Category Archives: Write a novel

New Novelist: 3 Tips For Creating Great Fictional Characters

New Novelist: 3 Tips For Creating Great Fictional Characters

You’re a new novelist. You want to write a wonderful novel, with exciting characters — a bestseller. So you decide you’ll develop your characters by creating extensive bios.

Not only do you know what flavor ice cream your main characters enjoy, you also know their shoe size. You hope that all this attention to detail will make creating characters easy.

After a few weeks, you realize that your characters are boring people. You find yourself plotting their death. Unfortunately, if they die, your novel dies with them. (Sob.)

New novelist: the story question is everything to your characters

Many a new novelist has happily put the cart before the horse, so to speak. The cart being an intricate plot with exciting characters (or so you hoped — how could a private eye with a background in military intelligence be so boring)?

You forgot the horse: the story question.

From New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy:

The point of a novel is often referred to as the “story question”, or “dramatic question.” Although the story question might not be stated overtly, it must exist for your novel to be satisfying to readers.

In many genres, the genre itself offers insight to the story question:

  • In mysteries — will the sleuth find the killer?
  • In romances — will the boy get the girl?
  • In thrillers — will the hero save the world?

Your story question always comes first. By all means, work up character bios, but do keep your story question in mind, because it maintains your narrative drive, which is what keeps readers reading:

Something important MUST be at stake in your story. If not literal life or death, then metaphorical life or death. When there’s nothing at stake, readers don’t care, and they won’t read.

For readers to care, your characters must care.

Here are three tips which will help you to create wonderful fictional characters.

1. Create a character who will help to solve the story question

Before you create any characters, know your story question. You don’t need to know details, a story seed is fine:

  • A stalker hunts Character A. Who is he, and what does he want? When she discovers what he wants, will she give it to him?
  • Character A’s son vanishes. The young man drove away to start college, but never arrived. Law enforcement won’t help. Will Character A find her son?

Your story question enables you to create a character about whom readers care.

2. His past made him what he is, so…

More than the color of his hair, or his shoe size, it’s vital that you know that your character is: someone who… (fill in the blank.)

Whether you believe that someone’s character is formed by nature or nurture, a character’s past makes him who he is. Spend time creating a backstory for each of your main characters, but keep backstory OUT of your novel.

While it’s essential that you know why your main character rushes home before dark, you don’t need to elaborate on this; keep your story moving forward.

3. A quirk makes a character real, but avoid overdoing it

Creating character quirks is fun.

Your character might:

  • Have a favorite pair of socks he always wears when giving a presentation;
  • Rescue stray animals, until his home is a menagerie;
  • Hum under his breath when driving, or checking his phone.

A character quirk or two goes a long way. More important than quirks, are a character’s attributes: your character might have a quick temper, or be secretive for no real reason.

What’s the difference between an attribute and a quirk? An attribute will affect the story question, and the plot.

For example, perhaps your main character is scared of heights (attribute.) It affects the plot, because at the novel’s climax, he has to rescue someone who’s climbed onto a bridge. The climber is ready to dive into eternity, unless your character saves him… But he’s scared of heights. Now what?

Your character’s fear affects the story; it doesn’t matter that he drinks three, and only three, cups of coffee a day (quirk.)

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

$4.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 4
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels. More info →
Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily. More info →
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Self-Publishing If You’re A New Fiction Author: 5 Tricks

Self-Publishing If You’re A New Fiction Author: 5 Tricks

Although the halcyon days of the Kindle gold rush are over, self-publishing still provides great rewards, even for a brand new author.

Just a few days ago a jubilant author who’s been writing for less than a year sent me an email message with a screen clip. In the first 18 days of November, her two books (I promised not to mention the genre) earned over a thousand dollars. At the rate her sales and KENPC are going, I can see her doubling that thousand within a few weeks.

Until November, her books were selling just a few copies a month. Then they took off.

Self-publishing is STILL a goldmine, if…

Why did her books suddenly take off? She’s been doing all the usual things like building a list, and spending a little money on Facebook ads. Mostly, the gods alone know, but two things she did are clever.

Here they are:

  • She’s writing in a very popular genre, and is following genre tropes which readers love;
  • She’s writing a series.

So let’s look at some self-publishing tricks especially for new authors. Established authors can learn from them too.

One thing I should mention… if you’re a new author: be patient. Overnight successes can take quite a few nights until they happen.

1. Write in a popular genre: the more readers, the more potential sales

Pay attention to your genre. Popular genres like romance, with all its sub-genres, have masses of readers who love to read, and are hungry for new books and authors.

What if your favored genre has few readers?

That’s OK. As long as you believe in yourself (see the fifth tip), and write characters YOU love, keep going. Who knows, you might be an author who drags your genre out of obscurity. 🙂

2. Write in a series: each book sells the others

Yep. Write in a series, as soon as you can.

If you can’t — you’re not sure how to turn a book into a series, or your mind doesn’t click and go hey, this world could support a series… Write short stories.

I love writing short stories for the marketing benefits, and also because I can play with many different worlds and characters. Most of my novels had their seed in a previous short story.

3. A little marketing really does help: it can be minimal

Whenever I mention “marketing” new authors have lots of objections. They don’t know how, they don’t want to blog, etc.

As I’ve always said, a little marketing can go a long way. You needn’t spend hours on it. A few minutes a day is fine.

4. Use your back matter to promote your books: add an excerpt

Use the back matter of your books to promote other books.

I’m always amazed when I mention this to authors (established authors, as well as newbies) and discover that they aren’t doing it, because it’s so simple.

When you’ve written the second book in a series, edit Book 1 to include the first scene or two of Book 2 in the back matter. Also at the end of Book 2, mention “Book 3 coming soon” and add a link to your website or Facebook page.

When Book 3 comes out, edit Book 2, to provide an except of Book 3 in the back matter. And so on and so forth.

It takes just 20 minutes to edit a book, and republish it.

5. Believe in yourself: write in a genre which is fun for you

Which genres of fiction do you read for fun? If you’re not reading a genre with pleasure, you’re unlikely to be able to write successfully in that genre. Your reading tells you what readers of the genre want.

When your writing is FUN for you, it’s likely to be fun for readers, as well. Please don’t torture yourself, trying to write in a genre which bores you, or which you actively dislike. It won’t work.

(Bonus tip) Avoid freebies and 99 cent ebooks

“Free” isn’t a guarantee of anything, least of all readers. Today, readers have so many freebies offered to them that they no longer trust “free.” They tend to look on 99 cent ebooks as trash too.

If you’re uncertain about pricing, price at the upper levels of the indie authors in your genre.

Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today

Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today

eBook: $5.99
You can, when you discover the secrets of writing blurbs (book descriptions) which sell. More info →
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Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly. More info →
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Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.

5 Simple NaNoWriMo Writing Hacks You Can Use Today

5 Simple NaNoWriMo Writing Hacks You Can Use Today

It’s the first day of NaNoWriMo, and you’ve got some 1700 words of your novel to write today.

Firstly, kudos if you’re taking part. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, and with any luck at all, you’ll write and publish your novel.

NaNoWriMo hacks: easy tricks to survive November

Anytime I’ve got an important writing project, I take half an hour or so to plan the project, and to do a mini SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. So that’s our first hack.

Let’s look at some fun tricks to make NaNoWriMo easier.

1. SWOT it first: an analysis is fun, and often surprising

Grab a notepad, or an index card. Use a card if you’ll be writing in different locations; you can take the card with you.

Print SWOT vertically down the page, leaving some lines between the letters.

Now think about:

  • Your strengths, whatever they may be. Maybe you’ve got an amazing outline, and have scheduled each day’s writing carefully.
  • Any weaknesses. Are you terrified because it’s your first novel? Maybe you’re writing in a genre new to you.
  • Opportunities. Can you think of any opportunities which you might get as a result of doing NaNoWriMo? Perhaps you’ll write a bestseller… 😉
  • Threats? You know yourself — maybe you’re worried that you’ll procrastinate, or will get bored…

Here’s why a SWOT helps, even if you just take five minutes to do it very quickly. It gets the benefits and challenges out of your head, and onto the page. Your subconscious mind will begin working on solutions to threats, so that you can overcome them.

2. Do writing sprints with a countdown timer

The first four days of any novel are slow if you’ve done zero preparation — and even if you’ve done lots of preparation. You’re finding your voice for this novel.

However, often the idea that “the first days are slow” can merely be an excuse. When I catch myself getting too relaxed and lazy, I fire up the countdown timer in my phone. Then I write as quickly as I can while the timer ticks down.

Writing sprints of 20 minutes or half an hour are useful — you’ll increase your word count for the day relatively painlessly, particularly if you focus on dialogue. After the 20 minutes, you can go back and fill in the blanks of the scene you’re writing.

3. Create a BIG mind map, and update it daily

I work on several novels and short stories at any one time; my own, and others’. I have a “novel” mind map template, and have these branches from the central idea:

  • Characters;
  • Settings;
  • Story question;
  • Time line;
  • Open loops.

It’s easy to add to the mind map while you’re writing. For example, I might have these branches off “characters”: attributes; physical appearance; REMEMBER.

I have REMEMBER coming off each of the major branches, because there’s always something which I know I’ll forget, especially anything related to minor characters. In mysteries, there’s always red herrings; I need to remember where I planted them, and how I’ll resolve them.

The “open loops” branch is handy. Anytime you leave readers wondering about something, it’s essential you start closing your open loops at around the 60% done mark of the novel.

4. “Outline” at least two scenes ahead: just one sentence is fine

As I point out in Map It, my book on outlines for writers who hate outlines, I’m not huge on outlines. I like to work things out as I go.

One thing I’ve found however: I notice this in my students who prefer pantsing too… if you don’t write down at least a sentence about the upcoming scenes, you’ll block. Or you’ll head down a useless tangent.

Your brief notes for upcoming scenes kick your creative self into action. Those notes make writing easier.

5. Warm up with timed writing: five minutes each day

Speaking of easier writing.

When you sit down for that day’s writing session, do five minutes of free writing first. Just write as much as you can in five minutes.

It doesn’t matter what you write:

  • Ideas for upcoming scenes;
  • Character sketches;
  • Dialogue…

This brief warmup clears your mind, and gets you into a writing mindset. Words and ideas will come more easily.

OK — there you have it. I hope these simple hacks help you with NaNoWriMo — and with all your fiction, for that matter. 🙂

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99
Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters. More info →
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Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

$4.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 4
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels. More info →

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.