Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writing Compelling Characters

Let's face it, your story really is nothing without characters that grab the readers by the throat and won't let them go.  Yes, story is iportant, local too, but the characters who populate your stories are what breathe life into it. They're what really draw readers in make them want to know what happens next.

So, that established, how does one create compelling characters?  Characters that leap off the page, then draw the readers down into their own little hell or lift them up to heights unexplored?

A variety of things contribute to create compelling characters. There's the tangible, strength of character, meaning being true to who the character is and not causing him or her to go off on inexplicable tangents or for the character to fight you as the writer. (Believe me there can be some hairy battles between writer and character when writer wants to force a character to do something agains that character's character - get it?)

There's also the human touch. That means basically making the character really human, just like the rest of us, giving that character quirks, foibles and problems of his or her own that intermingle with whatever the problems of the story are. People are many-faceted. If you're an observer of people, and as a writer you should be, then you're familiar with that fact. The trick is to reveal that humanness, to not make a villain all dark or the hero without flaw. To  make Indiana Jones afraid of snakes, give a serial murderer a puppy, or a killer who wants to kill a girl friend's spouse so they can be together a consience. And by that I mean go deeper. There's more to being afraid of snakes or having a puppy, there's the interior of the character.  Reveal some of the emotional guts to your readers. Why was Indiana Jones afraid of snakes?  Why would a murderer have a puppy and what does the puppy mean to him or her?  If the guy who wants to murder his girlfriend's spouse has a conscience how is he going to accomplish is goal, what's going on inside? 

Additionally there's also the less tangible, what the story-teller writes between the lines.  The  underlying feeling that is created out of the character's actions, how that character relates to others within the story and what springs out of the character's own past history. This links back to my last sentence above. Make the reader feel part of the story, like the characters are people he knows, friends, acquaintances, nightmare people from the pages of his own newspaper, then you have a compelling character.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writers Websites Wednesday - Chicago Manual of Style

This is a great site, the Chicago Manual of Style Online is a wonderful resource regardless.  Here the editors offer sometimes amusing answers to writers' questions.  Check it out, then mosey around the site and see what else you can learn. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Writer's Focus

I have a bunch of things to do today, so I'm going to give some passing comments to a writer's focus.

The world we live in is filled with distractions.  Who can't see and admit to that?

So, it's hard to focus at times.

TV, music, the web!, noisy neighbors, gaming!, DVDs, the web!, Email, cell phones and just regular phones, the web!, friends who think you don't work because you're home writing and creating and just about anything else your creative brain can come up with.

Yep, we're distracted, harassed, annoyed, at times desperately needed - but we need to focus. 

If you're a writer tring to complete a story or trying to meet a deadline, trying to actually pay your bills off the income you create with your writing, then you need to focus and that includes self discipline.

So, you may ask, how do I focus.  Well, it's pretty easy really and at the same time for our noise and gadget addicted society, very difficult.

First, turn off your electronic gadgets.  Not kidding here. Turn them off. Turn off your cell phone and your game, don't let that run at your elbow and tempt you. 

Turn off your cellphone, it'll take messages. And don't even think about answering your land line unless you're expecting a life-changingly important call.  Your machine or service can take messages.  All these things can wait.  None of us really need to know everything that's happening the very second it happens.  That is, we don't need to know if we want to have any hope at all of centering, focusing and accomplishing the work we've set out to do.

If your neighbors are noisy, shut the window and create some white noise, a white noise machine with ocean surf or rain falling maybe, a fan in the background, quiet music maybe; something to take the edge off.
Now, here's a tough one.  If you're writing on a computer and have web access through that computer, unless you're doing research, close your web browser and pretend it doesn't exist while you're writing. I can't count how many times I've slipped and done a bit of shopping when I was supposed to be writing, or took a moment to look at an 'awwww' photo or listen to a video.

And don't leave your Email running so every time a new message comes in it does a little musical dance and you cut what you're doing to check it out. 

It can wait. 

Really, it can. Turn off the sound on your computer, mute it, and cut yourself off temporarily from the web.

Each thing that distracts you may take only a second or a couple of minutes, but believe me it all adds up and that eats up your writing time. You look at your word processing screen and view only emptyness. 

Take your time back. Focus and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish even in a very short time.

Make it clear to family that this is writing time and unless the house is on fire, you can't be disturbed.  If a neighbor, a friend, or a relative stops over to chat either don't answer the door or explain to them you're working (emphasis on work) and tell them you'll call or get together later.

Don't listen to music unless it's the kind you can put in the background and it actually encourages you to write.  Pay attention.  If it's something you sing along to or makes you want to get up and dance, then maybe it's not the kind of music you need while you're writing.

A lot of this may seem self-evident, and in fact, it is, but we get so wrapped up in our daily habits and electronic assistants that we forget we can put all that away for a while, create a small oasis of calm and get to work. 

All of this is a reminder.  It's easier to see yourself and what things you're doing to sabotage youself if someone is on the sidelines with a small stick to prod you.

Consider this blog post that stick.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Writers Websites Wednesday - Use That Technology!

This is an easy one.  Roger J. Carlson's site offers great little tech tips for writers. Using macros to improve your writing is just one.  There are a couple of others for Word as well.  Nothing fancy here, just helpful info.  Download the little instruction sheet on using macros to improve your writing, you'll appreciate the ease with which you'll be able to edit your work. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Easy Book Selling

Okay, that title might be a little reversed - what I actually want to say is writers, you need to make it easy for readers to buy your books.  And make your bookselling chore a little easier.

Things are a lot different these days as we rush forward into the digital age.

Many writers could well think, "I AM making it easy, I tweet, I have a facebook page, I have an author's page on Amazon and my book is published there in addition to Barnes and Noble and Smashwords...."  and on and on. 

No doubt all of that has been done.  Writers are generally an industrious and informed lot.

But the devil is in the details as the old saying goes. As a writer you may think you're making it easy to purchase your books when in actuality you aren't.

Now don't get insulted.  It can be tricky.

Here's the thing. You have to make it not just 'easy' but super easy.  Hardly anyone these days has time to play detective.  Have a social site where you have a promo for your book? - something like, "for a great read get..." and then there's a one click link to the Amazon product page - good job so far, but that's not where to stop. 

Amazon is a giant, true, but it isn't the be all/end all. Don't stop there and sell yourself short. What if your readers, your audience is hanging out at Barnes & Noble with a Nook?

There are other places out there.  Nook lovers buy from Barnes & Noble. Then there's the Smashwords pages where you can find many great books in a number of formats. Don't get too scattered about it, but hit the big ones for sure. Amazon, B & N and Smashwords.

Give your reading audience links to them all, maybe not all at once, but in different places at different times - or all at once if you have the space to do it. Keep the promo going.  A person with a Nook who sees a book available on Kindle will probably move on and not do the 'research' to discover it really is available on Nook as well.  You don't want that! Let them know! Give them links.

Make it easy for readers to buy your book.

Here's another thing.  If you have a facebook page and put your cover up to promote your book don't forget a link to where your reading fans can buy it!  Again, your readers are going to be totally turned off if you expect them to be detectives and unearth the information to buy your book themselves. Use social media to inform your followers of your books.  Don't try to cram it down their throats with over the top promotion, but don't make it hard for them either. Tweet a link to your book, sometimes the Amazon link, sometimes another.  Keep your website up to date and make sure a link to buy your book either directly or from the sales site is listed, prominently displayed and active. . Facebook?  Don't forget the link!  Goodreads? Set up your author page and keep the information flowing.

Think of it from the reader's side - no doubt you're an avid reader if you are a writer.  Would YOU want to waste a lot of time rummaging around the net trying to find a link to purchase a book who's cover just caught your fancy?  doubtful.  You'd move on, right? 

Don't let that happen to YOU, the writer.  Make it easy for readers to buy your published or self-published book. 

And don't forget iPad folks.

So, here's my book, Stormrider at Barnes & Noble, Kindle, Smashwords and iBooks 

Now, wasn't that easy?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Writer's Websites Wednesday - Writer Beware

Writer Beware!  Unfortunately there are scams, sharks and who knows what else out there to get writers - the naive, the newbie and the too trusting. But there is some help.  Sponsored by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers with additional support from Mystery Writers of America.  A good site for regular visits.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Are you a Fraidy Writer?

Us writers are a strange lot.  We love to write, we’re afraid to write.  We want to have an audience and sell books, we’re afraid of that audience. 

Oh, there are some who aren’t, but many of the writers I’ve spoken to over the years do have those fears and most of the fears aren’t so easily identified as the ones in plain sight like the urge to throw up or run screaming from a building.
No, many writer’s fears are more subtle, more difficult to spot.  Signs being thing like overperforming in an effort  to make sure you get it right (like any of us can ever get it right, since there is no ‘right’ when writing a novel).  Underperforming (see, I knew I couldn’t do this, so why bother?) or avoiding performing at all (meaning you keep talking about that book you’re going to write but you never apply butt to chair and get it written).  If you’re rewriting endlessly, if you’re afraid to submit because you might be rejected, if you just can’t find the time to write, all of these are all subtle, but fairly reliable bell weathers pointing at fear.

So, what to do?

Acknowledge it, work with it, harness it to actually promote your writing goals. 
You can’t silence those little voices of fear altogether, but you can choose to cease engaging with them on a  negative level.  You don’t have to allow them to run your life.  You can simply tell yourself (or someone else if you need support) that you might not write like Hemingway, but you’re going to write anyway, you might not have your work accepted at the first submission, but you won’t have it accepted at all if you don’t submit - so you’re going to!

You don’t have control over all the outside elements that have impact on your writing and publication, but you do have control over your writing. Don’t focus on outcomes (which you cannot control), and focus on what you’re doing, what you’re writing (over which you DO have control). 

There are a number of things we writers fear.  Realistically if you feel fear, you are on some level expecting danger. One human instinct is to protect ourselves from danger. One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with the fear is to have a conversation in which I talk to my fear and sort things out.  Sort of like:

Me: Why am I putting off submitting this manuscript?

Self: Because if I actually finish it and send it in in an attempt to sell it, then someone will judge it and what if that someone says no and that it’s a bad manuscript?  Better not to send it - safer that way.

Me: But what’s wrong with getting a rejection, many writers have and have gone on to great success.  Maybe I’d learn something.

Self: Nope, too painful, rejection hurts. Don’t want to risk it. Only thing I’d learn is I’m a terrible writer.

Me: Doubtful, but if I am, I can always improve. If the editor wasn’t simply having a bad day because she/he was served with divorce papers then I can learn something. If I learn something, that puts me just that much closer to where I want to be.

Usually at that point my fears quiet down and I can write or submit, or move on to whatever it is I want to accomplish. And you can have that conversation with yourself over any aspect of your writing. Fear really is the only thing you have to fear.

My advice?  Confront your fear and carry on.  You’ll be glad you

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writers Websites Wednesday - Scriptwrecked

Scriptwrecked is a great site for screenwriters and those working toward that goal. Lots of free advice and tips. Even found a recommend for The Dialog: Learning From the Masters which is a series of interviews with screenwriters and their craft. You can rent them from Netflix or get them via Amazon (via the link in this post).  If sceenwriting is or could be your thing, check this site out.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Writer's Cone of Probability

It's a concept I heard about some time ago and it certainly can be included in the basis of story telling for writers.

Think of it this way - any event, any happening you create for your story can be thought of as the smallest end of a cone - the rest of it, the ever broadening end of the cone extending out into the future. Sort of a writer's nirvana.

This allows for an infinite amount of events to be spawned or calved off from the original event - in fact, an ever-expanding array of possibilities.  This is good for a writer.

BUT and it is a big BUT - while the possibilities are multitudinous the probabilities are more limited.  That is, to remain a bit more within the area of reality.  For example, characters you create for a romance novel could be kidnapped by aliens, whisked off in a spaceship and delivered to a new planet (yes, it's been done), but the greater probability is that those characters will be mistakenly arrested for shoplifting and delivered to the nearest police station.

So what's a writer to do? There are two routes to travel, either of which is fine as long as you keep your story on track.  You can keep your characters and events more within the cone of probability, which will make your planning somewhat easier.

Or, you can step outside that cone and do something completely unexpected.  The hitch with the second choice  here is that if you do that every time you add a new element, a new cone of probability is created. Yes, that's true with the first route, writing more closely within the cone of probability, as well where you keep your characters and events more within that cone. 

But, the more you stretch the parameters the more you, as the writer, have to be on your toes, to remain aware of the possibilities you are creating and where they may take your story. How your writing may have to be developed and altered.

No matter how you approach your story-telling you have to remember you must keep your world and your characters real to your reader.  You must remain true to the world you create.  I've said this before.  If you have a knight riding to the rescue of a fair damsel and they're on the deck of a spaceship, you better have a mighty good reason that makes sense to your reader.

So, when you explore your cone of of probability, think about your possibilities, remember, as your starting out, what's more likely to happen to your character, then stretch out from there.

Some fantastic tales have been told from comfortably within the cone of probability - some equally great stories have been created by pushing the soft edges of that expanding cone to the max. You're the writer - the story you create is uniquely your own. Explore the probabilities and let your imagination take flight with the possibilities.

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