Marketing and Promotion: Let’s Sell Books!

Ask the Author (Round 2)

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For many authors, marketing and promotion is the hardest part of writing. In week two of this series, in the segment on the writing process, four out of eleven authors listed marketing as their biggest challenge, and I’ve had many other authors give the same response when the question was posed. I know it’s certainly true for me. In days past, traditional publishers handled much of these tedious tasks, so authors didn’t have to, but with the rise if independent publishing to the forefront, those days may be gone. Even traditional publishers are doing less promotion, relying on authors to get word out about their works.

Today our author panel will be talking about how they tackle the task and which advertising platforms have been effective for them. Our author panel this week include RA Winter, DeAnna Knippling, Tom Johnson, Lilly Rayman, Ashley Fontainne, Jordan Elizabeth, Amy Cecil, Cynthia Vespia, and Margareth Stewart. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t for them.

Which advertising platforms do you find to give the best results?

RA Winter
RA Winter Most of my marketing right now is just using Facebook groups. I only post once a week or once every two weeks and include something snazzy to catch my readers attention. I write romance with humorous undertones so I always include a funny quote. The piece that I’m concentrating on right now is only .99 cents, and it’s a stand-alone novella. Once I have a couple of books written in the series, I’ll start using Facebook ads and Amazon ads to promote the series. Reviews on websites usually gain me a lot of traffic too. I concentrate on getting my work in front of reviewers right off the bat.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Whatever ones I bother to use consistently 🙂  I use Amazon Ads and BookGorilla mostly right now.
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve promoted other authors I like, and in turn they have helped promote my books.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I haven’t really found any that stand out above the rest. I have used The Kindle Book Review and BooksGoSocial. I have also used eBooksstage as well, but nothing has jumped out at me as being a cut above the rest at this point. You see lots of sites that offer lots of results, and yet nothing is ever guaranteed. I do like that BooksGoSocial offer a non-quibble money back guarantee on their paid marketing services.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Bookbub and Goodreads.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Buying ads on reputable sites, like Robin Reads, has been the most lucrative.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I really haven’t tried to do any advertising yet. I have tried Amazon, but really haven’t had any results from it that were profitable.


Have you found any free advertising platforms to be effective for selling books?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve not found any free advertising. Everything comes with a price, or something attached that I have found, and if I’m not careful I could find myself busier promoting other things than my books.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Only in that they work to promote free books and get free book downloads. Generally, the readers I have found on the free advertising platforms are looking for free reads, and this rarely moves through to them purchasing further books.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Bookbub and Ereader News Today are the two I typically use for best results.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Newsletters would have to be the best.  They put your book in their newsletter, you put theirs in yours.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Social media, but I’m uncertain on the exact ROI.


If you use paid advertising, do you think it is worth it? Which platforms do you find to give the best results?

 

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I’m still on a steep learning curve when it comes to paid ads. I’ve tried a lot of things.  Amazon Ads and BookGorilla are good for me; I don’t use FB right now because it fries my brain, so it’s automatically not effective when I do try it! I have an upcoming BookBub international ad; I’m not sure how that’ll go yet, but people speak well of them.
I wouldn’t just count the sales that you make on the day of an ad in order to judge effectiveness, but look at the general boost something gives you over time. I know it’s hard to assess how things are doing with Amazon right now; the holiday season is always nuts, either blowing up your sales or tanking them, and leaving little question marks floating around your head like birdies in a Warner Brothers cartoon. I would suggest not to judge your efforts too harshly until like March or so.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I haven’t found one worthwhile yet, and I’m suspicious of most.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I haven’t found any paid advertising to be worth it at this point, but I will keep experimenting and see what happens. I’m hopeful that once I have completed my Unexpected Trilogy in 2019, that a marketing campaign will garner more traction.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan No.  I’ve never made back the cost of the ad.  Is it worth it for the exposure?  YES!  Even if one new person reads it, then it was worth it to me.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve used Amazon’s ad service but it did nothing for me.


Have you used press releases as a method of creating buzz for your books?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Nope, although I wouldn’t rule it out.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, but with zero effect.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman No. I considered running a press release from a charity anthology I have organised that releases Dec 1, but someone I was talking to in my local library said newspapers are a dying media, social media has more impact. So, I have stuck to creating media kits for bloggers to use if they want to share my releases.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I have, yet didn’t see positive results.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I did for my first books, but it never seemed to yield good results.  Maybe I wasn’t doing it right?  I know some authors have great success with it.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Yes, but only when the book I wrote had something prominent to say. For instance, in my latest novel Karma (Book 1 in the Silker Butters Superhero Series) I used a woman of Indian heritage as my protagonist. So I released a press release on it because I felt it was important that we start to diversify our characters.


Could you explain what your street team does (if you have one) and how you go about building a street team?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve never had a street team, though many of my friends have taken it on themselves to help me advertise my books.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I haven’t got a street team, but I do have a close groups of author friends that share any posts for sales or giveaways when I ask them to.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I don’t have a street team anymore, but when I did, I comprised it of loyal readers who asked if they could help me somehow.  We became a close-knit group of friends.  They would often reach out to bloggers on my behalf or share things on social media.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil My street team is amazing.  They share my stuff all over social media.  I do a weekly swag giveaway and tell them what to share and they do it.  Each week we have a winner and I get the swag from the signings I attend.  There is usually a signed book in there as well.  My PA’s have built my team by sharing it in TO’s plus other members share it.


Which types of advertising do you use for your books?  (i.e. email campaigns/newsletters/web content/paid ads, etc…) Which ones do you find to be more effective?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Newsletters, social media, interviews/guest articles, paid ads, blogging, connecting with other writers, appearing at events, getting stories published in anthologies/short story markets, teaching writing classes…  Advertising and promotion kind of folds into networking a lot.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I have a monthly newsletter, and a reader group on Facebook. I try and regularly post on my Facebook page to keep readers in the loop. I have a supportive group of Indie friends that help share my posts across Facebook, extending my reader base. I also find writing in anthologies is a great way of reaching new readers.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Newsletters and social media posts.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I buy ads and utilize newsletter swaps.  The paid advertising always works out the best.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Again, other than social media, I have not used anything else except what is noted above.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve dabbled in almost everything. I’ll tell you the least effective was hiring someone else to get the buzz out for my book. I paid two different people who claimed they did promotion for authors and I got little to no return on investment. Buyer beware when it comes to those types of individuals.

The most effective, as I said has been me, face-to-face with people having a casual conversation about books.


Advertising is a visual media and visual images sell better than text alone. How do you provide images to go with your copy?

RA Winter
RA Winter I love Photoshop!  I’ll take my book cover and if  I’m able, I’ll decompose the photo and add in some quotes.  If I can’t separate the photo, I’ll either blow up a section or place the book in a kindle reader and place it at the bottom of a scene that relates to the book.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak The sites I use generally handle that for me.  If not, I can throw something together fairly quickly with InDesign.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My covers are usually eye-catching, and that helps. But the Blurb must also attract the reader. It’s a double-edged sword.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I love creating teasers with powerful images and quotes from my book that stir the reader and pulls them in to want to one click.

Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I create all my images in photoshop. I love the creative process so much I started creating covers for others.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I can spend hours playing around on Canva.  I’d love to invest in Photoshop sometime soon.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy As a graphic artist I can make digital images pretty quick and I use them on different platforms.
Margareth Stewart
Margareth Stewart I use the same image and color of the cover to call readers´ attention and as an easy step for them to identify the line. I find colors very useful as well as the name of the main characters, one or two main lines from the book and of course, reader´s review. For 2019, my plan is to develop a line of products like T-shirts, recycle bags and mugs with best quotes and front cover on ordering by demand. It is surely one more add to the scene as I usually say.

What works best to sell books for you, as far as marketing goes?
Tom Johnson
Tom's Back Cover Picture Word of mouth. Friends and true fans recommending or reviewing my books.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I haven’t found my magic formula yet. I see a spike in sales when I take part in takeovers and put my work in front of new readers. I’m still looking for the key to unlock the marketing platform for me at present.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Old school word of mouth.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I enjoy entering book fairs online.  You discount your book and buy into the fair.  The fair is seen by countless people online, and hopefully they want to pick your book from the selection.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I only use Amazon.  I have tried using other platforms and have no luck.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy You just have to try as many things as possible to get exposure. The marketplace is saturated, especially in regards to ebooks. That’s why I still prefer grassroots, face-to-face sales like conventions and books signings.


As authors, they say we need to have a brand – an image readers will associate with us and our works. An image that encompasses who we are and the type of writing that we do is a great idea, to be sure, but what if you write in more than one genre?
Logo
I currently have published a western novel, a science fiction time travel short, and a paranormal mystery novelette. What kind of image can encompass all that? I’m currently revising my brand, or logo, (with the assistance of D.L. Mullen and Sonoran Dawn Studios), but you may have seen the red quill and ink I’ve used as a logo up until now, which encompasses all things writing to me, and really, that’s what I’m about. My resulting works are simply the products my writing produces. Below you can see that my new brand encompasses that, as well as being able to apply to all of my writing enterprises. You’ll see this logo soon, along with a full revision of theme on this site and on the new site I’m designing for my other writing endeavors. 
WordCrafter Logo
Tell us about your brand? Why did you chose this image? Do you believe it increases the recognition of you or your work?
RA Winter
RA Winter I write magical realism, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy. My Author RA Winter Logobrand is a ghost cat.  Why?  Because I started writing as a way to deal with the loss of my cat, Dingle.  He became the driving force behind my writing.  He’s usually a character hidden somewhere in each novel too and is just as nefariously adorable in death as he was in life.  I’m still playing with my brand, so it might change, but for now, I can’t let Dingle go!
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Strange, wonderful, horrible, interesting. I try to give my readers a senseQonderland Press that the world they’re escaping to is weirder and more interesting than our own, and that it has both wonderful and horrific aspects. I also want readers to be able to come back to the real world with a sense that they know it better, because they’ve been away to one of my worlds. That part is harder to explain…for example, you might put a fairy tale such as Snow White down and go, “You know what that stupid apple reminds me of? False advertising.” Something like that.

 

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Sorry. My only brand is that I am a pulp writer, and there are dozens of platforms for the genre, and my name is well known among them all.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I have created a brand, one that I feel reflects me. I try to use myLilly Rayman Logo branding on all graphics I create. I also have a branded set of takeover posts that I use on Facebook. I’m hoping for brand recognition to work well for readers to remember me by.

 

 

 

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  My brand was created by Aaron Siddall.  It is my name within a gear.Jordan Elizabeth Logo  I wanted something to reflect my steampunk books, while still being simple and recognizable.  It doesn’t just work for steampunk.  I like to think of it as gears working in my imagination.

 

 

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy My brand is “Original Cyn” It came as a play off my name and it has a softoclogobutton copy biblical reference about the telling of Adam and Eve…or Original Sin. This is why my logo is a snake with an apple. Its not that it signify evil in any way, its more the birth of something. And yes, I believe putting my logo out there does get me recognition I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve even started a new company Original Cyn Content where I incorporate my writing and fitness background to create useable content to help others live their best lives. I also do freelance content creation like writing, design, and video.


Is it more difficult to brand yourself when you write in multiple genres? In what ways?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Yes and no? I feel like different genres require different emphases. A horror story will focus on the horrible; a fantasy might focus on the wonderful. A mystery might focus on the strange; a sci-fi story might focus on the interesting. But I kind of want all my stories to make the reader feel a little like they’re reading a fairy tale of some kind. A little disoriented, a little more perspective.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, I am a SF writer, but I also write mysteries and westerns, and adventure. Unfortunately, most Groups where I advertise are  heavy in erotica and steamy romance, so I’m wasting my time. Erotica has cornered the mystery and western, and SF genres now. You can’t read any genre today without encountering erotic scenes.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I haven’t found it to be the case. I’ve simply tried to be clever in working the two genres I mainly write in together.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I actually just broke out of my normal writing for a Christmas novella.  My author brand isn’t on that book, but I am still using my pen name (Jordan Elizabeth).  If I decide to write more in that vein, I might come up with a different brand for Christmas novellas…something similar, but different, so people can recognize what to expect.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I think this is why I don’t have a brand yet.  LOL.  I write in many different genres and find it difficult to pinpoint something that covers them all.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Yes, indeed! It needs addressing different audience, using various platforms, and multiple ways to talk to readers. I actually do this now, but I´d rather stick to one genre in the future. Agatha Christie for instance, she created her style with a peculiar vast audience. That is incredible; it is so rare nowadays, plus her unbeatable style! For me, it is what I head to as a writer.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy So I’ve been struggling with that for a long while now because I simply get ideas that cross genres. It’s difficult to pin them down into one category. For the sake of simplicity I’ve said urban and adventure fantasy but they’re really so much more than that. I have some stand alone thrillers as well.

Look, we all write in different voices. I think its more important to get that across than creating a label that pigeon holes you into a corner. Your readers will get it.


You can see from all the varied answers we have here that different avenues to marketing work for different authors, and what works for one author may not work for the next. Influencing factors may include the genre or genres we write in, advertising budget, and author preferences. Trial and error seems to be the only way to discover what works for you.

I want to thank our author panel members for sharing with us, not only in this segement, but throughout the entire series. Authors are busy people and their taking time out to answer my many questions is greatly appreciated. 

Next Monday will be the final segment of Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Our panel members will be weighing in on follow-up questions in many of the areas we’ve touched on throughout the series. Although we’ve had many readers following this round, we haven’t had a lot of comments, so this will be your last opportunity to post your own questions for our author panel in the comment box for the post on the topic that your question falls under.  Here’s your chance. We want to hear from you. Any questions in the comments will be posed to our author panel for them to answer. So, post those questions and don’t miss the final segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2). 

For convenience, I’ll post the links to each of the previous segments below. 

Meet the Authors: https://wp.me/pVw40-3H7

The Writing Process: https://wp.me/pVw40-3Hs

Plot/Storyline: https://wp.me/pVw40-3Ic

Setting/ Tense/ POV/ Voice: https://wp.me/pVw40-3Ic

Character Development: https://wp.me/pVw40-3Io

Action Scenes: https://wp.me/pVw40-3Jh

Editing and Revision: https://wp.me/pVw40-3JZ

Publishing Platforms: https://wp.me/pVw40-3Ku

Author Platforms: https://wp.me/pVw40-3KT

 

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How and Why You Should Build an Author Platform

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Fans, followers, readers: these are what authors strive for. While we obviously want to get our work out there so folks will know about and hopefully buy our books, it all starts with what we call an author platform. Whether you prefer social media promotion or in person appearances, it’s all about making connections and interaction with people. Having an outrageous number of followers doesn’t mean you will sell that many books, it does mean that there are a lot of people who’ve taken an interest in you or your work, and with luck, a percentage of those will actually make a purchase. Hopefully, from there, your work is good enough to carry the ball and bring back repeat customers. But first, you’ve got to have a platform. You’ve got to have followers, and more important, readers.
Today the Ask the Authors panel will be discussing how to go about building an author platform and the options available via the internet in our present media culture. Our author panel consists of authors Amy Cecil, Ashley Fontainne, Cynthia Vespia, Jordan Elizabeth, DeAnna Knippling, Dan Alatorre and RA Winter. As authors, they all strive to gain a following and will be giving us an idea of what is out there, and share their experiences as they’ve built their author platforms.

Hugs for Authors
I think we all would agree the best way to gain a following is to write a good book. But your book could be the best book ever written and no one would know it if nobody reads it. In today’s market, one way to get folks to buy your book is through reviews. Our consumer oriented society has taken to placing high value on what previous consumers have to say. I met many of the authors on our panel when I reviewed one of their books. I do reviews in exchange for a review copy of the book and so do many others, but still it seems like one of the most difficult tasks we’re faced with as authors is to obtain reviews for their books. People are not too busy to read the book, which is good, but they don’t always take time to go to a site and leave a review.
Have you found any effective methods of getting reviews for your books?
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil I have my own ARC team and I also use Booksprout, which is very effective.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne Reviews are difficult to obtain because we, as a society,  are so busy.  I have used many different approaches yet have had the most success with BookBub and audio books. Audio listeners tend to write more reviews. For example,  my novel Tainted Cure has 26 reviews on Amazon and 71 on Audible. I have noticed a lot of audio reviewers don’t post their reviews on Amazon yet I’m not sure why.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Effective? Not really at this point. I’ve done giveaways and requests and its hit or miss.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Unfortunately, no quick fix to getting reviews. You can spend hours emailing book reviewers and suggesting your book to them for review, or you can pay for a platform to put your books out for review. Amazon is also making it harder for people to leave reviews, which makes reviews almost worthless when you don’t know how long your reviews will be up before being pulled by Amazon.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan The best way I’ve found is to reach out to reviewers personally.  I’ll send an email to bloggers and make sure it isn’t just a form email. I always tweak it to match their needs.  Out of every 20 emails I send, I usually get 1-2 bloggers interested. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but its worth it for those reviews.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Not consistently.  It’s one of those things where you scatter some free copies around and hope for the best.  I have an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) list, but people have been drifting away from it–which is understandable.  You could be the biggest DeAnna Knippling fan in the world and still not want to conscientiously read & review everything I freaking write! I have a free Instafreebie/Prolific Works account where I host giveaway copies, so I don’t have to manually send them out now, which is nice.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Asking reviewers who liked and reviewed one of my prior books is the easiest way. How did I get those first review for my first book? I asked EVERYBODY.


Blogging can be instrumental in obtaining followers. I know most of my followers have come from this blog, Writing to be Read. The more valuable the content posted here, the more followers I get, and 2018 has seen my following increase in great bounds. Again, I’m not seeing a monetary value from this blog, but I am watching my platform grow. Many other authors have blogs, as well, and I wonder about the opinions of our panel members.
If you have a blog, how instrumental is it in building your platform?
 
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I have a blog though I don’t post often.
Ramblings of a Mad Southern Woman
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I blog for 2 reasons: to build my platform, and speak on topics I find either useful or entertaining. If you’re going to blog you have to be consistent with it in order to see any growth. I’m constantly updating my blog/site trying to find new ways to attract readers.
Lilly Rayman
L Rayman I’m not a very good blogger. I have a blog on my website, and I tend to share other author’s blog posts rather than blogging for myself.
Blog: http://lillyrayman0007.wixsite.com/lillyrayman/blog
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan My blog is called Kissed by Literature. I originally started it to review books. I still use it for mostly that, but I’ll talk about other book related things at times. To be honest, my blog doesn’t seem as integral as it used to be. I get more traffic on my Facebook Author page.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I started it in 2003 or so at Blogspot, and it moved to http://www.WonderlandPress.com…I want to say that was in 2009? I don’t remember now. I write a lot of nerdy writing articles. It’s led to more ghostwriting work and invitations to talk at places than actual sales, I think! But I like doing it, which means I do it consistently, and I think that’s the key to platform: What can you keep up with consistently? Not, like, three times a week consistent, but “I just like doing it so I end up doing it even when I don’t actually have time” consistent. That’s your real platform.
Blog: http://blog.deannaknippling.com/
Dan Alatorre
Alatorre I published a book and my wife said I should start a blog to build an author platform and get my book known. I was clueless about blogging, and had NO followers for a long time. I had like 4 followers and one was my wife and one was a spam bot. Now I have thousands, and in 2017 my blog got over 60,000 views. I rarely have a day without 150 views. The secret there was to interact with others, which is part of a presentation I do for FWA and TBAWP and other writing groups, and is part of a planned webinar and book I’ll be selling. However, if I were starting today, I’m not sure I’d blog. Don’t get me wrong, I get a kick our of blogging and interacting with my fans there. I have writing contests there and get beta readers there, etc. But as far as strictly selling books, a mailing list is probably better, and I’m building mine now.
Blog: https://danalatorre.com/

I’m hearing that an author has to have a website, and to be sure, it’s convenient to create a kind of virtual store front where folks can find all your books in one place. But websites don’t have a lot of direct interaction with visitors to the site, so I have to wonder if they are useful for gaining readers or followers.
How effective has your website been for bringing in followers?
 
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil Not effective at all. My Facebook author page does much better.
Website: http://acecil65.wixsite.com/amycecil?fbclid=IwAR2RzmgKSWbBoNn7g8O1i8GreIwNZsrPHVcyVtlpIlHkobx7XvMJSw3P24s
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Not as effective as I have hoped in the past, but that’s all about to change. I’m employing a new strategy, new design, and better content to draw in outside eyes. To you newbies out there don’t be afraid of switching things up. If something isn’t working try a new strategy. I’ve streamlined my author site at www.CynthiaVespia.com but most of my attention is being set on my other site www.OriginalCynContent.com so I can bring useful information regarding marketing, building a business, and building your best self.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Honestly? I’m not sure it has, but I like that I have it there, I can update my books on my website, share a sample of my work and other authors I have come across.

Website: Http://www.lillyrayman0007.wixsite.com/lillyrayman

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan People tend to look at my facebook page more than my website.  When talking to people and the website comes up, they always seem surprised to find out I have one!

 
DeAnna Knippling
deannak It hasnt brought me a lot of newsletter subscribers yet. But everywhere I go, people are like, “So I read your website and…” and want to have some kind of conversation about the things they’re wrestling with because of some blog post I wrote, so I’m good.
Website: www.WonderlandPress.com
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre For me, advertising and newsletters get followers for books. My blog and FB sites are more for existing fan interaction.


Many sites now offer authors a chance to showcase their work on author pages.
Which sites do you hold author pages on? Which ones have you found to be most effective for gaining followers?
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil I just use Amazon, Goodreads and Facebook.
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Cecil/e/B00XUPU5Y8/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1542940066&sr=1-2-ent
Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5888015.Amy_Cecil
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/authoramycecil/
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’ve signed up to so many, I probably couldn’t remember them all. Bookbub has so far been the most influential in bringing in followers.

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Lilly-Rayman/e/B00X5CR5QC

Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9866872.Lilly_Rayman

Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/lilly.rayman.7

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/MrsL0007

Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/user/mrsl0007

BookBub Author page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lilly-rayman

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/author/Lilly-Rayman

Romance IO: https://www.romance.io/authors/5617d075bfc6b5c0fa94082f/lilly-rayman

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’ve found Facebook to be the most lucrative.

Facebok Author page: https://www.facebook.com/JordanElizabethAuthor/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Jordan-Elizabeth/e/B00P0KBRD4

Curiosity Quills Author page: https://curiosityquills.com/authors/jordan-elizabeth/

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jordan-elizabeth

DeAnna Knippling

deannak A lot of these places, you don’t even know that you have an author page.  But I’m involved in the Goodreads, Amazon, and BookBub ones.  I don’t know which ones are effective, but they seem to interact with the GR one the most.

Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4456773.DeAnna_Knippling

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/DeAnna-Knippling/e/B0049HF320/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1543066052&sr=1-2-spons

BookBub Author page: https://www.bookbub.com/search?search=DeAnna+Knippling

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I have a Blog, a Facebook page, and I use Twitter. I wouldn’t say I showcase my work on them all, but I do occasionally on my blog. That’s not how I gain followers, though. The blog is for other things, like interaction, writing contests, etc.

Blog Author page: https://danalatorre.com/about/

Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/DanAlatorreAuthor/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU

Goodreads Autor page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7847408.Dan_Alatorre


Free books abound these days. Freebies are a marketing strategy which many book marketers swear by, and there does seem to be a rising trend toward using this strategy. Give away something for free and people will buy something else. While it may bring in sales, I’m skeptical. Even if it doesn’t bring sales though, if it brings readers to your platform I can see value in it. I use my perma-free novelette, Hidden Secrets, in conjunction with my newsletter. If you sign up for my monthly newsletter, you get a link for a free copy of the book, but only a few of those who have subscribed have claimed their copy, so I don’t know that it’s the book drawing them in.
For authors who have played with this strategy, fill us in. Does it work to bring in new followers? What has your experience taught you?
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil Yes, it works. I have a series and I always offer the first book free when a new book in the series releases. The first book draws them in and then it goes from there.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I  have a newsletter and if someone signs up they receive two free PDFs. I have done freebies before and had fantastic results, but only when using Bookbub and the book promoted was in the KDP program. The book had thousands of downloads and was over 600 pages, so even though I didn’t make money off the downloads,  I did on the pages read, plus I gained 75+ reviews.
(Side note: Since we’re talking about freebies, Ashley Fontainne’s Ruined Wings has recently been made into a film, which you can now view for free at the link below.)
Ruined Wings
Website: The Dark Southern Bell
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I’ve not done the “free book for sign up” bit yet but I have done some freebies and they haven’t done anything for me. The only traction I saw was when doing ARC giveaways for a new release and even then it didn’t get the response I was hoping for in terms of reviews. So now I’m very selective in who I give my books away to because everyone I talk to is constantly asking for a free book and it just doesn’t do me any good to keep giving away my profits like that.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I offer a permafree book across all platforms, when I do a Facebook event I share the link. I also have details of the permafree in all my books. I also offer a flash fiction exclusively to subscribers of my newsletter. When I share with people on Facebook they can get a free read for signing up, they usually do.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’ve done sales with free books. I’m not sure if its brought in sales for my other books. No one has told me that they read it for free and then bought more.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak It depends.  I saw a post recently with (to paraphrase): “Your freebies should be selected based on why you sign up.”  In technical terms, the article suggested “segmenting your list” so people who signed up on a mass giveaway (and who had probably never read your work before) got the first book in a series, and the people who sign up on your website get like a short story, character interviews, etc., in an ongoing series (because presumably they already have the first book in the series and read and liked it, and are there for more).  I’m thinking of doing that, but I haven’t yet.
The mass giveaway things, they’re more about performing a scattershot across a genre or a subgenre:  “If you like steampunk, you’ll like at least some of the books in our steampunk giveaway! But you have to sign up for the author’s newsletter list!”  The newsletter signups on your site, those people should be treated like they’re part of a secret club, where they get info & bribes & treats that a new reader could care less about.  I like that as a theory.  The thing I’m pondering right now is how to send out some automatic posts for the mass-giveaway people so they have enough interest/information to feel like they already belong to the secret club.  I really only have one newsletter, though: the secret club one.
RA Winter
RA Winter About freebies.  If they are used strategically, they can be an excellent marketing tool.  For that to work though, you need a series of at least three books, the more the better return on your investment.  Also, there are sites who won’t charge to post your free books.  Readers who become invested in your story will buy the second and third novels without batting an eye.  I always recommend giving the first book in the series away or writing a short novella that will feed off the series.  Giving away book two or three just isn’t profitable.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Free books have to be advertised, too, and on sites that make a splash. As mentioned earlier, those change all the time. The free book has to be of great quality or no one’s gonna read anything else you have, but you still have to have other things. Quality things. And a newsletter to keep everyone updated. A friend has had several books get over 100 reviews by using the Reader Magnets method and as far as I can tell, most authors with successful newsletters used a very similar approach. I mention this because I checked it out and I’ve seen it work, but most people don’t do it (including me). That’s changing. I started working on growing my newsletter last week and plan on getting it to 10,000 subscribers by December 31, 2019. That should help.

Dan, can you explain for those who may not know, what the Reader Magnet method is?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre It’ free: https://www.amazon.com/Reader-Magnets-Platform-Marketing-Authors-ebook/dp/B00PCKIJ4C


Which sites would you recommend for giveaways?
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil I don’t do a lot of giveaways, I have used Goodreads and Amazon, but Facebook works the best for me.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I have had the most success with Bookbub,  however,  it is expensive and hard to get picked up.
Bookbub Author page: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/ashley-fontainne
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Obviously Amazon is the biggest platform. I’ve had success on Goodreads for print books and I understand they’re doing ebook giveaways now as well.. Smashwords lets you set your own discount pricing so you can do a freebie there. I’ve also done some giveaways on FB during author events with some success.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I use Instafreebie which is now called prolific works for my giveaway links.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’ve found the best to be Amazon.  You can set up a giveaway and plan to get followers on Twitter, Amazon, etc.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I use LibraryThing and Goodreads (on GR, I set up an event where I link to the giveaway code; I’ve also done GR print giveaways and liked those as well). I’m getting prepped to go back into Instafreebie/Prolific Works in a bit. I like them, but it tends to be more newsletter signups than reviews.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t recommend sites publicly, but not because I don’t wanna give away my best secrets. (I can’t write enough books in a year to have a site all to myself, and I need other authors selling books and telling me which sites are doing well for them.) I don’t recommend sites publicly because they aren’t paying me to endorse them. Also, things can and do change quickly in this business. A site I used very successfully five years ago hasn’t done anything good for the past three years. When did it change? It was probably gradual, but what worked for me and my last book might not work for your book or still be working when you publish your Work In Progress. It’s safest to ask all your friends which sites work best right now and to get numbers, see what genre they wrote, and go from there. Track everything and keep using whatever worked, avoiding the sites that are crap. I will say this. When you do a free day or a 99 cent day or whatever on Ammy, do it in conjunction with a site (or sites) your friends have recommended. You’ll make a bigger splash and will usually sell books at regular price after the sale ends as long as your regular price isn’t crazy.


Which social media sites do you use to network? Which sites have worked best for you for gaining followers?

Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil Facebook and Goodreads.  Facebook has worked the best. I have used Twitter a little – but I don’t see a lot of action there.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amy.p.cecil
Amy’s Amazing Street Girls: https://www.facebook.com/groups/201903646918497/
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne Facebook and Twitter are the two sites I tend to frequent.
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/ashley.fontainne/
Twitter: @AshleyFontainne
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+AshleyFontainne
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Honestly, I’m not the best at utilising social media. I have a more interactive network on Facebook, but I try and post in Google+ and Twitter when I remember. Generally, I prefer to be writing than to be trying to promote myself.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LillyRayman0007/

Twitter: @LillyRayman0007 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lilly_rayman/

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LillyRayman0007

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use facebook (the best for networking), Instagram, twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Twitter: @JaliaDarkness

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I use Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads; Facebook’s the primary one, though.  I don’t really do Facebook networking on purpose so much as read someone’s comment and go, “That was well said,” and friend them, and then get pulled along into something else because someone knew someone else who knows me.  I think trying to use social media to gain followers is a bad idea in general, though.  It’s the trying and trying and trying part that concerns me.  “How can I try to get more followers?!?” asks the author, and ends up being a sleezy salesman for something that doesn’t naturally appeal to people.  Like, if you want to be a good seller, ask yourself, “How can I make this so tempting they can’t say no,” not “how can I get more followers?”

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deanna.knippling

Twitter: @dknippling

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/105906027867306495546

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I blog a lot, so that’s where people come to talk to me. Second is my Facebook page. After that, my newsletter, small as it is, and form there I rarely interact on Twitter or other social media. That’s not where my readers are. That can change with different books, though. For my upcoming YA book to do well, I’ll be pimping it on Instagram, etc.

Twitter: @savvystories

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dan_alatorre_author/


I share links for Writing to be Read and my books on all my social media sites, as well as participating in Facebook book events. I like and comment on the posts of other authors and interact with people. None of this sells a lot of books, but it does bring me followers and new friends.
How do you network on social media? Do you feel it to be effective?
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil I have two P.A.’s that share my links. I have a great street team that shares my stuff everyone and most of the stuff I do on Facebook is in my street team. I do a live video with them every week and am always visible to them.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I used to network quite a bit yet didn’t see any real benefits other than making connections with other authors, so I stepped away from doing events.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy It’s like you said, it may not be selling alot of books yet but as you gain followers this increases the chances of getting your work out there. But you have to network. Many people make the mistake of just posting about their books constantly and people don’t like to have promotions in their face at all times. When you deliver content to them that they can use or enjoy then you gain a fan and a fan is more important than just a follower because they will buy your books and support you. It makes me laugh when “influencers” talk about how many followers they have. How many of those followers translate to sales? If you’re not making progress in turnover what difference does it make how many people are following you? Again, be smart in your approach. It’s not a popularity contest, its about make intelligent moves in the social media realm that make people want to support you and read your work.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I share posts from my author friends, and try and interact where I can on Facebook, my name being seen, being active within the Indie Community opens the door for other opportunities to utilise other authors and their followings, but its important to remember it’s a game of give and take. As long as you share as much as you hope others will share you.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I like to reach out to people who have enjoyed my books.  I like to connect with other writers, especially so we can share tips.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I pass on what interests me. Is it fascinating? Funny? Horrible? Insightful? If it feels like something that I like that’s pretty normal for me to like, then I’ll share it. Like puns. I’ll share a good pun in a heartbeat. Doing that consistently, over time, tends to become your brand, or part of your brand, without being fake and calculated. Writers are there to entertain, interest, and educate people. Do that. Do the things that you’re comfortable with, and do them consistently and fairly. When people buy stories, they buy them because of your voice, your view of the world. So share that view of the world; don’t keep it bottled up. That’s my theory, anyway. And listen to and interact with other people. It’s networking. It literally is not all about you as an author 🙂

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I’d say this: have a presence on them all, but only use the ones you enjoy. If you aren’t having fun using Instagram, it’ll show, and people won’t have a positive experience with you there. That’s bad, and it’ll hurt business. Take on one new social media every two weeks or so, and work it until you master it. Then decide if it’s for you, while you take on the next one, and the one after that. Don’t try to learn them all at once; it’ll be overwhelming. One at a time, on a regularly scheduled basis, so you actually get to them all, and then work each new one until you get it. THEN decide which ones are for you. I have a presence on all of them except a few, but I use my blog and Facebook because I like them and that’s where my readers are. Don’t try to be all things to all people. I have bestselling author friends who don’t do any of this stuff and sell just fine via lots of paid ads. That works for them. It won’t be the right approach for everyone. What works for your friend might not work for you because she writes murder mysteries and you write romance. That’s always a factor.


Where have you found the most readers/followers?
 
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil Facebook
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne Goodreads and Bookbub
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Personal appearances. When readers meet the author face-to-face they remember you more than if they just buy your book online or interact on social media. This is why I always tout that in-the-flesh marketing is still very important when building your author empire.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Facebook, posting in author or reader groups, participating in page hops, and online party events. Although my BookBub following is picking up.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Reaching out to bloggers has helped me to connected with the most readers, and that in turn has delivered the most followers.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m not sure, but I want to say Goodreads.  But I’m a book nerd, as in I read more than I watch TV or anything else, and I review everything I read, so I end up attracting a lot of followers who are like, “I just want to talk about books in general, not necessarily yours.”  Hm…either that or running with several giveaways on Instafreebie/Prolific Works.  I got a lot of signups.  I lost most of them, but the ones who stayed like what I write.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I definitely have the most quality followers on my blog. Twitter says 11,000 people follow me, but I don’t interact much on twitter, so it’s not the same quality as my blog. I’m too wordy for 140 characters. I interact most on my blog, then second would be my Facebook page. Most of my readers come from ads I buy.


There are many paths for promoting our writing available, but not all avenues will end in book sales. Some may be routes that intersect with the roads that lead to book sales, and some may just lead to connections which build our author platform. We, as authors must learn to value those connections for what they are and not expect more than each small venture has to offer. If the path we take leads into an eventual sale, then that’s a sweet surprise at the end of the adventure and we should still value the connections and interactions we’ve had along the way.
Thank you to my author panel members for sharing and to my readers for reading. Their links are listed so you can visit their sites to use as examples. To give you a few more, I’m including my own links below, and you can check out my blog and website right here. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click through my pages. If you find something useful on any of the sites listed here be sure to let the author know with a comment, and if you like their stuff,  let them know by subscribing or following on the site.
My Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Kaye-Lynne-Booth/e/B071791Y9W/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1501007020&sr=1-1
Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16728576.Kaye_Lynne_Booth
My Facebook: Kaye Lynne Booth – Author & Screenwriter
                          Delilah – Kaye Lynne Booth
                          Playground for the Gods – Kaye Lynne Booth
                          His Name Was Michael – Kaye Lynne Booth
My Twitter: @GodsAngel1
My Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+KayeBooth
My Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kayelynnebooth/
My Tumblr: https://writeitrightediting.tumblr.com/
It’s clear that we each do it different, but we all have to find the way that works best for us. I hope you all will join us next Monday when the author panel will discuss the thorn in many authors’ sides, marketing and promotion. See you then.

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Action Scenes: Keeping the Story Moving

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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This week the Ask the Authors panel is discussing writing action scenes and pacing the story. We’ve got a great group of authors on the author panel and I want to thank them all for going the extra mile and getting their answers to me on a very short deadline. Our author panel this week consists of Tom Johnson, DeAnna Knippling, Mark Shaw, Cynthia Vespia, Lilly Rayman, RA Winter, Ashley Fontainne, and Jordan Elizabeth. 

A story where nothing happens isn’t much of a story. Action is what makes the story and each individual scene move forward. But, pacing also has a lot to do with it, and if an action scene moves too fast, we take a chance of losing the readers, and if it moves too slow, we may put them to sleep. Our ultimate goal is to allow readers to follow the story and want to read more, so let’s see how our panel members go about doing that.

What tips do you have for writing fight scenes, or car chases, where a blow by blow description might get boring?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My fight scenes and car chases tend to be quicker than most. I’ve read books where a fight scene or car chase will play out over six or more pages. Real fight scenes and car chases don’t normally run that long in reality. Something will usually happen to bring both to an end. It looks good on movie screens, but it doesn’t happen that way, believe me. And I want my scenes to be quick.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak The more structured you can make an action scene, the better, I think.  This doesn’t mean you have to plan everything out beforehand, but that you stick to a pattern of beginnings, middles with separate beats, and endings fairly strictly.
–The beginning of any action scene should establish the location that the action will occur in.  I’ve been studying some film techniques on this, literally if you look up “establishing shot,” you’ll get a lot of useful information on how to do this.
–The middle should have beats, in which one character tries to do something new, and then we see the results of the same.  Each action the character takes should be opposed by something–and that thing should be different every time.  In a fight scene, for example, one character might try hitting the other, who dodges.  Then the character tries to hit the other again, and they run away.  And so on.  No action by any fighter should be an unqualified success, although you can certainly kill off some characters who aren’t too important.  No major character should completely succeed or fail until the end of the action scene–any success or failure will likely be followed by some twist before the end of the scene.
–The end of any big chunk of action scene should tell us what’s happening next, for example, the characters are leaving a warehouse and running out along a narrow sidewalk near a canal, and we see the characters each leaving the warehouse and going out onto the sidewalk.  Usually this happens when you move the characters from one place to another.  You want to make absolutely sure the reader can follow the physical layout of the action.
–The end of any action scene should wrap up the results of the action and how the character feels about it.
I’ve found that breakdowns of action scenes in films are pretty helpful here.  Here’s an example:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUu8u5PcK3s
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Fight scenes! Now we’re talking!! I actually ran a hands-on workshop to teach exactly that. The tips I always give are to act out the motions yourself. Whether that means blocking it out like a choreographer does for a movie fight or using action figures to give yourself a sense of placement, do whatever strikes all your sensory details.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Oh, this is a tough question! I visualise the scene and I try to give an impression of the fight where the finer details are not necessary. Here is an example from a work in progress of the fight being witnessed by another character within the room.

Horus recovered from being thrown across the room before he hit the tiled floor and was in a fighter’s stance as soon as Seth was on his feet. Hathor watched the pair as they silently stalked each other in a circle. Seth was unarmed, but a far superior warrior than his much younger nephew. It was of little surprise to Hathor that Seth was the first to move in and engage Horus. He darted inside of Horus’ reach, knocking the blade from his hand before grappling with him.

The wash of testosterone and anger pheromones filled the chamber, making Hathor dizzy with the fight against her vampiric nature. She had always been more controlled than the rest of her brethren, yet at this moment, she found herself wanting to sink her teeth into Seth and drain him of his life force. In an attempt to anchor herself, her fingers dug so deeply into the column that hid her from few that she felt the stone crumble under her fingers.

Horus and Seth were still grappling with each other, using their knees and feet to try and strike a blow on their opponent whilst trying to be the one to throw the other to the ground. Both had something to gain by winning this fight, and everything to lose if they didn’t.

Horus was the first to break through his uncle’s balance and the pair crashed to the floor, the sound of their half-naked bodies slapping against the tiles overly loud in Hathor’s ears. Seth was swift to roll the pair over until he was towering above his nephew. His knees pinned against Horus’ elbows, knocking Horus’ hold against Seth away. Seth locked his ankles in tight against the younger man’s body, sitting down on his stomach and using his greater weight to help pin Horus to the floor.

Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I find the best way is to give simultaneous descriptions from the viewpoint of several characters involved in the scene.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I try to keep my sentences short.  Heavy paragraphs weigh down the action and can take away from the impact of a fight scene.

Scenes with a lot of action are exciting and fun and can keep the story moving, but if there is a lot going on, it’s important that we don’t lose the reader in the mayhem, causing them to drift away.

How do you write action sequences clearly, so as not to confuse readers when there is a lot going on, like on a battle field or a chase scene? Any secrets?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture In a battlefield you want to concentrate on a person, what they are doing while the action takes place around them. Ever notice in the movies when a soldier is killed, the action and sounds around him cease as his buddies bend over him. No more explosions, gunfire, loud noise until the scene is over, then boom! Here comes all the noise again. They want the audience to feel his buddy’s sadness for his death. We need to do the same thing. Slow the action, stop the noise, play the scene out, then go back to the battle.

I’ve been in real battles, and here’s what really angers me about combat scenes in fiction. The sergeant and his men are in a firefight with the enemy, and the sergeant is thinking about his girlfriend and the sex he had last night. Let me tell you, when you are in a firefight, you’re not thinking about sex or girlfriends, you’re only wanting to concentrate your fire on the enemy. Forget sex. Forget everything else. Concentrate on the enemy.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Once you have everything set up and you’re in the actual beats of action, only have two characters fighting or one character vs. one other assorted danger at a time.  Even when it would be reasonable for two conflicts to be going on at one time, just show one conflict at a time.  One character can fight off a group of attackers, but those attackers have to strike separately and be dealt with separately, or they have to strike in unison, and be dealt with in unison.  People’s ability to deal with real-life emergencies and fights is just proverbially bad.  You have to break things up artificially in units–very short units, so the reader isn’t aware that you’re feeding them information very, very carefully.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy You focus on your viewpoint character. There may be a huge battle, with alot going on around your character, but whoever’s story is being told at that point in the story you write what they see. Then, if you need to get information across about a specific incident happening in the fight elsewhere, simply cut to another character. But if we go back to writing about POV make sure you’re giving them their own chapter breaks, or emphasize that there’s a new character focus within the same chapter rather than bouncing from head-to-head. This keeps the action clear for the reader.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman It’s much the same as when writing a multiple character conversation, where you ensure that rather than dialogue tags that identify the actioner of the fight, you still use some sort of identifiable information. As the author you need to be clear in your own mind who is doing what, and then relay that same information to the reader. Of course, you want to be careful to avoid too much repetition of the character names, and try and use other monikers, as in my last answers example:

Seth was swift to roll the pair over until he was towering above his nephew. His knees pinned against Horus’ elbows, knocking Horus’ hold against Seth away. Seth locked his ankles in tight against the younger man’s body, sitting down on his stomach and using his greater weight to help pin Horus to the floor.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Secrets? No. Once the scene is written I go back and review numerous times and read out loud, making sure the flow makes sense and is easy to follow.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I keep action scenes short.  To keep up the impact of the action, you don’t want to bog it down or make it go on for too many pages.


Show, don’t tell. I’ve heard that from the time I first started writing. More than likely we all have. It’s pretty common writing advice, and it really is important advice to heed. When a story tells the reader what happens, rather than showing, I call it the omnipotent reader voice, where the narrator sees all and knows all, and proceeds to tell us about it. While there are places where this voice can work and even be the best way to tell the story, in most cases, it’s much better to place the reader in the middle of the action and let the story unfold.

What tricks do you use to ensure you do more showing than telling?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Sadly, good writers often forget to show instead of telling. One author left the bad guy to be killed off stage. We read through the whole story, then the bad guy escapes to France and the story basically comes to an end. But the hero gets word that the bad guy was killed in his hotel room by a bellhop with a knife. No fare. That should have been a main scene in the book where the bad guy gets killed. Why the author did it this way I’ll never know. But we, as authors, must realize that important scenes can’t be left to be heard and not seen. I don’t use tricks I just keep my characters in action. They’re not going to leave an important unfinished.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Make sure any backstory essential to the scene is handled before the scene.  Do the overall description of the setting at the beginning of the scene.   Then put any telling that’s not setting description in dialogue, and make the person saying use their words as an attack.  “I slept with your girlfriend!” is both telling rather than showing, and a verbal attack.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Focus on the five senses. He tasted blood. Her ears rang from the strike. Etc.

RA Winter

RA Winter I like to add in my descriptions in an active way.  I use each of the five senses to define the scene and go into a deeper point of view while using the tone of the story to drive the showing.  Does that make sense? Also, I use a lot of descriptions in odd ways, like this (pre-edit) passage from Twisted.

The air burst into a kaleidoscope of colored shards that twinkled. Whirling into a mini tornado, pieces broke off and a puzzle began. Steely white skin, firm breasts, long dark hair, piercing blue eyes, luscious red lips…

Everyone knows what a tornado and a puzzle look like and hopefully, you can imagine the scene.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman This example gives the reader a more in-depth sensation of the fight, than just being told. I’m trying to invoke the sounds of the fight with the reader and not just dictating the movements.

Horus was the first to break through his uncle’s balance and the pair crashed to the floor, the sound of their half-naked bodies slapping against the tiles overly loud in Hathor’s ears.

Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I try to include a lot of sounds and smells.  Adding in extra senses helps to show what’s going on without telling.

Of course we want exciting action scenes, but we need to keep it real. If you mess up a fight scene by saying a blow caused an injury which in life never would happen, there’s a martial arts expert somewhere who will read your story and call you on it. If you say a driver flipped a car end over end, landed it on it’s wheels and took off, readers will start dropping off because that wouldn’t really happen. We are told to write what we know for this reason, but nobody knows everything and there will be times when we have to write about experiences that we don’t have first hand knowledge of.

Have you ever taken lessons or sought out experts to learn how a fight might play out, or how a particular weapon operates, or perhaps how a person would react to a particular poison? Anything like that? If so, why was it necessary and do you feel your writing benefitted from it?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Actually, I was involved in Judo and Karate for six years, and studied come-along holds. Plus, as a cop I was involved in many car chases, so I knew what I was doing, and even though I quit practicing judo and karate, I was pretty well trained, and remember the moves even today, so my fight scenes come from my studies, and car chases from my experience.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I took karate lessons with my daughter when she was younger, have taken a class on guns (in which I was able to fire lots of different types), and have done research on poisons and a ton of other things.  I’ve been getting into studying strategic thinking too, so I can write some battle scenes.  I don’t know if it’s necessary, but it’s fun.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy As I mentioned, I ran a workshop myself that taught writers how to make fight scenes more believable. I’m a certified personal trainer and I’ve practiced different forms of martial arts so I know how the body moves very well. My workshop is a hands-on because it allows those attending the benefit of feeling what a strike is like. By that I mean I use focus mitts and gloves and I absorb the hit. To be clear, No one is ever struck in class. Its just an exercise in movement.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Google is every authors best friend to identify whether a certain injury would make blood trickle from the mouth or not.

My husband is a great source of knowledge on firearms and how to use a weapon safely and the sounds that you would expect to hear when you load the gun for example.

I also have some personal experience in practicing a martial art, and use that knowledge to help me when I am writing a fighting sequence using that martial art. I also still have contact with my old Sensei and I have him review my scenes to make sure that I have worded my sequence correctly.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I contacted a herpetological society to discuss a venomous snake and how the poison reacts inside the human body to glean correct information. I also conferred several times with a forensic DNA specialist to understand the process of testing and proper vernacular.

Margareth Stewart 

Margareth Stewart Yes, by all means! I need all kinds of information to get the correct showing of the story. So I use immersion into the character world. To do that, I use “Google” research, ethnology, interviews, visiting the place if possible, looking at photos, and I read diaries, too; so I can understand that context through multiple perspective. Then, I write. But, I only write when all that date has been immersed inside me, so it becomes part of me and the character can easily have access to that to make everything real, and it is real. This is how it works for me, and even after the book is over, everything seems real. This happens with my novel Open/Pierre´s journey after war, available at web-e-books.com, a novel about WWII. When I came to visit the WW2 Museum in New Orleans and I read all the real stories of men who had fought into war, I realized Pierre´s story was not fictional, it was real, I had captured the whole essence of it, and it is all there in the book.


Plots must move forward, but different stories move at different paces. The pacing in the story can set the tone, and keep the pages moving, but a story that moves too fast may leave the reader behind, or worse yet lost. A story that moves too slow loses readers to sleep or boredom. But not all stories are paced the same, nor should they be. Dialogue is one tool which can be used to slow things down, by breaking up fast paced action and allowing readers to catch their breath, or speed things up by informing readers of information needed before the story can move forward.

In what ways do you use dialogue to affect the pacing of the story?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Use the dialog to help pace the story. You can’t have all dialog, or all description, or all action, you have to let each move the story to the next level. In my story, Carnival of Death there is a big fight scene towards the end of the story, where the two opponents face off before a fight to the death, and they do this is dialog. They don’t just go into the fight, they move into the fight through dialog. The deadly fight will be fast, and only one will survive. One boasts while the other watches with her eyes as they talk. It’s a good fight scene.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I often use action to break up dialog.  (My characters can get talky.)  But in a fight scene, I’ll use dialog to break up action.  Anything to break up a continuous pattern helps the reader’s brain go, “Ah!  I know what’s going on.”

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t tend to use a lot of dialog. Let’s face it, unless you’re trash talking someone like a WWE superstar you’re not going to be doing alot of jaw-jacking during a fight in real life.

RA Winter

RA Winter Dialog is a great tool to move things along or slow things down depending on what’s going to happen next.  I like to keep dialog on every page.  Too much prose may be pretty, but it slows the reader down and might bog down your writing creating a saggy part.   I also love to write the interactions between to warring MC’s.  It brings out the humor in my writing.

Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Even with non-fiction, using dialogue can be quite valuable especially since conversations between the biographical subject and those that knew her or him really can move the story along, keep the pacing with the story you are trying to tell. This has been especially helpful in both The Reporter Who Knew Too Much about Dorothy Kilgallen and the upcoming Denial of Justice to be released Nov. 20. Using primary sources to reflect what Dorothy said provides credibility, the dialogue important to bring her story alive.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Sometimes it’s needed to slow down an action scene, maybe a break in a fight to allow the reader to catch their breath by having the fighters stop, wipe away blood, throw a couple of taunts at each other before they launch back in against each other.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Dialogue can help break up thick paragraphs of text.  Sometimes I have my characters talk about what’s going on so that I don’t have to tell it to the reader.  It flows better coming from a character.

Margareth Stewart

 Margareth Stewart I tend to use lots of dialogues within my stories and I do believe they are very useful tools not only to give voice to characters but also to place rhythm and dynamics into it. They increase the story’s pace and move it forward in a more three-dimensional way. I also find dialogues much more amusing than description and I have been focusing on them lately in my story. Sometimes, there is so much that can be said in a simple sentence. These are one of my favorite ones from Mademoiselle-Sur-Seine which will be published soon.

“Mind if I smoke?”

“No, not really.”

“Would you like one?”

“Oh, no sorry, I do not smoke, thanks.”

Louise did not really mind. It was just a cigarette and that would not make any difference. Louise was wrong.”

Excerpt from Mademoiselle-Sur-Seine.


What other methods do you use to control and /or maintain your pacing?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture You have to make sure your readers know there is a story here. I give any book fifty pages, and if it hasn’t caught my attention by then it goes in the trash. So don’t drag the story. Keep it moving while you are introducing your characters. Please. No sex on the first page. That’s not the kind of action I’m looking for. I want to know your characters. No, I want to be one of your characters. Make them interesting, and make me want to be like one of them. You don’t need to kill someone on the first page, either. There are many ways to create action to introduce your characters. Remember The New Avengers on TV? When we are introduced to Mike Gambit he is on the judo mat with an opponent, and we see him in action. Emma Peel was always in action even if she was powdering her face. These were characters born for action. That’s what we want readers to think about our characters. Don’t blink, something is going to happen if you do.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak That’s a whole discussion on its own.  I did a whole blog series on pacing, which you can find here.  To sum up:  Pacing is how you make the reader feel the way the characters are feeling.  A laborious sentence feels laborious; it feels like a lot of work to read. Making the sentences, paragraphs, words, scenes, etc., feel the same way the character feels makes them seem alive to the reader.
Handling the information in a story is somewhat separate from pacing; in general, put the explainey bits at the beginning of a scene, and only the explainey bits that you need to understand that one scene.  Beginnings of scenes are usually slower, so you don’t need to worry about the explainey bits dragging too much.  As long as the explainey bits are given in the character’s opinion, then they’ll be fun to read.  Stephen King is great at handling information setup; check out the beginning of any of his novels and you’ll see that he tends to dedicate a lot of words to explaining what’s going on before he writes any kind of action, no matter how tame.  He has a few stories that are exceptions (he’ll still have a few hundred words of setup before things get started, but not entire chapters), but he also makes sure the reader doesn’t actually need to know much before the action begins.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy This is a technique I actually teach in my workshop. It has to do with using very short, impactful sentences rather than long strings of description.
RA Winter
RA Winter There are a few key pieces to every plot. I mix together a romantic plot with fantasy or magical realism undertones then line them up on Scrivner.  Each section needs a purpose, clarity and a tad of fluffing. Keep on plot, don’t drag it out endlessly.  A good dilemma or a scene, sequel plot sequence helps too.  And most importantly, listen to alpha or beta readers.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Oh, another curly question! You avoid the slowest paces by avoiding too many unnecessary details – such as the fact the reader doesn’t really need to know the ins and outs of the main characters showering habits. You only need to include the shower if there is anything going to happen whilst the character is in the shower – such as an intruder will attack them with a knife, or maybe a love interest slips in and initiates an intimate scene.

You also try and keep your pace moving along swiftly where it needs to, a car chase should be over in a matter of paragraphs, cars move at speed after all, you really don’t need to drag a fast-paced action out with heaps of unnecessary descriptors or needless conversation.

You want a page turner that keeps the reader engaged, but with enough of a pause between action sequences, that the readers can get their breath. Visualise the slower moments between the fast paces like a full stop at the end of the sentence.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I keep the action scenes fast and like to add in moments of self-reflection.  Those moments help to slow the pace down and give the reader a break.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Pacing is the timing of the narrative. This time is directly related to the emotions, plot, POV of the story. Pacing is the watch of the story. If the story is about a fugitive who has 24-hour to hide—this needs one kind of pacing. If it is related to the reminiscences of memory, it may go into a more descriptive tone and read longer. As Einstein once said time is relative, and so is the pacing in the stories we read. If the story is good, and the pace is correct – reading time flies; otherwise, it may sound boring. To keep the right track, every single detail needs to match perfectly. Time is the thread that sews the story; and pacing is how fast or slow the sewer goes. There is no right or wrong in having slow narratives and faster ones. I also use flashbacks, foreshadows and withholding the suspense – to keep the story intriguing. Besides, I love working with various narratives in different time zones (for instance: one in the past and another one in the present), and intertwine them.


Every story has action, and it’s up to us to find the right pace for the idividual tale. No matter what methods we use to move the story along, the ultimate goal is to keep readers’ eyes glued to the page, or their fannies on the edges of their seats.  Dialogue can be used to break up the action and help control the pacing. Other tools might be short, quick sentences, or using a slower set up and then jumping into the action so things can move along at a faster pace, foreshadowing and/or flashbacks .

Action should be written with identifying traits or characteristics that make it clear who is doing what, may be intentionally paced faster, and they must be accurate and believable. Just as dialogue can be used to break up the action, action can be used to break up dialog and speed things up.

I want to again thank our author panel for the timely replies and for their willingness to share with us here today. I hope you will all join us next Monday, when our panel members will discuss the editing and revision process on Ask the Authors.


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World Building: It’s all in the details

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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The world your story is is set in controls the possibilities for the characters and events in your story. This is more obvious in science fiction or fantasy perhaps, where magic or advanced technologies are the norm and are to be expected, but there is world building involved in others genres as well. every story has rules which may limit what can and can’t happen. And in every story, it is the author who creates the world and determines the rules, and it is the author’s job to clue readers in to what that world is like and what those rules are.

This may be easier with stories set in a reality that reflects the world we live in and are familiar with, because then readers may know most of the world, but it is still the author’s job to paint a picture with his or her words in order to allow reader’s a clear vision of their world. You would think in nonfiction this world we are familiar with, but it may be a setting we haven’t been to, or it might be from past times which are unfamiliar, so nonfiction authors must find ways to convey their story world clearly, too.

How exactly we, as authors, go about that may vary, but it is a task we are all faced with. Readers are allowed a glimpse into the story world through the details provided, including sensory details that make an unfamiliar world seem more real and help familiar worlds to ring more true. Dialog between characters is another tool that helps readers to buy in to the story and emerse themselves in the story world, but it’s one that may be difficult to get right.

Today, our Ask the Authors panel members will be discussing how they build and portray their story worlds, real or imagined. Our panel members this week include DeAnna Knippling, Lilly Rayman, Mark Shaw, Ashley Fontainne, RA Winter, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Cynthia Vespia and Amy Cecil. Let’s find out what works for them and what doesn’t.

Do you prefer to set your stories in the real world or one which you’ve created?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I am generally terrible at creating entirely separate worlds, although I’ve had some really helpful tips lately, and I have a book planned pending more research into 18th-century Russia.  I’m much better at taking the real world, adding some odd element, and extrapolating from there.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My main series – The Unexpected Trilogy is set in the real world, yet with paranormal characters. Yet I have a work in progress that is set in a world that I have created.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Real world. Sometimes that requires an extensive amount of research yet using realistic settings gives the story a relatable connection to the readers.

RA Winter

RA Winter I love to write magical realism.  Taking the real world and bringing in those little details that take your breath away just gives me the chills as I write.  In my older series, I  brought in a realm we can’t see or touch but know are there.  The spirits who surround my MC’s with love or nefarious tendencies were fun to write. In my new series, I take the reader to the underworld and Olympus to meet the Greek gods.  I’ve read Dante’s Inferno, the Illiad, the Odyssey and I’ve read some Plato. They don’t all agree on the details so I rework characters for my own purpose.  You just have to stay consistent with your details.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I prefer worlds I’ve created.  There is more freedom to allow the story to take you where it will.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture One that I have created, but I want my world based on reality to some degree. Okay, SF really has no holds barred when we use telepathy, teleportation, time travel, and FTL because those have not been accomplished yet, and probably never will. But if I set my story in the 25th century I’m not going to have cell phones and iPads, either. Our technology will be far past those devices by then, and I get riled when I read a futuristic novel set a million years in the future and the main character pulls out a cell phone or iPad! Please, try to come up with something fresh.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy The real world is easier to write about, especially if I’ve actually been to the location. But creating worlds is half the fun. So I like to do both. Real world with fictional locations. For instance, in my novel Lucky Sevens it takes place in Las Vegas where I really grew up but the majority of the story is set within the fictional hotel/casino Saints & Sinners which I created specifically for the book.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I use a little of both.  I take real places, real locations and set my story there, adding to them to fit into the story.


In fiction, even this world we live in becomes a physical backdrop for your story. Whether created from this reality or from your author’s mind, we must still help readers to visualize our story world.
How do you paint a picture for the reader so they can visualize your character’s physical environment?
DeAnna Knippling
 A lot of opinionated sense detail from my POV characters. They don’t just see a library full of books, they’re like, “Shame about the old Victorian haunted house’s library, with its thousands of stinking, mold-spotted, water-logged, mouse-eaten tomes.”
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I drop small elements of the physical backdrop into the prose of my story, it’s another element of avoiding information overload or boring word filling. When the backdrop becomes a part of the story in a descriptive sense, it helps you avoid boring the reader, allowing them to paint the picture in their mind’s eye as to the backdrop. Here’s an example from one of my current works in progress – this is the opening sentences of the story “Miracle In The Dust” and Australian setting:

The track stretched out before them, disappearing into the horizon like a red thread cutting through the scrub that undulated either side of the dirt road. Travis sighed at the bull-dust cloud that bloomed behind their horse truck in the side-mirror. It had been a dry winter, and it was shaping up to be a long hot dry summer.

Hopefully the reader can see what I can see, an arid landscape of red dust across the Australian outback with scrubby bushes that dot the rolling plains of a large stretch of land, and a bumpy dirt road.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne One of my favorite techniques is to just close my eyes and let my imagination immerse me inside the story, taking in all the smells, sounds, visuals and emotional responses of the characters in a particular scene.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I like to drop in descriptions here and there.  I try not to overwhelm the reader with thick paragraphs.  I’ve found it flows more smoothly if I add tidbits as the story progresses

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Hopefully, we will always have forests, oceans, and mountains. We can just give them different names and locations. The same for cities. Maybe moving sidewalks, dining tables in restaurants that float above the floor. Music that enchants instead of rocks. There is so much the author can do to build his world.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy That’s part of being a good writer. Its your job to take the image you see in your mind and paint it on the page with your verbiage so that the reader sees the same picture. It’s like coloring a picture. I used to really like to do the central image in the coloring books when I was little and I often left the background unfinished. But when I took the time to color in the rest of the picture it made it pop so much better. It was alot more visual.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil With using a real location to start with, I have real locations that I can work with to make my descriptions.  For example, in one of my books, it’s set in a town in Pennsylvania called Edinboro.  This town has a small resort community around a lake.  The house are not relatively large, but my main character has a mansion on this lake.  I found pictures on the internet of the house I was looking for and described the house from those pictures.


When creating fictional worlds, anything is possible, but only if you, the author make it so. The author controls what is and isn’t possible in their fictional world, and it is our job to clue the readers into these things.
How do you portray the rules of the world, beliefs and preferences of characters?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Ah! The rules!  A lot of writers give me the “are you insane?” look when I tell them that they have to set out the story’s rules at the beginning of a story.  I’ve done this multiple ways, including literally writing out the rules.  A good, practical, low-key way to set out the rules is to tell the reader the POV character’s goals and expectations, noting the rules as things to be wary of as they attempt to achieve their goals.  “I knew I had to overcome the wizard, but the way my magic didn’t work from sunset to dawn was going to be a problem.”  Another way is to tuck the rules into the description of the setting.  “The gas lamps flickered and the heavy fog erased everything more than a hundred feet away.  Mocking voices called out, ‘Two shillings for a love-potion, only lasts until dawn! Two more shillings for a girl to stare at while you drink it!'”  There’s your magic system, embedded right into the world as part of the setting.
Understanding the world helps readers to buy into the story, allowing them to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the story. The events in the story don’t have to be possible in real life, but they do have to be possible in the world of the story in order to be believable. Have you ever had a reader catch an inconsistency in your story because a character did something that violated the rules of the world which you created?
My errors tend to be of a different nature!  I almost always forget that readers bring assumptions to stories, especially ones based on Earthly settings, and that if I’m not going to use that assumption, I’m going to have to stress that I’m not using it.  I had an orphan chimneysweep in a Victorian story who was a teenager, and a reader was upset that they weren’t, like, six.  Because Victorian orphan chimneysweeps should be six.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman In my only experience of world building I actually have an overlapping of the real world with my new world, via magic allowing for the main character to hop through the realms. The information that a reader needs about what my world and how it operates is provided in conversation when the main character first learns about the extra realm, and then when she finds herself in the new realm and has a conversation with a resident of the new realm who explains in conversation about the realm. Of course, this dialogue is broken up with some action and movement between the characters so that it doesn’t become an overload of static dialogue.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Again, I add in little bits.  The hardest thing can be keeping true to your rules and not bending them as the story continues.  I keep a notebook next to me of rules and beliefs to make sure I stick to them throughout.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Usually this has something to do with the plot. A world of telepaths, and the necessary laws that might govern invading someone else’s mind. Or a world where one race has this ability and another doesn’t. This could cause conflicts between races.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I set those rules in my initial outline of the story and then I may or may not follow them depending on the direction the story is going in. I’m a big believer in breaking rules but not without a good reason.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I normally go with what’s acceptable in that time period.  I write historical and contemporary, so I usually don’t veer away from the beliefs and preferences of that time.


Understanding the world helps readers to buy into the story, allowing them to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the story. The events in the story don’t have to be possible in real life, but they do have to be possible in the world of the story in order to be believable.

Have you ever had a reader catch an inconsistency in your story because a character did something that violated the rules of the world which you created?

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman No, I haven’t had anyone complain about anything that has happened in any of my stories. So far, all my published stories are built in this world with the supernatural being an element of the story, but I always try not to get too crazy with what my characters can or cannot do, to provide that element of “this could really happen!”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan It has happened once or twice.  I’ve wanted to hug the reader.  “Thank you for catching that!  I’m going to make a note for the next release.  Also – why aren’t you my critique partner?!”

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture In my novel, Three Go Back, the mode of transportation is teleportation machines. Fossil fuel vehicles have long been replaced by these machines, and there is no longer need for fossil fuel. However, one of my characters is an old man, a professor of astronomy, who maintains a small jet. I left myself open with this, but no one seemed to question it. If fossil fuels are no longer needed, how does the professor keep fuel for his jet? I would have questioned it in someone else’s novel (LOL).

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy No, I’m very good at keeping my characters in check. I’ve had readers point out some elements that didn’t fit in some of my earlier work. For instance, I wrote about stainless steel in a historical and they noted it would not have been invented yet in the time period I was writing about. We all make mistakes. I’ve read alot of very well known authors who don’t remain consistent to the story or their characters and it becomes a let down. I try my best not to do that because it can ruin the story.


Some authors draw maps of the fictional worlds they create to help readers follow the events of the story.
Have you ever used this technique? What other techniques have you used to help readers visualize your world?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Ech, as I’ve said, I’m terrible at creating other worlds, so I don’t usually need to draw maps–although I do tend to use a lot of map research, so I can keep things clear for myself.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I haven’t drawn any maps since I played at writing when I was 14 years old, and that was more for my own use to remember where my world was based. In my writing now, as a published author, I try to use descriptive prose to help the reader to visualise backdrop, whether it be here on earth or in a world of my own creation.

Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I have not, yet think it is a magnificent idea!
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I did have official maps for my original stories, but the publisher chose not to use them.  Now I just use a notebook and sketch a layout.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve never drawn a map of my worlds, but they would have probably helped in many cases. Usually the setting is a jungle or desert, and the characters must avoid a volcano or keep from getting lost in a desert. But would a map really help. Perhaps they can merely guide themselves by reading the stars and travelling north or south, east or west. However, when authors include a map, I do refer to it when following the adventure.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I drew a map once for a fantasy I was working on but I never actually used it. I use description to set the table of the scene and trust that my readers can visualize it from the cues I am giving them.


One of the questions in part 1 had to do with creating setting for places we’ve never been, which of course, encompasses all science fiction or fantasy worlds, as well as most speculative fiction worlds. Some panel members said they do a lot of online research of real settings they’ve never been to, but how many of you have explored real places which are similar to your fictional world, experiencing the sensory details in order to write them down?
Anyone explore physical locations in the flesh in order to get the details right when writing about a real location?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak When I can do this, I love it, but I can’t often afford to do so.  I’ll sometimes write stories set somewhere I’ve gone or planned to go, just because I can get deeper into the location.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My Australiana setting is based off personal experience. My husband and I have travelled through Outback Queensland, and I intimately know the smell of the dry earth, or the smell of burning sap of a Eucalyptus gum tree in the scorching temperatures of Australia. And there is nothing more beautiful than the smell of rain hitting the dirt after an extended long period of dry. Having that sensory understanding helps an author to provide a detailed description that can pull the reader into the story for themselves. For other stories where the setting isn’t a location I have experienced, I scroll through the internet, researching the flora and fauna, going through images to get an idea of where my story is set.

Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne Once. When researching the real life mystery of the disappearance of famed Arkansas attorney Maude Crawford for Blood Loss, I went to her home in Camden, Arkansas, along with my mother (and co-author). The current owners of the home graciously allowed us to tour the residence and even take pictures. It was an amazing experience and allowed us to convey minute, specific details in the story we otherwise would have to invent.
RA Winter
RA Winter For locations, I use google maps while on the treadmill.  It’s a wonderful resource, as if the internet.  I’ve lived in five different countries, visited many others and have lived all over the US.  If I’m writing about someplace I’ve never been, I’ll ask people who’ve been there to read over my work before I publish it.  In one series, I wrote about a fictional city in Kansas.  It was a farm, which I grew up on one of those, so it was easy putting it in another state that I thought was beautiful driving through.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan Unfortunately, no, but I love to travel.  I haven’t done much traveling since my son was born.  I’m hoping to start back up in a few years.  I love to write about places I’ve been to.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve been all over the world so can usually describe the places I’ve been in good detail – at least during the period I was there. And I can tell when an author has never been where s/he is writing about. Encyclopedias and postcards give you the colorful aspects of a foreign locale, but if you don’t know the culture or customs you’ll get it all wrong. During the pulp era authors usually wrote about areas they had travelled – China, Japan, Europe, etc. But the men’s adventure writers of the 1970s and later seldom left their home town, and were writing about Africa, Turkey, and Cairo, as well as other foreign lands with no real knowledge of the places, and most of it was terrible. But publishers were publishing, and readers were eating it up. How many western writers have actually rode a horse? Or could saddle a horse if necessary? Writing about a location is the same thing, you need to know what you’re writing about. Someone once said that if you read about a mesa in Louis L’Amour’s novel, you can go there and find it.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t have the liberty to go traveling about like some of the big name authors do. But if I could I would because it lends more realism to the story if you know the secrets of a place because you’ve actually been there, not just from reading about it or seeing pictures and video. For instance I remember every bit of trips to Hawaii and Italy so I may set some future novels in these locales.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Yes, absolutely.  I would have to say that the majority of my books are set in locations that I have been to.


Do you plan out your world or build as you go and see what happens?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak See what happens, with a stack of books and maps at my side!
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I generally find that my world builds for me as I write.

Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I have a general idea, but I build as I go. The story takes me where it takes me.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I build as I go

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I write as I go. Particularly when I’m writing an adventure fantasy piece I just move the story along to where it needs to go and then clean it up later in editing. The only time I really kept track of locations in my world was writing the sequels to Demon Hunter titled Demon Huntress. Because I was revisiting this world I already created I wanted to have my characters revisit places that I had written about in great detail during the original trilogy. That meant going back in to my previous work and finding out all I needed to know about these places.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Build as I go, with the actual place as a start.


What tools or methods do you use to keep track of all the details of your world?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I have a details sheet with names, dates, and locations.  I keep it pretty simple.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I read back through what I need to. I’m terrible at keeping notes, I lose anything I do make, so it’s easier to simply read back if I need to confirm a minor detail.

RA Winter

RA Winter I keep a series bible.  Every character’s physical, mental, plot bits, etc are kept tucked safely inside.  I also use it for descriptions and will keep house plans, pictures of objects, models and the descriptions I’ve used.  It’s essential in any story for keeping your facts straight.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I have a notebook full of information.  I used to create a PowerPoint for each story because I am obsessed with using PowerPoint.  That meant a lot of slides to click through.  A notebook is easier…but less fun.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Notes are very important.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t do anything special to keep track. If I need to know what I said about a place before I just go back into the novel and reread what I wrote already.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil All those are kept in my story boards, where I outline the story by chapter.  Locations are put in there so that everything stays consistent.


Sensory Details

How do you pick the right sensory details for your story?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I slip into character.  Almost every character can see things, but different people have different experiences of how their senses interact with the world.  I have a musician character who hears things more than I do.  I have a character with synaethesia who tastes colors and auras.  Some characters are texture characters, they feel things with their hands.  Others do a lot of smell.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I just want to say before I start answering, that I found these sensory questions the hardest to answer. For me, this sort of detail comes instinctively to me, and to answer these questions I had to think very hard about what I actually do in my writing to provide the answers to these questions.

I always ask myself what the main aim of the story is. The whole feel I want from the story influences which sensory details that I would concentrate on. Referencing back to my Australiana story Miracle In The Dust, the weather in itself is a main driving force behind some of the story. The sensory details I concentrate on is not only the weather itself, but the effects of the weather on the landscape. There needs to be a sense of desperation to the beginning of the story that allows for the miracle that I have planned to shine through.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I think about somewhere I’ve been in real life that is similar.  What did I smell?  Could I taste the air?  What did I feel?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Knowledge helps. Imaginations also helps. Knowing which way water flows from the Great Lakes if your story is set in that area. What is the best fish to eat in Canada. Hint, they don’t eat mud cat.


What kind of sight details might be important in a story?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Ones that are almost painfully specific, rather than generalized.  You can’t write every visual detail, but the ones you pick should lean toward the specific.  A shirt isn’t “red,” it’s “fire-engine red.”  A tree isn’t a “tree,” it’s a “contentedly conical Douglas fir.”
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Again, anything that helps to emphasis the main goal of the story, details that help building the right tension or feeling that will only improve the story and help to immerse the reader into the story. Moving back to my earlier answer where I shared with you the opening lines of Miracle In The Dust, and I referenced the cloud of bull-dust that billowed behind the truck. It’s a visual element that anyone who lives in outback or regional Australia takes for granted as being an every day element of life, yet it’s an integral visual element that helps me create depth into my story.


What methods do you use to add sound details to your stories?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I have the sound occur and make sure characters react to it.  That whole thing where you read, “Susan heard the sound of a pin drop” is for the birds.  “A pin dropped on the wood floor, bouncing several times.  Susan flinched, pulling up her feet” is much better.  Likewise any other sense.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Descriptive words. Adding the sound in as a tension builder or a climax to a scene, for example when there is a gun shot is it a short sharp crack in a bar, or a long drawn out echo across the land. Here is an example of how I used sound within my writing in An Unexpected Bonding:

Rance watched in disbelief as the young man turned and watched the approach of the wolf. He must be stunned to stand there as the wolf launched in the air.

He squeezed his finger.

CRACK-K-K-k-k-k-k-k.

The shot resounded across the land.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I try not to write out the sounds.  That seems too much like a comic book to me.  (I love comic books, by the way, but its not the feel I want for my novels.)

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Let me show you instead: From Pangaea: Eden’s Planet:

The outer wave struck the giant ship with incredible force.
Suddenly, they could see nothing but ebony blackness in the view screen, and then the ship began to shake and vibrate violently as waves of immense energy tossed the Galileo Two from side to side like a small boat in a hurricane. The controls fought them, and the machinery whined like a screaming Banshee on a dark, moonless night. Warning lights flickered, dimmed, went out, came back on with a flash, and then repeated the sequence like a floundering fish out of water.

Someone screamed, but it was impossible to tell whether it had been a man or a woman. The safety harnesses held everyone safely in their seats, but a few loose objects had been lying near some of the computers, and these went flying through the small cabin, colliding with seats, computer panels, and sometimes—an unprotected hand or head.

Lightning bolts of pure energy sparked and crisscrossed the tornado-like funnel in a spider-web of violent beauty, at the far end appeared to be a gaping monster’s mouth. But the plasma would not let them go, tossing them around like the prey of some monstrous space creature.


In what ways have you incorporated touch details into your writing?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak At first I had characters look at textures and note them, or touch things, but lately I’ve been adding elements that the character really has a reaction to, like the feeling that it’s cold and one’s sweater isn’t warm enough, or the touch of a spiderwebs that you’ve brushed off but can’t stop checking to make sure.  Someone who has to clean a milkshake off a barnwood door is going to have a distinct opinion about the texture!
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman As a romance writer touch is such an important factor in creating a sensory moment for the readers to feel as if they are as intimately a part of the scene themselves.
Touch isn’t just about a intimate moment, but something as simple as providing more descriptive imagery for a wolf, such as when a character sinks their fingers into the soft thickness of the wolf’s neck.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I enjoy describing the ground or clothes.  Usually I’m describing the ground because the character just fell!  I tend to abuse my characters.


How do you factor in taste and smell details?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak My characters are always eating something, for one, maybe because I’m often at the computer writing and wondering when it’s time for lunch. Sometimes I have to have them smell things with a strong taste associated with them, like “chocolate chip cookies.”  Smell is easier.  I always wonder how people can write without it; people have such emotional reactions to smell that smell is almost a writer shortcut that you can abuse at will.  You don’t even have to be specific with smell details.  All you have to do is say, “the smell of sewage” and people the world over will be like, “Got it.”
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Where ever it has an impact on the depth of the story, such as during a meal, providing a description that is “mouth-watering” and makes the reader want to actually be eating that meal as well. Of course, taste and smell doesn’t have to be pleasant. If you think about a thriller or a murder mystery story, discovering a crime scene can be filled with smells that are so offensive they end up having a taste element as well.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I write about smell a lot, but taste not so much.  I’m going to make a note here to work on that.

I love adding in scents.  You don’t get a lot of that in stories.  Even if the reader can’t actually smell it (because its a paper book or e-reader), they can remember what a flower smells like…or a field after a rain storm.


Many of your readers have been to or even lived in locations where your stories are set, so they are able to relate when you get the details right, but if you get something wrong, it’s almost guaranteed that somebody will catch it and let you know about it.
Have you ever had a reader tell you that you missed the mark with a certain detail?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Not yet!  Fingers crossed.
Lilly Rayman
L Rayman Nope, I haven’t. I’ve been fairly lucky that I have been able to create stories the evoke memories of being there for readers that do have experience of my locations.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne One reviewer mentioned no one from California would ever refer to the state as “Cali” as one of the characters in Blood Ties did, which I found humorous. I grew up in Orange County, as did my mother, and we still have relatives there who use the expression. Another reviewer gave low marks for Whispered Pain because the story takes place in Arkansas, in the winter, during a freak snow storm. The person actually wrote they “researched weather patterns” online and it “never snows in Arkansas” which still makes me laugh. I have lived in Arkansas for over thirty years and experienced many snow and ice storms. I am sure the folks working for insurance companies processing thousands upon thousands of storm damage claims would agree with me!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Yes!  They usually do it nicely, but I have had some people rip me to shreds over the setting of COGLING.  The setting is a fantasy kingdom.  The main character is living in a dusty, dirty city, and she must travel through the woods into the swamp to save her brother.  I’ve had people send me the rudest emails about how I missed the mark on describing London or England in general.  Um, it isn’t London or England.  I’m not sure why I get so much hate mail about that because I clearly state the names of the city and country in the text.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, but I do it all the time, so get it right and you won’t hear from me.


Effective Dialog

Dialog tags can be helpful in identifying who is speaking in the story. Good dialog tags should be almost invisible, so the reader brushes right over them, but still knows who is talking.
Do you prefer to use dialog tags, or do you find them a hindrance? If you don’t use dialog tags, how do you let the reader know who the speaker is?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I use dialog tags.  I’ll use a more distinct dialog tag when I want to bring the reader’s attention to something–usually when the character is lying or there some other subtext but that’s really rare; I’ll usually handle it in the dialog itself.  Generally I stick with the “he said” pattern.  I would like to note that putting a dialog tag at the end of a sentence if the reader will really not be clear on who is speaking is lame.  Put it at the beginning.  The reader should have zero words of going, “But who is talking?!?” in a normal scene.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture If your characterization is good, you don’t need a lot of dialog tags. But when you have four or five people speaking, you’d best use tags.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy That’s tricky. I hate alot of “he said” and “she said” type of stuff. Writing dialogue is one of my strongest attributes as a writer so I just let it flow naturally using tags if I find I need to.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I use too many dialog tags and have diligently working to replace them with an action.


Do you feel that dialog tags beyond the basic ones like ‘said’ and ‘asked’ can be distracting and draw away from the story?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak “Which is sometimes exactly what you want,” the dowager countess snapped.  “Some stories ought to be drawn away from, they are so terribly written.”
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I tried to avoid the basic he said / she said dialogue tags. I do like to use some sort of description to identify the speaker, even if it is as simple as an action that someone does as they speak. It makes for a scene that moves along without being static and identifies the speaker.

RA Winter

RA Winter Action tags work well and serve a dual purpose of bringing the action closer to the reader.  A write just has to be careful that the action tag dedicated to the person speaking.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use some dialogue tags.  I like to describe what’s going on instead.  Its a great opportunity to add in a smell or texture, or something the speaker is seeing.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve only known a few authors who are good with dialog. The rest of us struggle with it, and I don’t think tags that go beyond “said” and “asked” are all that distracting.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I do. That is why I try to avoid them.


Dialog should be believable, in that it is realistic of something that not only a real person might say, but something that your character would say. I’ve found though, that if you use a piece of dialog that occurred in real life, many feel it is not realistic.
How do you write believable dialog which reads smoothly?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak The same way you write an accent:  accurately like 20% of the time, suggestive of accuracy rather than actually, um, like, accurate.  But I’d like to note that the process of learning to write believable dialog generally starts with sitting down at a coffee shop and writing down what people actually say.  Writers tend to start out with a problem of forcing characters to say useful things in a direct fashion that sounds stilted.  In real life, people talk around what they want and feel and replace it with small talk.  High fantasy writers and hard sci-fi writers are the worst!  I’ve judged some contests, and I’m always coming across writers who have Big Things to Say and who can’t handle the polite nothings that are required in order to get to the point of communicating.  I want to see a high fantasy novel where the heroes talk to the villagers about the weather and they come away knowing that that Evil Sorcerer has been there because the wheat looks scraggly from all the damp.  Or a sci-fi epic where people are like, “So how about them Bears?”  Of course in the future people will still follow professional sports, duh.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I try to write dialogue as I would speak, and ensure that all speech is contracted, meaning people doing in real life don’t say “do not” they say “don’t”. I also try and write appropriate slang into my dialogue for the characters background.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne As I mentioned before, when I am in full writing mode, I try to close my eyes and watch the story unfold as though viewing a movie. From there, I write what I see, which includes the dialog between the characters.

RA Winter

RA Winter Cut anything that isn’t necessary, it slows down the reader.  Don’t do the phone conversation of “Hello?”  “Hi, is so-and-so there?”  “Who’s calling please?”  “Oh, it’s Mr. Jones.”  Why?  Don’t.  It’s boring.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I repeat it out loud to myself.  If it sounds good, I leave it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Again, I’ve only known a few writers that could write good dialog, Warren Murphy and Dan Cushman. The rest o us struggle.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I disagree. As a writer I spend alot of time listening to people talk and I pick up subtle nuances that stick with me so when I go to write I deliver a more realistic aspect to a character because of those bits and pieces. When it gets forced is when you start trying to write in accents. I say just mention that someone has a specific accent and write the dialogue as you would for anyone else. Alot of choppy words will just get confusing. I know it worked in alot of classic novels but hey…I’m not in that caliber yet!
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil I act out the dialog as I’m writing it.

Nonfiction
You write about real people and places. How do you assure that the cultural and physical settings are true to the story? 
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Don’t mess with that much. More interested in primary source information about my main subject and those who make the story compelling.
Do you ever actually visit the places you write about?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Yes, for both The Reporter Who Knew Too Much and the upcoming Denial of Justice, I visited New York City. Actually went to locations where Dorothy Kilgallen frequented including my sitting next to the table at P. J. Clarke’s where she sat on the last night of her life.
Much of the writing you do is about people and places of the past.
When writing about historical places, how do you find and work in the details to make it authentic?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Use only primary sources but again, the subject is the story, not so much the historical places.
As you can see, there are many approaches to drawing readers into our worlds, whether real or imagined. At times the approach may depend on what genre we are writing in. Certainly, my approach to creating and portraying Delilah, which is a western and required historical research for accuracy and visiting certain locations to get the details right, is quite different from my approach in portraying my science fantasy world for my Playground for the Gods series, which explored myths and legends of old using landscapes mostly created in my head. But even when writing about real places, such as in nonfiction, the author must find ways to draw readers into the story, and add those special touches which bring the setting to life is one way to do that. This information can be conveyed by using dialog between characters to help readers learn what we need them to know, or through sensory details that make the setting seem more real.
I want to thank our author panel members for sharing their ideas and techniques with us. I hope you’ll pick and choose the ideas that work for you. And I hope you’ll join us next Monday, when our author panel will discuss writing action scenes and pacing.

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Creating and Developing Character: Writing a Character Readers Will Relate To

Ask the Author (Round 2)

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Today’s topic on Ask the Authors is character development. We’ll talk about what makes a good character and and a bad villian, and how to create characters the reader will care about. Our author panel this week includes Tom Johnson, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, RA Winter, Dan Alatorre, Lilly Rayman, Jordan Elizabeth, Ashley Fontainne and Margareth Stewart. They may each have a different approach to developing their characters, and we might be able to glean some good insights from them.

You can have a great story, but if no one cares about the characters, it won’t matter. Characters must be unique, well rounded individuals who readers can relate to on some level, or they won’t even finish the book. Your characters carry the story, so it’s important that we portray in ways that will make readers interested in what happens with them, so that they will keep reading.

What makes a character interesting?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Different people will find different characters interesting, by whatever standard they find other people interesting. Some people want to see everyday people in extraordinary situations. Some people want to see characters worth gossiping about, whose behavior is over the top or otherwise out of bounds (Gone Girl). Some people want to see characters doing what they wish they could do and having what they wish they could have. Most people want to see a mix. And it depends on the context of the story.  You wouldn’t want to see the unspeakably evil villain of a superhero comic move into a light romance, most of the time. “Interesting” is kind of a narrow window where a character meets eighty percent of the reader’s expectations, but still has a little bit of surprise to them.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Layers. If a character is too perfect or one dimensional you lose me. There has to be some shades of gray in there. Some imperfections and flaws that are relatable to the reader.

RA Winter

RA Winter Flaws and dilemmas give a character depth and relatability. Quirks help too.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Different characters are interesting for different reasons. The hero can be somebody who works hard and does things the right way even when it’s difficult. They have to overcome challenges that would have put a lesser person on the sideline. A funny character has to be funny. But what makes them interesting? Why do people want to continue to read about them?

Usually it’s because they demonstrate characteristics we want to emulate. We wish we were the funny person (and everybody enjoys a joke). We wish we were that hard-working. We wish we were that honest. We wish that if our parents died and we were forced to live with our mean uncle in a closet under the stairs, that we wouldn’t become bitter but would rise above it.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman A character with a history. One that’s not born just off the first page. When a character has a past, it shapes and moulds them into who the reader first meets. If there is trauma in their history, and they come through stronger then that can also make for an interesting character. A sense of humour can also engage the reader with a character. The most important element of an interesting character is one that is as large as life – there’s no point having a 2d character that the reader can’t relate to.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan The voice has to engage the reader.  If the voice falls flat, there’s nothing you can do to revive that character.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Strengths, weaknesses and relatability to the reader.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil The character needs to be relatable to the reader.  They can be anything, but if the read can’t relate to them on some level, then the character seems flat.


We don’t want all the characters to carry the author’s perspective or to all sound like the author’s voice. If they did, it would get pretty boring because everyone would agree and there would be no conflict in our stories.

How do you give your characters unique perspective?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I once read a comic book I picked up and saw that the artist drew every face exactly the same, even the females resembled the males’ facial features. He just couldn’t give individuality to each of his characters. When I create characters, I want them to be completely different from each other. Maybe one limps. Another may laugh a lot. Another problem I found in a recent book I reviewed, where the main character is a female (written by a male), but she comes across as one of the boys. She needed to be more feminine to set her apart.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I try to give them strong opinions about things, a cohesive way of seeing the world that isn’t necessarily accurate, but that lets a reader see where they come from.  I write a lot of ordinary people in extraordinary situation characters, though, so I have to ground them in some kind of normal thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.  I like finding out where the character’s point of view is inaccurate, though.  For example, I have one character who comes from a very wealthy background and who doesn’t know when she’s being cruel to her friends; another one doesn’t recognize that he’s going through PTSD.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy There’s those flaws again. We all have them in real life. Little idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. The best part of first developing a character is finding out what makes them tick. Their back story is what’s going to drive them to do certain things.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre My characters are usually very intelligent and witty. As a result, they are unique because they will interrupt each other and disagree with each other and resist each other, even if they are friends. That differentiates them and creates unique perspectives. In Double Blind I have two detectives that are good friends, Carly and Sergio, and Carly is getting a bad vibe about another character. Sergio convinces her that she’s over blowing it – but in fact, he’s wrong. In a scene where they talk about her intuition, he’s very sympathetic and understanding, but he explains it away, and he does it in a very friendly logical manner, thinking he is genuinely helping his friend. Then it turns out he was wrong and she almost gets killed as a result. So the characters care about each other, and they are smart and funny or whatever, but they are also human and make mistakes. Readers like that and want to see more of it.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Having an idea of where my characters life has taken them. If I know the reasons behind what motivates each character, what has shaped them and moulded them into who they are, then I can bring that experience through in their perspective. Of course, the reader doesn’t necessarily know all the backstory that I do, and it’s not always needed for the reader to understand my character, so long as my character has a depth that makes them believable.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I try to base my characters after people I know.  Some characters take on a life of their own, but most of them do mirror real life.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Each person sees events from their own limited perspective and react based upon their knowledge base.


In Blake Synder’s Save the Cat, he talks about making characters likeable by having them do something heroic to show readers how good they are; essentially by having them save the cat, because you just have to like someone who would rescue a little kitty, right?

How do you make your characters likeable?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My characters, male or female will not hesitate to put their life at risk to save another, whether a cat or man, woman or child. Jesus said to give your life to save someone else is the greatest thing you can do. I follow those words of wisdom in my writing.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.  Whatever the character does that is maybe not so likable, I’ll put it in context so that someone else told them it was the right way to behave or someone’s doing even worse to the character.  I’ll have the character notice the unlikable things about themselves and laugh at themselves or admit that it’s not the greatest thing and they’re trying to change.  What makes you overlook someone’s flaws in person?  Humor, charisma, wittiness?  I like to present plusses and minuses to the character, which means I usually have to mitigate the minuses for the reader.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I make them relatable. They don’t always have to be the hero. They can be the good friend or the sidekick. The hero may save the day begrudingly but if they’re pulling cats out of trees like Superman they get a little too vanilla and were back to them being perfect. You simply just have to write them with morality and they become likeable. However, in some of my novels I’ve been told by my readers they liked the badguy more than the hero. That’s where you take a step back and ask why that happened. My answer was exactly what I’m trying to explain here. The hero had too much saccharin…too sweet, too perfect. Give them flaws and a little bit of attitude, it’ll make all the difference.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Likable characters come around by a certain methodology. If somebody is funny and they say funny things, but they are likable, it’s probably because the funny things they are saying aren’t hurting anybody’s feelings or they are taking a certain statement and twisting it so that it’s funny. We may like a hero because the hero usually has characteristics we went to emulate. Then, that likability transfers. If we like the main character and the main character likes the secondary character, then we as readers give the benefit of the doubt to the secondary character and we like them right away. It’s only if they say or do something that interrupts that goodwill that we begin to question it. And of course, if they are the bad guy, we obviously will have enough evidence over the course of time to thoroughly dislike them – as we should.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I give my characters traits that I like in the people around me. Strong independent characters, or meek and mild, they can both be equally likeable if you know they are fiercely loyal and the reader knows that they can be depended upon at all times.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I don’t try to make my characters likable!  I try to make them true.  The likability comes from realizing that everyone is human.  We make mistakes, but we try out best.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Private thoughts or conversations with others regarding simple things each of us face every day.  One of my characters from my newest book, Fatal Agreements, rescues a kitten during a storm. Some of the moments between the pair, when the character is speaking to the cat allow the reader to get inside her private thoughts.

You have a literal save the cat scene in Fatal Agreements?

Ashley Fontainne The main character,  Samantha Chapman, saves a kitten during a storm, realizing it’s mother was the dead, dismembered cat she found on her back deck the day before, sensing the disgusting act was done by her former boyfriend.
The kitten is barely 4 weeks old, a tiny mite she names Wee Thing. I always have a pet in my books, usually based off my life.
The idea for Fatal Agreements is based off the building I work in and the kitten incident activity happened to me in the parking lot. I found a sickly kitty one day and took her home. I named her Wee Sing (inside family joke).

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I try to give my characters depth… in one situation they may save the cat, but in another situation they may run it over.  Sometimes I don’t want a particular character likeable.  My heroes are sometimes not the good guys and so this is a very tough question to answer.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart That is so true – developing a strong character so the reader can look up to him or her is one trick of the many carried by writers. I would rather say it is a little more complicated than just saving the cat; the book needs to bring into life not only something heroic as saving a cat but something we-humans have always felt like doing, but had no courage to accomplish it. There should be a link between what the reader deep inside wants to do and what the main character does – this is the strong connection between reader-character. For instance, somebody who is not fond of cats might not enjoy as much that kind of reading as someone crazy about them, and who has got three or four at home. The last one will be into the scene on the verge of a second to save the cat together with the character. It is the same for other situations and books. In my novel Mademoiselle–Seine, the main character Louise is a successful businesswoman – CEO of her own marketing agency in NY. She is in her middle forties, and due to stress she has been having heart problems. in her business life, but on love, sex and emotions, she says she has only got bad luck. Her doctor recommends her to take a break, maybe a month vacation in a place away from the city. So anyone who works lots and feels this lack of passion in person life will go to France with her and find out pleasure with the lessons taught by Madame–Seine – a retired cabaret dancer. This “click” puts us-humans right into the fictional world; and out there, who knows… we can learn with them and change our lives as well?


In that same sense, you must create antagonists that are equally unlikeable, because the more terrible the villain is the harder we cheer when the hero overcomes them.

How do you create a villain that we can love to hate?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, the villain should be as evil as you can make him/her. We’ve tended to blur the vision is the past few decades, where heroes are not always good, and villains are not always bad. But if you want a great villain, give the readers a really evil person who just might kill that cat if your hero doesn’t act fast enough.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I write a lot of horror, so a lot of the time, my protagonist is the antagonist; the characters get into situations that they have created for themselves and have to subsequently overcome.  I build the character as likable, then show the cracks in the facade.  Nobody likes to be wrong; for some people, the worst thing they could ever have to do is change their minds.  That, all by itself, is a kind of horror.  A lot of ghost stories are about a character, or the descendants or relatives or employees of a character, who took advantage of someone else and won’t admit it. Only when someone admits that the ghost or the original victim of the ghost got a raw deal can the story be resolved.  In some ghost stories, nobody ever really, publicly admits that “mistakes were made”–and somebody winds up dead.

For other books, I write more traditional villains.  In that case, I try to write antagonists who are the heroes of their own stories.  Not just protagonists, but heroes.  They put themselves up on some kind of pedestal.  If only other people could see how great they are!  That’s a satisfying kind of person to see get knocked down.  There’s a German word, Backpfeifengesicht, that means, “face in need of fist”. I like to write smart, well-developed villians who have that kind of face.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Villains are fun to write because you take off the gloves. They do what they want with no morals and plenty of malice. But I always say that the best villains have a purpose just as big as the hero’s is. Unless they’re a stark raving madman they need to see what they’re doing as the best route to take for a certain reason, not just because its in the plot. Its important to ask why any of your characters do what they do. A good example is in the Netflix series Daredevil. The infamous Kingpin (played beautifully by the amazing Vincent D’Onofrio) is on a mission to “clean-up” Hell’s Kitchen. He has some unscrupulous methods for doing that but in his mind doing dirty deeds is worth it if he can reach his goal of making the place he grew up that much better.

RA Winter

RA Winter I like my villains to play on emotions and the insecurities of characters.  But, there has to be a goal for each character, even the bad ones, and it has to be something attainable. A good villain brings out the hero in the MC by allowing the MC to overcome their own shortcomings.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre If we like the hero because they possess characteristics we wish we had, then it stands to reason we’ll dislike the antagonist because the antagonist possesses characteristics we don’t like. We don’t like that we are sometimes similar to them and the way they behave. There are certain things that are kind of universal. Dropping the tray in the lunch room and having everybody stare at you and being embarrassed, everybody has been in a situation similar to that. By the same token, we recognize when somebody is being mean to us, or teasing us, or pretending to be nice so they can get what they want from us. And then that’s just for openers. Then if we see them kick the dog as they walk down the street, or as soon as someone’s out of earshot they talk bad about them, they reveal their true character. We hate meanness and duplicity. So you give all those characteristics to your bad guy, and reveal them slowly so we are gripping our fists and yelling at the page.

 

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Giving them traits that you find distasteful in people around you. Arrogance can be borderline as a love or hate trait, depending on how that particular trait is balanced. For example, an arrogant hero would be loyal and have traits that make a reader love them despite their arrogance. In a villain, however, you would pair the arrogance with violence and narcissism, giving them many traits that the reader will find unlikeable.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I try to make my villains true to life too.  I love switching perspectives in a story so the reader gets a well-rounded view.  There are plenty of villains in real life.  While everyone does have a sense of good in them, that sense of good can be really small.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I try to make my villains true to life too.  I love switching perspectives in a story so the reader gets a well-rounded view.  There are plenty of villains in real life.  While everyone does have a sense of good in them, that sense of good can be really small.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I created a great villain in Open/ Pierre’s journey after war. He was a contradictory old sir—owner of a second-hand bookshop. At the same time; he was a war-fanatic, perverse and authoritarian who undermines Pierre all the time. But, he speaks great truths – about men finding the meaning of life through war, that killing has always been a method of keeping population balance in the world and that peace is very artificial–men are born to war. Besides all that, he is always suspecting that Pierre might rob him and it is him who robs Pierre. It is a tricky situation just like in real-life situations which unfolhds when there is no more time for action. When Pierre finds out the truth, and how he was completely fooled by the owner, he’d do anything else as he goes back and take on revenge.


In order to act, characters need to be motivated by a goal, which they strive to meet, or to avoid unpleasant consequences. The motivation can be personal, being important to the character, such as loss of one’s life or harm to a loved one, or it can be external, such as avoiding the total destruction of the world.

How do you motivate your characters?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Very good. In 1932 Lester Dent gave his character Doc Savage a motto to live by. I wish I could print it here, but basically Doc and his team would go anywhere to fight evil, and save the world from bad people. They lived by that motto. Doc never took a life, knowingly, though many foes he faced fell into their own traps at the end of the story. My characters have this same motivation as Doc Savage’s men. However, not all my heroes refuse to take lives. When they go up against the underworld, they fight gun against gun, and hoodlums die. In Carnival of Death a Ninja penetrates The Black Ghost’s Central Control and fights Hui Yo Chae in a death match.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak The way you see the world kind of drives the actions you take.  If you believe the world is out to get you, you might lash out at the world before it can.  Finding out new information, especially if it has an emotional impact, can make you change your actions suddenly.  Most people react to what they perceive about the world; they don’t necessarily see themselves as having motivations or even goals on a daily basis.  Why do laundry? What’s your motivation?  Tell me about your goals, when you wash dishes.  That kind of thing.  Some people are ambitious, which is nice, because the character is already acting assertively toward the world.  But not every character needs to start out with a goal.
A lot of time, I’ll set up the way the character sees the world and let the character react.  I used to struggle with this.  I’d try to force an essentially passive character to have goals, motivations, ambitions.  It was like trying to motivate Jell-O.  But give a character an opinion about the world, a past that still affects them, and a future that they either look forward to or dread or don’t really much care about, and I can provoke them into a reaction.  Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy didn’t have a motivation or even a goal.  He just got dragged through the books by outside events (until he found his passion, making sandwiches).  That’s really how most of us live, ricocheting from one provocation from the universe to another.  It’s really only when we’ve reached a threshold we can’t tolerate that we decide to get proactive.  Sometimes that happens in backstory and a character comes across as driven; sometimes it happens on the page, and you get to see them change.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Alfred Hitchcock once said a good story is life with the boring bits taken out. So how you motivate your character is you distill their story and their characteristics a bit. You boil down their motivation to something that is large and crystalline in their eyes, and then you have them focus a lot of attention on it so that the reader knows it’s important and big. And then you put things in the way of them achieving that goal, and by seeing they are willing to go through huge lengths to get over those obstacles, it says that goal is really important to them. So we the reader start to buy into it. You put obstacles in their way and show how determined they are to still get to that goal. That how you motivate your characters and that’s how you show they are motivated.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman The motivation depends entirely on the plot line of the story. By knowing my characters as well as I do, I can ensure that regardless of what is happening at any point in a story or plot line, that my characters act according to who they are, being true to themselves and the characters around them. Most of the time that action or motivation comes from love. Love for their partner, family or the world/life as a whole. There’s little point, after all, being a romance writer, if love isn’t the deciding factor in all character motivations.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I come up with a plot first and the characters fall into place.  I pick characters who will strive to fulfill the object of the plot.  Normally I motivate the characters by putting a loved one in danger.  I also tend to put the main character in a perilous situation and they have to find their way to safety.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Throwing a curve ball into their path, forcing them to figure out how to deal with an unexpected obstacle.  Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil My characters are motivate by love, family and loyalty.  When dealing with these three things, all differences can be cast aside and they can work together.


Characters change and grow through the adversaries that they face and the obstacles they overcome. Give us an example of this in your own writing.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Jimmy Malone, The Black Ghost was just a boy when he put on the cape and hood. He grows stronger and more motivated in each succeeding story, and brings aides/agents in to assist him in his fight against the underworld. But he tries to never put his agents in harms way, always attempting to understand the foes next move before he acts. Always anticipating the move on a chessboard, so he doesn’t fail.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak My favorite ones are the ones where characters have to face their own past attitudes. I hate to give examples, because having to face down someone you used to be–or someone you could have been, or who you fight not to become–makes for a really excellent plot twist.  Oh, you thought you were fighting literal demons?  The demons were the easy part!
The flip side, where the characters resist facing themselves and try to treat their adversaries and obstacles as purely external, is also fun to write. I have one character, Frank Mallory from my series Company Justice, who is probably the best character at resisting change that I’ve ever written. I’m working on book 3 and he’s still like, “I refuse to change, despite everything that has happened to me.” It’s not that he’s a bad person or that he does bad things. But he’s been through so much trauma that he really needs to take a break and stop pushing himself, and he won’t. I really wonder what will happen when he does admit that’s he can’t function anymore.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Adversaries come in many forms, not just another person. In my last novel Karma (Book 1 in the Silke Butters Superhero Series) my main character Silke is initially faced with the obstacle that her father has died suddenly. This sets an immediate tone right out of the blocks. From there she is faced with the challenge of her developing superpowers that, up until this point, she knew nothing about. Throughout the novel my supporting characters, and even my villain, all have their own obstacles and challenges to get through. It makes a meatier plot when you throw in several swerves and keep you characters dancing.
RA Winter
RA Winter In RedHorse, the second in the Spirit Key series, Jack RedHorse is hurt in Afghanistan and loses an arm. Rehabilitation doesn’t come easy. He has to learn to love himself before he can give his love to someone else. Compounding the situation is the spirits of the ancients who talk to him constantly. RedHorse is bombarded with self-doubt and has to learn to trust himself or seek help from others.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre In The Navigators, I had a group of post-graduate college students who were kind of pampered. And after they discover a time machine and all the bad things it does to them, they grow up. One in particular was a girl who, at the beginning, everybody would think she was just there to round out the bench. No, she ends up having to overcome many obstacles and she ends up being the lead character, because she didn’t run away when the opportunity to run away appeared. She hung in there. So by the end of story, she’s realized she’s gonna start making her own decision, that she’ll start being in charge for myself. She went from a good person who cared about others but was a little spoiled and naïve, to somebody who was still a good natured and cared about others but who is deciding to be an adult. Before, she was floating along and letting others make her life decisions; now she decided she’s going to be an adult.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman One of my characters from my Unexpected series, Quintessa, came from a wolf pack, where her alpha is a mean hate-filled character, and all the unmated she-wolves are basically treated like slaves, domestically and sexually. Quintessa meets her soulmate from another pack and she discovers that there is a different way to live, and that relationships between male wolves and she-wolves can be on a far more equal footing. Now of course, this doesn’t happen overnight, and we see Quintessa’s character grow and change over the series until she comes into her own after a long period of training with another character and learning how to love with her mate. There are other characters from the same pack that undertake a similar transformation, again over a period of time, slowly growing and changing until they all blossom into amazing characters that the reader is invested in.


What tools do you use to help readers get to know your characters?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Most of my characters are married or family men and women, and I want the readers to think of them as their families also. I look for families in all walks of life. The mother might say something your mother would say, or the father.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Wordcount.  I don’t throw readers straight into action anymore.   I build an actual POV before I break out the monsters.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy This is where POV, interaction with other characters, and how they face their obstacles comes into play. I give each of my characters distinct personalities so I know them to their core. This way when it comes time for them to react to something, each of them will react a different way based on their beliefs, morals, attitudes, etc.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Dialogue. You can take pages to show somebody demonstrating lots of good actions, or you can have two characters have a chat while they’re doing something else and inadvertently reveal it. A lighthearted conversation can suddenly drop in something really deep, as can two characters having an argument or a romantic moment. I tend to use dialogue to help the reader get to know my characters because it’s easier to see somebody being smart in dialogue than it is to see them being smart by doing something.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I guess the same tools we use to get to know people in real life. My characters talk to each other, they get to know each other by sharing snippets of their life with each other. Sometimes it might not be dialogue that the reader see’s that introduces elements of my characters, but rather their actions, or the clothes they wear, that give away who the character is, for example my main character in An Unexpected Bonding, Livvie, is sat in a bar wearing a pair of dusty jeans, and a worn plaid shirt with a tear from a barb-wire snag. She’s shown as not being bothered by her appearance, being comfortable in her own skin from the simple fact she went for a drink in her work clothes, including her spurs.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I sneak in hints about past trauma.  Most of my characters have troubled pasts, but it can be difficult not to start info-dumping.  Its a fine balance of information versus too much information.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Memories,  conversations with other characters about the past, and sometimes dreams.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Teasers featuring quotes from the book, Q&A sessions in my reader group and character takeovers.

Amy, I think this is a great idea.

Can you explain more about how you use promotional tools to let readers know about the story?

Amy Cecil Sure… we’ll I think the whole quote and teaser thing is pretty self-explanatory so I’ll just go into the Q&A and character TO’s.

For the Q&A- First I give my readers a brief bio about the character with a google form where they can submit questions. I don’t always get a lot of submissions so i always make sure I have at least five questions as back up. Then I present it a couple of ways. Sometimes in one post as if I’m interviewing the character or each question as it’s own post with responses. Just depends on my mood, which I call a Character Takeover.

How do you give each of your characters a distinctive voice?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I think through their background. Using The Black Ghost again: George Freeman is a newspaper reporter, but he is also a retired Army Ranger, and still keeps his hair cut short, and uses Army life as a conversation starter; Paula Marsh owns a small boutique; Lamont Rogers is a professor with a lab and does scientific studies; Hui Yo Chae is of Korean descent, master of taekwondo and electronics, and monitors Central Control, The Black Ghost’s network of computers and telephone communications. None are alike. Believe me, George Freeman can tell you how to prepare desert snakes and scorpions for a tasty meal.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I step into their shoes, their history, their opinions, how they see the world.  I don’t know that my characters really do have distinctive voices.  I mean, they’re all filtered through me, so I feel like there are some pretty glaring similarities.  But I try to care about what they care about, at that moment, and I hope that keeps them reasonably distinct.  A character who is trying to hide the fact that they’re consumed by a desire for revenge, even if that revenge will be served cold, should sound different than the person who angered them in the first place, just because of what’s going on in their lives.  Or at least that’s what I hope!
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I draw from real people to develop my characters so they are fully fleshed out before I even begin. I know who they are, what they want, and how they react to certain stimuli. Their character makeup tells me what their voice is. And the more multi-faceted they are the better.
RA Winter
RA Winter This may sound odd, but I have a playlist for each MC. When I’m writing their scenes, I listen to their music.  This brings me closer to the character and my writing changes for each unique voice.  I have everything from classical, rock, rap, and country music on my playlists depending on the mood I want the MC to have for each scene.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Giving each character is distinctive voice is really fun. One of the highest compliments I can pay to a writer is to say we know which character is speaking even if you don’t identify them to us, because you had made them all so distinctive and unique. Without writing cliché characters, what you do is you make somebody not neutral. Think about the seven dwarves. I’m sure they were all good workers and I’m sure they were all good managers and I’m sure they were all good friends, but give each one a nickname then make sure that Sleepy yawns a lot and that Dopey acts silly. Grumpy might act silly on occasion, too, but Grumpy always needs to let you know how grumpy he is. So you start out with that core, and then you add some other elements to the core so that they’re not two dimensional cardboard characters. They need to be distinct, so they have to always come from their core. Don’t make them two-dimensional, but make sure their core shows in everything they do. When I was reading Game of Thrones, Circe’s bitterness and ugliness and venom came through every time she opened her mouth – but because her scenes were spread over a 1000 page book, it wasn’t overwhelming. The right amount of salt for the soup. If you took all her scenes and put them one after another, it would’ve been too much and she’d have been cartoonish. Blend them into the proper scenes at the proper time for it not to be overkill. Balancing that is fun, and it’s really fun to see somebody else do it as well.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Knowing who each character is, and understanding their traits helps to create a distinctive voice for each character.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I base my characters off of real life.  Everyone is a unique person to me, and therefore they grow their own voices.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I do my best to delve into each one, good and bad, and allow their essence to flow from my mind to the keyboard.


Which of your characters was the most fun to write? Why?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Generally any main character in a novel is going to be at least my temporary favorite to write, because I get to know them so well, and they have the room to act like complete brats.  But I’m going to say that anytime I get to write Alice, that’s the best.
(Note: DeAnna’s Alice takes you on a trip to a steampunk Wonderland in great Carrol-esque fashion in her book Clockwork Alice. You can see my review of it here.)
Dan Alatorre
Alatorre Hmm… That’s a tough question because my answer probably will be a little opposite of what you would think. My main character is almost never the most fun character to write. His or her task is to carry the story.
Sergio in my new murder mystery Double Blind is the main character, and he was a lot of fun to write, but usually it’s the secondary characters that are most fun. Father Frank in An Angel On Her Shoulder, Sam in Poggibonsi. I love writing comedy, so I love when I bring in somebody who is a little goofy or quirky or who gums up the works unintentionally.
They are fun to write because they say the witty and funny things we all wish we could say, and they do some of the things we all wish we could do, but they almost always create additional hurdles for the main character to get over – in a fun way. We like them.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Lady Jacqueline, Duchess of Wolvarden from Red Wolf was the most fun for me to write. She is a very strong and independent character, but you also see a softness to her and moments of weakness that makes her human. She also has an innocence that tempers the strength of her character giving her a femineity that her aggressive nature would otherwise dominate.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Ripper – do I really need to answer that? (LOL)  Everyone knows that Jack the Ripper was never caught, nobody knew who he was or what happened to him.  Nobody knows why he murdered.  Getting into his head and making him the Ripper that I wanted was empowering. He took me down the streets of Whitechapel.  He was my guide into his world.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Amethyst Treasure! She is outrageous. Nothing was too much for her. She had me laughing so many times. I started off thinking she would be a typical rich girl, but as I wrote, she developed into something much more than that. (TREASURE DARKLY)


Which of your antagonists is your favorite? Why?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak The Queen of Fairies from the Fairy’s Tale books.  She’s not evil or bad or even uncaring; she’s just not human, and she’s trying to save her people, and humanity’s just kind of in the way.  We’re like evil Guinea pigs to her.
Dan Alatorre
 Alatorre Similarly, a really good antagonist has to have every single reader cringing and gripping their fists and wishing they could punch the book in the nose.
You just have to think of the absolute worst thing this person could do, and then you have to do it. Maybe that’s embarrassing the main character, maybe it’s teasing them, maybe it’s ridiculing them, maybe it’s – well, it’s almost always getting in the way of them achieving their goal, but a lot of times when the villain really enjoys what they are doing, and doing it with a cruel and sadistic enjoyment, readers hate that person. And that’s what you want. You want them to hate your bad guy.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I don’t have a favourite antagonist. I can’t help but hate each one I’ve written. None of them have any redeeming traits to allow a reader (or the writer!) to feel any connection to them. You find yourself cheering for everything they get in the end.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Elizabeth Clifford (ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW). She’s the bad guy – hurting people, ruining families, killing. However, there’s a dark past to her and she’s really just an injured young woman. It was fun writing about her from the POVs of her victims and from her. She’s more than just a bad guy.


Nonfiction authors don’t create characters, they portray people, but it’s still a matter of bringing out qualities that they need the reader to see. When well done, the reader sees a well rounded person, with both positive and negative qualities of personality. Nonfiction author Mark Shaw is very talented in giving readers a glimpse inside his character’s, who happen to be true life people, heads in a manner that makes readers sit up and take notice. So let’s ask him to help us examine the differences.
When writing nonfiction, the author doesn’t create the characters, but instead must figure out how to portray traits that exist in real life characters.
Do you feel this is limiting for you as a writer, or does it make character portrayals easier for you?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Since I strive to portray the subjects I write about through their own words and through primary sources who knew them, there is no limitation at all. Writers who speculate too much are the cause of many distortions of the subject’s portrayal, a common occurrence on the internet.
What draws you to a subject which compels you to tell their story? 
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Stories about fascinating people seem to find me especially when they have to do with themes such as women’s rights, courage and justice. With Dorothy Kilgallen, I also was intrigued with the fact that this remarkable journalist was forgotten, erased from history and I knew I have to do something about that. Words are the writer’s weapons for change, words that make readers stop and think about important issues, that is why we write.
What kinds of things do you do to get inside someone’s head so you can tell their story, since your subjects are not available to give a firsthand account? 
MarkAtSFTS (1) I very rarely ever, if ever, use information that is not firsthand, that is not from primary sources. And if I do use material that is not a firsthand account, I find confirming evidence from another credible source. I do not speculate.
What tools do you use to reveal the characteristics of your subjects to your readers? 
MarkAtSFTS (1) Interviews with those who are eyewitnesses to accounts about my subjects.
How do you give your subjects a distinctive voice?
MarkAtSFTS (1) By using their voice, for instance, with Dorothy, her newspaper columns, articles, etc. that she wrote as well as articles about her where she is quoted.

In real life, even the best, most saintly people have flaws which may make them unlikeable.

How do you balance the traits of your subjects to make them relatable to readers? Do you gloss over their negative aspects and emphasize the positive? Or?

MarkAtSFTS (1) No, I write a balanced portrayal of my subjects, good, bad and ugly. For instance, in The Reporter Who Knew Too Much and the upcoming Denial of Justice, I point out Dorothy having had two affairs, one of which resulted in the birth of her youngest son, Kerry.


So it seems that interesting characters are full of surprises, and kind of quirky aith an engaging voice and intriguing history. They are not two demensional, but well rounded with many layers and they are flawed or imperfect in some way.

In nonfiction, you start by choosing a compelling subject for your story, but still the characters must be balanced and true to life. This is accomplished through thorough research and interviews to capture their voice.

Characters which catch the reader’s interest may emulate qualities we would like to have ourselves, but above all else a characters must be relatable for the reader in some way. They have a distinctive voice Readers must be able to like and relate to our characters and they must be able to hate our villians in order for the story to work. 

There also must be conflicts for the character to face. The hero’s goodness must be balanced out by the evilness of the villians. The greater inner fears they must face and the bigger the external obstacles he must overcome, the better the hero.

I want to thank our panel members for sharing from their own works and offering us their insights. I invite you all to join us here on Ask the Authors next week, when our author panel will discuss world building, sensory details and effective dialog. 

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Plot/Storyline: Where Do We Go From Here?

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Without a plot there is no story, just words on a page. So how do we create a good story? How do we go about making a plot work from beginning to end? We find out this week when our author panel discusses just that. As I mentioned in last week’s post on The Writing Process, there is no right or wrong to this, just different authors tackling the task in different ways. And if you’re new to this blog series and would like to meet our panel members, check out my introductory post to learn about the immense talent we have on board. As is often the case, life got in the way this week for a few of our panel members, so our panel only numbers ten this week, but they’ve all pitched in with some really great answers to my questions. So, without further ado, let’s Ask the Authors.

What do you think the function of story is?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture To make sure the story has a beginning, middle, and ending, and revolves around the plot, coming to a final conclusion. There seems to be a trend these days for the plot being shaky, and the story not coming to a final conclusion. Writers are imitating television story lines that go on forever, and this can be bothersome with a 400 or 500-page novel if there is no ending.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Touching the emotions of the reader.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre At its heart, the function of any story is to entertain. Whether you call it giving the reader an escape, or creating worlds, or whatever. At the end of the day, if it’s not entertaining, they’re less likely to read it; if they don’t read it, then nothing else much matters.

Now, how do you go about that?

Well, first and foremost, remember your goal IS to entertain. That means different things at different times, but mainly it means engaging the reader. Get them to like your hero and hate your villain. Get them to laugh at the funny spot and cry at the sad spot. Give them a rollercoaster ride. And make them care so much about those things that they can’t put your story down, they stay up until 3am saying, “Just one more chapter…” they get to the end and hate to see the story come to a close. They don’t want to say goodbye to these amazing new friends they’ve made.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak To present the author’s point of view on something, usually for entertainment purposes, but not always–sometimes a story is a call for justice, or a commentary on the state of the world or whatever.  The important part is that the author has a particular way of seeing things that their audience appreciates.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman To entertain and to provide an escape from the every day stress or mundaneness of everyday life.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil To entertain the reader.

What are the elements of a good plot?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture The plot can be simple or complicated with many twists. Depending on the genre, the author doesn’t want to stray too far from the main cause that sets the story in motion, so make sure the plot is solid and moves like a well thought out chess game.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre It has to move fast. I always give the analogy of a roller coaster: it needs some ups and some downs, some twists and turns, some fast places and some slower places. Without a hill, there is no drop. In order for something to be perceived as going fast, there needs to be a slower section. But for the most part, plots need to go from one interesting thing to another, and they need to do it as fast as possible. So we need to have “interesting things.” Hmm. What are those in your story? (They are things that a majority of people would consider interesting in a certain circumstance) and we need to go from one to the other quickly (that’s pace). One other big element of a good plot is, it needs interesting characters the reader can relate to.

Most of that isn’t hard to do, either. But where new writers screw up is they put too much extraneous information in the story, like describing the fact that the guy lives in a yellow, split level ranch home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms – I mean, who cares? If the police in your story are looking for a bank robber and witnesses say the bank robber ran into a yellow, split level ranch home, then that matters. Otherwise it probably does not. But that’s where people mess up their stories. They have good ideas, but they take too long to get to them and they make us wade through things that aren’t interesting. Alfred Hitchcock said, “A good story is life with the boring bit taken out.” That’s right. Anything you can’t read six times without wanting to skim it, that’s got to go.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Ehhhh…a year ago I would have been able to answer this with great confidence.  Now I’m not so sure.  I’ve been reading a lot more literary fiction lately, and it turns some of my assumptions on their heads.  I think I have to go with, “A series of events that present the author’s point of view.”  For example, look at the movie Pulp Fiction.  Why were the events put in the order they were, out of sequence?  Why not a different out-of-sequence order?  I’m sure there’s a reason, but I think what it comes down to is, “That was just how the director, Quentin Tarrantino, thought it would work best at the time.”  I do plan to pick the movie apart so I can kind of reconstruct what he was thinking and why he made the judgments he did, but I’m not that far yet.  It’s fascinating.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Conflict, resolution, and character growth.

It doesn’t matter how good your story is if you can’t get anyone to read it. The ‘hook’ is the angle used to grab the readers attention and make them want to read more, usually found at the beginning of the story, before they have a chance to lose interest.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart The core aspects of humanity: revenge, love, hate, betrayal, the end of days, friendship, war, sex. Readers do not want stories about every-day life, they want every-day life exposed, nude and straightforward told. For instance: the married woman who loves the neighbor next door; the man getting his family ready for Armageddon; a father who betrays his son to conquer his son’s wife; a revenge plan that does not work out; and so on. People live up to these things in real life and they read to know what happened there if that might happen in real life and how he/she can get ideas on those issues. I believe people do not read just for reading; they read because there is a link between themselves and that plot, and that connection should be largely understood and perhaps even studied. My novel Open/Pierre´s journey after war deals with war and revenge, there is a lot of sex elements mixed into the story. War walks hand-in-hand with sex, and the element of revenge is one of the most primitive instincts we have for self-defense. My plots are all into that: our core instincts.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Characters that the reader can connect with and or relate to, with a background rather than just springing up on the first page. A story that goes somewhere – i.e. some tension or event that the character must deal with. A good plot should also have a beginning to introduce, a middle to cover the “event” and an end to bring it to a conclusion.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Characters and a unique plot.  You can have the most original story, but no one will want to read it if they don’t connect with the characters.  You can have the coolest characters, but another run-of-the-mill story will make readers lose interest.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I think it is important to have a build up, then some action and of course romance and then the wind down.

What is the best hook you’ve ever written?

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) For both The Reporter Who Knew Too Much and the upcoming Denial of Justice, “Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen was killed because she was ‘the reporter who knew too much.'”

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Hooks are fun, but they are also work. I will usually write several chapters (often a lot more) before deciding on the hook for the story, but usually I have my story idea in mind and I kick around the best way to open it and hook the reader.

Think about the most interesting thing in your first chapter. Try to start with that, and then address it as close to the first line in the book as possible, in the most interesting way you can think of. Sometimes that’s an argument. Sometimes that’s action.

Here are a few of my faves:

The killer clutched and re-clutched the big knife, his heart pounding as he eyed his prey. (Double Blind)

We immediately know we have a killer. That’s kinda gripping. Prey = victim, so this line evokes an instinctive predator-prey thing; we almost immediately imagine a little deer being stalked by a big, ferocious lion. Clutching and re-clutching indicates nervousness or excitement or fear or apprehension, but it gets the reader into the mindset of the killer, which is intriguing; most people aren’t killers, so they are interested right away. I’m really proud of that one.

Here’s another:

“Call 911! CALL 911!”

But it needs a little context, so I’ll give you the rest.

“Call 911! CALL 911!”

The man’s shouts ripped through the tasting room of scenic Hillside Winery. At the counter, Mallory lowered her brochures for 2017 vintages and glanced over her shoulder, unable to see who had called out. The other customers, two dozen or so elderly tourists and a smaller group that called the server by name, were looking around, too.

With confusion working its way into their expressions, nobody moved or called 911.

The man’s voice rose, straining with fear and urgency as his words boomed down the hallway and spilled over them. “Somebody call 911! There’s been an accident in the parking lot!”

A robust fellow, gray at the temples but broad in the shoulders and belly, pushed away from the tasting counter and headed toward the shouts.

“Martin.” The woman next to him reached out for his arm. “Don’t. You’re not on duty.”

He didn’t break stride. “A cop is never off duty.” (An Angel On Her Shoulder)

This one opens a chapter, but I love it:

Melissa had been able to pick locks as a party trick since she was a child, just never while somebody was shooting at her. (The Navigators)

Every day for years, Gina passed by the old white tower, often not paying any attention to it at all. Today, it called to her. (The Water Castle)

My absolute favorite is this one:

“Daddy?” (Poggibonsi)

I know, I know; you aren’t supposed to start a story with dialogue because it’s allegedly disorienting to the reader. I said it was a fave; I didn’t say it was good. But in defense of it, we learn a lot in that one word, and I don’t find it disorienting. “Daddy” means we have a child speaking to their father. Usually, daddy is used by a smaller child, more likely than not, a girl. And she is asking a question, so we kinda wanna know what she wants to know, but we’ve adhered to Vonnegut’s rule of making a character want something, and we did it in one word. She wants something; we just don’t know what it is yet.

That’s a lot from one word.

“No way.” Roger shook his head and left the kitchen. “You f*ckers are crazy.”

(The Navigators)

That’s the actual story opening to The Navigators, but it’s a good idea to start each chapter with a good hook if you can, as noted above. (And there’s no words with asterisks in the middle in the story.)

Say what you want about how hooky my hooks are, but overall they tend to grab readers and pull them in.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Right now, I’m in love with my near-future thrillers, so I’ll give you those:
–A near-future detective investigates a serial killer who knows what his victims really want…and will allow him to kill them in order to get it.
–NO IDEA IS SO GOOD IT CAN’T GO BAD
The Giver was what they called him.  He would give you whatever you wanted, for a price.  It was uncanny.  The Giver would find you when you were at your lowest point, offer you exactly what you needed, what you had to have more than life itself. (Mindsight, by my pseudonym Dean Kenyon) 
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I have a future story planned for my Unexpected series, but I have written a 5k section of it for an anthology that releases on 12 Oct. I think that must have a pretty good hook, because the anthology’s publisher has asked me if I intend for the story to be expanded, because she needs more! She was very relieved when I told her it would be a future work in progress to be expanded into a full novel of my Unexpected series.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  You tell me.  😉

The stakes in the story give characters motivation to act and also let us know what is at risk if the characters are unsuccessful in their quest. But, you can’t save the world in every story. Sometimes the stakes are personal and affect only the protagonist. Other times the stakes are bigger and affect more than just the main character. Either way, the character is motivated to take action.

What types of stakes do you create for your characters?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My plots tend to be simple, as my stories are character driven. The hero is always pitted against great odds, but s/he never allows the enemy to have the upper hand. Even injured, or seriously wounded, the hero goes forward. Whether it’s to save a small child or New York City, the goal is the same. Press forward.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre You don’t have to save the world in every book, but you might be saving the world from the perspective of one person. A lost puppy is the end of the world to a five-year-old girl. Robbing a bank and getting away with $1 million might be the world to a drug dealer who will be killed if he doesn’t get the money to the loan shark by noon. Being caught in a foxhole with bullets flying around your head is definitely the whole world in a story about a Marine storming the beach at Normandy.

So, the bigger the stakes, the better, but big is relative. If your reader cares about that five year old girl, the story about her lost puppy can be just as gripping as the one about the Marine getting shot at.

And the more emotion you pack in, that makes the ride worth taking.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I think a lot of my characters’ stakes are very personal and internal, but I love it when those personal stakes have external consequences.  “Who am I?  Do I get to stay a person, or do I get brainwashed?” That’s a lot of my characters.  But often the characters are balancing those stakes against letting murderers go free, letting people get eaten by monsters, letting the world end, things like that.  To paraphrase, “What good does it do someone to save the world, if they lose their own soul in the process?”

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy It depends on the plot. All characters have their own motivations. In those motivations comes the character growth. Save the world, save the girl, save themselves. It depends on what story you’re trying to tell.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman For my paranormal stories, I create tension between the species – my Unexpected series is vampire and wolf. The first in the series deals with bringing peace. My characters have their own personal issues to deal with, such as grief at a partner who has died. In the meantime, rival packs are plotting against each other.

For my historical story, I had political machinations that interfered with the simple every day life, providing the tension as the characters had to navigate around the plotting of others to make their own way as they wanted.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I like to have personal stakes as opposed to “save the world.”  For example, in GOAT CHILDREN, Keziah struggles to come to terms with her grandmother’s dementia.  She isn’t saving the world, unless you count her own world as it crumbles.  Keziah must realize the grandmother she once loved is gone and discover how to best help the woman in her place.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil That varies from story to story, but I think since I write mainly romance, that there has to be some angst between the H & h.  And, there is always the risk of losing the love.  Maybe there is another involved and you have a triangle, but this risk is always there.

In any story, there is certain information the reader needs to know, like backstory, but big blocks of exposition can tire the reader and cause them to lose interest.

In your writing, how do you avoid info-dumps?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Here’s what I do, when I can. My characters may be driving on a highway, and one notices all the automobiles are black, then mentions a scene from their youth in conversation, like a country community during harvest, with lots of green tractors on the road. Our hero responds with a mission or period when s/he was in Europe and on the road to Monte Carlo driving a red VW, while the road was packed with black Ferraris. I try to make the back-story part of what is going on at the time.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre How to avoid info dumps, right? I’ll tell you the secret. Ready? Because this is something that almost every new writer struggles with. The solution is simple.

You might need a bunch of information about that character or about that city or whatever. Write it. Write it all. Write it down in as much detail as you need. Fill pages of notebooks or volumes of computer files.

And then leave it out of the book.

Yep. You read that right.

Characters should appear on page 1 as fully formed human beings. The story rarely begins at their birth and ends at their death, recounting everything in their lives that happened in between including potty training and every Friday dinnertime pizza topping discussion. Nobody wants to read that.

The reader knows the character had a life before the story started, so let your character act like it. Leave out the backstory.

If you feel you absolutely positively have to have some sort of backstory, write it down, only pull the essential few pieces, and then drip them into your story here and there. For example, you can explain away a ten-year relationship by having a main character’s friend say, “Well, that’s what Janice did to him.” There we go. There was a Janice. They spent time together. She did something to him, and he’s still feeling the effects of whatever it was.

One well-placed sentence replaces 5,000 boring non-related words of backstory.

Spread those little pearls throughout your story and let the reader sew them together – and reach their own conclusions about it. No spoon feeding.

For the most part, the writer needs that backstory information. The reader does not. Words to live by.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak My characters, I should note, lie a lot.  Sometimes they outright lie, sometimes they lie by omission, sometimes they just tell the story from their own point of view. So what I do is plan for the reader to find out a superficial level of what’s going on, something that doesn’t take a lot of time to explain, but that is fundamentally untrue in some way.  The truth comes out gradually, as it tends to do, which means that I don’t have to give a whole bunch of truth at any given moment.  I also bury a lot of info in descriptions of things.  Like the character will assume that everyone knows a lot of stuff about fairies in the 1920s and kind of just say something like, “I got a Daimler because they never make ’em out of fae,” and you’re like, “Wait, what do they make out of fae?!?”  I try to make it not feel like an infodump, but the answer to a question you had on your mind anyway.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy There’s an incredibly good scene in the original Terminator movie where Sarah Connor is with Kyle Reese and they are in a police car trying to get away from both the T800 and the cops. In that scene, full of adrenaline and action, Kyle explains the entire plot of the movie. Its a big chunk of exposition, but you don’t realize it because he’s telling it during an action scene.

That’s just an example on how you can drop important backstory into your novel. Use pacing.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne It is a slippery slope to give just the right amount of information away without boring the reader to tears! It took me several years and some rather nasty reviews to learn to fling only a cupful of information across the page as opposed to dumping an entire gallon of water at once. Since I primarily write in the suspense/mystery/thriller genre, readers expect a fast-paced story, not one laced with six sentences dedicated to describing a blade of grass or the color of a character’s eyes. It all depends upon the genre and reader expectation. Romance novels needs steamy, drawn-out love scenes full of vivid detail, so if the author skims over certain pieces of vital information, the reader might feel cheated.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Pace and good transitions.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart That is a great point-not too much information and not lack of it: the right balance of everything! I read nothing that over explains things; it can be a film, a book or a teacher during a class; so I try to avoid it by all costs with my readers. Sometimes, I think I prefer less information and leave gaps for the readers to fill them in than to overexpose them to a boring extensive description that simply bores them.

Actually, I have noticed there are two kinds of literature, one that is descriptive and that in engendered in time and space; somehow, it is grounded in that place. There are readers for those and they hate anything that is too subtle and not told in the book, endings that are not clear, and so on. On the other hand, there is another kind of literature that is classical, beyond time and place, it is more universal, and this one uses less information and is more grounded into emotions. These are the classics. What I write has more to do with the last one!

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I work in shorter sections of back story, sometimes I might use a couple of paragraphs of a flashback, providing the information the reader needs. Although sometimes a simple line can provide insight to a characters state of mind from their backstory – like this for an example – {Years of anger, hatred and jealousy powered behind the fall of his arm as he dropped the statue with as much force as he could on the back of his brothers head.}

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I always have critique partners read through to make sure info-dumps didn’t slip through!  While writing, though, I try to be careful to space backstory out a little at a time in each chapter.  If we get deep into the story and some information hasn’t come to light yet, I let it go – it must not be essential.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I usually throw the backstory in gradually instead of all at once.  Giving the reader tidbits here and there helps to keep them reading on.

Prologues. Some authors love them, others find them to be irrelevant, an unnecessary detour.

Are you in favor of prologues? What is the function of a good prologue?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture A prologue can help at times, but I’m not in favor of them. I used them in my JUR series. In fact, the first novel almost won an award for the prologue. It set the stage for the telling of the story. In my more recent novel, Pangaea: Eden’s Planet, the short prologue helped define the commander of the mission, so the reader understood her motivations. Even though the mission failed due to no fault of hers, she still feels responsible for the others.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I love them, especially when reliving events in the past which have lasting impacts on the lives of the characters in the present. The same is true for epilogues. Both show the start and ending of the “event” and the reaction of the characters.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Here is the problem a prologue, and I will give you the best, most famous example of a prologue, ever: Star Wars. The very first Star Wars, back in the 70s, started out with that rambling scroll that kind of went up the screen and disappeared off into space, telling us all about how it was a dark time for the rebels or somebody, and blah, blah, blah… Then, in the first two minutes of the story, we see everything that prologue just told us. That’s proof that the prologue wasn’t necessary. (But because it’s become iconic, they have to start all those movies with that. Hey, if it made me a billion dollars, I would, too.) The fact is, if you skip that part and start right out with that little spaceship shooting at the big spaceship, the next 120 seconds tell you everything in the prologue – so you didn’t need the prologue.

And that’s my point. They’re bad for several reasons.

Most people who feel like they need a prologue are really not writing a good story in the prologue. They have this great story idea that comes later, and they feel like they have to spoon feed the reader to get them up to speed. Usually that’s not the case.

Additionally, they may write a really good story once the story starts, but they write a really horrible prologue. It’s all tell, tell, tell, and summaries, and stuff that isn’t written well or written to be engaging and interesting.

I almost always skip a prologue. I would say 90% of the time, the story is not better for having had the prologue. It’s often just an info dump-y backstory we have to wade through until the fun starts. Why do that to a reader? Why give them a chance to put the book down?

Some of the most engaging stories you read are stories where you kind of have to figure out what’s going on. Like this thing is already happening and I need to run to catch up.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Depends on the genre.  How are you gonna write a thriller with no prologue?!?

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ll use a prologue if I deem it necessary or if I feel I want to have it in there. The thing people need to understand about writing is that you don’t need to be pigeonholed into all these set rules. Write however you want to write. Let the story and the characters guide you, not the rules.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I do use prologues. Depending on my story, it can be the simplest form of setting up the rest of the plot, providing a simple introduction of the history of the characters and allowing the reader to engage with wanting to know more and how that introduction effects that character – usually my prologues are set years before the main story takes place, and can be the best way to avoid a major info dump later in the story.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I used to love prologues until my past agent told me to nix them because no one ever reads a prologue. Since then, I’ve tried hard not to use them. The only time a prologue seems necessary is to deliver a scene that took place years in the past.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Most of my books have prologues.  To me, the prologue is the hook.  It’s what makes the reader want to read more.

Subplots help to keep readers from getting bored when the main plot slows down, but they can also confuse the issues if not written in carefully. If they aren’t wrapped up by the end of the story, they can leave readers feeling cheated. Yet, they are vital to making your story believable, because real life isn’t linear and focused on just one thing, and neither should your story be.

What is your approach to subplots? Do you write subplots in purposefully, or just let them develop and see what happens? How do you assure that all the subplots are resolved by the end of the story? Or do you leave a few dangling, with the promise of more to come for the reader?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Hmm. In my novel, The Man In The Black Fedora, a subplot – or minor mystery – surrounds the man in the black fedora. He and his team (agents) rescue a young nightclub singer from the mob who is intent on killing her. She is brought into the team’s organization, but she isn’t told who the mysterious man is. The agents know who their boss is, and the reader can easily figure it out, but he remains a mystery to the nightclub singer. Throughout the story she keeps guessing at his secret identity, but the agents won’t tell her. About three-quarters into the story I do reveal his identity to the girl, and got in trouble for it. Readers said I should have waited till the end of the story to reveal the secret. However, there were already two mysteries to be solved, and I was merely using the man in the black fedora’s secret as a minor subplot, figuring I could end that mystery any time during the story. From the readers’ responses, I should have held on to the secret until the end of the story, though, (sigh).

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne There are subplots in the majority of my novels because in reality, everyone has their own agenda whether known or not. Your main character may be working on solving a murder because they loved the person who died, yet another character might be assisting in the investigation for reasons rather on the shady side! Subplots offer a great opportunity to steer the reader into a different direction while you build up a shocking twist with another character.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Subplots are awesome. They are what makes the story world go around. You have your one main story and then you have lots of little stories going on underneath, and in each one of those, we should have some sort of challenge that a character is trying to overcome. So in your main story you’re gonna have a big giant obstacle to overcome, and in your little subplots, you’re going to have smaller stuff to overcome. Overcoming the challenges or obstacles in the story is what makes the story really interesting, and typically the bigger the steaks and the bigger the obstacles, the more interesting story.

The same is true for tension. The more tension, the better the story, and subplots allow for additional tension – as long as they affect the main story somehow.

Usually I try to have all my subplots wrapped up by the end. My mind works that way. How do I do that? I outline. I look at the pieces of the puzzle I arrange them until I’m satisfied, and I make sure that all the loose ends are tied up by the last chapter. As a reader, I enjoy seeing that happen, and as a writer, I can tell you most audiences do, too. (To ensure the loose ends get tied up, make lots and lots of notes to yourself. More on that later.)

DeAnna Knippling

deannak With my ghostwriting stories, the subplots kind of have to be wrapped up tight.  I find that ghostwriting clients aren’t in for as challenging plots as I am in my own work 🙂  In my own work, I may leave a few subplots still dangling, but only if that’s kind of what the story is about.  I have one series that’s a near-future thriller, (Mindsight, by my pseudonym Dean Kenyon), and how difficult it is to really know everything that’s going on in the information era.  And that character, he just lies about all kinds of things and the books are a loose kind of report for his private detective agency.  So he kind of…just leaves some things out.  Like, if he’s going to do something that could get him fired or put someone in danger.  Oops, I forgot to write that down.  He always has a logical reason for it.  I try to hint at what he really did, though.  I’m using some of the loose threads in the next book, too.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My stories develop all on their own. Subplots and all. For my Unexpected series, a couple of those subplots are started in one book, and will conclude in the next book, although there are no cliff hangers as such.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Subplots always happen as the story progresses.  I love writing from alternate points of view, and as each character becomes more complex, more subplots blossom. Critique partners are great at helping me catch subplots that don’t have a solid resolution.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I’ve been called many times a big tease.  So my subplots always promise more to come.  I keep them open so that I can continue that story in another book.  I write a lot of series and this works well.  Keeps the series from dying too soon.

This question is for those authors who are plotters, and like to have the storyline laid out before they begin writing. What story structure do you prefer? (i.e. Simple Outline, Bracket method, Three Act Format. Beat Sheet.)

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Chapter Headings with some description of content.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Hmm. I don’t know what any of those things are…

When I get an idea for a story, I use an outline. My outline can be as simple as for main points. Romeo and Juliet, for example, has four main outline points:

  • Boy and girl want to be together.
  • Their parents don’t want them to be together.
  • They get together anyway.
  • Everybody dies.

In that basic structure, you know we’re going to have these people meet and struggle and get together and pay a huge price because of it. The subplots go in underneath that. Sword fights! Intrigue! Here and there, some comedy.

So for my story, I make a list of my main story points just like I did for Romeo and Juliet above, and then I lay out smaller points underneath for ideas and subplots and whatnot. By doing that, I know when my story is going. Subplots, too. As I write, I will get really cool ideas that can be inserted in, and I love, love, LOVE to think of a twist that nobody sees coming. Like halfway through you find out the guy you’ve been rooting for is actually a bad guy. (Well, from his perspective, he’s not a bad guy; he just has a cross purpose with somebody else in the story.)

My method is to think of all those little ideas and lay them out, and then see what works best, and then start writing. It gives me a series of writing prompts every day – the next bullet point on the list! Goodbye writer’s block. And guess what? If the bullet point doesn’t interest you very much, so you don’t want to write it – delete it from the list. The list should only be really interesting things that are happening in your story.

This allows you to oversee what happens in your story and make sure it goes where you want, but if you decide Romeo and Juliet should live happily ever after, hey – go with that! It’s your outline. It’s to guide you to the best story, not lock you into an arbitrary set of rules.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I plot on some things, especially when I ghostwrite. I use a simplified form of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
-Set up the story.
–Fun & games (a.k.a. “the promise of the premise”).
–Reversal!!!
–Bad guys close in.
–Stormin’ the castle/final battle.
–Wrapup.
It doesn’t really matter what outline you use. The ability to go from “I have an idea!!!” to putting events in some kind of dramatic order is the important part. I feel that if you can “feel” a dramatic order to your events, you can skip the outline and pants it.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I do a simple outline with important plot points I want to touch on, character breakdowns, and often resolutions to problems…but not always. Too much plotting kills the story for me.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman On the rare occasions I need to plot – for a tight word count for example, I plan my chapters and will outline my manuscript with chapter heading and a simple line of text as to what is to happen in this chapter.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I use a storyboard.  It’s a sheet of paper that has 12 squares on it, each square representing a chapter in the book.  I write quick notes on what I want to happen in each chapter and work off that.  Sometimes I will follow that story board to the letter, others the story takes on a life of its own and it gets altered.

There is nothing worse for a reader than to be deeply involved in a story and discover a huge plot hole that the author missed. It could be as simple as the character had on a purple dress three pages back, but now is wearing a blue one, but I guarantee there are readers out there that will find it and make you aware of it.

Do you have methods you employ for avoiding inconsistencies in your story?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture You see this not only in books, but movies also. In one scene her hair is in a bun, the next scene it’s shoulder length. The hero may jump from 160 pounds to 190 pounds in two chapters. File cards come in handy for main characters. Write their descriptions down, and what they’re wearing, if necessary. And keep those file cards handy.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I once mixed up the sex of a main character’s cat in the third book of a series. One reader ripped me apart for the mistake and to this day, I find the reaction odd. No one can write a perfect book because every single person involved from start to finish is human, which means mistakes will happen. If the biggest criticism I receive during a review is because of such a minor detail then I simply smile, because that means I nailed the big plot points and the only thing they can find to nitpick is a minor one.

I have numerous beta readers and friends read the final draft several times and incorporate their suggestions. I also send the final, final, final draft to my Kindle and listen to the robotic voice speak the words. It is amazing how many little things you can catch that way. Then, I make corrections and the final, final, final, final draft to my editor.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre PLOT HOLE RULE #1: It’s not a plot hole if nobody notices.

Usually there is enough time between the first draft and the final version of the story for me to be thinking about any loose ends. Things randomly pop up in my head because I want to be sure to not have loose ends, and I think about my story a lot in my non-writing time. Did I remember to explain X? Did I give a reason for Y? I immediately make a note, then go check out if I dealt with the question.

In my most recent story, I wanted to have the killer confront a certain character, but there just wasn’t a convenient way to do it. So I made a note to myself. I had to address that before the final chapter. And I wrote other pieces of the story, but eventually I had to resolve that. If I had not, it would’ve been a plot hole. There have been others, but I become aware of them as I write, and I make a note to tie it up somehow.

Notes are big. Just dash off a line to yourself: Remember to have Mrs Dilger say X. That’s all you need. It’s like a checklist. As you address each one, cross it off the list. As you create each twist, think ahead about how it ties in and makes notes about things you have to do to ensure it does. I might have 30 motes to myself during a story, and at the ed I go through and double check that each one is taken care of.

I think people who outline tend to have far fewer plot holes anyway, and if there are still a few when you finish, your critique partners and beta readers should catch them. If they don’t, well… it’s not a plot hole if nobody notices it.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak With novels, I try to maintain a sheet with character names.  I have the worst time with names.  I find that if I describe the character vividly enough in each scene (which doesn’t mean at great length, just vividly), then I remember what clothes they’re wearing anyway.  If I screw something like that up, it means I did a bad job at the original descriptions, and I try to backpedal and add more details in.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Plotting as we mentioned before. I use a very detailed character sheet so that those things don’t happen.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I re-read for information if I need it. But I avoid most major plot holes by writing scene by scene, chapter by chapter in order, rather than having to sew up scenes that have been written randomly as the inspiration hits. I also have a trusted friend, who is also an author who will read through my manuscript after the first round of edits and tell me if I have missed anything in bringing the story to its conclusion.

Jordan Eliabeth

Jordan I always use an editor and a proofreader, as well as numerous critique partners.  I hate it when something sneaks by.  I’ll be kicking myself for years!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I am lucky enough to have two editors who are very thorough.  They did deep into my stories and find those plot holes and make sure that they point them out to me.

I’ve been working to improve my interviewing skills, and one thing I’ve learned is that the interviewer must phrase the questions so they won’t be misinterpreted. It seems I still have a way to go in this area. So, for those who read ‘hook’ as ‘book’ in my earlier question, (lol), I figure this is a legitimate question, too.

What is the best book you’ve ever written?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I don’t know. My nonfiction books have probably made more money. I love writing children stories best. The JUR series was my break out series, and actually the most fun to write. But if I were to pick my favorite it would be between The Man In The Black Fedora and Pangaea: Eden’s Planet. Between those two, perhaps I would lean towards The Man In The Black Fedora. Both would make good movies.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne What a tough question and so difficult to answer.

For emotional impact on the ’ol heartstrings, I would say Ruined Wings. The story is a painful reality for far too many people in this world, including a close loved one, which is why I wrote the book and why it’s been turned into a short film. Addiction is a major, worldwide crisis.

The best mystery/suspense/thriller book I’ve written to date would have to be my latest novel, Fatal Agreements. Family secrets, revenge, murder, an old house, and southern charm! What more can you ask for in a novel?

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Thus far, I would have to say Ripper.  The story is a very erotic love story that is engrossing and will leave you on the edge of your seat that takes place around the Jack the Ripper murders.  The ending is a total surprise and will definitely leave the reader with a book hangover.

Well, it looks like most of our panel can agree that the function of story is to entertain and/or present a message, although they may disagree on other things about plot. A plot is like a completed puzzle, with all the pieces fitting together exactly. Those pieces include a beginning, middle and end, but you can’t just place the beginning of one puzzle with the middle and end from other puzzles because they won’t match up right to create a whole picture that’s clear. So, those pieces must contain the right elements, like conflict and resolution, character growth, good tension and pacing and an appeal to the humanity in all of us in order to fit together properly and form a cohesive whole.

There must be something at risk or no one will care enough to read on. The bigger the stakes the more your readers will care. The stakes can be internal or external, but even internal stakes should have external consequences. And there must be obstacles to your protagonist reaching their goals. It can’t be easy. What’s the fun in that? Where’s the tension. I had a professor who was fond of telling us to beat our characters up, and when you think they are as low as they can go, beat them up some more. It makes the triumph when they reach their goal that much sweeter.

Info. dumps can be avoided in several ways including weaving backstory and/or flashbacks into action and dialog. But, it also was suggested that you create questions that readers will then be looking for the answers to and won’t notice its exposition or have your characters lie, giving off subtle hints at things, but not outright telling readers what they need to know. A few authors suggested leaving backstory out, doubting that there is a need for it. And, they may be right in some cases.

Our plotters keep things straight with storyboards or outlines of some sort, and to avoid inconsistancies they use those outlines or make notes, character sheets or filing cards to avoid inconsistancies. Most panel members also utilize critique partners, beta readers and/or editors to help expose plot holes. Having your story read aloud with the author becoming a listener can also be helpful, because you hear things that you may overlook on the page. And I have to agree with Lilly Rayman that writing linearly, rather than jumping around in the story is probably also helpful in this respect.

That wraps up this week’s segment. I want to thank our panel members for all their great input, and thank my readers for joining us and tuning in. I hope you all will pop in next Monday, when Ask the Authors will take a look at “Setting the Tone with Point of View, Tense, Narrative Distance and Voice”.

 

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The Writing Process: You’ve Got a Story Idea, Now What?

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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This is the first segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2), and the topic of discussion is, as if you couldn’t guess from the title, the writing process. You can meet each of our panel members in my introductory post from last week. For those of you who didn’t catch the first round of Ask the Authors, here’s how this series works. Our panel members are published authors and they offer their answers to my questions on the topic each week. If one of their answers piques other questions for you, please leave your questions in the comments, and we will respond to them in the final segment, or sometimes indivual panel members may respond to you directly on the blog. (It has happened.) The point being that comments are welcomed and even encouraged.

The writing process. Hmmm. Let’s see. That could encompass a lot of different things, from inspiration and developing an idea into a story, to pre-writing activities, to plotting, to everything that comes right up to setting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. It can include rituals to get into the writing zone, or how we set atmosphere before we begin.

There is no right or wrong to this, and every author does things differently. There is no secret recipe or magic potion that garuntees a good book will result from your efforts. What works for some may not work for others. With that said, we have fourteen authors who have taken the time to answer some of our questions regarding the writing process and what works for them. Lets find out what they have to share.

Why do you write?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I’ve always had a calling for reading and telling stories.  I briefly considered going into computer programming or psychology, but I really don’t have the patience for either.
As my daughter approaches college age, I watch her taking on different ideas about what she wants to do with her life.  I’m starting to think that people should find a job that uses the skills they spend a ton of time on when they’re bored.  My boredom skills are daydreaming, what-if-ing, people watching, and exploring.
Mark Shaw 
MarkAtSFTS (1)  To make readers stop and think about important issues.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy Depends on who we’re writing to. We both write for love but also for money. For love, it’s when we have an idea in our heads that won’t shut up until we write it down. If we’re lucky that might fit something we decide to submit on spec. For money, it’s often service journalism and then the deadline determines when we write and when we’re done.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne Like a lot of girls, I kept a journal/diary when younger, detailing my hopes, dreams, pain, and fears. I found writing poetry came naturally and helped me release pent-up emotions. The same is true today in my writing, which allows me the opportunity to share with an audience things I hold near and dear to my heart.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Mainly because I enjoy it. There are so many stories running through my head that writing gives me an outlet to share them.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I have no choice. My mind is analogous to a cow’s udder.  It fills every day with words and I have to milk it or I go insane. This insanity takes the form of depression, anxiety and the delusion that I am a nuclear submarine commander. So…as  you may perceive, writing is imperative.  I am forced to write or my brain will burst like an udder that has not been milked for weeks. I assure you, it’s very painful.
The preceding paragraph is a joke, I confess. I was born an artist who uses music, photography, words and dance to produce material that, if fortune smiles, will confer fame upon me, albeit most likely after I’m dead. I’ve examined this drive all my life and I’ve come to a few conclusions. One is that I have a strong desire for attention. I want to be noticed by other people. When I was young I thought that attention was the same thing as love. It’s not. Love brings a much higher form of emotional pleasure than mere attention.
Still, it’s essential to get attention if you want to attract readers to your work. In a world populated by seven billion people it’s difficult to get people’s attention without committing a heinous crime or running naked through the Guggenheim Museum shouting “All Whores Are In Heaven!” I don’t want to do either of these things.
That leaves me with social media as my vehicle for gaining attention. I’m a complete flop at using social media. For more than a decade I’ve been spending huge swathes of time haunting the pages of Twitter, Facebook, Zifflenook, Instagrab and Crapchat. No matter how much time I spend posting interesting content, my numbers remain anemic. I have never broken a thousand Twitter followers. I’m serious! I’ve noticed that buffoons and cretins of every stripe are capable of attracting hundreds of thousand of followers. My highest Twitter following was nine hundred sixty two. My platform is made of popsicle sticks. One of my favorite tweets is this: “If you aren’t crazy there must be something wrong with you.” Still, no retweets, no Favorites, nada. I admit that I’m crazy. Therefore I must be okay.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I write for the joy of telling stories. I’ve been creative my entire life and without using that creativity in some manner life just seems dull. Building worlds and developing characters that I bring to life on the page, that resonate with readers, that’s why I write.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I write because I have to. The stories keep pummeling me all day until I can finally sit down to get them all out.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I blame that on my mother. She read fascinating fairy tales to me as a child, and they must have tickled a writing bone somewhere. If I’m not writing, I’m reading.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Gratification.

For a long time, I wrote posts on Facebook that were like very short little vignettes, and they were pretty well received. People kept telling me I should write a book. Eventually I did, and without getting into too much detail, I learned this is something I can do – and do well. Not everyone can. Something like 80% of Americans want to write a book and never do. The ones who start, most of them don’t finish. The ones who finish, most of them don’t get it published. So I realized I was in a unique position to do something that most people would like to do and probably would never do, but also the people who read what I wrote found it really entertaining and they wrote me letters to tell me that – and that was very satisfying.

Once I did that for a while, I wanted to try different things to see if I was any good at them. So I wrote a time travel adventure story (The Navigators) and I wrote a romance (Poggibonsi) and a paranormal mystery (An Angel On Her Shoulder) and children’s books (The Zombunny series, Stinky Toe, Laguna the Lonely Mermaid)… I recently was invited to be part of a 20 book anthology with a bunch of New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors, so I had to write a murder mystery (Double Blind) for that. My critique partners say it’s my best work to date! So in the ensuing years from my first book to now, I learned a lot and my writing has improved, but it’s still about reaching out to one person and trying to entertain them. Connecting. And so I write because I feel like I have stories to tell and they’re worth telling, but it’s just a way to entertain and I like it.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I write for mainly for the pure enjoyment that I get from putting together a story that my readers enjoy. I also write for my own pleasure and the stress release that I get from writing. As a fiction writer, I can escape from the reality of every day life and relax in the world and characters that I create.


My Muse

By Kaye Lynne Booth

 

My muse is always trying to inspire in every way.

She dances and sticks out her tongue, enticing me to play.

She knows just what inspires me

And she tries to make me see

A world that’s filled with beauty, everywhere I go.

Inspiration is all around, my muse does surely know.

 

On days when I am feeling down or am busy as can be

I don’t always take the time to see what she wants me to see.

By the time I’m ready to be inspired,

Of this game, she has grown tired.

She may be sulking in the corner, or in the other room

Seeking inspiration, she might be staring at the moon.

 

Listening to my muse is the wisest choice, I’ve learned.

She knows how to stir the inspiration, which within me burns.

The miracles of nature; a flower or a bird

Are brought to my attention, but she never says a word.

She shows me how the morning dew, on the grass does glisten

She fills my head with great ideas, if I will only listen.

 

Where does your inspiration come from? What can you tell us about your muse?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I was unsure of my muse for a long time. I’ve heard other writers talk about that, but in different terms.  “I don’t know what to write.” “This story isn’t working and it doesn’t really feel like me.” That kind of thing. But I’ve taken the time to really sort through what connects me to a story, and it’s simpler than I thought it was: in order for the inspiration to flow, I have to find a way to care about the things going on in the story.  I kept trying to force myself to write things that I didn’t really feel connected to, or that I didn’t have strong feelings about. I care about a lot of things, but somehow I was managing to find a million story ideas that I didn’t care about, and stories kept dying as my muse helpfully derailed my imagination in order to work on something–anything–that I did care about.
When I have feelings about a story, then it takes off, and I hardly notice the effort of writing it. Thinking won’t really get me anywhere in a story. It has to be driven my emotion.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) With The Reporter Who Knew Too Much about Dorothy Kilgallen and Denial of Justice, the follow-up book to be published In November, she was my muse, my inspiration, my guiding light leading me to details about her life and time and her mysterious death.
Mark & Kym Todd 
Todds - Copy We both come from journalism backgrounds, so we learned a long time ago not to count on inspiration to carry us through. For our last project, which was a creative nonfiction book, the publisher gave us a one-year turn-around deadline for street release. (Our muse was more of a harpy in that instance, but we got it done on time.)
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I draw most of my inspiration for a story from real events. All it takes is one little spark and the wildfire of words follows!
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil My husband. He is the perfect idea man. And his ideas take me outside of my comfort zone and allow me to venture into different genres.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t use the term Muse. I get inspiration from ideas which are all around me. Snips of conversation, a quote, a name, those can all spark what we call a “plot bunny” that I either develop or it falls to the side.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Most of my inspiration comes from dreams. I wake up in the morning, think back to the wild adventures of the night, and know what my next book is going to be about. I also draw inspiration from real life. Something will happen and I just stop to blink. Yes, that would be perfect for a novel.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Inspiration has come from many areas. Dreams come to mind. When I’m not dreaming about the military, I have some real doozies. Aliens, UFOs, and spaceships filtering into my dreams will give me many plots. TV is another inspiration. I’m sure all of us remember The Equalizer. One episode featured a young boy with AIDS living with his grandmother, and the local rednecks wanted them out. After harassing them, the boy calls Robert McCall, thinking he is his comic book hero. That episode sparked a three-novelette story arc. I wondered why the pulp magazines never had a hero that protected children. The Masked Avenger was born after that episode.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre My inspiration comes from all kinds of places. Hmm… that’s not really helpful, is it? They say that there are 20 good story ideas around us every day and a good author will see two or three of them. I think that’s right. I think if you are looking for things to inspire you, they will. But I also think there’s a lot of hard work that forces a person to sit down and write every day whether they feel like it or not, because atrophy is real and writers block is real for some people, and the more you let things affect you, the more they will affect you. If you instead say, “I’m just gonna muscle on through,” you learn a certain discipline that really helps you find more inspiration.

So my strength has always been prolific and being able to find what’s funny or unique in the normal situations that we are all extremely familiar with, so that my reader finds themselves suddenly turned on their head over things that they that are commonplace to them.

As far as a muse… Well, it’s like this. I believe several things make a story really powerful. Being able to bare your soul and put it on the page – that will allow your pain or love or passion or whatever, to connect with the reader. I actually think we even choose different types of words and different sentence structures when we are emotionally “in” the mood the scene needs. The word choice somehow seems to carry the spirit on the page and converts to the reader. You want to write to one person, so that he or she gets it; then everything else seems to fall in place. It’s a way of being disciplined and not trying to do as Vonnegut warned: don’t open the window to make love to the whole; you’ll only catch pneumonia.

I write to one person. That’s my muse.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I often joke that if I knew where the ideas came from I would turn off the tap. In all seriousness though, I love that my mind is so active that my imagination can be sparked from any number of things. I shake my head that my two little girls (3 and 5) enjoy watching a particular movie again and again, and then suddenly I’m hanging out the washing and a whole new story idea drops into my head based on a retelling of a Disney classic. Sometimes my muse can be my fellow authors, they approach me with a story idea that would be fun to explore for an anthology and then I find myself with the story half written in my head before I can blink. I then have to find the time to sit down and write. My readers themselves can be my muses. They ask me questions about the characters that I write about, “what would they do if…”; “What would happen….” And then I find myself exploring those ideas further and my stories evolve, and my series grows with bonus content.


Research is a part of the pre-writing activities for most authors, whether it is historical research for setting or time period, traveling to location in order to write about it, or people watching to observe behavior. It can be reading all the works of a given author in order to immulate their writing style, immersing oneself in a culture or subculture or digging deep to uncover the facts for a nonfiction work. 

What kinds of writing do you do and what types of research are required?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I mainly write fiction. Most of my research is reading a book on some subject before I start the story, or even as I’m writing the story. I used to be really intimidated by having to do research, but I decided to make a habit of reading more nonfiction that I found interesting, just completely outside of the need to research something for a story. I used to rarely get around to nonfiction, despite having good intentions to do so. Now nonfiction books are in my regular rotation. Somehow this has made me more comfortable with research in general.
I’ve also made a habit of doing more research just because I’m curious. If someone makes a comment like, “And that’s why Benjamin Franklin had a different lover in every zip code,” then I have permission to go, “When did ZIP codes get invented anyway?” and I’ll go find out. (ZIP codes were first used in 1963, although there were postal zones for large cities in the U.S. starting in 1943. So, Ben Franklin didn’t have a different lover in every zip code. I’m not sure why the person made that comment in the first place, because the comment thread was about something else entirely.)
I’ve given into my inner nerd in general; specific research seems to be categorically easier when you practice your research skills in general. Or something.
If I’m writing nonfiction about writing advice (which I often do on my blog), then I’ll often test the theories involved on other writers. “Does this even make sense? How would you do it?” Sometimes that stirs up trouble with people strongly disagree with me, though!
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy Even for fiction, we generally situate our stories in realistic locations and try to maintain enough verisimilitude in our world-building so reader’s don’t shatter their willing suspension of disbelief. That means we spend time researching and fact-checking the plausibility of our scenarios. Our novel All Plucked Up quickly developed into a story that needed a protagonist who was an antiquities black market con artist, which we knew nothing about. But we soon became knowledgeable about this (appalling yet fascinating) racket.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne How much, if any, research I conduct depends upon the story. For example, I did extensive research for my post-apocalyptic series yet nary a search for other books.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil The genres that I mainly write in are historical, contemporary and erotic romance. I’ve dabbled in fantasy and want to do more of it. Depending on the story, my research is extensive. I read a lot about the topic, watch movies and documentaries that pertain to that particular subject matter.

Art Rosch 

Art 2001 Every writer should be…no..MUST be…a psychologist. I don’t mean a shrink or doctor, I mean a keen observer of human nature. When sci fi writer Philip K. Dick was asked what he wrote about he had a concise response. “I write about two subjects,” he said.  “I write about what is real, and I write about what is human.” That pithy reply has guided me since I first read it many years ago. Whatever the genre, whether I’m writing fantasy, science fiction or literary fiction, I’m always writing about people. I write about their behavior and their motivations. I write about the secrets they keep and the fears that dominate their lives.

My research begins with myself. My own behavior has been like a laboratory experiment. The genres of fantasy and science fiction draw me repeatedly to the creation of new worlds and the testing of new concepts. I’ve been using myself as a research subject since I began to behave in ways that I perceived as abnormal. I didn’t think that taking LSD at age sixteen was abnormal. I thought it was a reasonable response to a world gone mad. I grew up in the aftershocks of World War Two. I grew up viewing images of concentration camps, charnel houses and smudges that were once people before they were vaporized by atomic bombs. I didn’t think I was crazy to take risks with my fragile mind using powerful drugs.

I only began to think I was crazy when I started to eat vast quantities of food when I wasn’t hungry. I was suffering from bulimia. In the late sixties this wasn’t in the vocabulary of psychiatric afflictions.  There was no awareness of eating disorders. I had a monstrous eating disorder that lasted several years and still hangs on with vestigial persistence. I knew that something was wrong with me. I looked for help, but couldn’t find help that didn’t resemble control and imprisonment. I read Freud, Jung, James Hillman, Alice Miller and Heinz Kohut. I read obscure occultists and classic Buddhist literature. I read everything on the subject of Consciousness. It seemed like the most important subject to study.

I also did more conventional research. When I was creating the world of my fantasy novel, The Shadow Storm, I read about The Balkans, Albania, Russian history and the civil wars in Yugoslavia. By this time I had the Internet, a vast magic trove of information. Got a question? Ask the internet, the ultimate research tool.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I write mostly urban and high fantasy, but I have different genres cross through the threads of each novel…it just happens that way, I don’t plan it. Any research I do would be based on a specific story. For instance, alot of the work I’ve been doing lately revolves around advanced weaponry so I’ve been researching alot of sci-fi and fantasy movies, books, and TV shows to see what others have come up with for example. Also, you’d be surprised what’s already in R&D in the real world!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Most of my writing involves a fantasy setting, so I don’t tend to do research when working on one of those manuscripts. I do write some historical fiction, and I’m obsessed with research then.  I don’t want anything to be inaccurate (if I can help it).  When I’m done with a piece of historical fiction, I try to find people who are into that time period to read it for anything that seems off.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture As a pulp magazine collector I have read all the hero pulps. While writing for ALTUS PRESS, the publisher asked me to collect all my research into half a dozen books. They became some of my best selling books. I also wrote Intros and Forwards for ALTUS PRESS books, plus I wrote fiction stories for the publisher while doing my research into the pulp magazines. Remember, my wife and I had published a pulp hobby magazine for the 22 years, so I had plenty of data on hand.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I write everything, and I research as much as is required for the book I’m writing, but a lot of that research has kind of been going on my whole life. For example, figuring out how to tell a joke to a group of friends, they’re your friends, so they kind of know your sense of humor – and you know what makes them laugh. Writing a scene so that a joke turns out funny to a reader who has never met you and doesn’t know your sense of humor, and you don’t know theirs – that requires a lot more in the product development phase of the writing!

When you write a detective story, you have to research what kind of guns detectives carry, and how they check their clip to see how many bullets they have before they kick in a drug dealer’s door, that kind of thing. But, while that is important, that’s not as important as caring about the characters. And that’s what I say is the lifelong study thing. Why did you care what happened to Harry Potter? Why did people care that Oliver’s heart was breaking at the end of Love Story? Why was it tragic that Leonardo DiCaprio drowned at the end of Titanic? You had to care about those characters or nothing else mattered. So part of that is your lifelong experience, what you care about and how you convey that to someone you’ve never met. How do you do that? Practice. You bare your soul, and you put it on the page, and you put it out there with the full expectation that everyone in the world might laugh at you – but you summon the courage to do it anyway. Some of the best stories in the world never make it out of the desk drawer. Writers swallow hard and show that intensely personal piece of themselves again and again and again, until the next thing you know, people are telling you that something you wrote changed their life. Which is freaking awesome.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I write paranormal romance and historical romance. I’ve also touched on other genres by working with others in anthologies. My Unexpected series involves vampires, wolves and faeries. My research for this series included looking into the history of Rome and setting the “birth” of my wolf nation within the whole myth of Romulus and Remus, the twins suckled by the she-wolf Lupa, who later went on to be the founders of Rome. My vampires are set within ancient Egypt and their many gods. I like to bring in an element of ‘this could totally be true!’

My research also falls into the mundane of simply seeing what trees and other fauna are indigenous to the area my story is set.


Which writing groups do you belong to? What are their benefits to you?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I belong to Pikes Peak Writers, which is the writing group that I “came up” in. They took me out of being a baby writer into a writer, if that makes sense. I got to meet my first ‘Real Writers’ and listen to them talk about what they did and how, and just to grasp that they were people and not mythological figures. I gained a lot of basic knowledge there and always end up meeting new people at their events.
I also have a group that I started on my own, called Colorado Tesla Writers, which is a networking group for science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. I got jealous of romance writers and mystery/crime writers having their own groups, and SF/F/H writers kind of just meeting each other only by chance. It turns out to be a great way to force myself to get out of the house and hang out with people, which, if you’re a freelancer, gets to be an issue after a while. People still keep going, so I still keep doing it.
I’m also in a few other writer groups that are mainly on Facebook or Yahoo groups, that are just general information sharing groups on various topics. I’m not sure how writers get by without staying involved with a variety of other groups. The gossip network is pretty vital in this business.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I belong to groups on Facebook and in the past (as in before my current day job), I was into CritiqueCircle.com. I enjoy connecting with other authors and sharing experiences. I’ve learned marketing methods I never would have considered.
RA Winter
RA Winter I joined Scribophile.com a few years ago while looking for feedback on a novel. I browsed other sites but Scrib blew me away. Over time, I’ve gained friends, colleagues, and collaborators. Scrib has a sense of community where authors connect with like-minded individuals with one goal in mind- the best product an author can produce. The forums provide a vast amount of knowledge, resources, and experienced authors’ input.
The amount of support I’ve received from the community, and especially the Uber group, continues to amaze me. Uber focuses on the craft in small contained groups. Different readers point out aspects of my writing and search for those pesky little flaws that derails a good novel. My stories are read from start to finish by the same people, whether it is at the Alpha or Beta stage. The plot, setting, characters, arcs, and prose are broken down and taken apart, providing me with the opportunity to build the best story for my skill level, knowledge, and research.
I recommend every author or aspiring writer join a writing group. I’m partial to the Scribophile family because that’s what it is to me. And gasp! I’ve met a few of the authors. They are just as wonderful in person as they are on the internet.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My wife and I started a writer’s group in town, most of the members were retired teachers, and the majority wanted to write poetry. I could handle that, no problem. What I didn’t like was the attitude of the members. The writing group was something they came to if there was nothing else going on. We tried to make them understand that writers needed to be dedicated to the craft, but so many meetings consisted of just my wife and me. We finally quit and turned the group over to another member, but it didn’t last long. Unfortunately, where I live doesn’t have good pickings. Let’s face it a turtle crossing the yard is more interesting than the writer’s club.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre This is gonna sound bad, but I don’t belong to any writing groups. I used to belong to an online critique group, and I learned a lot there and met some good writers there, so I asked those people to work with me and left the group. I kind of outgrew the group, and I really felt like I was doing a lot of teaching and not a lot of learning after a while. But that may just be arrogance on my part.

Since then, some very impressive bestselling authors have come to me to critique their stories, and they critique mine, and we kind of have our own little group. I would say there are three or four people who, if they read and like my story, everybody in the world is going to read and like my story. If you can belong to a writing group and draw some benefit from that, terrific. That works for you. That didn’t really work for me after a brief period (although you could say in a sense I just created my own writing group) and the biggest difference is, we in my group know all the basic stuff, so we don’t waste time teaching each other the rookie stuff to avoid or fix. We are pushing each other to keep going to the next level. We’re not worried about hurting feelings or anything, we are worried about trying to write great stories.

There are benefits to being in a writing group, though, and the biggest one is this: by pointing out how other people need to improve their stories, you will develop a sharp eye to help you make yours to be better. For that reason alone, it’s worth it to join a writing group. Online or in person, you’ll figure out what the garbagey comments are, and you’ll learn to dismiss those, and you learn to seek out the people who aren’t just giving you undue praise but who are actually trying to help you become a better writer.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I am a follower of Booksgosocial and try to remain an active participant within their regular blog tours and newsletter content sharing programs. I am also actively involved with a newly established Hybrid Publishing company and enjoy the interaction that comes from discussing not only our craft, but elements of our every day life. I’ve found myself with a support network of people happy to share my posts and retweet me on social media. They also share in my celebrations and support me in my endeavours.


Do you belong to any writing forums? Tell us what their value is.

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I don’t use ’em. I just lurk in FB groups. Writing forums seem like an invitation for “experts” to harass other writers in order to feel good about not getting any actual writing done. I may just be bitter after a couple of bad experiences with online writing forums. But that was a long time ago, and people may have learned from mistakes in order to build something better by now.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne At one time I was a member of a few online groups yet found the entire “online” community too impersonal.

A professor of mine once said, “You should read at least 100 books a year to get a good idea for your genre.” Author and Freelance Writer De Anna Knippling claims to like to read at least 100 books in any genre before trying to emulate it in her own writing.


How much do you read? What do you like to read?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak Hey, that’s me! I’m shooting for 200 books this year. I’m already pretty close, but some of those are graphic novels and manga. I’m strongly of the opinion that if you don’t like to read, you’re going to have disadvantages as a writer. You won’t know how stuff gets done with the written word, you won’t know what expectations you’re meeting or missing in a genre, and you won’t know what kind of writing you really, truly love.  That doesn’t leave you with a big toolbox for writing different types of stories. You can really end up writing yourself in a rut, especially in series, if you’re not packing in a variety of stories.
I’ve been reading a lot of books to catch up on areas where my reading is thin or inconsistent. A lot of what I’ve really been enjoying lately are more literary reads with a dark sense of humor. The Round House by Louise Erdrich, After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh, The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemison, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo, and Double Indemnity by James M. Cain have been recent favorites.
Something to think about:  I have friends on Goodreads who read a book a day or more. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many books they read. Some of them are disabled and reach out to the world through books. Books are their lifeline.
Mark Shaw 
MarkAtSFTS (1) During the past year or so, my reading has been restricted due to completing three books. When I am able to read, mysteries are a favorite genre.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy We’re both avid readers, and always have a couple books going on the side at the same time. Fortunately, our pleasure reading usually coincide with our genre-writing habits, so we treat that as market research and a way to keep a handle on what’s trending. A hundred books? No way, but we do each read about a book a week. Mark likes hard(-science) SF, and Kym likes adventures, and we both love mysteries and noir (which we don’t write).
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne As a wife, mother, employee, and writer, my free time is nonexistent, yet when I snatch a few minutes here and there, I read from many genres except erotica.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Oh, I easily read 100+ books a year. But I can’t read when I am in writing mode. It just doesn’t work for me.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I would write a hundred books a year if I could, but it seems more like it takes a hundred years to write a book. My revisions are so extensive that some passages are written a  hundred times. I’m serious! Read the first chapter of my Confessions Of An Honest Man. That passage was revised so many times that I couldn’t possibly speculate on a number of iterations. Yet…and here I become utterly shorn of modesty…I got where I needed to go. It’s beautiful! It does what must be done for the first chapter of a novel. It evokes a sense of danger, reveals characters, excites curiosity, elicits a bit of laughter and swings open a gate on the narrative that is to come.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by crime novels. I think that Patricia Cornwell is one of the most brilliant writers I’ve yet encountered. I’m in the unfortunate situation of having read all of her novels in a short period of time. I’ve run out of Cornwell! So, now I read Robert Crais. He’s very good. I love James Lee Burke. I’ve read all of his books, too, and he’s so old that I’m not sure how many books he has left in his gorgeous literary soul.  The element that all three writers have in common is their emotional honesty. Their soulful-ness. They write with passionate intensity and their prose contains bits of profound wisdom. They are writing about the human condition by utilizing themselves as models, probing their own condition. They are, after all, human beings. I think….

The writer who has had the most influence on my work is fantasy writer Jack Vance. No other writer captivates me in quite the same way. Every five years I re-read the work of Jack Vance. I never grow tired of it. I remember reading his classic “The Dying Earth” when I was ten years old. I was reading in the family car as we drove from St. Louis to Mexico. It was an ambitious family vacation. I spent most of it reading science fiction and fantasy. Mexico, itself, proved sufficiently weird that I looked up from my books from time to time, absorbed the ambience, then returned to Vance, Heinlein, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov. In more recent years I’ve read and re-read David Foster Wallace. There is so much pain in his dense, highly intelligent fiction that it may as well be an extended suicide note. Losing DFW was tragic. As was losing Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain. Depression has no respect for success, wealth, fame or achievement.  It strikes wherever it wants to strike.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t read as often as I should but I’m trying to rectify that. When I do read I stick with fantasy, self-help, or biography.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I used to read a book a day, but with my current day job, its more like a book a week. I’m obsessed with young adult novels, any genre, and I’ll gobble up historical fiction in any form. Recently I’ve been into religious historical fiction. There’s something about the sweet, romantic plots that make the books the perfect end to a busy day.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I usually read a couple books a week, although books are constantly getting longer every year. The 120-page novels I grew up with are now four-and-five hundred page monsters. Every time I get one of those monsters I pray that the author writes so smooth the book will read like a two hundred page novel. Age has one advantage, and it’s this: I’ve been reading for 65 years or more, and I’ve always read genres I wanted to write.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Pfft. That’s crap. Stories are about connecting with characters and going on a journey. If I had to read 100 books a year – two a week – I’d never have time to write anything.

I read a lot only because I do a ton of critique work for other authors, but I’d be happy not reading at all. I pick up on insights very quickly, and TV shows and movies are just as good at giving us the keys to amazing storytelling. The answers aren’t only in books. I don’t need to see something dozens of times to get it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t study the heck out of something when it connects with me, regardless of the method in which I received it. People say reading a 5000 word chapter of mine is like reading 3000 from someone else. That’s pace. That comes from seeing Steven Spielberg cram 400 pages into 2 hours. I can’t often get that in books.

But!

I work with people who read a ton, so it’s a little like cheating off the smart kid at school. They gain those insights and hold my work to that standard. I bring other stuff to the table. The collaboration works.

What do I like to read?

My critique partner says I read stuff to learn how to be a better writer. Not “How To” books, but other writers: King, George R R Martin, Rowling, Portergirl. I study the masters in storytelling, on Tv and books and movies.

But what do I LIKE to read? Hmm. I’ll go with Green Eggs and Ham. Everything you need to know about storytelling is there. Pace. Lack of back story. No rambling prologue, just jumps into the story. It has great conflict and plot… and it shows how to wrap it up as fast as possible after the climax. If you can’t say it in 32 pages, you need to rethink your story (said the guy who writes 90k consistently).

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’m not sure how many books I read, honestly. I do read as much as I write though. And I enjoy immersing myself in someone else’s craft, especially well constructed craft.


What goals do you set for yourself in your writing?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak Ugh, I used to set myself daily personal wordcounts, which was lovely. But I’ve gotten so far behind in getting stories submitted or published on the indie side that I’ve had to cut back on that a lot. I’m at 500 words a day now for my own writing, which feels like a snail’s pace. I write a lot more than that for my ghostwriting clients, but I don’t track that right now.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1)
To tell a good story about important subjects whose lives are important in an historical sense.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy
Logical and organic plots, quirky but believable characters, and the hope that readers have as much fun reading as we did writing our stories.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne
I don’t. The story needs to unfold naturally without any outside influences.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil My #1 goal is write 60k words in a month and I track it daily.  I know how many words to write in a day and make sure that I keep myself on track.  If I don’t discipline myself in this way, I’d never get anything written.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy At the moment I have a specific time frame in mind for when I want to finish the sequel to my superhero novel Karma. My other goals probably reflect any other author. I want to be able to write full time, land a publisher, and agent, a simple dream of mine is to get published in the traditional paperback that you see on most bookshelves. But I guess my main goal is to just finish writing all the ideas I currently have waiting for me in my notebook.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan My goal is to finish the book and have people enjoy reading it. I get a bit twitchy if a book takes longer than usual to finish just because of things going on in my life. I don’t want to set the book aside and suddenly lose my place in that world.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture To write a thousand words a day. I usually end up writing two thousand words a setting.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Keep the reader from falling asleep!

Really, I just want to connect with my reader. I want them to realize that all of a sudden they are completely immersed in a world that I created and they care about these characters so much that when the character laughs, the reader laughs. When the character cries, the reader cries. And I have a goal of getting you really involved and then BOOM it turns out that what you thought all along was wrong. I give you a plot twist, and all of a sudden you’ve been pulling for the bad guy. I have a goal of always giving you and ending that has you sitting there saying, “Holy cow!” in complete satisfaction. That’s my goal. That, and a yacht in the Caribbean.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman To write something that is entertaining as well as thought provoking. I also try and improve my writing each time I write. I take note of faults that reoccur in my manuscripts from my editors, and then do my best to avoid them when I write again, or at least to take note of them and be able to self-edit as I write.

Ultimately though, my main goal is to provide a story that the read can sink into, feel like they are a part of the story and can relate with each and every one of my characters, whether that be to love them or hate them. I want to evoke the reader’s sense of smell, sight and touch as they read.

 


What is your favorite setting to write in?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak At first I thought you meant what historical era!!!
It doesn’t really matter where I write, because I’m not really there–I’m in the story.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1)  A corner of our dining room.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy The world falls away when we become immersed in the writing zone, so ambience is irrelevant. Long ago, we started writing on our bed (in a small, cramped house) away from the kids when they were smaller. That’s pretty much stuck even now the house is larger and the kids gone.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne My computer room is downstairs which offers a lot of privacy. At night when everyone is asleep and my kitty is curled up purring next to my keyboard is the
best!
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil That’s a tough one.  I really don’t have a favorite setting.  But I fully immerse myself into whatever setting I am writing in.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Anywhere quiet.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I used to need to be alone in my room, with the door shut, and everything silent.  Now my house is filled with my husband watching TV, my toddler running amok, and my cat begging for food.  I’m satisfied with whatever time I get to write.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My bedroom, with the door closed, and no sounds from outside sources.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I have the most awesome writing office. I have rich mahogany furniture and dark green walls and a chandelier; book cases lined with the classics and a window that looks out onto a lush green yard filled with massive oak trees. One door opens into my daughter’s play area. It’s the best.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I actually do the majority of my writing at my local library. The library manager jokes that she is lucky to have a writer in residence. There is something inspirational about being surrounded by so many literary works, and it certainly makes research easier, I just jump up and grab the required book from the shelf.


Atmosphere is important. What do you do to get into the writing zone?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I disagree; atmosphere stopped being important to me after a certain number of deadlines forced me to write (and EDIT) when I didn’t want to. (Trying to get into the editing zone on my own writing is harder than writing, in my opinion.) But because I don’t always write in the same place or I have to write when I’m in a bad mood, I’ll have specific music to remind me of what world I’m writing in and what I like about it. It’s funny, because sometimes my brain will play that music for me when I’m supposed to be writing and I’m putting it off, or when I’m brainstorming.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Focus on the task at hand blocking out all the noise of the world.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I make sure I have coffee, my computer and either music playing or the TV on.  I can’t write without some type of noise in the background.  And most importantly I stay away from social media.

 

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart This is as important as the writing process in itself. I have to get my coffee or tea ready, make sure I also have my mobile next to me and a bottle of water. Besides all that, I usually need the living room to be clear either with sunshine or artificial light, plus a comfortable pillow at my back. I sometimes have some background classical music – only classical music with no words or lyrics as for me they interfere with the voices within the narrative. Under the table, I keep a kid´s chair that I use to elevate my legs, otherwise they go dormant. The word font must be 12 and never enlarged, or I lose track of the text. Then, I write two or three pages and I stand up for coffee or toilet every fifteen or twenty minutes. And, that may go on for two or three hours, and even more if possible. There are weekends that I take a whole Saturday or Sunday to write, and that rhythm is kept for eight hours at least. Once when I was talking to a friend who is painter, she summarized it all: “It takes more time in the get-in-the-mood-get-ready process than it takes to actually paint or write”. I felt that was so true for me-and once we are there into a scene, into the book: nothing else matters. For instance, I am usually late to pick up my kids, and the fault is all due to my characters; they love to start acting when I really must go (lol).

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’m usually in the mood to write. I don’t watch TV any more, and I only listen to music at night before going to bed. So if the mood hits me I close myself off from everything else and write.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Treadmill. Nothing gives me ideas to write faster than when I have to run a mile on my treadmill. It’s magic.

Other than that, I get up early, like 4:30, and write when it’s quiet. I’m always in the writing zone. I can dash off insightful pieces on a whim, and I’ve done so. But like training for a marathon, that came from practicing and building up to it – and from having the confidence to know when a piece is finished and ready to be seen.


Some authors outline, others use a screenwriting tool called a whiteboard, where you place all your plot points on the board and then maneuver them until you have them in an order that works for the story. Some authors use the same concept with notecards, and others use a graph to plot out their story.

What planning tools do you use to prepare before actual writing begins?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak Depends on whether I’m writing for a client or for myself. If a client’s involved, I’ll usually have an outline I’m supposed to be following, although it doesn’t always work out that way. (I try to deliver the same emotional content, but mysteries often balance on such delicate clues that the order stuff gets put into the book can vary greatly, especially in the last third or so.) For myself, it depends. I’ll often test an idea by plugging it into a short outline, then ditch the outline before I start writing. On short stories, sometimes I’ll have a certain short story in mind before I start writing, so I can explore a certain plot technique, but I haven’t been able to do that with novels yet.
Here’s my short outline (mostly based on Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder):
1.  Set up the situation.
2.  The fun side of the situation (Fun & Games).
3.  WTF!!! (Crisis or Reversal).
4.  The not-fun side of the situation (Bad Guys Close In).
5.  The last big push (Storming the Castle).
5a.  Wrap up.
Where a lot of people get stuck is going, “I have an idea!!!!” and not having a plan to turn that into a sequence of events that can be experience by a character. A plot outline or a beat sheet is just a way to check that the idea is good. The exact plot may not be important, as long as the idea can be transformed into a plot. An example.  “There was an enchanted toilet!!!” is an idea that goes nowhere. You can’t plug it into any plot outline.  “The enchanted toilet only works for people without the imagination to use it.”  Now, you can start building a plot with that. Just plug it into the outline…
Other times, I can tell that the idea is plot-able, so I just run with it. Logic will carry me to a complete story sooner or later.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1)
Chapter headings are my guide once I have settled on the story I want to tell.
Mark & Kym Todd 
Todds - Copy
We’ve had luck with notecards to arrange the beats, but we generally outline anyway.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I don’t use any sort of tools. I let the story flow organically. This works for me yet does have a few pitfalls. Sometimes I have to re-read through sections to recall the eye/hair color of a character, or the sex of an animal. In one of my older books, I inadvertently changed the sex from male to female in the main character’s cat, and hawk-eyed readers caught my mistake!
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil  I use a storyboard.  Similar to the whiteboard, but it’s just handwritten on a form that I created with boxes that signify each chapter in the story. My story doesn’t always stay on target as sometimes it has a mind of its own, but it definitely gives me a starting point.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I’m lazy. I don’t use outlines, story boards, notes, prompts, post-its, diminutive butlers or portable tape players. I just write. I have a goal, a broad concept of what I hope to achieve and I simply begin to write. I start off rusty, clumsy, impaired. I write at my desk, where my computer sits and a stack of USB drives snake their cables under my feet. Some day my mummified cadaver may be found, strangled by USB cables, swathed in black and gray wires running out the window and across the carpet. My fictional detective, Dizzy Tilton, will solve the mystery of my demise with his sidekick, Haakon Wyre. “His fiction killed him”, they will declare. “We must arrest his fiction and put it on trial. No doubt a clever lawyer will find a loophole and get his fiction off the hook for murder, or cop a plea for the lesser crime of Authorcide. We can’t bring him back. Let his genius speak from beyond the grave!”

I write from scene to scene. So long as I know what the next scene is to be, I can move the plot forward, I can develop my characters. My books take decades to write. I’m now seventy and my most recent book has already taken ninety years to write. I hope to finish it before my next incarnation.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I don’t like over planning because it kills the spontaneity for me and then I don’t enjoy writing the story. I want to be surprised like the reader will be. So the most I plan will be major plot points and then a heap of descriptive elements for the character including backstory. These things I’ve laid out on note cards or even just a sheet of paper. For characters I’ll often find a picture of an actor I could see playing them in the film/TV version and I save it for inspiration.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I’m horrible at planning. I start off with a general idea of the plot and just go for it. Characters evolve as I write. The setting takes shape before me. The only time I write down notes is if I want to remember an obscure character.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I don’t outline. Once I have my plot I create my characters, and I know what the beginning and ending is before I start writing. I am in control, and my characters become chess pieces that I move about the board. They move on my command, not theirs. I always have the end in sight and move the pieces accordingly. When writing continuing characters, however, I have file cards with descriptions. I’ve seen too many blondes become redheads by mistake, or men five foot nine become six foot two from one book to the next.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Wow, all that stuff sounds like a lot of work. I’m don’t use any special tools; they aren’t necessary. What I do to come up with a story is I definitely, definitely, definitely create an outline. Too many writers think an outline stifles their creativity. It’s just the opposite. An outline channels your energy so you stay on track and don’t wander all over the place and you end up where you’re supposed to end up.

Now, just because you say we’re going to go from here to there, that doesn’t mean that’s the only places you go, and it doesn’t mean that’s where you have to end up. But having AN ending doesn’t mean it has to be THE ending. It’s just when you start, that’s the direction. Halfway through, if you decide you have a better ending in mind, change it and use the better ending! But if you don’t have that moment of brilliance, you’re at least going to end up in a good place. Too much “writers block” – a condition that doesn’t usually exist – comes from not having a destination you were writing towards. By having an outline, every day you have a series of writing prompts.

My process is, I’ll get a story idea and I’ll dash off a few lines about it. Three or four things that give you the essence of what the story is about. Then I throw it in a file, and as I am doing things throughout the day/days, I’ll keep getting good ideas about the story. Like maybe in a murder mystery, the guy who’s running for mayor, his opponent committed the murder. Or it’s his campaign manager, and the campaign manager wants it to look like the opponent did it. Something like that. So I’ll just list all these ideas down, one after the other, and I just kind of collect them for a while. They don’t come in any particular order; I’ll get a great idea for an ending, and then I’ll get a great idea for a beginning.

Right now I have the great idea for a political murder mystery called Primary Target. It starts out with an assassination attempt. So that’s how that’s chapter 1, but that’s all I know about chapter 1. Chapter 2 will probably be with the detectives who get called to check out the assassination attempt. But I know I’ll want three or four other things to happen in the story (subplots) so I’ll think about those and eventually write them down, but for now that’s my outline, those handful of bullet points.

Here’s what people don’t understand about outlines. Here’s the outline for Romeo and Juliet:

  1. Boy and girl want to get together
  2. their parents don’t want them to get together
  3. the boy and girl get together anyway
  4. everybody dies

That’s it. Those four points are an outline. Nothing stifling there. You know what’s going to happen and you know how it’s going to end. Go ahead and start writing.

My process starts out with about four points, and then I’ll realize I have 10 good ideas that can go on in that first major point. So I’ll flesh those out, and as I do, my outline evolves. Sometimes I look at one of minor points and say, “No, that doesn’t work anymore” and it comes out. My outline gives me total creative freedom, but I’m guiding and funneling my energy. That’s why everybody should outline.

I read lots of stories every year from lots of new authors. Usually, he ones where they didn’t outline end up wandering around and getting BORING because they lose their way. You don’t want that.

Use an outline, keep your chapters short, keep your characters interesting, and keep the dialogue witty. But using an outline is probably one of the most important things you can do for yourself.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’m a bit of a pantser – I write from the seat of my pants – I don’t always plot, unless I have a tight word count and need to plot how my story runs. Sometimes I simply write a short synopsis of my story plot, something I can refer back to, especially when I have several different works in progress at once. Surprisingly though, I haven’t found any of them overlapping.


Some writers can take an idea and run with it, while others need to have a good portion of the story worked out before writing can begin.

How much of the story do you know before the actual writing begins?

Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Nearly all of it, the beginning, middle and end and how I want to touch the emotions of readers, the single, most important aspect of any writing.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy We verbally explore for a week or two if we think we have enough story to make a novel. Then we write a five-page outline to see if the idea leads where we think it’s going. After that, we outline no more than a chapter or two before we start fleshing it out. Doing any more is, for us, a waste of time since the actual writing often changes where we thought we were going.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I know the general idea. For example, with GOAT CHILDREN, I knew that I wanted to write about a girl taking care of her grandmother with dementia. The first chapter would be about the girl discovering her grandmother’s diagnosis. I started writing and suddenly, I was on the last page.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Once the idea hits me, the story unfolds so fast inside my head it is like watching a movie, so I just close my eyes and type what I see inside my mind.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil As long as I know how it’s gonna begin and how I want it to end, I usually can run with it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I take the idea and run with it.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Uh… both. I take an idea and run with it, yes, but I usually also bring in some ideas I’ve been kicking around.

For Double Blind, my new murder mystery, I knew it was going to be a murder mystery – which is new ground for me – but I wanted some nice twists. So the murder mystery idea was new. Then I said okay, I’m gonna have readers think THIS – and then pull the rug out from under them later, so I had to plan how to give certain pieces of information without tipping my hand. I’m pretty good at that, but since I’d done it before, I kind knew how to do that, so that was an existing thing for me. Then I also had the idea of having a man and woman working together who had lots of rapport like two good friends, but who were not romantically involved. I’ve been kicking that around for a while, so when the murder mystery came up I had the detectors be a man and a woman who were good friends.

So on one hand, the murder mystery was a short idea that I ran with; on the other hand, I brought in these characters that I have been working on for a while. The whole first draft of 92,000 words took about six weeks to write. I spent probably another three or four weeks refining it with input from critique partners. It’s an amazing story, and it’s available as part of that 20+ book anthology called Death and Damages, with all the New York Times bestselling authors.

For The Navigators, another simple premise: some people discover a time machine. From there, I wanted to have as much conflict as possible and not do a conventional time travel story. So there’s lots of intrigue and action, because the fun part of the time travel story is actually going back in time. But the other fun part of storytelling is having lots of conflicts happen that get in the way of the characters’ goals, and each of the characters in The Navigators had different goals, and a different story arc, so it was really nice combination.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I need a character and the idea and then I simply run with it. I’ll mull the idea over in my mind throughout the day, either whilst washing dishes, or milking the cow, and then I find the words dropping into my mind. I then can’t wait to find the time to sit down at the computer and get those words out. On the rare occasions that I take a couple of days until I can stop and write, then those scenes simmer away in the back of my mind until they are so well developed that my fingers fly over the keys as soon as I have my manuscript open.

 


How many drafts do you make before considering a manuscript ready for publication? What are the differences as you write each one?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak One draft and one cleanup pass to address issues and infelicitous wording, unless there’s something off about my assumptions about the story. Then it can become a real train wreck. With ghostwritten books, you generally have to write pretty cleanly the first time or the client will lose patience.
Mark Shaw 
MarkAtSFTS (1) With most of my books, there have been at least 200 drafts or more. Each time the story is enriched in some manner.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy Usually three or four drafts: We write a scene in one sitting, and then revise it before we go on to the next scene (on the next day). A read-through when we put it all together, fixing typos. A revision after beta readers have at it. And then another draft if a publisher wants something added or changed. By then, we can’t see typos or missing words anymore, so we feel useless with galleys, and let the publisher’s copyediting eyes give it the final go.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Just one.  Once I am done writing, I send it to my BETA readers.  I make their suggested changes to the storyline and plot.  They also help with continuity and then it goes off to my editor.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy So, here’s how I do it and it might seem a little weird. But, I write the first draft long hand on a legal pad…it’s just easier that way, it always has been because to me it doesn’t feel as permanent. I’m not distracted by Word telling me something is misspelled, etc. Once I have a first draft, then I’ll go in and put it in the computer. At the same time I’ll be doing edits on what is essentially a second draft. But I couldn’t give you a definitive answer on when it will be ready for publication…its ready when its ready.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I write it all, then I read back through, editing as I go.  I show it to my critique partners, edit based on their comments, and then off it goes to my agent or publisher.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Hmm. I write the first draft, then I go over it line by line. Then I turn it over to my wife who runs a grammar check and looks for words I may have wrong. I might go over it again after my wife is through. We try to make all necessary corrections before we submit the manuscript to a publisher. But I’m not using publishers any more. We are doing our own publishing, and we are the editors. I can use verbs, if I want. We do make mistakes. On one of my recent short novels we did all the above, and I ordered 25 paperback copies for book signings. By mistake I uploaded a first draft for the paperback printing! Money wasted. We heard from a reader that there were several typos. I checked and found the first draft was used instead of the final edited version. It was a costly mistake. I’ve been trying to give the paperbacks away, with a note about the typos. I can’t sell the darn things!

Dan Alaltorre

Alatorre Ha! None. I usually think my manuscript is ready for publication after the first draft – even with the typos and things in there. I always think what I’ve written is awesome. The differences I make between the drafts? I try to find the typos.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’m a perfectionist as I write to begin with, so even my first raw draft tends to be fairly free from errors. I see those red or blue squiggly lines and I fix them up. That said, I still like to at least have three read throughs of my work, saving each one as a separate draft at the start. The first read through might catch wrong words, and maybe tweak synonyms to get the best feel for the scene. I might remove sections or add more. I then like to do a typo and grammar check. Then a final proof read before it goes off for editing.


What’s the hardest part of the story for you to write: beginning, middle or end?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak The wrap-up after the climax. UGH. Suddenly I have to remember the entire story and every plot point I ever mentioned and wrap that all up in some kind of interesting fashion. I sometimes wish I could just write a checklist:
–The thing that ate the bad guy got indigestion, but is feeling better now.
–That one guy you hated got killed by a cement truck but it was just a coincidence.
–The main character decided to move but took the haunted urn with her because she kind of likes the ghost now.
–The cat likes the new house, but keeps trying to tip the urn over anyway, because he’s a cat.
–They got it all wrong on the news, but in a funny way, and at least the phrase “sewer gas explosion” wasn’t used.
–Too bad about the noodle restaurant.  The main character hopes they’ll reopen.
–Maybe next time, she’ll just ask the ghost for help from the start and the whole thing with the ear infection can be avoided, hahaha.
–The main character, the cat, and the ghost decide to watch Stranger Things on TV.  They all jump at the scary parts.
–The end.
Usually it’s write one sentence, wander around the house moaning about how hard this all is for ten minutes, write another sentence. A list would be much easier. I’ve actually started to jot down notes as I write the climax. “Oh, make sure you wrap up the thing with the gun.” Maybe I should write the ending first, then figure out what the rest of the plot was and write that. I wonder if that would be easier.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne The first sentence is the hardest.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Luckily, I have not encountered a hard part yet.  I’m sure I will some day, but for now, once I have the beginning and end worked out, I usually have no problem getting from point A to point B.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 The hardest part for me is just to begin. To sit, put my hands on the keyboard, and write a few pages. Once the cobwebs clear I can write quickly and the story develops as if I am a psychic medium, a channel. I get dictation from an entity called WaldWen. He writes most of my fantasy material. The number of drafts is endless.  A manuscript is never finished. I merely succumb to exhaustion. “Good enough,” I think.  “It will do. Or…..maybe another revision…no…leave it alone….the manuscript has peaked….but…but Chapter Two Thirty has a clunky feel to it….no..forget it. No one reads your stuff anyway.”

Let me be honest.  Sometimes it seems as if someone is dictating chapters to me. Seems.  It’s actually just me and my compulsion to write. It feels as if I’m channeling something mysterious and when I read back my material I wonder, “How the hell did I do that?  Where did it come from?”

The answer is quite ordinary. It came from years of reading, researching, experiencing, filtering, transforming, warping, skewing, observing and participating in the activities of human beings. I find these activities sometimes incomprehensible. I view myself as if I am an alien from another world and this life is a fiction, a script that was crafted as a method of instruction. My life is a work of fiction designed to teach me about consciousness and the intelligent control of matter. Who fashioned this script? A guide, a spirit, a Being, a WaldWen? An Arthur Rosch. A man who writes with a modicum of coherence and has thus far been able to avoid imprisonment for my strange behavior. I sure as hell haven’t sold many books, but some day I will. Some day.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Seems like I always get stuck in the middle. I lose momentum, start to doubt myself, or I have written myself into a corner. In that instance its good to do some rereading and figure out how to jump back in.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan The end is always the hardest for me.  There’s so much more I want to write, but I know I need to cut myself off before it evolves into 900 pages.
Margareth Stewart
Margareth Stewart I guess it is the beginning, I think, or at least for me! The beginning is the starting point, when everything is set and must interest the reader. The book should capture the reader´s attention at once. It is the “do or die” kind of thing, just like “love at first sight”. The opening sentence of a book is that element that we should pay lots of attention to – to make the reader willing to turn and read the next pages.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I have to say the beginning. I want to capture the reader’s attention, and sometimes you really have to work those beginning words to enter the adventure.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The beginning the story is the hardest for me to write, but not for the reason you probably think. For most writers, the middle gets mushy. They have lots of good ideas that get everything set up, and maybe have an idea of how it’s going to end, but tying all that together in a cohesive manner without getting boring is the mushy middle that you’re always trying to avoid.

For me, how I avoid that is I just try to get through it as quickly as possible, and make something interesting happened in the middle of the mushy middle. Maybe a plot twist, maybe somebody dies, but that keeps the mushy middle from getting mushy

But the reason the beginning of the story is hardest to write is because it’s also the easiest to write. Like I said, in my next murder mystery, the opening chapter – the opening sentences – are going to be something like “The assassin watched his prey through the rifle scope” – something like that. So right away, your first sentence is gonna be somebody’s about to get killed and we’re watching it happen!

But the reason the beginning is hard is because most the time you are starting a new story with new characters, and you don’t really know those characters until you are a few chapters into the story. And by the time you end the story they’re gonna be different (because the story arc). For that reason, you have to go back and look at the first three chapters and have the characters be fully formed on page 1. That’s a little harder to do, to give them their personalities on the first page, and most writers don’t do that, so that’s why I say that’s the hardest – for me and for everybody else. But once you realize that, you know you need to do that. Then it’s like proofreading. Is the character fully developed on page one? No? What do I need to make him or her be there? Write that.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Depends on the story. I like to continue writing in sync – in other words, from beginning to end. I know some people like to write a scene as it comes to them, but for me I find that can cause too many plot holes as the story is stitched together. If I have a specific scene in mind and it’s stewing away in my mind, I sometimes find the hardest part is not rushing through my story to get there, to make sure my story is of a consistent strength the whole way through.

Mark & Kym Todd 
Todds - Copy It’s all fun, right? 🙂

As a writer, what is the biggest challenge for you? What’s the biggest reward?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak
Biggest challenge: Marketing.
Biggest reward: I play make-believe all day 🙂
Mark Shaw 
MarkAtSFTS (1)
Biggest challenge: To tell the story I want to tell, to write the book I want to write.
Biggest reward: The reward is hearing from readers and their reaction to my book. With The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, I have heard from nearly a thousand readers and have been humbled by their kind words about Dorothy’s story.
Mark & Kym Todd 
Todds - Copy The biggest challenge is knowing when to stop. We don’t want to wear out our welcome, so we try to trust the reader to get where we’re going without beating the ending over their head. Our first book in the Silverville Saga, Little Greed Men, saves the most important clue until the very last sentence. But once we published the book, our publisher wanted to know if we were going to take the next logical step in the sequel. But we held firm and said no – that’s up to the reader to see where they wanted to take that final, surprising information, not us.
Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne

Biggest challenge: Marketing. Marketing. Marketing! (Spoken in the Marsha Marsha Marsha tone from The Brady Bunch!). I detest that side of writing so much I really don’t delve too much into it.

Biggest reward: The biggest reward is knowing something born inside my head connects to the heart of a reader!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil
Biggest challenge: My biggest challenge would be marketing.  Right now, I mainly rely on social media, but I believe there are so many other advertising and marketing avenues out there.  I’ve recently started looking into them and plan to have an advertising budget next year to explore my options.

Biggest reward: The biggest reward would have to be the fans.  When I see the reviews start to cumulate on a release or when a fan messages me saying they loved a book that I have written totally makes my day.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 My fantasy epic, The Gods Of The Gift revealed its ending to me as I was driving home to my North Bay mansion. I knew the ending, and then WaldWen began speaking in my head, so I drove and took notes simultaneously.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge was writing the book.

Biggest Reward: The biggest reward was writing the book.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge at the moment is balancing everything. My writing has taken a back seat for too long. Once I get going again its usually a challenge to market a new book in a sea of other authors all clamoring for the spotlight.
Biggest Reward: The biggest reward is when I get a reader tell me how they enjoyed the book
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge is negative criticism that doesn’t come from a good place. Some people just want to tear you down, and its hard to disassociate from that.
Biggest Reward: The biggest reward is hearing from a reader who has genuine criticism or praise. I love that someone took the time to become immersed in my story.
Tom Johnson
Tom's Back Cover Picture

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge is to write something that will attract readers.

Biggest Reward: The biggest reward is to see a nice review, or have someone say they were entertained by my story. My main goal is to entertain.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge? The biggest challenge is marketing. Sorry. If I can get somebody to read two pages of my story, they will read the whole story – and love it. Getting more people to figure out how to find me to read those first two pages? That’s the hardest part for almost every writer. All the hard stuff about writing the story is actually the easy stuff. The marketing is the hard part.

Biggest Reward: The biggest reward is definitely writing something funny and having people email you or see you and tell you how funny it was. Writing a scene that made you cry while you were writing it and having tears dropping on your keyboard, and having people come up to you later or email you and say how emotional they got during that scene. Putting a little Easter egg type of thing in there and having a reader “get it.” You’re like, “Yeah!” and you’re fist pumping, because they got it. Those rewards are huge. Just making that connection and putting something out there and having it having work.

Another big reward is, and I love this, is having a plot twist. Like, in chapter 10 there’s a big twist, and your critique partner is going along, and they read chapter 8, and they read chapter 9, and then all of a sudden you get this email that says OH MY GOD. That’s awesome. That’s so much fun – for the writer and the reader. That’s the rollercoaster they want, and that’s what I give them.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge for me? That would be find enough time in the day to actually sit down and write. I have to balance my home life as a wife and mother with my life as a writer. And that can be a challenge when my mind is brimming full of story ideas and scenes begging to be written.

Biggest Reward: The biggest reward? To hear that a reader couldn’t get enough and wants more. I love those 4 and 5 star reviews, where the reviewer is practically begging for more. But most especially, I love it when they have picked up on the subtly of a plot line and pulled it out from the story.


It seems we all write for different reasons, draw inspiration from different places or experiences, and our writing processes are varied. We differ not only in where we like to write, how we get into the zone, and the prewriting activities we partake in. There are all types of authors, as there are all types of people, because after all authors are just people from all walks of life who have chosen to embark upon a writer’s journey. But, we all choose different paths to get to our ultimate destinations.
I particularly liked the idea DeAnna Knippling mentions for getting into the writing zone, the one about selecting specific music for each of her different works, so she can easily slip into the proper story and get busy. As an author who always seems to have multiple WIPs in progress, I found this to be a great idea. I already associate certain songs with certain people, memories or life events, so this seems like a technique which might work well for me, and I am definitely going to give it a try. 
I also found Dan Alatorre’s accumulative process for building a story idea into a workable storyline to be very interesting. Sometimes if you just let an idea simmer, you’ll be surprised what results from it with very little effort. At times it can be as if the storyline develops all on it’s own, and Dan’s process seems like an organized method of gathering your characters and plot events to shape up a basic outline.
One thing that’s obvious though, is that one of the biggest rewards of writing is knowing people are reading your work, through reader feedback or reviews, it seems there’s nothing like learning that what you were trying to do worked and your readers ‘get it’.
I think this was a great first segment for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Your comments are welcomed, so feel free to let us know what you found useful or interesting. I hope you all will drop in next week  to catch  the segment on Plot/Storyline.

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