Want to develop your character? Write a Dating Profile

canstockphoto15012604Run a Google search for “character profiles” and you’ll pull-up lot’s of character worksheets and questionnaires. Some of them are really basic, asking your character’s favorite color or if he ever had a pet. Others delve into character background – sometimes tracing steps all the way back to the character’s immigrant great, great grandparents.

But what if we took a real world approach to character profiles?

Stay with me, as this may sound crazy — but dating websites are designed to ask questions that allow other people to really get to know you. They’re geared toward real people, and you want your characters to be as real as possible. So, what if you turn the profile around and answer questions in the head of your protagonist (or antagonist or love interest or whoever). You’ll really get to know that character, and probably discover some new, surprising things in the process.

Here are some sample questions from an eHarmony profile:

  • Other than appearance, what is the first thing that people notice about you?
  • What are your three BEST life skills?
  • Four things your friends say you are…
  • What are five things you “can’t live without?”
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What are three things for which you are most thankful?
  • What is the ONE thing that people DON’T notice about you right away that you WISH they WOULD?

These questions (and many more found in a good dating questionnaire) go beyond the basic height, weight and hair color descriptions found on generic character profiles, and really ask for a deeper-level understanding. Spend time thinking about the answers and it will directly influence your writing of character reactions and dialog. It will also subtly weave descriptions and imagery that lead your reader to say, “That character was soooooo real!”

Looking for more info? Check out these articles:

3 actions to prepare for a pitch to an Agent or Publisher

canstockphoto7819895Are you pitching your book to an agent or publisher at a writer’s conference?

A pitch is a short, private session with an assigned editor or agent. You’ll probably get about five minutes and you’ll want to be organized. So how do you prepare? Here are three actions you can take to be ready to make a strong, memorable impression.

1. Write a log line.

A log line is a simple, direct one sentence synopsis of your book, kind of like television episode descriptions on your cable’s guide screen. It should read something like this:

(Book Title) is a (word count) (genre) about a (main character) who must (story question) before (consequences if story question is not resolved).

2. Think about simple questions.

Next, think about how you will respond to some general questions about your book and its characters, and expect to chat about these topics for a few minutes.

  • Who is the Protagonist and what is his/her character arc?
  • Where is the setting and why is it interesting?
  • What is the story’s hook?
  • Why are you writing this story?
  • Who do you think would buy this book?

3. Create a “One Sheet.”

A One Sheet is an information page you can give to the agent or publisher as a takeaway. Think of it as your book’s resume.

If an agent or editor is interested in your book, the One Sheet will travel easy and has all the important details they’ll need once they’re back in their office. Include the title, word count, genre, the log line, a one or two paragraph summary, a short bio and your contact information. Remember it’s a ONE-sheet. That means ONE page…the front page. Not front and back. Not two pages stapled together.

Follow these three actions and you should be fully prepared.

The key to writing a solid murder mystery outline

canstockphoto5370784Writing a mystery is fun, but tricky. It takes some planning. Think about it. When a real criminal rushes into murder, he ends up getting caught. A mystery novel’s equivalent to getting is caught is the reader figuring out whodunit before the sleuth. And when that happens, it’s not just the victim that winds up dead – so does your book.

So how do you keep your book out of the morgue? It takes thorough planning. (a.k.a. The Outline)

I don’t know how some authors “wing it” and I don’t know any successful mystery author who ties all the ends together without first outlining the plot.  My murder mysteries follow a six part outline that begins with the murder. Even if the death takes place outside the story itself, it’s still the act that sets the story in motion.

The outline doesn’t have to delve deep into all the little details. Those can be worked out later. It does, though, include the suspects and motivations. It lays out every major scene and the genuine, fake and pivotal clues. Without this direction, I’ll get lost when I begin writing and go off on tangents and into dead ends.

However, you know that in any good murder mystery, nothing is as it appears.

So, here’s the key: There’s another, deeper outline that plots the off-the-page action. It’s the real story beneath the surface. It describes what the murderer is doing to cover-up his crime, misdirect the sleuth and every little deceptive lie. This deeper outline will help line-up clue placement within the story so they aren’t just dropped into the story but methodically placed.

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No Credit Edit: Ideas for Self Editing

No Credit EditDear JC,

I am a beginning writer that is trying to do a final edit on my novel, and I have a question and would like honest advice. What is the most efficient and effective way of doing a final edit before I publish it? I don’t have the money to hire a professional editor, so I’m looking for something I can do on my own.

Sincerely,

No Crediting Editing

*  *  *  *  *

Dear No Crediting,

Well, honestly, I’d say the most “efficient and effective way” is to hire a professional editor. However, since that isn’t an option, there are a lot of other ideas to take your manuscript to the next level.

For starters, when I complete a first draft (or 30th for that matter), I put the manuscript away, completely out of sight. I’ll start my next book, read a new book or just take some time off. In a month or so, I’ll pull the manuscript out of the drawer, dust it off and read it again with fresh eyes. You’d be surprised at what I find.

There’s several ways you can take this a step further. For example, a lot of authors suggest reading your manuscript out loud. You’ll “hear” the novel differently than just silently reading it to yourself, and you’ll stumble over awkward sentences and stilted dialog.

Another friend of mine suggests printing the manuscript in a completely different font. If you typed it using Times New Roman, then print in Comic Sans or Arial. The difference will allow your eyes to pick-out snow blind errors — or all those pesky typos that we don’t see because we’ve gotten so familiar with our own work.

Once I’ve reread my novel with fresh eyes, I’ll comb through it again concentrating on the words and individual sentences. I call this the “scrub.” I look for repetitive words, clichés and telling/lazy writing. I have a friend who prints out a hard copy and edits from the last page to the first. That way, she doesn’t get caught up in the story and instead focuses on the phrasing.

Once that’s done, I like to have three or four “beta readers” read it. If they find a continuity error or something that seems out of character or doesn’t make sense, they’ll tell me. A man in my critique group actually uses “beta listeners.” He invites a few people to his house and reads his novel out loud to them over the course of a few nights. He likes getting their perception of the story and allows them to ask questions and provide feedback.

Hope that helps & good luck,

JC

5 Ideas to generate book reviews

canstockphoto15925493Sometimes I feel more excited about the reviews on my books than the checks from Amazon. To an extent, I’m sure every author feels the same way. However, it can be tough getting readers to write one. Personally, it looks like my numbers for ‘Prey of Desire’ are one review in twenty sales.

So if you’re like me and looking for a way to increase reviews, here are a few tips I’ve found that work:

  1. Trade Reviews with fellow writers

You probably personally know quite a few writers from local critique groups, writing conferences, book fairs and social media. See who would be willing to trade reviews. It’s a time investment, but will be a good way to start building some numbers. However — and I can’t stress this enough – don’t trade 5 stars for 5 stars. You must still provide honest, thoughtful reviews.

  1. Join Review Groups in GoodReads

GoodReads has several review groups. You’ll find readers looking for a free copy in trade for an honest review. You’ll also find round robin groups that will provide four people to read and review your book while you read and review four other books. There’s also a great benefit in networking with other authors.

  1. Jump on the Blog Tour circuit

Blog tours are great way to get reviews, especially from bloggers that are specific to your genre. Through this tour, a set number of book review bloggers will read and post reviews on their website (and generally Amazon & Good Reads). There are blog tour services that will organize everything for you, but they generally cost between $100 to $500, depending on the company. However, you can contact book review blogs on your own and submit your book to them at no cost.

  1. Participate in Facebook Groups

Run a search on Facebook for “book groups” and you’ll find an entire author/reader network out there. Like GoodReads, there are groups that exchange reads & reviews. There are also book clubs and book marketing clubs. You’ll even come across the occasional post from someone saying, “Hey… I just finished the book I was reading. Anyone got any suggestions?”

  1. Ask for help from email and/or blog followers

If you’re serious about your writing career, you should have a website and blog that’s collecting followers and email addresses. Send the word out that you’re trying to get to X number of reviews and need their help. Offer to provide your book for free for an honest review. You’ll get some takers.

Looking for good character quirks? Check out this book

Book Personality TraitsI just found this book and I want to know where it’s been hiding. It’s a brainstorm of ideas for creating unique, interesting characters. And, as you know, I always say, “Readers may open the book for the plot, but they stay for the characters.”

‘Writer’s Guide to Character Traits’ is written by a practicing psychiatrist and writer, Linda N. Edelstein Ph D.  I have the second edition (which is available on Amazon for under $15 by clicking here). Honestly, I can’t put it down and I’m now trying to come up with stories to put some new character ideas into.

Not only will you find a lot of ideas on ‘quirks’, but the book goes on to explain how that quirk can affect different areas of a person’s life, including work, relationships and romance. It even delves into possible causes for a particular quirk.

Honestly, I think every writer should have a copy on their bookshelves!

 

Looking for more info? Check out:

Quirky Character Traits

Does Your Sleuth have a quirk? He better have a history to back it up

Confounded Critic: Should I write a bad review?

Confounded CriticHi JC,

Have you ever written a bad review for someone’s book? I only write reviews on books I like and say nothing if I don’t like it. However I think I just finished the worst book ever written.

I started to put it down several times but couldn’t. It was like passing an accident on the highway and you just have to look at it. It was that badly written. The story itself was kind of interesting, but the author knew nothing on the subject. In one scene, the main character had to wait for the family physician who was running late because he was busy performing a heart transplant. Another scene has a Taliban Leader talking to his followers, and his monolog goes on for three pages. The main character doesn’t show up until Chapter Four, after three chapters of various terrorists preparing an attack on American soil. The point of view shifts were so bad that, in one line, the POV shifted mid-sentence. And all the dialog followed one of my big pet peeves, which is putting the period after the end quotes. (ex. “I’m so glad to see you”.)

This book is a case study in how NOT to write a novel. The author in me says, “It’s not my place to say something bad about another author’s work.” The reader in me says, “Warn people not to spend $2.99 on this mess.”

 So what should I do?

 Sincerely,

A Confounded Critic

*  *  *  *

Dear Confounded Critic,

Bad reviews are part of putting your work out there. We all get them. So you know what they say — If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  In this case, you’re not sure if you really want to be the person to do it?

The simplest solution would be to contact the author in a private message (possibly through GoodReads) and not post a public review. However, if that’s not an option for some reason, then maybe the number of reviews the book currently has could help you decide. If there are ten or more reviews, go ahead and write a critical assessment. It will balance out the others. If there are under ten reviews, then leave it alone. Chances are it’s only his family and friends finding and reading it anyway.

If you do decide to write a bad review, don’t “flame” him. Reviews that give no details and just read “don’t waste your time” help no one.  It sounds like this book has the sort of quality issues that give Indie authors a bad rep. Ultimately, reviews are to help your fellow readers decide if a book is going to be an enjoyable read for the price. As a reader it is entirely within your right to voice your opinion and provide an honest review. There’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Good luck!

JC

5 Mistakes killing your book

Keyhole with hidden murdererI’ve been reading some Indie novels in a GoodReads review group and I’ve noticed several common writing mistakes. Some of them seem very remedial for published authors, and I wanted to call them out on it. Instead, I held back. So, I’m going to post them here.

  1. Writing too much description bogs down the narrative.

Don’t write long, descriptive details about the sky, the weather, the landscape, the contents of a room or what a character is wearing. To establish the time and setting, I limit myself to one or two descriptive sentences. Then it’s time to get into the story. Anything more and the reader will probably just skip over it anyway.

  1. Poor grammar and spelling errors take the reader out of the story.

I see them all the time in Indie books — peaking vs. peeking, set vs. sat, then vs. than, your vs. you’re; affect vs. effect… I could go on. Word misuse happens to all writers. I get it, but it still breaks the illusion of the story and makes the author look amateurish. Also, many writers don’t understand comma, apostrophe and semi-colon placement. Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases require commas. If, as an author, you’re not sure what that means, take a grammar class or hire a professional editor.

  1. Writing scenes that “tell, rather than show” won’t engage the reader

I think this is one of the toughest concepts for new authors to wrap their heads around. Basically though, telling is a boring lecture. It’s reporting information after the fact. Showing is describing the scene as it happens. It’s imaginative and the reader can “see” the story unfolding in his mind as he reads.

  1. Background that the author thinks is vital information is probably just an indulgence that’s interrupting the story.

Don’t drop in heavy, indigestible chunks of history into your story. Maybe some of the Protagonist’s background is vital to the plot (or just interesting) could be summarized in a few pages. However there’s no need to reach back to the immigrant great grandparents. Also, never, ever start your book with a data dump. If there’s critical information the reader must know to understand the plot, then drip it in pieces around the action, in the scenes and within the dialog – after the initial introduction of your characters and what’s immediately happening to them.

  1. Boring dialog creates boring characters.

Dialogue in fiction veers from real life in that the characters in your novel don’t engage in idle chit chat. Dialog provides essential information and reveals character. Yet, it must still sound real. Which can be tougher than it sounds.

Bad to Worse to Impending Disaster: Escalating tension creates suspense

Slide1

We all know that suspense builds as danger approaches. Expanding on that concept, a suspenseful story puts characters that the reader cares about in jeopardy. It makes for a great scene or, even better, a page-turning chapter.

Now, to create suspense in the novel as a whole, the author must gradually turn-up the heat. There’s an arc that leads the plot upwards on the Bad to Worse to Impending Disaster escalator. So, if the Princess is abducted in Act 1 (Bad), then the hero must risk his life to save her in Act 2 (Worse), until finally the entire Kingdom may fall if they don’t return in time in Act 3 (Impending Disaster). If the tension doesn’t escalate, the book will run out of steam.

 

Slide2

Tension doesn’t always have to be bloody life or death scenarios though. Depending on the genre, suspense can just as easily build through emotional, romantic or economic threats. The shy romantic hero doesn’t have the courage to profess his true feelings to the love of his life in Act 1 (Bad), then just as he’s about to tell her, a new suitor comes on the scene in Act 2 (Worse), until finally, in Act 3, the girl and the new suitor are about to get married and the romantic hero will lose her forever (Impending Disaster).

Slide3

 

 

Regardless of the genre, the reader must feel that the Protagonist is headed toward something terrible. Impending Disaster is just a page or two away. That’s tension.

Muddled Muggle: “I bought a website domain. Now what?”

canstockphoto18799595Hi JC,

One of my goals this year is to start a website – I just purchased my domain name on a whim, but… now what? I thought by purchasing my own domain I could just hook it up to a FREE online website builder software, but when I Googled the top ones (web.com, wix, weebly, etc.) it looks like I still have to pay a monthly fee to use my own domain? I thought the point of my already BUYING a domain was so I could set up a site for free?

Am I misunderstanding this? HELP!

 Sincerely,

A Muddled Muggle

 

Dear Muggle,

It’s confusing to me too, so don’t feel bad.

For starters, understand this: domains and hosting are two separate concepts. Your website “domain” (or address) is “hosted” (or residing) on someone’s server. You purchased an address, now it needs to reside somewhere.

If you want to keep your website free, ignore the domain. You can create a “hosted” blog on a website service provider, such as WordPress or Blogger. The catch? Since they’re providing the domain and the hosting service, your website name will look something like this: “MuddledMuggle.wordpress.com” or [WHATEVER NAME].blogspot.

If you’d like, you can keep the domain you purchased and still use WordPress or Blogger. There should be an option in your admin panel to add your purchased domain name. Once it is added, the free blog should “point” (or redirect) to the new domain name. (Google instructions on how to do this if you’re not sure.) Your website address will become the domain name you purchased. There will most likely be an annual charge for this, but probably not a monthly charge.

Finally there are services that will “host” your website for a monthly fee. Basically, your domain is living on their server. Some of these services provide website templates or you can build your own site and upload it. However, you should expect two bills — one for domain name renewal (mine is charged annually) and for the hosting service (mine is charged monthly).

There are smarter authors out there than me, and hopefully one of them will comment if I’ve missed something.

JC