The key to any successful story is balance. I found a great article on narration and show vs tell. This article has some great information on how to bring your readers closer to your characters and closer to your story. She gives examples of distance and closeness, which I think are wonderful. New writers and seasoned writers make these mistakes that are so easy to fix. Continue reading “Monday Madness – October”
Have you heard of Huckleberry Finn? He’s been an unforgettable character since 1884. Memorable characters are what make stories great. They feel like real people, making the reader care about what happens to them.
You can have an engaging plot, cool stuff that happens, and tons of conflict, but if you don’t have a great character the readers can care about, your story is lacking. Love them or hate them, readers want to care about your characters.
Make Your Characters Jump Off the Page
For the characters to pull the reader into the story, they need to feel like real people. Your characters need to be three-dimensional with a personality, a past, a family, secrets, a job, friends, and hopes and dreams. A good way to do this is to answer these four basic questions:
- Who are they?
- What do they want?
- What’s standing in the way?
- What’s the worst that could happen if they don’t get it?
Once you figure these out, you can move forward in making them feel more like real people. Add motivations, coping mechanisms, values, and flaws. Real people are flawed. Your characters should be too.
10 Tips to Create Memorable Fictional Characters
There is no perfect way to create a memorable character for your story. I searched high and low for the one thing that would make my characters feel like real people that jump off the page and grab the reader by the collar. I didn’t find one way; I found hundreds. The top ten are:
- A good name. Naming your characters is important. You want them to have a name your readers will identify with, one that’s easy to pronounce, and that fits the time and setting of your story.
- Physical description. Even though we all like to read about good looking people, no one is perfect. Everyone has a lock of hair that won’t fall the right way or a scar or a badly placed mole they hate. Give your characters a physical flaw they don’t like about themselves. Introducing your characters’ descriptions can be tricky, so I wrote an article on how to maintain the POV with character descriptions. Inserting large chunks of your characters’ appearance is a death sentence to the pace and flow of a story.
- Goals, needs, and desires. Readers care about characters who want something and have to overcome conflict to get it.
- Actions speak louder than words. As you go through your day, pick a few situations and put your character in them. How would they react? What would they say? What action do they take to achieve their goal? How do they treat the people around them? How do the other characters in the story treat them and behave around them?
- Give your good guy some traits readers can love. Readers like characters who:
- are modest
- keep their promises
- have goals they can sympathize with
- have a strong moral compass to keep them from crossing the line, but are not immune to breaking the rules
- have fears they can overcome
- Give your bad guys some traits readers can hate. If they dislike your villain, they care what happens to them. Readers dislike characters who:
- are unreliable
- don’t care when they break promises
- are selfish
- panic under pressure
- tell lies
Keep in mind that good characters who are too good, bad characters who are too bad, and pretty characters who are too attractive are boring.
- A contradiction. Give your characters contradictions. Even good guys who are always nice, going out of their way to put others first, are sometimes rude and short-tempered. Even bad guys have something redeeming about them – maybe they take good care of their mother or they take-in stray cats.
- Dialogue. The way a character speaks can show a lot about them. Do they have an accent? How do they phrase things? Dialogue can be used to give backstory, describe a setting, and give your character’s emotion.
- Conflict. Realistic characters with problems will make your readers care about them more. A three-dimensional character has inner and external conflicts, things that prevent them from reaching their goals and living their dream. Fears, their past, family, a disability, current events, and other characters are all good fodder for conflict.
- A secret. Everyone has a secret. Give your character a secret to create drama.
Bring Your Characters to Life
It’s the little things in life that make us human. What we do when we are nervous, happy, angry and how those emotions make us feel. Some people fiddle with their clothing, smooth their hair, talk with their hands, and tons of other actions. So should your character. Not every move they make, that’s overkill. A couple of sentences here and there, sprinkled throughout the scene helps the readers see the characters as real people.
The Five Senses
Creating fictional characters the readers will care about depends on how close you let us get. Using emotion, thoughts, and the five senses brings us closer, creating a character we can care about.
Whiskers strolled into the room. His meow echoed through the empty space, and he bumped Sally’s elbow. She smiled at his subtle, time-honored hint to scratch behind his ears. He pressed his soft, furry head into her hand, and the tension of the day washed out of her.
When Sally smiles, it brings us closer to her because only she knows why. The addition of, “He pressed his soft, furry head into her hand, and the tension of the day washed out of her.” brought us closer still with touch and emotion.
Creating memorable characters helps them withstands the test of time. When your characters feel like they could live down the street, invite you for a beer, or break into your house, readers will feel emotional about them.
Here is another great article on Joanna Penn’s site, The Creative Penn about making your characters feel more real.
A profile worksheet is extremely helpful in fleshing out your characters and making them three-dimensional. I have two different profile worksheets on my Creating Characters tab.
Marketing is the number one tool for reaching readers. Readers equal customers. Without marketing, who will know you have a book for sale? Gone are the days when you did your job and wrote the story, and the publisher did their job and promoted it.
In today’s publishing world, the author does a good deal, or all, of their own marketing and promotion. Publishers and agents want to know that you are invested in your own success, that you are willing and able to help promote your book.
Getting the Word Out
The day has finally arrived. You’re ready to start submitting to agents and publishers, or you are about to hit send and self-publish your book. Take a moment to consider how you want to present your story to the world. Terms like “brand” and “social media platform” are the new kids on the block, and if you want to sell copies of your book, you should get to know them.
Don’t panic. You’re an artist. You too can create a brand and run a social media platform with the investment of time. Once you get set up, it only takes a few moments to post something to social media. In the scope of how many moments are in a day, what’s ten minutes worth to promote yourself, your brand and your product?
What the Heck Is an Author Brand?
A brand is a name or an image that separates one product from another. Kellogg’s, Cheetos, and Coca-Cola are brands. The instant you see the name or logo, you know exactly who they are and what they sell. Stephen King is a brand. John Grisham is a brand. When you see their name, you know the type of story you will get, and you trust they will deliver a certain level of quality.
People buy a brand because they trust it. Your brand is more than a product; it’s an attitude. The romance genre as a brand means readers will get a hot, half-naked man on the cover most of the time. Everything about the romance brand says, sexy, romantic, love… Customers like to identify and connect with a brand, which is why romance is the number one selling genre. Most people want to be sexy and find love. Creating an author brand for your work will help you stand out from the rest of the pack. It can make you instantly recognizable.
I want to be branded. Pun intended. I fell in love with the concept, and I had to have an author brand. One, overall vibe that linked everything about my services, my writing, and eventually my publications with one easy to remember… Slogan? Name? Concept?
I had no idea what my brand should be. I asked friends within the industry a lot of questions and boiled all the information down into two easy ways to create an author brand.
- What name will you use as an author? Keep it simple. You want a name that is easy to remember and catchy, one that people who know you by, will identify you with. You can use your own name or a pseudonym. I wanted to incorporate my real name; it’s catchy on its own. I went to my personal Facebook and asked for ideas on a brand name. George Wells came up with verysherryterry. Eureka! Simple, easy to remember and catchy all in one.
- Use a good photo of yourself. Readers like to see what their favorite author looks like. If you don’t want to use a photo of yourself, the laws on using stock photos for a brand image are long and complicated. Basically, you cannot use a stock photo for a brand image. You can go to Fiverr, where for the starting price of $5 you can hire someone to design a logo or your entire brand. Or, you can take a photo of something you like, something that represents your work.
I use my brand image for profile pictures on social media, my blog and eventually my publications. When you see anything verysherryterry, you see the photograph I took.
The DIY Brand Image
Do you want to represent a genre like romance, mystery, young adult, or horror? Do you want to have something that represents your favorite things, like flowers, racing cars, or a sunset? Whatever image you use will represent you, the author, as a brand. I write romance and erotica, so I wanted my branding to represent that genre.
But how? I wasn’t about to pose half-naked for pictures. I don’t know anyone who would let me take pictures of their naked torso or a silhouette of their female form with pearls and spiked heels. I wanted the image to be elegantly sexy. An image I could do myself, one that says romance, power, seduction, and scandal.
I appealed to my friends on Facebook again, and ideas were tossed around. Someone said, “Old paper with writing.” Eureka! The skeleton key was borrowed, I bought the pen at an antique store and found everything else at Walmart. Because I’m not a great photographer, I took about 350 pictures to get two that were usable. Another vote on Facebook, and voilà.
Using Your Brand
Once you have your brand set up, it’s time to start marketing yourself. Nothing is written in stone. There are no set rules to follow, and there is no single way to create a successful, powerful brand. In my opinion, you should have at least one social media profile set up before you query the traditional way or self-publish. Kristen Lamb did a great blog on how to make your brand memorable and powerful. The Secret to a Powerful Author Brand I agree with everything she has to say in her blog post.
Social Media Platform: Nightmare or Sales Bonanza?
There are many ways to market yourself and your stories. Social media is here to stay, and it’s proven to be the best way to reach the most customers. Best of all, it’s free. You can set up several social media profiles for the low, low cost of – time. If you want to impress a publisher or agent, or if you are self-publishing, you should seriously consider joining the 21st century by creating a social media presence. You don’t need to sign up for them all. Do a little research and pick two or three that fit you. For those of you who like things a little more technical, I found this cheat sheet.
I use these social media platforms, for now.
Facebook – This is probably one of the easiest to set up and use. I set up my author/brand Facebook profile for Very Sherry Terry. Much later, it was brought to my attention that people with names that did not sound real, were having their accounts locked. Ain’t nobody got time for that, so I changed it to V Sherry Terry. I invited my friends, family, and co-workers.
I joined writing related Facebook groups that interested me, and from there gained several hundred friends pretty fast. Facebook offers choices of people you might know and want to friend. I ask to friend several a month from that list. The more friends you have, the more people see when you promote your book. The friends you have on Facebook can share your posts, which allows all of their friends to see it. You can set up a personal profile, start groups, and create a fan page.
Twitter – Another easy to use social media site is Twitter. It’s a lot like Facebook, where you add followers and people follow you. You can like and share tweets, and other tweeters can like and share yours. This differs from other sites in the respect you only have 280 characters to work with. Figuring out what you want to say with only 280 characters is a good way to be creative.
Hashtags link you to topics of interest. You put a pound sign, (#) and start typing without spaces. You want to know more about cooking, funny dogs or maybe a cause you support? Type #funnydogs and everyone else watching that will see you. Click on #cooking, and you see everyone else.
I enjoy Twitter more than other social media. By using hashtags, I’ve put myself before millions of people. For example, I enjoy live tweeting with my favorite TV shows. There is usually always a celebrity on the show live tweeting as well. I try to add a touch of sarcasm and some humor and gush how much I love the show. Depending on how popular the program is, I get the most follows, likes and re-tweets when I post, “Sit down! Shut up! #TheWalkingDead is on.” Everyone else watching the live tweets see me, which means if I catch their interest, they may follow me. In a few short weeks on Twitter, I have gained a few celebrity followers who in turn have millions of people following them. See the circle?
Some popular hashtags for authors are:
Goodreads – This is a good place to showcase your books and offer them for sale to potential readers. Follow authors you like, join groups, find good books to read and recommend. You can get reviews and readers who in turn can recommend your books to their friends and followers.
Blogging – You can set up a free blog and choose from a variety of themes at WordPress.com. They have tutorials, and it’s fairly easy to navigate. You think up stuff to say and post it. You can talk about anything you want; your writing, the birds, the bees, the bee’s knees… When you publish a book, this is a great place to showcase it.
Everyone with something to sell needs marketing. No one, other than friends and family, will be able to find you if you do not promote yourself. No one has the perfect plan, but staying active on your social media is important. I post something every day on my Facebook and Twitter. I interact with others by liking, sharing, and re-twitting things that catch my interest.