Monday, November 5

How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character

How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character

Some of the best characters aren't likable. For instance Sherlock Holmes, especially as brilliantly depicted by Benedict Cumberbatch. But that's okay. The trick is to get your readers to IDENTIFY with your protagonist. Making him or her likable is only one way to do that.

I hope to convince you of this before I'm through but, first, let's take a step back and ask what the goal of writing/storytelling is.

The Goal Of Every Story: Elicit Emotion In Your Readers

By the way, I'm taking this material from a course Michael Hauge taught with Chistopher Vogler (author of The Writer's Journey) called The Hero's 2 Journeys. Michael believes that the goal of every story is to elicit emotion from our readers. If we've done that then we've written a great story.

So, how do we elicit emotion from our readers? Simple! (Well, that's what Michael says.) Stories only have three main ingredients:

1. A great CHARACTER
2. A passionate DESIRE/A GOAL
3. CONFLICT/ Something that's keeping our character from fulling their desire/obtaining their goal.

So, every story is about:
An emotionally involving CHARACTER who strives to reach a GOAL (/fulfill a desire) against seemingly insurmountable OBSTACLES.
What we're going to talk about now has to do with the first of these three pillars: creating an emotionally involving character.

5 Ways To Create A Character Your Readers Will Identify With

Here's what we want to have happen: We want our readers to empathize with our main character. We want our readers to identify with our protagonist's situation, his feelings and his motives.

Michael Hauge puts it this way:
You want the reader to become a participant in the story through their emotions. (My paraphrase)
Here's how you do that:

1. Make your character sympathetic

In general, people in love are sympathetic. When I see two people walking down the sidewalk with silly grins on their faces holding hands while sneaking furtive love-sick peeks at each other, I can't help but smile.

This doesn't mean either character is likeable taken individually, but the fact that they have someone, that they are in love, helps (most readers) identify with them.

Or you could make your character the victim of an undeserved misfortune. That would also evoke sympathy in most readers.

Also, if a powerful antagonist deprived your character of something they loved--perhaps their spouse or child--this would be a good way to make your character sympathetic and introduce the Big Bad of your story.

Example: Andy (played by Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption

2. Make your character funny

We like to hang out with people who make us laugh. Why is this? I don't know. Maybe it's because they can say funny things we don't have the courage to.

Example: Beverly Hills Cop

3. Make your character likable

Make your character a kind, good hearted, person. Show that they are liked by the other characters in your story.

This is probably the most common way writers attempt to get their readers to identify with their main character(s) and it works!

Example: Tom Hanks in practically every movie he's been in.

4. Put your character in jeopardy

We identify with people we worry about. Put your character in danger of losing something of vital importance to them.

Example: Pulp Fiction. Butch Coolidge (played by Bruce Willis) and his father's watch.

5. Make your character powerful

Make your character very good at what they do. For instance, make them a superhero or an Indiana Jones type character

Example: Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) in Moneyball.

Getting Your Readers To Identify With Your Character: The Secret

Here's the secret to creating a character your readers can identify with:
Employ AT LEAST TWO of the above five elements when you introduce your main character.
For instance in The Firm, when Mitch McDeere (played by Tom Cruise) is first introduced, we learn that he is getting top marks in university despite working as a waiter (sympathetic). We also find out that he and his wife are passionately in love (sympathetic & likable).

#  #  # 

What do you think? Do readers truly need to identify with the main character of a story in order to become emotionally involved?

I'd like to thank John Ward for his post on how to make characters likable.

Other articles you might like:

- More Writing Advice From Jim Butcher
- Amazon Reviews Are Disappearing
- How To Write 10,000 Words A Day

Photo credit: "Victorian Robo Detective and Dr WATTson" by V&A Steamworks under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

More Writing Advice From Jim Butcher

More Writing Advice From Jim Butcher

Serack from over at Jim Butcher's Forums emailed me with a couple of great links I'd omitted from my Jim Butcher On Writing compendium post. Thanks Serack!

Jim Butcher's Interview With The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop

I bring this up because one of the links Sarack shared with me was to an interview conducted by the fine folks over at Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop and is one of the best interviews on the fine art of writing I've read.

This being NaNoWriMo, and this being a blog about (at least in part) how to write well--or at least how to write better--I wanted to post two of Jim Butcher's answers:

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

Do you have a particular method for creating characters? Or do they just spring into your head fully formed and take over from there?

It varies based on the character. Dresden himself was created really, really artificially. When I was putting the character together, I was doing so based on a worksheet in a class I was taking at University of Oklahoma called “Writing the Genre Fiction Novel.” I had been disagreeing with my teacher for a long time about how good books were put together. I’d taken her courses for several years, and finally one semester I just said, “I’m just gonna be your good little writer-zombie, and you’re going to see what terrible things happen.” That was the semester I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files.

Dresden himself was put together from Sherlock Holmes and Gandalf and others; I listed the sort of things that could be expected from Merlin, Gandalf, various wizard figures in various books. I did the same thing with the hard-boiled private-eye recurring characters and tried to draw the traits that I saw most frequently in those characters.

One of the most interesting things I realized along the way: the private eye and the wizard almost always serve the exact same purpose in the story. They’re not so much there to lay into the action scenes left and right; what really makes them vital to the story’s progress is what they can learn, and the kind of places they wind up going, whether they’re going into a metaphorical underworld like the undertown of Chicago’s mob scene, or whether they’re going into the literal underworld like Moria. The wizard/private eye characters go into these dark places to find out what they need to know. Gandalf wasn’t devastating to the Dark Lord because he showed up and beat up his minions. What made him dangerous was that he was riding around to talk to people and researching in all the libraries and finding out that the trinket that his buddy had was the One Ring.
With Harry Dresden being put together from the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Gandalf, how could we not love him? I'm guessing I'm not the only person who wants to take that course, Writing the Genre Fiction Novel!

I had an "ah-ha!" moment when I read Jim Butcher's answer. The hero, even kick-ass heroes like Gandalf and Harry Dresden, take the chances they do, explore the various 'underbellies of society', NOT primarily to get into fights and show everyone how tough they are, they go into these dark, dangerous, places because they need information. They need to find out "what they need to know". That's how, ultimately, the hero gets the upper hand.

Cause And Reaction, Reaction And Response

You wrote four unpublished novels before the first Dresden book, and they’ve remained unpublished. Where do you think those early works went astray?

“Where didn’t they go astray?” is the better question. [...]
[. . . .]
One of the very basic building blocks of writing a good story, an action scene, or a paragraph is you have to show cause and reaction, reaction and response. That’s a kind of a process that doesn’t just exist on a sentence to sentence level and a paragraph to paragraph level, but happens within the greater structure of the story. One of the things that permeates writing completely.

When a character does something in one book and it has an effect that comes out later, that’s one of the things that creates a greater sense of verisimilitude in your fantasy world. Plus, it’s great to not see characters acting in a vacuum. When they make a choice, it has an effect that comes back to haunt hem later on, and that’s one of those things that lends a greater sense of purpose to your storytelling. The reader goes, “Oh my gosh, this is an actual world,” and now they have to wonder about every choice a character makes and how that will also come into play. [Emphasis mine]
"Cause and reaction, reaction and response." I talked about that in detail in the post:  Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive.


One thing I haven't blogged about yet (but should) is sequels. I think the topic deserves a post of it's own, but, briefly, Jim Butcher teaches it's the SEQUEL that that helps endear your characters to your readers. Jim writes:
[Y]ou've got to win them [your readers] over to your character's point of view. You've got to establish some kind of basic emotional connection, an empathy for your character. It needn't be deep seated agreement with everything the character says and does--but they DO need to be able to UNDERSTAND what your character is thinking and feeling, and to understand WHY they are doing whatever (probably outrageous) thing you've got them doing.
Great article! You can read the rest of Jim's advice here: Sequels.

Best of luck with NaNo! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
- How To Write 10,000 Words A Day
- Amazon Reviews Are Disappearing

Photo credit: "Arches National Park, Moab Utah" by ianmalcm under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, November 4

Amazon Reviews Are Disappearing

Amazon Reviews Are Disappearing

I had heard about Amazon reviews mysteriously disappearing before Joe Konrath blogged about it, but Joe laid it out in such a way that there was no mistaking what was happening, especially when writer after writer wrote in confirming their books were losing reviews. But not just that. Reviews they had written were vanishing as well.

[Update Nov 5, 2012: I've included an update at the end of this article. We've figured out at least two things that will cause Amazon to remove a review.]

The Disappearing Reviews

Joe writes:
I've been buried in a book deadline for all of October, and haven't been paying much attention to anything else. When I finally took some time to catch up reading email, I noticed I had many authors (more than twenty) contacting me because their Amazon reviews were disappearing. Some were the ones they wrote. Some were for their books. One author told me that reviews her fans had written--fans that were completely unknown to her--had been deleted.

I took a look at the reviews I'd written, and saw more than fifty of them had been removed, namely reviews I did of my peers. I don't read reviews people give me, but I do keep track of numbers and averages, and I've also lost a fair amount of reviews. (Joe Konrath, Amazon Removes Reviews)
The question is: Why were these reviews deleted?

No one knows.

Amazon's Response

Yes, Amazon customer representatives have sent various replies and these replies have been shared. Here's one, posted by Michelle Gagnon on the Kill Zone blog in the article Et Tu, Amazon?
I'm sorry for any previous concerns regarding your reviews on our site. We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product.

We have removed your reviews as they are in violation of our guidelines.  We will not be able to go into further detail about our research.

I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter.
One thing I'd like to note, it seems that reviews have been disappearing from traditionally published authors as well as independently published authors.

I don't like writing about the disappearing reviews on Amazon because I like the company. It helps indie authors make a living from their work. That said, this is an issue I think we all need to be aware of.

My feeling is that Amazon needs to tweek whatever software it's using to identify objectionable reviews. Hopefully they'll do this soon and restore the legitimate ones.

I'm interested in hearing from you. Have you lost reviews?

Update Nov 5, 2012: Why Some Amazon Reviews Have Been Removed

I'm not saying this explains the lion's share of the disappearing reviews, but it may help some folks understand what's okay and what isn't when it comes to reviewing.

Amazon Verified Reviews

Amazon verified reviews must be from folks who purchased the books with their own money.

If an author buys an Amazon gift certificate for the price for the price of the book and sends it to someone who then buys their book ... well, that's fine of course. It's a thoughtful gift. The only problem is, if the person likes the book and decides to review it, they can't. Such a review would be against Amazon's guidelines since they were compensated for the review.

In Amazon's eyes it's fine to send a copy of your book to a reviewer (in which case it would NOT be an Amazon verified review) but it's not okay for them to get any sort of gift, monetary or otherwise, for providing the review.

For more on this read: Cheating with supply of review copies - the Amazon Verified Purchase scam.

Reviews From A Competitor

It seems that if you're an author, traditional or indie, who has merged your author's account with your amazon account if you then review the work of another author, your review will likely be removed. It seems that Amazon doesn't want authors reviewing each others work.

I was devastated by this--it seemed very unfair--until someone pointed out that the overwhelming number of reviews didn't come from authors. For more on this see: Amazon Reviewhouhaha.

Further reading on Amazon's disappearing reviews:

- Joe Konrath's article, Amazon Removes Reviews
- Michelle Gagnon's article over at Kill Zone: Et Tu, Amazon?
- (Update [Nov 4]: I just found this article on Authors cannot review authors on Amazon.)
- (Update [Nov 5]: Amazon removes book reviews by fellow authors.)
- (Update [Nov 5]: Amazon Reviewhouhaha.)
- (Update [Nov 5]: Lost some reviews? -- Kindleboard thread.)
I would encourage anyone intersted in researching this matter to read the comments to these articles. Writers have been sharing their experiences as well as links to other resources on the web. - Here's a link to Amazon's General Review Creation Guidelines.

Other articles you might be interested in:

- Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?
- Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction
- NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide

Photo credit: "Three Trees" by / under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, November 3

Writing To Music: Knowing Your Characters

A few minutes ago I was chatting with a writer I met on Google+ and the coolest thing happened: she shared a link to a playlist from Grooveshark.

That got me thinking about music and its relation to writing.

Music And The Muse

I know a lot of writers listen to music while they work; Kim Harrison for instance. She writes:
My muse exists in music. Logic maps the story, but music gives it its soul and sends my characters in directions that surprise even me. what I'm left with is an eclectic handful of songs that—in my thoughts—relate to certain scenes or more typically, relationships between characters. Some authors cast their books with popular actors/actresses. I'd rather cast the music as it connects more directly to my creative process. (Kim Harrison, Music)
This is something I want to try doing, choosing songs that relate to aspects of the characters I create, the main ones at least. I find I learn best from other authors, watching how they sculpt their prose, their stories. Why not their character's playlists as well?

Kim Harrison's Playlist For Rachel Morgan

I want to try out something new. I've put most of the songs Kim listed for Rachel Morgan, the point of view character for her Hollows series, into a playlist over at Grooveshark and shared it. I've never done this before, but you should be able to follow the link, below, and play the list--or any song on the list. Cool, huh?

Kim Harrison's playlist for Rachel Morgan (on Grooveshark)

Here's what Kim had to say about a few of Rachel's songs and how they relate to her character:
The songs I've found that I feel relate to Rachel cover a wonderfully wide span. Fiona Apple's "Criminal" has begun to resonate in me lately. Coldplay's "Lost" seems to fit Rachel pretty wel, too. (I really like this group.) And in regards to her love life, "I'm not Over" by Carolina Liar is a nice fit. "Believe" by The Bravery, has captured my attention in regards to Rachel's latest fix with Al. And since the release of The Outlaw Demon Wails, I can share with you the song "Temptation" by Garbage. But possibly the closest song I've found that fits her future is from NIN, "The Line Begins To Blur." Breaking Benjamin's "Breathe," seems to capture Rachel after Kisten almost perfectly. After seeing the "Lithium" video from Evanescence, I was full of thoughts of Rachel in the Ever-After. (Kim Harrison, Music)
That's just a part of what Kim had to say on the subject. You can read the rest on her website:

Know Thyself Characters

After listening to the songs and reading Kim's remarks about how each song relates to aspects of Rachel's character it strikes me anew how well Kim knows her. She knows Rachel's taste in music and how it maps her moods, who she is.

I think we need to know things like this about our characters if we are to write compelling stories. And I think creating a playlist is a good place to start, but let's not stop there. What are their underwear drawers like? Does your POV character buy frilly confections that cost the moon and shred as soon as you touch them? Does she favor stretchy, comfortable, affordable, cotton? (Gasp! Does she even own underwear?)

It's funny, as writers we're much more focused on knowing our characters, people we invent, than we are ourselves! But, in the end, perhaps that's harder.

Other articles you might like:
- Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction
- How To Write 10,000 Words A Day
- NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide

Photo credit: "It's Fun To Stay At The ..." by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, November 2

Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction

Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction

The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction

Ian McEwan recently wrote a piece for The New Yorker entitled Some Notes On The Novella in which he eloquently and passionately argues that the "novella is the perfect form of prose fiction".

Some might find this surprising. As McEwan himself notes, many view the novella as something lesser. He writes:
When a character in my recent book, “Sweet Tooth,” publishes his short first work of fiction, he finds some critics are suggesting that he has done something unmanly or dishonest. His experience reflects my own. A novella? Perhaps you don’t have the necessary creative juice.
To counter this, McEwan points out that the tradition of writing novellas is "long and glorious" and points to the work of writers such as Thomas Mann, Henry James, Kafka, Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus, Voltaire, Tolstoy, Joyce, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell, Steinbeck and Melville, only to name a few.

Novella's "don’t ramble or preach, they spare us their quintuple subplots and swollen midsections"

What is it about the novella that makes it the perfect form of prose fiction rather than the novel? McEwan writes:
[T]he demands of economy push writers to polish their sentences to precision and clarity, to bring off their effects with unusual intensity, to remain focussed on the point of their creation and drive it forward with functional single-mindedness, and to end it with a mind to its unity. They don’t ramble or preach, they spare us their quintuple subplots and swollen midsections. 
Swollen midsections, indeed. I'm reminded of Jim Butcher's instruction about how to survive what he calls The Great Swampy Middle (I picture it as something like the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride, the home of the ROUSes--Rodents Of Unusual Size. But I digress.)

Be masters of the form, not slaves to the giant

True, this November we're writing 50,000 words and McEwan defines a novella as being between 20,000 and 40,000 words. Still, McEwan's characterization of the novella is one we're all familiar with--in fact I don't think I've seen a better description of what most writers are trying to do when they craft a story. Certainly I've never read one more concise or eloquent. He continues:
I suspect that many novelists clock up sixty thousand words after a year’s work and believe (wearily, perhaps) that they are only half way there. They are slaves to the giant, instead of masters of the form.
Been there, done that. (When I was reading McEwan's column I actually sprang up from my chair at this point and yelled, "Yes!" ... Or at least I felt like doing it. ;)

McEwan goes on to compare the novella to watching a play or movie and remarks that:
[T]here’s a strong resemblance between the screenplay (twenty odd thousand words) and the novella, both operating within the same useful constraints of economy—space for a subplot (two at a stretch), characters to be established with quick strokes but allowed enough room to live and breathe, and the central idea, even if it is just below the horizon, always exerting its gravitational pull. The analogy with film or theatre is a reminder that there is an element of performance in the novella. We are more strongly aware of the curtain and the stage, of the author as illusionist. The smoke and mirrors, rabbits and hats are more self-consciously applied than in the full-length novel. The novella is the modern and post-modern form par excellence. 

NaNoWriMo and the novella

Perhaps, as we go through NaNoWriMo this November, we should think of ourselves as writing, not novels, but slightly overextended novellas and take McEwan's advice to heart. Rather than aspire to turn our masterpieces into a "rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant", after NaNoWriMo is completed, strip off 10,000 (or so) words and attempt the creation of what could be "the perfect form of prose fiction".

Everyone's gotta have a goal. Right? ;)

Best of luck to my fellow NaNo-ers! Right now my manuscript is at about 2,200 words, I'm hoping to add at least another 2,000 tonight.

Other articles you might like:
- Jim Butcher On Writing
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive
- Dialogue: 7 Ways of Adding Variety

Photo credit: "a walk in to the woods" by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

How To Write 10,000 Words A Day

How To Write 10,000 Words A Day

Yes, that's right, 10,000 words a day. It's not a typo.

Google+ is terrific! For the past few weeks I've been busy meeting a gaggle of fellow flagellants writers planning on going through NaNoWriMo this year.

One of these wonderful people, Joanie Raisovich, posted a link to Rachel Aaron's article How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day. Of course I had to go look!

How To Write 10,000 Words A Day

I was skeptical. 10,000 words a day. Really? But I read Rachel's article and her method made sense.

I don't want to spell Rachel's method out in great and gory detail--she does that in her wonderful article--but I don't think she would mind if I touched on two things I believe are at the heart of it's success: creating a detailed outline (I call it a 'micro outline') & turning the scientific method loose on yourself.

1. The Secret To Writing 10,000 Words A Day: Create A Micro Outline

In the following when I talk about an outline I don't mean the traditional kind of outline (Mary Robinette Kowal and The Mysteries of Outlining). By all means, have that too, but don't stop there.

Let me give you an example. In one of the first scenes of my NaNoWriMo story a little girl climbs into the tiger enclosure at a game preserve. My heroine, Robyn the park administrator, not only needs to save the little girl from the normally placid tiger (Shadow), but needs to save Shadow--the game preserve's most popular attraction--from being killed.

An ordinary outline of the scene might read like this:
- Robyn enters park
- Food missing
- Girl in enclosure
- No tranquilizer gun
- Hank going to shoot tiger
- Robyn steps into tiger cage
That's the first chapter. The incident is resolved in the next chapter.

Here's what I'm calling a Micro Outline. We take the ordinary outline and break it down further.
- Robyn (heroine) arrives at her office in the game reserve. Setup character.

- Jane, head trainer, tells Robyn all the food for the animals has been stolen. Describe how dangerous this will make the large cats. Start to develop the character of Shadow, the golden tiger. There's something different about this tiger. He seems almost ... human.

- Robyn sees a crowd gather around Shadow's enclosure and knows something is wrong. Receives call from Jane. Robyn runs to enclosure.

- Robyn told young girl is in cage with Shadow and that the tranquilizer gun is missing.

- Child's parents are hysterical, police have been called.

- Hank, a park worker who was a sniper in the military, is set up with a rifle and told to kill Shadow if it looks like he's going to attack the child.

- Jane tells Rod to bring over the tranquilizer gun from the elephant enclosure but it'll be at least 5 minutes before it arrives.

- Robyn doesn't want Shadow killed. She doesn't believe Shadow would ever hurt a child but she can't take chances with her life.

- Shadow moves and Robyn sees Hank make the decision to kill Shadow.

- Robyn enters the tiger's cage and places her body between Shadow and the little girl as well as between Shadow and Hank's bullet.
I suppose I could just have called the above a detailed outline, but generally I don't write even detailed outlines with this depth of description.

The Point: Writing A Micro Outline Eliminates Surprises

When I read the two outlines, the traditional outline and the micro outline, I get much more of a sense of the scene from the micro outline. It also lets me work out timing problems and helps me decide where I need to insert tidbits of backstory.

For instance, when Jane and Robyn are discussing the stolen food I can include something about the most famous occupant of the preserve, Shadow the rare golden tiger, and how if the game preserve ever lost him they'd have to close their doors. The reader also needs to sympathize with Shadow, they need to know he's not an ordinary tiger and that this factors in Robyn's decision to risk her life for his.

Anyway! Getting back to the point of this post. (grin) You see what I mean about a micro outline. You're basically stepping through the scene talking in some detail about what is going to happen, but you haven't done any of the writing yet. When you DO get down to writing, it's all there, on paper and (much more importantly!) in your mind. You know what you want to write.

Once again: I think the key to success here is that in mapping out your story at this level of detail you now hold pretty much the completed scene in your mind so, when you sit down to write, the guessing, and the writer's block, is gone. You know what happens in the scene, all you have to do is write the darn thing! :)

2. Know Thyself: Use The Scientific Method To Make You A More Productive Writer

The second great thing Rachel Aaron discussed, and like all Great Things when I mention this to you you'll roll your eyes and say, "Well, that's just common sense!" But, honestly, have you ever done it? I haven't!

Here's what I'm talking about: Rachel thought she worked best in the morning, then she started keeping track of: 
a) the time she started writing,
b) the time she stopped writing,
c) her word count,
d) where she was writing.
Rachel collected this information for a while and discovered, among other things, that she wrote most in the afternoon. Huh! This allowed Rachel to hire a sitter for the afternoons--the time she knew she was most productive--and go write in the place she knew she was the most productive--a coffee shop with no wifi. She also found that she wrote more words per hour when she wrote for over 5 hours (and less than 7) than when she just wrote for an hour or two.

Good to know! Of course Rachel stresses that what works for her may not work for anyone else. Her point is that we each need to find what works for us.

It really is incredible how often great innovation is driven by great need. I think Rachel's system is brilliant and am, today, going to begin keeping track of my writing sessions.

Once again, Rachel Aaron's article is called How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day. She has also written a book, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, currently available in the Kindle Store for 99 cents.

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What is the most you've written in one day? I think my top word count is around 6,000 words. Of course I was slightly batty by the end of it and didn't continue at that rate. I think Rachel's article came at just the right time for all of us! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- World Building & Story Creation: Use What You Know
- Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?
- NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
- SEO Tips & Tricks: How To Make Google Love Your Blog

Photo credit: "Atlas, it's time for your bath" by woodleywonderworks under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, November 1

World Building & Story Creation: Use What You Know

World Building & Story Creation: Using What You Know

1. Pattern your created world on this one

Don't try to re-invent the wheel. Re-purpose as much of this world as you can when you create your new one.

An example is Frank Herbert's invention of the Bene Gesserit. It has been a long time since I last re-read Dune, but I always thought Herbert may have modeled the sisterhoood loosely on the Catholic Church, but instead of only men being allowed to be priests, in the sisterhood only women are allowed to be reverend mother's.

Naturally the differences between the priesthood and the sisterhood are many and profound, but the similarities between the two are as defining as the differences.

2. Pattern your created world on an existing mythology

I was introduced to Greek Mythology in grade four and instantly fell in love. Use what you know.

Zeus (though you probably wouldn't call your character that!) could be a powerful, controlling, licentious CEO of an international corporation married to an incredibly strong, jealous, powerful and spiteful woman. As you can see from the description, many writers have mined the rich stories the ancient Greeks gifted to us.

Story Creation and Orson Scott Card's MICE Quotient

Just because you create the world in which the events of your story will take place, this doesn't mean the world itself will be the focus on your story. In MICE terminology, it doesn't mean you'll write a Milieu Story. That said, having created this marvelous place, not to mention the people who inhabit it, chances are the world, it's quirks, how it differs from our culture, our societies, will be an integral part of your story.

Like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, you will have subplots involving Idea Stories (Is the King under a spell? How can we break it?), or Character Stories (A girl doesn't want to live the life her father planned for her, instead she desires to wed the man of her dreams--and her father's nightmares), or Event Stories (some guy who lost a ring wants to take over the world. Again.). Or perhaps some combination of all three!

Despite these subplots, though, your main focus will likely be the milieu in which the events occur, it will be the workings of the world itself. Typically, your story will begin when your main character enters the alien world and will end when they leave it.

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This post was inspired by Lori Devoti's excellent article A No Stress Guide To World Building. Thanks to Elizabeth Spann Craig (website + blog) for tweeting a link to Lori's article.

Have you ever written a Milieu Story? How did you come up with the characteristics of your new world?

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
- SEO Tips & Tricks: How To Make Google Love Your Blog
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive

Photo credit: "Tagged!" by JD Hancock under CC BY 2.0

Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?

"Turn into something Beautiful" by Courtney Carmody under CC BY 2.0

For a while now Kris Rusch, among others, has been saying exclusivity is a bad thing. I never doubted Kris had a good reason for her opinion but, honestly, I had a hard time agreeing with her and felt there must be something, some aspect of her argument, I was missing. (See: Amazon's KDP Select: The Best Long-Term Strategy?)

There was. In her latest business column, Kris ties her opposition of exclusivity--for instance, Amazon's KDP Select program--in with the notion of 1,000 true fans. Now I understand. And, you know what? It makes sense.

Exclusivity Alienates True Fans

Here's Kris' argument (as I understand it) in a nutshell:
Exclusivity alienates true fans.

What is a true fan?

Kevin Kelly, in his famous post 1,000 True Fans, writes:
The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

Exclusivity is to true fans what Kryptonite was to Superman

Kris' point is that restricting your readers accessibility to your books will cost you a lot more than sales, it will cost you true fans.

In order to acquire true fans you need to show them you care about them. Having your books only available through certain outlets, outlets they may be cut off from, is NOT a good way of showing your readers--and your potential readers--you care about them.

Kris writes:
Yes, there is occasionally a marketing reason to be exclusive for a month or two. But only for a month or two and only for one project.

Because to do otherwise pisses off readers. Readers don’t avoid a writer because they get angry at the writer. Readers have short attention spans. If a friend recommends a book at midnight, and a reader can’t find that book online or in her favorite bookstore, the reader might not remember the name of the author or the name of the book a week later.

The sale is lost.
And not just a sale. A potential true fan. Kris continues:
As someone who has fought for more than twenty years to get her books to as  many readers as possible, I find it sad to watch newer writers limit their sales from the get-go. These writers are doing to themselves what I railed at my publishers for doing to me against my wishes and those of my fans.

If you’re thinking about short-term numbers, if you’re thinking about reviews and marketing and “online presence,” then you’re thinking the way that traditional publishers do. And traditional publishers have never been reader friendly. ....

Why follow a model that alienates your fan base when you’re trying to grow your writing business? It makes no sense to me.

Of course, new writers haven’t had the sad task of writing back to fans who can’t find books ...
Kris' article (The Business Rusch: No Reader Left Behind) is a must-read for anyone considering whether to enroll their books in Amazon KDP Select--or any other program that restricts an authors ability to sell his or her books in other markets.

What do you think? Are you convinced that exclusivity is inimical to attracting true fans?

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
- How To Get Honest Book Reviews
- How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio

Wednesday, October 31

The 10 Best Halloween Films

The 10 Best Halloween Movies
"Pumpkin carving" by Kennymatic under CC BY 2.0

Okay, maybe not the 10 best films, just 10 of my personal favorites. :-)

Tomorrow NaNoWriMo begins and free time will be a fond memory. I propose we take a break tonight. Feed the trick-or-treating monsters then go to a Halloween party or settle in for your own film festival.

1) Fright Night (1985)

I saw Fright Night on TV when I was a kid and fell in love with the idea of vampires. I must have watched that movie 20 times. (Kids can be a little obsessive.)

2) Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The only thing I didn't like about this movie was that Dracula dies at the end. I would have had Mina transform and the two of them live happily ever after. Literally!

Gary Oldman gives, as always, a great, eminently memorable, performance.

3) Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

I LOVED this book. The movie wasn't bad, but there's no way anyone could do justice to Ray Bradburry's book. That book swallowed me whole and changed the way I experienced Fall. He made it magical.

4) Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Awesome movie and awesomely creepy. (Yes, I know, like Dean Winchester, I overuse that word!) I need to watch this movie again. Soon.

5) Army of Darkness (1992)

Complete cult hit. I love horror with a little (or a lot) of humor.

6) Tucker and Dale versus Evil (2010)

Originally this list was going to be of my 5 favorite movies, then I realized I hadn't mentioned Tucker and Dale versus Evil so the list became my 10 favorite movies. :p If you haven't seen this movie, I urge you to. It's hilarious. Especially the first half.

7) The Cabin In The Woods (2011)

I can't believe I waited until a few months ago to see this film. If you haven't seen it GO WATCH IT NOW! Especially if you like Joss Whedon's work. Harkens back to hemes in Buffy and especially Angel.

8) Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

John Carpenter directed Big Trouble in Little China and, if I remember correctly, it was his last big-budget film. Roger Ebert did not like this movie, but it stands out for me as one of the most entertaining two hours I ever spent. (Well, more than two, since I've re-watched it many times over the years.)

9) Scream (1996)

A modern--or maybe not so modern--classic. It takes a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward its subject matter while still scaring the bejeebers out of you. Well, okay, out of me.

10) The Amityville Horror (1979)

There are so many movies I wanted to list but I have to mention the very first horror story I ever ... well I didn't read it. In grade 4 my teacher read The Amityville Horror to my class before lunch.

It was great!

Of course I never told my parents, they would have been appauld.

I'm not saying it was the best story or the best movie, but it as a special place in my heart because it was my first horror.

Okay, one more movie then I'll stop:

The Princess Bride (1987)

Hands down my favorite movie of all time. If you've never seen it you really must. Orson Scott Card used The Princess Bride as a text in his freshman composition and literature class the year he taught at Notre Dame (Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint). Not to mention that it's the funniest, freshest most heart warming, vengeful, (Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die), movies. Period.

Okay, that's it. Go out and celebrate your freedom for tomorrow we write!

Happy Halloween!! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Dialogue: 7 Ways of Adding Variety
- Kristen Lamb: Don't Let Trolls Make You Crazy
- How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio

NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide

NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
"November dreaming" by mpclemens under CC BY 2.0

A few months ago one of my friends recommended Jim C. Hines' blog, and I'm so very glad she did! Today, on the eve of NaNoWriMo, Jim gave us all a pep talk.

Before I get to that, though, let me wish you all the best of luck during NaNoWriMo. I'll be right there beside you, down in the trenches, scribbling away. At the end of this post I've compiled a list of links that I call my "survival pack". Now, back to Jim's pep talk.

Here are the highlights:

"Nobody is born knowing how to write"

So true! Although I'm reminded of something Stephen King wrote in "On Writing":
[W]hile it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.
I'm sure that Mr. King meant to be encouraging, but after I read that paragraph, for a whole week, I lay awake at night terrified I was a Bad Writer and there was no hope for me. I suppose it goes without saying I had a raging case of writer's block!

As a kid I was told there was an Unforgivable Sin. If anyone committed this sin they could not be redeemed and were doomed to hell. That worried me. A lot! Then someone said, "Look, if you're worried about committing the unforgivable sin, you haven't committed it".

Back to Bad Writers. If you want to get better, then you can. The only people who can't get better are those who don't try. If someone isn't a good writer (and, as Jim Hines points out, none of us come into the world that way) but they think they're awesome ... well, that's a problem.

So, never give up! All it takes to be a good writer is honesty and practice. Lots and lots of practice. (At least that's what I believe. I'll let you know how it goes. ;)

"There's no one right way to write a book"

Jim Hines writes:
There’s a lot of advice out there. Try different things. Experiment. Figure out what works for you. Anyone who preaches the Gospel of the True Right Way to write (or sell) a book? Smile and back away as quickly as possible. All those readers out there don’t care how you wrote the book. They just care if the end result is worth reading.
What he said.

"Give yourself permission to write crap"

I've found that if, on my first draft, I don't give myself permission to let it all hang out I'll wind up with something lifeless--if I'm able to write at all. Apparently I'm not alone. This is what Stephen King has to say:
If you're a beginner ... let me urge that you take your story through at least two drafts; the one you do with the study door closed and the one you do with it open.

With the door shut, downloading what's in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. ... There's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly ... I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that's always waiting to settle in.

This first draft--the All-Story Draft--should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else. (Stephen King, On Writing)
Stephen King goes on to say that, after you write the first draft, you should put it in a drawer for a few weeks. Forget about it. Write something else. When you come back it's no longer your baby. At that point you put on your editors cap, open the study door and let the world in.

But the first draft is just for you. Write crap if that's what it takes. Just write.

"Do edit and rewrite"

I would add: Join a writer's circle/critique group.

A number of years ago I wrote my first full-length book. I hadn't intended to write a book, I started out writing a short story for my parents at Christmas. I was a university student and wanted to give them something from the heart. Well, that and I couldn't afford anything else!

The short story morphed into a book, my first, and--gleeful at my achievement--I wrapped it up and gave it to them.

I waited impatiently while my parents read it. (Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you ...) When they had both finished I asked what they thought (something writers should never do! If someone loved your book they'll tell you). They were polite but it was obvious they hadn't cared for it. I was crushed.

Well. A few months ago I re-read that story. It was truly awful.

I'm not sure if my story would have turned out better if I'd put it away for a few months and come back to it with a fresh perspective. I think, often, our first attempt at a novel is just not very good and we need folks, other pairs of eyes, to examine it and give us a fresh perspective. Especially in the beginning.

A great way to meet people willing to read your work and give you their honest opinion is to join a writer's circle/critique group. If there isn't one where you live there are many online. I can recommend I was a member of Critters for a number of years and benefited enormously.

Write Every Day

This tip comes from me and is about life after NaNoWriMo. If you have a day job and kids and a life it can be excruciatingly difficult to write every day. But you don't have to write thousands, or even hundreds, of words. Some days life is going to overwhelm you. That's okay. But try to do a little bit.

If you're working on a first draft, try to write a couple hundred words. If you're editing, try for half a page. 

I'm a great believer in Jerry Seinfeld's Chain Method (How To Write Every Day: Jerry Seinfeld And The Chain Method). Try for that unbroken chain of X's. It will keep you from walking away from your novel for a week or two and forgetting were you were; losing the mood of the piece.

Of course, during NaNoWriMo you're not going to have to worry about this. It's kind of like a month of Write or Die.

#  #  #

Best of luck to everyone on the cusp of NaNoWriMo, the caffeinated month!

I've put together links to a few articles that might be of use:

The NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

- NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready

Jim Butcher: The art and craft of writing:

- Jim Butcher On Writing
- Jim Butcher: How To Write A Story
- How To Build A Villain By Jim Butcher

See also:
- 8 Ways To Become A Better Writer
- Writing Resources


- Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story
- Mary Robinette Kowal And The Mysteries Of Outlining


- 3 Ways To Create Incredible Characters

For when you're stressed and need a timeout:

- Helping Writers De-Stress: Meditation Apps

For those "butt in chair" moments when you just need to write:

- Write or Die: The App
- Aherk! Makes Writing App 'Write or Die' Look Tame

The postscript: Finding A Home For Your Book

- Query Tracker: Keep Track Of Your Stories
- 10 Reasons Why Stories Get Rejected

Tuesday, October 30

How To Get Honest Book Reviews

How To Get Honest Book Reviews
"workstation" by striatic under CC BY 2.0

Tonya Kappes has written a fantastic article on how to get honest reviews for your books. It's a must read. I'll summarize her points, below, but Tonya's article is one you're going to want to read and bookmark.

1) Do a Goodreads Giveaway

I've never tried this, but Tonya has. Hold a giveaway, get requests, then send a copy of your book to the winners. The winners promise to give an honest review of the book, AND you might get reviews from the people who didn't win but went ahead and bought your book anyway.

2) Create a press kit for each of your books

A press kit should include:
- your bio,
- a head shot,
- the cover of your book,
- the blurb for the book,
- a summary of the book, and
- all the links to where it can be purchased or downloaded. 
 The easier you can make things for potential reviewers, the better.

3) Amazon: Ask top reviewers to review your book

Tonya thoughtfully gives the link to a list of Amazon's Top Customer Reviewers. She cautions that you'll want to read each biography carefully to find out which people might like reading the sort of book you've written. Chances are a person who hates horror books, even if they agree to read your zombie novel, won't like it.

4) Announce your book launch to your community

Your loyal readers are going to want to know you've come out with a new book and chances are some of them would love to write a review of it.

As long as authors make it clear they want honest reviews, good or bad, I don't see anything wrong with this.

#  #  #

I love Tonya's tips! Great ideas that (hopefully!) don't take a lot of time to do. :)

Once again, this information is from Tonya Kappes' excellent article How To Get Reviews For Your Novel.

Other articles you might like:
- Book Review Blogs That Accept Self-Published Work
- 5 Ways to Spot a Trustworthy Amazon Review
- What to do if your book isn't selling: Tips from Johanna Penn

How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio

How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio
"I Giovani e la Musica" by SuperUbO under CC BY 2.0

I've wanted to make an audiobook for close to a year. I think it would be a great way to introduce my work to a new audience (I heard that only 95% of books are made into audiobooks) and some folks like it when authors read their own work.

I think I need to just jump in and DO IT. Go through the short stories I've written and record one. If it turns out ghastly I don't have to inflict it on the world, but if it's half decent it might make a good blog post or podcast. :)

Anyway, what has gotten me thinking about recording an audiobook again is a recent blog post by the singular Elizabeth Spann Craig, Getting the Hang of the Business End of Things in which she shares a link to Jeff Bennington's post, Creating Audio Books is Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. (What a great blog title!)

Audio Creation Exchange (ACX)

Jeff talks about (If you know what ACX is, or you don't care, skip to "Making An Audiobook," below.) ACX stands for Audio Creation Exchange and was launched by Amazon-owned Audible in May of last year.

What is and what can it do for you? This is from their website:
ACX is a marketplace where professional authors, agents, publishers and any other Rights Holders can post audiobook rights to both new frontlist titles and to backlist titles that were never published as audiobooks. At ACX, those rights get matched with Producers, which include audiobook publishers, narrators, engineers, and recording studios. The result: More audiobooks will be made. (The Basics,
I first became aware of ACX because Neil Gaiman has his own line of books over at Audible: Neil Gaiman Presents. His audiobooks are sold through Audible and produced through ACX. Neil Gaiman has written a number of articles about his experience:

Neil Gaiman's audiobook record label (An interview with Neil Gaiman)
ACX - if you’re a writer, an actor, a producer (A Tumblr article by Neil Gaiman)

Making An Audiobook At Home

Before a writer can take advantage of ACX, or any other technology designed to help us sell audiobooks, we have to produce the darn things! And ACX will help with this, by either matching you with professionals (you either pay them outright or share royalties) or through umpteen tutorials on how to do the work yourself.

Since I'm a do-it-yourself kind of gal I'm going to try doing the recording myself. But it's nice to know that, if I fail miserably, I can turn to the talented folks at ACX.

Now onto the good stuff: How to record an audiobook yourself in a studio you cobble together.

What you need to make an audiobook at home

The number one thing you want to do is cut down on noise. Here are some tips on how to do that from the professionals over at ACX:

Reduce noise
- NO fridge nearby.
- NO heading system nearby.
- Hang blankets over the walls and put a rug on the floor to minimize sound reflection.

Office Equipment
- Desk for your computer.
- Stand for the script.
- Something--for instance, a blanket--to absorb the sound on surfaces.
- A chair that's comfortable and won't creak.

Recording Equipment
- Laptops get noisy when they heat up. Whemn this happens shut the computer off, take a coffee break, and let it cool down.
- Don't record directly to your computer's hard disk. Use a fast peripheral drive with lots of capacity.
- Become obsessive about backing up your work.
- Use a pop filter or shield. This deflects and minimizes sounds that can distort the recording. Sounds such as t's, f's, th's and w's. It will run you about $40 but you can also make your own.

You have a choice here, high tech or low tech.
- high tech: A large diaphram condesor mic is the standard for the industry and costs between $400 and $600.
- Low tech: A USB powered snowball mic will do the job if you want a lower cost solution.

The bottom line:
Research it and find out what is available in your area. Go to audio stores, try out their microphones, ask questions, and find a balance of price and performance that suits you.

These tips have been taken from: ACX: Setting up a Home Studio and Want To Narrate Your Own Book?

I've concentrated on setting up a home studio cheaply so I didn't mention some higher priced options a home narrator may want to consider. I highly recommend ACX's series of YouTube videos on how to record your own audiobook.

Here are the first two videos in the series:

This series continues on YouTube here: AudibleACX.

I hope you've been inspired to do an audio recording of your work! Or, if you have done an audio recording, I'd love to hear about your experience. Did you set up a make-shift studio at home, and, if so, perhaps you have some tips you'd like to share. :-)

Links to articles on recording an audiobook:
Podcasting on the iPad
How to record an audiobook at home
- Joanna Pen: How to Podcast (I love Joanna's advice: Just start!)

Other articles you might like:
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive
- Building A Writer's Platform
- SEO Tips & Tricks: How To Make Google Love Your Blog