Christian Fiction Writer


Research to Develop Your Characters and Settings

Research to Develop Your Characters and Settings© Vicki McCollum

Get to know your character through his or her possessions. Try this exercise: Describe a character’s living space using the five senses. What’s on the walls, under the bed, in the closet? Imagine your character’s room and "brainstorm" a quick but specific list of everything in the room. Don’t limit yourself. Next, free write about one or more items in the room. (Writing Fiction, Burroway, and Discovering the Writer Within, Ballenger)

Was your free writing vivid and specific or was it vague and general? It’s okay to write in vague generalities when you first describe your character’s environment. Get it all down on paper, and then fill in missing detail later.

You may discover that research will help to fill in those blanks with vivid and concrete details about your character’s setting. Do internet searches or go to the library to find information on the time period and location of your story. Or, look items up on E-bay. How are they described?

Find photographs of items and make copies to post on a bulletin board or poster. Hang it near your desk, or file it in a folder to keep for reference. Imagine your character interacting with the items. What have you learned about your character? This information will help you get to know your characters, and it will help to develop deeper characters and add richer layers to your plot.

You may not use all of the information, but a few specific descriptions bring your readers into your story. Your writing will touch their memories, causing them to fill in the gaps with their own experiences as they read.

Through research and free-writing, you may also discover the beginnings of what might be another character, story, or even a non-fiction essay.

I used this exercise to add concrete detail from information I found while researching everyday items in use in Missouri in the early 1800s, the time period of my novel. I found a picture of a rushlight, or poor man's candle, which held grease-soaked rush, a grass-like marsh plant, or candles. (Illinois State Museum Online).

I used the rushlight description to set the mood and describe the setting in a scene with my character.

A log fire in the double hearth lit the cavernous room, that and Cymbee’s rushlight on the scarred cherry table beside the bed. Cymbee replaced the tallow candle with her own twined rushes thickly coated with buffalo grease. Animal fat permeated the air as it burned, casting a golden glow into the murky recesses of the room. The rancid stench wrestled for dominance over the scent of blood and fear.

Try this exercise yourself. See where it takes you in your writing!


Resources for Writing


Interview with Martha Rogers, author of Becoming Lucy and Morning for Dove, Winds Across the Prairie series

An interview with Martha Rogers, author of
Becoming Lucy, Winds Across the Prairie Series #1 

Tell us about Lucy Bishop, Becoming Lucy’s main character.

Martha: Lucinda Bishop is a seventeen-year-old young lady from Boston whose parents are killed in a carriage accident. She becomes the ward of her aunt and uncle, Ben and Mellie Haynes, who live in Oklahoma. Lucinda is due to inherit a sizable estate at the age of eighteen. She travels to Oklahoma Territory in 1896 to the town of Barton Creek, north of Stillwater and west of Guthrie. Although reluctant to leave Boston and all she knows there, she wants to be a part of a family again, and her greatest desire is to once again belong in a family. She also fears that her father’s brother may have had a hand in the death of her parents, so she wants to get away from him.

What perked your interest in writing this story about Lucy? What drew you to set it in Oklahoma?

Martha: Our youngest son and his family lived in Tulsa and Stillwater for 15 years. When we stopped at the Tourist Information Center on our visits to see them, I picked up information about the state and became fascinated by the history, especially when they celebrated their Centennial in 2007.

When you were writing Lucy, who did you imagine its reader to be? What do you want to communicate most to your readers? What do you want your readers to gain from your novels?

Martha: Mostly I imagined the reader to be like me, a person who loves to read about another time and place in history. That reader could be anyone from their thirties to their seventies. What I most want to communicate is that God has a plan for our lives, and even though tragedy and misfortune may sidetrack us, His plan will play out as He makes blessings for us through our love and devotion to him I also want them to gain the understanding of the bigness of our God to forgive our sin no matter how horrible it may seem to us. Also, that when we believe with our hearts in God’s promises, and are obedient to His will, He will give us the desires of our heart. I also want the reader to see how we can become what God wants us to be when we are willing to listen and be obedient to His calling.

Becoming Lucy  released January 2010. Where and how can readers buy copies? Do you encourage readers to communicate with you? If so, how can they get in touch with you?

Martha: Copies are now available for pre-order at Christian Books on line and will be available in Christian book stores in January as well as Amazon. Readers can visit my website at and contact me from there. I also have a blog at

Morning for Dove
Winds Across the Prairie seriesMorning for Dove, book two in the series, released May 4, 2010.

Martha: This story is about Lucy’s best friend, Dove, and the young man who loved Lucinda in the first book and how they find true love despite the obstacles of prejudice and opposition.

Have you planned book three in the series? If so, tell us what you can about it.

Martha: Book Three will be Finding Becky. This is the story of Becky, Lucinda’s cousin from Book one. She is now grown up and returning to Barton Creek after being in college. The time is 1905, and Becky is now going by her name of Rebecca. She is a firm believer in the Women’s Suffragette movement, and strongly believes it is a woman’s right to be whatever she wants to be, professionally. Her views about religion are now much more liberal than when she left. Her childhood sweetheart, Bob Frankston, is dismayed and bewildered by the changes in Rebecca and wants his old “Becky” back. Their story is about finding one’s way back to one’s roots and the basic beliefs about God’s plan for our lives.

About the author
How long have you been writing fiction? What are the titles of any you’ve previously published?

Martha: I have been writing fiction as long as I can remember. I wrote stories to act out with my paper dolls as a child. I also wrote little skits for my cousins and siblings to perform for our parents. I wrote my first novel at age 18 while a student at Baylor University.
I have written Bible studies for First Place 4 Health and have had devotionals in a number of books for daily devotions. I’ve also had stories in Embrace of the Father, and Whispering in God’s Ear, both collections by Wayne Holmes. In 2007, the novella Sugar and Grits was released.

You are the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. Can you tell us about the conference?

Martha: The Texas Christian writer's Conference is sponsored by Inspirational Writers Alive! and is held on the first Saturday of August each year.

What advice do you have for beginning, not-yet-published Christian fiction writers? And, what is one thing that you wish someone had told you early in your writing career?

Martha: For those yet to be published, I say “Don’t give up. Persevere because if you are going what God wants you to do, you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up. Galatians 6:9 is the verse on which I rely to encourage me. I do wish someone had told me that writing is hard work. Yes, the writing part can be fun and always has been, but all that goes with it makes for hard work. Things like editing, cutting words or adding scenes to increase word count, sending out submissions, finding an agent, talking with editors are work that must be done to eventually succeed in the business of writing. Again…don’t give up.

See Becoming Lucy trailer at