In the best books, we really get to know the characters. We see ourselves in these fictional beings. We see our own hopes, dreams, sorrows and struggles. Identifying with characters is often the difference between a good book and a great book.
Do you contemplate? Do you contemplate write and wrong? Do you dwell on your choices (especially your mistakes) and rehash them in your mind over and over again? I do. People I converse with regularly do.
Does your character?
I think therefore I am.” –René Descartes
If you character doesn’t ever take a moment to delve into the depths of his/her own mind, can a reader ever really feel that character is real? I would answer no. For you character to be real your character should think.
Identifying scenes where characters should think
As you write/revise your novel, you can both find places where your character should think as well as find places where you character is thinking but probably shouldn’t be. If you find a place where thinking just feels wrong, but you have written it in, or it feels like your character should have a thinking moment but it is absent, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the character making an important choice? (Especially if the decisions has moral implications.)
If your character is going choose between a burger and fries, or a chicken sandwich and a salad, you better stop inundating the reader with useless paragraphs of careful contemplation about lunch because the reader won’t care. (Unless your character is struggling with obesity and a food addiction.)
The choice must be important!
If your book is a romance novel and the character has to choose to between two love interest, you might have a whole chapter of thoughts, contemplation, and memories before the reveal.
If your character is a aged dragon that has hated humanity for his entire life, but now finds a reason to join forces with a human, there better be some soul searching in there.
If your character is about to step in and give their life to save someone he/she hates because it is the right thing to do, there better be some awesome moment of mental enlightenment leading the character to be certain he/she is doing what is right.
- Is the character facing the results of one of his/her decisions?
You know when you’ve made the wrong choice and you think about it for a day or a week, or possibly you are still thinking about it thirty years later? Well, that probably should be happening to your characters in your book. If a character makes a choice and it affects him/her, then he better think about this choice. It better eat at him/her and dominate his/her thoughts. Otherwise, he/she is not acting like a real person. Your character needs to be real.
- Is the character witnessing something new and awe inspiring?
I have a scene where Jake’s eyes are suddenly enhanced and he can see Kendra’s spirit. And he goes off into thought:
Seeing her spirit somehow seemed important to me. There was doubt in the world . . .
Being able to see the life-force, the spirit if you will, of all things around you fits the awe inspiring test. I didn’t know at the time that I was wrote that, that I was properly placing a contemplative moment where it belongs. This scene just came naturally.
Some other examples.
If the character crests the peak of a mountain and has a view of the world?
If the character does something for the first time, some act bigger than the character has ever done before.
- Is the character about to knowingly risk their life in an action/fight scene?
Have you ever noticed that a lot of characters seem to hesitation before a fight. They think about it. They contemplate whether they will live through it. Whether they will survive and if their death is worth it. If their death wouldn’t be worth it but they have no other choice and they are risking their life, don’t they worry about how everything they’ve striven for could come to a sudden end and their lives would be for naught? If you character doesn’t do this, then the reader is going to have a hard time believing your character is real.
- Did the character just experience death or near death?
After either a near death experience or someone close to us dying, we all think about our life, our family, our friends. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. We wouldn’t be real. OK, if you main character is an android, maybe not contemplating would make sense. Otherwise, contemplate.
- Did the character just experience a wake up call
A wake-up call is similar to a near death experience except it might not involve death. The prime example is betrayal. For example, if a wife decides to surprise her working-late husband with dinner and find him in his office doing some naked hugging with the secretary, the wife is going to experience a wake-up call. She might find her love replaced with hate. She might wonder if her hate is evil or OK in this situation. She might delve into her memories and wonder if his cheating was her fault in anyway? She’ll wonder if she drove him to it. Whether a good or evil character, she’ll likely consider killing him, and contemplate how to get away with it. Of course, if evil, she might actually follow through on her plan, while if she is good, she will quickly dismiss that thought and start contemplating warnings signs in her marriage that she may have missed.
Yes, there are many forms of betrayal. After a betrayal is made known, there better be some contemplation.
- Is is some mundane thing that just frustrates the character
We all experience the mundane things in life. If a character in your book never experiences them, then the reader is going to sense something is off and have a hard time identifying with the character.
Imagine if your character is in a life or death rush and must pick up an item from a store, but on arriving at that store, find the store has just re-organized their isles and everything is in a different place. Would your character not contemplate why fate or the universe picked that day of all days for the store to reorganize it shelves? Probably.
In Fire Light, Jake twice is affected by road construction. He has to deal with being almost eighteen and not yet having his driver’s license. He has to deal with all his friends having cell-phones except him.
If the mundane is missing, and if his mental frustration and contemplation of such frustration is missing, the reader’s connection to that character will be missing as well.
- Does the character even have time to think?
If you wouldn’t have time to think in a certain situation, neither should your character.
Earlier I mentioned that there is a usually some thought that goes on before knowingly charging into a life or death situation. But little thought happens during the action scene.
Also, when a person encounters a life or death situation unexpectedly, there is no time for thought. If your character steps around a corner and unexpectedly gets smashed in the face by a mugger with a rock and all she can do is curl up in a ball and protect her head and vitals as he beats her senseless before taking her purse, then there better not be much thinking. (However, afterwards, she better do some contemplating because she may have just experiences a near death situation, right?)
If your characters are in the middle of a sword or gun fight, they are going to be acting on instincts. There will be little thought. At most you can get away with a sentence or two of thought about how to win or about noticing a flaw in the antagonist.
Identifying what characters should contemplate about
OK, if you don’t know what your character should be thinking about at a particular moment, then you probably need to flush our your character some more.
- What are your character’s priorities?
- Who are the most important people to your character?
- Why is the character contemplating?
- What is at stake in a given scene or the scene the character knows is coming?
If you still don’t know after answering those questions, then your probably should hang up your pen (or keyboard) and get a different career.
Some of the best and most meaning book quotes come from character contemplation. If you want your book to be the best, then have plenty of it, but make sure it is where it belongs. Missing moments contemplation and misplaced moments of contemplation can both be unwanted reminders to the reader that your story isn’t real; barriers to the reader connecting with your character and your story.
As you write or make another pass on your novel, look for the following:
- Find a place in your writing where a contemplative moment is missing. Answer the questions above first, then write it in.
- Find a place in your writing where a contemplative moment is there but doesn’t belong. Why doesn’t it belong?
- Find a place in your writing where your character is contemplating, but contemplating about the wrong things. What should the character be thinking? Fix it.
- Go to an awe inspiring moment in your novel. Does your character properly contemplate?
- Go to a moment in your novel before the knowingly character chooses to risk their life (or their heart or something similarly important). Does the character properly contemplate?
Have you ever noticed that characters in book often seem to be overly queasy. It seems that if you are a main character in a book you suffer from some kind of stomach disorder because every little thing can make you throw up.
The ability to suspend disbelief is extremely important for an author. The greater ability you have to lead the reader into a deeper level of suspended disbelief (which means the reader is really getting into the story), the more successful your novel will be.
When reading a book, if a character throws up, my mind immediately does a check to see if throwing up is really a likely reaction. If not, my disbelief in your story is increased. Your goal is to suspend my disbelief, not increase it. Basically, we all have an internal B.S. meter.
Here is a check list that pretty much represents my B.S. meter for a character throwing up:
- Is the character sick or drunk or physically compromised in some way? Sick, drunk, spinning, etc…
- Is the character experiences something that overwhelms her senses:
- Sight: Is the character experience blood/scene of death/etc. for the first time?
- Smell: Is the smell so strong it causes a gag reflex, or is smell coupled with another sense (such as sight).
- Touch: Usually touching something gross isn’t enough unless it is all over you and smell is involved too.
- Taste: Gag reflex
- Sound: Almost never causes throwing up.
- Did the character just experience an immensely overwhelming experience that is so horrific they will have a psychosomatic reaction? Even if a character is experiencing this, it pretty much has to be the first time:
- For example, the new detective might throw up at the scene of his first murder, but never again. Main characters grow from this experience. They get stronger and it doesn’t happen again.
- It is the result of a build up of consecutive occurrences. A character has one experience that makes them queasy, then another, then another.
- The character is most likely a side character and getting queasy is their character trait. You maybe could pull it off with a main character but it would be tough.
- For example, a side character, Lisa, a forensics analysts always throws up at a murder scene. Something different always sets her off to the point that the other detectives actually place bets on how long after she arrives until she throws up.
If your character is throwing up, and it doesn’t involve something like this, then I don’t believe it.
I don’t actually ask myself all those questions. Those questions are already answered, or not, by the story when the throwing up occurs.
At first, I didn’t think I had a character throwing up in Fire Light. But then I remembered that I did. Kendra throws up. In this scene, Kendra, Jake, and Alexis’s minds are joined and they experience each other’s thoughts and memories in real time.
More of her memories flooded into me, and in less than a second, I witnessed every single time her grandfather had raped her himself or gifted her to others.
Lexy’s shame rolled into me like an ocean, mixing with the nausea coming from Kendra, who had also just experienced the same revolting memories. I heard Kendra emptying her stomach next to me. The stench of half-digested pizza mixed into the air that already stunk with burned vampires, blood, and gunpowder. If throwing up were a possibility for me, I’d have done it too. My body wanted to do something—anything—to rid itself of the evil that writhed just under my skin.
According to my B.S. meter, this is acceptable. It doesn’t just match one of the above, it matches multiple. because it matches both #2 and #3. She she’s horrific images in her mind. The experience is immensely overwhelming. And it is a first time for this experience. It also might match the build up, because, well, she just experiences a lot of blood and gore, too, and was likely already queasy, though I never mention that. I probably could have and maybe should have mentioned that.
Have fun writing and please, do your best to avoid throwing up.
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It is time that authors realize that publishers are no longer what they once were. Why?
- Good editors are everywhere and cost $2000 or less.
- Good book cover designers are everywhere and cost $500 or less.
- Good print layout designer are $500 or less.
- Good publicist/marketer is $500 a month ($6k a year). Some, not all authors, can afford this on their own.
- Distribution is easy. Now distribution is done online through all the stores I just mentioned. The last remaining distribution channels that publishers have are brick and mortar stores (which are declining) and libraries, which are now including the ability to checkout eBooks, even from indie authors.
So publishers are realizing that their only remaining values are these:
- One time upfront cash infusion (cost of editor/cover/print layout)
- They can send an email to their large contact list.
- Writers can focus on writing and someone else does the publicist/marketing work for them
- A sense of quality from a book.
These are all just services that anyone can pay for.
Why would any author give up 80% to 90% of lifetime profits for nothing more than a one time service? Hire your own editor, your own cover artist and your publicist. You pay $9k and you own 100% of your work. You get %70 from all eBook sales.
If an author builds their own contact list, then #2 is canceled out. That means all a publisher is anymore is one time service and a monthly publicist/marketing service.
The final feature, quality, is not going to last. Indie authors can write with quality. Editors that once worked for publishing agencies can still work for indie authors. Check out this certificate of quality available to indie authors: http://scififantasyreaders.com/services/certificate-of-quality. Pretty soon, there were be more indies following these quality standards. What will be left of the publishers? If they don’t change and adapt, they will all go out of business and only their names in the books they once printed will remain.
So how can a publisher adapt? For starters, they can realize that they are really just a service. They don’t provide as much value as they used to, so they should take as much value. Instead of taking %80 to %90 of an authors work, they should invert the percentages and only take %10 to %20 percent. Or they can change their contracts so the author makes more overtime. Maybe year one they publisher gets %80. But each year the author gets %3 of that until the publisher is down to 10%, where they remain for life. There are many possible new contract options that fit the new market better. But the current contract options aren’t dead to everyone except the most famous authors. And for the most famous authors, now that you are famous, you realize you can drop your publisher and you will get %70 of all profits of your next book.
Even if Big Publishers adapt, they might not make it. In this day and age, a group of authors could band together and form the equivalent of a publishing company. Shared editors, shared publicists. Publishers may find that adapting isn’t enough. They may still be doomed to be nothing more than services companies.
Goodbye old traditional publishers and hello new service-based publishers!
Despite what Hachette believes, Amazon is not a monopoly. They might be a large market share holder for book and eBook sales, but Amazon has competition:
- Google Play Books
Anytime, I want, I can change my novel selling focus from Amazon to focus on any of these other companies. So where is the monopoly?
The problem is that Amazon is doing a better job overall than all their competitors. Each has a few features better than Amazon’s but for now, Amazon is winning. They are selling close to 90% of the eBooks. I am not sure about the print book percentages. They are also doing a great job for the small press and indie authors. Sure there is room for improvement, but overall, I am quite content with them.
Is Amazon using monopoly like tactics? No. They aren’t doing anything that any other company wouldn’t do. Other companies are using DRM for eBooks. If you buy eBooks through Amazon’s competitors, you are pretty much locked into using the competitors app to get that book. Though Fire Light is marked as DRM free because I am not a DRM fan, but that is another story.
Hachette claims it is being bullied. Not true. They are being negotiated hard, sure; but bullied, no. Amazon is making plenty of money off of many authors. Their dealings with Hachette is not bullying. It is simply business.
Besides, were the big publishers not using bullying tactics to keep many authors out? They often wouldn’t even talk to new authors unless they signed with an agent first. They created barriers to authors, stifling thousands of small authors and preventing them from thriving and growing. Amazon broke the mold and broke the big publishers’ exclusive model. Now anyone can publish. Sure there is now a near endless vat of writing out there, but don’t worry, just like in a deep vat of milk, the cream will rise to the top.
So let’s be honest here. Amazon is no more shrewd in their business than Hachette has been in theirs.
Hachette, are you and other publishers not signing exclusivity deals with Amazon to bully the small press and independent authors? Why is it that big publishers can put a book on Amazon months before it releases and allow for pre-ordering but small press and independent authors cannot? Are such negotiations and practices by you and other big publishers not acts that “fix” the market in your favor?
Just because Amazon is a big distributor, does not mean Amazon is required to sign a contact with Hachette. Why should Amazon add books that will make Amazon less money? Amazon is not a free open distribution channel. Amazon is a business and is in the business to make money. In what business does it make sense to sign a contact to make less money?
Let’s put this into perspective. Let’s say YOU are a company. YOU sell cars. If YOU sold Bob’s cars, you make $10k a car. If YOU sold John’s cars, you make $8K a car. Which cars are you going to promote and sell? John will go out of business if they can’t get find a way for YOU to make $10k a car. So, Hachette, the same applies to you. If you can’t find a way for Amazon to make the same money they are making on other books, then you are going to go out of business. End of story (at least your story).
This is not bullying, it is just life. Go out of business or adapt and deal with the new publishing world!
So I wanted to get some low cost bookmarks from VistaPrint but I couldn’t find any bookmarks. I checked another site and it was over $100 for 1000 two-sided bookmarks. I feel like it should be about half that.
It seems Vista Print should be able to do this cheaper but they don’t have a Bookmark option.
Well, I found a way to get way more for my money. Rack Cards. You can print 1000 Rack Cards for $130. Here is the money saving difference. Rack cards are about twice as wide as a bookmark and just over two inches taller.
So I created this template you see on the right.
Download it in either psd, png, pdn, or pdf.
What this template gives you is two tall bookmarks and two short bookmarks. So that is 2,000 bookmarks for the same cost other sites charge for 1000 bookmarks. But you also get 2,000 short bookmarks. If you punched a hole in them and added a string, they are short bookmarks. If you left them as they are, they are pass-along cards.
The only problem you have to solve is cutting them. Stop by your local library and they may have a cutter for free. If not, go to your local print shop and get them cut. They might charge a few bucks to cut them, which should be just fine since you are saving money as it is.
What do you think?
I wrote Fire Light in first person. Honestly, in my first draft, I never described my main character. My awesome editor, Sarah Bylund, pointed this out to me. Describing your character is not required. In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the main character, Anne Elliot is never described. However, I felt like my character Jake needed to be described. Aspects in my story required it.
Description Methods You Should Avoid
The Mirror Scene
When describing your point of view character, don’t do the mirror scene. I remember doing that cliche scene in one of my early stories. Hey, I was sixteen, so lay off!
The Info Dump
An info dump of one or more paragraphs where all you due is describe the main character.
How I Described My Main Character in Fire Light
Here is what I did, let me know if you as a reader or fellow writer like this idea:
I made a list of the physical descriptions of my main character Jake:
- 6’1″ tall
- Strong/with muscles
- Tan skin
- Brown eyes
- Brown hair
Now find places in the novel, usually in chapters one and two, to put this information in without doing an info dump.
I used two methods heavily.
- Character contrasting
Showing means you don’t tell someone, you show them. Let me give you some examples:
“And ten,” Luiz said as he grabbed the bench press bar I was holding and guided it to the rack. “Wow! Three sets of ten at two-twenty-five. Jake, your muscles must be on Miracle-Gro,” Luiz declared. “If you don’t feel sore mañana, then you’re not normal. Some government agency is going to lock you up for some pokin’ and proddin’.”
What did this scene show? It showed that Jake has big muscles, he can lift a lot of weight. Notice, I never say: “Jake is strong with big muscles.” That would be a boring telling sentence.
You also use a simple gesture. Something the character does. Look at this:
I sat up and brushed my sweaty brown hair out of my eyes.
How simple was that. Jake is lifting weights, so naturally his hair is sweaty. All I have to do is throw the “brown” color in and the reader now finds out Jake’s hair color in a showing sentence. Hey, I didn’t realize until just now, but since Jake’s hair is in his eyes, we get sense for how long his hair is, too.
Jake also has to change out of his sweating tank top and put on a t-shirt. So I use this action to slip in some descriptions. When you do this, make it short and make it flow.
“Hey, you want to play Xbox at my house?” I asked as I stripped off my sweaty tank top, exposing my tan, muscular chest.
The t-shirt stretched over my chest and felt a little tighter than I remembered. I’d been putting on muscle fast this summer.
You might be thinking, did he just repeat a description? Don’t we already know Jake is muscular? Yes, but because it isn’t an info dump, and it flows with the story, it is OK to remind the reader multiple times. As long as it flows and doesn’t interrupt the pacing and action, repeated description can be helpful.
Character contrasting is the act of describing the point of view character by contrasting them with another character that you are describing. Contrasting the point of view character to a newly introduced character is simple and effective. Each time you introduce a new character, you have this opportunity. What is awesome about this method is that it is easy and it is never cliche. You can do it over and over again in different novels.
Here is a first chapter scene, where Jake protects a sophomore from a bully.
He sure was little, even for a sophomore. He reminded me of myself a few years ago. He had brown hair like mine and the same thin and frail-looking body I had had until just before my freshman year. I wasn’t frail anymore.
Notice that don’t describe Jake much, but we learn this new character is little and frail-looking. We learn he shares Jake’s brown hair. We also learn that Jake isn’t frail anymore. Now look at the last line: “I wasn’t frail anymore.” Do you see how powerful of a line that is for describing Jake?
Next we introduce Luiz.
“Luiz was about five-ten, three inches shorter than me.”
Reader is now aware that Jake is 6’1″. This is character contrasting at its most basic form.
I never stop the story and describe my main character. I never do the cliche mirror scene. I never do an info dump of how my main character’s looks. Yet, I fit it all in with the flow of the story.
What do you think?
- Practice the technique described in this article in you story.
2. Cliches are not always as bad as people think they are. You hear over and over again to avoid cliches and yet sometimes there is a reason something is done often. Is it cliche to use a hammer on a nail. Wouldn’t it be more unique to use a wrench? No, it wouldn’t. Use the hammer! The same can often be said about some cliches in writing. It may be the right tool for the job, so use it.
Break the cliche. How could you use the mirror scene without being cliche? Give it a try.
I have an promotional post running on Fantasy and Sci-Fi Rock My World’s fan page. They have 300,000 subscribers. The more likes and comments and shares I get the more people the post will go to.