Tag Archive | author tips

What To Do If Your Characters Won’t Talk To You

Or do they talk too much?

 

Is there a “right” way to communicate with your characters?

I pondered this question late one night when I couldn’t sleep (the places a mind can go at three in the morning!). The topic was on my mind due to a Facebook discussion, where an author was concerned she had a problem because her characters wouldn’t “talk” to her. She had heard other authors say they had regular and vivid conversations with their characters, and she felt left out because she didn’t.

Many in the responses assured her she wasn’t doing anything wrong. Several authors, myself included, said their characters don’t communicate with them like disembodied entities. The consensus at the end of the thread was, like most aspects of writing, there’s no one right way. How your characters communicate with you is part of your writing process, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Whose Head Is This?

Personally, my characters don’t talk to me, they talk through me. I do a rough character sketch before I begin writing a story, but the characters, whether main or secondary, reveal themselves to me as I write. They don’t get inside my head, but I get inside theirs. When I am writing in a character’s POV, I am that character. I inhabit their mind, see what they see, feel what they feel. I think that is why I am able to write in deep point of view, and also why I can’t stand “head hopping” (alternating POV in the same scene). It may also be why I write slower than some writers, because it takes time to get into, and out of, character. The only downside is, when I write from the POV of an antagonist who is psychologically messed up, or a villain type, it sometimes creeps me out and takes a while to recover!

My reviews have cited “a wealth of character development” and now I know why. I didn’t even realize that I was, so to speak, “inhabiting” my characters until I thought about how other authors communicate with theirs.

Characters Are Crucial

Characters and their motivations, quirks, and personalities are extremely important in fiction. No matter what genre you write, character development is what makes the reader care about what is happening plot-wise. Some genres have more emphasis on character development and interaction than others, but knowing your characters is crucial for all fiction.
So, what can you do if they aren’t jabbering?

Here’s a few tips I have heard about getting to know your characters:

Write a character sketch– it can be a few paragraphs, a list, or a dossier. Some writers swear by this, and it helps them to know what food the character likes, what astrological sign they are, what happened to them when they were six, etc. Much of the information may not be used in the story, but serves as background, which helps to develop the character’s motivations and quirks.

Interview your characters– pretend you’re a journalist or a psychologist, and grill them with questions. Many writers find this helps when they are stuck, to ask the character what he/she wants to happen.

Try deep POV– even if you are not writing your story that way. Really get inside your character’s mind, and figure out why they behave the way they do. Writing a scene or two, which you may or may not use, can trigger you to discover aspects about that character you were missing.

Map it out– use a structural template, such as Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, or something similar, to map out your character’s development and arc. Sometimes breaking it down like that can trigger all sorts of ideas and provide insight into the character’s psychological makeup.

Brainstorm- talk it out with another author or a trusted beta reader. If you feel disconnected or blocked from a character, talking it through with someone else can also trigger understanding. Sometimes just voicing your concerns out loud can make the character more “real” and you can gain insight into what they want or should do in your story.

The bottom line is, there is no one right way to communicate with your characters. Whether they are noisy or quiet, how they get the story through you and onto the page is highly personal and individual. While it is a good idea to try new methods, don’t compare yourself to other writers. If your way makes you comfortable and works for you, bravo!

Do your characters talk to you? What’s your process for finding out what they are all about?

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Author Growing Pains

attractive woman with laptop having neck pain

Building your Author platform is an essential part of an author’s career these days, and I’m beginning to believe that it will always be a work in progress. It’s not something you “set and forget”, is it?  Social media accounts must be tended, followers cultivated, and your website must be managed. And don’t forget to blog regularly, promote your next book, and then send out a dazzling newsletter! No one tells you when you are starting out how many tasks you’ll have to juggle on a regular basis, and it’s always evolving.

Building Your Platform

There are many websites, blogs, and online courses with helpful instruction on how to perform many of these tasks, but there is no one way or perfect method to handle the various duties that come with being an author in today’s world. We each have to find our own path. I have found networking with other authors to be the best source of information on how to find the right vendors and to learn what the best practices are for building and managing an author platform. If you see something that’s working for someone else, you can ask questions before you try it.

But even with all that advice available, it sometimes comes down to trial and error, and that’s where the growing pains may be. You may find, as I did, there are trade-offs, times when you have to compromise in order to make things work the way you want them to.

Making All It Work…Somehow

I recently set up my author website, and I’m happy with it.  But my trade off was having to move my blog, and in the process I lost a few followers. So if you followed Renee Regent’s Blog on WordPress, you can still see my posts at http://reneeregent.com. Click the Blog tab, then the Archived Blog Posts tab to see my previous posts. Or get to them directly by https://reneeregent.wordpress.com. The Current Blog tab will take you to my most recent post, and there is a place to sign up so you can get my posts by email, if you like. I have some exciting posts coming up, even a guest poster or two, so stay tuned!

The good news is my new website has much better Search Engine Optimization, and I’m gaining new followers as a result.

My point is this─you have to be flexible sometimes. My new website has a newsletter, my blog, and a place to advertise my upcoming books. For me, the price was right and it came with assistance I needed to set up and maintain it. I was reluctant to change from the blogging platform I had, but was unable to find a way to make it work the way I wanted it to.

Juggling Act

As I progress toward my first book launch, I’m learning other things, too. Like how to use Canva for promotional material; how to set up an author page and put my books on Goodreads; and what happens on promotional blog tours. I’ve set up my Author page on Facebook, and even started using Instagram.

So. Many. Things!

And likely it will never end. That’s a lot to juggle, and I hear it gets worse (busier) after you’re published. Yikes! But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  How about you?

How are you getting it all done?

How To Survive A Negative Critique

Grrrrr.......

Grrrrr…….

You’ve finally finished that first draft. Congratulations! After months or even years of work, you’re ready to allow another set of eyes to read your precious words. You know it’s not perfect, and will likely need revision. But you’ve read it over and over, tweaked it and revised it, and now you need feedback in order to take your WIP or, Work In Progress, to the next level.
Test Drive Your Work
Finishing a first draft of a novel is a big accomplishment, but it’s only the beginning of your project’s journey. Having someone, and ideally, several people, read your draft and provide feedback is the logical next step whether you plan to self-publish or submit your manuscript for publication. There is only so much the creator of a story can see, and what is on the page may limited or confusing to a reader. Think of it as a test drive for your novel, before it goes out on the open road.
Have your significant other or family and friends read it, if you want, but in most cases their feedback will not yield the kind of constructive criticism you need to improve your work. The relationships color their feedback, and it may be overly positive or overly critical, or even benign, depending on the dynamics. It may be actually easier to take criticism (until you have developed a thick skin) from professionals (such as editors) or colleagues (critique partners), because of the distance and limited relationship.
Once you get the feedback from whoever has read your manuscript, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Even if they are a professional, it is only their opinion. You should consider all feedback, but it does not mean you have to use every single suggestion.
Look for trends or commonalities in the feedback. If a certain word, sentence or scene bothered several people, it needs to be addressed.
Read all comments or notes, but don’t try to fix anything right away. Let it marinate for a few days if possible.
Thank everyone who gave you feedback either in person or via email or message. Taking time out to read and give feedback is a kind thing to do for someone and takes effort.

 

The Down Side
But what if the feedback was mostly negative?
The first thing you should do is allow yourself to react. Politely thank everyone, as stated above, and then go somewhere alone to vent. Feeling hurt? It’s normal. Angry? Also normal. Allow yourself to work through all the emotions. You were brave and put yourself out there, and now someone has stomped on your dreams! Cry, yell, draw rude pictures of your critique partners and throw darts at them. Write a letter explaining why they are wrong, and then burn it or rip it up. Get all the bad feelings out before talking to anyone about how the feedback made you feel.
Then let it go for a few days. Your ego is bruised and sore, so let it heal. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the hurtful critique was spot on or off base. It doesn’t matter if you think you can fix it or not. All that matters is gaining some perspective about your work, and restoring your confidence.
Learning Curve
Writers feel things more deeply than most people; that’s often what prompts them to write in the first place. It’s a great thing to be emotional when creating, but editing and revision is a totally different skill set. It takes practice to turn off the emotional side and look at your work objectively, as others do. So venting after a disappointing critique or review may help to get you back in balance so you can be objective about the feedback.
The bottom line is, it’s your story, and you must ultimately decide how to use the feedback, positive or negative. Sometimes it’s just the reader’s personal preferences filtering their comments. The more you write and get feedback, the more discerning you will be at accepting/rejecting and using feedback.
Then you can polish that baby till it shines, and unleash it on the world!
And then there will be reviews, but that’s a whole other subject…