Remember that one time your character “narrowed his eyes,” or “shuffled his feet,” or “rolled his eyes” when something demanded him to offer an emotional response? Remember when he did it again? And again? And so on?
Don’t you wish you were astute enough to mention how your character’s response to boredom was not to “tap his fingers against the desk” but to “pick at his bowl of Cheetos because it gives him something to do”?
Then welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf because today you’re in luck. Our focus book this week is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Bella Puglisi (even though the example I gave you is actually from their companion e-book, Emotion Amplifiers). Its purpose is to help you create moments in fiction that express character emotion rather than talk about it, giving you a wide berth for creating compelling action. It also helps you to figure out what types of characters you have when you explore the many options they may have for responding to stimuli, all the while helping you to break the habit of relying on the same three expressions over and over and over. It’s pretty revolutionary.
Check out my video discussing it for more information.
Or save yourself a half an hour and just buy the book now because you’re gonna want this one. Details below.
Note: This article refers to the book’s Second Edition (with 130 definitions as opposed to the original 75).
Writing fiction and memoir is hard, and writing compelling characters is much of what makes it hard. We often dive into a manuscript or outline with a basic understanding of what makes our characters tick, but often that understanding turns out even shallower than what we’d previously thought. This can lead not only to frustration but a belief that the manuscript will never live up to its potential. After all, if we can’t understand our characters well, or what makes them believable, then how can we trust our false effort to pass them off to our readers as believable?
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week’s book, Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, Second Edition by Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D., helps us through this issue by providing us with a bank of character traits for any and most occasions, using psychological profiles for certain character types and breaking down the many traits that accompany that profile. And you know it’s useful because the titled credential in the author’s name proves that she knows what she’s talking about.
This book is a mix of narrative and definitions, text and charts. It’s also quite long, but very resourceful for anyone who takes their character development seriously. It even, on occasion, gives tips on how the writer can handle moments of crisis or change. It’s definitely an essential reference for anyone who wants a believable and empathetic character.
Check out my video on the topic to find out more about it.
Remember that one time you were bullied in school and thought, “One day, Billy Bob, I will have my revenge. In fiction!”? And remember when you sat down to write that revenge story and realized you know nothing about Billy Bob but for his bad breath and powerful hand on the back of your head as your face went into the toilet bowl, wondering if maybe his bullying wasn’t even his fault (even though he was totally acting on self-will)? Did you suddenly think that writing him as a one-note monster might’ve done him a literary injustice, even though he probably deserved all injustices heaped upon him?
Is it possible that, in your tale of epic revenge, you actually wanted to get his character right because getting him wrong would make you look like the bully?
Then welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week’s book, Bullies, Bastards & Bitches by Jessica Page Morrell, is right up your alley. And before you ask, yes, that is the title, and you probably do want to get a special cover for it if you choose to read it in public, if you’re so inclined.
Do you think your villain is too mua-ha-ha and you want to motivate him more realistically? Then this book is right for you. Is your antihero too good to be considered dangerous or “anti” anything, and you’re afraid of Superman’s ego taking over? Then this book is right for you. Is your femme fatale a little dainty and nice and in need of some mud on her face? Well, read on, friend. This book is also right for you.
Heck, if you just want to write a compelling character who lives left of gray and don’t want to mess it up, then this book is right for you. Check out my video on the topic to find out more.
And the story above is an example, not a memory. Hopefully it’s not a memory for you, either.
Aloha, hola, and hello. If you’ve stumbled onto my corner of the Internet, then welcome. Please take a look around. Consider hanging out for a while. Maybe leave a comment or two. And while you’re here, take a look at the book I’m writing about today.
Welcome to The Writer’s Bookshelf.
This week, we’re continuing our discussion about characters and the things that make them worth rooting for, this time with a more central focus on a particular character need: motivation. Our book this week, The Compass of Character, is a challenging one, but if you can digest its wisdom into bite-sized pieces, then you’ll walk away with a clarity you might not have had before. Clarity about what?
You may finally figure out what the heck your characters actually want.
Yes, it’s a much harder subject to crack than it sounds on paper. It’s still one of my weaknesses. But I’m the guy who stares at a restaurant menu for fifteen minutes, trying to decide between a plain chicken sandwich and a spicy one. It’s always about the details, right? So, this book is necessary for anyone who believes a good character motivation is to “succeed” or “not die” or “pay his taxes on time.” And this video will discuss it in greater detail if that sounds like the very mystery you need to crack today.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. If you have no idea what this series is about, then you’re in luck. Today marks our 25th episode, which means you now have 25 opportunities to catch up. Congratulations! (I realize that still doesn’t explain what this series is, but discovery through investigating the archives is half the fun, with the other half being that I outright tell you the answer. But discovery is the weightier half of fun.)
Anyway, this week, we’re discussing character creation at its most fundamental, through the wisdom of a book written by not one, not two, not three, but a bunch of authors, in the form of essays and chapter excerpts from other books, compiled into a single digest of useful information from the masters of writing digests, the editors of Writer’s Digest Books. That book? It’s called Creating Characters. And it’s about what it says.
So, yeah, this one is a can’t-miss. Or, I guess you have free will, so this is one that you shouldn’t miss.
Seriously, check it out. I did. In fact, I checked it out specifically for this series, which hopefully you’ve figured out by now if you’re new to the show.
But again, it’s about creating characters, as the title suggests. And it leaves nothing out. Or, at least nothing you’ll miss.
Okay, the stats follow. Enjoy. And, don’t forget that there’s a video attached. You should watch it.
Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here. Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.
Did you check out last week’s 45 Master Characters and decided it just wasn’t enough information? You needed more power? Then this week, I’ve got great news.
Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s other book on character creation, A Writer’s Guide to Characterization, is this week’s subject of The Writer’s Bookshelf, and it’s one you should check out if you want to build your story around archetypal characters while figuring out how to place them. Who should be the protagonist? Who makes for a better side character? Should those two people really be lovers? This book will tell you if they’ll have a happily ever after or a battle of the flying frying pans.
It also talks about animal archetypes, you know, for completion’s sake.
Check out the video, then check out the book, then put it all to good use.
An important part of building an author career is to track your marketing efforts against your sales and royalties. For some, this is a numbers utopia, full of such wondrous operators like plus signs and dollar symbols. For others, it’s the antithesis of using words to create a fake reality, creating instead the type of dread that only writers can fear: “Ah, numbers! Get them off of me!”
The good news for both camps is that using traditional spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel (superior) and Google Sheets (inferior) can save an author loads of headaches when the end-of-the-year financial reports are due to the accountants. As long as the author doesn’t mind spending the final week of the year cross-posting payment information and marketing bills from his bank to his spreadsheet, then this system works perfectly fine.
But the better news is that, for those who like simplicity and free time, there are apps available that you can access on the fly whenever you want a quick report on your daily, weekly, or monthly sales progress, as well as handy little CSV icons you can click to export that same information to a ready-made spreadsheet, perfect for that accountant you’d rather not talk to.
The decision on which apps to choose comes down to which platforms you want to track (like Amazon or Google Play), which information you want to collect, how frequently you plan to check, how much privacy you want as the app runs, and how much you’re willing to pay for the privilege of making your accountant’s life easier at the end of the year.
It also depends on whether you want just financial reports or if monitoring incoming reviews and ratings reports are important, too. Oh, and sweet graphics might also play a role. Both apps have that department covered pretty nicely.
In the above video, I discuss the pros and cons of using one popular reporting app that’s been an indie author favorite for several years, Book Report, and one up-and-comer with HUGE potential for usefulness and longevity in the market, and one that I’ve become an instant fan of the moment I heard about it, ScribeCount.
If you have time, check them both out and see if they can change the trajectory of your author career for the better. Likewise, if you’re not an author but you want to know what it’s like to become one professionally, and you’re curious whether it’s a life you want, then this also applies to you.
And don’t forget to leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add to the discussion.
Have you ever dreamed up a character that seemed flat on the page? What about an ensemble of talking heads that seemed to talk to no one and everyone without a purpose or identity? Have you ever built a villain that looked too much like a hero (and vice versa)? Then maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Welcome to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we focus on Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s answer to the Hero’s Journey by focusing on the mythic characters that populate it. 45 Master Characters is your new go-to for plotting when you want your characters to tell the story rather than set the dressing. Or something like that.
If you ever wanted to ensure your characters are varied yet compatible, then this is the book to read. Find out why in this week’s video.
Episodic fiction is hot right now. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wrapping up its six-episode run, thus completing yet another story arc for our beloved Marvel superheroes, and The Karate Kid getting its fifth series installment in the form of three seasons of television and counting (in Cobra Kai), and Stranger Things stirring up all sorts of speculation about the future of Hawkins, Indiana, it’s easy to see that telling stories in bite-sized chunks over a span of weeks, months, or even years is a great way to keep the fans fulfilled but hungry.
But has it always been the entertainment equivalent to potato chips dipped in powdered donuts?
For me, my addiction to television began as a child, watching primetime episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, Family Ties, The A-Team, Perfect Strangers, and Night Court (and plenty others), and continued well into my teen years, where I had the pleasure of watching Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Married with Children, and Seinfeld (and later, reruns of The Simpsons and Seinfeld). But then I got to college and whisked it all away.
Television stopped being fun to watch.
Sure, there were good shows on in the late 1990s, but most of them were on channels I couldn’t afford or pick up on my antenna. Everything else I loved watching had already wrapped. And with college becoming my focus, I didn’t really see much reason to give television my attention. Besides, the movies were much better. By that point, we’d gotten the summer of 1996 and the year to end all movie years, 1999 (look it up; it was a titanic year, even though Titanic was released a little more than a year earlier). What even was television by that point?
Okay, in fairness, ER was in its prime, and Alias was giving Jennifer Garner a named status. And shows like Friends and Frasier were going strong. But I wasn’t watching any of those. Each episode was just more of the same (and Alias was on the channel my antenna couldn’t pick up).
It wasn’t until 24 in late 2001 that something sparked my interest. But even then, I was busy with other matters. As much as I liked 24, I kept thinking I’d just catch it later (or on DVD, which ended up being the situation).
Then came March 2005 and the grand entrance of Steve Carell and The Office, and that was the end of my television fast. It just took two episodes to wrangle me back into a television habit that lasted for the next twelve years (and included weekly viewings of 24, beginning with the stellar Season 5, Parks and Recreation, and my new favorite, Community).
And though many of these shows maintained the old habit of introducing familiar characters to new situations without much memory of the previous episode, the seeds of serial fiction were embedded. The Office introduced “Jim and Pam” in a hopeless romantic subplot that spanned three seasons and didn’t truly reach its height until early Season 6. 24 boarded a rocket ship every season and rode it to the finale, keeping viewers invested in a single 24-part story arc, and residents of Los Angeles worried what was about to happen every time the clock hit 59 minutes on the hour (but only on bad days).
These shows each proved one thing: a good season of television is enough to keep viewers on the hook for another round, and to get a good season, television needs to come with great episodes. And unlike the chapters of a novel, these episodes can live independently of each other, but like a compelling novel, each episode must contain its own completed arc while serving the needs of the greater story.
It’s a puzzling juggling act. But it’s nevertheless important to keep the balls in the air. (Insert a Michael Scott catchphrase here.)
To get it right is a challenge and a reward.
And Amazon is rolling out a new service that gives authors an opportunity to get it right.
If you haven’t heard of Kindle Vella yet, well now you have. It’s Amazon’s entrance into the browser-based episodic fiction market (like Wattpad), using their massive platform to create an experience that combines Wattpad with Medium. Its goal is to entertain readers with the gift of storytelling, one episode at a time (with episodes ranging from 600-5,000 words each), but to do so behind a paywall so that authors can earn cash for their sweet and precious words.
Well, the requirements for entry are steep. In short, all stories posted to the platform must be original. That means never-before-published. And if there’s one thing Amazon is good at, it’s stalking the entire Internet and library database and your third grade teacher’s manila folder (that she left under the couch that one time she tried catching her cat on shots day) for your story. And THEY WILL FIND IT. So, keep it original.
They’re also available in the United States only, but that’s probably temporary.
For my part, I’ve started adapting my game Entrepreneur: The Beginning into an episodic novel, and will be posting new episodes every Friday, under the title The Hybrid City Entrepreneur. But because Vella won’t officially open to the public until sometime this summer, I’ve got time to frontload it with content. And that’s important because the first three episodes of every story will be free. It isn’t until Episode 4 of any story that readers will have to shell out their precious tokens (the currency of Vella) to unlock what’s next and find out what’s really eating Gilbert Grape.
Okay, yeah, I absolutely broke out the antiquated movie reference. And I don’t care. We’re not writing movies in Vella. We’re writing television, dangit! Well, except that we’re not even doing that. It’s the structure that counts here.
If you want to see how to get onto Vella, check out my video below. And if you want to find out more, I recommend Kindlepreneur’s and Reedsy’s articles on the topic.
If you decide to give it a try, make sure you let us know in the comments. (But don’t post samples. Again, Amazon is always watching. Always.)
Aw, you came back! Excellent. Welcome to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Again!
This week’s book takes us into the mind of an author who wants to tell us about the writing life like it is. This is the reality check for anyone who dreams of writing for a living. Is it glamorous? Maybe. Is it profitable? Maybe! Is it rewarding on any level, intellectual or otherwise? Pending. Is it for those who think they can cut it without learning a thing? There’s only one way to find out.
This book of essays addresses some of these topics (and many others) while helping the aspiring author decide whether writing is a business he or she should aspire to (and why). In the tradition of Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Kerri Majors’s message to new writers in This Is Not a Writing Manual is simple: Learn what you’re getting yourself into before you jump in. Then jump in.
And why wait? Check it out now, if you’d like. Here’s the video that hypes it up! And here are the other vitals: