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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Writing Characters - The Men in My Life


By Shannon Taylor Vannatter
I’ve been happily married for thirty years and have a thirteen year old boy. They are the men in my life. But since I write inspirational romance, there are other men in my life. For my readers to fall in love with the hero, I have to fall for him first. A large part of a lovable hero comes from how they treat the heroine. That part is easy. My heroes treat my heroines the way my husband treats me.

As my writing has evolved, I’ve found an audience for cowboys. But my husband isn’t one, nor do I live where there are a lot of genuine cowboys. I had to learn their lingo and mannerisms as well. The best place to study cowboys that I’ve found is Texas. Especially since my rodeo books are set in Texas. Since we have family there, we visit every few years. And as a rule, I try to only use settings I can actually visit, so I know I’m getting the details right.
For my first cowboy book, I spent a day at the Fort Worth Stockyards, where my rodeo series is set. I researched the rodeo, history, and lifestyle, but I spent a lot of time just watching and listening to cowboys. I also Googled and found a list of cowboy lingo and rodeo slang to help me get into character.

Since we’re talking romance, they have to look good too. I’m a very visual writer. In the beginning, my friends and family saved their magazines and catalogs. I cut out pictures of attractive or interesting looking people and kept them in a large folder. When I started a new book, I’d get out my folder and find a picture to represent my hero and heroine. It depended on the story. If there was an important side character, I found their picture too. And if hero and/or heroine have kids or pets, I had pictures for them also.
For the last ten years or so, I’ve Googled to find my characters. In a way, I miss the old catalog and magazine days. It was more time consuming than Googling, but with the JC Penney catalog and Redbook magazine, I didn’t worry about seeing underdressed men. When I first ventured into internet images, I used Stock Photo. But as my booklist grew, Stock Photo didn’t have enough variety. One day, I Googled male models with green eyes. I found a lot of them, but some of them didn’t wear clothes. And if you Google cowboys, they almost never wear shirts.

I finally figured it out—I Google male model headshots. Sometimes, they don’t wear shirts, but you can only see shoulders. Not that I’m opposed to shirtless men, but it feels odd when I have to send my editor pictures for the cover art and I send her a shirtless cowboy. I’ve only done that once and apologized because it was the only picture I could find that fit the cowboy in my head.
I used to keep all of my character images in my Picture file on my computer. But then I discovered Pinterest, a writer’s best friend. I have boards for all of my books except my first two rodeo titles I wrote before I discovered Pinterest. I have a board where I keep images of future and potential characters and a board of engagement photos for scene inspiration.

Now, as I write books, I create a board with characters and scenes as I go. On my Rodeo Family board, I included a lot the heroine’s clothing since she dreams of being a fashion designer. My book boards have gotten larger and more detailed with each book. And when it comes time to send my editor images for cover art, I have everything together and ready to go on Pinterest. I keep private boards for books not yet released. Shortly before the book releases, I make the board public and share my Pinterest reveal on Facebook, so readers can get a glimpse of the book to come.
I often joke about getting paid to Google men and that it’s part of my job. A few years ago, I was stuck on a character, partly because I couldn’t find a picture to represent the guy in my head. My local writer’s group was planning their first retreat, so I went and once everybody learned about my character problem, several of them helped me Google men. We laughed because our Christian writer’s group was Googling men at our Christian retreat at a church camp.

My husband knows about the cowboys in my life. Often, I’ll be at the computer and he’ll ask what I’m doing. My response—Googling men. He doesn’t bat an eye. In one of my dedications, I thanked my husband for not minding if I dream about cowboys all day.

Answer this question for a chance to win a paper copy of my latest release, Rodeo Family: Do you have any tips for organization in writing or any other area of your life?

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She's beginning a new chapter in Aubrey, Texas, away from her abusive ex-boyfriend. As she picks up the pieces of her broken life, Tori's surprised at the helping hand the church's new song director, Brant McConnell, offers her, and at the warm emotions he inspires.

Brant is drawn to Tori. And as their friendship grows, so do his feelings for her. But Tori is still hounded by her past, and the walls she's built around her heart are high. Can he convince the wounded beauty that he's exactly the kind of man she needs—and deserves


Central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. She lives in a town with a population of around 100, if you count a few cows and once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking boots. Vannatter won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award in the short contemporary category, The 18th Annual Heartsong Awards 3rd Favorite New Author and #1 Contemporary Award.
She has ten published titles and is contracted for five more. Her books are available at:,,,, and Learn more about Shannon and her books at  and check out her real life romance blog at