The Writer’s Blog

How To Write The Motivated Villain

Compared to the hero, a villain needs explaining on the author’s part. I suggest you design him with care to justify at least some of his vile actions. The villain is the driving force of your story’s conflict. Plain evil is boring, but an unpredictable mix of motives keeps the reader turning the next page. 

I’ll call my villain “he” throughout this article just to make things easier. You can create a fantastic female villain by using the same principles. Some of the most memorable villains are female—femininity coats cruelty with an extra layer or opposites. Remember that not all heroines are kick-ass fighters. Softness on the surface makes the fangs hurt more upon a venomous bite. 

More villain tips:

Villain or Antagonist?

Although authors might see villains and antagonists as the same coin’s different sides, they’re two separate things. The antagonist is a plot device, a person, or an oppressing societal system the villain personifies (like O’Brien in Orwell’s 1984). When personified, the antagonist’s sacred assignment is to sabotage and delay the protagonist’s plan. Hell, even mother nature can play the part of an antagonist. Tie the antagonist to the type of conflict you choose as your story’s backbone. 

More information on types of conflict: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-conflict-in-literature-6-different-types-of-literary-conflict-and-how-to-create-conflict-in-writing#the-6-types-of-literary-conflict

The villain is a character type: beast, bully, mastermind, devil, traitor, or tyrant, for example. 

More information on different types of villainy: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-different-types-of-villains#4-tips-for-writing-compelling-villains

Having a Backstory

Without a believable, layered villain which you can peel like an onion, your story flattens. Pure evil is a caricature: one-sided and predictable. Think about your favorite books: why do you remember that particular villain? 

“But a well-written villain doesn’t fit neatly into the evil box. The best villains are nuanced. Think Hannibal Lecter, Gollum, Baby Jane. There’s a reason why these villains need no introduction. You remember them because they’re complex. They are evil, but they’re not just evil. They’re disturbing, haunting, and unnerving. You can’t look away from them in much the same way as witnessing a train wreck.”

Source and more information: https://nybookeditors.com/2020/01/developing-a-sympathetic-villain-for-your-novel/

Using a character questionnaire helps. Divide the villain’s traits into negative and positive.

Examples of Negative Traits

  • Who the villain hates, and why? Hate is a driving force.
  • What or who does he fear? Fear can make your villain vulnerable, but also drive him to the most heinous acts.
  • What line won’t he cross to get what he wants? Yes, there is a line even he doesn’t cross!
  • Ask him to define a weak person. Does he despise weakness or feel pity?

Examples of Positive Traits

  • What are his best traits? Perseverance, loyalty, courage?
  • What is his happiest memory? The birth of a son, getting married, killing his first victim?
  • Who are his friends? People he looks up to, peers/colleagues, or faceless minions?
  • Who does he love, and why is that person worthy of his devotion? Because she belongs to the hero? Because she is out of reach?

Source and the entire set of character questions: https://s3.nybookeditors.com/blog/PDF/Interview-With-a-Villain-20-Questions-to-Ask.pdf?mtime=20191230064028

Motivating Your Villain

Below is a list of excellent motivations, but the sky is the limit when you mold a villain that breathes. Design a motivation which you haven’t seen before.

–         Romantic interest: love and sexual desire are among the strongest motivations on earth. A person will cast aside self-preservation, even stop eating or sleeping. Neuroscientists compare love to psychosis; it’s a state of ultimate bliss and chaos in the human brain–consuming. And yes, the sugarcoated and the vindictive views on that special someone are useful for a writer. You see the person you want to conquer as perfect, but if she dates someone else, that ideal view covers with darker, bloodier colors.

–         Duty and honor: at war, your side is the good guys and the enemy the bad. If you have to kill a fellow man, there can be no doubt. But the noblest motivation of doing your duty can turn into the famous last words uttered before a military tribunal: “I only did my duty. I obeyed orders. I had no choice.” Some of the most haunting books and movies deal with this moral question.

–         Revenge: being wronged in the past. Nothing drives a blade through the squishy human heart like revenge. Serve this meal hot or cold; it’s always delicious.

–         Fear: the hero is the real danger to peace and prosperity. The villain cannot refrain from acting when Superman will demolish earth.

–         Family issues: who hasn’t rebelled against a father, or felt like the black sheep? If the king denies your right to the crown, shall you melt into the shadows to plot an uprising? The character of Loki is a famous example.

–         Fame or status: classic movie villains strived for world domination/causing the apocalypse just because they could. Rewrite the worn-out trope with a twist: the villain seeks to develop the society. Think of the most massive human experiment in history: the communist dictatorships. The road to hell might indeed be paved with good intentions and the will of men who could.

–         To fit in—everyone needs to feel accepted, to belong. What if the people around you are crazy and fitting in means losing your mind? This is the question which the hero Winston Smith asks in Orwell’s 1984. In addition, the villain is more crazy and intelligent than poor Winston can ever become.

–         To develop, and not only as evil. What if the villain’s noble goal just happens to hurt other people? 

–         A desire to better humanity: the fate of mankind demands developing a superior mutant race via cruel human experimentation, making a pact with the world-conquering aliens, or surveilling everyone from the cradle to the grave to keep them in line.

–         Desperation: raises the stakes and heightens the conflict—on both sides. What if the villain attempts to keep his family safe? What reader wouldn’t identify with his motive?

–         Loss of perspective. They say the first victim of war is the truth. You can lose perspective when the thirst for scientific knowledge overrides everything else. The advancement of a military or political career causes collateral damage. Hunting a fugitive through thick and thin makes the character ignore his fundamental values.

Being Right

The villain is always right if you ask him, and as a consequence, the protagonist is wrong. Turn the tables: if this were the villain’s story, would good and evil mix with grey shades? Or would he use magic to turn black into white? Right and wrong are perspectives. If Nazi Germany won WWII, the meaning of terrorist and resistance fighter would trade places. The winner writes the history books and no one is a war criminal in his own mind.

Being Charming

Give the villain charm and let him seduce the reader. Thus, he becomes another reason for the reader to keep reading. You also cause a mix of conflicting emotions when the villain rips apart his victim–according to his nature.

Having followers

Create secondary characters and enamor them with the villain. What villain doesn’t enjoy a court of like-minded followers? How scary is the high-school bully without his posse? Remember that the followers see positive traits they admire. No one follows for the devil because they love evil.

A Force To Reckon With

Make the villain equal, or preferably more potent than the hero. This way, you’ll keep the reader on her toes. The villain must do his job so well that the reader no longer believes in the hero’s success (or survival) during the critical plot point called the darkest moment.

How To Write Dystopian Books

Apocalyptic landscape

What is Dystopian?

“Dystopian fiction offers a vision of the future. Dystopias are societies in cataclysmic decline, with characters who battle environmental ruin, technological control, and government oppression. Dystopian novels can challenge readers to think differently about current social and political climates, and in some instances, can even inspire action.”

Source: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-dystopian-fiction-learn-about-the-5-characteristics-of-dystopian-fiction-with-examples

What is Post-apocalyptic?

“Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction is a subgenre of science fiction, science fantasy, dystopia or horror in which the Earth’s (or another planet’s) civilization is collapsing or has collapsed. The apocalypse event may be climatic, such as runaway climate change; astronomical, such as an impact event; destructive, such as nuclear holocaust or resource depletion; medical, such as a pandemic, whether natural or human-caused; end time, such as the Last Judgment, Second Coming or Ragnarök; or more imaginative, such as a zombie apocalypse, cybernetic revolt, technological singularity, dysgenics or alien invasion.”

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalyptic_and_post-apocalyptic_fiction

Laws of Causality

So, anything goes because we can write whatever we want? Well, yes, and a huge NO. Creativity is a good thing when you dive into a bestselling genre with an original storyline. But we’re talking about twisting the course of history. And if you believe my professor, there are laws to obey.

You have to explain what went wrong before your book’s moment of now, but the chain of causality must be plausible. Some sub-branches of the dystopian genre-tree inch toward Sci-fi. If you want to sound the trumpet of doom about the dangers of gene manipulation, you’ve got heaps of research to do. 

What about totalitarian governments? Look at today’s political turmoil. That should be easy to write because so many movies and books have leveled the way. But think of Orwell’s 1984: George never skipped a lesson in political history. His book leads the moneymaker charts today because he wrote a detailed vision of the future. And we might already live in it. That’s how believable his theory is. And if you skipped the boring stuff of Winston Smith holding the secret book of the resistance, read those pages before you write another Hunger Games. I’m not ditching Suzanne Collins, to the contrary. She wrote a cruel twist: reality television.

World-building 

Writing the dystopian or post-apocalyptic genre requires ample world-building skills. What went wrong with humanity or the environment? Did the aliens destroy the earth? Your future must root itself in today’s politics. The causes of destruction convince the audience that your book can take place in the not-so-distant future. You also need to explain why a handful of people continue to survive.

The Author Interviews

Harper Maze and Sevannah Storm answered my in-depth author interview. These two brave souls have unique views on the causes of the Armageddon. Their answers reveal exciting aspects of the dystopian and post-apocalyptic genre. And they’re amazing writers. Read and learn.

Harper MazeSevannah Storm
1. Tell us about you. Who are you?
Harper Maze. I am from the UK, lived all over the country but currently on the coast in the South East along with my amazing wife and two adorable cats. As well as writing, I have a full-time job as an IT specialist in the Banking industry and include playing top level sports in my past too.Call me Sev. I’m a Christian writing romance, amongst other things. I tried for something less romance and more YA dystopian. Invasion is my first novel in this genre. I have another in mind. I’m finding it quite challenging not to amp the sexual tension.
2. What are you working on now?
I always have two projects on the go, so while a book is out for editing, for example, I can work on something unrelated and return to the other project fresh. I am currently working on my Dystopian Sci-Fi series “Heir of God” and an action-thriller series featuring a character called Savanna Steel too.I finished Invasion on the 20/02/2020. My next project is called Chrysalis. An impending asteroid collision with Earth has the world in a panic. Tara’s family is one of the chosen few to board the ship escaping the planet. This is her story.
3. Why do you write dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories?
Told well they can have impact on readers. There are many things that occur in society that we should pause and reflect on. Dystopian fiction gives us a platform to present possibilities, and the fantasy or Sci-Fi genres provide a good backdrop, at least for me. My hubs challenged me to write a different genre and so Chrysalis and Invasion came into being.
4. What do you love and hate most about the dystopian genre? Any cliches which infuriate you?
I love different approaches to the genre, especially the ones that challenge the status quo. There is a lot of Dystopian fiction about, so finding a new theme can be a challenge. Personally, I am not into Zombies or post-Nuclear war.I love: The high stakes. Life and death situations once more impact our lives. I feel we’ve become complacent. I also love the stretching of my imagination. Science Fiction and Dystopian = entertaining, mind-blowing imagery and concepts.
I hate: How only young adults survive. Gimme a few elders to guide them. Some follow the Lord-of-the-Flies approach; I wasn’t fond of that story.
5. Name your favorite dystopian movie. Why did you choose that one?
This is an easy one for me: Blade Runner. Aging myself, I watched this when it first came out and it was awe-inspiring. I read the novella (Philip K. Dick's ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’) not long after.Bladerunner. The legendary cinematography on it was ahead of its time. Even the soundtrack is breathtaking. Not to mention, it’s a unique premise that deals with human hatred towards synthetics.
6. Why is dystopian such a popular genre of literature?
I believe we live in troubled times, with Global Warming, a growing desperation for power sources as the natural resources become depleted, the threat of nuclear war. Dystopian fiction allows writers and their readers to ask the ‘what if?’ questions. We’re morbidly fascinated with our own demise. It’s also more plausible than a zombie apocalypse. Whether we bring about our destruction with global warming, nuclear war or nature tosses in her hand with solar flares or super volcanos, it could happen tomorrow. Deep inside us, we want to believe we’ll make it and dystopian stories have hope as the currency.
7. YA versus adult dystopian: what's the difference?
From speaking to people, I think that many adults like YA fiction. YA is not much different other than lack of sex and (often) swearing.Simplicity: YA is one or a group of individuals against the cause or corporation and through sheer will and enthusiasm, gain victory.
Adult dystopia has layers; emotional investment where we buy into the villain’s purpose and each aspect has a meaning; the décor, weather, fashion, technology and moral ambiguity the main characters work through.
8. What are the biggest misconceptions about this genre?
It’s not all zombies and nuclear war. There are other ways the planet is being damaged. That we can win against all odds. Independence Day/War of the Worlds: we gave the aliens a cold! Hunger Games: one woman defeats them all. Battlefield Earth (the novel): Jonny kills an entire species.
9. Name the best subgenres for dystopian literature. Which of them fascinates you particularly?
We tend to need to label everything 😊 Dystopian is also subgenre, but there are many themes based on the setting; fantasy, Sci-fi, urban, apocalyptic. My preference is those based on Earth or Earthlike planets. Ecotopian, Society, Environment, Politics, Religion, Totalitarianism. I prefer Ecotopian. I like to imagine a world where something not caused by us brings about our downfall…in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether from solar flares, asteroids or aliens.
10. Do you think that every writer should try writing a dystopian story at least once? Why: yes/no?
If they have a story, and a theme to tell in the genre, yes.Yes. Writing out of your comfort zone challenges the writer; whether it is poetry or historical fiction. The same applies to dystopian; broaden the stagnant neural pathways of our minds but in the end...just tell the story.
Harper MazeSevannah Storm
11. Who do you write to? To yourself, to the public? For fame or money?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and have written for myself and people close to me. However, I beleive I tell a good story and it’s been a dream of mine to have books available for people to read. I have never sought fame. I write for the day I can be free to do it full-time. I would love for all my stories to find publishing homes, for someone, be it agent, publisher or reader, to embrace my stories, to enjoy them.
12. How do you research your dystopian books (history, technology, politics)? Or is everything based on your imagination?
For Heir of God, I have researched because I am dealing with current issues. My setting is an earth in the grips of a volcanic winter after fracking causes the Yellowstone Caldera supervolcano to erupt. By design, fracking causes earthquakes to extract shale gas from the bedrock, and has caused earthquakes of over 5 on the Richter scale. Fracking is still done in some geologically unstable seismic regions.Based on my imagination up until I need information like what gas is airborn and can knock out people if sprayed on them, as an example.
13. How do you find the motivation to write?
I enjoy it and I have stories to tell.The muse is an unrelenting slave driver. You may think you are done with a story and the following day he taunts you with another. The stories need to be told, so I simply type them out. I often call him—my muse, a dictator. He dictates, I type.
14. How do you beat writer's block?
I have many ideas, if one isn’t speaking to me, I put it to one side and work on something else until I hear it again.I persevere, pushing through the slow days, trusting my fingers to know what I want to say even though I haven’t formed the sentences in my mind.
15. What advice would you give to a writer who wants to create a believable & grim future?
The world/setting must be right for the character. The world needs to have rules, such as physics and gravity, light and food and society should have a structure. You can break any rules, providing this is explained. For example, the planet is not like Earth, or the person who can fly is from another planet, or the hero time-traveled. What is important is that the story follows the hero or heroes, and all the characters, be they allies, opponents or people, as well as the setting, support the hero and the hero changing from their initial broken state to a changed and aware hero at the end. Or not if they chose to ignore it.Layers and details. Start with the basics, add layer upon layer…physical environment, emotional manipulation, cultural depth and then cut back. Just because you have this massive world in mind, you don’t hit your readers with it. Imagine yourself in that world Don’t spend paragraphs describing things because you wouldn’t do that in real life.
16. What went wrong in your book? Why did humanity fail?
Frackers 😊 Fracking set off a chain reaction of earthquakes in the Mid-West USA which caused Yellowstone to erupt. The last time it did was approximately 600,000 years ago.Aliens arrived and they weren’t friendly. They use human bodies as husks...carriers while their drillships mine Earth’s core.
17. How much of your books are based on your experiences in life?
Fracking causes earthquakes is a good theme. I have met people with traits like the characters in the book because my characters are human, a mix of strengths and flaws.None, well maybe Mel’s addiction to sugar and caffeine...scarce commodities. She also does what she must to survive.
18. Describe an excellent dystopian book cover. Why do you like it?
The Hunger Games covers, with the evolving Mockingjay pin on the front are very clever. They are instantly recognizable, and they follow the theme of the trilogy. However, this series has already made it, and likely won’t work for new writers. Divergent (Veronica Roth) shows a broken city, a few key landmarks in the background and the heroine as the focus.Divergent by Veronica Roth - because of the layers. It isn’t just a single item on a cover, there’s a broken city at the bottom. Layered covers are more intriguing. Every time you look at it, you see something you missed.
19. Who makes your book covers?
A very talented lady on Fiverr.com has made all my covers. I provide a concept and some basic images and Rebeca combines them over a series of reviews to the final product.
https://www.fiverr.com/rebecacovers
My publishing house does. I tell them what I like with examples and they see what they can create.
20. Describe your ideal reader.
Someone who will take the concepts and thoughts in the book and think about them in the context of what’s happening in reality.Loyal, passionate, greedy...a cheerleader.
Harper MazeSevannah Storm
21. What inspired you to write your latest book?
I had a few ideas, such as a mass-access simulation where a blind girl could see inside the simulation but not realworld. Added to this was a dystopian message about fracking and other destructive methods for fossil fuels. I combined them into the premise “Ready Player One meets Hunger Games meets Divergent, only different”. Since I completed the first version, the world is growing increasingly concerned about climate change, and fracking has been banned in the UK. However, companies still frack within a few miles of Yellowstone in Wyoming. I write many genres, so my latest two works-in-progress are science-fiction romances. What inspired me to write Invasion; I started with a woman in a pawn store in the middle of a nowhere-town. I had images of The Host in my mind, the strange alien creatures but other than that, it was my main character that determined the genre. A kick-ass, strong young engineering student forced to join the resistance when her father is taken.
22. How do you market your books?
When it’s launched – hopefully in April, I plan to use a mixture of Facebook, BookBub and Amazon as well as bloggers and reviewers. It should be exciting for sure, especially as I am hoping to get all five volumes out in a 12-month period.That’s a tough question. I dreamed of living in a lighthouse, punching out books and never seeing a book launch. Since then, I’ve learned I need many social media platforms, book reviews, blogs etc. Ask me this again when I’ve launched my three novels this year.
23. Who is your favorite writer? Why is he/she so good?
Currently, it’s Brandon Sanderson, who is a terrific world builder. His original Mistborn series (The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages) is an example of what I aspire to create. The way he builds Vin as a character, using the world and opponents to help her grow, is an awesome read.Terry Pratchett – there’s always something new when I reread a story. His mind was something to admire; his concepts unique and well thought out.
24. Links to your web-page, social media accounts, and blog.
Website: www.harpermaze.com

FB: www.facebook.com/Harpermazeauthor/

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/harpermaze/

Instagram:

www.instagram.com/Harpermaze/
See: https://sevannahstorm.wixsite.com/website

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sevannah_storm
Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/user/Sevannah_Storm (sample pages only)
Website: https://sevannahstorm.wixsite.com/website (Please subscribe to my non-spamming newsletter)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sevannah.storm
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sevannah.storm/ (So new on this, could use some support)
Tapas: https://tapas.io/sevannah_storm (sample pages only)
Tumblr: https://sevannahstorm.tumblr.com (never on here, still trying to figure it out)
Pinterest: https://za.pinterest.com/sevannahstorm/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/95639379-sevannah-storm
Advertise your book!
“Ready Player One meets Hunger Games meets Divergent, only different”
Heir God
No book links yet, launches will be throughout 2020.

Other tips:

Do You Study Character Actors When You Plan Your Next Story? – You Should!

Glam retro diva

Do you struggle with creating characters that feel like real people? You’re not alone. The job becomes harder when you have multiple books up your sleeve. Variation is tough work, and as humans, we are tempted to repeat models which worked in the past. Beware of the cookie-cutter character!

Character or Plot-driven?

If your writing style is plot-driven, you develop the three acts and the key scenes first, and characters develop after that. Maybe the first thing you envision is the historical era or the fantasy setting with intricate maps and systems of magic?

If you’re character-driven like me, you see the characters in your dreams. You hear them talk and envision them in different scenarios. I speak the dialogue out loud and practice the expressions of my heroine in front of a mirror. I form the MC and the villain first. The conflict brewing between them becomes my main idea, and their backstories take form later on. But a character with little to do is… yawn. Many writers elevate the characterization over the plot, but if you don’t get on with the story… wham! That’s the sound your book makes when the reader tosses it to the corner and shall never pick it up. 

Which type of writer are you? Examine your preferences. 

 “It doesn’t matter how “interesting” the character is if you cannot create an antagonistic environment that chisels and defines that character. Even an awesome plot that takes the reader on the most mind-bending twists and turns will fall flat when depending on the strength of one-dimensional character. No matter how you approach storytelling, remember this: your story needs both character and plot.”

Source and more information: https://nybookeditors.com/2017/02/character-driven-vs-plot-driven-best/

Emotional Identification

Let us return to the process which actors and actresses go through as they layer their next Oscar- nominating role. Yes, they have their work cut out for them, like the screenwriters who wrote the part which snatches the attention of Anthony Hopkins or Angelina Jolie.

Method acting means a technique in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a role. Method acting was developed by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg in particular and is associated with star actors such as Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman

“Method actors have this amazing ability to not only get into character but live through the character and bring an unsurpassable depth. What I love about Method Actors is that they don’t appear to be acting, they appear to be living; they know how to get into character so well that you believe they ARE the character. Lots of method actors are very humble about their work, but when you see them on stage or screen, it is electrifying, to say the least.” 

Source: http://www.standbymethod.com/how-to-get-into-character/

As a practice, compile a Pinterest moodboard of your favorite movie actors in their most bedazzling roles and compare them to their photos taken on the red carpet. The difference between the person and the character is striking! Great actors and actresses take their roles seriously. Whatever they do, whether on stage or screen, will be forever etched either onto film or in the minds of their audience. They move hearts and will live on in the souls of their fans. The mechanism of transferring emotional identification is your aim as a writer.

Watch a clip of Meryl Streep On Accessing The Characters Within:

If you write from personal experience, you have an array of intimate emotions at your disposal, but you might struggle with transferring that emotion to the inexperienced reader. The actress uses her director as a mirror. Who do you use? Duh! Beta readers, of course. Remember to ask if they felt the emotional fireworks. This is important because the book lives or dies via Showing, Not Telling. The audience experiences what your Point-of-View character senses with his eyes, nose, ears, skin, and so forth.

Remember that the reader must also understand the villain on some human level, and you are responsible for making that happen. A character actor villain has what’s called a presence. When he steps on the stage, he rules the scene. How does that happen? You’ll feel the tingling on your skin and the chills down your spine.

Ruining Your Favorite Movie

Warning: using my method might ruin watching movies for you. Like when you started learning the craft of authorship, which spoiled the enjoyment of a great book. That’s because you know how the chassis works and cannot see the beauty of the Ferrari sportscar anymore.

Watch clips of great method actors in their star roles. Choose characters that resemble your own. The clips help you construct body-language and subtle expressions because method actors are rarely flamboyant—unless the role demands precisely that. Think of Joker in Batman: he’s a showman, which means he knows how to get the audience’s attention big time. Admire how Heath Ledger breathes life into the iconic villain.

The age of the internet has made extensive research more accessible than ever before. You have libraries of movie clips to watch. See how Anthony Hopkins or J. T. Walsh animates a bad guy. Who is your favorite hero? How has he aged and changed? Remember that the nature of characters is perpetual motion. Does blind idealism fill your favorite heroine, or does she come from between the-rock-and-a-hard place?

angelina

Do your characters age?

Image source: https://www.fashiongonerogue.com/photo-shoot/angelina-jolie-peter-lindbergh-wsj-2015-cover/

However, this method doesn’t allow copycatting. You shouldn’t copy a movie on paper; its a copyright infringement and punishable by law. Watching great actors at work can be compared to moodboarding: seeking material for inspiration.

Two Sides of The Same Coin

“The best and worst specimens of humanity are two sides of the same coin. Heroes and villains are not categories that are divided by the expansive sea of morality never to have their shores meet. On the contrary, both the most exalted heroism and diabolical villainy are manifestations of a human spirit that has become capable of great things. And great things need not be good things.”

Source: https://rightreason.typepad.com/right_reason/2013/04/good-evil-and-human-capability.html

What differentiates good from evil? Point-of-view. Yes, sin is relative, and you can use this in your writing because humans are a social species. Skillful actors mud their characters layer by layer, and they mirror themselves on other people. One of the best tricks you can throw at your readers is to let someone else reflect the bad guy. Describe how the military villain’s subordinates act when he enters the room. Show a conversation between the hero and his sidekick about the dark one. 

If you want to dig deeper into the depths which a character actor would use, show the villain’s first crime: when he wasn’t yet a developed killer. 

The sides of the coin are the reason why the same brilliant actor portrays heroes and villains with incredible authenticity.

More advice on designing your Villain/Antagonist: https://rebeckajager.com/2019/01/04/give-evil-the-central-stage-groundbreaking-villain-moments/

Using Scene Trackers and Plot Points to Plan Your Story

Beautiful woman in the magic forest

You might wonder what to insert into my Scene Tracker Template or Plot Point Graph. If you’re a pantser, you know your story by heart and use the tools of plot-weaving instinctively as you go. You might strip needless elements and refine your story as you reach the editing phase. But if you’re serious about being a professional writer, you must study your beloved craft and recognize plot points, character arcs, and other tools of drama.

Here are my methods of outlining:

Scene tracker model (Microsoft Office Excel).

PowerPoint Plot Graph Template (Microsoft Office PowerPoint).

Download files from the Internet at your own risk.

The files make it easy to analyze the dramatic arc and structure of your story.  If you don’t want to plan your draft one meticulously, use my templates as a refresher of your memory before you start revising your second draft. You don’t have to include all the crucial plot points, and your arch can curve up and down several times to surprise your readers.

Think of each significant event in your story as a sequence which consists of:

  • setup
  • complication
  • crisis
  • resolution

Your book is one instance of continual transformation which composes of smaller events (acts), which in turn comprise of chapters and scenes. I like to know my word count, and that’s why I included it in the Scene Tracker. I also keep track of days and months which pass in my book, just to stay level with continuity issues.

Keeping Track of Scenes

Scene= “a part of a play or film in which the action stays in one place for a continuous period of time.”

A scene means a small section of your novel where your characters engage in action or dialogue. They are mini-stories with a beginning, middle, and end. A chapter contains one or many scenes. Usually, the scenes within a chapter are related to one another. If you change location, or the clock of your manuscript moves forward, give the reader a pause in the form of moving into the next scene or chapter.  Scenes are like pearls in a string. Each story consists of these pearls, some small and ordinary, and others big, shining ones which surprise the reader.

Both templates let you add cells/boxes for your key scenes and plot weaving mechanisms.

Great scene beginnings include:

  • Put unusual events in motion
  • Tone-building scene setting
  • Intriguing backstory
  • New, interesting viewpoint
  • Introduce uncertain factors

More information: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/writing-scene-beginnings-grab-attention/

Great Scene endings:

  • Cliffhanger – place your protagonist’s life is at risk or produce some other threat which forces the reader to turn the page and begin a new scene/chapter
  • Revelation –something changes the course of the story
  • Setback– one of your characters should be frustrated about the latest event
  • Reveal a secret–a full secret or part of it to keep the mystery going
  • Question left hanging –teasing the reader
  • Unexpected plot twist –keep the reader guessing.

Character Arcs and the Three Acts

“A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character throughout a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different kind of person in response to changing developments in the story. “

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_arc

Your protagonists and antagonists evolve through character arcs. An excellent way to build conflict is to make the main character unable to overcome an opposing force at the beginning of the story because he/she lacks skills or resources. The main character must change through learning or achieving new capabilities. Let the MC interact with the environment or produce a threat or a charismatic mentor. At the heart of your story lie conflict and change.

Plotting a Novel in Three Acts

“Aristotle plotted in three acts, and almost every story comes with a beginning, middle, and ending. Act One makes up 25% of a storyline, with Act Two taking up 50% and Act Three, the final 25%. The story is divided in half as well, with the midpoint squarely in the middle of Act Two. The first half of a story involves introducing characters, themes, motivations, settings, conflicts, and important elements. In the second half of a story, all its threads untangle.”

Read more about The Six Key Scenes of Aristotle’s Incline and source of the above snippet: http://livewritebreathe.com/how-to-plot-a-novel-in-three-acts/

Plot Points

A plot point is an incident which impacts what happens next. A plot point:

  • Moves the story in a different direction
  • Impacts character development
  • Closes a door behind a character, forcing them forward

Plot points form a whole, each piece informing the event before it and after it.

Seven-point

Image source: https://blog.reedsy.com/plot-point/

Examples of plot points:

Hook: A story must start off strong to keep the reader reading. The Hook is the point that pushes a novel into motion and sets it apart from others.

First Pinch Point: The middle of the story consists of the character reacting to the Big Event and its respective consequences. Pinch Points put the character under pressure.

Midpoint: Perhaps the most crucial plot point occurs near the middle of a story. The midpoint is a critical turning point that forces the protagonist to stop reacting and start acting.

Final Pinch Point: For the second half of the middle, the protagonist experiments with the agency, taking different approaches to overcome the conflict. The protagonist reacts to or acts on pressure and conflict, with middling success.

Final Plot Point: Going into the third act (or the beginning of the end) there is one Final Plot Point. This shows the protagonist at their lowest, having taken a profound misstep among their newfound actions, which drives them directly into the Climax and Resolution.

Resolution: A great story will end on a Climax, Realization, and Resolution, a series of events that bring the story and character arc in full circle. Usually, these revolve around a choice presented to the protagonist.

Source and more information: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/what-is-a-plot-point/

How to Design Plot Points

  • Draw them from your central idea or theme
  • Show desires, motivations, and setbacks
  • Place plot points at crucial structural junctures
  • Create points of no return
  • Create and arrange summaries of each plot point

Tension

Tension is a product of uncertainty and the resulting suspense we feel.

“To take the analogy of watching a tightrope walker, we know they are moving from an A to B of safe ground. Yet between these two points, how things turn out depends on many variables. Their balance, focus, and how they place their feet. And how swiftly they correct any stumble.”

Source and read more: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/writing-a-scene-that-engages/

How to Write Realistic Action Sequences

woman boxer boxing isolated

Whether you write thrillers or fantasy, you’ll engage your Main Character in battles for life and limb. Nothing beats experience when it comes to describing a sequence of near combat. Take classes in Jiu Jutsu or Krav Maga if your hero uses his body to stand up for himself. You don’t have to engage in a Mixed martial arts cage fight to know how it feels. The beginner’s course in any martial art will help you sort out a few basic questions. I watch clips of Michelle Waterson or Ronda Rousey to learn. The MMA and WWE sports are different from Hollywood fight scenes. The fighters bind each other, and the straight punches which reach the opponent with a thud/smack belong mostly to the movies.

Rebane Nordstrom- my MC in Unholy Warrior, fights dirty and my book features some iconic Russian Systema moves to evade an overpowering assailant. I asked my Defendo instructor to attack me- the things we go through to write! Don’t worry, he went easy on me, but I never forget to raise my hands to shield my chin after that. One hit to the jaw and: lights out. Only in Hollywood do people get hit in the head with a metal pipe and go on kicking. In real life, you’d earn a visit to the ER with a skull fracture and a brain injury.

There’s nothing wrong with creative freedom. If you have dragons and magic in your book, what stops you from inventing new fighting skills? Forget realism but remember a few basic rules which help your readers relate to your MC: the danger is an inherent part of raising the stakes. You must allow your hero to be weaker than the opponent at times.

Choose Your Weapons

A baton can do terrible damage at the hands of a skilled user, but when you get threatened with a knife, the stakes assume a different intensity.

One cut can bleed your hero out, or sever a tendon (which means your arm or leg becomes useless). Blocking someone wielding a blade isn’t simple. Books and videos offer help to a writer. I like to refer to Combat Knives and Knife Combat by Dietmar Pohl & Jim Wagner, but you can find great resources on Youtube as well. If you want to get the hang of sword fights, join a Kendo club or try some Medieval martial arts the European way.

At Arm’s Length

One trick I like to use when I write a battle is grabbing anything at arm’s length in the setting and throwing it at the opponent. This is an essential skill in writing action: you cannot omit the environment even if you don’t want to utilize foreign objects.

Consider these elements:

  • Are your opponents facing each other on an open field or in a tight space?
  • What dangers are present besides the assailant(s)? Can traffic or avalanche kill the hero?
  • What can the MC use to his advantage?
  • The season: darts of wind-hurled snow can stop you from seeing, and the wind will raise clouds of sand. It’s hard to escape in knee-deep snow, and a sweaty combatant is difficult to grab.
  • The time of day: will darkness provide cover or the sun blind you? The atmosphere of the fight is vital!
  • Escape is always an option: can the MC run without being hit in the back by a bullet or an arrow? Remember to zig-zag, which makes the bad guy miss.
  • Can the heroine speak her way out of a threatening situation? Both escape and avoiding the battle altogether are the wisest options if you listen to my Defendo instructor.
  • Use the element of surprise: a trained soldier will see the punch coming if you draw your arm back before you strike.
  • Every kick and punch must be backed up with the rotation of the torso and the weight of your body. There is the correct and the wrong way to do this.

Examples From Hollywood

Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde, The Stairway Fight Scene:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XarGS1AeEcE

Charlize uses everything she can grab, and the sequence has guns, knives, hot plates, and whatnot. She also fights multiple assailants that are stronger than her.

If you need a fast tempo, watch Matt Damon as Jason Bourne: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFnmq5PPScA

Or Daniel Craig as 007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7kFoR4m1Y0

Both clips have high energy, and I love the moment when Daniel Craig watches how the attacker dies.

The last clip is from the Kurt Russell movie Breakdown. A car chase evolves into a duel between a semi-trailer and pickup truck. The fighters wield multiple weapons and the use of the deadly bridge, in the end, is a stroke of genius: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ovVlk6jCBY

Don’t Overdo The Details and Mind The Players

Know the capabilities and weaknesses of your hero/heroine before you tap your fight scene. My MCs (so far) are women who get attacked by opponents with a larger mass. Evasive movements allow them to strike back and to go for the opponent’s sensitive parts. When it comes to the laws of physics, a force has both magnitude and direction. If your knight is a big guy, he’ll use his mass as a blunt force weapon. Wearing armor and yielding the long sword is hard work, especially if you’re trying to stay on top of a galloping horse at the same time.

In the receiving end of the blows, anatomy, and physiology come into play. If your book takes place in the Middle Ages, knowing the common battlefield injuries helps you understand the weapons of the era. Find out what a beating causes to the human body. The method isn’t used as torture for nothing! The physiological side becomes increasingly important if you write murder mysteries and the key leads come from the killer’s ammo and the ME’s autopsy report.

Letting the reader glimpse a hidden world is a standard trick in the thriller and mystery genres. For example, the usual “slitting of the throat” in Hollywood style isn’t the way to go if you’re a commando sneaking upon a German guard in WWII. I was quite proud of myself when I wrote the “correct” way. However, my training as a Radiographer caused me to overdo the anatomy lesson. No one wants to know if your MC cuts the external or internal carotid artery of the victim with her knife! When your knowledge broadens, the temptation to write detailed descriptions (which get in the way of action) increases.

Don’t Teach The Bird To Fly Or The Fish To Swim

If something comes naturally to your character, use it. Remember Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man (1976)? The movie shows him running from the start and in the climax, he outruns the Nazi’s henchman. The film is a classic thriller for a reason. I never looked at dentists the same way after Laurence Olivier’s excellent performance as the Villain Dr. Christian Szell. Dustin Hoffman excels as well, and the film has terrific control of tension build-ups and releases all the way through.

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Image: Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man (1976) by Paramount Pictures.

The fight-or-flight response is automated because it helped animals survive the challenges of evolution. The symptoms, which even the most battle-hardened hero experiences, offer a writer many ways to put the reader into the skin of the character:

  • Acceleration of heart and lung action; you breath faster and your heart gallops
  • Paling or flushing, or alternating between both
  • Digestion slows down or stops- long-term stress causes harm
  • General effect on the sphincters of the body (urinary tract and bowel)
  • Constriction of blood vessels
  • The liberation of metabolic energy for muscular action
  • Dilation of blood vessels for muscles- the blood gets directed to the places which you need for resistance or escape.
  • Inhibition of the lacrimal gland (responsible for tear production) and salivation- your mouth becomes dry, and you cannot release tears
  • Dilation of the pupil
  • Relaxation of the bladder- you need to pee, or you wet yourself
  • Loss of hearing- you don’t remember everything afterward!
  • Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision)- anyone who has experienced this knows what I’m talking about
  • Overactive or overresponsive reflexes. Adrenaline or noradrenaline facilitate preparation for violent muscular action.
  • Uncontrollable shaking or shivering

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight-or-flight_response
The subjective experience of danger is unique. Don’t forget to describe the character’s emotions. Remember, the fight-flight reaction impairs some senses and enhances others. The emotional response is delayed in most cases. Allow your heroine to deal with a traumatic memory afterward as she heals from her wounds. The rule of action-reaction, remember?

The natural capabilities of the MC help him deal with a surprise attack. You can train your hero until basic moves flow from his muscle memory—this method is used by law enforcement and the military. But anyone who has experienced a traumatic situation knows the phenomenon of freezing. The same person can fight successfully on one occasion and freeze on the next.

“Fight flight freeze is a description of our responses to threat. In recent years, the fawn response has been added. To fight is to confront the threat aggressively. Flight means you run from the danger. When you freeze, you find yourself unable to move or act against the threat. With fight and flight both unavailable to you, you may find yourself hiding from the danger. Fawn is the response of complying with the attacker to save yourself.”

Source: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/trauma/

The aftermath of freeze or fawn makes coming to terms with what happened harder, which could be a starting point for your MC’s internal conflict.

Further resources on how to write the pace of action and build tension:

Continue reading “How to Write Realistic Action Sequences”

The Art of Descriptive Writing

A fabulous, forest nymph with long hair

The invocation of literary magic lies in mastering the basic elements of storytelling. I’m sure one of these must be your forte:

  • Emotionally attaching the reader to the main character and creating plausible character arcs
  • Vivid descriptions of the setting, which derives from worldbuilding
  • Being the wizard/witch of atmosphere and mood
  • Creating high stakes and mastering the build-up and release of tension
  • Writing dialogue which grabs the reader by the collar and pulls him into your story never letting go until he reads the last line.

Each of the above-mentioned demand descriptions which release only the necessary information. I respect the northern nature because I hunted with my father. My loving memories of him tone my chapters on untamed fells and sacred ponds. I went overboard in my first draft—nothing wrong with the passages per se, except they dragged on with excruciating detail. The reader wants to get on with the plot. You’ll bleed when you delete carefully crafted passages, as I did, but Kill Your Darlings applies to descriptive writing. If you write fantasy, your text feeds on worldbuilding, and the art of choosing becomes a matter of literary life or death. The same applies to historical fiction. As you researched expertise grows, you risk boring the reader with excessive facts.

The greatest classics of mankind can’t be used as a reference on how much to describe. The literary competition has changed since the times of George Orwell and Vladimir Nabokov. Different genres have separate rules on the desired length, and I write thrillers, so you don’t have to agree with me but let me introduce a few interesting theses.

Start With The POV

All fictional descriptions start with the selection of the Point of View. Remember to filter the setting and background through the eyes of your character. Describe what your character would notice, otherwise, you break the spell and cast the reader out of your magical world.

Third Person

The third person is the weapon of choice for most modern authors, and you can choose between omniscient and limited 3rd. Omniscient 3rd: the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story. Limited 3rd: the narrator knows only the thoughts and feelings of a single character, while other characters are presented only externally.

An example of the third person:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

George Orwell, 1984

Notice how Orwell binds the setting to the movement of the MC? He uses verbs to describe. And he wrote dystopian—a genre which demands compelling worldbuilding.

More information: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/third-person-omniscient-point-of-view-1277125

First Person

Although the first person has become unpopular in literary fiction, it’s the right glove if you need to punch the reader with what the MC goes through. The 1st person limits what the main character observes through your descriptive ammo. Be careful and remember to invoke emotions.

An example of the first person:

April

Opposite the fireplace and beside me, the telephone. To the right, the sitting-room door, and the passage. At the end of the passage, the front door. He might come straight here and ring at the front door. “Who’s there?” “Me.” Or he might phone from a transit center as soon as he got here. “I’m back — I’m at the Lutetia to go through the formalities.” There wouldn’t be any warning. He’d phone. He’d arrive. Such things are possible. He’s coming back, anyway. He’s not a special case. There’s no particular reason why he shouldn’t come back. There’s no reason why he should. But it’s possible. He’d ring. “Who’s there?” “Me.” Lots of other things like this do happen. In the end they broke through at Avranches and in the end the Germans withdrew. In the end I survived till the end of the war. I must be careful; it wouldn’t be so very extraordinary if he did come back — it would be normal. I must be careful not to turn it into something extraordinary. The extraordinary is unexpected. I must be sensible: I’m waiting for Robert L., expecting him, and he’s coming back.

The phone rings. “Hello? Any news?” I must remind myself the phone’s used for that sort of thing, too. I mustn’t hang up, I must answer. Mustn’t yell at them to leave me alone. “No, no news.” “Nothing? Not a sign?” “Nothing.” “You know Belsen’s been liberated? Yes, yesterday afternoon…” “I know.” Silence. “You mustn’t get disheartened, you must hold on, you’re not the only one, alas — I know a mother with four children…” “I know, I’m sorry, I haven’t moved from where I was. It’s wrong to move too much, a waste of energy, you have to save all your strength to suffer.

Marguerite Duras, The War: A Memoir. Translated from French by Barbara Bray.

Duras’ short, repetitive sentences convey her traumatic stress. The setting comes through as the objects she touches and the doorway a portal where her imprisoned husband might appear. The text centers on the heroine’s mental state—and that’s the beauty of the 1st person.

The Framework of Sensory Perception

The human species relies on visual perception and that’s why writers tend to concentrate on what the MC sees. A tiger might listen and the dog would rather smell if you wrote their POV. When your character turns into a werewolf, remember to incorporate the canine way of taking in the world.

Our senses fail the objectivity test because the brain translates perceptions to fit the overall world view. If you write historical fiction, the cosmology of the era might define if the MC believes his own eyes or not. If a modern doctor stepped into the scene of exorcizing a demon and gave the patient a cocktail of antipsychotic medicines, how would the people of a Middle Age village react? I’m pretty sure none would explain the miracle with the function of neurotransmitters.

The use of due historical language can make your text hard to wade through. Even if you use modern English for the most part, remember that religious communities didn’t allow cursing out loud. The 21st-century heroine can scream ou F**ck and what not but people were God-abiding folks before the scientific/industrial revolution, and everyone attended the Sunday Mass. The reaction to sensory perception minds time and place.

If you write flashbacks, remember that remembering obeys emotion. The smell is a powerful conveyor of memories across decades, and people tend to weapon-focus during torture and battle. The framework guides you which sensory details to choose into your descriptions.

The Big Five

I’ve addressed the five basic senses before in my blog but here’s a list:

  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Smelling
  • Tasting
  • Touching

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which I quoted in my blog post about worldbuilding? If not, check it out:

Nothing stops you from making up senses of your own (Spiderman). If you write within the fantasy or supernatural genre, your MC exercises a variety of abilities like levitation (what would he see from the bird’s POV?) and foreboding (find a unique way to write the MC’s sensory experience during the premonition.)

“Allowing our characters to use their senses will take our writing to the next level. We hear it all the time: show—don’t tell. This is when we make our words come alive as we invite our readers to experience our story—not just read about it.”

Source: https://thewriteediting.blogspot.com/2016/03/using-sensory-perception-in-your-writing.html

List of Other Senses

  • Pressure: if someone grabs you, you can feel it.
  • Itch: everyone knows this one.
  • Thermoception: the ability to sense heat and cold. Follow this sense into writing physical reactions.
  • Sound: sound doesn’t mean only hearing, but detecting vibrations.
  • Proprioception: This sense gives you the ability to tell where your body parts are, relative to other body parts.
  • Tension Sensors: muscle tension. This one is important if your character experienced a beating or battle.
  • Nociception: In a word, pain. There are multiple types of agony and don’t forget the psychological dimension.
  • Equilibrioception: The sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense body movement in terms of acceleration and directional changes. This sense also allows for perceiving gravity.
  • Stretch Receptors: These are found in such places as the lungs, bladder, stomach, and the gastrointestinal tract. A type of stretch receptor, that senses dilation of blood vessels, is also often involved in headaches. Welcome migraine!
  • Chemoreceptors: These trigger an area of the medulla in the brain that is involved in detecting blood born hormones and drugs. When your character vomits, this automated sense is firing.
  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Magnetoception: the ability to detect magnetic fields.
  • Time: and this one is beneficial for a writer!

Source: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/07/humans-have-a-lot-more-than-five-senses/

Make Description an Active Part of The Story

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Descriptions that just sit there are generally known as “narrative lumps.” The medicine for them is show, don’t tell, but remember that you can go overboard with showing. You need traditional narration to move your plot forward, to foreshadow events and to give the readers a sense of character. Avoid info dumps and sprinkle the description evenly. Remember to bind the descriptive parts into action.

Ways to make the description part of the action:

  • Choose the best descriptors and delete the rest
  • Describe what your characters would notice while they do something else, move or speak
  • Use strong, concrete words to describe—active verbs are your allies.
  • Choose which senses fit the scene. What if your character gets blindfolded?
  • Start from basics while you write the first draft and refine through revisions. Make a note to check the use of other senses beyond seeing.

Use Character POVs For a New Angle

Your writing might become repetitive as the plot progresses past page 250. Use the introduction of new characters to change the way you describe. Strong secondary characters have their separate opinions and help you introduce a new side of the MC. Write a scene where the significant other or sidekick disagrees with the MC on which way they should turn. How does the antagonist perceive the events? It takes skill to rotate POV but check out other writers who master the skill. Also, if your world is extremely violent and cruel (like mine), the reader might attach to a person similar to herself.

Foil and Mirror Characters

Foil characters share few or no values or traits. Maybe one character is lazy and boring, and his best friend is energetic and a go-getter. These are foil characters. Put them together, and they’ll highlight each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The most common foil characters are the heroes and villains, who stand for different values and want to achieve separate goals.

Mirror characters are used for a similar purpose. They tend to share several qualities and are used to complement and highlight each other’s traits. Common mirror characters embark on parallel plots, sometimes to achieve a single goal, which tests them and highlights their traits in different ways.

Source: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/literary-devices/

Mirror Characters and Compassion

  • Using clearly stated comparisons allow readers to see what the protagonist sees and better understand the inner conflict and, therefore, theme.
  • Presenting at least two mirror characters will give the protagonist more opportunities to learn and will strengthen his/her evolution with the theme at hand.
  • Remember that the chief role of mirror characters is to show how they’re thematic opposites.
  • A character arc succeeds when readers see how a protagonist’s behaviors and thinking patterns have changed.

Source: https://diymfa.com/reading/how-mirror-characters-can-illustrate-literary-themes

My Website: www.rebeckajager.com

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Character Development to The Extreme

writing tips and dystopian fiction

This time I’ll address the critical questions in developing your MC, or the other central characters of your WIP. I’ve talked about character questionnaires before, but if you haven’t read my blog, you can check out this one: https://www.novel-software.com/theultimatecharacterquestionnaire#basic

Or: https://www.freelancewriting.com/creative-writing/questions-for-creating-character-development/

What you see when you read a book is the tip of the iceberg. A fraction of character development ends up in the final text. The more work you put into building your character, the more natural he/she is during dialogue, action, and reaction.

Most writers start the difficult task of character creation from the physical features:

  • The color of eyes, hair, and skin.
  • Age, sex
  • Voice
  • Body type
  • Hands
  • Facial expressions

Choosing who goes through the difficult path of your story is a major decision.

“Am I still on the path of truth? Have I found fair equivalents into which to transpose the habits, the professions, the relations of feelings? For an act has by no means the same meaning if it is performed by a rich or a poor man, by a bachelor or a father of six, by an old man or a young girl.”

Joseph Kessel, Army of Shadows.

When you meet a person for the first time, you pay attention to their physical features like hair and eye color. When you meet a love interest, you’re bound to notice eye color, but what if you’re applying for a job? Do you remember afterward what the person interviewing you looked like? I’d bet you didn’t take note of his eye color but you might recognize his voice, or mannerisms during the interview because you read his movements subliminally. You searched for clues: did he like you or did he hate your guts?

The situation

If you sit in the interrogation room and you face a powerful opponent who holds all the cards, what do you observe?

I see the body language of my opponent. I search for signs that he exaggerates what he knows. I’d wait for his hand to form a fist, in which case, I’d raise my arm to block a hit. Okay, the interrogation scenes in my books are bloodbaths, but your local sheriff might go easier on the suspect. Again, this depends on your worldbuilding.

Body language is essential

I cannot stress this one enough. I use the interrogation as an example because the power balance is unequal and offers the writer possibilities to bring out the worst and the best in people.

The body language depends on the character’s goals: does your hero have something to hide? What’s at stake? The fate of his comrades? If your MC is a professional soldier who received SERE training, he filters his reactions. If your heroine stands amidst her enemies, she might use different means to survive or impress her opponents. Her goal in the scene defines her responses.

Who is the attacker and who tries to block him? These positions cause our body language to change. Is your suspect a serial killer or a wrongly-accused ex-spouse? High- and low-power poses in the images below are just examples. The interpretation of body language is a science, and if you write a crime novel, studying this field pays.

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Source: https://blog.bufferapp.com/improve-my-body-language-secrets

The same unspoken language rises to the surface if two persons negotiate a deal in the middle of a bazaar, or if a husband and wife engage in an argument. What their mouths say, and what their bodies tell, are two different things. Body language is ancient—it predates speech. Our brains interpret these patterns instinctively, whether you like it or not.

In Retrospect

Your character wasn’t born ready. He learned a few tricks along the way and his family and friends had an effect on him. He belongs to society: defending the status quo or fighting to topple it. That’s why the questions about his past are essential. Character questionnaires will guide you to develop a history for your MC.

Examples of questions which dig deeper:

  • What are his biggest secrets?
  • How does he display affection?
  • How competitive is he?
  • What are his political views?
  • What will he stand up for?

You might never offer the reader a complete history,  but you’ll choose a few star moments for painful flashbacks or golden memories… bitter chalk of defeat which fills your heroine with anger at the right moment. Build a past, and use it.

Each person comes with a past and future: an arc of development. You can’t create believable literary characters without the dimension of time, the essence of change. We age. We might become different persons because of painful trauma. What we expect from the future says a lot about our personality.

The Action

The writer faces a terrible dilemma. You must fit so much into a single scene and remember your plot outline. Most of your troubles might not even survive into the final manuscript.

Tips for writing dialogue that connects your characters to their world:

  • Use background action to add tone and mood
  • Add movement to dialogue to keep the story moving
  • Use mid-dialogue actions for tense interruption
  • Reveal character relationships through movement and action
  • Add dramatic emphasis to characters’ emotions in a scene
  • Use movement, gesture and action to reveal personality

The Now Novel article is pure genius. Source: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/movement-action-in-dialogue/

The job is impossible, I know. I’ve shed tears on my keyboard because the puzzle refuses to decode. That’s why I turn to writer thesauruses:

The scene and the character are inseparable. Otherwise, your character becomes an info dump upon entrance, and his presence remains shallow throughout the chain of events: the scenes.

I also advise you to write your characters bit by bit. Polishing through rewriting makes them perfect. What is a thin film, in the beginning, can evolve into a master portrait of a human being after the edits. The readers will love or hate your character. Both are equally desirable because you want to arouse an emotional response.

If you get stuck, take a look at an iconic character in your favorite author’s book. What traits catch your eye? Make a list.

The Art of Choosing

As you write a scene, you see every little detail with your mind’s eye. You notice the light reflecting from the heroine’s honey blonde hair, and you know she’s got blisters in her palm from wielding the massive sword. You feel the temptation to write every single detail into her movements, and the objects she uses, because you want to convey the movie which plays in your head.

But here comes the hard part. You should concentrate on significant action: on the parts which move your story forward and tell the reader what she needs to know. Remember to leave room for the reader’s imagination.

Trust your readers.

One of the most misunderstood rules among newbie writers is “Show, don’t tell.” Mastering that law is a basic lesson in writing, but you can’t show everything! Your book would stretch on forever as the plot would go nowhere. You must choose your battles. Picking what to tell is something you’ll learn only by writing and rewriting. Also, peer critique, beta-readers, and a skilled editor will help you get there. Separating the important stuff from useless junk is impossible if you sit in your hermit’s chamber alone.

The things which matter most to you might be the wrong ones! Hence the rule: “Kill your darlings.”

As you see, the theme of character development runs through the fabric of the book. Every essential element of storytelling has something to do with the character. Even the setting, which you might think is a standalone complex, must be shown through the eyes of the point-of-view character. If you show something the heroine couldn’t possibly observe, you break the spell of the POV.

Character Movements

When the character travels through the scenes, describing his movement is essential. When you’re on page 305 of your manuscript, you’ll feel the temptation to repeat the same key motions. Turn to the thesaurus for inspiration. Open your favorite book and write down the mannerisms of the characters amid different situations.

An excellent article by K. M. Weiland on character movements, with examples:

And remember:

“You’ll note that correctly describing character movements doesn’t necessarily mean you have to describe every single detail.”

—K.M. Weiland

Other writing tips:

Give Evil The Central Stage – Groundbreaking Villain Moments

Demonic male with burning beard and arms.

I’m back with the concept of the villain because he/she is crucial to your story. As far as I can remember, I wanted to write a brutal villain who will stop at nothing. And I remember movies by their villainous character actors.

The definition of the villain is:

“In their role as an adversary, the villain serves as an obstacle the hero must struggle to overcome. In their role as a foil, the villain exemplifies characteristics that are diametrically opposed to those of the hero, creating a contrast distinguishing heroic traits from villainous ones.”

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villain

The definition reminds writers of the importance of struggle but contains various traps which can cast your evil one with one of the extras. The antagonist is a series of obstacles on the hero’s journey, but also an entity of his own. He has to be of the same caliber as your protagonist- preferably stronger. You wouldn’t confront Batman with a minor criminal in the final battle, would you? The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger, is an unstoppable force of nature.

The villain is a central character of your book and you must treat him with respect.

He/she demands a lot of work. I advise you to sit down opposite your villain after you’ve Googled a character questionnaire form. An example of a set of character questions: https://www.novel-software.com/theultimatecharacterquestionnaire

Remember, he’ll fool you- like any respectable villain would deceive a cop during the initial interrogation. Each layer of deceit leads you closer to what makes him tick. That’s the point of the character interview. You might never tell the reader what he does first thing in the morning- unless that signifies something important- but you can resource the library of him when you write the groundbreaking villain moments I’ll discuss next.

If you know the depths of the villain, you know instinctively what his reactions are.

Groundbreaking Villain Moments

Whether you outline your story or start tapping away in the presence of your divine muse, remember to create major plot points for the villain. These key scenes can make the character relatable, or scare the shit out of your readers if that’s what you’re aiming for.

My list of villainous scenes isn’t complete. I’ve chosen the important few, with movie clip examples.

The First Look

The first impression of the antagonist defines the image of the hero’s counterforce. How do you introduce the villain? Hopefully not by describing his hair and eye color, and his dashing good looks which make the ground shake beneath your feet. Don’t get me wrong- I daydream of good-looking villains, but you must start with:

  • his first crime
  • the first harsh word
  • the evil glance
  • he camouflaged as the slightly creepy everyman
  • someone you’d never suspect but happens to be on the scene
  • And so on. The sky is the limit with villain introductions.

When I was seven, a known bully- a big one- waited for me on my way home from school. Trying to outrun him was futile, and he knew where I lived. He caught me and suffocated me with snow. This happened each winter afternoon until I learned the subtle art of evasion.

Meeting your villain is like the childhood moment when an overpowering person grabs your arm and you understand that he’s not letting go.

Think of ways to make the reader afraid of him- or what he can cause- and you’re on the right road. We’re talking about power and violence. You might go the sly route: let him appear harmless, and the fear doubles with shock as he strikes. The ill omen of doubt must be present from the beginning. Building a believable personification of evil is hard work.

The First Confrontation

“The moment when your villain and hero meet face-to-face is a wonderful opportunity to show us why your villain will be a good foil for your hero. These confrontations are at their best when the villain reveals a chink in your hero’s armor.”

Source: https://thewritepractice.com/villain-scenes/

An example from the movie Matrix, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) interrogates Keanu Reeves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4D7cPH7DHgA

At the end of the scene, we understand that something is seriously wrong with the movie’s world.

The Hero’s Temporary Defeat

You’ll recognize the hero’s failure from every Hollywood movie you love. You can combine this scene with The Villain Shows His Cards, or The Monologue– the spot in the James Bond movie where Ernst Stavro Blofeld describes his complete plan to rule the world.

The Hero’s Temporary defeat deals with stakes. You’ve given us the stakes at the beginning of your hero’s journey (inciting incident) and when you introduced the villain. Now is the time to provide us with a bitter taste of defeat. The temporary failure means a foretaste of death.

What would a bad guy do if your loved one was at his mercy and you were unable to stop him?

Let J. T. Walsh tell you while the hero (Kurt Russell) is rendered powerless. A magnificent scene from the movie Breakdown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NAszvB80Ws

The occasional movie-goer knows instinctively that the hero will get help, or he has an ace up his sleeve, or the villain is so mesmerized by his plan that he doesn’t see the sidekick creeping up on him… whatever you choose as the vessel of turning the tables, and moving towards the resolution. Temporary defeat is at its best when the reader believes that the hero cannot recover from the blow.

It’s your villain’s grand moment. Let him show off his hideousness. In movies, this trope takes a hell of an actor to twist the scene into something previously unseen.

The Origin Story

The Origin Story is the villain’s chance to explain himself. Let his humanity shine through, and the reader can relate to him. Take Marvel character Loki: “sibling rivalry and daddy issues explain his actions. Being always in Thor’s shadow isn’t good for Loki’s overall mental health, and finding out that he’s adopted doesn’t help.”

Source: https://io9.gizmodo.com/10-villain-origins-that-actually-make-sense-1742183593

Most of us don’t work for the Devil. Reasons like: “the end sanctify the means” and “history demands action” and “I obeyed orders” have paved the way to hell on many occasion. The explanations don’t make the crime justifiable but offer a view on human logic.

Remember that explaining the Devil can take the scare away. If your evil one is a psychopath, don’t bother with the origin story.

Sometimes the human mind attempts to see something which isn’t there. The search for Ted Bundy’s soul is futile. Javier Bardem offers one of the most accurate movie depictions of psychopathy as the stone-cold hitman Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. He needs no origin story. He is what he is.

The hotel scene between Woody Harrelson and Javier Bardem is pure brilliance:

Enjoy!

Express Yourself- Finding The Elusive Writer’s Voice

Collection of masquerade masks hang on a home's wall

What do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror? Wrinkles, the bags under your eyes and other flaws… or are you happy with your reflection because it shows the wisdom you have gathered with the mileage?

Maybe you want to be perceived through your work? You tap away on the keyboard,  send the manuscript to the publisher, and they take care of the rest while you write the opening line of your next bestseller in your dusty chamber.

I’d be happy with that.

Perhaps you love the internet and it loves you back. The top agent snatches you off the market because of the enormous following you’ve attracted in Social Media, and the rest is history.

Most writers- people- fall somewhere in between. You can hire someone to do publicity. Many learn the secrets of Indie-marketing through hard work. The public persona of a writer is a mask. You’ll find the intimate person between the pages of his/her books.

You On The Page

Writing a book is a massive endeavor which exhausts any creator. When the storylines run dry, and the tenth editing round tastes like shit, you must use your history to dig up fresh ideas. How does one pour himself on the pages of the book?

When you read the work of world-class writers, you hear a human voice which speaks to you. You sense the writer’s soul- the life which she led. Sometimes the tones are subtle, and you don’t understand where everything is coming from until you grab her autobiography. Lessons in World War molded the writer’s voice of Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and Marguerite Duras. When you look at their work, it’s obvious.

The effort to separate your persona from your writing is futile. You’re working against yourself if you try to hide who you are. It makes no difference if you write a memoir (riveted with true scandals), or a future story unlike anything in the history of Sci-Fi. When you are serious about the art of literature, you must develop a unique writer’s voice.

“The writer’s voice is not something you can measure, it’s subjective. But, even so, possible to be defined and identified.”

The literary agent, Rachel Gardner, defines the writer’s voice: “Your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page.”

Your voice:

  • should reflect you: what you feel and believe; what moves you.
  • The tone in your writing is the most important element of your voice.
  • Your voice is the rhythm that prints the pace of the text.
  • You learn to be a better writer, you change genres, but whatever you write, your voice is always a central element.

Source: https://writingcooperative.com/the-writers-voice-what-is-and-how-to-find-yours-ed82f1884984

The voice is still elusive despite all the explaining. The voice is like Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. It’s something you’ll learn by writing several books and short stories and blogs. You recognize the voice of Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. It’s the common denominator of a career.

Common Elements Vs. Your Voice

Mastering the art of literature demands that you use the excellent writer’s toolset: Consistent Point of View, Showing Not Telling, and answering the Spiritual Question, in the end- to provide a few examples. If you don’t abide by the rules, the reader gets thrown out of your book.

How do you characterize your hero/heroine? Remember, what moves you is an essential part of the writer’s voice. Some main characters appeal to you more than the others.

  1. The willing hero- James Bond
  2. The unwilling hero- Frodo Baggins
  3. The tragic hero- Oedipus
  4. The classical hero- Wonder Woman
  5. The epic hero- Beowulf
  6. The antihero- Tony Soprano (one of my all-time favorites)

Source: https://nybookeditors.com/2018/03/6-types-of-heroes-you-need-in-your-story/

What is your book’s plot type? Adrienne Lafrance describes archetypal plot arcs as ‘core types of narratives based on what happens to the protagonist.’

The six core types are:

  1. Rags to riches (a complete rise)
  2. Riches to rags (a fall)
  3. Man in a hole (fall, then rise)
  4. Icarus (rise, then fall)
  5. Cinderella (rise, then fall, then rise)
  6. Oedipus (fall, then rise, then fall)

Source: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/understanding-storytelling-arc/

Again, your choice describes you as a person and writer.

The Message

I’m pro-message when it comes to writing books. My favorite thesis as a dystopian writer is: “Humanity will never learn,” preferably pronounced with the deep voice of Morgan Freeman echoing into the void. Why? It has something to do with being me. Maybe my life experiences molded a cynical worst-case personality, or I just fell in love with dystopian literature as a fourteen-year-old. Go figure, but I’ve woven myself into the book I’m writing.

My second book will be a supernatural spy thriller. War and sacrifice shall continue to entice me. That’s my writer’s voice going through the loops of natural evolution.

My suggestions for nurturing the elusive ghost of the writer’s voice:

  • Write about things which excite or scare you.
  • Convey a message through your theme.
  • Arouse awareness of injustice.
  • Reveal your moral beliefs.
  • Pour yourself into the characters.
  • Observe the character traits of people you know.
  • Use your life experiences, hobbies and professional knowledge to build the setting and plot.
  • Visit places similar to the environment of your book. Smell, observe, feel.
  • Write what you’d love to read.

Researching Your Book

Medieval Woman with the Finger on the Lips Holding a Lamp

Historical Fiction

We, the writers, come up with imaginary worlds of the future. We also weave intricate plots which take place in ancient Rome or in the silk-clad Victorian England. We describe the bloody battlefields of the US Civil War and the chaos of the French Revolution. Heads roll and limbs must be amputated.

Each period in history offers a fascinating set of dresses, customs, and geographical variation. Google Maps is an excellent tool if you write about a faraway land, but you need a time machine to visit the battle of Gaines’ Mill.

To set your novel in The US Civil War, you must master the way of speech during the era and you must know how to reload the weaponry and… The list is long.  When you dip into the deep well of history, a new danger arises. You’ll be tempted to infodump because you’ve become quite the expert! You know each footstep the famous general took in the battle of Gaines’ Mill, but:

“The historical novels I admire inhabit their worlds so fully that as a reader I feel I’m breathing the air of that distant place or time. This has less to do with historical detail than with a freshness of language, tone, and incident that makes the concerns of the characters so recognizably human that they feel almost contemporary. The ability to transport us into different minds is a hallmark of good literature generally; the bar is set even higher when a story’s setting is truly foreign. Lots of period detail does not necessarily make a compelling story; many of my favorites in this list are short distillations that transport us poetically to another world.”

Source: https://www.publishersweekly.com/

The secret is the delicate balance between solid facts and skillful fiction. The right amount of authenticity depends on the genre and the reader. You might have to rewrite multiple times to get into fabulous world-building.

Choose Your Battle

The readers who are inclined to buy your book are interested in the:

  • Theme
  • Era
  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Or plot of your book.

Or they just like the cover image, or find out about you from Amazon or blogs or…

Chances are that your reader knows something about the world of your book.  If the reader notices that you got the weapons or the family background of the hero wrong, you lose their trust.

Bang!

That’s the sound your book makes when it hits the floor and shall never be picked up again.

The secret is choosing your battles. Master the rules and you can bend them. There’s no harm in removing historical details as you go along and decide that each bit isn’t necessary for the drama. But don’t make a mistake with the essential stuff! Your hero/heroine should be an exceptional character, but relatable.

For example, a Victorian woman’s place was in the home: being a well-behaved mistress of the house and giving birth to babies- preferably burly sons. Dracula is a British-American television series, a reimagining of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. The character of Mina is cast as a doctor. The education of women in medicine was a new idea in the Victorian era and the source of joking. It wasn’t impossible though. See, research pays. A female doctor isn’t against the rules of Victorian worldbuilding, but a pioneer whose profession gives you a chance to write conflict.

The Ideal Reader

Surely you have imagined him or her: the person who enjoys your book so much that she tells all her friends about you? I’m going to use simple stereotypes now. Don’t be offended.

If your ideal reader is a single woman in her twenties; she lives in the big city and wolfs down romantic & historical literature, chances are that she expects romance and adventure when she picks up your book. This buyer is willing to accept that you bend the borders of social class. The charming baron blazing down the hillside riding his white stallion to grab the peasant girl is plausible if you’re within the genre expectations. If the ideal reader is a fifty-something naval veteran, you’d better get the military details of the battle of Potomac right.

It’s entirely possible that your audience ranges from ages 20 to 65 and represents both female and male readers, but something binds together the people who would enjoy your book: the features of the ideal reader connect them.

The Dust of History

Chances are that you hated the dry dust of history in school. Let go of that thought. Finding out about history will cause your writing to soar with new ideas. You don’t have to come up with everything: the information is already there for you to grab.

“If you’re writing non-fiction, research will most likely be the basis of your book. For fiction, it can provide ideas on which to build your characters and plot.”

Source: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/01/18/research-a-novel/

I like to base my characters, especially the villain, on somebody who existed. Historical figures are great baselines for fictional characters. Reading a memoir will give you insight into the thought models, religions and aspirations which people had during that era.

“Books are made out of books” – Cormac McCarthy

Read other people’s books. Find out how they’ve come up with the right balance between fact and fiction.

But I Write About the Future

You might think that you’re safe from researching history because your setting is imaginary and the plot takes place in the future.

The fictional future of mankind is:

  • The gleaming steel world manned by people dressed in sterile white. Here, the most deadly weapon is science.
  • Or the grim post-apocalyptic desert with wandering tribes and murderous warlords. Here, the most deadly weapon in the hand of the new caveman is an old rifle or an ax.

Both of them have their foundation in historical eras. When the race to the moon was on during the Cold War, writers grabbed the theme of alien invasions and space wars. When the threat of the nuclear holocaust became evident to the masses, the writers offered visions of radiation-ridden wastelands roamed by a handful of smart and resilient survivors. If I were to write the latter version, I’d study the dark Middle Ages.

Science Fiction experienced a boom during the decades of rebuilding and technological optimism after WWII. We’d fill Mars with colonies and abandon the earth before the doomsday clock ticked into 2000 AD. Of course, we didn’t. We stayed pretty much the same but we enjoy 3D movies depicting that very theme!

History is inevitably linked to the future.

The reader will find the future more plausible when it derives from the politics of today

We relate to something we witness with our own eyes. Fears of today form the future monsters. Think of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. She wrote the book in 1985, but the misogynistic Gilead state is plausible to us because of the features in US politics.

To envision the worst case scenario is human nature.

We littered the earth with trash and we invented digital devices, but humanity remained the same. We feel empathy for the future character who could be us.

Alternate History

A whole subdivision of dystopian literature is Alternate History. Philip K. Dick’s The Man in The High Castle is a brilliant example. C. J . Sansom represents the new wave of alternate history fiction with his Dominion (one of my favorite books).

The plots of C. J. Sansom’s other novels take place during Tudor times. Sansom is a researcher of history and his books are excellent entertainment.

Even if you don’t want to be the dusty hermit, Google a few search terms. Read, read and read. The strange world of your next book starts to grow and breathe around you. Once, there was a time when writers had to drag themselves to the library to study. Today, we just open a laptop or a mobile phone. Who said that humanity couldn’t evolve?

Hashtags: #history #books #writing #writingadvice #howtowrite #research #future #novel #fiction #dystopian #utopian #historical #adventure

Give Your Characters Hell- A Crash-course in World Building

Screaming beauty Model with American Indian Makeup

Dystopian Setting

The world of my first book is dystopian, as some of you might know. In Sci-Fi and post-apocalyptic literature, world-building must start from page one. The same goes with historical fiction, but I continue with the beginning of George Orwell’s 1984:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.”

An excellent example of world-building from page one without going into excess detail and losing the journey of the Main Character. You want the occasional browser of Amazon or the lunch-time walker who strands into the local bookstore to get on with the reading, don’t you? When you read the first chapter of this classic book, you know what you get into.

Let the reader know what she buys

I’m sure you have read your share of writing advice on the beginning aka the Inciting Incident. I know I have.

“The inciting incident is an episode, plot point or event that hooks the reader into the story. This particular moment is when an event thrusts the protagonist into the main action of the story.”

Source: www.nownovel.com

You’ll start your book in the middle of the action, and you’ll yank the Main Character out of his daily life. Someone or something drags the hero into dangerous territory, and you’ll give the MC hell to raise the stakes. You make his goal crystal clear to the anonymous reader who comes from a variety of backgrounds.

By doing this, you are world-building.

You describe the thunder outside the MC’s window when fate comes knocking on his door dressed as Gandalf The Grey or explosions or… You tell us what kind of bedsheets the heroine casts aside to answer the call of duty. When she gets dressed and fetches her weapons, you give us laser guns or the bow and arrow of Katniss Everdeen.

Show, Don’t tell

If you’re writing about basically anything which is alien to the person who buys your book- hunting or lace weaving – you need to immerse him/her into your world. You use the five senses which give us the most cited rule in the history of fiction, from the campfire stories of the hunter-gatherers to the time of widespread Indie-publishing:

Show, don’t tell is a technique used in various kinds of texts to allow the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and description.”

Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show,_don%27t_tell

What the MC:

  • Tastes
  • Sees
  • Touches
  • Smells
  • Hears

The five senses immerse the reader into your book’s setting. Scientific studies of human senses go far out. If you’re interested in the over fifty ways of sensing, check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense

My personal favorites are the sense of your own body position and pressure.

If you write historical fiction, you do a ton of research to give the accurate details of the world around the one doing the sensing.

Exposition

Google overflows with checklists on world-building. I suggest you use one because it functions as a framework while you expose the imaginary setting.

Remember, an exhibition of the setting mustn’t become an info dump of backstory!

World-building is a tough art. Be stealth and embed the environment into everything the Main Character does. You can use supporting characters to bring forth a piece of history. In my opinion, the only thing that can seriously deal with the problems of effective world-building is REWRITING.

grandma rewriting

I use an Excel sheet for Scene Tracking. World- building has a column of its own which lists the exposition assigned to that particular scene. I keep track of what I’ve already exposed.  And I’ve told all the significant sensory bits when I get to the ending.

Example: http://plotwhisperer.blogspot.com/2013/10/track-your-scenes-on-scene-tracker.html

Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs

Here we dive into character psychology again. When you read the list of needs below, remember to make the fury of hell rain down on your MC. Think of hardship, battle, desperation- you need to build conflict which is the core of each great story.

Without conflict, you have only exposition and no story.

“Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.”

Source: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

A list of needs according to Maslow:

  • Physical demands: where does your MC acquire food or water? Who manufactures/sells it and what does he want? The hard-core motivation of satisfying one’s bodily needs is a great way to expose your world. Think of the role of gasoline in Mad Max. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_Max
  • Safety needs: How to find safety from the elements? Who can offer security among numbers and what’s the price?
  • Belongingness needs: family, friends, clan and culture. This need offers you a rich possibility of describing the rules of birth, marriage, and death. How to raise kids during a specific era? Belongingness can tell the reader so much about the society the MC lives in.
  • Esteem needs: What the MC sees when she catches her own reflection while passing a shop window? How far up the ladder of the hierarchy is the pauper or the princess? This need offers the writer a beautiful opportunity for character development.
  • Cognitive needs: Education, knowledge, being right or wrong. This need addresses the goal of the MC.
  • Aesthetic needs: What people consider beautiful or relaxing? No matter how scorched the post-apocalyptic landscape is, people find aesthetically pleasing things. Music, fashion, booze… Does the MC manufacture some objects herself? The things which please her tell a story. A gunsmith or a soldier reveres his weapon, and a princess loves her silk.
  • Self-actualization: character ARC, change in the person between the beginning and end.
  • Transcendence: Religion, beliefs, mysticism. Does your MC find peace in the end? Remember to develop your character ARC.

“Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.” Find out more here: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

maslow_pyramid.jpg

This is the framework I use to create dystopian world twenty-five years after the nuclear war. You must weave world-building into everything you put in your book. The setting isn’t a separate entity.

Good luck!

My Website: www.rebeckajager.com

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The Sidekick – The Shadow or The Flame?

Young attractive Witch walking on the bridge in heavy black smoke.

When I hear the word sidekick, the image of Batman’s Robin conjures. Who could forget the guy wearing the green pantyhose? The word is forever linked with the lesser one of the power duo.

The Urban Dictionary defines a sidekick:

“A friend/associate of a more popular, charismatic person. The sidekick gains most of his/her acclaim from merely being connected so closely to the more powerful acquaintance.”

It’s easy to write a sidekick who follows the heroine like a shadow. Sometimes the shadow is long, and sometimes it travels ahead of her, but shadows rarely mean anything except symbolism.

And then an interesting secondary character flows out of your pen like lightning. This person keeps you awake at night and leads the story into unknown depths as a bright flame.

The safest route to prevent the sidekick from stealing the spotlight, is to make her/him inferior to the heroine/hero but where’s the drama in that?

Someone to save the day

If you’re like me, you write a villain who radiates raw power. He keeps kicking the hero’s ass, and you need someone to help defeat him. My recommendation is to make the villain stronger than the MC because this way you build pressure and suspense! You drive the plot forward with bloody desperation.

The sidekick can come to the MC’s aid at the darkest hour: when the villain is about to strike a spear into the hero’s heart.

The sidekick is abler than the hero under unusual circumstances:

  • The hero is wounded and unable to defend himself
  • The hero is under a spell or doesn’t sense the approaching death
  • The secondary character is the only one around and must rise to save the day
  • The villain’s BFF changes sides and become one of the good guys to keep the hero safe. He has the element of surprise on his side.
  • The sidekick betrays the hero and reveals that he has been working for the evil one the whole time. You can feel the salt stinging on that wound for a long time. This twist forces you to prolong the final battle- which is a good thing. Keep postponing the reader’s satisfaction.

And so on. I’m sure you have seen movies which utilize a lesser character to bring the plot into a grand finale via roundabouts.

Just Different

The sidekick can be a person who contrasts the hero, like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson. Watson is a man of medicine with practical wits, and a war hero, who reflects the intellectual superiority of Sherlock Holmes. Where Holmes is in danger, Watson comes to the rescue. Where Holmes is at loss, Watson is confident because he is different.

Sometimes the secondary character, which you intended as a vessel for plot advancement, steals the readers’ attention. That’s what happened to Liva Löwe in my book The unholy Warrior. She’s the one my beta readers found most attractive because they can relate to her.

The key to the reader’s heart is arousing empathy. Keep your sidekicks relatable!

Sometimes the heroine can appear too strong and hardheaded, which is fine for the MC. But the presence of a gentler person who finds her courage when all else crumbles can have an earth-shaking effect on the reader.

Blurring lines

Is Julia a sidekick of Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984? Yes and no. A love interest can be a sidekick. Winston and Julia rebel together.

Boy-boy and girl-girl pairs are abundant in literature and movies. If the heroine and the sidekick represent different sexes, you can write a sub-plot of budding love. One-sided affection raises the stakes a notch by introducing another level of conflicting interests. A disgruntled lover is a fertile ground for the enemy to grow resentment towards the hero.

Julia_1984.jpeg
Suzanna Hamilton as Julia in the Film 1984, MGM 1985.

But I see Julia as the last nail on Winston’s coffin. From the introduction of Julia, Orwell predicts the main character’s doom. To make the aide betray the hero is a great idea: the knife twists deep inside the gaping wound. In fact, Winston and Julia betray each other at the face of an invincible enemy: the system.

Any_Amasova
Barbara Bach as Major Anya Amasova in Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 Eon Productions).   

The representatives of the enemy can become sidekicks for the hero. Just one kiss from the deadly 007 and poof! A battle-hardened communist assassin becomes the Playboy bunny because sex makes her see the system of Motherland as evil.

Okay, I over-simplify.

I’m not complaining because Ian Fleming’s James Bond is excellent entertainment. The secondary character can exist as a borderline case through the entire Bond movie.

We know where Major Amasova’s loyalties lie when we see the ending of The Spy Who Loved Me.

Know Thy Enemy- The Making of a Great Villain

Detective interviewing suspect in dark private room

So, you have a theme in mind: justice, revenge, friendship- a theme can be anything. But a great idea has to be universal- it must play the heartstrings of your readers. It knots into the expectations of your audience. The central psychology of stories varies somewhat by the era. If you want your book to surface among the classics, you must have the longevity of a timeless theme. You have to touch upon the common sub-consciousness: story and character archetypes which have been passed on in literature, movies, and music.

What does your villain symbolize? What does he/she stand for? This is important.

Evil Dressed Up

Christianity has embedded the notions of good and evil into western writing. Great monotheistic religions have similar theories of hell and the devil. The antagonist, if he is a real villain in the classical sense, embodies the ancient idea of the dark one.

22_top25greatestvillains
Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List

We love evil characters. I know I do. Some of the actors I admire have played iconic embodiments of darkness: like Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s list. What could be eviler than a man who shoots a small boy in the back, or tortures a defenseless woman daily?

The antagonist is a vessel for your book’s theme. He dresses up the devil. He is the opposite of your hero’s goal. But remember that evil must be proved through constant actions of vileness. If you litter the pages of your villain with murder and mutilation, one good deed gets more attention.

You want your readers to understand your antagonist, don’t you?

If he/she doesn’t have a tiny speck of goodness, how could people relate to his story? The nightmare embodied has to be understandable. Some of the best monsters show mercy or love to the heroine/hero: like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter protecting the main character, Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.

Ways to show a bit of good inside bad

  • He/she doesn’t understand what he/she is doing
  • The villain thinks that he is right, that he has the proper moral grounds
  • Ends sanctify the means: world-domination is required to set history straight
  • He suffered from violence and abuse as a child
  • He is a psychopath- and this is really hard to relate to but makes him interesting if you do your research
  • He understands the meaning of his actions in the end
  • Love redeems him. I don’t believe in this one because we each love in our way. Evil loves with murder and violence loves with a punch in the eye. If you have serious writing skills, you can make this one float though.
  • He loves animals or his children. He can’t be totally evil, can he?

Of course, if your villain is simply seething with malevolence, you can kill him in the end. Justice is redeemed and you stand your moral ground.

In real life, the most ruthless violent bastard usually wins. I’m sorry.

Remember that some of the cruelest monsters in world history have believed in their own ideology. Whatever you can conjure from the depths of hell, can never compare to the good intentions which have paved the road to the real-life inferno of genocide.

description

A good villain can be a pain in the ass for your protagonist. But does he talk to you? If you’re like me, he/she bothers you when you should fall asleep or drive a car, or take the kids to daycare.

How is his/her voice? Raspy? Seducing? Deep? Beware of cliches. How about whiny, wiry, oppressing?

Describing hands or voice or movement is more fertile than the usual color of eyes and hair. What are his mannerisms and bad habits? How does he move? What does he do for a living? And the job is essential. It’s the first question which we ask when we make acquaintance.

If you want to twist the usual clichés, give him a job which conflicts with his evil.

Stalin
Josif Stalin

Thinking about actors who could play your villain helps to visualize your monster. You can find animated gifs about almost every actor from the roles they’ve played. I use the gifs to describe different facial expressions and movements.

If your style is film noir, look up 40’s faces. If your princess of horror roams the distant future, try sci-fi movie actresses.

Searching the web with words like “greatest movie villains” will most likely offer you a library of wickedness which you can build from.

Each depiction is famous for a reason.

If you’re a history buff like me, you will find a catalog of despicable people on the pages of history books. I like to have a real-life equivalent for my villains.

Character Questionnaire

Letting the antagonist answer your questions during a character interview is a great way to get to know your villain.

The net is full of questionnaire forms, like https://www.novel-software.com/theultimatecharacterquestionnaire

Character mannerism lists: https://www.wattpad.com/84533439-a-list-of-500-character-quirks-and-traits-list-1

To avoid information indigestion, make your own list, which suits the novel you are writing at the moment.

And finally, check out your favorite books. Read the epic pages which:

  • introduce the villain and describe him
  • what happens to him in the end?
  • How does the writer show some admirable traits among the constant darkness of evil?
  • What’s his relationship with the hero/heroine?
  • What are his mannerisms, his bad habits, his job, his hobbies, etc.? President Snow tended to roses in his garden in The Hunger Games. And his role was played by one of the greatest character actors: Donald Sutherland.
  • What does he stand for?
  • How do you identify with the antagonist? Can you understand his motives? Why?

I keep a writer’s journal on my favorite villains. I have page after page of classic villainy from the authors I respect. There’s no way- ever- my villain can topple O’Brien in George Orwell’s 1984.

Other Tips

The Warrior Mindset – How to Write Compelling Action

Futuristic warrior

Have you ever fired a gun? Oh, you have- good for you. If you haven’t, find a shooting range near you or ask the local hunting club to let you tag along. Just smelling gunpowder and hearing the blast noises (through quality headphones that protect your hearing) will give you a sense of the real thing. The rest is up to your imagination…

If you are writing about military action like me, you face a tougher challenge to get the facts right. The army uses unique terminology, and the warriors have a certain mindset forged through endless drills and hard work. The NATO and European armies have slightly different rank systems.

Add in The Russian Federation, and you’re officially in the same grievous trap where I found myself when writing The Unholy Warrior. I decided to take things methodologically: I researched until my butt hurt from sitting and my fingers were raw from tapping on my keyboard.

Join a writer’s site like The Write Practice where you publish one piece a week and get critique from other writers in exchange for you doing the same for them:  www.thewritepractice.com

You can also ask some of your beta-readers to point out flaws and factual errors. There’s always someone who knows specific things because he has a military background or just because he is interested in such stuff.

facts- Get Them Right

You can also keep a memo on things which bother you and tackle the mistakes one by one. That way you can continue writing but know your weak spots need tending to.

When you’re wicked famous like John LeCarre, you can create your own terms and expect the spy professionals to start using them. LeCarre devised terms like “babysitters” and “lamplighters” to describe different guilds of the spy profession.

Gun Caliber

Writing about guns and ammo is so much easier if you have some first-hand experience. Organizations such as the NRA and various hunting magazines offer advice on shooting positions, the common aiming errors and using the best ammo to kill big game. They have some excellent info graphs online.

On shooting positions, visit: https://tpwd.texas.gov/education/hunter-education/online-course/shooting-skills/rifle-positions

Do you know what a large- caliber rifle recoil feels like? If not, chances are that a relative of yours is a passionate hunter. Go along. You might be a pest to begin with, but the odds are that he loves to ramble about duck or moose hunting forever. You’ll learn something as you sit by the campfire and drink soot pan coffee. If you’re lucky, he’ll let you shoot under his supervision. I fired my first load of shotgun pellets towards a pinetree when I was fourteen years old.

The lighter caliber .22 is the best one to start target practice with. .22 LR is found in pistol and rifle ammo.

Read about different caliber ammo and what they are used for. The numbering isn’t linear or very informative. A bigger number doesn’t automatically mean a bigger bullet! Using the wrong caliber will jam the weapon and you risk serious injury or death. In addition to numbering, the ammunition manufacturer uses a short code. For example .Win means Winchester. Your rifle carries a carved text to signify the type of correct ammunition. Perhaps “win .308” like my Tikka T1 Tactical from Sako, a Finnish company which belongs to the Beretta conglomerate.

Hunting

Three-hundred thousand people are registered hunters in Finland, and ours is a small population with six million citizens. The government demands that each hunter undergoes a series of lectures and passes the final examination before gaining a hunting license. Gun laws are strict in the European Union and especially in Finland. Yet, commercial shooting ranges offer you a chance to shoot pistols and revolvers in the heart of Helsinki, our capital. In the countryside, almost every considerable village has a shooting range nearby for rifle training. People do hunt and are passionate about it.

Hunting

“Recoil (often called knockback, kickback or merely kick) is the backward movement of a gun when it is discharged. In technical terms, the recoil momentum acquired by the gun exactly balances the forward momentum of the projectile and exhaust gases (ejecta), according to Newton’s third law, known as conservation of momentum. In hand-held small arms, the recoil momentum is transferred to the ground through the body of the shooter; while in heavier guns such as mounted machine guns or cannons, recoil momentum is transferred to the ground through the mount.”

Source: Wikipedia.

Basically, the energy of ignited gunpowder has to go somewhere. It propels the bullet out of the barrel but an equal amount of energy kicks back towards the shooter. A heavy rifle absorbs some of the energy just lessening the force which hits the shooter. That’s why sniper rifles are usually bulky. They need to be accurate. Hunting rifles, which you drag around in the forest all day through the f***ng foliage and bush, are light and thus kick you harder during firing.

In Hollywood movies, we see a pistol bullet traveling far and hitting the opponent. In real life, it’s almost impossible to hit a moving target which is running zig-zag hundred-and-sixty feet away from you. Movie heroines hardly ever flinch at explosions. In real life, the sound of a .9 causes ear-splitting pain. Not flinching (as in shutting one’s eyes tight and grimacing not so sexy-looking) takes some heavy-duty training, not to mention a possible hearing loss.

As a writer, you can decide how much reality you want to embed. If you write fantasy, just come up with impossible things. Your readers will love them. If you’re writing a spy thriller which happens in the 21st century, do some serious research.

Close Combat

Have you received a blow to the head delivered by a powerful opponent?

You don’t have to tackle a man, or a woman, with a black belt. You can gain a lot of information by taking some newbie-sissy-level classes in self-defense arts like Defendo, Karate of Krav Maga. Ask your instructor to teach you what happens if you drop your defenses. One (gentle) blow to the head, and you’ll never forget that lesson.

It amazes me how short real-life fights are. Just a few seconds and a severe injury with long-time consequences has been inflicted. The winner and looser are found out in a blink of an eye.

Writing near combat scenes usually demands some bending of reality. We writers cannot disappoint our readers by a few lines, and that’s that. No, we must write different phases, evasion moves, near escapes and grabbing makeshift things like rocks to be used as weapons.

Attending writer’s festivals and happenings can link you with your thriller writer idols:

http://thrillerfest.com/

You can always learn from the best!

Other tips:

Supernatural Suspense and Tips for Writing a True Story

The woman laughed, and Rayne shivered as another wave of cold engulfed her. Lucinda’s expression once again became stoic. “They burned to death in a blast of fire — a trademark of Marchosias, the great, almighty Marquis of Hell, Commander of Thirty Legions, a demon so powerful he demands respect. Even the foolish fear him.” Lucinda was so fervent Rayne knew she believed every word and demanded the same from her.

She would be disappointed.

The Marquis of Hell, Marchosias, is a fierce demon who can fool the unexpecting when he takes the shape of a handsome lady killer. In his true form, he’s a mighty wolf, with wings of a griffin, a serpent for a tail, and breathes fire hotter than anything known to man.

Young Elli Becker crosses path with Marchosias, and soon the demon amuses himself by tormenting her. She knows the only way to stop Marchosias is to destroy him. But how can the untrained Elli become a hunter powerful enough to defeat him?

Rayne Parker doesn’t believe in the supernatural. She has made a life for herself as a Private Investigator and plans a future with the charming Liam Clayton. Then the ghoulish Lucinda Deveraux pays her a visit. Her outlandish claim that only Rayne can slay the demon is met with hostility. But the madwoman makes a prediction that could change Rayne’s life forever. The fate of the world is at stake. Will she be able to stop Marchosias? And will she survive?

Buy The Book

Writing tips:

Have You Though About Writing a True Story?

Tips for author of biographies and memoirs:

Trapped in hell . . .

Author Stephanie Colbert recounts the true story of the horror she endured after waking up from a coma. The vivid nightmares, delusions, paranoia, and other psychotic episodes left her trapped in a world that threatened her sanity.

He fought desperately to save her . . .

Even though Stephanie didn’t know her husband, Quinton, and accused him of being an imposter, he stayed by her bedside every waking moment as he struggled to help her find her way back to reality. It was the toughest battle he’d ever fought, as he feared he’d lost his beloved wife forever.

Don’t miss out on this gripping story. . .

Buy The Book

Post-apocalyptic Survival on Kindle Store and Character Writing Tips

Nuclear war plunged them into perpetual winter. The survivors must rely on their wits and courage. Beware—you never know who wants to stab you in the back. If you’re a fan of Snowpiercer or the Mad Max movies, you’ll love this post-apocalyptic survival story with fierce females taking the lead. Plenty of action!

The e-book is $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon

GET THE E-BOOK NOW

Also available as paperback and hardcover.

On inspiration and fictional characters

I love George Orwell’s 1984. Everyone had to read this dystopian nightmare at school and the teacher didn’t accept no for an answer. I was 14 when the jubilant year 1984 came around. I loved sports: reading was my least favorite pastime. I’m glad she forced me because the book blew my mind. I cried when I reached the ending (a masterful approach to spiritual death).

So you have that Finnish teacher of literature to thank for my books (and this blog). I’ve dreamt of writing like Orwell and my dystopian book, Unholy Warrior stemmed from that dream. I put my main character through some horrific ordeals but I think the rat cage in 1984 is far worse.

I’ve read Orwell’s classic dozens of times, and each reading reveals a new layer. His characters are living, breathing people, and the English language easy-flowing, hinging on perfect.

Everyone knows that book because George Orwell foresaw the use of audiovisual equipment to spy on citizens- a nightmare all too real after the digital revolution. For me, the book is memorable because of Winston Smith and his doomed love affair with Julia.

Happy writing!

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How To Market Your Book

Woman reading book with abstract flying items around her

A while back, I asked my Facebook group for authors, which aspect of being a writer caused the members grey hair. And that’s why this post deals with book marketing. Yes, writing the damn thing took years and cost me all my spare time! But that was nothing compared to the struggle of saying in public: “This is an excellent book, and you should read it.”

Join the Facebook group for discussion and tips: https://www.facebook.com/groups/569574570248527/

Marketing Versus Selling

There’s nothing wrong with selling your book (high five to the top sellers), but in this article, I’ll discuss marketing. What’s the difference, you ask…

“Selling is an action that converts the product into cash, but marketing is the process of meeting and satisfying customer needs.”

Source: https://mu-bit.com/blog/selling-and-marketing/

Remember that when it comes to marketing, what the customer wants is king. Do you have an ideal reader in mind? If not, now’s the time to picture him & her.

An Ideal Reader

“An ideal reader is the fictional person to which a book would most appeal. Most frequently, they represent a specific age group and interest or experiences, but in some cases, an ideal reader might also represent a certain ethnicity, religious background, sexuality, or other identifying markers.”

Source and more information: https://www.well-storied.com/blog/ideal-reader

Some identifiers:

  • Interests
  • Genre and theme
  • Why do they read? For entertainment, romance, or thrill? To escape or to find information? 
  • Demographics
  • Life experiences

Tip: Study what makes an ideal reader for famous authors of the same genre.

Mold your product for the ideal reader:

  • Write your next book with your focus group in mind (at least somewhere at the back of your mind)
  • Design your pitch (choose what to stress)
  • Cath the eye of your ideal reader with your marketing message (plus book cover & title)
  • Follow through and modify the message as you go
  • Do a bit of industrial espionage (the marketing message of similar authors)
  • Know your niche

Social Media Content

Social media is about sharing, and you must establish a connection before you can market, or people will just avoid you. Think about topics that you share with your ideal reader. Those topics can involve hobbies and other non-book-related stuff. Use them to stir conversations and encourage your followers to discuss. Follow other authors’ accounts and learn from them. Exchanging help among peers is advisable because someone has struggled with the same issues.

How do you react to “BUY MY BOOK!” posts? Which ads and messages catch your attention? Make a list of what causes a positive reaction (the cover image, the setting, the information, etc.).

Tips for gathering followers (and marketing your book):

  • Connect with your ideal readers (and people who converse with them)
  • Share their interests
  • Stir up a conversation–discuss the process of writing your book (historical research, a traumatic event or injustice which compelled you to write)
  • Find out what your followers and friends want (polls, questions, competitions)
  • Support other authors. Give tips and advice–lend your expertise.
  • Show them who you are (a selfie wouldn’t hurt now and then, show your pets and non-writing related hobbies)
  • Bring your book into life by discussing relatable topics
  • Go behind the scenes and show your journey as an author.
  • Be a reader
  • Take a look at your followers. Activate top follower badges, and thank your loyal supporters.

Source and more information: https://www.mixtusmedia.com/blog/are-you-making-one-of-these-3-book-marketing-mistakes

Giveaway content

Giving something for free might sound unnatural when you used a lot of money to get this far. Of course, you want book sales for your troubles. But sometimes the free lure can earn you sales.

Examples of freebies:

  • the first chapter of your next book
  • a sneak peek of an upcoming book
  • a deleted scene
  • a free first-in-series title before the launch of the next part
  • a free short story or novella
  • a free content library (images, blurbs, deleted scenes, character interviews, book cover versions)

Source and more information: https://insights.bookbub.com/how-promote-your-book-free/

Use The Cover of Your Book

I’ve dealt with book cover design before. Here’s the link to a previous blog post: https://rebeckajager.com/2020/04/17/what-authors-should-know-about-the-book-cover-design-process/

If you cannot afford a professional book designer, use time to make a beautiful cover in Canva, for example. Canva offers cover templates which you can browse by genre. Pay for professional photographs. We writers take for granted that readers pay for our book. The photographers need to eat too. 

When you have a gorgeous cover (the face of your book), use that eye-catcher in your social media posts. 

Remember to create a continuous brand. The same colors, fonts, and related book covers for a series all support your brand, which your customers recognize everywhere. Use consistent account names and steer clear from difficult letter+number combinations.

Build An Author Website

Having your website is a must. How to create one? You’ll find instructions from my previous blog post: https://rebeckajager.com/2019/12/24/1359/

An author’s website should contain the following information:

  • Your bio and photo
  • Excerpts from your books and book cover images
  • A link to buy your book on every platform you offer
  • A way to contact you
  • Links to find you on social media
  • Blog signup form (if you have a blog)
  • Newsletter signup form

Tip: Yes, you should have an author newsletter. 

How to build it? Use a MailChimp plugin, for example. There are numerous other providers. Check out my previous post on the matter:  https://rebeckajager.com/2019/11/10/why-every-writer-needs-a-newsletter/

The website establishes your brand as a writer and acts as a base for directing traffic. Remember to take care of your search engine optimization so that your potential readers find your page among millions. From your site, direct readers to retailer sites, invite them to join your mailing list through free downloads. Ask people to follow you on social media.

Book reviews

How to earn those fantastic five-star reviews which you can boast across your existence on the web? First and foremost: write top-notch quality (means pay a professional editor).

Ask people to review:

  • Ask for a review at the back of your book and on social media
  • Offer an ebook for free
  • Ask for comments in your paid ads
  • Search for book bloggers and email them
  • Swap reviews with other authors
  • Once you have subscribers on your newsletter list, ask them
  • Offer an advanced readers copy (ARC) and establish an ARC launch team
  • Join reader rooms

Source and more information: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2018/08/29/book-marketing-10-ways-to-get-reviews-for-your-book/

ARC

An advanced reader’s copy is used for promotional purposes before publication. Offer ARCs to readers who will post endorsements and write reviews. An ARC should be free of charge and offered in exchange for newsletter subscriptions because those email addresses are worth their weight in gold. Market the ARCs through every channel at your disposal and gather a set of names as your ARC launch team.

More information: https://www.1106design.com/2019/11/06/what-is-an-advance-reader-copy/

Reader Sites

Did you know you can send book recommendations on several platforms? BookBub and Goodreads are the ones you probably know, but here’s a list of other sites where you can design an author profile: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/technology/10-best-book-recommendation-sites-you-need-know.html

Most big platforms offer paid advertising, but remember than reviewing and recommending other writer’s books is an essential part of building your community.

Paid advertising

Ads on Amazon

“In addition to selling your book on Amazon, you can also promote it there, too. If you do decide to buy advertising, choose the sponsored product ads option. This pay-per-click ad allows you to target Amazon users with keywords that are related to your book.”

Source and more information: https://nybookeditors.com/2018/05/9-tips-for-marketing-your-first-book/

Facebook ads:

Remember that paying for a Facebook ad doesn’t mean you’ll get results as book sales or even clicks on that Amazon link. At the heart of any successful Facebook ad campaign is understanding your marketing goals and thus choosing which action you want the ideal reader to perform. Start by experimenting with a few bucks and register what works. Link your FB ads with the other measures mentioned in this article.

“The first thing to clear up is that there are different types of authors and different goals for your book. And once you are clear on the next step, a reader should take with you, your marketing strategy becomes clearer.”

Source and more information: https://www.andreavahl.com/facebook-advertising/the-4-best-types-of-facebook-ads-for-authors.php

BookBub ads tutorial: https://insights.bookbub.com/tutorial-how-to-use-bookbub-ads-to-promote-any-book/

Plan Your Book Launch!

Now, this is the most important advice I can give you about book marketing. If you just press the publish- button on Amazon and start shouting your marketing message across platforms, you’ve already lost the momentum which you can build beforehand.

More information (with a timetable): https://www.writersdigest.com/publishing-insights/18-ideas-successful-book-launch

You don’t have to throw a lavish launch party in person. You can do it online and record a Youtube video for further use. Even if the idea of an actual event doesn’t get you all excited (because you have to turn up in person and talk about your book in front of people), planning a launch means setting dates for all the marketing operations pre-and post-publication. It requires knowledge and action based upon your ideal readers. 

Some examples:

  • Take care of your SEO and write a list of suitable hashtags according to the genre. 
  • Do a cover reveal
  • Build hype before ARCs, ebook and print publications
  • Create merchandise and plan how to distribute it
  • Build your community (make a list of people who can spread the message)
  • Ask family and friends for help (yes, this includes your author friends)
  • Contact book bloggers
  • Contact possible reviewers
  • Devise social media posts and send them to your supporters via email:
    • Tell them when to post and where: a call to action
    • Design a post for FB, Twitter, Instagram, and so on, complete with images and hashtags. Remember allowed text length in different media.
    • Make posting easy
  • Join Facebook groups and ask the admins if you can post about your launch

And remember to have fun. We don’t become writers unless we have a dream.

Other marketing tips:

What Authors Should Know About The Book Cover Design Process

final hardback cover for wordpress

The Value of A Beautiful Book Cover

Most books evoke a feeling the instant you look at them. In the perfect scenario, the title whips up the intrigue, and the cover has gorgeous artwork. As you read the blurb and author bio, you become convinced that you must buy this book.

The surefire elements to use in a book cover are the Main Character and the setting of your story. Most authors choose this scenario. Some book cover artists have a special gift of creating motion, but a static capture of your hero/heroine in his/her natural habitat works.

Important features

The aim is to inform the customer about the following facts (within a few second’s decision time):

  • genre
  • mood
  • main character
  • setting and era
  • theme
  • author

Industrial Espionage

Look at other author’s choices. If you find a cover that matches all your hopes, find out who the artist is, and hire him/her. Collecting a set of all-time favorites helps you decide on the critical elements. If you hire a professional graphic designer, he will ask what kind of covers you like

 Other tips