Answer: A Jeopardy! Quiz Show Researcher. Question….

“What is Sarah Beach?”

If you stay tuned to tomorrow’s blog you will read the interesting story of how a former Clerical Assistant at the Los Angeles County Law Library snagged “what is almost the only secure job in Hollywood, working for the quiz show, Jeopardy!

She will reveal what it took to research and cross-check “every little factoid in the clues,” and the variety of category topics she had to delve into daily to make sure the writers had read their sources correctly.

Sarah will also share how working on the quiz show greatly influenced her own writing. (She currently writes screenplays, novels, short stories, and non-fiction.)  And finally, she will give us tips and examples to use when we write and edit our manuscripts.

So the answer is:  The Writers In Residence blog

And the question is:  “What online blog will I be reading on Wednesday, April 15, 2020?”

See you there!!

 

How it all began…

He hadn’t yet reinvented himself as the real estate tycoon that he became. But one-time big band singer, Merv Griffin, was already an established talk show host when he and his wife, Julann, came up with the idea for the hit game show Jeopardy! As it happened, they were flying somewhere. And Griffin, a lifelong aficionado of crossword puzzles, was lamenting the fact that there hadn’t been a successful question and answer show since the hugely popular The $64,000 Question was canceled due to a scandal.

“He was despondent,” says his son, Tony Griffin, describing how his parents began brainstorming game show ideas. “My mom turned to him and said, ‘Why don’t you give them the answers?’ My dad was like, ‘What?’ She said, ‘5,280.’ He said, ‘How many feet in a mile?’ She said, ‘221 B Baker Street.’ He said, ‘Where does Sherlock Holmes live?’”

With that, they nailed down the concept. However, says Tony, his dad felt there wasn’t enough tension. “He said, ‘How can I get more jeopardy into the show?’ She said, ‘Why not take the money away if they’re wrong. That’ll put them in jeopardy.’ He said, ‘Jeopardy! What a great name.’”

~~~ From “Merv Grillin: Hall of Fame Tribute by Ann Farmer, December 8, 2017.

 

(a teaser tidbit by Jackie Houchin about the GUEST for our regular Wednesday blog post)

 

 

 

Building a Platform

Platformby Gayle Bartos-Pool

………… As we continue the Points from a previous posting.

 

Point #2

  1. What makes you so special? Okay, you have taken inventory of yourself. You know the types of books you like to read and you know what types of books you want to write, (if you haven’t already penned your first or even second book.) You have some special skills that give you credibility or you have done a great deal of research into certain areas that you will be covering in your book. You feel fairly confident your research will interest an audience down the line. So what makes you different from every other author out there who writes a similarly themed book?

Costume 1

Say you like mysteries with a food theme: chef/sleuth, caterer/sleuth, food critic/sleuth. There are other books out there with those characters. Jerrilyn Farmer (Killer Wedding) writes a mystery series about a caterer who gets caught up in crime. Mysteries are notorious for having food-related themes. Amateur sleuths are constantly eating in their books. (They should all be fifty pounds overweight.) What makes your Ginsu knife-wielding sleuth more interesting than any of the others?

 

Knowing the answer to “What makes your character special?” can be the biggest selling point for your work. While you are building your platform, you will be building a platform for your main character.

 

When an agent says, “Yeah, you write well, but there are a hundred chef/sleuths out there.” What are you going to tell him or her that makes your guy or gal sleuth unique? If you are Oprah’s personal chef, boy do you have an in. If you cooked twenty years in the army, you just might have an edge. If your sleuth is a Martian with the best quiche recipe in the Solar System…You get the idea.

Writing 41

So, what makes your sleuth different? Have that answer at your fingertips before you submit your first manuscript.

Consider using the same simple technique screenwriters use to sell a script: the high concept idea. Have a short, pithy term to describe your main character. Maybe you have a blind chef, or a wisecracking Yenta chef, or a bi-polar chef. Make it memorable and you just might have a winner.

 

The main character in one of my mystery series is Johnny Casino. I bill him thusly:

Johnny Casino is a retired P.I. with a past. He just hopes it doesn’t catch up with him.

You can get 14×12 inch magnetic signs from places like VistaPrint for the side of your car with your book’s cover and your website on it along with your catchy phrase. You will be a driving bulletin board. People can see the sign when you’re driving down the freeway or across town. It’s (almost) free advertising. The sign costs around $10, plus shipping. And it’s fun.

 

Point #3

  1. Get yourself plastered… all over the Internet. Create a Web presence with a website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin – so people can find you. Even before you send out your first manuscript, create a website, preferably with your name in the title. You can even Photoshop a fun picture like this one.

PhotoFunia-1562086112

www.agathapenwrite.com will draw more people to you than www.im-a-greatwriter.com. Whether you use a pen name or your real name, remember: You are selling “you” out there. You are the product. And you want people to buy “you.” You want people to pick up a book with your name on it, recognize your name, and pay real money for that book. You want people to say, “Oh, Agatha Penwrite wrote this. This must be good.” And the next time they check out Amazon or the local bookstore, they will be looking for Agatha Penwrite, not some obscure domain name that could fit anybody. And frankly, those silly website names say that you aren’t quite a professional yet.

Sign on to Twitter, find people you know, other writers, old classmates, old boyfriends, ask them to follow you. Then document your writing journey. Using those 140 characters, let people know that you finished the first draft of your new book, you joined a writer’s group, you sent query letters to agents and publishers, and that you got some bites. Put a few notes on Facebook about who you are. Remember you already discovered the “real you” in the first bullet point in this series. Now it’s time to get your name out there.

While you are signing up for all these Internet presences, get someone to take a good picture of you to post on these sites. People want to know what you look like. If you settle for the generic silhouette people use when they have “no picture available” it says you don’t know who you are yet. If you are nervous about having a picture taken, rent a nice looking dog and hold him up next to you.

You are putting your name and face out there so people will know who you are. And they’ll love the dog. (The picture on some of my books is me with my dog Sherlock. I didn’t have to rent a pup.)

Get that new picture of you on your website and all those other sites. No time for being shy. And your publisher will love the fact that you are advertising the product (you) out there in cyberspace.

 

Point #4

  1. Is anybody out there? Now you are thinking, “OMG, this writing stuff is harder than I thought it was going to be. Do other people really do all this?” Find out by joining several writers’ organizations in your chosen writing genre. (Mystery writers have groups like Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Romance Writers of America covers the more passionate side of writing. Check the Internet for your genre and see what’s out there.) After you join one of these groups, talk to other members and ask if they are as nervous as you are. (The answer is yes, but still ask.)

people group

Go to events sponsored by these groups. Meet other people who are going through the same things you are, and be sure to talk to those who have progressed a little further and learn more of the ropes from them, and share your experiences with others. There will actually come a time when you will be considered an old hand at this stuff and someone new to the business will be asking you questions. Learn as you go so you can pass along that knowledge to others. Say hello to the featured speakers at events. Make contacts. Remember, when you are out there selling your book at an event, you will want people sitting in the audience listening to you. Be there for others and maybe they will return the favor and be there for you.

We will have more in the upcoming weeks…

Oh, The Places My Mind Has Been

 by Paty Jager

I’ve been writing since I was a child. I started writing plays for our stuffed animals, then an ongoing story with two friends. When I had small children, I discovered I could make money writing freelance human interest stories for the two local newspapers.

My mind has always been filled with stories. It was several years after I started writing on a regular basis, that I realized I didn’t daydream about family members coming to harm anymore. My husband drove a semi-truck for thirty years of our marriage. Before I started writing, my mind would dredge up all these horrible things that happened to him each time he was out on the road. Once I started writing every day, those went away. I had put my imagination to better use.

My first book, let me rephrase that. The seventh book I wrote, was contracted by a small press. Yes, I didn’t sell my first attempt at writing a book. It took me 7 manuscripts before I had crafted a book that a publisher wanted.

Even though the first two books I wrote were mysteries, it was a historical western romance that was contracted. The book hadn’t started out as a series, but the hero had four brothers and once readers started asking for the other brothers’ stories, well, what could I do! The first book, Marshal in Petticoats, started the series titles: Outlaw in Petticoats, Miner in Petticoats, Doctor in Petticoats and Logger in Petticoats. Then I wrote three standalone historical western romance books. Improper Pinkerton, I had hoped to make into a series about the Pinkerton’s, but it didn’t fly off the shelves or onto ereaders.

I have always been interested in the Wallowa Nez Perce, the band of American Indian that summered and wintered in the county where I grew up. We had a rodeo each summer named after Chief Joseph, but that was the only time I ever saw a Native American in the county. Other than the ghost of a warrior I saw one day while riding my horse on the mountain behind our house.

Spirit-Box-Set1-3500x3420-1000x977My inquisitiveness started me digging into their history when agents at a writer’s conference said they were looking for historical paranormal. I came up with my Spirit Trilogy. Three siblings of a northern band of Nez Perce with blonde hair and blue eyes that turned red with their emotions (my research discovered this northern band), who had become spirits. They are shapeshifters. Through them, I showed the history of the Wallowa Nimiipuu, as they call themselves.

Historical Western Romance seemed to be taking a hit and not selling well. I was complaining about it at a Romance Writers of America meeting and one of the other authors said, then write contemporary western. I said I didn’t think I could. Lo and behold, on the two hour drive home from the meeting, a radio show host talked about how kids had used their parents’ credit card to order items on the internet. And Poof! I had an idea for a book. That was Perfectly Good Nanny which won an EPPIE award for Best Contemporary Romance in 2008. I wrote another contemporary western romance, Bridled Heart. They are both stand alone romances.

Then readers were asking for more Halsey Brothers. I decided to move forward in time and wrote stories for three male secondary characters who had been brought into the Halsey family. This is the Halsey Homecoming series. Each character is finding their way back home to Sumpter and the Halsey family. There is also a novella, A Husband for Christmas. This is a female secondary character’s story.

MayanWanting to write Action Adventure, I wrote the Isabella Mumphrey Adventures. She is a cross between Indiana Jones and MacGyver. The first book, Secrets of a Mayan Moon, she is in the Guatemalan Jungle. I became friends with a Guatemalan blogger who helped me make sure the book sounded authentic. I LOVED writing this character. She had three books. Then, again, even though the first book won the Reader’s Crown in 2013, the books are slow selling.

Mail Order Bride books became popular, but I thought they had been done over and over, so I came up with a sort of mail order husband series. Letters of Fate. In these historical western romance books, the hero receives a letter that changes his path and leads him to the woman he marries.

Ditto my Silver Dollar Saloon series. These are historical western romance, where the heroines are women who are taken in by the saloon owner when they are found starving, sick, or beaten. As they heal both in body and in mind, they find they can love and be loved again. They are redemption stories.

I finally felt confident enough to go back to writing mystery books in 2014. I wrote the first three Shandra Higheagle Mystery books and released them three months in a row in 2015. I love writing what I had always wanted to write, and I love that readers are enjoying the books. Shandra is a Native American potter. She is only half Nez Perce and wasn’t raised knowing her father’s heritage. This aspect made me feel confident I could write her because I could discover more about her family right alongside of her as I wrote her books. I have a friend who lives on the Colville Reservation where Shandra’s family lives. Number 14 in this series just released. It is set in Kaua’i Hawaii. I vacationed there last year and used it as a setting.

Murder of Ravens  The other mystery series, is the Gabriel Hawke Novels. Hawke is from the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon. He joined the military, came home, and became an Oregon State Trooper. Fifteen years ago, he became a fish and wildlife officer with the Oregon State Police in Wallowa County. Remember that place from earlier in my post? I grew up in Wallowa County, I love the rugged, ruralness of it for a mystery series. And what better character to solve mysteries than a master tracker, with roots in the area. His forefathers summered and wintered in the valleys and the mountains.  He is not only protecting the animals and land for the law but for his ancestors. To be sure I had this character’s occupation written correctly, I rode with a Fish and Wildlife State Trooper in the county for a day. He gave me a notebook full of information and ideas for stories. I’m currently writing book 5 in this series. It is set in Iceland, a place I visited last year. When I discovered they held a large SAR (Search and Rescue) conference every other year, I knew I had to bring Hawke to Iceland.

As you can see, I tend to write what is strongest in my mind. And if they don’t sell, well, then I move on to something else. Right now, the mysteries are doing much better than the romance. My calendar for 2020 is to write only mysteries.

What genre(s) do you like to read? Why?

My latest release:

Abstract Casualty 5x8Abstract Casualty

Hawaiian adventure, Deceit, Murder

Shandra Higheagle is asked to juror an art exhibition on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

After an altercation at the exhibition, the chairwoman of the event, Shandra’s friend, arrives home with torn clothes, scratches, and stating she tried to save an angry artist who fell over a cliff. Shandra and Ryan begin piecing together information to figure out if the friend did try to save the artist or helped him over the edge.

During the investigation, Shandra comes across a person who reminds her of an unhealthy time in her past. Knowing this man and the one from her past, she is determined to find his connection to the dead artist.  When her grandmother doesn’t come to her in dreams, Shandra wonders if her past is blinding her from the truth.

https://books2read.com/u/4XXLke

Author Paty Jager (2)Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 43 novels, 8 novellas, and numerous anthologies of murder mystery and western romance. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

blog / websiteFacebook / Paty’s Posse / Goodreads / Twitter / Pinterest   / Bookbub

 

Jackie: To read my review of the first Gabriel Hawke mystery, see – Murder of Ravens

 

This article was posted for Pati Jager by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

Stuck at Home? Write That Book!

By Jeanette F. Chaplin, Ed.D.

This devastating pandemic took us all by surprise. With no time to prepare, we were suddenly either inundated with work and/or home obligations, or we found ourselves isolated and wondering what to do with all the spare time.

writing-923882_640 (1)Here’s a suggestion for wannabe authors. You’ve pondered that writing project for years; now you have time to get those ideas down on paper (or computer, or recording device). What would it take to turn that dream into a manuscript?

In a perfect stroke of timing, CampNaNoWriMo begins the first of next month. If you’re not familiar with the National Novel Writing Month challenge, it provides a venue for novice and accomplished alike to focus for an entire month on writing. The goal is to produce 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. I’ve done it a few times and managed to produce a satisfactory draft in the allotted 30 days. Except for the year I had an emergency appendectomy on November 6!

CampNaNoWriMo is more flexible, allowing you to work on a project of your choosing, setting your own goals. I’ve signed up and plan to compile my advice for beginning writers. At the same time, I’ll be posting the most relevant tips in my Avid Authors Facebook group. Join me there and immerse yourself in learning about writing at the same time as you write.

bookstore-4343642_640 (1)I’ve opened membership to this site on a temporary basis. Here’s a place for you to learn about the author’s journey from “aspiring” to “avid.” Find out how to improve your writing, where to market your work, and ways to research trends in the industry. Get questions answered from an author who’s been there.

* * * * *

Jeanette Chaplin I’m a semi-retired college English instructor and published author with a doctorate in English composition. I self-published the Self-publishing Guide in 1979 and went on to self-publish print versions of a mystery series and several non-fiction books. I’ve given workshops through libraries, bookstores, writers organizations, and continuing education departments and have written for writers’ newsletters, homeschooling blogs, inspirational magazines, and publications such as the Des Moines Register.

Disclaimer: I focus on writing as a craft and what a beginner needs to know. I’m still learning the ever-changing marketing and digital publishing aspects of the industry. I have no affiliation with NaNoWriMo and receive no compensation for referrals.

Check out the latest writing tips and find more info about the “Camp” at https://www.facebook.com/groups/AvidAuthorsGroup/

 

This article was posted for Jeanette F. Chaplin by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

 

Upside Down

By Linda O. Johnston

upside down natural-2728146_640Apologies.  I’m late with this blog.  But… well, as I’m sure all of you reading this know, life is different now from what it’s been.

The pandemic.  Potential danger to all of us.  Lots to learn about how to protect ourselves.  Staying home most of the time–and only going out to buy essentials or bring in take-home food… occasionally.

What’s good about it?  Well, for writers, our lives may not have to change as much as other people’s.  We’re often home a lot anyway, staring at our computers and hopefully being productive on them.

 But… well, for me, some of the changes include not getting together with other people for exercise classes.  Or attending writers’ group meetings–which now have been canceled.  Or even considering attending writers’ conferences, which are also mostly canceled anyway.

 And then there were a couple of trips with family that we’ve had to cancel.

 I am walking our dogs more than before, which they enjoy–though of course staying more than six feet away from also-walking neighbors.  Our pups also enjoy having my husband and me around nearly all the time, to give them even more attention and treats.

 So yes, that part is good.  But considering how things will progress, when this might end, the situation regarding nearly the entire world… we’re upside down.

And then there’s this blog.  Being late didn’t help, but my mind obviously is on other things.  And though yes, I’m editing some stories I’ve been working on and plotting more–and my mind is also roiling around possible scenarios in which I can include this horrible situation in a book–things are different enough that I’m clearly not planning or focusing as I should be.

 I’d like to be focusing here on an aspect of writing.  That’s what we often do on the Writers in Residence blog.  And in a way, I am.  I’m suggesting that writers can do their job no matter what’s going on around them.  Focus on fiction, perhaps, to help your mind deal with the difficult facts.

I’m suggesting that writers can do their job no matter what’s going on around them.  Focus on fiction, perhaps, to help your mind deal with the difficult facts.

 Perhaps the hardest thing for me is not seeing family.  We have a son in our area but not right next door, and for now I’ve told him not to visit, at least for a while.

 What’s the hardest thing for you?  What kind of fiction are you focusing on to help you through this?

 How are you upside down?

 

This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

THE WRITERS’ CONFERENCE THAT WASN’T…  

By ROSEMARY LORD

 

Writinhand           Well – who could have known…

I was heading for the Left Coast Crime ‘Murder’s A Beach’ writers’ conference in San Diego.

Two Southern California authors were being honored: Rachel Howzell Hall and T. Jefferson Parker. I was moderating a panel, “Hooray For Hollywood: Tinsel Town as a setting…” with Kellye Garrett, Lee Goldberg, Sherri Leigh James and Pat Broeske on Friday.

These conferences are always a great time to catch up with other writers who live far and wide – all coming together because of their love of books, of reading and writing – and especially mysteries. They readily share their knowledge, expertise on novel writing and their encouragement to those in pursuit of a publisher. It’s also a chance to meet their readers and fans.

MoreBooks

I bumped into old friends writer/magician Stephen Buehler, wine-expert Nadine Nettmann, Catriona McPherson, Sheri James and Pat Broeske on my way in. But I’m getting ahead of my self.

It was a long, slow drive from Hollywood through a heavy rainstorm, averaging 9 miles an hour. 4 hours later, as I drew into the Marriot Mission Valley, I was looking forward to all the panels and lectures I had marked on the busy schedule.

Having checked in, left my bags in my room, I had already missed the ‘Not Too Distant Past: 20th Century Historical Mysteries’ panel that I wanted to hear, so I headed for the Rio Vista ballroom to listen to Toastmaster author Matt Coyle being interviewed. I stood at the back, as it was already underway.

A small cluster of somber-faced women with clip-boards arrived and stood at the back. Hmm. At a long pause in questions, they walked up to the front and one announced. “Please everyone stay in your seats – do not leave!” Then, the dreaded words followed that the San Diego Health Department was shutting down the conference, due to the Covid-19 virus concerns. Effective immediately. (The Arizona Book Festival and the L.A. Times Festival of Books would soon follow.)

Microphones

The conference organizers had spent 3 year planning this what-would-have-been-wonderful 4 days of panels, discussions, celebrations and networking. They were, naturally, devastated. They announced they would be emailing us about refunds. Some in the audience suggested that we return any refund to put towards the huge cost of putting on this event. Then there was the discussion of the Saturday Night Award Banquet, when awards for the Best First Novel, Best Historical Novel and so on. No solutions yet. The crowd promised to meet up at the next Left Coast Crime conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April 2021.

We were asked to vacate the ballroom. Immediately.  

“But we’re here, together, now – can’t we at least have the Opening Cocktail Reception before we leave?” rippled through the crowd. A glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres sounded very welcoming at that moment. Alas no. They shut that down too.

But, as we filed out of the room, the hotel staff wheeled out trolleys of spring rolls and wantons into the corridor, offering us plates to help ourselves as we left. They explained that they had cooked them, so we might as well eat. But the wine-bar was quickly moved out of sight!

The rest of the evening was spent congregating in the bar-café area as we figured out our next step. I had a relatively short drive, compared to many who had flown in from Canada or the East Coast, with return flights booked for Sunday.

Ladies Study

The attendees include not only writers, publishers and editors, but many readers – fans. They seem to often be older women – often Agatha Christie fans who love meeting other mystery writers, collecting signed copies of their books. I wondered how many of these fans lived alone and, having had just had their big, exciting vacation crushed, would be returning to empty apartments and homes. I also thought about the struggling writers who spent hard-earned money on promotional items such as pens, notebooks, bookmarks to give out at various events during the weekend, attempting to sell their books. And then there were all of the extra hotel staff hired especially to work this conference. What happens to them?

Although I appreciate that this is insignificant compared to the health risks of those who are felled by this awful virus and the impending suffering of so many workers, travelers and businesses affected by the quarantines in force.

But it was sobering to observe this sliver of the rippling effect.

But I don’t want this to be all doom and gloom, for this, too shall pass. We will get beyond this bizarre situation we have all been thrown in together. And when we come out the other end, we will be much wiser and a lot more appreciate of the freedoms we usually enjoy, of the good friends we have, aware of the health and safety of our loved ones, friends and co-workers. Many of our parents lived through World War Two. The motto then was KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

I shall be working from home for the next couple of weeks, having closed down the Woman’s Club as a health precaution for our members, guests and volunteers. Although I still have a large stack of club paperwork to tackle, I shall be able to take more time to work on my Lottie Topaz books and a couple of new ideas I have.

It’s a chance for all of us to take some time to reflect on where we are going with our lives and our writing careers, to count our blessings and make wonderful plans for a bright future.

So just remember to check on friends and neighbors living alone. Stay safe and healthy.  See you on the other side of this pandemic.

So keep calm and carry on writing….!

Keep Calm

Keeping It Real: Developing Characters, Part II

by Miko Johnston

Frequent readers of this blog may recall me referring over time to the fourth novel in my A Petal In The Wind series, which I’ve been writing for more than a year. I got stuck. My plot points kept stalling out, but I had a breakthrough after my last post. Whew! Until then I worked on revising earlier chapters. In one I found something I not only rarely do, but scold other writers for doing – I repeated myself in consecutive scenes. The actual scene played out first, and on the next page my protagonist Lala told another character what happened.

Then it occurred to me – maybe I didn’t repeat myself; maybe instead, I wrote the scene in two different perspectives. I didn’t need both, but I could compare them and keep the better of the two. Out went the full scene; the gist from her dialog worked better. Lala had to have her say about the incident, and that clarified why I got stuck finishing the novel. Lala found my direction for her ‘wanting’. I realized I kept forcing the plot in a way that wasn’t true to the character, so I ‘asked’ Lala to explain, in a few sentences, what she sought for herself. That solved the mystery. I feel confident she – and my readers – will agree this new direction sounds like the Lala we’ve watched grow up.

*          *          *

Our characters must be real to us, for if we can’t envision them, body and soul, no one else will. It’s why I always write: characters ‘who’, rather than ‘that’, and say they’re created, not invented. KEEPING IT REAL: PART I focused on writing series, where you have more time and pages for character development. When creating and developing characters for a short story or stand-alone novel, how do we keep them ‘real’?

  1. Give them a background

Begin with a basic police description of gender, age, and physical size: Asian male, mid- thirties, five foot ten, 170 pounds. Ask them what you’d ask any person you’ve just met – what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? Delve further and observe. How are they groomed and dressed? What do they sound like? Are they eloquent, plain-spoken or inarticulate? Adventurous or timid, gregarious or shy? Many writers, including our own GB Pool, recommend writing biographies for your primary and secondary characters. It’s helpful in writing a short story but vital in a novel.

  1. Find inspiration in real life

Often we base characters on actual people we know. We observe strangers in public places, listen in to their conversations. We play-act, or fantasize about what a celebrity might be like.  That may make them real to us, but it doesn’t always translate onto paper. If you write fiction, you don’t have to recreate an exact duplicate. Instead, borrow traits from the person, like appearance, personality, or history. Use those elements as a foundation to write a unique character who reminds you of what you love, or hate, about their real counterpart.  I based one character on a dear departed friend who suffered more than she deserved, and gave her a better life. I’ve also created some who resemble people I know and have one trait in common – their taste in clothes, or their bluntness. The rest I fictionalize, but with qualities I’ve found in real people.

  1. Get to know them

We must become familiar enough with a character to understand what they will say and do. Talking to your characters, questioning or interrogating them will flesh out little details. Are they outgoing or shy, active or couch potatoes? Do they like to travel, or are they homebodies? Do they eat to live or live to eat? If they could change any aspect of their life, what would it be? What flaws does your hero possess, and in contrast, what are your villain’s fine points? The more you know the better you’ll know them. To grow interrelationships, try free-form dialog, where you write a conversation between two of your characters. Sit down and begin to write without pausing, without dialog tags or punctuation. Just write, and after a few minutes your logical left brain will switch over to your more creative right brain. Try this for at least ten minutes and see what your characters have to say about each other, and by insinuation, themselves.

  1. Go beyond words and actions to thoughts and motivations

To really understand someone, we need to know more than what they say or do, but why they say or do it. Your biography will help with this, but like the exception proves the rule, contradictions in characters prove their ‘realness’. Look for contradictory traits, for everyone has a touch of hypocrisy within them. Even if your characters don’t know why they say or do something, as often happens in real life, you – their creator – must know and present it in a way the reader can deduce it without being told.

  1. Set them apart

To create characters who are not cardboard cutouts, begin by avoiding clichés and stereotypes. Not everyone from Mexico is named José (or Maria) Gomez, and you can’t always tell by appearance or mannerisms if someone is gay. Real folks are a mixture of commonality and individuality. What we share in common makes us recognizable, but our uniqueness sets us apart. Think of anyone you know and list five traits that they share with many people. Then list two or three that are different. My five shared traits would include compassionate, sensible, impatient, analytical, and curious. What sets me apart? Despite being a mature adult, put me in an environment with animals and I turn into a giddy three-year-old, as I recently demonstrated in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

  1. Let them be

Once you’ve created your characters, allow them their voice. Let them tell you what they want and don’t want, and listen to them. It could save you hours, weeks, even months of writers block. You don’t always have to obey, but trust and respect them enough to hear them out. Also allow them some privacy. Instead of writing in every detail, give enough to flesh out the character and let readers have the pleasure of filling in the rest.

All this may seem like a lot to compact into a story or book, but the sum of big picture and little details about characters humanizes them. It also makes them vivid in our minds, which enriches the story, for even above plots, great stories revolve around the people who occupy them.

To find more writing on the subject throughout this blog – just put CHARACTERS in the search line. For an in-depth look at how to create villains, see my earlier post:  https://thewritersinresidence.com/2015/07/15/building-a-better-villian-by-miko-johnston/ If you have any advice you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you.

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)