Tag Archives: characters

Write Fiction: 3 Tips To Make Assembling Your Novel’s Cast Easy

Write Fiction: 3 Tips To Make Assembling Your Novel’s Cast EasyYou write fiction.

Want to improve it? Here you go: focus on your characters. Fiction is always about the people.

People care about people. Of course your “people” might be purple dragons from the outer reaches of the galaxy, or rabbits as in Watership Down.

How to write fiction: it’s always about the PEOPLE

It’s impossible to emphasize this enough. Here’s an excerpt from Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today.

Readers read fiction for the people. Therefore, no matter how amazing the story world you’ve created, start your blurb with your story person; your main character.

The most common error I see authors make in fiction blurbs is that they start by describing their story world.

This rarely works, because… who cares? We’ve no reason to care about your amazing world until we meet the characters who inhabit that world.

So let’s look at some tips for assembling a cast of characters for your novel (or short fiction).

1. Think in terms of an ensemble cast

An “ensemble” is a bunch of things or people intended to be used together.

Here’s why an ensemble matters when you’re collecting a cast for your current or next book: you get to differentiate your cast.

You’ve heard the writing advice to “contrast your characters.” Characters in bestselling fiction, hit movies, or long-running TV series, always play off each other. They’re different.

My favorite example of contrasting characters is the movie The Odd Couple, original version. Felix and Oscar couldn’t be more different.

My favorite quote from the movie:

(Oscar) I can’t take it anymore, Felix, I’m cracking up. Everything you do irritates me. And when you’re not here, the things I know you’re gonna do when you come in irritate me. You leave me little notes on my pillow. Told you 158 times I can’t stand little notes on my pillow. “We’re all out of cornflakes. F.U.” Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!

2. Collect intriguing jobs to help you to create intriguing people

In Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Create A Character there’s a fast and simple character creation template:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Attribute
  • Primary external problem

Your plot is what people do.

Notice the “occupation” in the template? Harping on bestselling fiction, hit movies, or long-running TV series again, what your characters do to earn a crust is important.

Consider:

  • James Bond (secret service agent);
  • Harry Potter (apprentice wizard);
  • Super heroes…

Of course, you don’t need to write about secret service agents, wizards, et al. Your characters’ occupations can be more mundane. Check out the classifieds in your local paper, or even job hunting websites to find fun occupations.

For example, in Dying To Please, Linda Howard’s romance novel, the main character is a female butler.

3. Keep a collection of intriguing situations too

Similarly to collecting intriguing occupations, collect intriguing situations.

Sources:

  • Gossip: family and friends’ gossip, as well as news stories and celebrity gossip;
  • Nonfiction books, especially histories, as well as biographies and autobiographies;
  • Your imagination.

Writers and authors tend to be magpies. We collect glittering bits and pieces which attract our attention. We may never use those bits and pieces, but items in your collection will inspire your “what if” brainstorming sessions.

I keep my various collections in Evernote, primarily because I can jot down something intriguing anywhere I happen to be.

When you write fiction, you’re writing about people

To hammer the point once again: fiction is always about the people.

Another example of the importance of people. I just received an email promotion for Sally Koslow’s Another Side of Paradise: A Novel.

The callout sentence…

In 1937 Hollywood, gossip columnist Sheilah Graham’s star is on the rise, while literary wonder boy F. Scott Fitzgerald’s career is slowly drowning in booze.

The movie The Great Gatsby came out a few years back and I just did a search for “F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Lots references to him in Google, as well as suggestions for additional searches. Fitzgerald died in 1940, but there’s still considerable interest in him, which means that Sally Koslow’s novel should do well.

Remember (a final time): fiction is about people.

Happy writing. 🙂

Discover what sells in mystery fiction — YOU can write it

Check out our new program, Write Your Bestseller: Write HOT Mystery, Thriller & Suspense now. You can write a mystery, even if you’re a new novelist.

Planning And Writing A Hot-Selling Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 7

Planning And Writing A Hot-Selling Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 7

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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.

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Resources to build your writing career

Check out Angela’s Writing Classes and Angela’s books for writers.

Writing A Mystery Novel: 3 Tips For Starting Your Bestseller

Writing A Mystery Novel: 3 Tips For Starting Your Bestseller

You’re writing a mystery novel. Kudos to you. Mysteries are huge fun to write. They depend on skillful plotting however, so be mindful of the needs of your plot.

Essentially, mysteries depend on suspense, and your focus is on three characters: the victim, the murderer, and the sleuth.

A vital tip before we go on: focus on emotion. What are your characters feeling? What feelings do you hope to arouse in your readers?

Writing a mystery novel: the victim, the murderer and the sleuth

A mystery’s three primary characters are: the victim, the murderer, and the sleuth.

The victim won’t play an active role, but the novel depends on him, because the entire novel focuses on the crime, and the activities and motivations of your murderer and suspects.

Your sleuth is usually your viewpoint character. Be aware that in all novels, authors create two strands of a major character’s characterization:

  • Outer obstacles (in a mystery, your sleuth’s activities as he solves the crime);
  • Inner obstacles: your sleuth’s inner motivations — what personal flaws and failings must your sleuth overcome?

Your sleuth’s inner life can lift your mystery from straightforward genre potboiler status, into a more elevated “breakthrough” bestseller status. (We’ll discuss breakthrough novels in another article.)

Now let’s look at our tips.

1. Choose your genre and sub-genre with care: your novel’s sales depend on it

Before I start a new novel, I like to check Amazon. It’s important to understand Amazon’s current classifications (keep an eye on them, because they often change), so that your novel can be found by readers after you publish it.

Here’s Amazon’s best sellers in its top-level Mystery, Thriller & Suspense genre (category.) Click on one of the sub-genres in the left sidebar — and you’ll find more sub-genres.

This can get a little confusing. Some genres are more open to gaming than others, so you’ll find books where they obviously don’t belong. Please don’t try to game Amazon yourself, even though people do it. You want your book to sell for years, so choose your genres with care: you want to help readers, and guard against an Amazon purge if you try to be too clever.

When you click on the Mystery sub-genre, you’ll see another list of sub-sub-genres. Try clicking on one of these to explore the titles. For example, should you click on the Series link, you’ll find mysteries which are part of a series, as you’d expect.

My suggestion: make some notes about possible genres for your mystery, and compile a list of links to the sub-genres too, so that you can find your way back to them when you’re ready to publish.

Although you can only choose two categories for your novel, Amazon’s algorithm will add your novel to other genres and sub-genres. Not happy where Amazon’s placed you? Contact Amazon. Often, the kind people at Amazon KDP are happy to add your novel to any genres which you suggest would be appropriate.

2. Introduce your three primary characters as soon as you can

We said that in a mystery, your primary characters are the victim, the murderer, and the sleuth.

Therefore, many mysteries begin with an opening scene of the unfortunate victim’s ordinary life. He’s alive, and he’s about to meet his end.

Readers expect this type of opening. An episode of the Law & Order crime series for example always begins with the victim’s murder.

The victim is going about his or her day when the murderer (or the murderer’s agent) arrives, and the murder takes place.

Remember: feelings. Your novel’s opening is an opportunity to hook your readers, so don’t waste it. Your reader expects to be there, with the victim.

In some sub-genres, notably Suspense and Thrillers, you can go to town and indulge yourself in blood and gore. In others, like cozy mysteries, the murder is air-brushed. The murder happens, and it’s nasty, but readers read cozies for the mystery puzzle. They want to know whodunit; graphic details are unwelcome and unnecessary.

3. Focus on suspense in solving the mystery

On this blog, as well as on the Fab Freelance Writing Blog, I’ve talked about developing suspense in your novels. Suspense is important in all fiction, and in mysteries and thrillers, it’s essential.

It’s vital that you control what you tell your reader, and when. In our Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive post for example, we talked about controlling information, and about open loops:

Many novels use a rapid cutting technique of a series of cliffhangers — open loops. The author places a character in a tough spot, and leaves him there for a few scenes. When the author returns and rescues the character, he’s closing that loop, so he immediately opens another one.

Please be aware that readers read mysteries for the clues. So although you should be careful about what you tell readers, and when, you must play fair with them too.

Plant your clues and red herrings, and hide your clues as skillfully as possible… But don’t omit clues, or readers will hate you.

Writing a mystery novel is great fun, so happy writing — I’m looking forward to reading your next mystery. 🙂

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Word for word, mystery authors earn more than authors of most other genres, including romance. Check out our new program, “Write Your Bestseller: Write HOT Mystery, Thriller & Suspense”.

You’ll discover how, why, and what types of mystery fiction are selling today, and how to develop a mystery writing career.

3 Tips For Starting Your Bestseller

124 Powerful Fiction Writing Tips: Win Readers And Fans, And Increase Your Sales Today

124 Powerful Fiction Writing Tips: Win Readers And Fans, And Increase Your Sales Today

eBook: $5.99

You want to write fiction. Perhaps you're a self-publishing author — or perhaps you're a ghostwriter, and want to offer fiction writing services to clients.

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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.

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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.

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3 Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Build Your Characters

3 Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Build Your Characters

In fiction writing, there’s an old argument among authors. Some authors believe that the plot is everything; while others believe that the plot is immaterial — fiction begins and ends with fictional characters.

If you’re unhappy with your fiction — your characters haven’t “come alive” — chances are that you’ve been pushing them around. You’re too focused on your plot.

Let’s look at some fiction writing tips which will help you to build great characters, and a wonderful plot.

Characters in fiction writing: two essentials for each character

New authors imagine that to create a character, you need to know everything about him: his shoe size, for example. Or whether or not he likes anchovies on his pizza.

To create a character who has the potential to be wonderful, you only need to know two things:

  • What he wants. What’s his heart’s desire — what will he sacrifice for?
  • What internal obstacle stops him getting what he wants?

Now let’s look at three tips to help you to build great characters who will grow your plot for you.

1. To create a character, start with an attribute to create an internal obstacle

In Craft Fictional Characters For NaNoWriMo: 3 Tips, we said:

I know some authors like to create page upon page of character bios, and that’s fine — although it’s never worked for me. I like to start with the basics, a fictional character’s name, his age, his profession, and his primary attribute.

Let’s say that we’re writing a cozy mystery, and we want to create a quirky sleuth. Without bending our brain, we decide on:

* Name: Mara Mason, age 26

* Profession: widow, who works from home, as a virtual assistant;

* Primary attribute: intense curiosity.

You can create a character within moments, as you can see. Mara’s primary attribute is curiosity, an essential for a sleuth. It’s also a double-edged sword, and this attribute helps you to create external obstacles for Mara.

Recall however that we also need Mara’s heart’s desire, and an internal obstacle which stops her getting what she wants.

Let’s say that Mara’s heart’s desire is a family of her own. Her parents died when she was young, and she lived in a long succession of foster homes. She wants what she never had. What’s the internal obstacle? It’s a lack of trust. Mara can’t trust anyone enough to reveal herself and build close relationships.

Vital: your character will usually be totally unaware that he has an internal obstacle which stops him getting what he wants. He may also be unaware of what he mostly deeply desires.

Although Mara may be unaware that she has problems with trust, and unaware that she longs for a family, you as the author are completely aware. You use this knowledge to build your plot.

Similarly with other major characters in your novel. You need to know what they most want, and what stops them getting that.

2. Once you know the internal obstacle, build your character’s backstory to explain it

Our backstory explanation of Mara’s trust issues is: orphan, foster homes.

However, if you want to write a novel which is a page-turner, keep 95% of the backstory out of your novel.

As we said in: Fiction Tips: Kill Your Backstory,

Your explanations are backstory. You need to know the backstory, but your reader doesn’t. You may have heard that you should start slotting backstory into your novel after the setup, somewhere after the first few chapters. This can work, but honestly? It still bogs down the story. You want readers to keep reading, so only tell them what they need to know, when they need to know it.

Backstory is a killer, especially for new novelists. I’m currently reading The Night Manager, by John Le Carré. He’s amazing. I love the way he handles backstory, but he’s an expert. Until you have Le Carré’s skill, avoid dumping backstory into your novel.

Instead, hint at the backstory. For example, perhaps Mara has a garden rock on her desk. She took the rock from the garden of the one foster home in which she was completely happy.

You can keep readers wondering: why is that simple rock so important to Mara? Keep them wondering, until you reveal its importance to Mara.

When you limit your revelations of backstory like this, you’ll write a more exciting novel, because you’re involving readers.

3. Develop your plot: your plot is the resolution of your main characters’ internal and external obstacles, in SCENES

You need to know the heart’s desire of all your main characters, as well as their internal obstacles. You SHOW the desires, and the external and internal obstacles in scenes.

We covered how to set a scene in Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction: 5 Magical Tips:

Character goals lead to: action, conflict, suspense… DRAMA

It’s often easier to study scenes while watching a movie. There’s less chance you’ll get lost in the words. So watch a movie, with a pen and paper. Pause the action when a scene ends, and replay the scene. Analyze it.

When you focus on your characters’ internal and external obstacles, you’ll automatically build a good plot, scene by scene, because you’re focused on your characters.

More Heart To Heart: Write Hot-Selling Romance Fiction

More Heart To Heart: Write Hot-Selling Romance Fiction

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: Romance Writing, Book 2
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction

I adore writing romance fiction, and now you can write romance too.

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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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Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Apple Books
Buy from Amazon Kindle

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.