alumni news, book release, Guest Blog, Inside the Writing Academy

Finding the Rest of My Character with Writing Academy

by Tagan Shepard

I decided to enroll in GCLS Writing Academy because I knew I had more to learn. I published my first novel, Visiting Hours, with Bella Books in 2017. It was good and my editor made it even better. Each of the four books I’ve published since have been better than the last. I learned with each one, but we always have more to learn, whether we’ve never written a word or published a hundred books.

Just as Writing Academy was starting, I began editing my sixth book, Swipe Right. It’s always been a favorite of mine. I love the characters and I love the story. It’s the first time I’ve written in first person point of view and it’s wonderful to get so close to my main character, Kieran. It’s a friends-to-lovers story, and since my wife and I are a friends-to-lovers pairing twenty years strong, it holds a special place in my heart. 

It was a great manuscript, but there was something missing.

I felt like the Kieran in my head wasn’t fully on the page. Then one Saturday afternoon I set my book aside to log onto Zoom for Anna Burke’s World Building class. One of the first things she mentioned was giving your character a significant object. An item they keep close—on a desk or a nightstand because it has special meaning to them. She suggested an exercise of writing about a character’s prized possession as a way to discover more about them.

I leaned over and wrote on a sticky note “Pen’s pen.”

Kieran’s best friend is Penelope. Pen has been there through the best and worst moments of Kieran’s life. When Kieran needs help, Pen is the only person she’d call and Pen would always answer. No matter where she was, no matter what she was doing, she’d answer Kieran’s call. 

Pen’s pen was a joke. I thought “what object would Kieran have that would make her think of Pen?” Well…a pen, obviously. But not just any pen. Pen likes to tease Kieran. To make her laugh at herself. So the pen would be a joke. But Kieran is sentimental, so even a gag gift would be special to her. Something she could hold to remind her of Pen. To make her think “what would Pen say to cheer me up?”

And there it was. Not just Pen’s pen, but what that pen represented to the story. The facet of her character that was hidden before, but now reflects enough light to make Kieran more clear. To make the Kieran on the page more like the Kieran in my head.

Three weeks into Writing Academy and I was already a better writer. Now Swipe Right is about to be published and I couldn’t be happier. I think when you meet Kieran on June 17th, you’ll know her and love her a little bit more thanks to my time in Writing Academy.


Tagan Shepard has always spent quiet moments weaving stories in her head. It didn’t occur to her until recently to take the time to write them down. Now that she’s started, she can’t seem to stop. When not writing, she makes her living in a hospital laboratory.

She is a cardio junkie, history buff, and unrepentant nerd, happily wasting countless hours of her life on video games and science fiction/fantasy of every stripe. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her very patient wife and two rather surly cats.

Tagan Shepard received a GCLS Goldie Award for General Fiction for her book Bird on a Wire

Catch up with her on Twitter

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