Final Segment: Follow-up Questions

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Well, we’ve come to the final segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2) and it’s time to wrap things up. Today, our author panel will delve further into many of the topics from the previous segments. I’m pleased to have participation from almost all of our original panel members for this final segment. Included are authors DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Dan Alatorre, Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, RA Winter, Lilly Rayman, Art Rosch, Amy Cecil and Mark Shaw. We didn’t get any reader questions this round, so the questions here are all mine. And with that said, here we go.

Building in Conflict

For the most part, we like our characters. Of course we do. We created them, they are our children. We even create villains that we love to hate, but there’s always a very story must have conflict. Conflict makes the story interesting. We’ve talked about creating characters readers can relate to and this is where we use that to our advantage. There has to be something at stake in order for readers to want to know what happens next. If there is no possibility of something bad happening and we know it will all turn out okay, then there really is no point in finishing the story. So, even though we love our characters, at times we need bad things to happen to them.

How do you feel about killing off your darlings? What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I sometimes feel embarrassed about how much crap I lay on my characters, but oh well 🙂

I think every scene should end up worse for the character in some substantial way than the one before.  It depends on the book, of course, but even a slow idyll should end with some level of train wreck by the end of the scene, even if the bad thing that happens is just a false sense of security setting up the characters to get hurt worse later.  I have four methods (so far):  1) the character tries to do something but fails.  2) the character tries, succeeds, and makes things worse.  3) the character’s efforts are interrupted by some other thing going wrong.  4) the character tries something…but you don’t get to find out how it comes out yet.

I write a fair amount of horror; one of my favorite techniques there is that a character tries to find out something, does, and totally regrets having left behind their blissful ignorance!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan If I kill someone off, I usually bring them back as a ghost, haha.  Seriously, though, I don’t always use death as a way to build conflict.  I like to add emotional drama through something devastating, like a shattered dream, or by throwing the character into an unexpected situation.  Adding a new, but related, bad guy helps too.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture In Carnival of Death, the villain, Spider is back in town. She is a master of martial arts, but she had fought the Black Ghost in The Spider’s Web, and found him a superior fighter. This time she has help dealing with him while she goes after one of his aides, a Korean girl. Spider plans on beating the information out of the girl, but the Korean is a fighter and now one must die. The Korean has never had to kill before, while Spider has killed many with her martial arts. Will the young Korean be able to defeat this ninja in a battle to the death?

In the Spider’s Web, the Ninja had selected another aide, newspaperman George Freeman, an ex Army Ranger, tough and fearless, but she was beating him and was at the point of killing him when the Black Ghost arrived to challenge her. This time the Black Ghost was in a fight of his own, and could not reach his aide in time. The Korean girl is his electronic eyes and ears, not an active field agent, and must face this challenge alone.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre If the story needs for my character to die, sorry! Boom, gone. It’s that simple. What’s best for the story? Do that, no matter how painful.

But conflict can be done in lots of ways before we get to that. Just put little obstacles in the way of your character – any character – and his or her goal. We need to track a serial killer? Let’s use one of our detectives as bait. Then make him nervous because a few years back, his partner died in front of him, and instead of thinking about catching the killer, he’s thinking about when his partner died, while he’s supposed to be bait for THIS killer. Then a man approaches that he’s sure is the killer and he’s all nervous and ready to spring into action – and it’s a false alarm. Which nearly causes him to blow the sting. Which causes him to get yelled at. Now his new partner is nervous about working with him… ALL of which was added JUST to add conflict. There are lots of ways to increase conflict.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy If it’s necessary to the story I have no problem with it. But too many authors are trying to emulate George RR Martin and killing just to kill. First, build your character then, if there’s just cause, you kill them off to move the story.

What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?

Depends on the story, depends on the characters. There’s alot of variables that go into answering that question. For instance, in my latest novel Karma I didn’t kill anyone, but there was a horrible accident that put someone in jeopardy.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I don´t mind, my stories are full of conflict, and I write not to praise the anyone. Characters must do what they must do and feel what they feel, I follow that all the way through the path of writing the whole ploth, it does not matter if I like it, dislike or disagree with it. It is not the role of the writer to judge their characters. Full stop.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman In my Unexpected series, the first book begins with the fact that my main character’s mother, and her half-brother’s mother were both deceased. This was a situation that was already developed, so I never gave much to either of these women, who in fairness, had been defining influences on my main character and her brother during their childhood. I then made a choice, to write a prequel, a story that investigated both these women and their influences on my main characters father and his children. I found it very hard to write the demise of both these women, since I had connected to them as I looked into them during their life. Unfortunately, it was always their fate to end up dead, and there was little that I could do about it.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I really don’t mind killing off a character. I worry more about the reaction I’ll get from my readers. I always have an antagonist and they work to supply conflict


Action Scenes

In segment six, we talked briefly about how to write an action scene clearly and keep action moving smoothly, especially when there’s a lot going on in the scene in the discussion on action scenes and pacing.

Can any you elaborate on how you keep the action flowing smoothly in a fight scene, specifically?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I break everything, both action scenes and otherwise, into beats.  In theater terms, a “beat” kind of translates down to the smallest possible conflict. (In a scene, there can be many different conflicts as the characters try different tactics to reach a goal.)  A beat is one clear step in attempting to achieve some goal.  Say a character is attempting to convince another character to sign up for a yoga class.  The character might try:
–Asking directly.
–Telling the other character they’re out of shape.
–Promising they’ll go with the other character.
–Lying to the character and saying they’re going to go shopping.
Each attempt during the conversation would be a beat.
Same thing goes for fight scenes.  The second character might realize that the first character tricked them into going to a yoga studio.  A battle begins!  The second character wants to escape the yoga studio.  They might:
–Point toward the hallway, saying “Look! Baby wolf!” while making a break for the door.
–Wrestling with the yoga teacher, who is blocking the door.
–Abruptly turning and trying to run toward the hallway.
–Rolling to their feet after being tripped by the first character.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I picture what’s going on in my head and sometime sketch it out.  I like to keep my sentences crisp and short.  It keeps the pace moving and makes the action punchier.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Professional fighters learn to read their opponent’s strengths and weakness. Their full attention is on the moves, their minds evaluating, their eyes fully engaged on the person in front of them. Each is studying the other for a sign of weakness. Moves are like reflex action, lightning fast, with follow through automatic. There is no time to think about your next move, it has to come with mind-body coordination. And for this to happen they need to train and train until those reflexes are faster than their thought processes. The boxing tournament in my novel, Cold War Heroes has a number of good fight scenes.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I hope so; I wrote a whole book called A Is For Action, to describe just that. Envision it, and lay it out in big chunks, then address each chunk for what it’s supposed to do. Then cut each chunk into littler chunks and address what they are supposed to do. Little by little it’ll come together, but it takes a lot more explanation than I can do here – which is why I needed a while book to explain it, but it’s inexpensive and will show you everything you need, common rookie mistakes like run-on sentences, and all the rest.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Pacing, short sentence structure, mapping out the fight like you would any other scene, being aware of the POV you’re using, the setting, the weapons involved. I often block out the fight the same way a choreographer does for a movie.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Samurai movies. I have immersed myself in Samurai movies for decades and that immersion has influenced everything I’ve written about combat and battle sequences. It doesn’t hurt to know martial arts. I don’t know anything about martial arts beyond the basics. In my fantasy novel, The Gods Of The Gift there is an extended combat sequence that encompasses every combination of fighting, from single to double to mutliple and then to mass formation fighting. I was inspired by a fight scene in the Samurai Trilogy (made in the 50s, see it!). A swordsman squares off against a master of a weapon called the Kusarigama. This device consists of a razor sharp sickle mounted on a staff. There is attached to the staff a heavy spiked ball attached to a twelve foot length of chain. The ball and chain are swung in overhead circles and used to trap an arm, a leg, a sword, thus allowing the weapon’s user to charge in and finish his opponent with the sickle. Nasty! Fascinating!

The Japanese and Chinese have arsenals of bizarre weapons. A bit of research into the Google archives will inspire some good ideas.

Then there’s the sensory impact of combat itself. Writing a fight scene involves all the senses. Feet moving, the sound of gravel spraying, the whine of metal on metal, the sweat and heightened perceptions of the fighters. Adrenaline. Terror and triumph. A good fight is seldom resolved in a single blow. In REALITY this often happens, but in fiction we need to have our heroes staring into the abyss of defeat, almost losing the fight, almost dying, then calling upon some last bit of strength to find a way to survive.

I read some accounts of medieval battles, taken from contemporary sources.  The descriptions of thousands of men charging and clashing have much in common.  I adapted that perception to describe a battle between large forces colliding in The Gods Of The Gift.  Here it is:

“The two masses of people came together with a groan of animal rage. There was a sound like the wrinkling of a giant metal plate. Garuvel was only aware of pushing and being pushed. His shoulder was dug into someone’s brittle shield, someone who was pushing at him as mightily as he pushed back. All around him, this pushing of two giant forces wavered this way and that, the front of the two masses of people snaked, bent, briefly ruptured, re-formed, pushed again. Garuvel could feel himself gaining ground as he pushed at the shield. His feet were digging trenches in the soil; soft wet earth oozed up around his ankles. He was able to take a single step forward and his opponent’s shield broke in two.  The face of a startled snarling Djoubiat appeared before him, and Garuvel used two fingers of his left hand to poke his enemy’s eyes out. He grabbed the man’s sword as it began to float away on the waves of the crowd. He tossed it to Jaramine, then got another sword for himself. Back to back, they let themselves be swept into the berserk trance of combat”.

I hope this helps. I’m barely on my first cup of coffee. I recommend that you locate The Samurai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Tohiro Mifune. Great films.  Then, of course, there are the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations. Enjoy!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil When I’m writing a fight scene I usually close my eyes and picture the scene then type what I see with every detail. Once the scene is complete then I go back and polish it up



Editing and Revision

In the week seven segment on editing, DeAnna Knippling talked a little about the editing process from the editor’s side. Her comment was that you have to like the type of book you’re editing, so you can be a champion for the story. And like Dan Alatorre pointed out, our stories may not be for everyone and not everyone will like them. As long as some people do like our stories, that may be all that matters as far as building a platform and following, but when it comes to editors, you have to be sure they get our work and like our writing styles. So, my follow-up questions are:

What do you look for in an editor? How do you know when you find an editor who’s a good fit for you?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I tend to find editors online, so I tend to ask questions that are in line with the book I’m writing. If the editor can respond in the same tone, that’s a good sign. “Do you solemnly swear not to try to change the rash behavior of my Y.A. fantasy characters?” That kind of thing.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I look for an editor with experience, and one who isn’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like.  Some editors will read anything for the money, but not do a good job because it isn’t a genre he/she is passionate about.  I like the editors who tear my work apart while understanding the vision behind it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture This is not always up to the author. When dealing with publishers you have to deal with their editors. When I was writing for NBI my publisher was a pulp fan, and knew what I was writing, so we hit it off great. Other publishers were not so cooperate. A number of them were romance and erotica editors, and were not fans of my writing style. They wanted sex and profanity, and I refused to give it to them. In one scene my hero and a bad guy are fighting in a room high above the street when they crash through a window and are about to fall, and my hero says, “Oh, hell!” My editor wanted something stronger, but I refused. Of course, my hero catches the window frame and doesn’t fall, but we argued about what he should have said, or not said. As the author, I thought I had the final say and that didn’t please the editor one bit. I also had an editor that automatically did a search and destroy for all “ly”s in the story and deleted them. That created more problems than it solved. When you find a good editor, keep them. There are some out there that won’t listen to you, the author.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre A good editor can edit anything, like it or not; I do it all the time. But it’s better if they like it. I mean, commas don’t appear or disappear based on if I like the story, but content will be handled differently. What do I look for? Someone who gets it. Gets the story, gets the jokes, gets what I’m going for. Someone who writes or has written, because a bad story with all the commas in the right places is still a bad story. A great story makes its own rules. I love it when an editor or beta reader is so engrossed in my story they forget to edit it. When the fit is right, you know it because they get the jokes BUT they are willing to chuck it all to help the story be the best it can be. We call it the Hemingway standard. They hold me to the highest standard possible and catch every microscopic issue, and I do the same for them. We might not get to Hemingway but by God we’re gonna try.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy At this point if I were to look for an editor I’d do my research on what they’ve edited in the past and get some recs from other authors.

RA Winter

RA Winter I was lucky enough to meet my editor, Karen Freeman, on Scribophile.com. She crit my story, then read everything I’ve written and had a lot of great insight. She knows my style and understands my prose.  I love an editor who does a full developmental edit, proofreading, grammar, and character development. Usually, she reads the first draft then waits until my edits and other crits are done before she comes back and rereads everything. As an editor, Karen Freeman goes above and beyond for me. I’m so glad that I have her!

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I look for an editor who is easy to work with, answers my questions on why they made editing decisions. At the same time, I like an editor who is prepared to ask me why I made the decision to write a sentence or a scene the way I did.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I want (and have) an editor that will make me a better writer. Someone who will make me step out of my comfort zone and make me write more. Over the years I’ve learned so much from my two editors. They are awesome.


Publishing Platforms

Today, authors can create their own publishing house, putting out their work under their own imprint. I’ve been told that this is a relatively easy thing to do. Some of our panel members have done just that, so let’s ask them.

Can you share with us a little about what the process of creating your own imprint entails?

 DeAnna Knippling

deannak
–Deciding to do one.
–Coming up with a business name that nobody else is using.
–Researching what laws are applicable for your state on the secretary of state website for your state (usually).
–Doing that (usually just registering the name).
–Rah!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture We created the FADING SHADOWS imprint in 1982, and published a hobby magazine until 2004, as well as genre magazines from 1995 to 2004. We did all the proofing, editing, setting up and printing for most of those years. Today, we still use the FADING SHADOWS imprint on my self-published books. However, we no longer do the printing. Thankfully, with POD technology anyone can be a publisher today, you just need the know-how of modern technology. In 1982 we were young and energetic. In 2019, we’re not so young and energetic, so can’t do it all like we once did. My wife is a good editor for my books. She catches the errors I miss. But she also knows that I write in the pulp style, 60 years in the past.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Liken it to a winemaker. Are you going to grow your own grapes and make and sell the wine? Then if you are a bad farmer, you’ll get crappy wine, so you have to be an expert farmer AND expert wine maker AND expert marketer… most people aren’t experts at all that stuff and aren’t willing to become experts; many won’t be able to even if they knew what to do. There are a lot of moving parts. Essentially, if you mess up on any of those steps, you are toast. Now, having said that, even if you don’t manage to become an expert at everything, you’ll know enough to manage the people you hire and you’ll have respect for what they do.

What are the advantages of having your own imprint? Would you recommend authors do this?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I have multiple pen names, so I do it to keep things organized. If you didn’t have a pen name, and you didn’t plan to ever edit an anthology or something, then I can’t see a lot of material benefit. But as soon as you have multiple names involved, then I’d say you should go for it. It’s hard to claim that your writing business is “DeAnna Knippling, Author” for tax purposes if you’re in either case. BUT I am not a lawyer, so don’t take that as legal advice 🙂

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, a lot of authors are using their own imprints today. And some have good editors.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The advantage is, if there’s no market for an original work, it can still see the light of day and maybe find its audience.

Authors, especially those who chose the more traditional routes of publishing, have to be thick skinned. If we take them all personally, they can be devastating, perhaps even deterring an author from continuing the pursuit of their dream.

For those who have tried to publish traditionally or via small press, where your work must be submitted in hopes that someone else will deem it publishable, and how many rejections did you receive before acceptance? And how did you handle the rejections?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m still submitting to short story markets.  I submit all over the place for that. I think I submitted like fifty queries for novels, but I really wasn’t ready for novels back when I was doing that (I started out as a short story writer). When I started out, it got to me.  Then I heard Julie Kazimer talk about how many rejections she had, and I was like, “Right, I like her writing, and she still gets that many rejections, so whatever.” I made a goal to get 100 rejections my first year of serious submissions.  Got 125 🙂  I don’t track the number anymore, though.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I received well over one-hundred rejections on COGLING, and now it is my second best-seller. Readers send me emails raving about it. At first, rejection hit hard. I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry. It took a while for rejections to roll off my back. As long as I love what I wrote, then that’s all that matters.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My first novel was submitted in 1970 to a dozen SF publishers, and I received a dozen rejection slips. One famous SF editor said he didn’t even know where the story took place. Well, he must not have even read it (LOL). But to be honest, I needed an editor. In fact, I also sent the story to what I thought was a publisher, but was an editing service. I was living in Riverside, California at the time, and two men came down from L.A., California to interview me. My book, they said, was something special, but they wanted to help me learn to write, and gave me several options, all of which would cost me money that I didn’t have. So I stuck the manuscript in a drawer where it stayed for three decades. In those thirty years I learned to write.

I have fulfilled my dream. Yeah, I read a lot, and see what the traditional authors are writing. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see what is being hailed as the best books on the market, and the size checks they are getting for what I consider junk, and seeing good independent writers having trouble selling copies of their books that are ten times better than those best sellers.

But I think about the writers-for-hire that turned out stories for publishers selling a million copies of each title, and the author only getting $1,500.00 for that book back then. When Stephen King was paid a million dollars for Carry, one of those writers-for-hire took a .45 and blew a hole through his computer. The writer-for-hire was bringing big bucks to the publisher for very low wages, and the publisher was paying King, McMurty, Clancy, and a few others the big bucks. The writers-for-hire didn’t think it was fair, and I still don’t think it is. I like martial arts, and I heard about a “best selling” series called The Ninja that has been receiving such great praise and a New York Best Seller, so I bought it. After fifty pages I threw it in the trash where it belonged.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The movie Rocky won best picture back in 1976. It got turned down a LOT, but Stallone stuck with it and it won best picture. The lesson isn’t tenacity, although that’s part of it. The lesson is, the people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Tom Brady, possibly the best quarterback in the NFL’s history, was a 7th round draft pick. That means EVERY TEAM passed him over 6 times – and he’s the best to ever play the game. Steven Spielberg, the most popular and most successful movie maker in history was turned down by USC film school. The people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Lots of people turned down every successful author at some point, and rejection letters are going to come by the hundreds. Each “no” puts you closer to a “yes,” so expect 200 of them for each version of your book you are querying. If the publishers don’t want it, don’t be afraid to go indie.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 In business there’s an expression. It goes like this: If the product is good, it will sell. Of course, I’m crap at business. In 1980 I had a writing career in the palm of my hand.  I was a guest of honor at Playboy‘s Writer’s Award banquet. I sat between Alex Haley and Saul Bellow. My short story had won Playboy‘s annual award and I was whisked to New York City to hobnob with the literati. Agents and publishers were handing me their cards. I signed a two year contract with Scott Meredith Agency. I just had one little problem. My writing hadn’t yet matured. My books were earlier versions of themselves and I hadn’t mastered the finer points of story telling.  I had another twenty years to grow up and become a polished writer.

Now we, as writers, are struggling through an era in which books are common as pennies and it’s virtually impossible to gain traction. In 1980 the world’s population was half of today’s population. There was room to get noticed. Now, today, go to Twitter, Facebook. Drown in titles, covers, blurbs. Not all of these books are good. I’ve written six hundred query letters to agents. The reply? “Though you write very well, unfortunately your novel is not right for us at this time.”

Sound familiar?

I don’t quit. I believe in my work. I believe in it so much that I can easily describe it as something like being in love. I’m in love with the things I write, and photograph, and music that I play. And so forth and so on.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Only did this with my first book and only sent to three publishers. All three were rejected. That’s when I learned I could self publish.

During week 8 on publishing platforms, RA Winter gave the following advice for new authors, “Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre.”

This sounds like good advice, but what does the multi-genre author do as far as branding goes? Do we have a separate brand for each genre, or can a single brand for your works encompass all the genres that you write?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I write under different genres, so I can’t really use the same marketing/branding for each genre.  What works for gothic horror novels doesn’t do so well for cyberpunk.  I feel like I have to start over every time–but that’s okay.  I’m happy with my choices from a writing perspective.  It’s just a pain to deal with from a marketing perspective.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use the same brand for each of my books.  It works for steampunk because it is a gear, and it works for my fantasy novels because gears turning can symbolize the imagination working.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Well, I have to admit, my SF novels have done well, but so, too, have my pulp novels. I like writing in different genres. Westerns sell good, and I have a few in that category also. When I go to town people say, “Oh, he’s that science fiction writer.” That’s nice, but SF doesn’t sell in this town, and a science fiction writer is about as popular as sidewinder. I even told a teacher once that science fiction was a western. You just trade the cowboy’s six-shooter for a ray gun, his horse for a rocket ship, and Indians for red Martians. And some people here know I collect and write pulp, but they don’t know what pulp is. I was at the Post Office one day and a fellow was mailing a big package out. He recognized me and said, “I bet if you thought this box contained comic books you’d take it away from me.” Brand? I don’t know how good a Brand is. Me, I want to write whatever genre grabs me at the time. I’m tickled when someone calls me a children’s author.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Lots of authors don’t do that and are very successful, but I suppose it makes life easier if you do it. The problem is, you might have a crappy series no one wants to read. Then what? You wasted years on a dead end. I write what I want to read. I write in a daring style. I can make you laugh or cry in every story, sometimes on the same page. When you start my story, I own you, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a series or if each book is different. John Belushi never repeated himself; why should I? Genius has a way of being discovered of you are willing to put enough work into it. There are no shortcuts and no magic recipes.

There’s no one magic formula. Train your readers that whatever you deliver, it will rock their world. Books and movies are entertainment. The best directors don’t do the same movie over and over in a series because they want to challenge themselves to find another great thing and to keep pushing themselves.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy My work can, and has, fallen under different genres. I find it gets confusing to the reader especially in terms of branding and finding your niche audience. So now I try to incorporate a little bit of fantasy in every book I write be it urban, dark, or adventure so that my books stay under a similar umbrella.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Still working on this.

If you have published independently, what challenges have you faced – in getting your books into brick and mortar bookstores, and libraries?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Nobody likes or wants to work with Amazon/CreateSpace. That’s my biggest challenge in one. I need to expand away from them, but I haven’t reached that far yet.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve personally donated my books to the surrounding libraries, and some of my books have been on the shelves of Books A Million and Hastings in Wichita Falls, Texas, but that was in the past. I doubt seriously that any are still in the brick & mortar bookstores.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Doing any of that requires time and effort. That same effort can get me more sales of eBooks, so I concentrate there. 90% of my marketing time or more is marketing eBooks. If I have time leftover, I’ll see if a library wants a copy or if a brick and mortar bookstore does. I went to an author event where the bookstore manager at the event derided me about bringing so many of my 25 titles. I sold a whopping 6 books that weekend with her. As I was packing up, she kinda laughed at the effort I made in bringing in 25 titles and only selling 6. I mentioned that I’d moved over 1000 eBooks that week. She shut up after that.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy They absolutely will not accept POD versions of your book.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Marketing is my biggest challenge.


Building Your Author Platform

Have you ever used paid reviews?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Nope. I don’t feel like it’s ethical, by which I mean “long-term smart.”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I used one company once.  It cost a lot of money and promised at least 10 reviews.  I got 1.  After that, I never paid for another review company.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, but I have thought about it. Reviews are hard to get.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre No. I know some people say Kirkus and others like them are great; I don’t see the value. When I see a Kirkus review, I say: that person isn’t successful enough to get reviews without paying for them. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what I think. Spend that $500 or whatever on marketing and getting reviews from readers.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy No, there’s no point in it for me. I’d rather here what readers genuinely think rather than someone I paid off to give a glowing review. Besides, I’ve talked to a number of other authors and they’ve all said the amount of reviews you have really doesn’t mean that much in the long run.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman No. One I don’t believe you receive a genuine review if you pay for it.

Two. I believe they are unethical.

Three. I can’t afford to pay people to review my work.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I probably have more fans than I realize. Unfortunately, I get very little feedback. A comment on one of my blogs, an appreciation of a book, a review…any kind of review…is a major event. I don’t pay for reviews. There are so many authors, so many reviews, it’s like spitting into a fast moving river. It’s here, then gone.

My novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention. There were almost four thousand submissions. WD wrote a glowing review of the book.  Without that review I’m not sure I would even believe the book exists. Without Kaye Lynn’s reviews of my work, I would feel like a ghost. I’ve sold less than a three hundred books. I can’t even give away my books. My memoir, The Road Has Eyes has eleven hundred free downloads. That’s four years worth of promotion. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? A little.

In your mind, what are the pros and cons of paid reviews?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak A) They’re not really honest.  B) They’re trackable, so your distributor may bust you for them and punish you according to their terms of service. Goodbye review! And that’s generally a best-case scenario.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan The biggest con is what happened to me – no one reviews and you just wasted a lot of money.  I think the service I used cost $60.  $60 for one review (a one-sentence review at that) didn’t feel worth it.  I didn’t even know if the reviewer genuinely liked the book or felt compelled to give it 4 stars.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Paid reviews are probably not going to appear on Amazon or GoodReads, or anywhere else. If they weren’t bought on Amazon, the review won’t be published on Amazon.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I guess the pros are you get a review. The cons are, that’s less money you have for marketing.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil No author should have to pay for a review.

How effective have you found interviews to be in bringing new followers?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I think the effectiveness of an interview depends on how open the author is willing to be.  If the author personally appeals to the audience, then an interview can be great.  But if the author is stiff and over-controlled, then people aren’t going to get a very good idea about whether they want to read your book.  I’ve both interviewed and been interviewed.  The interesting thing to me is that that type of post is more of a long-term investment than a short-term boost.  It’s like, people kind of hear about your book somehow, then they look up your name and the book title, and they end up searching for you on Google years after the book is published.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Honestly, I haven’t seen a correlation.  No one has told me they read my book or started following me after reading an interview I did.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t think any one thing does a lot by itself, but doing a lot of interviews and a lot of other stuff gets the internet to find you better, and together it all helps. Basically, I do almost every interview I’m asked to do because I can use it on my social media to remind my followers that I’m out there and they should read my next book. That’s not the interviewer’s job. That’s my job in doing the interview.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Interviews have given me exposure to new people…not alot…but enough. Also, they’re fun to do.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Not effective at all.

Has there been one interview you feel was most effective? If so, why do you think this interview was more effective than others?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure! I feel like an audio interview with Bill Olver (of Big Pulp at the time) was the most effective, because I saw an upswing right after that, but I have no actual idea.

Here’s the interview:  http://www.podcasts.com/big-pulp-audio-435ce9688/episode/Big-Pulp-Audio-May-22-2016-31da

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Interviews where I include a giveaway usually get the most comments.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I had a great interview with Cathleen Townsend. It was a blast. I don’t know if it sold any books but I had fun doing it. I did a video interview of bestselling author Allison Maruska (The Fourth Descendant) and we laughed the entire time. We had a great time. Again, did those efforts sell books or did they show a different side of me to an audience? Mark Twain said, sell yourself, not your product.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the owner of COS Productions Sheila English alongside Heather Graham! That got me some attention for sure.

This question is for those of you who have blogs. As we all know, I use WordPress. I found Blogger to be too limiting, and I’ve been playing with WIX for the new WordCrafter site I’m building, but I’m having difficulty in setting it up the way I want and I’m considering creating a second WordPress site instead.

Which blogging platform do you use and what do you see as benefits and drawbacks of it?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I use WordPress.  The big benefit is that everybody uses it, so it’s easy to find templates and other goodies for it, and it works well enough.  The not-so-big benefit of it is that you have to modify the heck out of it before it feels like home, because it kind of looks like everyone else’s!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use BlogSpot for my blog, and it is okay, but a lot of tends to be finicky and doesn’t always do what I want.  I use Wix for my website, and that too can get finicky.  It doesn’t always look the way I want it to look.  Maybe its just me not using programs correctly!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I use Blogger, and have found it works well enough. I have half a dozen Blog Sites. Many Groups will not allow the posting of Blog Links for some reason, so I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with getting the word out on new Blog entries.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I use WordPress for one reason: it’s easiest for people reblog, comment, share, and follow. The end. I want sharing and reblogging and I want one click to make you a follower. WP does that. That’s all I need. I recommend them to everyone. It’s the fastest base from which to build a following at basically zero cost. That’s hard to beat.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve used Blogger and I currently use WIX. I know everyone swears by WordPress but I tried it and I didn’t like it at all. My websites are built on WIX and the blog has everything I need.


Marketing and Promotion

Last week we did a segment on marketing and promotion, yet we didn’t talk at all about book covers. This was a huge oversight on my part, because the covers of our books may be our single most valuable marketing tool. Some people buy books just because their interest is captured by the right cover, even if they’ve never seen one advertisement for the book or read one review. Finding, or creating the right cover can be tricky and different authors handle it in different ways.

Please tell us how you come by your covers: DIY or hired out or prefab?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’ve done DIY design (from art that I licensed on stock art sites or directly from an author on DeviantArt in one case) and hired out two covers.  The ones I hired out for weren’t successful for me, possibly because I did those when I had a much weaker understanding of the market.  The artists produced what I asked for 🙂  A third custom cover is for an anthology that’s going to go out soon; I think that one will be a great help in selling the anthology.  But Jamie Ferguson (my co-editor) and I did a lot of research on what kind of cover we wanted, even before we commissioned the artist.  You can find out more about the anthology, Amazing Monster Taleshere.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My covers are all made by the publishers.  I give them an overview on what I’m looking for in a cover and their cover artists go at it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve hired several covers done for my books. Plus, I do some myself. I agree, the cover is the first thing readers see, and it better catch their eye. The second thing is the Blurb. Both have to attract and interest the reader. I recently saw this in effect, a writer has a very nice cover for his book, but the Blurb stinks, and I wasn’t surprised when he said he wasn’t selling any copies of his book.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Most DIY book covers look home made. Authors should hire someone, and before they hire someone they should see what the top 25 of 50 books in their genre look like and ask to emulate that, then let the artist do their thing. Try to get a few (3-4) mockups and showcase them on Facebook. Even if you are brand new and have zero followers, for $10 you can put together a Facebook ad that will be shown to readers of that genre and let THEM choose the correct cover for you. The fans are never wrong, but I almost always am! Whatever cover I like never wins, and whatever cover the fans like always sells well. Another cool thing to know: after about 12-20 votes, you’ll have a clear winner, and if you get 100 more votes or 1000, the winner won’t change. Remember: you are probably not the target audience, so find them and let them choose. I and friends have spent as little as $50 to $100 for covers that became bestsellers. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have a winner, but a loser costs a ton – because you have to overcome its crappiness by way of additional marketing expense.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I make my own covers. Awhile back I had the rights to my Demon Hunter saga returned to me. At the time, the publisher had used stock photos that made them look like romance covers. When I got the rights back I had a very specific direction where I wanted to take the books for a relaunch. So I began dabbling in Photoshop and eventually I produced some stunning covers. Now I mostly do all my own unless I need specific art work drawn out.

RA Winter

RA Winter I use Kreativecovers and use Kayci Morgan exclusively. She’s wonderful. I can give her an idea and she runs with it. Here are my two favorite covers that she did. The first one, Twisted, you can immediately tell the genre. The second one, Demise, gives you a taste of what’s in the book. I’m so pleased to have her on my team.

 

Instead of asking what makes a great cover, a question that has been asked a thousand times before, with answers dependent on as many variables as there are books on the market, I’m going to ask you each to include the image of what you consider to be your best book cover and tell us what you think makes it a great cover.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m going to use one of the draft covers from the anthology that I mentioned before (this one isn’t final). The art is by Paul Roman Martinez, who is AMAZING. He also designed the logo for us. We started out with probably at least a dozen hours of research into what pulp magazine covers looked like, what we liked, and what we didn’t. Then we had to figure out how to communicate that to Paul 🙂 After a few missteps (totally on my part), Paul did a tentative sketch and, because we had done so much research, we knew it was a winner. We gave him the go-ahead to do the finished art. The logo was actually more trouble–it got to be too close to the existing design on another magazine, and had to be redone.
Best Cover - Knippling
There are a lot of details that go into cover design, and I don’t have the time to get into them here. But we talked a lot about both the content of what the art should be, although we did not actually tell Paul what to create, only what kind of thing we were looking for, and how we wanted that laid out so that there would be enough room for text later.
[Hey, if you have more questions on that, ask – I’m drawing a blank on what to say that isn’t a whole book on covers.]
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan The most popular cover is TREASURE DARKLY. Readers at book signings gravitate to it without knowing anything about the book. I’ve heard people say they love how dark it looks or that it has a sexy girl.
Treasure Darkly
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I have a lot of great covers, but will pick NEW PULP HEROES as an example. This is a non-fiction book with essays on the New Pulp Heroes. It’s a book that every New Pulp writer, and every researcher should have. And the cover is pure pulp. The girl is in danger and the hero coming to rescue her. It’s perfect for the subject matter within the pages.

New Pulp Heroes

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre A great cover is what fans say is a great cover and you figure that out using the method I just described. Most authors can’t be objective enough to do that, though. They let their intentions cloud the process.

My best cover is Double Blind, a murder mystery. I look at it and I feel the intensity of the killer. Second is the new cover for The Navigators, same reason – intensity. They just look professional.0

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I went through several variations of Demon Hunter Saga for the print book. What makes this a great cover? When I’m at conventions among the thousands of talented artists there this cover stands out in a crowd. When people see the book on my table they always stop to look at it. I’ve been told more than once how amazing the cover looks and I’m really very proud.

 

Demon_6x9DustJacket_Front_EN copy

 

Art Rosch

Art 2001 This may be my favorite cover.  I use my own photography and do all the design work.  I love this cover because it describes what’s in the book.  It’s loaded with narrative, mystery and incorporates one of the best design devices in the world, the “S” curve.  The eye is drawn down that oddly green road towards the RV.  There’s fog, stars and a homely thirty year old Winnebago. Who’s in that RV? Where are they going?  Where have they been?  This is a very cool book cover.

The Road Has Eyes

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I would say my latest Ripper cover is the best. It is totally eye catching.

Ripper


Sometimes life just gets in the way of things. This round of Ask the Authors panel members have been great, but unfortunately Mark and Kym Todd had to drop out early on when Kym was injured while they were traveling. Art Rosch, as well, has been absent from several segments due to a series of unforseen circumstances starting with a tree falling on his home, being in the middle of all the California fires, and other issues which prevented him from participating in many of the previous segments. Fortunately, Art was able to join us for this last segment, enthusiastic about being back in the game. He wrote me a lovely piece discussing many of the things which we cover here and he also had this to say about social media book promotion and branding.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Social media. Where else do you promote books? I’ve spent every day for the last five years on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus and half a dozen others that I can’t remember. I’m so sick of social media that I’ve tried another tack.

I published Confessions in paperback, ordered a box of fifty and started giving away copies. It may be a slow method of marketing but it gets the book read. People talk to me about the characters, they ask questions. That’s what I want: engagement with an audience. Whether my audience is ten people or ten thousand people, I want to hear from readers. If I had a ton of money I’d buy ads on Amazon and Facebook. I’ve heard they don’t work either.

All the conventional wisdom about branding is so much noise. I am my brand. The literature of Arthur Rosch. My platform is made from Popsicle sticks.


Just for Fun

Authors are just ordinary people in so many ways, no matter the level of success we’ve had. So if you will, share with my readers a little about things that make us real by answering at leeast one of the following questions.

What’s one thing most of your readers would never guess about you?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I often wear other colors than black?!?

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) That I was an awful student in high school, Purdue University (six years), IU law school (4 years not three) and never have taken a writing class in my life.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I love coconut. Coconut pies, coconut cake, anything with coconut. I’m addicted to coconut like most people are with chocolate.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’m terrified of people in costumes.  Think Minnie Mouse at Disney.  If I see a person in a costume, I’m running the other way.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I used to do fitness competitions.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I’m a shrink (lol). People guess all sorts of professions for me, never a shrink. Maybe, it’s because I´m very talkative and I’ve never done clinician activities.

RA Winter

RA Winter I have five, yes, five boys.  Now you know why I have such an odd sense of humor.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 They’d never guess that I’m a drug addict.

Listen to me: this is true. I’ve had a year in which I felt like committing suicide. I began to write suicide notes in my head and then I would stop myself. “You’re writing suicide notes in your head,” I told myself. “Stop it right now.” I had a spell of depression. I’m doing much better now. One of the things that kept me wanting to live was the existence of my books. I thought, “If I don’t fight for these, they’ll vanish. I’m obviously the only person who will fight for my books, so I’ve got to hang around.”

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil When I was worried about running out of a particular genre to read (because I was obsessed) my best friend said, “write your own.”  And I did!

Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Eat and wander around in scenic locations. And read, of course, although that probably goes without saying.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Sit in my Mini Cooper convertible by the beach, listen to the waves, and read a good mystery.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I love to read (obviously, haha), paint, and make jewelry.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Workout, paint, relax.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Sports & cooking, plus reading, traveling, and talking to people.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Watch the stars at night, play drums and watch TV.

If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak The normal stuff, like paying off debts and setting up college funds and traveling and buying a house up in the mountains 🙂  But I think I would be going to my library and finding out what they needed.

Mark Shaw 

MarkAtSFTS (1) Live in the south of France.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I would quit my day job to focus on my son and writing.  I hate sending him to daycare.  I love the daycare he goes to, but I want him home with me for adventures

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Rich would be a load off, famous I don’t ever want. I would keep writing though, resting in the knowledge that at least now I knew people would be reading my books.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I always think about that…I will do everything the same, maybe I´d buy some fancy chocolate and coffee. That´s all!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I’d start a foundation promoting education in third world countries.

What is the one thing you hope to teach your children?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak That other people have valid internal lives of their own.  That’s the foundation of empathy–the rest of being an actual worthwhile human is all gravy 🙂

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) To listen better than I do and be more patient that I am.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan To be patient. Whenever I drive and someone ahead of me does something weird, I feel sorry for them. I think they made a mistake. I’ve been in the car with, say, my husband, and he’s furious at the other driver.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I guess I´ve already done that and that is authenticity. There is nothing like being ourselves and moving forward!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I hope to teach my grandchildren how to think correctly and to revere life.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Please send cheese.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) The most blessed man on the face of the earth (Sorry for length)

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I just asked my toddler and he said, “Ew, ew, ew.”  I guess I’m yucky!

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’m a warrior.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Cheerful, busy, project-driven.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Deep, very deep.

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given or offered?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak It wasn’t phrased this way, but:  “Make someone else make you fail.”

Afraid of what might happen if you send out a book before it’s ready?  Afraid of going straight to an editor and skipping the agent?  Terrified of indie publishing?  What’s the worst that could happen?  You could be ignored.  Oh well.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Never give up trying anything new

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  Its okay to take a rest.  People need to recharge their inner batteries too.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre This is one that everyone can learn to do, and it will help most of the writers out there. Write as if a disinterested 3rd party picking it up had no reference point for what you’d written. You must bring them from point A to B to C. Most writers will use that as an excuse to over write in so much detail the story become unreadable, so here’s this, too: 1. Get to the good stuff as fast as you can. 2. Most writers are too afraid to really bare their soul on the page, so their work isn’t as intense and immersing as it could be.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy So many because I’m always learning. My best advice is from myself as I’ve learned that life is short and not to waste time.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Go for it!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 You can’t heal yourself alone. Ask for help.

What makes you laugh or cry?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Everything.  One of the reasons my spouse was interested in me was he kept hearing me belly laugh to myself in a college computer lab.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) When I hear of injustice, of people being denied their rights.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Tickling makes me laugh. I cry when I see costumed characters.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Cute animals do both!

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I laugh and cry very easily, but what really hits me are those unique and anonymous experience that never happen twice, like hugging a homeless guy in the street, finding a pencil in the middle of a supermarket when I just needed to take a note in pencil.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Dogs.

What is your favorite food? Color? Song?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Cheese, green, and I haven’t picked one yet because mostly people want to know my favorite book.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Macaroni and Cheese, Purple, Imagine

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My favorite food right now is cheese, haha.  I love the color black, with blue as a close second.  My favorite song is a mashup of Light ’em Up and Radioactive.  It makes the perfect theme song for the Treasure Chronicles.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Pizza, Black, Right now I like “Get Up” from Shinedown

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Food is my homemade pasta, of course!!! Color = all of them. Song: Ella Fitzgerald “Bewitched…”.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman

Favourite food – Steak – particularly Scotch fillet.

Favourite Colour – Red and Black

Favourite Song – American Pie by Don Maclean

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Cheerios.  Blue.  Lonnie’s Lament by John Coltrane and You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen.

In a future where you no longer write, what would you do instead?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak[Glares at interviewer.]

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Surf.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I would teach. I’m currently a teacher; its what I’ve always wanted to do, other than write.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy That future doesn’t exist, I would always write. However, if you’re asking what I would do instead…I wanted to be an animator for Disney.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Audio books (lol).

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Sit in an urn on the fireplace.

See. Ordinary people. Nothing unique or odd about authors. We’re perfectly normal. Hehehe!


Thank you all for joining us for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Thanks to our author panel members for sticking with it and putting up with all my probing questions and reminders and fitting AtA into their busy lives for the last twelve weeks. They’re a great bunch of authors and I can’t thank them enough for sharing here.

This has been a great blog series and I think we put out a lot of useful information. I’m thinking of doing a Round 3 sometime next summer. If you enjoyed this series and would like to see more, please let me know in the comments.  Mention which panel members you enjoyed and why, to show appreciation for their efforts.

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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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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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Setting the Tone with Point of View, Tense, Narrative Distance and Voice

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Every story has a distinct tone. Some are light hearted, while others are grim, while still others are sad and heartbreaking. The tone of the story is created by a combination of elements: point of view, tense, narrative distance and voice. Today our Ask the Authors panel discusses how they use those elements to create the tone needed for each particular story. On our panel today, Dan Alatorre, DeAnna Knippling, RA Winter, Mark & Kym Todd, Tom Johnson, Jordan Elizabeth, Margareth Stewart, Mark Shaw, Cynthia Vespia, Lilly Rayman, and Amy Cecil. 

Tone is what determines the mood of the story. Is it a humorous story with a light, playful tone? Or are you aiming to create a dark story, with scary elements? Or perhaps a sense of mystery? The tone of the story doesn’t just occur on the page. It must be crafted with precision just like all the other elements of story, and the choices the author makes will determine if they are sucessful in achieving the desired tone, and if it is effective for the story.


Who is telling the story? There are basically four different points of view the story can be told from: first person (I), second person (you), third person limited (narrator with access to a single character’s view), or third person omnicient (narrator with access to the thoughts of multiple characters). 

Do you have a preference between first person, second person, third person limited and third person omniscient, or does it just depend on the story you are telling? What do you see as the advantages or disadvantages of each?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I prefer writing in first person because it forces you to pay attention as a storyteller. You don’t know what’s going on in a room you aren’t in. I also enjoy third person limited, because it’s fun to be different people instead of “I“ all the time. The big advantage is, they make you be disciplined. You’re much less likely to do head hopping in first person.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve dabbled in first person but I prefer third person, especially since I like telling multi-viewpoint stories. This way I can get in the heads of each character rather than one single character mindset as you do in first person.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy We have a definite preference for third-person limited POV. We like the distance it gives us (and readers) from the story and the opportunities for weaving in dramatic irony. We never use first-person because it’s too intimate for the kind of stories we tell – plus it makes it harder to surprise readers without resorting to what feels to us like storytelling gimmickry.

RA Winter

RA Winter  I always write in third person limited with a deep point of view.  It brings out each character’s quirks, reactions, fears etc adding depth to the story. As far as third-person omniscient, I don’t like the distance from the characters and it’s very hard to pull off properly.  First person point of view isn’t something I read for pleasure, so I’d never try to write in that niche.  I know that it is the ‘in’ way of writing, but for some reason it grates on my nerves.  I’ve noticed that the setting, descriptions, etc, usually lack in first-person stories and other characters aren’t as developed as they could be.  I’ve only written in the second person once as a writing prompt with a crit circle.  It was too hard to get into and not for me.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak If you’re going to lie to your audience or have an unreliable narrator, do it in first person.  I write in all three.  The second-person stories kind of require some kind of hypnotic element to them, one that you want the reader to be hyper aware of.  “I’m mind controlling you, see?  Mind controllling!”  Third person stories are for when you just want the reader to sink into the narrative with as much trust of the narrator as possible.  It’s one of those things where the way you write the story should reflect the content of your story.  The contents of my stories sometimes lead me into weird POVs.  I do like books where mixed POVs are used, too–try to imagine The Fifth Season without the POVs!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I prefer third person omniscient, that’s how I learned to write, and it has stuck with me throughout my writing career. I don’t find myself limited in scope.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart The easiest way to write is in the third person. The first person may get boring although I used that in a self-help book-guide I wrote while trying to avoid by all costs sounding egocentric. I also did some experimental writing on the second person. I tested it and it worked fine. It is a critical piece in which a subconscious voice dialogues with the main character while pointing out how she does not change her life, and keeps repeating the same mistakes. The narrative is dense in this short story called “Acid: a view from below”. I publish it for free at facebook.com/AuthorMargarethStewart. The main character is silent all the time, and the reason I used this technique was to lead people reading it to change their own. The silence holds the potential for change. My novels are all in the third person as that is the safest path. Nobody feels intimidated or bored with them and I recommend it for long novels and first-time authors.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan It all depends on the story I’m writing.  I usually stick with third person because I can explain more about what’s going on, but sometimes it just has to be told in first person.  The main character wants to tell it her way.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Depending on what I want to convey with my story, depends on whether I write in the first person, or whether I write in a third person omniscient point of view.
My Unexpected series is written in 3rd Omni – with a couple of 1st person mini scenes to add a little intrigue to what is actually happening as that character is an unknown entity at that point of the story.

I have other works in progress, or in anthologies that are written in 1st person, simply because I needed to have a more in-depth thought process for the character that I follow, for example “A Reluctant Roxana: An Unexpected Short Story – Dare to Shine: Anthology” – The anthology was to raise funds for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation – a young woman who was killed for looking different in the way she choose to dress. I wanted my character, Roxana, to have some deep internalising about how important it is to be who you are and comfortable in yourself. I felt a 1st person point of view allowed for that kind of in-depth writing, something that a 3rd person would be hard to pull off.

3rd person omniscient is a great style for a lot of character and action that would get too complicated for a 1st person to follow.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I used to write in third person, past tense, but now I prefer first person present tense.  I really don’t see any advantages other than I find it easier to write.

Have you ever written a story in one POV and then later rewritten it in a different POV to see if it worked better? Did it? Why or why not?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I started one story in one point of view and then rewrote it to change the point of view. I did it because I needed to be able to be multiple characters in the story, and I thought that worked best in third limited versus first. And it worked out really well because the story was a big hit.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Actually yes, twice. I started my Demon Hunter series in third person then decided to switch and tell it from a 1st person perspective because I wanted it to be Costa (my main character) telling his own story. When I started writing Lucky Sevens the opposite happened. I began with Luca “Lucky” Luchazi telling his story in 1st person and decided it didn’t work. So halfway through I switched to 3rd person and added in a multi-viewpoint approach. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to 1st person as its not as fun for me to write in.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy Sure. And it’s why we answered the above question like we did! We think we lived-and-learned from the experience.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak If I have, it’s been long ago that I don’t remember.  I’ve tried two different 3rd person tight POVs before, but not lately.  I tend to have pretty specific reasons why I pick a character and a voice before I sit down to write.
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, never, I stay with the form I’ve used from the start.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I haven’t done that yet, but I have taken a story told entirely from one POV and added in another chracter’s POV.  It made the story feel more well-rounded.

Most fiction is written in third person, allowing the author to define who their narrator is, and whether they are omniscient, having access to the thoughts and actions of all or at least several of the characters, or have access to the thoughts and ideas of one specific character. In the first person, the protagonist becomes the narrator and the story is told from a single point of view. The most prevalent example of this that comes to my mind is Hunger Games, and even though well done, there were places where the first person felt awkward.

Do you prefer to write in first or third person? Why? Or does it just depend on the story? How do you decide what POV to use?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Readers want to climb into your story and get lost in the fantasy. They don’t necessarily want to be the main character. That’s why third person is so appealing. However, certain types of stories lend themselves very well the first person. Humor, for example. Or when the author is intentionally messing with you. Ishmael was not the main character of Moby Dick; he was the narrator. He was a small player. I used that device in my book The Navigators to great effect; as you go along, you’re thinking the narrator is just a nice, quiet guy and all of a sudden you get surprise after surprise because he’s being surprised – and he pulls a few surprises. That makes it fun for me and the reader. Other books like Poggibonsi are written in first person because I wanted “you“ to be all these things and find yourself halfway through kind of rooting for the bad guy and then put yourself back out of it.

But I don’t like first person present tense. I do this, I do that. Can’t stand it. I like first person past tense: I went here, I went there – as if you’re sitting down at lunch or over a cocktail with somebody who is telling you their story. They are saying, then I did this, then I did that. First person present? I run, I jump – no thanks. I have read several books that are written that way and the first few chapters are almost impossible for me to get through. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me.

RA Winter

RA Winter My first draft is usually in present tense as I work my way through the story but I change it to past tense.  Present tense for me just doesn’t work and the voice becomes passive. I’ve also notice that while trying to write in the present tense that I will automatically switch tenses and that leads to reader confusion.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Depends on the story.  I like to mislead the reader, but I also like to be fair about it.  If you see me writing in the first person, you are 95% guaranteed an unreliable narrator.  I’d say that’s 100% for second person, and maybe 50% for third.  The third person narrators tend to be less unreliable, too.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Third person, always. I agree, first person can feel awkward at times, and I prefer to broaden the view, so to speak.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan While I’m brainstorming, I try out different ideas in my head.  One or the other will always stick, and the story starts playing out.  I’ll hear it in third person or first, and I just go with it.  I’ve only had to switch once.  GOAT CHILDREN was originally third person and my original editor had me change it to first person.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I use both first and third, depending entirely on what I am trying to get across to the reader.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Basically the answer to this is noted in all the questions above.  I prefer first person, because it is easier, but in some stories, I’m required to write differently because of the story or the particular character.

Seldom do you `see anything written in the second person, because it’s hard to do. This technique decreases the narrative distance between the reader and the character, because the reader is placed within the story in a way. Essentially the reader becomes the character, using ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘her’ or ‘him’. I tried it once, and it’s a very difficult thing to do well. It usually comes off feeling rather awkward.

Have you ever tried to write anything in second person? What did you find most challenging about it?

Dan Alatorre 

Alatorre I don’t mind writing things in second person, because it’s like anything else; you have to practice it for it not to be awkward. If you don’t like it or you’re not practiced at it, it will be awkward to write and therefore it will be awkward to read. If you work at it, it can be very smooth, and a very satisfying reading experience. I don’t prefer it, because I think the types of stories I tell work best in other deliveries.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy French authors pretty well worked second-person POV to death in the 50s and 60s, and there’s not much unturned earth left in this POV, so far as we’re concerned, within traditional narratives. So we’re content to let video games and choose-your-own-adventure stories keep this technique.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I feel like using second person increases, rather than decreases, the narrative distance. It’s begging the reader to scream, “Don’t tell me what to do!!!” I write a number of stories in the second person. What you have to do is give the reader a story that they’re feeling especially cynical about, something that they want to react to in a negative manner. If you write a story from a bad guy’s point of view as they justify themselves, then a second-person narrator can sometimes be very effective. Another technique is to address the story to a universal “you,” an impersonal “you” that the reader won’t take personally at all, much as in this paragraph that you read just now.

Also? If you’re going to write a choose-your-own-adventure type book, you have to do you. I love Ryan North’s To Be or Not To Be and Romeo And/Or Juliet.

A story can be told from a singular perspective in the first person or with a limited narrator, or it can be told through the eyes of multiple characters, with an omnicient narrator. Each has benefits and drawbacks. Multiple points of view offer the author more options as to how much to reveal to readers and open up opportunities for subplots to be played out more fully, whereas a single point of view can create a more focused story. Multiple POVs may be necessary when the reader needs information that the protagonist isn’t privy to. (Super hero comic books use this technique to increase tension, by making readers privy to the perils the victim to be saved faces if the hero is not sucessful.)

Do you prefer single or multiple POVs? Why?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre If you can have multiple, have multiple; it’s more fun. I prefer multiple POVs as far as what I write because it gives you the ability to get a scene to a very dramatic point and then jump away to a different story or a different person, in a different place. And then you build that story segment up to high point of drama and then jump back to the other story. If you do it right, people can’t stop turning the pages because they have to find out what’s going on with the other stories.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy We love third-person limited shifting. It’s our POV device of choice and probably why we usually write for ensemble casts. Little Greed Men uses 3p-limited-shifting in spades and by the story’s close, the characters each think they have the story figured out whereas only the reader knows what really happened – maybe.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Depends on the story.  I tend to revolve around a single POV, because I find sagas and epics to be kind of frustrating to read at times.  But I don’t worry too much about popping over to check in with another character now and then.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Single. Though I have used multiple POVs before, when I wanted my readers to see what was going on in both camps.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I love multiple POVs.  The story opens up in a new way when you explore other thoughts and feeling, and see the world through different eyes.  Plus, its fun to play around with split personalities! I realy have to force myself to write in first person if a story calls for that voice.

L Rayman It depends on the story I’m writing. If I’m writing in 1st person, I keep my story to one POV. When I’m writing in 3rd person omniscient, there tends to be multiple POV.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil It really depends on the story.  Some of my books are multiple POVs and some are single.  It just depends on the story I am telling what fits best.

When using multiple POVs, does each character get equal page time? Do you switch POVs within chapters, or on the chapter break?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Equal page time? No. Not a chance. You have stars and you have bit players. The stars get the limelight and the majority of the pages. Everybody else only gets as much as is absolutely required.

I will switch point of view within the chapter, at a chapter break, however often as needed. I’d do it midsentence if I could.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy We use additional page time with a given character as the way to signal to readers who our protagonist(s) is (are). But we also sometimes give extra page time to an antagonist – either to make characters hate them or else to make readers like them despite what the antagonist does. And we stand by the dictum that an antagonist is simply a character who opposes the intent of the protagonist. We never paint characters into villains for our stories – too simplistic for us.

As for POV shifts, we often change scenes to switch POVs within a chapter. It largely depends on whether or not it serves the story arc. Also, we love switching POV scenes with mini-cliffhangers. (We do it to keep readers from being able to go to bed.)

DeAnna Knippling

deannak NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO. The main character or the main narrator gets the most page time, period. Then again, I have to admit that I don’t write a lot of romance–that’s a situation where often (not always) the two main love interests get approximately equal page time. I’m fine reading that. But I generally loathe the “rotating POVs of calculated fairness” book structure. That one thing that I’ve been in suspense to read for the last four chapters? I no longer care. Book, meet wall on other side of the room.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Always in scene breaks, not necessarily chapter breaks, though. We must have a clear break in the scene if we switch POVs.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan It depends on the progress of the story.  I never decide when the POV will switch.  As I’m writing, the other character sneaks up on me, demanding his/her turn.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Depends on the story and its flow. I try to keep to individual chapters where I can. Usually though, its my characters that dictate to me their story and how it should go.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Not always.  I usually switch POVs at the beginning of a chapter, but in some instances, its important to add the alternate POV within the same paragraph.

One of my pet peeves is head hopping, switching back and forth from one character’s head to another without clear indication to the reader.

How do you indicate to readers that a switch in POV has occurred?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t think I mind head hopping as much as a lot of other people. That’s kind of like people who drink beer AND wine versus people who ONLY drink wine (and then the people who can only drink robust read deep with lots of tannins… ) Head hopping is usually a writer making a mistake. It often lessens the reading enjoyment for the reader. If you’re not writing for an audience, then it doesn’t matter, but if you have an audience that’s going to pay money for the show, they need to get their money’s worth. Most of them won’t feel they did if you head hop. Of those who don’t mind, I think they won’t feel the story is as good as it could’ve been, even if they can’t articulate why.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Oh boy head hopping really bothers me too! I try never to do that and the way I make sure is to start a new chapter whenever I want to switch a character, or at least put in an obvious break in the current chapter so you know it’s a different character POV.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy We agree with you, Kaye. We hate head-hoppers. We feel like it’s a cop-out and the resort for lack of craft control. To shift POV we use the time-honored convention that ellipses mean one or more of three things: change of POV, change of place, or change of time. Most readers intuit this just fine, and we’ve never had complaints from fans.

RA Winter

RA Winter Most of the time I change chapters for different POV’s.  However, if the scene isn’t finished and there is another character who could add a different depth, stakes, or a call to action for a character, I use a scene break symbol, a *** in the middle of the page.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I don’t do it often, but sometimes that’s just how it has to go.  I pull back on the POV depth on character one, so you might be inside their head or outside of the their head, then switch over to the second character’s POV, again at a very light depth.  I only add a personal, internal POV to the second character if I have to, too.
Nettie felt that she would never be able to understand her cousin Matthew.  She flipped several pages as the candlelight flickered.
Matthew walked around the outside of the room.  To see him, you would never know that he was suffering.  A black despair always fell over him at this time of year, at the memory of his wife.
Nettie said, “Would you like me to read to you?”
“Yes, please.  What are you reading?”
She paged back to the beginning of the story, considering whether the story was an appropriate one for the moment, or not.
–Like that.  We hopped from Nettie to Matthew and back again.  Neither POV is all that rich with observation, but sometimes you have to at least suggest what’s going on in the other character’s head so the reader doesn’t misinterpret the subtext.  But I’m still new enough at being able to do it that I just about have a panic attack every time I have to try to pull it off.
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I won’t ever jump from head to head with POVs. It might work in comic books, though.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I break up the screen, making it clear that the previous scene is over, or I start a new chapter.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman As an omniscient writer, it can be hard to strike the right balance between an omniscient pov and a head hopper. My chapters might follow one particular character for the duration of that chapter, with a touch of another character’s perspective, but, I’ve never had any complaints, and a really good editor is a god-send to pull up any head hopping moments. I try to provide clear indication within the first sentence or two as to which character is the main lead for that chapter.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I use a heading with their name on it.

 

How close are we to the story? Do you want your reader to feel as if they are at a distance, watching the story unfold or do you want them to be right up in the action. Each approach has a different effect. You must be careful not to distance readers so much that they loose interest, yet there are times, such as when your character needs to remain unaware of certain aspects of the story, when you may not want them to be right in the thick of things. This can be manipulated through the narrator, using past or present tense, or through voice.

How much narrative distance do you like to give for your readers?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t know what that is, so I’m gonna say none. * Looks it up. * If it means what I think it means, how much space you allow between your reader and your story, the answer remains the same. None. I want them immersed up to their eyeballs, unable to stop reading, unable to put the book down, and their hearts broken when they have to close the book and after the ending and leave these people they have come to love. If a character gets cut, I want the reader to bleed. I want the reader so close, they feel the killer’s breath on their neck.

RA Winter

RA Winter I start each chapter with setting the scene to orientate the reader. This is done by a more distant narrative, but as soon as possible I draw readers into the character by delving deeper inside the scene and the motivations behind the actions. I want the reader to be inside the story, know where they are in time and place, what’s going on, the motivation, the stakes, the hidden agendas. Each character’s action should be clear and logical with the scene painted in- to add depth to the story. A deeper POV has the pull to bring a story to life.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I try to suck the reader in as much as possible.  Even if they aren’t exactly like the narrator, I want them to feel the same emotions and sensations, and hopefully identify some part of themselves in the main character.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Whatever is required for the story as it flows along.

I recently read Webs of Perception, by Darlene Quinn, (you can read my review this Friday, October 19). Darlene used the first person POV for her main character, but used third person for the multple POVs used in her story. The character had amnesia, so in a way, it was what made the story work, but I had never seen this done before and found it an interesting technique.

When using multiple POVs, have you ever used multiple narrator’s voices in the same story? Was it difficult to make that work? Why?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Sure. I did this in The Navigators. It was first person as the narrator, but whenever the narrator wasn’t present in a scene, it was third person limited. It works fine. I think one or two reviews mentioned it, but they didn’t ask for a refund so I guess it wasn’t that bad.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy It can be a useful exercise, we suppose. But we find this sort of POV slight-of-hand a bit gimmicky. By its very nature, first-person is the most intimate but also the trickiest since readers have to learn to trust the author when getting so close to a character. And switching POV modes feels heavy-handed, more flash than substance in most instances. Our stories are already as complicated as we want them to be.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Eh, I’ve seen it done and I’m fine reading it, but when I do that kind of thing, it’s a prologue in third and the rest of the book in first.  The prologue sets up the crime for the rest of the book, and then the rest of the book is the investigation by the (unreliable narrator) detective.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Third person throughout the story, I never change this format.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I haven’t done that exactly, but PATH TO OLD TALBOT  is written in first and third person for the same main character.  When Charity is adventuring in Old Talbot, the story is in third person.  She’s detached from the emotional trauma of real life and just living in the moment.  When she’s in the present dealing with her father, the story is told in first person, showing all of her hurt.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Only on occasion has I slipped a scene or two in for characters POV in first person when the rest of the story has been written in third person. This has been a deliberate choice when planting in certain little plot bunnies to tease at the reader until it all comes together at the end.

We are taught to use an active voice, leaving passive ‘to be’ verbs like ‘were’ or ‘had been’ by the wayside. It’s difficult to write in an active voice when the story is in the past tense yet, using the Hunger Games example, being first person, present tense may have been the reason it was awkward at times. (I think first person, past tense may be a little easier.)

Do you prefer to write in past or present tense? Why?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre  I prefer to write in past tense only because the vocabulary is much more limited in present tense. When you start thinking about your verb usage, there’s about 10 times as many when you use past tense – and people are more used to telling things that way, therefore they are more used to hearing things that way. But it’s all personal preference. If your story kicks butt in first person present tense, then stick with it.

As far as active or passive, I really don’t worry about it too much. There’s so much going on in my story, and the characters are so lively and the dialogue is so engaging, I could probably use all the passive verbs I want and nobody would care. The simple fact is, words are like paint strokes on a painting, and you dip into whichever one is going to suit your purpose best for that section.

Once you know how to write an engaging story, you get to choose which types of words you need to deliver it best. When you were learning to drive a car, it was all you could do to keep the car on the road. Now you drive with one knee while you’re eating a cheeseburger and talking on the cell phone. You don’t even think about it. That comes with practice. Hone your craft. And there’s something else I notice a lot, which is: the really great storytellers don’t pay that much attention to the rules because they’re telling great stories. A great story hides a lot of sins.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I prefer present. To me it feels more active, like the story is unfolding right now in front of the reader.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy Almost exclusively in past tense. We use dramatic present very sparingly and only when we want a sense of suspenseful immediacy for a short burst.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I hate present tense for fiction.  I find it comes across as breathless and melodramatic, especially in YA fiction.  That being said, if a story needs a breathless tone of voice, I’ll use present.  I’ll complain about it to myself the entire time.  Why, subconscious, why?!?

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I prefer to write in the past tense, but I use lots of dialogue and that is all in the present. Writing in active voice is also a great choice as it makes narratives direct and straightforward. Thus, the writing narrative is kept clean and clear avoiding redundancy and lack of objectiveness. We should use words as precious things and avoid using them merely to fill in the blank space or getting into details that make no difference to the story. So, my tip is: “write as you were opening fields in the jungle with your words, cut, chop and do not get stuck if things are not perfect, move forward and take the reader with you – on top of all that – enjoy the journey.”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I prefer past tense.  It flows better for me.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I tend to write in the past tense when in 3rd person POV, this feels more comforatble to me. Yet I slip into present tense when writing in the 1st person. Although, I have written 1st person in past tense as well.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Present tense.  I find it easier.

How do you avoid the use passive voice in your writing? Or do you?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I write such awesome stuff, nobody’d notice if I used a passive verb. They might even be grateful I let them catch their breath.

Seriously, I don’t worry about “avoiding” using the passive voice, because I’ve just realized that most people don’t write stories that are engaging enough, so the passive voice weighs the story down. If the story is engaging and the characters are lively and the dialogue is witty, some passive voice here and there isn’t going to hurt anything. I don’t worry about using it. I don’t use it much, but I wouldn’t worry about using it at all. If a reader sees it and notices – not an editor, but a regular reader – then your story sucks anyway. Write great stories and you can do whatever you want – and nobody will care. Here’s a great example. Star Wars didn’t win best picture. Critics said it was a space cowboy movie. But it changed our whole culture. A great story makes its own rules.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Editing…lol.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy Simple, we never use it. Passive only has two functions – 1) when you don’t know who the subject is (e.g., the initial JFK headline “The President has been shot” and no one knew at the time the name of the assassin), but in fiction, we know such info already and can control such revelations in other ways; and 2) when you don’t want to reveal who the subject is. In the latter case, we always construct other storytelling strategies to avoid revealing identity.

RA Winter

RA Winter Crit cycles.  My writing undergoes numerous drafts.   There are between seven and eight critters who comb over my writing at every stage and thankfully they stay with me until the end.  My editor helps with the development of my story and is a  huge help at with every draft, I don’t know what I’d do without her expertise and input.  Each crit brings another depth to the story and every draft focuses on one aspect including passive voice.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I don’t.  The use of passive voice in writing is often a necessary element.  Breaking rules is something that writers get to do when it provides a specific benefit to the reader.  I spent a lot more time breaking long, convoluted sentences into smaller parts so they’re more readable.  That’s my sin.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Oh, passive voice is easy. When I went to school we learned all about verbs and adverbs, and how to use them, past tense and future tense, etc. That’s what learning was all about. Only now do we find out that passive voice and “ly”s are not wanted. I’ve got an idea our language is even changing as I write this. Soon we may be replacing “you” with “u” and other single letters replacing words. Who knows what writing will be like in thirty years – or fifty, or a hundred years from now? I’m reminded of writers in the 1930s and ‘40s that wrote for a penny a word, and had to fill their stories with adjectives and verbs to make a living. It was called purple prose back then, and if you could sneak a “had been” in there for an extra two cents, you did it. Cowboys didn’t just turn and draw their revolver; they turned quickly and drew their six-shooter lightning fast. Anyway, it was all about words, and how many you could get in a sentence.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Spell check finds a lot of it!  I always send my stories by multiple critique partners to make sure nothing slips by.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I guess plenty of re-reads and editing rounds to make sure the passive voice is weeded out if it does make an appearance!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I rely on my editor to fix that.


Writing fiction and nonfiction have many similarities, but in the case of nonfiction, true life stories, such as those that author and panel member Mark Shaw writes, the story determines the tone, so the above questions don’t really apply. Yet each of Mark’s works carry a distinctive voice and tone. So, I asked Mark how he decides which elements of voice to use and what tone to take in his story telling.

In the nofiction that you write, you tell the stories of others. In The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, you took a third person investigative approach, in Courage in the Face of Evil, you took a different approach, telling the story from Vera’s POV, and in Beneath the Mask of Holiness, you told the story in third person as a narrator. In each of these cases your story telling skill was spot on. If told in a different way, it wouldn’t have been the same story. How do you choose the right voice in which to tell your stories? 

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Regarding “voice” and the storytelling method utilized, three of my books illustrated different methods of doing so. In Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair that Set Him Free, I chose to be the narrator, the guide to telling the story of how late in life the famous monk finally found true love through an affair with a student nurse half his age. While doing so, however, I wove into the story excerpts from his diary so that his “voice” was apparent to the reader as he expressed strong emotions about the love affair and what it meant to him, most important of course.
In Courage in the Face of Evil, based on a true story as captured from a Holocaust diary, I told the story through the main character Vera’s voice since I wanted readers to learn of the horrors of the Holocaust with a firsthand account as she wrote it in the diary. This also permitted the inspirational aspect of the story to come forward, the part where she trusts a German prison guard whom she hated to help her save the life of a little Russian girl who would have been killed otherwise. Vera’s own words indicate her courage and permit the reader to become emotionally involved in the book start to finish.
In both The Reporter Who Knew Too Much about Dorothy Kilgallen and the upcoming follow-up book, Denial of Justice (Nov. 20), I tell the story as the narrator, but weave in as much of Dorothy’s own words in her columns and what she said to others about how she was investigating the JFK assassination. Using as many images of Dorothy and never-before-exposed government documents, I enhance the story and provide the reader with the path Dorothy took to learn the truth just as prosecutor would do for a jury. Once again, though, the key to TRWKTM becoming a bestseller with hopes Denial of Justice will just as successful, is that the story touches reader’s emotions by their bonding with the famous reporter who did not receive justice when she mysteriously died in 1965. Many readers have told me they grew to respect and love Dorothy, emotions on their end that warm my heart.

It seems the story itself, determines the number of POVs used, and what tense it is told in, and sometimes a change in POV can make a world of difference as to how the story comes comes out and what tone is set. Finding the right tone can be the difference between a really great story and a mediocre one. Although fiction is different from nonfiction in many ways, you can see from Mark Shaw’s answers on nonfiction how important finding the right view point and voice is to the story.
Most of our panel members avoid headhopping, although a few find it useful at times and make a purposeful effort to do it well, when they do use it. Also, in most cases, narrative distance is close and personal, drawing the reader right into the thick of the story. Although I felt second person might distance the reader, DeAnna Knippling feels it brings them in closer, decreasing their narrative distance from the story. I suppose it might depend on how well it is done.
Most of our panel members give much credit to editors, critique partners and beta readers to help weed out passive voice and accidental head hops. I think it really helps to get additional sets of eyes on our work. One technique that I have used that works very well to find these errors as well as others, and helps you to know if the tone is that desired is reading your story aloud. This helps in knowing if the flow is smooth as well. You don’t even have to have someone to read to, although you can and then you have an additional opinion, but I’ve read it aloud to myself or even to my dog. (He’s a good listener, but he doesn’t give a lot of feedback. Lol.)
That’s it for this week. I hope you all will join us next Monday, when our panel members will discuss character development. 

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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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