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. 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

If you’re unsure about your book’s title, read my previous blog post about the matter:
The Trouble With Naming Your Book

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

See what mystery author Krissy Baccaro has to say about the book cover design process: https://krissybaccaro.com/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-or-should-you/

Read more about Rebecka Jäger’s book cover design services

How to design your next bestseller book cover

Final banner for wordpress

Buried Secrets: Early Release: April 29th!

Families have secrets. Some secrets are locked, sealed and taken to the grave. Others beg to be told. They ooze through cracks a little at a time. You tease them out until an ugly truth is fully exposed. Ella Perri knows there’s something hidden in the family cottage.

In his last breath, Ella’s grandfather reveals to her a startling secret that hints at something sinister. On behalf of her beloved grandfather, she embarks on a dangerous quest for truth. A World War II diary and the 21st century collide as Ella desperately chases every clue in a faraway and unfamiliar setting where the real story begins. Who can be trusted and who has something to hide?

One secret leads to another. Ella must decide: share the secrets and alter the fates of her loved ones forever or become part of the lie that’s been buried deep for decades.

Buried Secrets is a suspenseful mystery with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the shocking ending.

Buy the e-book from Amazon

Advanced Review Copy: https://booksprout.co/arc/32456/buried-secrets-some-things-should-stay-hidden

How To Write Dystopian Books

Apocalyptic landscape

“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

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.

The Trouble With Naming Your Book

Book_covers_banner
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.

amazon-badge

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.

Character Development to The Extreme

frozen moment

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.

Screen-Shot-2013-04-17-at-4.50.09-PM.png

Screen-Shot-2013-04-17-at-4.50.28-PM.png

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:

Emotion-Thesaurus-2nd-Edition.jpg

https://www.amazon.com/Emotion-Thesaurus-Writers-Character-Expression/dp/1475004958

masterlists

https://www.amazon.com/MASTER-LISTS-WRITERS-Thesauruses-Character-ebook/dp/B016U2K20O

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:

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/common-writing-mistakes-describing-character-movements/#

And remember:

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

—K.M. Weiland