bit of advice on character building that I would like to share with
you today.First off, creating a character bio has turned out to be a huge help
for me. I thought I knew my characters. I had been around them for
over a decade, I know them so well. And yet, when I started on their
bios, I actually learned even more about them!
It’s all very exciting.
So I wanted to share the three dimensions in creating your character
bio thanks to Mr. Frey:
Age, weight, shape, appearance, whatever. Even if it may not be
useful in the story, put it in there. Because society shapes a
person’s personality based on their appearance. Here are some
examples that he uses:
“Where would Jim Thorpe have been, for example, had he been born with
a club foot? or Marilyn Monroe, had she turned out flatchested? Or
Hank Aaron, had he had a withered arm? Or Barbra Streisand, a small
voice? Obviously, not only would their choices of profession have been
affected, but their personalities would have been shaped differently
as well. A small man cannot “throw his weight around” as a large man
can. Pretty or ugly, short or tall, thin or fat—all of these physical
traits affect the way a character would have developed, just as such
physical traits affect real people.”
up in. Where did they go to school? What were their parents like?
What were their parents views on politics, sex, or money? Did they
even have parents? If not, where did they grow up and what was the
overall atmosphere in that place? This also helps shape your
character in the same way that it helps shape a real human being.
two. As a result of their appearance and societal upbringing: what
makes them tick? What are their fears? Desires? Fantasies? Phobias?
IQ? Special Talents or Soundness of Reasoning?
journal in the voice of your character. This is said to be helpful in
creating a villain. This will help you find their voice and they even
reveal some odd skeletons from their closet that you didn’t think
surrounded by these characters for well over ten years. They are
still surprising me today.
So I am on the tail-end of going through my first session of Beta Readers. I have gotten a ton of great feedback and I have a lot of work ahead of me. Overall, I have positive feedback on my world-building and characters. My biggest problem is my prose and tightening the story.
What does that mean?
Well, I have no problem writing in first person. I do it all the time on my blogs. It is the voice I am most comfortable with in regaling my own story and, at times, sprinkling a bit of my own humor. However, for fantasy, tradition dictates that my novel should be written in third person limited omniscient (literally a character point of view – POV – that is not limited to the characters thoughts).
What does this have to do with my prose? Well, unfortunately, I tend to repeat a lot (a lot) of the same words. One of my beta readers took the time to highlight all the words I repeated. At least I was consistent with my repetition. But it was embarrassing, nonetheless. I need more variety in that writing. But not only did this Beta reader tell me what I needed to fix; she also gave me the tools to help!
This Beta reader’s name is Amy Butcher. I say this because she is in the process of wanting to start her own copyediting service. I found her through Goodreads and I must say that she is a gem. I will definitely continue to work with her as I take on my novel and there will be more testimonials and praise for her as I go. I just wanted to put her name out there because she is good at what she does and I definitely recommend her for anyone looking for a copy editor.
Anyway, back to my tools. Amy has recommended to me a number of books to help with my prose and working on my, so far, unstructured novel.
Here’s a brief list and what makes them useful:
- How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
- How to Write a Damn Good Novel II by James N. Frey (both help with developing a character biography and pinning down the villain)
- How to Write a Damn Good Thriller by James N. Frey (though I may not be writing a thriller, it can help with finding a good method in plotting a book)
I know that’s a lot of Frey novels, but he’s been recommended for those who write genre fiction but haven’t taken a lot of classes (like myself).
- For prose: Vex, Hex, Smash and Smoosh by Constance Hale.
- After you have rewritten a draft: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King.
- Story by Robert McKee. This guy goes over different types of plots (mostly from a screenwriting prospective – but doesn’t mean it’s not useful). He has been recommended also for help in writing good dialogues and scenes
- Anatomy of a Story by John Truby. Also recommended to plotting and mapping out a clear structure to your story.
Phew! That’s quite a list! But you know what? If you want to write the best you can, you need to acknowledge that you should get all the tools you can possibly get. Simply reading and writing for over twenty years (I am 28, do the math) does not make one automatically a good writer. Maybe some have that gift but for the rest of us it’s just only a good start.
Off to work!
Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in
the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the
second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going
to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
This is important for any storyteller in any medium. Only write what
has relevance and make sure you fulfill your promises to your
I never watched Lost but from what I heard the audience was left with
a lot of unanswered questions and that left the viewers disappointed
by the time the final episode aired. They have since learned their
lesson as they write Once Upon a Time, but this is something you
don’t want to do with their audience.
Another example: in Volocio I wrote how one character bought a
necklace with the intent of having it show up later. Upon rereading
it, I found that I never did anything with it like I had planned. So
now I have to make a decision, do I go back an incorporate it like I
had planned or do I get rid of it all together? I decided to keep it
and use it as a small detail that will help with a bigger plot line
later. I looked at my notes and found it entirely possible so that’s
what I will do.
You don’t have to sit down and carefully outline every little detail
before you start writing. This goes back to my ‘Revision’ post; write
every thing – get it out there. Then go back and fine tune your
details. But don’t worry, if you miss those details or forgot about
them then chances are your Beta readers will see them and point them
out to you. Don’t fret.
But remember, dear readers, don’t go too crazy and write yourself so
many elements that you can’t keep track. Remember the advice I got
from a publishing house: You have great ideas just too many.
Have plot twists but also try to keep it simple.
Until next time,
So you may have seen quite a few posts on Book of Tas’und’eash which
is intended to be the first book of my Volocio Saga but now I am
talking about a novel called Volocio…..which is actually book 4.
What the hell would I do that?
Well, I had originally thought about puuled a George Lucas and
starting with my Episode 4. Remember in an earlier post how I was
really inspired by Star Wars? Well, when I first started writing, it
was also the time that ‘The Phantom Menace’ came out in theatres.
I love genesis stories. I love knowing how things grew to where they
were in the main story. I loved the idea of how Anakin became Vader
(I may not have been a total fan of the execution); I love the idea of
how Aslan created Narnia.
But what I really love are the Easter eggs. If you’re not familiar
with the concept: they are little details that may be an homage to
something earlier or later. The point is that it is subtle. Perfect
example: the origin of the lamp post in The Lion, The Witch, and the
Wardrobe. In this book, the lamp post serves no other purpose than
to stand there and be the starting point where Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus.
But in its prequel The Magicians Nephew, you find out where this
lamp post came from. It’s such s small detail but I love it.
So I knew I was going to have a prequel in mind and I wanted my own
little Easter eggs for my readers. I still felt that Volocio wasn’t
ready so I put it aside and started working on the prequel trilogy
with Book of Tas’und’eash being the first. I have spent over a year
writing that book and carefully crafting the two subsequent books.
They are almost completely mapped out and I have already picked out my
Easter eggs. So what to do now?
I remembered a conversation I had with an old friend while in New York
City this last April. JB had pointed out that my episodes 4, 5, and 6
were to be my true series and the prequel trilogy will be great
stories to enhance the main series. That’s when I realized that he
was right and that now my Easter eggs are in place, I can go back to
Volocio and add the final touches.
I can be like other authors who did not write their series in
chronological order such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover, or
Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, or even Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan.
So while I am still working a little on Book of Tas’und’eash, I will
be putting my efforts into ‘Volocio’ in order to get that world out
there to my readers.
What do you think?
Until Next Time!
I can’t tell you how many times I have started and reworked Volocio.
Actually I can and I will: I finished my first draft (at the time it
was called So It Begins) when I was about fifteen. It was one whole
book and at the time it was a huge accomplishment. Then I started my
freshman year of high school and I remember sitting in English class
when it dawned on me….it had to be a trilogy. So I took the story
and broke it into three separate pieces and then I totally revamped
I finished that draft a few years latera and had a friend of my mom
look at it. Naomi was my first real editor and she was great. She
was very positive and constructive. I also really needed help with my
grammar (which is still not perfect, by the way – speaking three
languages tends to mess you up from time to time). I was very lucky
to have her.
By the time I was eighteen and a senior in high school, I decided to
try my hand at sending my manuscripts to publishers. I believe I sent
out 26 packages (yes packages….this was before you sent queries by
e-mail). While I waited it dawned on me that this was still not the
story I wanted to tell, but it was too late.
But then I was rejected by all. I did get one piece of advice that I
still cherish greatly: You have a lot of great ideas, but too many.
Yes….just a big yes!
So now we are entering my freshman year of college where I gutted
Volocio and made a third a final draft that I am still happy with to
this very day. Once I finally finished, I put it away for a few years
and worked on some other projects in the same world. But every time I
come back, I am still ok with the story.
Now I need to finally get off my ass and get Beta Readers.
Anyway, the point I am trying to make is to just write because you
will make revisions after revisions but the point is to get it out
there in the first place.
Until Next Time,
It is understood in the industry that you will need to know the answer
to this questions: who is your target audience? Even if you don’t
have a specific audience in mind, think about why you wrote your
If you wre writing a self help guide for teenagers and your
inspiration was your young niece about to enter that period of her
life then say that. Every writer writes for some reason even if it’s
just for themselves.
Emily Dickenson only wrote for herself. Her poems never saw the light
of day until AFTER she passed away. Stephani Meyer, author of
Twilight, said, “What’s funny about that is when I was writing Twilight just for
myself and not thinking of it as a book, I was not thinking about
publishing…” She had a dream of a girl talking to a beautiful man
in a forest. When she woke up, she couldn’t get the image out of her
head and also wanted to find out more so she started to write.
But when it comes to the wire, you shouldn’t say that you were writing
it for yourself. It doesn’t help publishing houses know where to
market your work.
If you do find that this is your answer the ask yourself why someone
like you would read your work? I will use myself as an example:
When I first started Volocio, I was very heavy into reading Young
Adult. The stories drew me in more. I did venture into more adult
fantasy but I found their info dumps to be a little too much for me at
times. In my experience the adults fantasy worlds tend to be a little
more complex. Don’t get me wrong, they are complicated because the
writers create such real and vivid worlds with its own vast history
and culture and prophecy. It is wonderful what these writers can come
up with but sometimes the back story is a little too much more me.
Other times I loves it. Depends on my mood. Even today I am still
more drawn to books that sit in the Young Adult section.
So I guess my work will be geared as YA.
So there you have it. One of your first homework assignments as you
write your work. Even if you are writing forself, remember that there
are others like you with your similar tastes. Figure out what that
means to you.
Until Next Time,
I started writing Volocio when I was about thirteen. When I started
to write it, I was literally just writing down my daydreams, the
adventures I wanted to have. My two obsessions at such a young age
were Star Wars and Sailor Moon.
What I loved about Sailor Moon was the power over the elements,
reincarnation, fighting evil by the moonlight, winning love by
daylight, and finding your true love against insurmountable odds. Of
course my favorite Sailor Scout is still Sailor Jupiter (this is why
my main character Rei can wield lightning) It’s also interesting that
Sailor Moon has been re-released in a new version. I am twenty-eight
now but I feel like I am thirteen again.
On the other hand, what I loved about Stars Wars I later learned came
from Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero with a Thousand Face.’ I mean the
architypes you find in most classic epics. There’s the hero’s
journey. You can take a look at this awesome chart I found.
You can compare this with a lot of epics. You will find that, for the
most part, they fit. Try is now with ‘The Matrix,’ ‘The Hobbit,’
‘Divergent,’ ‘Narniva,’ and ‘Song of the Lioness.’ They work because
the writer intentionally or unintentionally drew from the architypes
to give you the story you are familiar with.
If you are not familiar with Joseph Campbell then I highly recomment
that you either pick up ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ or (if you can
find it) the PBS interview with Joseph Campbell called ‘The Power of Myth.’
Very cool stuff! You will learn a lot.
Until Next Time,