How Morals and Basic Needs Influence a Character’s Strengths

You ever have one of those mornings where you’re just feeling…bleh? Life wasn’t exactly ticking along like clockwork and I was struggling with self-doubt. Then I clicked open my inbox and read the most wonderful message from a reader praising our Trait Thesaurus books. The most interesting thing was that she had been really touched by the front matter, rather than the entries. 

Well, I perked right up at that. It made me think of some of the really cool things Angela and I have accomplished over the past three years—of the hard work, the struggles to come up with front matter that would be as helpful as the entries in our books. So today, in a state of nostalgia, I’m reposting an oldie but a goodie, which originally aired at Elizabeth Spann Craig’s blog. Enjoy, and if you think of something nice to say to someone today, please don’t hesitate to share it. You never know when someone might need a little encouragement!

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Pixabay

Since writing our last book, The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes, I’ve been thinking a lot about personality traits and how they’re formed. Flaws are incredibly important for a character to have—and, let’s be honest: they’re really interesting to read about. But one of the main reasons we fall in love with characters is because we want them to succeed, to achieve their goals and overcome their flaws; this is where the positive attributes come in. The fact is, every character needs both positive and negative traits, and these traits need to be chosen thoughtfully.

When it’s time to create your character and figure out what his traits will be, you should take into account many factors that influence their development: genetics, upbringing and caregivers, past wounds, environment, peers—all of these things absolutely cause certain traits to organically emerge for a character. (For more information on how these factors influence trait development, please see this post on the topic.) Today, I’d like to zero in on what I believe are the two biggest influencers on trait formation: morality and basic needs.

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courtesy: Paul Downey @ Creative Commons

Morality

Every character—protagonist, villain, sidekick, mentor, etc.—lives by a moral code. His beliefs about right and wrong are deeply embedded in his psyche and will influence his decisions, day-to-day actions, the way he treats people, how he spends his free time—they will impact every area of his life, including his personality. A character will only embrace traits that in some way align with his moral beliefs. Because of this, it’s crucial that we know what our characters believe and value in order to figure out which qualities will define him.

Take, for example, Zack Mayo from An Officer and a Gentleman. Mayo’s morality is largely derived from a traumatic childhood event: finding his mother’s body after she killed herself. Mayo’s father took him in but made it clear that taking responsibility for an impressionable boy wasn’t going to put a crimp in his affinity for drugs and prostitutes.

Fast forward a decade, and Mayo’s moral code has been formed from this sad crucible: look out for yourself because no one else will. Many of his defining traits stem directly from this belief. He’s independent, opportunistic, persistent, apathetic, emotionally withdrawn, and selfish. It would have made no sense for someone with Mayo’s moral code to embrace selflessness or loyalty, because to embody these traits, he’d have to go against his most important belief.

This is why its crucial to know your character’s backstory. All those factors I mentioned earlier? Put those puzzle pieces together to figure out what your character now values, what he believes about right and wrong. Once you know his moral code, you’ll know which traits he’ll embody and which ones he’ll disdain. His defining traits will be pretty much fixed because to reject them, he’d have to reject what he most believes in.

Basic Needs

But sometimes, as authors, a drastic shift in morality is exactly what we want for our characters. This kind of change doesn’t occur easily, but it can happen under the right circumstances. This is where basic needs come into play.

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, individuals are driven by needs that fall into five categories:

1. Physiological: the need to secure one’s biological and physiological needs
2. Safety and Security: the need to keep oneself and one’s loved ones safe
3. Love and Belonging: the need to form meaningful connections with others
4. Esteem and Recognition: the need to increase one’s sense of esteem
5. Self-Actualization: the need to realize one’s full potential and achieve personal fulfillment

The first level is the most important; if a character’s physiological need isn’t being met, he’ll do whatever it takes to meet that need. Once it’s met, the next level becomes the most crucial. And so on.

If you’re crafting a story and you discover that you need one of your characters to undergo a major moral shift, simply take away one of his basic needs. An awesome example of this is the movie Prisoners. Hugh Jackman’s character is a responsible citizen — morally upright and a family man. But then his daughter goes missing (i.e., his need for safety and security is no longer being met). He’s certain he knows who abducted her, but the police won’t do anything about it. He tries everything he can think of to get his daughter back while working within the confines of his moral beliefs. When those ideas run out, he begins wrestling with the options that don’t coincide with his moral code. Desperate to regain his former equilibrium where all of his needs were being met, his morality shifts. He abducts his daughter’s suspected kidnapper and tortures him in an effort to learn of her whereabouts. His basic belief that all human beings are deserving of dignity and respect has changed—and so have his traits. Respect has turned to cruelty. Centeredness gives way to fanaticism. And all of this can be traced back to one need that is no longer being met.

We’re cruel taskmasters, we authors. But it’s through difficulty that true character emerges, and if we want our protagonists to grow, we have to provide growth opportunities. Know your character’s moral code and choose suitable traits. If you need your character to make a big change, threaten one of his basic needs. Using these two influencers, you’re sure to come up with a character who is believable and will resonate with readers.

Posted in Character Traits, Characters, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: The Midas Touch

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

THE MIDAS TOUCH

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Keith Cooper @ Creative Commons

Descriptionthe ability to multiply one’s money; having a knack for making money. Most people with this talent have a bent toward the business arena. Many are entrepreneurial by nature and, without any education or formal experience at all, have an inherent knack for understanding the dynamics of finance and are able to apply their knowledge in a way that leads to success.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being able to quickly and accurately size up an opportunity, seeing opportunity where others see nothing, being good at math

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: disciplined, self-control, shrewd, patient, greedy, risk-taking, ambitious, bold, focused, discerning, persistent, analytical, visionary

Required Resources and Training: Many people with this gift can be found making money at an early age through entrepreneurial enterprises without any resources or training to speak of. As they grow older, they either increase their knowledge through education or experience in the field. They often end up becoming experts in a particular area, be it finance, the stock market, real estate, the fashion industry, etc. They grow and improve (often by making costly mistakes in the beginning) through immersion in their given area.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: investors, entrepreneurs, business moguls. People with this skill are often portrayed as being greedy and caring first and foremost about money. They’re often perceived as materialistic with a shaky moral code.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • a situation where the hero is in need of money
  • if someone needs to disappear or start a new life but needs to be able to support himself
  • to support the lifestyle one has become accustomed to living
  • when a large sum of money is needed to back a cause or organization

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

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How Image Systems Can Supercharge a Novel

You know, after 5+ years, we’ve covered a lot of writing-related topics at this blog. At times, it’s a challenge to come up with meaningful material that hasn’t been done to death. So I was super excited to receive C.S. Lakin’s post on a topic that we’ve never discussed before at Writers Helping Writers—a topic that I’d never actually even heard of before: using image systems to improve your novel. What the heck is an image system? I’m so glad you asked….

C.S. Lakin

Filmmakers use a term called “image systems,” and novelists can benefit greatly by creating a similar kind of image system for their novel.

Just What is an Image System?

Think of the overall message coming through your novel. What themes are you honing in on? What controversial issues or moral dilemmas are you presenting? What is the “take-home” feeling you want to leave with your reader after she finishes reading the last page. Asking these questions can help you step back and look at the tone, mood, and intent of your story.

In a film, an image system might include repeating shot compositions—for example, a movie might use a certain shape or image in a landscape and repeat it throughout the film. An image system often uses specific colors—some which may not be easy at first to notice or that work on a subliminal level in some way.

Great novelists know the power of motif and symbolism, often using something like a repeated word or phrase, or an object of importance to the character, to bring a richness to the story and to enhance the theme of their novel. In effect, they are creating something similar to an image system. By taking a look at some of the ways filmmakers develop image systems for their films, novelists can learn much and expand their technique.

Get a Clear Vision of the Story You Are Telling

Filmmaker Gustav Mercado says, “If you want to become an effective storyteller, one of the most important things you can do is to have a clear vision of your story, so that it reflects your unique take on it, not somebody else’s. . . . Anything and everything that is included in the composition of a shot will be interpreted by an audience as being there for a specific purpose that is directly related and necessary to understand the story they are watching [or reading, in the case of a novel].”

Writers, as well as filmmakers, need to first identify the core ideas of their story in order to create an image system. Once that is determined, they can design a system that supports and brings out that core idea in either obvious or subtle ways consistently implemented throughout the book.

Ask these questions about each of your scenes:

• What are the main elements (or one main element) that should dominate the scene and be brought to the reader’s attention? Can these be an object or word/phrase or bit of setting that can be symbolic and repetitive in your novel?
• What should and shouldn’t be included in the scene that will help the reader focus on that element? (Think about all that unnecessary narrative or trivial dialog.)
• What meaning will be conveyed subconsciously by these elements you show?

Overlying all this is your main theme or core idea. You’ve perhaps been told you should be able to sum up your premise in a sentence or two (elevator pitch). In that premise lies your core idea for your book. You may have gotten a germ of an idea for your novel, and from that you developed characters with issues and goals, and you came up with settings and scene ideas to play out your storyline. But overlying all that is your core idea.

In Just a Few Words

See if you can encapsulate the main theme or idea of your story in one line or a few words. For example, the core idea behind the movie Rocky might be about gaining self-respect. That’s a simple summation. But if you can come up with a basic thematic concept, you can gear the elements in your scenes to bring out that theme.

Emblematic Shots to Highlight Theme

Think about including emblematic elements that reveal theme and motif.
• Is there a place your character keeps coming back to?
• An emotion she keeps struggling with that can be symbolized by a particular scene composition and “camera angle”?
• A place where she reflects and looks out on the world that can subliminally indicate her mood, self-image, or view of others?
• An object that she studies close up?

Emblematic shots are usually placed at the beginning and end of meaningful scenes, to emphasize them, make them stand out.

Sum It Up in One Picture

Here’s something you can try. Imagine taking one (only one) snapshot of your novel (not of the actual physical book). This picture needs to “tell” what the core idea or theme of your story is about. Think movie poster.

A movie poster has to somehow convey the feel and premise of the entire movie. Imagine showing this picture you took of your novel to a stranger and asking him what he thinks the theme or core idea is behind the photo. Ask him what symbolism comes through. Did you include symbolic elements? What colors did you choose?

Even without knowing the emotional power of each color, we all resonate similarly when it comes to colors. Can you come up with one image that can be the core of your image system? We’ve heard the cliché: a picture is worth a thousand words. If your picture can just speak a dozen key words to you, you can build an image system around it.

Try jotting down six key words that best “represent” your novel. Then think of emblematic images, places, objects, or phrases that will capture those succinctly.

Developing an image system is just one way to infuse your novel with cinematic technique. The more novelists can borrow great “tools” from filmmakers, the more visually powerful and dynamic their novels will be.

What about your novel? Can you come up with some elements to make up your image system? Share your “poster” concept in the comments. Do you have some emblematic objects, places, or phrases that help create an image system for your story? If so, share them!

Shoot your novel ebook cover final

C. S. Lakin is a multipublished best-selling novelist and writing coach. She works full-time as a copyeditor and critiques about two hundred manuscripts a year. She teaches writing workshops and gives instruction on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive. Her new book—Shoot Your Novel: Cinematic Technique to Supercharge Your Story—is designed to help writers learn the secrets of cinematic technique. You can buy it here in print and as an ebook. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Character Talents and Skills: ESP (Clairvoyance)

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer.

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When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story.

Clairvoyance

Description: The ability to “see” a mental image or know information about a person, place or event through means outside of the senses. Some clairvoyants have visions, read auras, see colors, symbols or even spirits. This ability is commonly used to find lost things, discern information about specific individuals, places or things that one has no prior knowledge of, or to make prediction of the future. Clairvoyance often comes through Clairsentience, in which information comes through the act of feeling or touching an object; Clairaudience, in which information comes through an auditory sound or word, Clairalience, in which information comes through smells; Claircognizance, in which information comes through an intrinsic sense of knowing or intuition; or Clairgustance, in which information comes in through the ability to taste something vividly without actually consuming it.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: while many believe that any psychic ability is simply there or it is not, others feel it is a latent ability that any can access if willing to. Others still believe no such thing exists. For those who do believe in this discipline, having strong control over one’s mood and emotions, the ability to relax immediately and a willingness to be open to extrasensory awareness and listen to one’s intuition are all important to becoming a clairvoyant.

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: focused, calm, intuitive, determined, unbiased, helpful, diplomatic

Required Resources and Training: Learning to meditate and take in all the sensory information around oneself will increase mental clarity, acting on one’s gut will hone one’s intuition, practicing with different types of divination (tarot cards, crystals, etc.) to find one that resonates, and following hunches to see if they are correct will reinforce the pathways needed to discern extrasensory information. Continually practicing and testing oneself by handling items or paying close attention to what one feels while speaking with someone, visiting a place, etc. may also strengthen one’s intuitive responses.

Associated Stereotypes and (Mis)Perceptions:

  • That most people claiming psychic abilities are fakes who are actually using mentalism to discern information
  • clairvoyants are shunned by small-minded individuals
  • clairvoyants have a strong affinity for nature
  • clairvoyants believe in the occult

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • finding a missing person
  • interpreting dangerous situations and people (either for one’s own interactions, or on behalf of others, such as working in a terrorist prevention task force)
  • to prepare for what will come and warn others
  • to find lost objects that have great importance or value (monetary, historical, power, etc.)

Resources for Further Information:

Unlocking Extra Sensory Perception (ESP)

Improve Your Clairvoyance

How to Develop Clairvoyance

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

 

Image via Antranias @ Pixabay

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11 Novelist-Tested Ways to Defeat Writer’s Block

I’m super excited to welcome Warren Adler to our blog. He’s the author of The War of The Roses and Random Hearts, which you’ll likely recognize as major motion pictures from the 80s and 90s. As a successful career author, Warren has accumulated some tried-and-true methods for getting un-stuck, and he’s here today to share them with us…

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PhotoSteve101 @ Creative Commons

1. Reread your favorite novels, the ones that once inspired you to be a writer. One of my favorite books is The Red and the Black by Stendhal. Not surprisingly, it makes an appearance in my new novel Treadmill.

2. Rewatch your favorite movies, the ones that made you hope your work would follow suit. No one can deny that electric feeling of inspiration that sparks up after watching a great movie.

3. Take long walks and concentrate on observing those things around you. Change your focus from inside of yourself to outside. Never underestimate the power of leaving your writing desk for a quick tango with nature. 9 times out of 10, you’ll return with a fresh palette of ideas and a renewed sense of motivation.

4. See a stage play or musical revival that you once enjoyed on film or on live stage. My all-time favorite musical and film is My Fair Lady.

5. Don’t frustrate yourself by starting something new until your imagination reveals a new idea for a story. Never force an artistic endeavor. When the muse comes to visit, you’ll know it right away.

6. Fantasize sexual activity and take action if possible. I discuss the craft of working sex into one’s writing in Writing Sex Scenes for the Non-Genre Novelist. Sex has always been present in great literature. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out, for example, that the Bible is replete with the taboo subject including examples of every conceivable exercise of the venery. Shakespeare was a master at presenting sexual desire, its consequences, and its power impacting his language. For the great Victorians, the fabulous Russians, and the wonderful continental novelists of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, sex was an ever-present life force and its characters indulged in it with great energy and zeal. It was, however, presented in language that would hardly make a spinster blush.

7. Exercise frequently, avoid alcohol or drugs, and avoid any negativity – It leads to depression and locks creativity. I am a great believer in the benefits of Pilates and do it twice weekly.

8. Read newspapers. Many great novels have come out of newspaper stories. My third novel, The Henderson Equation, was inspired by the Washington Post’s relentless pursuit of President Richard Nixon, which became the political scandal of the century known today as Watergate. It made the careers of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and brought lifetime laurels to the publisher of The Washington Post (Katherine Graham), the editor at the time (Ben Bradlee), and a host of writers who have since analyzed, parsed, recounted and fictionalized the episode ad infinitum in hundreds of books and media, including the Academy Award winning film, All the President’s Men.

9. Keep your antenna circling, looking for story ideas. It is always difficult to describe to people how a story idea enters a novelist’s consciousness. By the time I began to write The War of the Roses I had already published nine novels and my antenna must have been circulating feverishly searching for a new idea until it finally came to me.

10. Listen carefully to conversations. Don’t shut off contacts with friends and acquaintances. I am always writing a story in my head and I never pass up the chance to listen in on a good conversation (even bad ones). The idea for The War of the Roses came to me at a dinner party in Washington in 1979. One of our female friends was dating a lawyer, who was her guest at the party. At some point, he looked at his watch and announced that he had to get home or his wife would lock him out of the house. When asked why, he said he was in the process of getting a divorce and was living under the same roof and sharing facilities and that part of the agreement was a strict set of rules on coming and goings and the division of living quarters.

The dilemma expressed by this dinner guest might be called the “eureka” moment. The story quickly formed in my mind and, with the exception of a brief conversation with a Judge who was an expert in domestic law, I did no other legal research on the subject of divorce. Oddly, many people have become convinced, including said dinner guest, that somehow I had burrowed into the legal files of their various divorce actions. I cannot tell you how many times, over the years, people have accused me of “stealing their divorces.” I tried countering this accusation by explaining that a novel’s story grows out of a novelist’s imagination and the amalgamation of his or her observations and experiences, but to little avail.

11. Above all, don’t whine to your friends and acquaintances about your problem. Instead, try using the tips listed above, and you’ll be back to writing in no time.

Do you have any personal tips for overcoming writer’s block? Please share them in the comments section.

Treadmill Cover (A10).jpgWarren Adler is best known for The War of the Roseshis masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito. In addition to the success of the stage adaptation of his iconic novel on the perils of divorce, Adler has optioned and sold film rights to more than a dozen of his novels and short stories to Hollywood and major television networks. In recent development are the Broadway Production of The War of the Roses, to be produced by Jay and Cindy Gutterman: The War of the Roses – The Children (Permut Presentations), a feature film adaptation of the sequel to Adler’s iconic divorce story, and Capitol Crimes (Sennett Entertainment), a television series based on his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series. Adler’s forthcoming thriller Treadmill, is officially available. You can learn more about Warren Adler at his website.

HEADS UP!

Angela is posting over at Writers In the Storm about a Planning a Story’s Set Pieces. If you’d like some help prepping for NaNoWriMo, or just want a bit of clarity regarding Inner and Outer Conflict as well as Inner & Outer Motivation, check it out!

Posted in Experiments, Guest Post, Uncategorized, Writer's Block | 15 Comments

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Strategic Thinking

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

STRATEGIC THINKING 

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Courtesy: SplitShire @ Pixabay

Description: The ability to accurately view and assess present-day reality in order to plan for and create the future that one desires (winning a game, reaching a personal goal, growing one’s business, etc.)

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being able to look many steps ahead, being able to evaluate available information and accurately predict what’s coming, identifying patterns, being able to learn from past mistakes, having good recall, being a good problem solver and critical thinker

Character Traits Suited to this Skill or Talent: bold, alert, objective, observant, analytical, intelligent, patient, sensible, wise, discerning, focused, innovative

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:

  • Stereotypes: chess players, gamers, generals and other military personnel, business sharks and CEOs
  • Perceptions: Strong strategic thinkers are frequently portrayed as greedy, pushy, or cold. This type of character is often socially awkward, being so project-oriented that they’re unable to properly relate to people.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • in a conflict where a game or contest must be won 
  • in a life or death scenario where one must outwit one’s opponent
  • when there is a problem to be solved with no recognizable solution
  • when there is an underlying problem that needs to be identified
  • in a situation where information is abundant and the truth must be sorted from the propaganda
  • when one must put a plan into place in order to reach a personal goal (losing weight, getting the girl, getting one’s dream job, 
  • for a perfectionist who wants to be the best and beat the competition in a given area

Resources for Further Information:

Strengthen your Strategic Thinking Muscles

11 Critical Skills for Strategic Thinkers

3 Keys to Improving Your Strategic Thinking

Are You a Strategic Thinker?

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

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October Critiques 4 U!

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Courtesy: JD Hancock @ Creative Commons

CONTEST IS CLOSED!

I had SO MUCH FUN reading the first pages from last month’s Critiques 4 U contest winners. Thank you Terry Gene, Kelly Miller, and Heather Brady for being so brave as to let me read your work. And I was completely blown away by the response—over 70 entrants in that 24-hour period. With so many first pages out there just sitting around, waiting to be read, I need to get cracking.

Since Halloween is coming, along with my husband’s birthday and about a hundred soccer games, I’m opening submissions for this month’s contest today, before October gets totally whacko. If you’re working on something (no erotica, please) that needs fresh eyes, leave a comment that includes:

1) your email address (feel free to use “at” instead of @, etc.)

 2) the working title of your WIP

3) its genre

4) the intended audience

ONLY ENTRIES THAT FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED.

I’ll randomly draw 3 commenters and post the winners on Thursday. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll give you my feedback.

You’ve got 24 hours. GO!

Also, there are only 5 days left to register for our Marketing Marriage webinar that’s happening on October 13th. If you’re interested in learning how to put together a successful book launch or visibility event, this might be just the thing for you!

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Character Talents and Skills: Reading The Weather

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

CLOUDS
When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

 WEATHER READING

Description: To observe signs in nature (cloud formation, air pressure changes, animal behavior, plant growth patterns and the color of the sky, etc.) and interpret them in a way that predicts shifts in weather.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: Strong eyesight, hyper awareness of one’s body and subtle shifts that will indicate air pressure changes (headaches, swelling joints, a perception of increased pain, etc.) a strong sense of smell (to detect ozone, a metallic-like scent that indicates storms), good concentration and the ability to mute distractions

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: focused, observant, alert, cautious, organized, responsible

Required Resources and Training: For a character to build this skill, they would do well to have a lot of experience in nature, and the opportunity to notice minute shifts in animal behavior (bees disappearing from flowers, swallows flying close to the ground before a storm, etc.) and plant growth (what side of a tree leaf faces up can indicate the prevailing winds for the area.)  Living within and studying a specific location over a long period of time would build up a lot of knowledge in typical weather patterns for the location as well. Educating oneself on cloud formation will especially help one read the weather as both the type of cloud and its elevation provide the biggest clues to shifts.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:

This is a skill that many survivalist have. It is also one that will come in handy for any occupation that relies heavily on weather variances, such as a ship’s captain.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • working as a wilderness guide for others and being responsible for their safe travel from one location to the next
  • Planning battles in war times
  • situations where shelter from the elements is key to survival
  • when travel must take place dangerous points in a season (winter storms or flash floods, for example)
  • determining whether a seafaring journey is wise

Resources for Further Information:

Survival Skills: How To Predict The Weather

Weather Forecast Indicators

Marine Weather Forecasting

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

 

Image: Rettenberg @ Pixabay

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Characters with No Arc?

Since the release of our Character Trait Thesaurus books almost a year ago, Angela and I have gone kind of nuts with the characterization posts. We just learned so much in the writing of these books, and we wanted to share some of that character building info with you guys.

Most of what we’ve written has to do with characters and their arcs—topics like The Four Types of Character Flaws, Using Quirks to Build Personality, Understanding Character Wounds, and The Duality of Character Traits. Angela and I (and most of the rest of the world) are suckers for a character with a good arc. We want to see a character struggle, fall, recognize her fatal flaw, and fight to overcome it in order to finally achieve happiness and peace. This is the textbook story that can be told a million different ways with a million different characters. When done well, it resonates with readers.

But one thing we haven’t talked about is the character with no arc. No change over time. No personal growth. You know who I’m talking about: Indiana Jones, James Bond, Ellen Ripley (in the first Alien movie), and the original Willy Wonka (just say no to creepy Johnny Depp). Clearly, people respond to these characters, or they wouldn’t appear in so many movies.

But how does that work, exactly?

K.M. WeilandWell, I was thrilled to open my inbox yesterday and find that K.M. Weiland has addressed THIS VERY ISSUE. So rather than try and reinvent the wheel, I’m pointing you to the post at Katie’s blog, where you can learn not only how to effectively write an arc-less character but you’ll find a ton of other writing tips, too.

WANaAnd while I’m here, let me also remind everyone that Angela and I have prepped a NEW webinar called The Marketing Marriage: Creative Social Media Solutions to Help Your Book Event Get Noticed. If you’re interested in learning more about how to put together a book event that will get people’s attention rather than disappear in all the book promo noise, click on the link above to obtain a recording. 

Posted in Characters | 14 Comments

5 Steps To Find Your Book’s Ideal Audience

There’s nothing quite like seeing a book with your name on it. The beautiful cover, the weight of it in your hands, the pages of your creativity bundled into a package for readers to enjoy. It sits o the shelf–maybe a physical one, perhaps a virtual one–but it is there, mingling with other books, rubbing spines with both fresh and established voices alike.

And there it will sit, waiting to be noticed..among not hundreds, not thousands, but a virtual tsunami of books that grows larger each day. Sure, family and friends will buy your book, and perhaps some of your supporters and connections online, too. But unless you do something, it will eventually fade into obscurity, never having the chance to break out and be discovered by the exact people looking to read a book just like yours.

The number one failing of authors (provided they have a well edited, quality book) is an inability to connect with their exact audience.

AudienceTraditionally published or self-published, in this competitive market, authors must actively find readers or risk their book dying on the shelf. Many fiction authors try hard, but often miss the mark as far as targeting an audience (promoting too narrowly for example, say only to other writers). Some unfortunately go the spam route, misusing social media to shout constantly about their book, sales, 5 star reviews and even sending “check out my book + LINK” messages to followers. This type of promo becomes “White Noise,” which most ignore. In some cases, people become so annoyed, rather than this strategy pulling new readers in, it pushes them away.

So How Does An Author Find Their Ideal Audience?

1) Know What Makes Your Book Special

While a book’s genre (and sub-genres) help to narrow reader interest, this is only the start of your journey to finding your ideal audience. A Fantasy enthusiast will not be interested in reading ALL types of Fantasy, right? So the first step is defining what about your book makes it stand out from all the other novels like yours. Move beyond just genre. What themes or elements are unique about your book? What are the strongest qualities about your hero or heroine that make them likeable? What concept makes your book pop?

Is your fantasy about a race of nomadic humans who are really shape shifting dragons, but over the generations, have forgotten what they are? Or, does your book have a hero who must solve codes and cyphers to uncover an astrological prophesy? Maybe it involves unusual magical travel…wizards that have discovered they can bottle the scents associated with a location and when a subject inhales it, he travels to that place. Whatever it is, this “special element” is a big part of what makes your book unique, and what will draw readers to your type of story and characters.

2) Make a List of Groups that Tie into this Element

Figured out what makes your book stand out from all the others like it? Awesome. Now it’s time to find out what interests people who think X is compelling, because that’s what’s special about your book.

Let’s take one of my examples. Say your book is the Dragon Fantasy concept above. A book featuring dragons may appeal to people who collect dragon figurines, read dragon-centric books, play dragon fantasy games, create dragon artwork, fashion dragon jewellery, blog about dragons, go to dragon-themed movies, visit forums that discuss dragon culture, etc. Google has 38 pages for “dragon lovers.” In less than a minute, I found a Dragon Museum, Dragon Decor Designs and a ton of forums, facebook groups, and the like.  Using Twitter Search, I discovered there is a #Dragon hashtag that brings up people, products and discussions about dragons. All of these people have the potential to be your exact reading audience, especially those who wish dragons were real, but are hiding their true forms. Or Fantasy readers interested in shape shifters and nomadic cultures.

(Don’t forget to look around locally, too. There may be groups, events and activities that tie into your book’s special concept in your own backyard.)

3) Identify Possible Influencers and Opportunities

Now within this glorious pool of Dragondom, there will be influencers: people who blog about all things dragons that really draw an audience, or active forums that discuss the latest dragon films and books. Perhaps gaming communities or even Facebook or Goodreads groups that draw a crowd. All of these help dragon enthusiasts discuss the thing they all love.

Check some of these places out to see if they might be a home for you too. After all, if what makes your book special is the shape-shifting dragon element, I’m going to assume you have a strong interest in dragons, right? Surely you have some things to talk about, links to share, books to recommend, etc. We write what we love, and so we should love to talk about what we write.

You want to find several groups or blogs that offer content to their readers that would also appeal to your readers. See who is discussing dragons on the web. Is there a Twitter Chat about dragons? Also look for people who create tangible goods for dragon lovers (artists, designers, etc.)  These are people you want to try and connect with, because opportunities might exist down the road for some cross promotion. Don’t forget other authors with books like yours. Make friends, tweet links to their blog and book. They will notice and most reciprocate, meaning your book might get noticed by their audience.

4) Connect and Engage

Hurray! We have found a slew of blogs, websites, forums and people who are into dragons! Time to join up, follow and send messages about our book, right?

Sorry, that’s not how it works.

Finding out who your audience might be is one thing, but actually (hopefully) turning them into your audience is another. To do that, you need to connect. Interact. Join conversations going on about dragons. Discuss your own collection, the books you read, the movies you watch. Talk to people, find out more about them. Talk about life. Ask questions. Be genuine. Add to the conversation, supply links to things you think others will find interesting about dragons. Build relationships.

Yes, this takes time. It’s work, but if your heart is into it, it’s fun too. In time you will see that these relationships are worth far more than a handful of sales generated from  spam promo. Why? Because when you need help, you can ask. Maybe you need reviewers, or have a book launch coming up and need people to spread the word. These individuals who you have invested your time in will often be the most enthusiastic about helping you gain visibility. They become not just supporters, but if we are lucky, fans.

5) Create Book Events to Draw in Your Reading Audience

One of the best ways to gain visibility is to host a big book event online. Thinking very hard about who your exact audience is, and what they would find interesting or entertaining is the key to drawing the right crowd to your event. Online book events like a book launch are the one time when people expect us to shout about our new book from the rooftops. We can build buzz and flash our cover and blurbs, and draw interest. Events are excellent ways to get your book noticed by the right people!

But the trick is to create an event that utilizes Social Media well, and draws the attention of the right people: people most suited to enjoy our book. Unfortunately this has been made harder because of all the “White Noise” of online promotion out there. So, the task is up to us to WOW people enough that they take notice, and don’t dismiss the event as more “book promotion.”

When you create your event, keep your theme or special element in mind. Build around it. Could you do a dragon treasure hunt across many different blogs using street team members? Perhaps add a shape shifting element where participants follow clues to figure out which street team member is human and which is a dragon, so they can find the hoard (giveaway prize) on someone’s blog?  Something else? You decide!

I hope these tips help!

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WANaHEADS UP!

If you are interested in learning how to promote better during a Book Launch or Book Sale type event, our marketing webinar, The Marketing Marriage: Creative Social Media Solutions to Help Your Book Event Get Noticed is now available as an On Demand Recording.

Becca and I have run many successful events that have generated thousands of visitors, huge visibility and strong sales. In this webinar we show you how to create your own book event that attracts attention, engages your audience, and rises above the dreaded “Promo White Noise” that saturates Social Media.

It’s not just about getting eyes on your book, it’s about the RIGHT eyes. If you’d like more information, just follow this link!

How have you found your readers? Any tips to share? Post them below!

 

Image 1: OpenClips @ Pixabay

Posted in Buying Books, Marketing, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, Social Networking, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 29 Comments