Posts tagged with: Shelley Coriell

Character: The Heart of Great Story

Good stories are all about great characters, and great characters take work. Some writers develop characters through discovery/rough drafts while others create character notebooks with detailed charts, photos, interviews, etc.

Regardless of your approach to character development, here’s a fun and simple technique to help you write rich, complex, and compelling characters — Persona Poems. These eight-line poems are biographical in nature and are an excellent way to build and distill character. Persona Poems help you get deep into a character’s head and heart, which will power up your story. Case in point…

In 2008 I received multiple agent offers for my Golden Heart manuscript, THE BROKEN. The agent I eventually signed with thought we had a good chance of going to auction and sent the ms to senior editors at the (then) big six New York publishing houses. Within a week we had…six big NY rejections. I studied the rejections and discovered that five of the six editors had issues connecting with my main character. With the not-so-subtle hint, I spent the next few years studying and working on character. During this time, I discovered the Persona Poem concept from an elementary school teacher.

I eventually went back to THE BROKEN and wrote a Persona Poem for my main character, Kate Johnson. During this exercise, one of the four adjectives I used to describe Kate was “self-loathing.” The more I thought about that descriptor, the more I realized THIS was my problem. Do readers really want to read about a character who loathes herself? Ick! I changed the adjective to “scarred,” which provided me with a more gentle way to address Kate’s brokenness. With this poem on a sticky note attached to my computer, I tweaked Kate’s character, rewriting about ten percent of the manuscript. In 2012, the same agent sent out THE BROKEN to NY, and this time we got that auction.  🙂

Ready to give it a try? Here we go!

Persona Poem Lines

Line 1: first name/nickname of the person
Line 2: 4 adjectives that describe the person
Line 3: X of Y formula, describing an important relationship to the person
Line 4: 3 things s/he loves (think MOTIVATION)
Line 5: 3 things s/he fears (think CONFLICT)
Line 6: 3 things s/he wants (think internal/external GOALS)
Line 7: resident of…+ place/time/concept
Line 8: last name of the person

Persona Poem Example

Ambitious, fiery, on-the-run, scarred
Target of a serial killer
Loves the dark, motorcycle rides, old movies
Fears public places, mirrors, relationships
Wants to see the serial killer jailed, the road whirring beneath her feet, happily ever after
Resident of Smokey Joe’s spare bedroom

Now it’s your turn. Write a poem about one of your characters. What lines were the hardest for you? How do you develop characters? Any character tips or tricks in your writerly toolbox? 

Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of mysteries, romantic thrillers, and novels for teens. Her debut thriller was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year, and her other novels have been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Best Paperback Original of the Year from the International Thriller Writers, and a Kirkus Recommended Read. A former magazine editor and restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at and Twittering @ShelleyCoriell.

Ruby Release: Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe by Shelley Coriell

 I’m so ridiculously excited to host the official Ruby Release party for my Ruby Sister (and fellow Pixie Chick!) Shelley Coriell’s sparkling debut YA novel, Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe. I was one of the lucky ones who got to read an ARC, and let me tell you, this book rocks! And no, that’s not just a pun for a book about radio. I’m serious — Meg Cabot better watch out, because there’s a new queen in town.


Big-hearted Chloe Camden is the queen of her universe until her best friend shreds her reputation and her school counselor axes her junior independent study project. Chloe is forced to take on a meaningful project in order to pass, and so she joins her school’s struggling radio station, where the other students don’t find her too queenly. Ostracized by her former BFs and struggling with her beloved Grams’s mental deterioration, lonely Chloe ends up hosting a call-in show that gets the station much-needed publicity and, in the end, trouble. She also befriends radio techie and loner Duncan Moore, a quiet soul with a romantic heart. On and off the air, Chloe faces her loneliness and helps others find the fun and joy in everyday life. Readers will fall in love with Chloe as she falls in love with the radio station and the misfits who call it home.

Shelley: WAIT!!!!!!!!!

Amanda: What is it?

Shelley: I’ve been running all over the blogosphere talking about my book, Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe, and I refuse to do that here.

Amanda: But the world needs to know about this amazing book!

Shelley: Aww, thanks, but I’d like to do something a little different today.

Amanda: What do you have in mind?

Shelley: I’m a red-shoe-wearing Ruby, and this is the one place where I can use this promo time to talk about one of my passions — giving thanks.

Amanda: I’m intrigued. Tell me more.

Shelley: My trip down the yellow brick road to publication has been long and winding. Twenty years ago, while still in college, I started my first novel. Since then I’ve penned more than a million words, completed seven manuscripts, and earned some nice honors, including six consecutive Golden Heart finals. But I also struggled through times when I didn’t — or in some cases, couldn’t — write. I was too busy with jobs that helped pay the mortgage and vet bills, too caught up in making homemade play dough and reading Angelina Ballerina to my three daughters, too consumed with grief over my father’s tragic death. At other times, I couldn’t make sense of the voices in my head and swore there were no more stories in my heart.

Through it all, a loyal and ever-growing group of people hung out in my corner: mother, sister, grandmother, critique partners, RWA and SCBWI chapter mates, my beloved Golden Heart family (007s, Pixie Chicks, Rubies, Unsinkables, Starcatchers/FBUs), agents of goodness, the Amulet team, and even my daughters as they got old enough to understand the power and passion behind a mother’s dream. To you all I raise a Ruby Slipper Golden Cocktail!

Amanda: I have tears in my eyes, Shelley. That’s beautiful.  And what a great idea! I know I’m eternally grateful to the Pixie Chicks, Rubies, Killers, Divas, and Washington Romance Writers. Not to mention my amazing family.

Shelley: While many of us have a tribe of supporters, there is usually a single person who cheers the loudest, who is always there to wipe the blood from our brows when the realities of publishing slam us upside the head, and helps us get our butts back in the chair. For me, this is my husband, Lee. When the girls were young and I was on self-imposed writing deadlines, he’d pack up our wee band for a weekend road trip to visit Grandma and give me time to write. And last year when Amulet first revealed the cover to Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe, he wanted to have a wrap of the cover put on my car. Erm…no…I drive a Suburban.

Amanda: Ha! I would’ve loved to see that.

Shelley: But you have to love this kind of enthusiasm. There are not enough words or Ruby Slipper Cocktails to convey my gratitude, which is why the dedication in my first book simply reads: “To Lee.” So, Amanda, I want to use this post as a celebration of gratitude to thank the “Lees” in this world.

Amanda: What a wonderful man. You’re very lucky to have a real-life hero like him. My own hubby is pretty supportive, too. Not too many men would give up their weekend to go hang out in a hotel room babysitting an infant and a two-year-old so his wife can attend a writing retreat.

Okay, gang, let’s celebrate all those “Lees” out there. Please leave a comment thanking your own tribe, and nominating one special person in your corner. It could be your partner, your parent, your best friend…whomever.

Shelley will randomly choose two winners from all the commenters to win a $50 gift card to the bookstore of their choice. But not for the commenter herself. The gift card is for your support person. 🙂


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