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!
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.
And here comes the character-related writing advice:
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. The aim is to inform the customer about the following facts (within a few second’s decision time):
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.
What you need to decide
It doesn’t matter at this point who will do the cover. Before any of the graphical work starts, you must make up your mind on several matters.
Do you want to feature your main character or characters on the cover? If the answer is yes, you must know what the hero wears and how the heroine loves to braid her hair. What is the Main Character’s weapon of choice? Remember that nobody knows your sassy protagonist like you do.
Setting/ the background. Do you have an essential place in your book which could work as the backdrop of the cover? Decide on weather, time of day, geography…and so on.
Do you have a color scheme or other preferences? Which matches your idea of a cover style: magical, sparkly, dark, futuristic, dystopian? Bright light or a sharp contrast?
What are the themes of your book? Which genre? Do you want a traditional cover or something which will stand out among your numerous competitors?
Do you have symbols that could make a different cover?
What fonts do you like? What is your subtitle?
Author bio: you need an introduction to the back cover. Why would people read a book by you? Who are you as a writer?
Blurb!! This is important. Why would the readers love your book? Write the blurb for the ideal reader.
Provide the artist a defining moment from your book. Do you want this moment portrayed on the cover?
If you adore some book cover, define what is so great about it? Fonts, image, design, style?
Sometimes, you need to stand out among competitors, and that means choosing a different approach.
A modern dystopian example of symbol usage is The Hunger Games trilogy. George Orwell’s 1984, a classic, has worn several famous book cover designs since the first edition in 1949. This evergreen dystopian has spawned famous words like “Orwellian.” The ever-watchful eye featured in many a cover of 1984 has become the icon of Big Brother.
Another dystopian example is Margaret Atwood‘s The handmaid’s Tale. We all know what the red hood means. The books mentioned above (and their movie/tv-series adaptations) have become so famous that their imagery is part of our subconsciousness. If your story has a central theme or a potent symbol, why not use it.
Doing It By Yourself
An e-book cover for Amazon is the easy part. But if you plan on publishing a paperback and a hardcover, not to mention an audiobook, you must know the exact dimensions! Printing a book with an error in the trim size becomes expensive. If your book comes out in several formats, I suggest you hire a professional designer.
Trim size: the most common trim size for paperbacks in the US is 6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm), but you have several trim size options. If you’re unsure which size to pick, find books with content similar to yours to get an idea of what readers expect.
Page count which affects the trim size
Remember to leave room for the barcode on the back
Choose a Cover Image
The easiest way to start is to choose a photo from an image bank, download it to Canva or some other graphic editor and start experimenting. If you’ve got excellent image manipulation skills up your sleeve, combine two or more images.
Each image bank embellishes available photos/illustrations with keywords. You can find the spitting image of your MC by listing physical descriptions. Reserve time for the search. The cover is your book’s face and one of the critical components of buyer decision making.
“This should go without saying, but your picture should match your genre. Could you imagine if Stephen King’s It had a cute puppy on the cover? The reader would surely be in for a surprise. Now, that example may seem a bit extreme. But there are too many authors out there who don’t get specific enough with their picture. And remember, your photo shouldn’t just fit your genre. It should also support your specific book.”
The services mentioned below rank their stock in different categories. You should always check the license of a particular image before you use it on a print product. Each company offers various pricing and payment methods. You can buy a single image or several each month.
“Fonts are unquestionably one of the most important things that appear on a book cover – often being the “make or break” factor. The type of font you should use will largely depend on the genre that your book is written in. A recommendation that I made in my previous blog posts is to always look at the bestselling book covers within your genre.”
Or Google for book cover designers. Ask other authors about experiences working with a particular artist.
How to Make Sure Your Readers Love The Cover?
Publish different versions of the final cover on social media and ask your followers to voice their opinion. Cover reveals work as pre-release marketing. You can even design a campaign or contest around the cover reveal.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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. “
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”