Grow YOUR Great Character and Plot!

Register now for my workshop!

Though only 75 minutes long, I plan to pack in simple, yet effective process for developing characters your readers fall in love with during Grow Your Great Character and Plot on Sun., Sept. 13, during the SavvyAuthors 2020 WritersCon.

The live online webinar will be at 10 a.m. Pacific, 12 p.m. Central and 1 p.m. EST. The concepts will be based on my book, Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up: A Thorough Primer for the Writers of Fiction and Nonfiction. ($5.99 Kindle, $7.99 paperback). I followed every lesson for creating Mary Donahue, the 15-year-old protagonist of my novel, Winter Light, which will be published Oct. 6, 2020, by Vine Leaves Press.

I’ve created a great slideshow packed with writing exercises, so plan to come ready to work on your own character.

I’m including the syllabus below to give you a detailed idea of what we’ll cover.

I hope to see you there!

Workshop Syllabus

Goal

To demonstrate how, if we writers spend the time necessary to understand what makes our character tick at a deep, internal level, the character will write an exciting plot all the way to a dynamic climax.

What’s Your Story About?

Exercise #1: In one sentence, what’s your story about?

A word about exercises: Don’t panic if you can’t easily complete an exercise. Instead, make a note to start at that point during your next writing session. Sometimes writing one simple sentence can take hours of thought.

You and Your Character

Definition of a character: a living person

Definition of a great character: consistent, believable, admirable

Types of characters and their general purposes (page 22 in GGC):

  • Protagonist: goes on a journey that leads to an epiphany
  • Antagonist: opposes the protagonist
  • Catalyst: jumps the tension by greatly upping the size/severity of an obstacle
  • Support: supports main character
  • Side: brief appearance

Exercise #2: In one sentence, what’s your character’s type?

The Defining Detail

A defining detail:

  • shows the reader what makes a character tick
  • can be based on a prominent physical characteristic, incident, imagined
  • blemish, object, what interests you most about the character
  • must be specific

Exercise #3: In one sentence, what’s your character’s defining detail?

Now Extrapolate

Use the defining detail to reveal:

  • What the character fears most (internal belief)
  • What he’s motivated to do (external behavior)

Once readers know what scares the character most, they can understand his motivation and interpret his actions. He’ll strike readers as both consistent in how he views the world and believable in what he does.

Exercise #4: In one sentence, what does your character fear most? In one sentence, based on that fear, what’s he/she motivated to do?

The Five Questions

What defines your character?
What’s her greatest fear?
What motivates her?
What’s her greatest strength (cause for admiration)?
What’s her greatest weakness (point of vulnerability?

Exercise #5: In one sentence each, answer the last two questions. (Hint: the last two answers should match.

Obstacle/Conflict

And obstacle is the same as a conflict. Your character wants to do one thing, but faces the prospect of being forced to do the opposite.

Obstacle/Conflict + Action = Scene

A scene is when your character is in one emotional state, confronts an obstacle/conflict, takes action (he/she is a doer), and as a result changes to another emotional state. Over time, those small changes lead to the character’s final transformation.

Series of Obstacles/conflicts = Plot

Obstacles should increase in size and intensity and drive the character toward the moment she confronts her worst fear (the story’s climax). Each obstacle should be organic, meaning the new conflict/obstacle is a direct result of the previous one.

Exercise #6: Create a list of the obstacles your character encounters. Do they get progressively bigger and more severe?

Conclusion: Game Plan!

Exercise #7: Your next step

5 Reasons to Love Independent Presses

Winter Light, a novel, now available on preorder

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ve seen this novel’s progress toward publication since I signed the contract in December of 2019 with Vine Leaves Press.

Both of my previous books — The Wind Thief and Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up: A Thorough Primer for the Writers of Fiction and Nonfiction — were published by small presses. Over the years — and especially that of my experience in these past months — I’ve become even more enamored of independent presses when they’re well-run.

By independent press, I’m talking about publishing houses that put out 2 – 15 books a year, are typically operating on a small budget, have a relatively small staff and operate as a traditional publisher. The last means these presses offer a clear and written contract that states they’ll publish your book within a certain time period and take a stated percentage of the profits. They DO NOT ask for money from authors.

If a publisher suggests you’ll have to pay fees up front, the company is most likely a vanity press that helps authors self-publish: for a fee, the company helps put the book together. The company may even help market the book for an extra cost.

Now for the 5 reasons why an independent press may be the road to your success:

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Accessibility

The large conglomerate publishing houses like Random House and Hachette are literally closed to submissions by authors. To get your work considered by them, you need to get a literary agent who acts as a go-between.

Getting an agent can take a month or years and so adds to the publication process.

In contrast, authors can submit their work directly to small independent presses.

Here’s the process:

Research

Find a small press that seems suitable for your work.

I’ve found NewPages.com’s Independent Book Publishers & University Presses guide from A – Z to be an invaluable resource. A few others are The Big, Big List of Indie Publishers and Poets & Writers Small Presses guide.

When you find a possible publisher, carefully peruse the company’s website. I read the “About” page that states the press’ mission, then go read through the company’s catalog of books to see how closely they resemble mine.

Follow Submission Guidelines

If I perceive a possible match, I follow the submission guidelines and send the requested information, typically a query letter that includes a bio, a synopsis and 1 – 3 sample chapters.

Almost all publishing companies take only digital submissions via email or Submittable or via another online submission management form.

Electronic submissions have greatly reduced the time necessary to collate a submission package, not to mention there’s no paper wasted nor money spent on postage.

Occasionally publishers will require a $10 – $25 reading fee, but that practice is, as yet, rare. If you don’t want to pay the fee, move on in your search. If you decide the charge is fair, given most small presses operate on a small budget, pay the fee.

Responsiveness

When I first began submitting to literary agents in hopes of landing a contract with a large publisher, they would typically respond within a number of months. Nowadays agents get so many submissions, they stipulate in their submission guidelines that they won’t respond unless they’re interested in your work.

Since literary agents are the gateway to big publishers, you and your work can languish while waiting for a response. And what happens when you reach the end of agents who are suitable to query?

In comparison, I’ve found that small independent presses are reliably responsive. They’ll give you a yay or nay within the time period they specify on their websites. Most take simultaneous submissions, which means you can submit to them while also submitting elsewhere. If you get your manuscript accepted, the etiquette is to withdraw your book from the other publishers to which you’ve submitted so they won’t spend more time considering your work.

Global Audience

In the past, a publishing company would typically publish authors from the country where the company is based. Most of the books would be for audiences in that locale.

But times have changed and independent presses have been at the forefront of embracing what’s now commonly known: the reading public has gone global. People — like me! — love to read about other places by authors from those foreign locales.

The editor of Vine Leaves Press, for example, lives in Greece. The publishing director lives in Germany. The company is based in Melbourne, Australia, and the authors are from all around the world. I’ve had a marvelous time connecting with writers who live in other countries and who’ve had such different experiences!

Mission

Many independent publishers are nonprofit. Those that are for-profit are usually not in the business to make a lot of money. Instead, the presses are operated by people who love to read and want to produce books that further their particular vision that appeals to a specific group of readers.

Some companies are passionate about nature and publish works where nature is front and center. Others love mysteries set in the Wild West era. Others promote stories by traditionally marginalized people, whether due to sexual orientation, ethnic or racial heritage, or other reasons.

Because small presses are not looking for the next big blockbuster, they can be gutsy and take risks big publishers won’t touch for fear of not making enough money.

Connection to Audience

Because small publishers have equally small budgets, they require authors to play an active role in promoting their books.

This can include:

  • putting together a media kit with a press release, photos, Q&A questions
  • building and maintaining an audience via a dozen social media platforms
  • pursuing publicity opportunities, such as guest blogging gigs, interviews on podcasts or getting articles or other work published
  • creating extra content for their book, like the below playlist I made and circulated on social media and that reflects the tastes of Mary Donahue, the 15-year-old protagonist of Winter Light.
Mary Donahue’s 1978 playlist on YouTube

If you’re new to promotion, the above can be absolutely overwhelming.

But if you—

  • take one step at a time
  • pay for help that fits your promotional budget, whether purchasing Facebook ads, hiring a book consultant (as I did with Kate Tilton), or paying a pro to arrange a blog tour (as I did with Rachel’s Random Resources)
  • share ideas with other authors
  • all while describing the journey to your readers

—you’ll get to know those readers so well they’ll feel loved and willing to accompany you on your next book adventure.

A Last Note

Life is too short to spend it waiting, or worse, suffering from the repeated message your work isn’t suitable for a mass market.

Instead, consider looking for an independent press that seems like a good match to your book. If the editor extends a contract, and those at the helm respond to your questions in a timely, considerate way, consider going that route.

The best moment in my life was when I no longer sought the favor of agents and large publishers, but instead moved toward the independent presses — and their authors and readers ! — that enthusiastically embraced my work.

Rejuvenation Book 1

by Byddi Lee

Author Byddi Lee has created a dystopian tale in which she’s nailed all three facets of great science fiction:

  • a flawed, yet highly admirable main character readers care about
  • a plot that accelerates in intensity and speed toward en exciting conclusion
  • a deftly-written narrative where facts and descriptions about the world are slipped in around the character’s actions, thus creating a smooth read

Three reasons I loved this book!

The setting is some twenty years after aliens attack the earth, causing billions to die and ice sheets to melt so high there’s little arable land left. Most people live in subscrapers embedded in the ocean floor and that rise high above the surface. To control the population, no one can have a child until someone within the family dies, typically an older person, who feel pressured to die and make room for the younger generation.

Dr. Bobbie Chan is a doctor who works in a subscraper off the coast of Ireland with the ultra-elderly, 110 or older, whom she loves. Every day she tells her patients they have value and should live to the fullest until the very end, a passion that makes Bobbie extremely admirable. What she doesn’t divulge is that the death of her twin sister when they were young so traumatized Bobbie she fights the very existence of death.

When a strange disease spreads among her patients and the elderly elsewhere in the world, causing them to seemingly get younger, Bobbie at first sees the heightened quality of life potential. But when enough disturbing symptoms emerge, Bobbie begins to suspect foul play on the part of the Belus Corporation that runs the world. Bobbie’s diehard commitment to her patients’ wellbeing pushes her to investigate.

The author does such a fine job of slipping in descriptions of this new world and its advanced technology that there’s never a feeling of being overwhelmed. Instead, the story stays riveted on Bobbie’s changing emotional state and her fight for truth based on her belief that no one should be made to feel like a burden.

I’m looking forward to Book 2 in this trilogy!

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I’ll provide you with updates about my newest book, Winter Light, forthcoming Oct. 6, 2020, by Vine Leaves Press. As a thank you, I’ll give you a FREE excerpt of my first novel, The Wind Thief!

I look forward to hearing from you!

Cheers, Somebody

by Katie Lewis

Often books and conferences for writers focus on the big parts of stories, such as plot, characters, pace, dialogue, etc.

I tend to approach writing in the opposite manner. Specifically, that the best writers are those who start from the smallest of details and build upward. My logic is that if they’ve taken the time to imagine a single, spot-on gesture, they’ve thought through the characters and story with equal care.

In the short story collection titled Cheers, Somebody, author Katie Lewis consistently nails the minute details that make the characters and their interactions real. Often simply admirably precise, other details are appropriately blunt and crass, while others are painfully truthful. Together the constant and consistent attention to the smallest parts of each story quickly create the mini-universe that is a short story, while also providing that necessary spin of uniqueness on common themes of love, loss, conflict and culture.

Choosing an example from the multitude is difficult, but here’s one from the first story for which the book is titled:

Collins danced his empty cup on the table, making a pock-pock-pock noise with the indented bottom’s echo until Stew placed his hand on top of the cup to make it stop.

The author continues that careful attention to detail throughout the story’s dialogue. Here’s an example from Ink J, the story I found most powerful.

“I, uh, I don’t know how to bring this up,” Bilson after several silent minutes of chewing rubbery licorice. “Not ‘I got news today’ or ‘Here’s something,’ but, well, I suppose. Anyway. I found out today that my college roommate died.”

While I’d term most of the stories accessible literary, a few stretch the mind, including a dystopian love story and a tale that uses brief and highly intimate scenes to portray the narrator’s relationship, seemingly with one man.

And that’s where I’ll leave the mystery!

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What’s the Difference Between YA and Adult Fiction With a Teen Protagonist?

After reading Carolyn R. Russell’s dystopian young adult novel, In the Fullness of Time (due out March 17, see previous post), I got to thinking about the above question. What, for example, is the difference between The Giver by Lois Lowry (YA) and Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (literary); between A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card?

The teen age of the protagonist is obviously not a deciding factor. My upcoming novel, Winter Light, for example, has a 15-year-old protagonist, but is not a YA novel. And think of Scout, the protagonist who ages from 6 to 8 over the course of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is not YA, either.

The current definition of YA is a category of books for readers age 12 to 18. Interestingly enough, the YA Wikipedia page notes that almost half of YA audiences consist of adults. The page also mentions that in 1802, a young writer named Sarah Trimmer for the first time differentiated between books for adults and for those in “young adulthood” between the ages of 14 and 21.

The following decades produced a variety of classics featuring young adult protagonists, including Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Then in 1967, 15-year-old S. E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders about the troubled kids at her school. That was the first book specifically marketed to young adults.

And there you have it, the obvious answer to the initial question: marketing. YA has since branched out in the same categories that apply to adult books: mystery, romance, sci-fi, cyberpunk, Christian, etc.

Yet the more subtle answer seems to lie in the treatment of subject matter. While many YA novels deal with adult themes — sexuality, abuse, love — the language is typically softer and cursing is at a minimum. That and the stories often revolve around what’s important to young adults, such as working through the transition to growing up, establishing independence and developing principles to live by.

Literary works, which appeal to people who like to puzzle about human nature, tend to focus more on the underlying themes of humanity. Think of Lord of the Flies where the shipwrecked boys quickly establish a power structure based on the physical prowess necessary to survive along with the ability to charm and persuade, which mirrors the power struggle in most societies.

Similarly, in my novel, the underlying premise is how some people are born under a tremendous burden simply by virtue of who they’re born to.

If you have anything to add, please do! I live for literary discussion.

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I’ll provide you with updates about my newest book, Winter Light, forthcoming Oct. 6, 2020, by Vine Leaves Press. As a thank you, I’ll give you a FREE excerpt of my first novel, The Wind Thief!

I look forward to hearing from you!

In the Fullness of Time

I was happy to receive an advance copy of this book. I was even happier to truly appreciate the author’s restraint when it comes to telling vs. showing.

I’m not a fan of books that explicitly tell me everything, which implies I’m too stupid to figure things out for myself. Carolyn R. Russell, on the other hand, doesn’t make that mistake in this new YA dystopian thriller, In the Fullness of Time. Instead, she has confidence in the intelligence of her young readers and drops them into the States — a filthy, overpopulated urban environment — right behind the story’s teen protagonist, 17-year-old Somerset, where they have to fend for themselves just as she does.

The slang and terms used immediately create a sense of claustrophobia, both physically and emotionally. In this world, only the children of the elite go to school, where they’re fed propaganda. Somerset is one of the few who reads the “old-timey flatbooks” from the Lost Ages to learn how the world could have changed so drastically. She’s also one of the few who has access to Hydracomputers. She’s afforded such privilege because she’s one of the privileged, a status she despises.

The only hope of getting fresh air in this chokingly-controlled society is for Somerset to follow the trail of mysteries that begins on the first page when she snatches up a little girl who falls amongst the street masses and is almost trampled. By showing such compassion for innocence, and such intolerance for the few privileged at the top, Somerset reveals the bravery and independent spirit of a true hero.

Wearing her clerical robes, Somerset clandestinely performs acts of rebellion with her antiauthoritarian friends. With every action she takes and every questions she asks, she forges ahead to expose the government’s criminal acts, both in relation to the masses’ cheap food source, ‘Brix, and the mysterious means of Revving, an act the government bills as a spiritual transformation and that Somerset suspects leads to a much darker outcome.

At some point I plan to write a book about showing vs. telling, probably the trickiest aspect of writing anything. When I do, I’ll call upon such examples of how to respect readers’ intelligence.

Happy writing!

SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter and get a Free novel excerpt!

I’ll provide you with updates about my newest book, Winter Light, forthcoming Oct. 6, 2020, by Vine Leaves Press. As a thank you, I’ll give you a FREE excerpt of my first novel, The Wind Thief!

I look forward to hearing from you!

Photography for Writers

by Melanie Faith

I grew up in Chicago and about once every winter would wake up to a mountain of snow outside my window and more falling by the minute. At that moment, utter delight would shoot through me, because I knew this would be deemed a snow day and school would be canceled. That’s the same transformation — from this-will-be-good-for-me to fantastic! — that occurred upon reading the first page of this book.

I assumed by the title I’d be learning how to use photography to better market my next novel via social media. What an utterly fantastic thing to learn that the goal of the book is not to make us writers work, but instead invite us to play! That by messing around with photography, we can explore and improve our writing tenfold.

What a powerful concept!

We creatives tend to think we’re creative in one area or another. We’re writers, but not painters, or vice versa. Whereas this book espouses that people who create do so across their lives, so using one medium of creativity to fuel another makes perfect sense.

Rather than think of ourselves as just writers, we should consider broadening our self-image to think of ourselves as photographers, too. I have no idea why that didn’t occur to me before! I love photography, yet would never have considered submitting a photograph for publication, until now.

Melanie Faith

The chapters are flash-fiction-brief in the best way possible. Melanie uses a single, often humorous, anecdote from her personal or professional life as an all-around creative to illustrate one main concept, then ends with a writing and photography prompt. Such brevity encourages thought about basic, yet potent, concepts. For example, don’t worry about equipment. Use whatever camera you’ve got. And rather than worry about composition, take photos that snag your interest, then go back to look at why the image called out to you.

While I read the book once chronologically, I plan to use it as a long-term resource I can dip into regularly to flush my work with new creativity, almost like visiting a spa for writers!

Happy writing!

SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter and get a Free novel excerpt!

I’ll provide you with updates about my newest book, Winter Light, forthcoming Oct. 6, 2020, by Vine Leaves Press. As a thank you, I’ll give you a FREE excerpt of my first novel, The Wind Thief!

I look forward to hearing from you!

6 Marketing Terms All Authors Should Know

To develop a plan for launching my upcoming literary book, Winter Light, which will be published Oct. 6 by Vine Leaves Press, I’m taking Tim Grahl’s online marketing class, Launching a Bestseller.

Tim Grahl of BookLaunch.com, author of Your First 1000 Copies

As part of the process, I’m identifying influencers — book reviewers, bloggers, podcasters, celebrity book clubs like the Ophrah Book Club, etc. — who can help sell my book to readers.

To evaluate how many people these influencers can reach, I found Feedspot, a media site where you can find the blogs, podcasts, new websites, YouTube channels and RSS feeds you need to target. Or if you’re a blogger, you can add your blog to the database.

The site lists a media source along with how many people the person or organization can reach. To fully appreciate the information, and be more effective in marketing efforts, here are 10 terms all authors should know:

  1. Social reach: The total number of people you can reach across all of your various social media networks.
  2. Social media engagements: The number measures the public shares, likes and comments for an online business’s social media effort.
  3. Domain authority: A score that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERP). The scores range from 1 to 100. The higher the number, the greater the ability to rank.
  4. Search engine optimization (SEO): The practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
  5. Organic search engine results: Any traffic you don’t have to pay for.
  6. Click-through rate (CTR): How often the people click on the call-to-action link in your post.

Let’s practice that last one: Please subscribe to my newsletter!

For those who want to read more, Hootsuite has a great article titled The most important social media metrics for marketers.

SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter and get a Free novel excerpt!

I’ll provide you with updates about my newest book, Winter Light, forthcoming Oct. 6, 2020, by Vine Leaves Press. As a thank you, I’ll give you a FREE excerpt of my first novel, The Wind Thief!

I look forward to hearing from you!

How to Build a Regular Writing Habit (or any habit!)

A lot of people I talk to want to build a regular writing habit, but don’t know how. Here’s my process, which works for undertaking anything new:

1. Frequency: Start with a goal you know you can do. Rather than writing daily for 2 hours, for examples, try for two days a week for 45 min. Put the sessions on your calendar so they become a legitimate use of time and that you can honestly tell others, “I can’t make that time because I’ve got something else going.”

2. Motivation: Usually I’ll get at least 5 channels of energy moving me toward the endeavor. I’ll 1) network with friends to see if they want to meet and write, 2) take a  class that includes homework that makes me work in between sessions, 3) find a contest with a realistic deadline, 4) look at my schedule to actively find time.

3. Reward: I almost always tie the activity to something pleasant, like something simple as drinking my favorite coffee or following the session by eating my favorite thing for dinner.

4. Obstacles: My calculation is that for every 1 step I think I need to make to progress, there are actually 20 obstacles in the way. If I don’t meet the goal I set that day, I make sure to find the obstacle that kept me from succeeding so I can avoid it next time.

I’ve been writing my whole life, so writing per day is like breathing. But I have taken on a number of other challenges for which I’ve had to follow the above process. But there are certainly plenty more resources to help, like the above book. If you have particular methods or resources that work for you, let me know!

SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter and get a Free novel excerpt!

I’ll provide you with updates about my newest book, Winter Light, forthcoming Oct. 6, 2020, by Vine Leaves Press. As a thank you, I’ll give you a FREE excerpt of my first novel, The Wind Thief!

I look forward to hearing from you!