Videos, Writing Tips


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