Author Archives: T. P. Jagger

How to Create Complex Characters

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about complex characters. You know—those memorable folks who inhabit our favorite books and keep us awake past our bedtimes. But what is it about these characters that makes them so memorable? What writing tricks have the authors employed to compel us to follow their characters from beginning to end, even if it means sacrificing our sleep?

These are questions I’ve asked myself as I’ve sought to improve the character development in my own stories, so I thought I’d share a writing tip that I’ve found helpful. However, even though it’s probably safe to assume that everyone who reads the MUF blog loves to read, I figured I’d give your reading-brain a 3-minute break today. So instead of an in-depth written post, I’m presenting my writing tip as part of my video series as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher.

If you’re a writer, I hope the video will prove useful as you continue to improve your writing craft. If you’re a teacher, consider using the video as a launch point for a writing mini-lesson. And if you’re neither a writer nor a teacher? . . . Well, maybe you’ll want to watch the video anyway, just to see what Luke Skywalker and a school bully could have in common.

How to Create Complex Characters

Do you have an example of a memorable, complex character from a book you’ve read? What was it that made that good character a bit bad . . . or that bad character a bit good? Feel free to post in the comments below.

T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on

Melissa Hart Interview & Book Giveaway – Avenging the Owl

Avenging the Owl by Melissa HartI recently had the chance to read Avenging the Owl—a new middle-grade novel by Melissa Hart. I also had a chance to interview Melissa and get the inside scoop on her book. Now, you can get the inside scoop, too. Read on . . .

T. P.: Thanks for giving me an opportunity to chat with you about your new middle-grade novel, Avenging the Owl. I’m sure that your own volunteer work at a raptor center and your brother with Down syndrome must have both been major sources of inspiration for the story you created. This made me wonder: Where did your overall idea for Avenging the Owl come from?

MELISSA: You’re absolutely right; I drew upon my eight years of volunteering at a raptor rehabilitation center for the setting details in Avenging the Owl, and my brother is the inspiration for Eric in the novel. But the idea came from a high school boy with whom I volunteered at the raptor center one summer. He’d left his mandatory school community service until the last minute, and the only venue left was the raptor center. Problem was, he hated birds. My husband and I worked an evening shift with him every week, and I got to watch him go from sullen and resentful to gradually intrigued by the injured and orphaned raptors. Eventually, he grew so enamored of them that he came back the following summer to volunteer. He’s the boy I had in mind when I crafted Solo Hahn’s character. Later, I took a good look at Han Solo in Star Wars and used his narrative trajectory (from apathetic mercenary to committed helper), as well. Solo starts out caring only about surfing and material possessions, and then gets to know fellow raptor center volunteers Lucas and Leah and begins to take joy in helping those in need.

T. P.: What a cool inspiration for your story! I always enjoy getting a glimpse into how much real-life experiences sometimes shape a fictional narrative. I also like how you modeled Solo Hahn’s character arc after that of Han Solo in Star Wars. I must confess: That similarity slipped right past me as I read Avenging the Owl, but I certainly see it in retrospect!

Now you’ve got me wondering: What was the timeline for creating your story? What was the journey like from your initial experience with the reluctant high school volunteer . . . to your “Ah, ha! I’ve got myself a story!” moment . . . to when you began outlining or drafting . . . to your final draft that was ready for submission?

MELISSA: It took me about a year and a half to write Avenging the Owl–multiple drafts. I’d written two YA novels (currently mildewing in a desk drawer) before I started work on the middle-grade novel, so I knew about narrative arc and structure and all that. For Avenging, I got a 12-foot piece of butcher paper, divided it into several sections, and then taped it around my office walls. I used different colored markers to jot down key plot points and character conflicts and motivations for each chapter, so that I could easily see a graphic representation of the novel as it took shape. (I really love pre-writing visuals like highlighter pens and multicolored cluster diagrams, etc. Sometimes I even sketch images of my characters, though I can’t draw at all.)

A friend of mine who was a literary agent at the time suggested Solo’s obsession with B-movies and the insertion of screenplay scenes. And my editor at Sky Pony Press, Julie Matysik, had really good suggestions for keeping Solo’s character consistent in the final drafts. He got pretty lusty for Leah in a previous draft (as did Eric), and I toned it down a little for middle-grade readers.

Glad you saw the Star Wars/Han Solo parallel, by the way–read it again, and you’ll catch all sorts of cool Star Wars parallels and references!

T. P.: Although the similar Solo Hahn-Han Solo character arcs slipped past me, I did manage to catch at least some of the Star Wars references you slipped into your story! (Lucas and Leah come to mind. . . .) Now if only you could have inserted a Pacific Northwest-based Big Foot-Wookiee comparison. . . . 🙂

Anyway, focus I must. . . .

I love your use of butcher paper to create a visual plot outline as part of your prewriting process. I’m very much a visual-kind-of-guy (I wield a minimum of 4 colors of highlighters when adding things to my calendar), so I know my brain would appreciate the big-picture overview your prewriting approach must provide.

Once you finish prewriting and complete your initial draft, what’s your favorite aspect of the revision process? How about your least favorite?

MELISSA: I love revision so much more than writing the first draft. With the first draft, I’m pretty angsty and neurotic, and I drink way too much coffee and eat way too many cookies. But the second draft feels like a big lump of clay that I can trim or add to as needed. My favorite part of revising a novel involves adding humor. I love looking at every paragraph and gauging where it might be funnier, and what would make it funnier. Sometimes, I’ll draw upon real life for the humor. For example, there’s a scene in Avenging the Owl in which my character who has Down syndrome karate kicks someone who’s called him a “retard.” That’s art imitating life–my younger brother actually did this to a kid once, for exactly the same reason.

My least favorite part of revision is cutting word length. I didn’t have to do that with Avenging, but I frequently have to cut my essays down for magazines and newspapers. It’s excruciating to have to cut 500-1000 words from a piece I really love, but if I believe in the mission of a particular magazine or newspaper and want my work to appear in its pages, I’ll do it.

T. P.: I loved the scene with Eric’s rather unexpected karate kick! Not only was it a blast of humor, but it made me cheer for Eric all the more. It’s pretty cool how you were able to draw on a real-life experience for that scene.

Now let’s go to the flipside of real-life inspiration. What are one or two events or scenes in your story that you really like but that sprang completely from your imagination?

MELISSA: Most of Avenging the Owl came from my imagination–I love to “imaginate,” as my nine-year-old daughter says.

Two of my favorite scenes take place at the top of the butte, where Solo and Eric end up after some pretty eventful hikes. I took as the inspiration a butte (a solo mountain) in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, but the scenes are pure fiction. In the first butte scene, I love how being surrounded by nature affects Solo. It calms him down in the midst of his angst and jolts him into another reality–one in which he feels grounded and peaceful and optimistic. He really gets how magical the natural world is, and he’s able to let go of a lot of anxiety about his parents and his living situation for an hour and focus on weird insects and plants and birds. Plus, as Solo discovers, hiking up a butte is always a good excuse to eat cookies.

In that second scene, near the end of the book, he and Eric flee to the butte as a refuge. And then (no spoilers here!) someone dear to him discovers the tranquility of the place, as well, which starts them on the path to healing a really difficult relationship. I hike almost every weekend with my husband and daughter; we’re the best versions of ourselves when we’re surrounded by trees and rivers and mountains. I hope these “imaginated” scenes will inspire readers to get outside!

T. P.: Well, Melissa, I’ve never hiked up a butte, but I do love cookies. So . . . let’s use that as a springboard for one final question: If you were all alone on top of a butte, working on your next novel, what kind of cookies would you be eating?

MELISSA: Well, I really adore these flourless chocolate cookies that our local bakery, Crumb Together, sells. But for a hike, I’d want homemade oatmeal chocolate chip. I’d probably sneak some whole wheat flour in there, too, but the chocolate is essential.

T. P.: Okay, Melissa, you’ve officially made me hungry. . . . But I must stay strong and finish this post. Otherwise, people won’t get the opportunity to win a copy of your book! So . . . I’ll leave it at this: I enjoyed Avenging the Owl, and I also enjoyed getting a glimpse into what led you to write the story in the first place. Thanks for sharing with the Mixed-Up Files!

Want a chance to win a copy of Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart? Entry is easy! Just comment below by leaving an answer to one simple question:

What kind of cookie would you take along for eating at the top of a butte?

The lucky winner will be selected on Friday, 6/24/16.

Author Melissa HartAlong with Avenging the Owl, Melissa Hart is also the author of her memoir, Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family, and her YA memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood. Along with writing books, she teaches Literature for Laurel Springs, a distance-learning high school based in Ojai, California. To learn even more about Melissa and her writing, visit her website at

T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has even more readers’ theater scripts available at Readers’ Theater Fast and Funny Fluency. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on


120 Ways to Get a Character Moving

Some writers write quickly, their keyboards rattling like machine guns. Others take a more plodding, deliberate approach, weighing each word before allowing it to ooze from their brains and crawl onto the page. Regardless, the objective for both types of writers remains the same—to move words beyond their minds and muses.

When I write, not only must my words move, but my characters have to get going, too. That’s what led me to create the “120 Ways to Get a Character Moving” list, which I keep close at hand when I’m searching for a just-right verb that will do more than simply take a character from one place to another.

No Running

Of course, as both a writer and a teacher, I have to keep in mind that a well-chosen verb can pull double-duty. It can move a character around while simultaneously showing other facets of the character’s personality or mood. So the sad character trudges while the happy character skips. The graceful character glides while the cocky one swaggers.

If you’re a writer in need of a little inspiration to get a character on the move, feel free to tap into the list below. Or if you’re a teacher, use the list to challenge your students to explore descriptive verb choices.

There’s only ONE rule:

No running or walking allowed.

  1. Ambled
  2. Approached
  3. Barged
  4. Barreled
  5. Blazed
  6. Bolted
  7. Bounced
  8. Bounded
  9. Breezed
  10. Burst
  11. Bustled
  12. Cantered
  13. Charged
  14. Chugged
  15. Climbed
  16. Coasted
  17. Crawled
  18. Crept
  19. Cruised
  20. Danced
  21. Darted
  22. Dashed
  23. Dove
  24. Dragged
  25. Drifted
  26. Eased
  27. Escaped
  28. Fell
  29. Flopped
  30. Fled
  31. Flew
  32. Flitted
  33. Floated
  34. Galloped
  35. Glided
  36. Hobbled
  37. Hopped
  38. Hurdled
  39. Hurried
  40. Hustled
  41. Inched
  42. Jogged
  43. Jumped
  44. Knifed
  45. Launched
  46. Leapt
  47. Limped
  48. Loped
  49. Lumbered
  50. Lunged
  51. Lurched
  52. Marched
  53. Meandered
  54. Moseyed
  55. Muscled
  56. Nosed
  57. Paced
  58. Paraded
  59. Pirouetted
  60. Plodded
  61. Pranced
  62. Pushed
  63. Raced
  64. Rambled
  65. Reeled
  66. Retreated
  67. Roamed
  68. Rocketed
  69. Rode
  70. Rolled
  71. Rumbled
  72. Rushed
  73. Sailed
  74. Scampered
  75. Scurried
  76. Scuttled
  77. Shifted
  78. Shimmied
  79. Shot
  80. Shuffled
  81. Sidled
  82. Skidded
  83. Skipped
  84. Skittered
  85. Slid
  86. Slipped
  87. Slithered
  88. Sped
  89. Sprang
  90. Sprinted
  91. Staggered
  92. Stalked
  93. Stepped
  94. Stomped
  95. Straggled
  96. Strayed
  97. Strode
  98. Strutted
  99. Stumbled
  100. Swaggered
  101. Swayed
  102. Swept
  103. Tiptoed
  104. Tottered
  105. Tramped
  106. Trampled
  107. Trekked
  108. Tripped
  109. Trotted
  110. Trudged
  111. Tumbled
  112. Vaulted
  113. Veered
  114. Waddled
  115. Waltzed
  116. Wandered
  117. Wobbled
  118. Wriggled
  119. Zipped
  120. Zoomed

Have another character-moving verb to add to the list? Wander, waltz, or wobble down to the comments . . . and share it!

T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has even more readers’ theater scripts available at Readers’ Theater Fast and Funny Fluency. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on