“My characters aren’t talking to me, today.” A Blog on Character Autonomy.

Hi, guys!

Today, it’s all about character autonomy. We’ve all heard about writers whose characters talk to them, or decide not to talk to them.

I must admit, I technically include myself in this group. My characters become fully fledged people in my mind. Their personalities develop in ways I don’t expect as the story progresses, which sometimes means I have to adjust things throughout the story to stay true to their personality. (Can’t have any continuity errors, after all.)

I don’t know how much that happens for dedicated plotters, but I’m a pantser. I figure the whole thing out as I go (flying by the seat of my pants), and it helps to see the characters as “real” rather than just words that I have complete control over.

It’s freeing, really.

It allows the story to develop naturally, moving it beyond my conscious control and the restraints I might otherwise put on it. My subconscious visits much darker places than my conscious mind typically does.

Plus, as I’ve said before, people mess up their own lives all the time. If you treat your characters like real people, they’ll create all sorts of problems for themselves.

Now, whether you’re on the side of, “They’re just words, words that YOU write,” or “My characters are like people to me,” character autonomy is not an excuse not to write.

Don’t get me wrong.

It is wonderful when things just click. There are days where the characters are just there, and their voices are clear and pristine. But there are also days where things just…don’t flow. At all. The well runs dry, sometimes. (aka…”My characters aren’t talking to me, today.”)

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write.

This is where the conscious mind comes in. This is when you need to think through the story you’ve drummed up, look at the personalities your characters have blossomed into, and figure out what they would do next.

Just because it isn’t flowing naturally at 1,000 words a second doesn’t mean you should go to the cafe and sit there with a latte scrolling through random cat pictures online, telling people, “My characters aren’t talking to me, today.”

That’s not how you finish a novel.

That’s how you end up with an unfinished manuscript, the details of which you forget by the time you ever go back to it.

If your characters aren’t “talking” to you, it’s time to write the scene that would logically come next, considering the world and the people and the plot.

Maybe it’ll wake them up.

Maybe it’ll be perfect.

If not, if inspiration strikes later, you can always adjust or scrap what you’ve written. But it’s better to write something than it is to just sit there procrastinating and blaming it on your characters.

At the very least, you’re getting practice writing. And lets face it, we all need to practice writing.

Now, for a progress report.

I resized my paperback cover and revealed it to all you lovely people. I have to say, thank you all. This cover got such a warm response from all of you, and I truly appreciate it.

I think I finished all the tweaks all the files will need before being uploaded to Ingram. It won’t be long before I can set it all up for preorder!

I also got some writing done, making it up to 24,405 words. It’s nowhere near the amount I wanted to write last week, but that’s okay.

Mainly because my husband and I finally got some goddamn storage. Our stupid house has one fucking closet. Four bedrooms, one closet. How the fuck that makes any sense is beyond me.

And then the bar on one side of the only closet broke.

:/


So we’ve had an absolute fucking mountain of clothes piled atop a few baskets in our bedroom for a while, now. But we finally found some cube shelves we like and some little cube baskets we like. And we got a new set of bars for the one fucking closet.

Then we spent like 7 hours just putting all the cubby shelves together and folding clothes.

It sucked ass.

But our bedroom is tolerable, now, even though there’s still some more shit to hang up.

So, life kinda got in the way of a huge chunk of writing time on my day off. But I still made progress.

For now, time to get a bit more writing in.

Keep reading. Keep writing. (Even if your characters aren’t talking to you.)

Later.

Why my book title had to change…

Hi, guys!

I finally announced the official title for World for the Broken this past week, and today, I thought I’d explain why I changed the title, to begin with.

Originally, World for the Broken was called After.

It was simple and easy to remember. It fit with the post-apocalyptic theme as well as the themes of coping and resilience.

But then the After series by Anna Todd hit it big. Then, it became controversial and absolutely blew up.

And I knew my novel would be buried under the avalanche of posts about her books.

I wen’t back and forth on whether to change my title or not. I toyed with the idea of keeping the title simply to have it show up in the same searches, but the people looking for her books (contemporary romance, possibly YA)…probably aren’t looking for a visceral, intensely dark post-apocalyptic romance.

Then, when I came up with World for the Broken, I fell in love with it. This title stands out quite a bit more. Obviously, it still fits the post-apocalyptic narrative.

And I’m so glad I changed it.

I had a similar thing happen with Salt and Silver. Not exactly the same, because the title wasn’t exactly the same. And the other book has yet to be released.

But I want my books to be unique, just like any other author.

So, here are a few quick tricks for making sure you have a good title for your book.

First of all, get feedback.

Just like every other aspect of writing, working in a vacuum without any outside influence isn’t the best idea. You need more eyes on your work and more opinions than just your own.

If you have a few potential titles in mind, don’t be afraid to ask other writers or perhaps book club members for their opinion. They know books. Of course, it’s best if they know the genre you’re working in, but ask away.

Second, think about which one embodies your book best. Genre, themes, and all.

Abandon catchy and trendy for just a second and dare to twist words around for effect. Words are so versatile. Double meanings abound. Maybe use a contradictory double meaning to your benefit, if both meanings fit your book.

Swap words around. Try synonyms. Try different variations of whatever you’ve come up with.

Okay. It’s time to go back for the catchy, trendy shit. Consider it briefly. After all, trends are trendy for a reason. People like them. And they work. Look at titles within your genre. Is there a pattern that tends to pop up a lot?

There are a lot of books out there that are “blank of blank” (City of Ember, Crown of Conspiracy, House of Night). Lots of book titles lately have just been a list of three things in the book, often with the first two obviously fitting together but the third being “random.”

Do those formats fit your book? If they do, use the shit out of them.

They obviously work.

Now, the advice lots of writers hate when it comes to the actual book, itself. Cut unnecessary words. For the love of everything good, there’s a reason book titles aren’t usually a full paragraph. It’s too hard to remember and no one wants to type a 14 word title into a search bar to pull up a book they heard about and were sorta interested in but wanted to look it up to learn more about it.

There’s a good chance that’ll drive away buyers that were on the fence.

Last but certainly not least, type it into amazon or google. Make sure there aren’t an absolute fuck ton of results. If there are, I don’t care how good your title is…you probably need to change it.

If a couple hundred things come up, your brand new book is not going to be at the top of the results. Not without a shit load of work on search engine optimization, a ton of build up before launch, and probably some paid ads.

Believe me.

I didn’t think about it when I titled my novella, Annabelle, and it DOES NOT show up unless it’s typed in with my first and last name.

Because…well, you know. Ghosty-possession movies or something. Some doll. I don’t know. Lol. I don’t watch horror movies often, so I haven’t watched them.

Anyway.

Picking a title is hard. I know.

But it’s important. Which means it’s worth doing it well.

Now, to hold myself accountable for the past week…

I’ve been alternating between knocking out some more edits on Where Darkness Leads and writing my new novel. I think I wrote about…3,000 words? So, nowhere near as much as I wanted to. That was only two good writing sessions.

But I have to keep editing so I can get these other books out. Lol.

I also sketched a quick map for the new story, made a gif and a trailer for The Gem of Meruna. I’ll be unveiling the trailer soon. I already posted the non-looped video from the gif.

All in all, not a bad week.

For now though, I’m exhausted. Work was…well, exhausting. Lol. It’s time for me to sign off and get some sleep.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Bad Guys, Advice, and…Salads?

Hi, guys!

In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d talk about book villains and what makes them good.

Well, good villains, at any rate. Obviously they’re not good, or they’d be the hero.

Now, villains don’t have to be super maniacal. Hell, they don’t even have to be a person.

They just have to do two things.

1. They have to oppose your hero, providing obstacles and difficulties for them. They’re the antagonist, so obviously they have to antagonize. (See what I did there? Lol)

2. They have to do it for a reason.

Being the bad guy…just because bad guy

Doesn’t work.

Your antagonist needs to be fully realized, every bit as much as your protagonist.

They have to have motives and a purpose. Even inanimate objects have a purpose, so why the fuck wouldn’t a fully fledged person?

Btw, chances are, the antagonist will fully believe in their purpose. If they don’t…you have to tell us why. Are they in denial? Are they being pressured by someone worse? If so…what are the motives behind THAT person’s actions?

Antagonists have feelings (unless they’re a sociopath or an actual inanimate object).

All of this needs to be taken into account, and they need to act accordingly. Even if you don’t devote page after page after page to their backstory, there still needs to be a clear set of patterns and emotions governing your antagonist’s actions.

If that isn’t the case, if you just write a bad guy because you need a bad guy…your story will fall flat.

If we were talking about some random side character that has a single line of inconsequential dialogue…you could write a less-than-half-assed backstory, and literally no one would know the difference.

But this is the main antagonist we’re talking about, here.

They play a huge role in the story, setting up a DIRECT contrast to your hero. Stopping them and their evil plot is the whole freaking point.

If they’re flat, there’s no real challenge for the hero.

So today I thought I’d discuss what makes a good bad guy. There are so many types to choose from.

Of course, there’s the spoiled brat. Inflated self worth leads to tantrums and breaking others’ toys until they get what they want. It just so happens that toys as adults can mean a car…or a kneecap.

These can be pretty fun to write, but I fucking hate reading that type. Lol. Its so much more frustrating than other types.

Now, the sociopath is close to “bad guy because bad guy,” but there’s still a motive involved. They aren’t necessarily hurting others because they like it…empathy just doesn’t quite factor in for a sociopath, you know with the whole…lacking emotion thing. Maybe other people are tools to them, a means to an end.

A way to make their plans work whether it goes badly for other people or not.

Anti-heroes are fun as antagonists or protagonists, honestly. Deadpool, anyone? Or perhaps…my novella, Annabelle? These villains genuinely believe in their cause. Who knows, maybe it’s a good cause? They just cross the line when they go for it.

Maybe you’re writing a story about two people competing for the same lover, or someone trying to seduce someone’s partner? Why are they doing it? Even something so simple as this (compared to conquering kingdoms and such) needs a motive.

Why are they after that one particular partner? Is going after married people a habit for them? Did they have an ambivalent or absent parent? Were they cheated on? Maybe they feel that your protagonist wronged them, and this is simplest form of revenge they can come up with (that won’t land them in jail.

Whatever the reason, you need to know it.

Maybe they do terrible, terrible things to others because they want to feel powerful. Were their parents control freaks? Did they have no autonomy growing up, and now need so much power that they take other people’s rights away to feel better?

Your main antagonist could honestly be your protagonist. To a degree, every protagonist should also be their own antagonist. Not always the main one, not unless it’s strictly a story about dealing with yourself and getting out of your own way. But every person in history has stepped on their own toes, in some way, shape, or form, at some point in their life.

We all do stupid shit. We all make bad decisions. We all cause problems for ourselves.

Inanimate objects and mythical beasts are the only time its really acceptable to have a bad guy be bad by its very nature.

Even your villain’s fatal flaw, the thing the hero uses to finally win, needs to have a reason.

Do acts of kindness make them feel weak because they were never shown kindness and had to be “strong enough” to make it on their own? You decide.

But it can’t be something ridiculous like…they convulse uncontrollably at the sight of a salad.

I mean, you can do that, but you have to commit. Every other aspect of that story better be just as ridiculous as a mega-villain who seizes-out every time they see a salad. And even that needs to have a reason, goofy as the backstory for that may be.

If you’re stuck, if your story feels a bit flat…maybe the problem isn’t your fully imagined hero, with every second of their life mapped out in beautiful detail, who you’ve had rendered by three different artists just because.

Maybe the problem is the villain you gave five minutes of thought.

Making them more realistic and giving them clear motives and plans will probably make it easier to spice up the story.

Hell, even if your story is phenomenal despite a two dimensional villain (which…how?), think how much better it could be if your antagonist had a real goal besides…making your hero’s life hell just because they can…

And if you don’t like thinking about the bad guy?

Literally no one cares. Lol.

It’s part of writing, my dudes.

So get to it. There’s no better time than Halloween.

Now, as far as what I’ve been up to in the past week, well…I released a book. Lol. Soul Bearer is officially available, which is freaking exciting. The reading and the live were super nerve wracking.

But it was worth it. Thank you to everyone that tuned in, and an even bigger thanks to those of you who’ve bought a copy. I truly appreciate it.

This past week was another…tremendously chaotic and terrible week. But the book release and the response from all of you was a wonderful bright spot.

I’ve also been editing and formatting. I also did some resizing of cover designs, now that I know the page length (aka the spine width) of The Gem of Meruna. I’ll be announcing the official rerelease date later this week! I’ll be contacting ARC readers in the next week or so.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Playing God

Hi, guys!

Today’s topic is a heavy one…Religion.

No, my beliefs are not being discussed or mentioned, at all. I’m not trying to make you believe or not believe something.

I’m simply talking about writing religion into your books, whether they’re set in the real world or a world you made up specifically for the book.

Religion is a huge part of society. Its one of those things that has the potential to completely shape how an entire civilization evolves. Its presence or absence has a huge impact on the world it’s set in, and as such, it should be treated with the levity it deserves, regardless of your own religious beliefs.

At the heart of religion, people want to feel cared for. They want to feel like someone more powerful has a plan for their life. They need an explanation for things they don’t understand, whether they’ve had a strange experience or are simply wondering what happens after death.

Religion provides these things. It holds answers and safety and structure.

It often demands certain practices in exchange for these answers and safety and structure, though, shaping day to day life for any who follow devoutly.

As such, you can’t just…glaze over it and expect no one to notice that not a single person in your story believes in any type of religion whatsoever.

Especially if you’re building your own world.

Whatever religion you believe in the real world may or may not influence what you write. You’re making up a religion and a world. It might have similarities with real world religions, but it won’t be exactly the same.

So go crazy.

It doesn’t have to be logical or easily proved. If it were easy to prove, it wouldn’t be religion. It would be scientific fact. Religion, by its very nature, involves some sort of faith in the unknown and unknowable.

If you want your characters to worship a dragon that lives in the stars and cries when they misbehave (maybe they live near an intersection of rivers and heavy rain makes it flood a lot, idk), go for it.

You just want to make sure it’s consistent within itself unless the story is about figuring out why the religion goes against itself. Tons of unintentional contradictions make for plot holes, things you definitely don’t want in your story. So be thorough.

One of the first things to consider if you’re building a world is whether your characters are surrounded by pagan or monotheistic religions.

Maybe they all believe in the same gods, but one tribe worships one god and a neighboring tribe worships a different one. Does that cause tension? Strife?

War?

Maybe one faction interprets the same religion differently than another faction. That certainly causes problems in the real world. Does it cause trouble in your story?

These are things you need to consider.

Now, unlike the real world where no single person can know for sure whether any one religion is correct, as an author, you know that about your world. You know if one is correct and another is wrong. You know if they all contain little grains of truth.

You know if maybe…they’re all wrong. Do any of your characters know the truth about their world and the gods that govern it?

Or maybe they think they know.

That one person would see the world very differently than the people around them.

You should probably also consider how the god views the world, or at least, how the people think the god views the world. People who think their god is forgiving are likely to conduct themselves differently than people who think their god is easily angered and vindictive.

And if they think their god just…doesn’t care? That the world was created, and then that was it? What then?

Easily angered gods might demand human sacrifices. Forgiving gods may wish only for repentance. Or perhaps, they’ll demand sacrifice to show sorrow over one’s actions.

It all plays a role in the world you’re building and the lives of the characters in it, and it’s your job as the author to figure that out.

Now, if you’re writing a story set in the real world, good news! The religions already exist. There are still some things to consider.

Again, not everyone believes the same thing. The people in your story need to reflect that.

Unless your story is set in an Amish community, and never leaves that community, the odds of everyone in the story being of the same religion…are pretty slim.

The world has become a hell of a melting pot. Diversity is everywhere. What people believe in regards to religion or sexual orientation or race or gender or whatever…differs.

Wildly.

The odds of two people believing exactly the same on every topic is pretty much impossible. Unless one of them has cult leader charisma, and brainwashes the other one. Which, to be fair, has been the basis of many stories.

But it’s typically set against the backdrop of other people who believe differently, so…you still have to consider multiple viewpoints.

Now, if your main character has the same religious beliefs as you…be careful. Yes, that means you have more insight into the inner workings of that religion and common dilemmas faced by those who practice it.

But you also run the risk of coming off a little…preachy…if you’re not careful.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe you’re trying to bring people over to your religion through your writing.

But that’s something that you need to commit to. Way ahead of time. And something that should be handled with tact.

A lot of tact.

Now, for the sake of realism, you probably need to show your character having doubts, at some point. It adds tons of extra drama and gives the character more depth.

For example, I set my post-apocalyptic novel, After (new title to be announced later), right here in southern Illinois.

A.K.A. The Bible Belt.

Christianity is huge here.

And the apocalypse is fucking fantastic at testing faith.

But different people react differently. Some people cling to their faith for comfort in the face of adversity. Others relinquish it completely. Some believe but get angry, while other people fall into spirals of doubt.

Some people do all those things in the course of a single particularly trying afternoon.

What happens to each individual character’s beliefs after trauma depends on their personalities, their life experiences to that point, the strength of their beliefs, their upbringing, their surroundings.

All these things play a role.

As do about a million other things.

All of which, you need to think about.

So, whether you’re religious or not, there’s a good chance that some sort of religion will influence whatever world you write your story in.

Somehow.

Some way.

Don’t be lazy and pretend no one ever heard of religion.

Anyway, this past week, I spent a decent amount of time editing my post-apocalyptic novel. I also did more work on book covers (a few options took a ton of time in photoshop) and well…played a lot of minecraft. Lol.

I know, it’s not writing related, but that game is so addictive. And it was nice to play a video game again. I’ve been so caught up in trying to get everything done that I haven’t played any game in…weeks? Months? I’m honestly not sure.

I’ll be announcing giveaway rules next week, so come back next Monday to learn how you can win a signed copy of Soul Bearer, along with a shit ton of swag and possibly a signed copy of Annabelle.

For now…

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Imposter…

Hello, all!

Welcome!

So, I’m pretty sure we all know that marketing is important when it comes to…you know…selling books. Publicity is key.

But guess what I suck at?

Marketing.

Because it involves people. Real people.

And I’m terrible with real people. I always have been. Yes, I mean always. Even back in preschool.

So, I started preschool a year early, to socialize, so, all in all, I did 2 years. (Sounds like jail time when I say it that way. Lol.) But, anyway, I didn’t talk to the teachers until halfway through the second year.

Then, it came time to do the placement testing for kindergarten. I wouldn’t talk to them, either. They thought I needed special education because I wouldn’t acknowledge them. My mom asked me all their questions, I did fine, and they put me in standard kindergarten…

Where I didn’t talk to the teacher for the first 3/4 of the year.

I was a quiet ball of anxiety.

And I stayed that way…

I have never been good with people. Not real ones.

I’m good with the ones I make up. Lol. That doesn’t help with marketing, though. Which brings us back around to something that happened today.

I was talking with a friend at work today, someone I’m reasonably comfortable talking to. We ended up on the topic of books, which surprised me. I didn’t know he was a book person, and never really would have assumed so.

I asked what genres he likes, feeling my way into the topic.

Because, if he said he only likes non-fiction or young adult detective stuff…he clearly wouldn’t like my books. But he hops genres when he reads, just like I do when I write. So, I did the thing that all authors have to do if they want to get anywhere with their books.

I mentioned them. I brought them to the attention of another human.

Now, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. But…

Given my inability to properly interact with people, it was a big thing for me. I’m one of those people who always undershares or overshares. There is no happy medium. I almost always feel out of place in groups (the only exception being if I’m super comfortable with everyone present AND I’m feeling social).

I’m always looking for expressions on their faces to say that whatever I’ve just said or done was the wrong thing to say or do. I’m always worried that the awkward end of a conversation (you know, when a conversation flattens out, and everyone says little meaningless things like, “yeah, no kidding,” or “Right?” until everyone just falls silent…) will happen after I speak. Because if I’m the last one to speak in that situation, I feel like maybe my inflection was wrong, or maybe I missed something earlier on that made my version of that meaningless comment somehow wrong.

And it doesn’t matter that those weird little breaks happen naturally in conversations with even the closest of friends. It just automatically becomes a stress point. I end up analyzing how I said whatever little nonsense line, and whether I waited too long to say it, and whether it actually made sense in the context, and…so many stupid things to worry about.

Basically, I have no confidence in my ability to interact with people, even in the most mundane situations.

Now, when it comes to promoting my work, you have to add the performance aspect of it. Because, when it comes down to it, writing is a skill that you have to hone. Books are, in their own way, a little stage that showcases our skill level as writers.

And, despite the positive feedback from beta readers and reviewers alike, I still doubt my ability to write. Imposter syndrome is a very real thing, and I feel it often, telling myself constantly that I’m not a real writer, or that I’m not actually good enough, or that I’ll never make it out of the factory to write full time (that last one is backed up by statistics, which makes it harder to push away).

That’s an unbelievably common thing in any creative profession, but that doesn’t make it easier to deal with.

Then, when it comes time to say, “Hey, you like to read. Look at my books,” (hopefully a little smoother than that) the imposter thing and the social anxiety kick into high gear. Suddenly, the idea of drawing attention to my work becomes this insurmountable obstacle of talking to someone about something I made, telling them that it’s good enough for them to pay attention to, to pay for, when…on the inside, I’m terrified that it’s actually garbage.

So, today, when my friend and I were discussing books, and I found out that he likes some of the genres I write in, I didn’t tell him the names of the books that are out. I didn’t tell him where to find them.

I have business cards in my wallet, which was about 70 feet from me at the time. They have my website on them, which has both of my published books listed on it (oh, in case you didn’t know, my books are on the published works page of this site…I probably should have mentioned that…)

I didn’t go get a card for him, though.

Instead, I let the conversation drop, and went back to building tires when my materials were brought to me.

Then, for 45 minutes, I berated myself over it, because I’m never going to get anywhere with my books if I don’t tell people they exist. (Hint. Hint. Any of you facing similar issues…You have to tell people.)

I dug a business card out, and had it sitting on a shelf near my machine, ready to give him. But I didn’t freaking do it. At one point, I even gave it up, and put the damn thing back in my wallet.

But why the fuck did I get them, if I’m never going to give them to people?

Finally, at the very end of the fucking shift, after enough mental yelling to stuff the anxiety down, I dug it back out. I walked over to him, with the express intention of giving him this little card with my website on it. Forced myself to hand it to him, and squeaked out some lame bit about, “If you want to check them, out, my website is on the back. If not, I’ll never know the difference.”

Because I’m fucking terrible at this. And that’s someone I can talk to on a normal basis. If he were a stranger…it wouldn’t have happened. Once the initial opportunity passed, it would have been done.

But today, I pushed past it, and did something (in person) to tell someone about my books. Lame as the execution was, I did it.

Even if he never looks at my books, even if he throws that card on a desk or table at home, and forgets all about it, I’m calling this a win.

And I’m going to have to have more of them, and get some practice in. I have plans to actually do ( *gasp*) events in the future. I should have been doing them all along, but…well, everything before this paragraph pretty much tells you why I haven’t.

I also need to get more books out before then, though. As you know if you’ve been following my blog, or if you’ve checked my works in progress page, there are a lot of irons in the fire.

I’m just about done with the initial edit of Salt and Silver, then some adjustments on The Gem of Meruna to get it ready for rerelease. I’ve got some ideas for a cover for one of the upcoming fantasy novels.

All in all, things are moving forward at a decent pace. I stress over the speed, of course, because I worry that I’m underperforming. (Go fucking figure.)

But, it’s getting there. I just have to keep pushing onward.

As do all of you. If there’s something you want…make it happen. It won’t fall into your lap. Life doesn’t really do handouts, at least, not in my experience.

So push forward.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.