“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.

Beta Readers: Why you need them and what to expect

Hi, guys!

Last week was all about self-editing, and one of the steps I mentioned was beta readers.

For those who don’t know, beta readers read a manuscript after some editing has been done. Where people bring them into the process at differs. I send my work to beta readers roughly halfway through the editing process.

No, I don’t mean edit half the manuscript one time, then send it to them. That’s more like an alpha reader, someone who reads after a first draft. The only person who ever reads my first drafts, aside from me, is my husband.

I just mean after roughly half the rounds of edits have been done, I send it to my beta readers.

When you choose to send yours to beta readers is up to you.

After reading, they give the author feedback. You can ask them questions afterward to get more detail. If there are things that you know you struggle with, you can even ask them to go into it with those things in mind.

At its core, this phase is meant to get more eyes on your work. After going through your novel time and time again, your brain is going to fill in gaps. You know what’s supposed to be on the page, so of course it makes sense to you. But it might not be as clear as you think.

That’s where beta readers come in.

They tell you what works and what doesn’t, what needs explained more and what’s over explained. They can tell you where the book drags and which scenes kept them on the edge of their seat.

Pay attention to what they say.

If all your beta readers (yes, you need multiple) say that a specific scene was so slow they didn’t want to keep reading, you need to fix that scene.

If they all agree that a certain scene was riveting and had them gripping the book with their noses pressed to the page, maybe leave that scene alone.

If they find a typo or say something doesn’t make sense, fix it.

Because these are the opinions of readers.

AKA the type of people you want to buy your book later.

If one beta reader says something that’s completely subjective and the others gave the opposite feedback, consider it thoughtfully and make a judgement call.

Books are, after all, very subjective. Each person has a different experience with each book. That’s part of the magic of reading.

And beta readers clue you in to how readers perceive your book.

You need that, especially if you plan to self-publish, because you won’t have an entire publishing company full of experts and professionals guiding you in the right direction.

Now, you can find beta readers in a lot of places.

You can ask trusted friends or family members (if you can count on them for honest feedback), or you can ask writer friends in various writing groups.

Btw, if you’re not in writing groups, mingling with other writers…you need to be. You’ll learn a lot more than you think and form some amazing friendships with people who understand the trials of writing and publishing.

There are also countless groups across social media specifically tailored for connecting authors with beta readers. Literally, just type into the search bar on your preferred platform “beta readers.”

I know it can feel awkward asking, but think of it as practice for all the marketing you’re going to be doing later. Because whether you’re doing traditional- or self-publishing, you’re going to be marketing.

Now, what to expect from beta readers. Because let’s face it, not all beta readers are created equally.

I finally have a good group, but it took some time to get here.

There will be some that agree to read, then never speak to you again after you send them a manuscript.

There will be some that agree to read, then life shits on them, rendering them unable to read in the time frame you need.

Some give mean, unhelpful feedback laced with pettiness. You’ll have to sort them out and determine what feedback is actually helpful. Discard any rude, belittling comments for what they are: useless.

So if a beta reader tells you that your novel is garbage and that you’ll never make it because you’re a talentless hack, “thank” them for their feedback and never send another manuscript to them.

Crap comments like that won’t help you grow or learn or better yourself or your writing. It’ll only hold you back. You need constructive criticism and positive reinforcement. Not bullying.

So, grit your teeth and keep going. There are good beta readers out there. (I promise. I’ve found several.)

Some are wonderfully helpful and thorough. Some go above and beyond the call of duty, sussing out typos, continuity errors, inconsistent character behavior, etc., in addition to giving general feedback.

Obviously, those are the ones you want.

Now, prepare yourself. The feedback you get won’t always be positive. Sometimes, your beta readers will find flaws.

*gasp*

But that’s literally the entire point.

So keep your chin up, remember that every manuscript has flaws, and fix the fucking problems.

Your book will be much better for it, I promise.

If you’re worried about someone stealing your work, Microsoft Word has a watermark feature. Do that, then send it out. You hold the copyright as soon as you write the manuscript. In the US, of course, you can’t sue for financial compensation without registering it, but I’m fairly sure you can pursue a cease and desist.

Now, for my weekly progress report. I wish I had more to report, but some stupid cold/flu bug has done everything in its power to knock me on my ass this past week. (It did knock my legs out from under me once, actually. Coughing until you gag/dry heave so badly that you fall to your knees…not pleasant.)

Anyway, I finished my final edits of World for the Broken. I’ll be announcing the official release date this week! The cover reveal will follow, probably next week or the week after, depending on how long the formatting takes.

I typed a little (roughly 2,500 words) on my new WIP and planned (*gasp*) several scenes for later in the book. I even made a timeline.

I really was sick. Lol. I was plotting.

I never fuckin’ do that.

Anyway, hopefully this stupid sickness doesn’t come back for round three so I can actually get shit done.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Self-Editing: How to do it well

Hi, guys!

If there’s one writing rule that I believe applies to every piece of writing, it’s that you NEED to edit. Don’t publish a rough draft.

That’s just bad juju.

But editors are expensive (for good reason). Editing is work.

It takes a long time and a lot of effort.

Many people say never ever publish without a professional edit.

But sometimes, that isn’t feasible financially.

That is NOT an excuse for publishing poor quality content, though.

It just means you have to do even work yourself.

So, if you’re a broke bitch from way back (*raises hand*) and have to rely on self editing, here’s the process I put my work through.

It isn’t fool proof. Some typos hang on, fighting tooth and nail, to make sure they make it into the final draft. That’s why there’s an industry standard of allowed typos. (1 for every 10,000 words, I think? Don’t quote me on that, I may very well be wrong.)

But this process helps me to feel better about the standard to which my work is edited.

For starters, study grammar. Learn that shit. If you struggle with commas, study comma usage. (I overuse them, so I’ve been writing with Grammarly open, letting it yell at me to break the extra comma use.)

If you struggle with showing possession on a noun that ends in an “s,” fucking study it. This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I once read a traditionally published book wherein the author gave the MC a last name that ended in an “s.”

(I’m going to say Childers, though that’s not the name from the book.) The possessive form ranged throughout the book from the correct Childers’ to Childers’s to Childerses, and even Childerseses.

My brain melted when I read that last one.

Please, if you’re going to self-edit, study grammar.

Now, the actual editing routine.

I do something a lot of people say not to do (in addition to self-editing, because apparently I’m a rule breaker). I edit as I write.

Any obviously misspelled words are fixed immediately. Like, before I type another word. I keep flow and pacing in mind as I write and adjust accordingly. My style uses sentence fragments, so I make sure the only ones in there are 100% intentional.

Since I’m a pantser, sometimes I come up with new things or realize I have a plot hole. That means I have to go back and fix stuff.

And I do. Right then.

Most would say to include a note somewhere and do it in edits. But I don’t. I fix it then, adjusting what needs adjusted before continuing to write.

So by the time I finish my “first draft,” it’s more like a second draft.

If you have trouble finishing manuscripts, I don’t recommend this. Just do another round of edits later.

Now, there’s some debate as to whether you should do a round of edits immediately after finishing writing (with it still fresh in your mind) or put it away and come back with fresh eyes.

I say, do both.

If you’re self-editing, you need to be thorough as fuck, anyway.

Now, there are several types of editing. Proofreading, checking for continuity errors, making sure it flows, looking for grammar and syntax errors, etc.

You can do each one separately, but I do all of them, every single time I edit.

After a few rounds, it’s time for beta readers. Because you need someone else’s eyes on your work. After a while, your brain is likely going to fill in details or skipped words because you know what’s supposed to be on the page.

But beta readers don’t. They can tell you when something doesn’t make as much sense as you think it does. They can tell you whether it works or fits in the genre you’re aiming for.

You can also find critique partners in writing groups. You read and critique their work, and they do the same for yours.
That allows for another perspective, i.e. someone who knows about formatting and marketing and flow and all that stuff.

Now. Please. For the love of all that is good, take their opinions into consideration. If they point out a blatant mistake, don’t get defensive. Just fix it.

If they have a valid point about a potential plot hole.

Fill the plot hole.

If they point out a style choice that they don’t like, consider it. Give it some thought. Decide whether it’s a flaw in your story or personal preference. (Books are, after all, very subjective.) But if all your beta readers have a problem with the exact same thing, chances are, it needs fixed.

Now, implement all the beta reader/critique partner feedback.

After that, you guessed it…another full round of edits.

After that?

I recommend getting Grammarly or some sort of computer editing program. There are a lot of them out there. I use Grammarly because it came highly recommended and it’s super easy to use. It plugs right into Word and pops up in the task bar, ready for use.

Whichever program you choose, go through your manuscript with it. I usually do that during another round of edits, fixing the things Grammarly finds when I get to them.

It might be alarming how many errors it finds, especially if you write fantasy and have a bunch of made up words/place names/species names. When I first opened Grammarly on Soul Bearer, it had something like 1500 errors.

Then, I added Aurisye’s name to the dictionary and knocked off a few hundred errors. Lol. Then, I added Rafnor’s name to the dictionary. Knocked off another few hundred. Each name (or place name) made a huge difference.

So did cutting all my extra commas.

And Grammarly fucking hates characters with accents. Be prepared to add a lot to the dictionary.

So don’t panic if it’s a huge number.

Then comes the “read aloud” round. No, you don’t have to read the whole thing out loud, yourself, chugging water to moisten your parched throat.

Word has a feature that will read whatever’s on the page to you. It mispronounced a lot of things, but it also shows you when a sentence doesn’t flow. Each word is highlighted when it’s read, so follow along looking for typos.

Plug in some headphones and listen to that emotionless voice coldly stabbing you with every sentence that needs shortened.

Then, maybe do one more round of normal edits.

And then, after all those rounds of edits (what was that, 8 rounds? 9?), your book should be good to go. As long as you did that first step and studied grammar. It doesn’t do any good to look for errors if you don’t know what to look for.

Anyway, this has been an incredibly long blog, so I’ll keep the update part short. I’m now 96 pages shy of finishing the final round of edits on World for the Broken, and an absolute fuck ton of handwritten stuff to add to the 17,721 words that I already have typed for my new WIP.

Don’t forget, the ebook version of my novella, Annabelle, will be on sale in the Amazon US and UK marketplaces the entire last week of January. Just 0.99 (dollars and pounds).

Keep reading. Keep writing.

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.

Info Dumps and Why Not to Write Them

Hi, guys!

This week, we’re talking about info dumps.

What are they? Why do they suck ass? How can you avoid them?

Basically, an info dump happens when an author takes a break from the story to describe everything in the known universe.

From the color of the curtains (blue maybe?) to the person the MC bought them from and why they still have them up even though they don’t match the new carpet. From the rotational period of the world (high fantasy or science fiction) to the shape of the leaves.

Or maybe it’s important for the reader to know every single scar and pimple the MC has to make them relatable.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You can write a lot of detail and do it well.

It isn’t my personal style, at all. I prefer to cut my stories to the bone and see how the blood wicks across the page. I give relevant details for character development, plot development, and world building, but little else. I like my stories punchy.

But you can be detailed and write well.

The problem comes in when you decide to give all the detail…all at once.

That bogs down the story. Even the best plot can only carry so much weight. After so much detail, it gets too heavy and the story just kinda…drags the dead weight of the details behind it until all of its energy is depleted and it just slows to a crawl and eventually falls over dead.

Most readers can only tolerate a certain amount of description lobbed at their face in a single paragraph. Too much, and they get tired of it.

Is your character going to walk into a room in the middle of a gunfight and pause to survey the crown molding, the stain of the table, and the fabric of the couch in the next room (just barely visible through a doorway framed by elaborate, hand-carved original trim)?

No.

Are they going to space out during their true love’s heartfelt confession…to admire the blades of grass beneath their lover’s feet and how it bends in the breeze, the bark on the trees around them mottling sunlight and shadow, and every cloud in the sky (which happen to be shaped like their mother and their first grade teacher?

Fuck no.

They’re going to pay attention to the important things going on around them. If you’re in an action scene or a love scene (two of my favorite types of scenes), get the necessary description out of the way relative to the action.

Otherwise, it’ll just slow the scene down. These are scenes that are supposed to have people on the edge of their seat, gripping the book white-knuckle tight.

Not rubbing the bridge of their nose as their eyes cross while rereading the same paragraph for a millionth time because the detail is so convoluted they can’t focus. Or worse, skipping whole paragraphs because it’s useless to the plot.

Obviously, that’s not what you want.

But how can you avoid it?

First of all, give your readers some credit. People are intuitive. They pick up on things.

If your character settles in to watch some tv, you don’t have to tell us that they pick up the remote and press the red power button and watch the screen blink to life. You don’t have to describe what’s on every channel they flip through or the layout of the menu.

If you say that your character turns on the tv and flips through channels searching for something to watch…that’s good enough.

If your MC is sitting down, people will assume they used a remote. Almost all power buttons on remotes are red. If this one isn’t, it probably doesn’t matter, as far as the plot is concerned.

If they’re flipping through channels, clearly what’s on screen isn’t interesting to your MC.

Why would it be interesting to your reader?

Unnecessary details slow the story down for absolutely no reason. Cut a few out, and your story will benefit from it.

Basically, get to the fucking point.

Now, I mentioned describing things relative to the action. This is what separates a good detailed story from a bad detailed story, if you were wondering.

Describe things in relation to the character. Instead of pretending that you can step back from the story to describe the room while your characters just stand there…

Describe things relative to the character.

Why use one paragraph (or, god forbid, an entire page) to describe the decadently framed windows, the early morning sky beyond, and marble floors with rich mineral veins, then another paragraph to say that your character is pacing across the floor (the material of which was all important a moment ago, but now apparently doesn’t matter)?

Instead, maybe show them pacing across marble floors, backlit by the grey dawn streaming in through an extravagantly framed window.

That tells us that they’re restless, but in a fancy place.

Perhaps you’re writing a thriller. Instead of spending page after page describing the way the shadows bend in the night, blending into the evening itself (redundancy), then spending more pages telling us that the person is terrified of getting caught…

Tell us about the floorboards that creak beneath their feet, raising hairs on the back of their neck and churning their stomach. Maybe show us a nervous glance over their shoulder, rendered useless by the cloak of night which has fallen around them.

So, not quite so fancy because creaky wood floors rather than marble, and they’re trying not to get caught.

Still all the detail. Packed with all the feels.

But you’re not slowing your story (or your reader) down.

Maybe you just introduced a character and you’re struggling to avoid stopping to describe every detail about them. Do it in terms of their actions. Are they frustrated? Maybe they ball their hands into fists in their long silky hair, staring at the inky strands that sweep forward over hunched shoulders.

That tells your reader that the character has long black hair, and it’s soft as fuck. It also tells the reader that the MC is fast approaching a breaking point.

My point is, you can throw in a bunch of details and still have a good story. The key is to multitask. Don’t throw all the description in at the same time. You want to punctuate it with actions or speech.

I briefly mentioned another aspect of the multitasking thing in another blog, so I’ll recap it quickly here.

In Salt and Silver (new title coming soon), one of the MCs, Ness, is a demi-demon. That tells the reader a lot of things. It means that there are demons, and they can interact with (i.e. breed with) humans. Since people in that world know demons exist, because they can do it with them, that will affect how they look at the world.

Calling them demons and demi-demons sets up a contrast, implying that there are also gods in that universe and the people probably know they exist. Otherwise, why would the demons be called demons? If the humans didn’t know the gods existed, they would call the demons gods.

Had I made up a name for her race, I would have needed to explain that Ness’ race opposes another race of super powerful immortals and that both races have the ability to interact with the mortal realm.

I then would have needed to explain that the people saw Ness’ race as being bad and the other race as good.

But demi-demon explains all of that in a single word. No need for paragraph after paragraph of exposition. No need to stop the scene to describe the workings of their world.

Something so simple as a single word choice can be used to tell the reader a lot (coming back to that whole giving your readers credit and allowing their intuition to fill in some of the details). That allows you to keep moving forward without slowing the reader down.

Which makes it more likely for them to be sucked into it.

So please, be as descriptive as you do or don’t want to be, but don’t write a bunch of info dumps. You can do better than that, I promise.

Now, to fill you in on what I’ve been up to. I hammered through a lot of editing on Where Darkness Leads this past week. It’s going to take a lot more work, but it’ll get there.

I also put together a book trailer for Soul Bearer (which gave me practice for making one for The Gem of Meruna). I’ll be sharing the Soul Bearer one with you guys on Tuesday. Excited? I freaking am.

And I got a new scene written for The Last Settlers (prequel in the Regonia Chronicles) and brainstormed new story ideas.

But for now, I’ll let you all get back to your own writing journeys, hopefully with a little bit more knowledge to help you along your way.

Come back next week, same time, same place, for more writing advice and adventures. Subscribe if you want notified first when I post blogs, run sales, or hold giveaways. (Hint hint. I do have another book release coming up, maybe there will be a giveaway with extra stuff for email subscribers…)

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

The Importance of Being Self Aware as an Author

Hi, guys!

As writers, we have to do a lot of analyzing. Our characters, the worlds they live in, our plots…All these things are thrown under the microscope.

But we should probably analyze ourselves, too.

See, there’s this thing that happens sometimes in writing called wish fulfillment. It happens when writers don’t analyze themselves or their plots or characters, and end up blatantly writing themselves into the story.

A lot of the these types of stories end up being corny and either predictable or statistically unbelievable.

And usually…not that fun to read.

So look at yourself. And look at your characters.

Now, look at you.

And now your character.

Are you just looking at yourself repeatedly?

If you are, you might have more problems in your story than you currently think.

I’ll be honest, my first full length novel likely held a lot of this, but was mercifully swept away by electricity. Back before cloud storage was so prevalent (circa 2008), the laptop and the external hard drive the story was backed up on…both fried.

So I’ve been spared the horrors of my first novel. Lol.

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t give your characters experiences from your life and still have a good story. Often times, it helps, lending the story and characters a bit more realism.

But if your character is a carbon copy of you, you’re probably going to write a story that just bends to your whims, whether it makes sense or not.

That breeds plot holes.

A lot of them.

Because fiction has to make sense, and our little whims rarely consider logic.

If your character just happens to be the chosen one, okay. That’s a fantastic trope.

If everyone they know magically accepts them after hating their guts for literally their entire lives…eh…maybe okay. Depends on how much they need your chosen one. The stakes better be damn high.

But even then, there will probably still be some people who don’t like them.

The bad guy who’s been a bad guy for their whole life and completely outmatches your protagonist in every way isn’t going to change everything about themselves and bend to the whims of your protagonist just because it’s the end of the book and the romance tidied itself up so now you just want to resolve the other issues super quick.

Nah. Shit don’t work like that.

If they meet someone on their adventure and fall in love? Okay. I love a good story that also has romance.

If that person magically fixes literally all of your protagonist’s problems? Nah.

Life doesn’t work that way.

And unless you’re writing for Disney, that’s not gonna fly in your book.

People will pick that shit apart.

A good partner, a good love interest for a story will help them deal with things, help them see the good in themselves. But if they just magically fix all the problems in the protagonist’s life, that’s not realistic, and…is your protagonist even in love with them? Or are they in love with how easy that person makes their life?

A.K.A….How easy you wish someone would make your life?

So look at yourself and look at your story in reference to yourself.

If your book has a lot of things that are just too convenient but you like them…maybe you need to adjust it a bit.

Because the characters aren’t you. What you like and what you want in your real life has no bearing over the story.

So…maybe take a personality test? There are tons online. See if the results also describe your character to a t. If they do…maybe look a little deeper at the rest of your story.

Analyzing yourself will give you some practice for when you turn your critical eye on your characters.

Now, as for being critical…

I’ve been editing a lot. I finally finished the 3rd person to 1st person conversion of my post-apocalyptic novel. I’ll be telling you guys the official new title soon, perhaps with a little teaser of what the cover will look like.

Because the cover is designed, just not sized properly. I’ll have to make adjustments to it when I format the manuscript. (I won’t know how many pages it’ll have for each trim size until after that, and that affects the spine width. Just FYI, in case anyone was curious about how that little portion of publishing works.)

Anyway, to cleanse my palate a bit before making final tweaks to this one and doing formatting, I jumped into edits of Where Darkness Leads.

Anyway, I’ve kept you all away from your NaNoWriMo projects long enough. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

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.

Keep It Punchy

Hi, guys!

So, the hardback proof of Soul Bearer came in this week (the paperback should be in today/tomorrow, and I’ll put up pictures after that. Idk why they shipped separately). It’s so exciting to see it, to finally hold it in my hands after staring at it on a computer screen for so long.

It still doesn’t quite feel real. Lol.

Of course, there are a couple things that need adjusted, some things that didn’t translate to print how they should have (hence the need for a proof copy), and I’ll have to adjust those. But it’s in my library, now.

It’s on my shelf, and I freaking love it!

I’ll stop gushing now though, and get to the point. Lol. The physical copy sparked a conversation between my husband and I. He expected the hard back copy to be thicker than it is.

It’s not a super long novel, by any means, coming in at just over 70,000 words. High fantasy, nowadays has a tendency to run pretty long though, sometimes topping out above 100,000 words.

There’s this trend lately for books to be huge, lengthy tomes that, if used as a weapon, could knock someone senseless. (Ironically.)

Now, my husband is a huge fan of Andre Norton. He has about one sixth of her books (which is saying something, since she wrote several hundred). She wrote high fantasy and scifi. But her average word count was, I think, between 40,000 and 50,000 per book.

Nowadays, that’s considered a novella, not a novel.

So many people want big books, now.

Anyway, my husband asked how I get so much stuff into my books, without the books being far longer. And my answer kinda surprised me. Lol.

I hadn’t thought about it until the words came out of my mouth.

I told him that I use my world building to build my characters, and my characters to build my world. I multitask.

Doing the two things separately just fills the pages…for no reason.
I mean, the main characters are going to play a pivotal role in shaping the world they live in, especially in fantasy, otherwise they wouldn’t be the main character.

So showing their experiences relative to the world…makes sense.

For them to have motive to change things, they have to have been affected by the negative sides of their world at some point. So showing their world relative to them…makes sense.

Okay, I feel like I’m talking in circles, so I’ll give examples.

In Soul Bearer, Aurisye is looked down on and treated horribly for being half-Orc. That tells the reader that the two races don’t get along (they’re actually at war), and builds up who she is…an outcast.

Rafnor joined the military for equal treatment. He grew up poor, and was bullied over it (so money is important in their realm, another problem for Aurisye). But the military runs on skill and the ability to improve, rather than on basis of connections or finances.

Now, in Salt and Silver, Ness is a demi-demon. That alone tells you a few things about her world. It tells you that, in the world of Theran, demons are real, whether you believe in them in our world or not. It also tells you that they can, at times, walk the earth, and procreate with humans.

The existence of demons implies the existence of gods, otherwise a different word would’ve been chosen in place of demon. It sets up the juxtaposition to imply that yes, the gods are real and can be interacted with.

In the opening scene, she’s called a witch, telling you that magic exists in their realm.

Which brings us to the word choice topic again. I wanted to have one term for magic users, regardless of gender, and I wanted it to be one that would be instantly recognizable.

Choices?

Wizard, witch, mage, or caster.

Caster might not be recognized outside the gamer community, so it was out.

Mage works for Soul Bearer because it implies the use of spells, runes, and potions alike. Mage also has a connotation of prestige, of exclusivity. Since not everyone in Visun (the world of Soul Bearer) can use magic, that holds true. The term also lends itself nicely to high councils (which is a thing in Soul Bearer).

Wizard instantly conjures the wizarding world of Harry Potter, where only certain people can access magic, primarily through the use of wands. Sure, magical items, potions, and divination exist, but mostly, it’s commanded with wands.

And in Salt and Silver, that isn’t the case.

Anyone can access magical energy, but most don’t care to. It relies heavily on potion making, devotions to multiple gods or demons, and occasional sacrifices. Basically, it’s useful, but tedious and time consuming for mortals. It’s a skill that has to be developed, much like leather working.

For most, it’s easier to pay someone else to do it.

The term witch makes me think of potion making and lonely little cottages in the woods. It calls to mind paganism and a deeper understanding of nature.

And that’s what I wanted for Salt and Silver.

One word can have such a huge impact on the atmosphere of the world.

Making sure you have those pivotal words down can make a world of difference in the length of a book.

Another Salt and Silver example. I didn’t have to explain that their country is divided up into city states led by their own militaries, because when shit hits the fan, they consult the leader of the local chapter of Knights. That alone spared me several pages of exposition on the way their country is set up.

Basically, it all boils down to that old adage, show vs. tell.

If you show me your character sitting in a classroom, zoning out during a calculus lesson amidst kids who are just a bit older, I’m going to assume they’re in high school, taking advanced classes.

You don’t have to tell me what grade they’re in or what grade the other students are in. You don’t have to tell me they’re attending high school. You can let the character’s mind wander over the problems they’re facing (i.e. the point of the story), thus building the world and the character in the same scene.

If you need me to know that your character is having relationship problems, add in a flashback to a fight or have their partner’s voice echo through their head. That way you can show me the tone of voice, you can show why they’re fighting…how they’re fighting.

And all those things build the world that the characters are living in. It paints a picture of the life they lead, in addition to showing the personalities and desires of the characters.

Of course, there are times where you just need to tell something, and get it over with. A quick thought or comment could do that without devoting page after page to an explanation of the country’s history.

At any rate, there needs to be balance between showing and telling, and that balance lands in different places along the spectrum for every author.

I tend to lean more toward showing. Obviously. Lol. I like my stories…punchy.

The point is, it’s possible to write high fantasy in less than 100,000 words. Lol.

So, if you find yourself falling short of that mark when writing fantasy, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad about your writing. There’s the chance that maybe you missed something, but it could just be that you eliminate most exposition.

Anyway, I’ll stop rambling, now.

Over the past week, I did some editing on The Gem of Meruna, and did some work toward the Soul Bearer release. I also added a chapter to Salt and Silver to fill in a plot issue pointed out by beta readers, and filled out the playlist for my sci-fi series.

Basically, I’m jumping from one story to another like a damn maniac.

And this coming week promises to be just as chaotic.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Building Character

Hi, guys!

This past week was mostly spent working on behind the scenes stuff for Soul Bearer. I’ve been reaching out to ARC readers left and right. I got a bit of editing done for the rerelease of The Gem of Meruna.

I also finished the pre-beta reader edits of Salt and Silver, and got it sent out to them. They found a few things that need adjusted, and I’m glad they caught it. Their response was overwhelmingly positive though, and I’m so freaking excited about it!

It’s a great feeling to know someone enjoyed your work.

And that story was so much fun to write. The characters are…interesting (a demi-demon with a conscience, a werewolf with a hero complex, a reckless mortal). lol.

Which brings me to the topic of the day…

Character development.

So, there are a lot of types of writers, and a lot of standpoints on how autonomous our characters actually are. Some people believe their characters have minds of their own, and have a lot of control on how the story develops. Some people believe all the control rests within the hands of the author.

And to be honest, as far as my next point is concerned…which side of that fence you’re on doesn’t matter.

Because, whether you think they’re forcing your hand or not, you need to think of them as fully independent people.

Whether you’re plotting carefully or running wildly through pages, the characters have to be people to you. Because if you don’t see your character as a person, your reader won’t, either.

You need to see all the facets of their personality. Otherwise, how will you ever figure out how they’ll react in a given situation?

If they’re a full person to you, it’s easier to figure out what they’ll do.

They can’t just be heroic because you say they are. Fiction has to make sense, ironically enough. Your characters have to have a motive.

Which is where backstory comes in.

Now, getting a normal ass person to leave a life with which they’re content to go chasing danger is going to take some persuasion. A person who has reason to hate their current situation…will go more readily.

Which is why backstories get rough.

But no matter what the backstory, you need to be consistent. If they have a history of running their mouth, they’re not going to stop whenever its convenient for the writer for them to not spout off at a superior or an uneasy ally.

It’ll take work for them to control that impulse, if they even see it as a problem. If they don’t, they won’t bother adjusting their attitude. And you either have to find a different way to move your plot forward or curb their temper in earlier scenes.

Because people change, but not instantly, and not when it’s most convenient.

Oftentimes, change is brought about by a low point. (Terrible backstory…reason 2.)

Now, there are a lot of ways to see your characters as real people.

Some writers do personality tests as each character. Some give each character a quirk, or a phrase that they use a lot. It makes them just a bit more distinct, a bit more human.

Whatever you do, each character needs a voice. You don’t want your reader to struggle to tell one side character from another. You definitely don’t want that struggle with your main characters.

The most basic thing you can do is figure out what they want. They’re not always going to want the same thing as your other characters, so there’s a pretty easy distinction.

Then, figure out why they want that thing.

This kinda brings us back to their backstory. What we go through has a huge impact on what we want out of life. And we tend to think about things we want…a lot.

Which means that a character’s thoughts (an important tool in character voice) will be informed by their past.

If someone went through something terrible…they’re going to think about it. If they want to prevent that happening to someone else, they’re going to think about that.

If one character is in love with another, and they’re going along on a quest to try to win affection…they’re not going to spend as much time thinking about the quest as the person on it for a personal vendetta. Instead, they’ll be preoccupied with how their crush is doing and how safe they are and what needs done to win them over.

That right there, the thing they focus on in the safety of their own mind…

That’s a huge distinction.

Take the backstory you’ve provided, and pick something (preferably plot-related) that makes your character anxious. That’s another huge difference between characters. Or maybe it’s something two characters can bond over.

Does your character have low self-esteem? Maybe that makes them befriend people who possess qualities they envy, because they want to be like them.

Maybe it does the opposite.

Perhaps they can’t handle being surrounded by the quality they admire, and they tell themselves that quality is dumb to ease the tension of not being good enough. Maybe they end up hating the person they know they should emulate, as a defense mechanism, surrounding themselves instead with like-minded people to avoid any cognitive dissonance.

Who knows?

There are so many options, so many ways to build messed up people for your stories.

At the end of the day, the best recommendation I can give is to learn about psychology. You don’t have to get a degree. You don’t have to be an expert.

But learning about psychology has so many benefits for writers.

You can use it to build people.

Believable people that readers can relate to.

And that’s huge.

It’s…kinda…the point. Or, a major part of it, anyway.

But I digress. I’ll stop ranting, now.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.