Monday, November 26, 2012

Your Characters - Get to Know Them!

Do you talk to your characters? Really get to know them? You should.
Keith Kreager stops by with a very interesting take on knowing your characters.

How well do you know your characters?

I bumped into Chloe Horton the other day when I was picking up a plunger at CVS. Chloe is one of the main characters from my soon-to-be-finished novel, and she looked exactly as I thought she would: maybe five feet tall, long, brown dreadlocks, big, green eyes. She wore a backwards DC cap and had a couple Mountain Dews tucked under her arm. I got a quick whiff of cigarettes and perspiration as she passed.
“Chloe,” I said, “it is so nice to meet you.”
“Hey,” she replied. (I knew she would say that.)
“I’m so sorry for all the stuff I’ve put you through. I know I’ve been kind of tough on you at times.”
She shrugged and set her sodas down. She eyed the cigarette display behind the counter and then counted the change in her hand.
“Listen,” I said, “can I maybe take you to lunch? I want to thank you for all you’ve done, and I’m just so tickled that we bumped into each other. Do you like Mexican?”
She gave a wad of coins to the cashier and gathered up her Mountain Dews. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “You never told me.”


I didn’t really meet Chloe at the drug store, nor did I buy a plunger. I did, however, realize that there is quite a bit I don’t know about her. Does she enjoy Mexican food? What is her favorite color? Does she own a dog? Maybe a more important question: do these types of details matter?

I tend to be a very functional writer, almost too functional at times. Characters are tools, I would tell myself, and their purpose is to advance the plot. While there is some truth in these words, I have discovered the hard way that characters are much more than tools. Their words, actions, and characteristics move the story along, but those characteristics must be interesting and real.

I’ve been working on my book for a little over three years, and I thought I was close to finishing. Two of my sisters-in-law read it last summer, and each gave me similar feedback: I like the plot, I like the way things move, but I feel like I don’t know your characters. WHAT?!

After I un-friended them both on Facebook (I grudgingly added them back a few days later), I sat down and thought about my characters. My readers don’t know them. How well do I know them? Are they people, with lives and problems, or are they a bunch of cardboard cutouts?

My challenge was to give my characters some depth, put a little flesh on their bones. So…just add a few random characteristics, maybe? Chloe wears Channel No. 5 and is engaged to a British prince. She and her family hunt bison, sell the meat, and donate the proceeds to PETA. Is that enough? Do these details make sense? Who should I ask?

I did some searches and found an interesting article by Tina Morgan. If you want to know your characters better, she said, then you should talk to them. Interview your characters, and find out what makes them unique.

The first step is to answer some background questions about each character. Next, go through a series of probing interview questions with them. Finally, compare the answers with what you already know. Are the answers consistent with their personality? Did the interview reveal some things you didn’t know?

Here is part of my interview with Chloe:

Where do I find this person when the interview begins?
I find Chloe at a skateboard park in suburban Detroit. She is wearing a GreenDay t-shirt that is ripped in a few places, and she smells like the perfume counter at Macy’s. She kicks the end of her board and catches it in her left hand.

Do you like your job? Why or why not?
“It’s OK, I guess. I work at The Bean Press in Ann Arbor, but I’d rather be outside, skating.

“I get to drink a lot of coffee, which I like, but sometimes it gets pretty busy and there are lots of things to do. Too much to do. I like seeing the people, though. That’s my favorite part. There’s the morning regulars – older guys, mostly, and then the younger crowd comes in after school. The old guys are nice. Most of them tell me I should ‘fix’ my hair. I just smile and tell them that I’ll think about it.”

What is your idea of success?
“Just getting through the day, you know? My parents, we never talked about college or anything like that. My dad…he doesn’t like me much, and my mom does whatever he says. I’d like to go to college someday, I guess. I don’t know if that would make me successful, though. I don’t think about the future very much. Having a place to sleep every night is success in my book.”

What do you hate?
(Eyes well with tears.) “I…hate that my dad…doesn’t accept me. I’m a lesbian. Not sure if I mentioned that before, and he just…can’t accept that. He wants me to…be different, you know? Not be myself. I just wish that he…could love me. Not even for who I am, but just love me.”

What do you do in your spare time?
(Wipes her eyes and laughs.) “Skate! My friends and I spend every day in the summer at the skate park. I love it! I love being outside, picking up speed. I like going to concerts and clubs sometimes, too, but this is what I love to do.”

What did you have for breakfast?
“Um…I think I had some toast. Bread, really. The toaster is broken. Some coffee. I took a few beans from work. That really got me going today.”

These questions helped me to gain some good ‘Chloe insights’. I knew quite a bit already:
- She works at a coffee house.
- She loves skateboarding.
- She lives a very ‘day-to-day’ existence.

Some of the more subtle stuff did not occur to me at first, though.
- Chloe is a very sensitive, perceptive person, and there are times she almost knows what people are thinking. This characteristic is very important, and I use this to advance the story.
- She can be shy, and in spite of her memorable appearance, she sometimes disappears in a crowd. I use this as a baseline for Chloe, and I then move her through some changes throughout the story.
- She survives by avoiding conflict. Whether the regulars at the coffee house are making snide comments about her hair, or she’s dealing with her overbearing father, Chloe survives by not making waves. This skill has served her well, although it has also been a barrier to intimacy. This changes when she meets Maria.

I’ve interviewed most of my main characters, and this has really helped me to gain some important insights. The trick now is to weave this newfound depth into the story in a meaningful way.

If you would like to find out more about the character interviewing process, please visit the Fiction Factor website. A link is below.


Chloe and I went our separate ways a few minutes later. Being the enabler that I am, I loaned her a few dollars for cigarettes, along with my Visa card and the keys to my wife’s new Ford Focus. As Chloe drove away, I told myself that we would meet again. I’ll make sure to ask her about Mexican food next time, and I’m positive she’ll know the answer.

A little about me:
When I’m not writing or spending time with my family, I play video games like a fiend. Time permitting, I go to the office and keep the email flowing. I’m a big fan of Google +, I got married on Halloween, and I can still play “Stairway to Heaven” on the guitar.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Marketing 101

Today, Shen Hart, the prolific and unstoppable force behind Literary Plus, joins us to talk about a subject near and dear to all of our hearts.


Marketing 101

Hello all, I'm Shen Hart. I am the founder and leader of Literary+ and also an Indie Authorial Agent.
Today I am here to give you a bit of an overview of marketing and how to market your self-published book via social media and the internet.

I’d like to start at the very beginning, there is no point in putting your time and effort into a well constructed marketing campaign if your final product isn't up to par. This may seem obvious but it has to be said. To give you a brief overview of what I consider to be a good quality final product I'll pull apart the things which made me pick up the book I am currently reading. This is a book I have absolutely no professional affiliation with. I posted on Google+ asking for book recommendations, the author gave me his elevator pitch and a link I then proceeded to buy it because it looked good. I won't deny that I am a very fussy reader but that's for another post, another time.

The book in question is Hexcommunicated by Rafael Chandler.

First impressions count. In the case of books the very first impression a potential author is likely to get of your book is that of your cover and the title. Is your cover good quality? Does it give an idea of the contents? Here you can see that the author has brought in a professional and the investment will no doubt pay off (if it hasn't already). The title caught my interest too.
Once you have brought the reader onto your books page you have to grab them with the blurb. You all know how this works so I won't go into too much detail. Make sure it's sharp, interesting and free of grammatical errors and typos! In the case of this book Rafael actually used his elevator pitch instead which goes something like this:
A vampire, a werewolf, a few hundred zombies, and terrorists who deploy Lovecraftian WMDs. The vampire is a federal agent who likes fried chicken and cold beer. He's just learned that he's going to die in 8 hours.

Finally the writing itself needs to be the very best it can be. I have lost count of the number of books I have walked away from because they were horribly written. I don't mean just personal taste here, I mean stupid grammatical errors and other things you shouldn't have in your work. I’d highly recommend you bring in a professional editor but again, that's for another post another time.

Now that you have the very best product you can possibly put out there, you need to make sure the world knows about. First things first, who are your target audience? There is after all no point in trying to marketing a gory horror to fans of soft romance. I'll use Hexcommunicated again as it's already right there. This is a contemporary fantasy, it's fast paced and action packed. It is then logical to say that the target audience is people who enjoy contemporary fantasy, perhaps softer thrillers, you may be able to use the vampire card as well due to the main character.

Once you have your target audience figured out you need to think like them. What is it which makes them enjoy that particular set of characteristics within a book? Which boxes does your book tick and how does it do it better than the other similar books on the market? You have to play to your strengths. There's a place for brutal honesty and negativity, this isn't it. With this book there's a small range of people and points of appeal there. This means we can implement a broader spectrum of language usage and bait. For example, we could appeal to the vampire lovers. For those we would use focus on the main character, how he's a new take on the old vampire myth and something very different to the Twilight sparkly wannabes.

You now have some ideas about your target and how you're going to pique their interest. What now? This is where you need to get a little creative. Don't use spam. Just do not go there. An advert for your book on social media once in a while is perfectly acceptable if you hit the right tone and keep it t a lower frequency. It soon becomes white noise and irritates people though, don't become one of those people. To keep things simple we'll follow the vampire lover route for the moment. Google+ is my primary base so I'll use that as an example. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, Google+ is about fostering discussion, debate and interaction. This is absolutely fantastic for authors. Interaction and engagement are really important and will help get your name out there. Word of mouth is after all the best form of marketing.

Sticking with the vampire idea, use that to spark discussion. You could bring up something about mythology on vampires around the world, the differences and how it has changed over the centuries. Bring in people who are interested in that particular archetype, talk to them about why they love it so much. Don't shove your book down people's necks, you want them to come to you. Make sure that you have easy to access links to your book on your profile and it's clear that you have written it. When people get curious about you they will go and look. Once they have become used to your presence and are happy to talk about those topics you can gauge an appropriate time to casually and politely mention your book.

Let's break this down into the key points:

Produce a very good quality book. There's a lot of competition out there.

Make sure you know your target audience.

Do NOT spam!

Interact, engage, and be polite.

You can find me on Google+ here:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

This week, Sofia Essen has graced us with a guest post. It's hard to imagine taking the steps she has taken. I would love to visit some of these places, but to pick up and move there? There's no other way to say it... it takes balls. Enjoy!

Island Inspiration

If you were to ask me where I get the inspiration to write from, I would without a doubt say it comes from living in Crete. The idiosyncrasies of the island provide plenty of inspiration and ideas for characters and stories to write. Just finding a place to live was quite the adventure when I moved here almost four years ago.

What Real Estate Agents in Crete call a “Renovator’s Dream” is a homeowner’s nightmare in reality. A “Fixer Upper’s Delight” is far from delightful unless you have limitless funds to allocate to the endless amount of fixing up it requires. And a “Bargain Villa” is more often than not a ruin without a roof and indoor plumbing.

Here on the island, Real Estate Agents prey on hapless summer vacationers who pause to gawk at glossy photos of “Authentic Greek Houses” pasted to their office windows. The Agents paint a charming picture of living simply in traditional villages, making it sound idyllic and stress-free. They even suggest the hapless vacationers can do a lot of renovation by themselves – any fool can learn how to mix up a batch of plaster, can’t they?

I’m embarrassed to admit I was once such a hapless vacationer, charmed by the island and a well-practiced tale of tranquil living. I fell in love with a beautiful wreck of a house. And I was indeed convinced I possessed previously dormant carpentry skills. Oh yes, I was almost certain I was one of those people who can build you a shopping mall if you hand them nothing but a length of rope and a Q-tip.

Let’s suffice it to say I was quickly brought back to earth with a resounding thud when I fell off a ladder while trying to change a light bulb… so I hired a contractor.

Three days before Mr. Manolis, my contractor, was supposed to begin turning my ruin into a habitable dwelling, I came home from a jog on the beach to find a three-man crew lined up in my driveway.

“Hello,” I puffed. “Are you starting today? Did I get the date wrong?”

The three men looked at each other, shrugged, and then stared blankly back at me. I took a moment to catch my breath and regain my equilibrium before asking the same questions in Greek. They looked at each other and shrugged again before staring down at the ground this time.

“Okay,” I sighed. “No Greek.”

The almost scarily tall and scarecrow thin man on the left shook his head.

“And no English,” I stated needlessly.

The considerably shorter and much wider man in the middle nodded.

“Italiano?” I tried.

The average height man of normal weight on the right cleared his throat and said, “Bulgaria.”

“Great,” I muttered. “Just great.”

I began the process of opening my very warped wooden front door. I had to unlock it, back up and get a running start, and then throw myself against it in order to open it up wide enough to let me and the three Bulgarians into my hallway. Out of breath again from the battle with my door, I headed to my study to call Mr. Manolis. After having called his cell phone a dozen times, paged him and called his office just as many, and finally talked to his wife who had no idea where or how to reach him, I gave up. I returned to the crew of three who were shuffling aimlessly around the hallway and said, “You can go.”

“Go?” they parroted in comical unison.

“Yes.” I pointed at the open door. “Go.”

I watched in silence as the three of them whispered to each other for several minutes. Finally, the human beanstalk said, “Okay. Go.”

I smiled in relief. “Good. Thank you.”

I went back to my study and booted up my laptop. Just as I was about to settle at my desk with a hot cup of coffee, an earsplitting creak followed by a thud sent me bolting back into the hallway where I found Larry, Curly and Moe standing in a gaping hole where my massive wooden door hung only minutes earlier.

“What?” I gasped. “What did you do?”

The vertically challenged and rotund barrel-like man grinned in triumph, gave the front door that was now laying on the floor a kick with his booted foot, and said, “Go!”

Now, almost four years later, I've sold the house to another tourist with more optimism than sense... and I'm nearly fluent in Bulgarian. ***



Facebook page:!/essentially.sofia


Amazon Link:

Sofia Essen » What do you do when you get dumped, fired, and turn thirty in a single unfortunate week? You book the last available ticket on the next plane to Greece. Or at least that’s what the normally unadventurous Anna Cox does in a moment of uncharacteristic spontaneity. Visit the Greek island of Crete through the pages of Sofia Essen's novel Change of Pace… but first, take a look around this website to learn a little more about the novel and its author.

Sofia Essen spent twenty years as an expatriate in Southeast Asia and the Middle East before moving to the island of Crete in Greece. Living in Crete is what made Sofia pick up a pen and start writing. She was sitting in a cafĂ© in a small Cretan village one afternoon, watching a couple of tourists desperately trying and failing miserably to order a cup of coffee, and said to herself, “This place would be a great setting for a book.”

Change of Pace is Sofia's first novel. All royalty payments from the sales of the book are donated directly to PETA.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Editor's Note: Hurricane Sandy knocked out the power of yours truly for a bunch of days. This post was supposed to appear on Halloween, Oct. 31. A.M. Jenner has posted it elsewhere, 'cause I couldn't do it. Kind enough to let me repost it, A.M. has allowed it to appear here today. Your welcome...

Cover Art

Last stop on my international blog tour, New York State. Thanks so much to JD Savage for hosting me; it’s good to be here.

My friend Paul Carroll recently posted on my blog about the technical aspects to creating cover art for novels. He did a very good job, so I'm not going to cover that part of creating cover art.

I read an article which shared the different aspects of what writers and marketers feel cover art should be. The writer wants the cover art to include specific details from the novel. They want to tell the story of the entire novel in one single photograph. To the writer, it’s extremely important that the details be exact. If the heroine has red hair and green eyes, the cover model had better match! As I read through this part of the article, I found my head nodding. "Exactly! This is what covers are all about", I thought.

Then I got into the second half of the article, explaining what marketers feel about cover art. Apparently, the purpose of cover art is not to tell the story. In fact, if the ratio is "a picture is worth a thousand words", then it would take a hundred pictures to express the content of most fantasy novels.

The cover of a book has four purposes: to identify the author, to give the title, to give the genre, and to get the browser in the bookstore to pick the book up and turn it over to read the description on the back. In online bookstores, clicking the link to go to the books page is the equivalent of picking it up and turning it over to read the back.

Identifying the author and giving the title are obvious. There have to be words on the cover with the author's name and the book's title.

Identifying the genre of the book is not something readers think about. However, both the font chosen for the author name and title, as well as the style of picture, identify the genre on a subconscious level. For example, if a book cover has an old-west wanted poster font, and a picture of a man with his horse, the reader automatically identifies the book as a Western and is either interested or dismissive depending on their opinion of Westerns.

Books with starfield backgrounds and planets floating in them are automatically categorized as science fiction, while anything with a dragon, or a large sword is usually a fantasy. A man and woman either caressing or gazing into one another's eyes is obviously a romance, and in many cases the steaminess level of the romance can be determined by how much clothing the woman is or is not wearing on the cover. Finally, the hardest element to include is creating in the reader the desire to pick the book up and turn it over. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is by making the cover pose a question to the reader.

The front cover of my novel Deadly Gamble shows a stretch of asphalt with a chalk outline of a body. Obviously, someone is dead. The cover poses the question, "Who died and what were they gambling on?"

On the front cover of Fabric of the World is a piece of fabric. The center of the fabric has an image of the world on it. The edges however, are frayed, and some of the strings trail off in different directions. The question here is, "How is the world coming apart, and what can be done to fix it?"
On my newest book, The Siege of Kwennjurat, the cover photo is a castle courtyard, with some kind of mist or dust outside the walls. Is it morning fog coming off the river? Is it dust raised by the besieging army? You'll have to read the book to find out!

Book Plug and Bio

The Siege of Kwennjurat is the second book in the Kwennjurat Chronicles. Alone in Kwenndara, Princess Tanella cares for the refugees from war-torn Jurisse, while she worries about her loved ones’ safety. Her new husband Fergan is two days away in Renthenn, coordinating the business of two kingdoms. Kings Jameisaan and Fergasse join forces in Jurisse to pursue the war against the Black Army. They know Liammial hasn't played his last card, and are willing to give their lives to protect their people and their children. Who will triumph and claim the throne of Kwennjurat?

A M Jenner lives in Gilbert, Arizona, with her family, a car named Babycakes, several quirky computers, and around 5,000 books. A self-professed hermit, she loves to interact with her readers online. Her books are available at, as well as most major online retailers.