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

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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:

https://youtu.be/phv85MERpLw

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/

The Trouble With Naming Your Book

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Your book is the calling card of the professional writer. You’ve spent years polishing the sentences and ridding each page of typos. Perhaps you’ve hired the quintessential artist to create the cover but remain unsure if the chosen title wins the hearts of readers. Have you aligned the title with the genre and the central theme? Is the subtitle absolutely necessary?
Some writers decide upon the name at the beginning of their first draft. Others have their finger hovering over the publish- button and still wonder if another title would cut it better.
Want to read a serial-killer mystery with a reptilian twist? Buy your copy of Romance Kills from Amazon.

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Do Google

My best advice for any novelist is this: Google the titles you have in mind. If another author has published with the same title, what consequences can follow? I’m sure you’ve heard about the CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE controversy? Tomi Adeyemi and Nora Roberts used the same name for their books which ignited a fury on social media.
“Regardless, you can’t copyright a title. And titles, like broad ideas, just float around in the creative clouds. It’s what’s inside that counts.” —Nora Roberts
For more information:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelkramerbussel/2018/12/01/nora-roberts-tomi-adeyemi-title-plagiarism-accusation/#6ab566414f51

Using Popular Names

A small deviation from a popular title looks like a solution.
For example, the word “Lycan” returns thousands of books on Google, and so does “Vampire.” Depending on how you handle your SEO (search engine optimization), you can drop to search result page 1001 or earn the first headlines. If Amazon has several other books by the same name as your brainchild, readers get mixed up, and the social media marketing (which you worked your butt off to create) loses a percentage of its impact.
Go for Lycan if werewolf heroes fill your plot, but a surprising point of view makes all the difference. Work with your title and invent a fresh twist: The Lycan Queen, Path to The Lycan Zone, The Lycan Plague… twist and turn, add the setting and spiritual question… and Google if someone has already used that.
Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid a namesake, with between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. And that’s fine.
There might be movies and videogames, and comic books by the same title and their themes differ from yours. If you write about religion, do you want the search result to include a game which features demonic assassins? Again this depends on your audience and genre.

Title Worksheet

Use my Worksheet on Book Titles to turn your book’s name around. (Download files from the Internet at your own risk.)
Before I named my post-apocalyptic spy thriller, I went through a hundred options. I considered the MC, the theme, and setting, but you can add your own angles.

The Subtitle

Be specific and bold if you need to add something through a subtitle. Sell your product to the masses, but your caption must follow the Amazon rules:

  • No claims of a bestseller, or rank or anything of the sort
  • No claim of deals, discounts or reduced price
  • You can’t reference other books or any other trademarks
  • No reference to other authors
  • No advertisements

“Subtitles are where an author can hone in and pack a punch with an artful turn-of-phrase. The subtitle has a distinct role apart from the primary title. While your book title clearly tells readers what the book is about, the job of the multi-faceted subtitle is to speak to the precise benefits readers will receive from your book.”
Source and more information: https://kindlepreneur.com/how-to-select-a-subtitle-that-sells/

Keep it Simple

The Internet houses an abundance of quizzes and statistics to find out the best book titles of the 21st century or the top-notch of entire human history. Agatha Christie and Philip K. Dick were the masterminds of name creation, but remember that fashions change.
More information: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/276.Best_Book_Titles
Although some of the most memorable books carry complicated and quirky names, it doesn’t mean you must use the same method. You’re not a classic writer who belongs to the reading program of each college, are you? If you want your customers to remember the name of your book as they open their laptop and start browsing, don’t over-complicate things.

Hooking The Customer

I look at the cover and the title in conjunction: to find out what the book offers for me. The process of naming a book reminds cover design. You feel compelled to add each detail which interests you as the author, but what hooks your potential customer while he or she browses your product (title, front cover, blurb, info about the author, etc. ) to asses if it’s worth the price? Will your book stand out, intrigue people if they have thousands of other books to choose from?
“Titles are essentially short hooks that advertise your book using the fewest words possible. It’s also what readers look for first when they discover new books, and can take less than 5 seconds to make a decision.”
Source: https://self-publishingschool.com/book-title-ideas-choose-perfect-title-book/
Form a mental image of your reader: who is the one browsing your book in the bookstore? What would catch his attention?
Elements of Title Generation:

  • Genre: General Fiction, Western, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Non-Fiction. Even if your style is a hybrid, you should be able to elevator pitch it. Explore genres: https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/genre
  • Important location of the story.
  • The theme: the underlying message, or ‘big idea.’ What critical belief about life do you convey? This idea must transcend cultural barriers and should be universal in nature.
  • What is the oppositional force in the story? The antagonist/a force of nature/ the evil within? Some book covers and movie posters feature the antagonist, and the title can do the same.
  • What’s at stake in the story? The fate of the world or the survival of a revolution? A warrior’s honor? A doctor’s career amidst a foreign war?
  • Where does the conflict stem from? Your book features a perpetual struggle which dates from time immemorial or your MC faces a threat from outer space?
  • Occupation of the protagonist?
  • Main characters goal? Can the customer see the intention from the cover or read it from the title?
  • Positive traits of the protagonist: a man on a mission, a woman of courage.
  • The negative trait of the main character: does his weakness pose a challenge, what will she sacrifice to win, can something threaten the MC’s goal? Self-doubt, fear… and so on.
  • Symbolism: paint a colorful scene or include the familiar spirit of the MC. A metaphor allows readers to visualize complex or challenging subjects. For example, Harry Potter’s scar is symbolic of his bravery, a badge of honor.
  • The sidekick or the mentor: if you’ve written a killer sidekick or a significant part of the plot depends on if the MC heeds the wizard’s advice. You have a colorful posse of YA heroes who combat an authoritarian ruler, and the close-knit group could feature in your title.

Book Title Generators

If you cant think of anything, turn to title generators. They direct you around a different corner even if the generated result isn’t exactly what you looked for.
https://blog.reedsy.com/book-title-generator/
https://www.listchallenges.com/the-greatest-book-titles
http://www.adazing.com/titles/use.php
My advice is to write the whole first draft and rethink about the name. Nothing stops you from writing down versions of your best choice each time inspiration strikes. And there’s nothing wrong in learning from others. Gather fifty titles and choose the best.
Want to read a serial-killer mystery with a reptilian twist? Buy your copy of Romance Kills from Amazon.

Romance Kills and Some Advice on Wordiness

Romance Kills Out Now

romance_kills_cover_smallA “Heartless” serial killer has brutally murdered three Romance Novelists on the verge of their breakthrough. The victims died after being stabbed through the heart. Why butcher romance novelists? Has someone he cared about hurt the killer?

Three private investigators decide to fight back, and the women meet in colorful, eccentric New Orleans. They must stop this madman before he strikes again, but are they willing to risk their own lives?

Find out and download Romance Kills from Amazon

The story is a collaboration of three authors: Stephanie Colbert, Schuyler Pulliam and yours truly. Each of use wrote the point-of-view of one character. Amber Buford is mine.

If you ponder about teaming with a fellow scribe, read my blog post about co-authoring:

https://rebeckajager.com/2019/04/04/should-you-co-author-a-book/

The Principal Sin of Wordiness

I write thrillers, and the genre hates rambling. You might write fantasy or romance, but believe me: readers want to get on with the plot! To combine straightforward action with the first commandment of an author: show don’t tell becomes a Mission Impossible unless you’re prepared to re-write and re-draft.

When I wade through the early drafts of my stories, I recognize the complex sentence structures. New writers want to stand out and prove their mastery of the English language. Getting rid of wordiness doesn’t mean that your writer’s voice bleaches as you strip the text. Reading George Orwell is a light exercise. He uses odd words at times and lectures about the dangers of totalitarianism, but the text flows. If you love J. K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins, return to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games with your wordiness-spotting goggles on. These famous ladies know how to get on with the plot. They force you to turn the page almost at gunpoint.

Hiring a professional helps the “green” novelist to trace the celebrity footprints, but most editors charge by the word count. Removing the excess description means you’ll pay less for the slaughter of your darlings.

Scan your writing for the following:

  • “Being” verbs. You’ll have to use “was” sometimes, but it slows the pace of your sentences.
  • Passive voice means your protagonist is on the receiving end of the action. Your characters should act: conquer, fail, and rise—not stand around besieged by lazy words. Use strong verbs which engage the reader’s senses, and paint a scene. Marketing masters know their active expressions: https://www.enchantingmarketing.com/strong-verbs/
  • But don’t go overboard. A thesaurus becomes the writer’s best friend at times, but use variation with taste. Dialogue verbs are the usual suspects which point to the use of a dictionary: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/dialogue-words-other-words-for-said/ 
  • (my pet peeve is “snapped” but replacements like: “avowed, beckoned, beseeched or cajoled” make me wince). Use alternative verbs with due respect: https://owlcation.com/humanities/400-Alternative-words-for-said
  • Filler words. Turn to your WIP and cut words without losing the meaning of the passage. Replace them with others who have more punch if you end up with a naked style.
  • Filler sentences. If you say almost the same thing in five sentences, feel free to cut three of them. I fell in love with northern nature as a child. When my books feature the animals or sceneries above the Arctic Circle, I beat around the bush. Know your favorite sin: wordiness is mine.
  • Clichés. These buggers consume space in your writing, and they have zero impact on readers. “Pitch black” inches it’s way onto my pages, but I know to weed it out. Tropes can kill your entire ending, but they possess sentences as well.
  • Unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. When it comes to description, sometimes less is more. A –ly here and there hurts no one, but these bastards multiply if you let them grow.

More information: https://writeitsideways.com/working-past-wordiness-for-fresher-writing/

The Action Scene

Wordiness destroys your action and adventure. The tempo of combat must be quick and tense. Perhaps you studied the art of fencing before you posed the villain against the hero in swordplay. You feel obliged to describe every gesture with due finesse and detail.

Rid excess wordiness from your action:

  • Avoid writing a character’s mundane actions.
  • Avoid having your characters’ seem to’ or ‘proceed to’ or ‘decide to’ or ‘begin to’ do something.
  • Say it once, say it well. Don’t teach your reader to wield the rapier, show him the cut-throat combat, and place your hero in danger.
  • Remember to engage your reader’s emotions! The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression will help if your words run dry.
  • Use your writing software’s find-function to track repetition. If you find forty instances of “was” in one chapter, you have a problem. If you use a fancy verb and repeat it too near the first occurrence, you destroy the impact.
  • Omit ancillary words and phrases: sit down- omit the down.

More information: https://www.maloneeditorial.com/novel-wordy-7-ways-tell/

My previous blog post on writing action: https://rebeckajager.com/2019/05/24/how-to-write-realistic-action-sequences/

Be Merciful to The Newborn

Evolution has developed writers into a cruel bunch. We flog ourselves without mercy, especially when we re-read our text. This phase can put an end to your writing career if your superego takes control. Let the first draft overflow with wordiness: get the book out of your head and onto the paper. When you revise your second or third draft, take care of tautology with due ruthlessness.