Showing posts with label writing advice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing advice. Show all posts

Friday, February 1, 2019

Should characters ever be based on people you know? πŸ€”

I recently stumbled across a video where someone was recommending that writers base characters on people they know. I cringed.

I never pretend to be the expert on writing but I do feel that after a few books, I've learned a couple things along the way. Although to be honest, basing characters on people I actually know never seemed like a good idea and therefore, I never did it. To begin with, I'm assuming there would always be a paranoia of someone 'discovering' that a character was strangely like them not to mention hurt feelings, potential arguments and maybe even a few Facebook much as we all love those.

Most importantly, I feel that characters create themselves. You might have a few ideas of who they are or what they're about but in the end, characters have a tendency to form naturally as you write the story. It's kind of like having a child and deciding on the kind of personality you think they'll have; chances are, they'll soon show you that you never had a say in the first place.

Characters are complex. As a writer, you'll probably have a deeper understanding of your characters than most people in your life. You have the special ability to see inside their heart and understand what makes them tick and it makes sense because after all, you're on a long journey together.

The most interesting thing about characters is that they often are a piece of you. Just like every songwriter inserts a piece of who they are in their songs, every author tends to do the same with their characters. It's not something you think about but rather it just happens. Maybe one of your characters shares one of your biggest fears in life or your fixation for a 90s HBO series. The characters are unique but they're also you.

And really, isn't that what makes the writing process so amazing?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Should we allow readers to be our censorship police? πŸš“

I always tell the story about a woman who criticized my first book, Fire. She said 'If I took out all the F-words, your book would be half the size'. Of course, she was kind of a bitch on a good day, so I wasn't surprised when she made this snarly remark to me back in 2010. If you've read any of my books since that time, you already know that her thoughts did little to sway me and I continue to use a lot of profanity and graphic content in my books.

I don't do this for shock value (which has also been suggested by one particularly gnarly reviewer back in the day) but because it is my style. This is how I choose to write. I don't exactly sit down in front of my laptop and think 'what can I write that will shock people the most' but I do follow my writing instinct and admittedly, it sometimes takes me down a dark, twisted and even questionable road but one thing can be assured, I'm never bored. To me, this is a good sign. If the writer isn't bored, chances are good the reader won't be either.

The truth is that only in very extreme situations is a writer going 'too far'. There are 'how to' books out there that would make the most insensitive person a little ill 🀒and although there are some that definitely cross the line, for the most part, we have to consider freedom of expression. And the really beautiful thing about freedom is that it kind of goes both ways. I'm free to write what I want and you're free to not read it if you believe it's too offensive. πŸ˜‰

Saturday, September 22, 2018

How Do I Start my Book? πŸ“š

I will admit that there is a lot of time and effort involved in writing a book. However, once broken down into small, manageable tasks, it actually isn't bad. Of course, it also has to be something you enjoy, otherwise, you will be struck with writer's block, find excuses not to work on it or probably toss it aside altogether.

So let's begin!

Your tenth-grade creative writing teacher probably told you to outline everything before you start writing. I disagree. For me, this would never work. There has to be a certain amount of spontaneity involved to keep it fresh and interesting. If you can easily plot out the chapters and figure out the ending before getting past chapter one, chances are your reader will too. Remember, readers are very savvy and automatically try to figure things out as soon as they pick up a book. If you have no idea what is going to happen until you're typing it, chances are they will be just as surprised.

Not to say you shouldn't jot down ideas but I wouldn't bother organizing right away. You can picture specific scenes, conversations, events and know they're going to fit in somewhere, you just don't have to know where yet. Also, you must follow the natural flow of the story and take the characters into consideration; how will each action affect them? What is their own unique path or struggle? How does it fit in with the rest of the story?

Of course, I'm talking about fiction but what about non-fiction? Are the rules the same?

I probably would have an outline for something that falls under non-fiction, but with room to breathe so that you can see how the story flows and which angle it takes. Make sure it is factual and be ready to list any sources you might be using. Remember, you don't want to get sued.

Regardless of what you write, the first draft should be fun. Editing is another story. Let's not go there today. ☺️

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Switch away from the protagonist?? Don't mind if I do! πŸ˜ƒ

Something I started doing a few books ago is to switching away from the protagonist for one chapter. So essentially, I have another secondary character take over the story for one chapter, usually around the middle of the book, in order to give the reader another perspective. It also gives me an opportunity to shake things up a bit. It adds another layer to the book.

The beauty of it is that you can have a better overall view of the protagonist. For example, if your protagonist has a specific point of view about themselves, you might swing around to another character who draws a completely different picture. It gives the reader food for thought. Maybe the impression that the protagonist is giving isn't completely accurate. Then again, it might also change your opinion of the secondary character as well, since you will be seeing them up close and personal.

I do this with almost every one of my books and find that it really gives me a different perspective too. Sometimes the only way to really understand where a secondary character is coming from is to climb inside of their mind. It's really fascinating.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Characters, Characters, Characters! Why we love Awesome Characters! πŸ˜‡πŸ˜ˆ

Is there a character that you love? It doesn't matter if it's on television or in your favorite book; is there someone that stands out and is exciting to watch or read about? Why is character development so important??

If there's one thing that stands out to me in a great book or television show it is awesome characters. In my mind, these personalities (or lack there of...) can make or break a show. You can have awesome plot twists, terrific writing but if you don't have characters that people connect with, it falls flat.

We like variety, diverse and dynamic characters. As I've said before, personalities that jump off the page because they seem so real, so interesting; they're the people you want to learn more about with every chapter or in the case of a television show, each episode.

Characters should grow especially if you have them in a series. Just like everyday people, it seems a bit unusual to not see growth or at the very least, a change in opinion over time. As you learn about the characters, they're often learning about themselves. Even more interestingly, the characters you're drawn to might also be telling you something about yourself.

Why it's important to see through the character's eyes πŸ‘

One of the really cool aspects of writing for me has been able to get inside a character's head. I love being able to see things through their point of view, to understand where they are coming from due to their experiences and being able to demonstrate this to the reader. There's something really awesome about seeing through someone else's eyes and I wish everyone could do it more in everyday life. It's really easy to judge or put people in categories but it's much more difficult to step back and get a sense of understanding; then again, that's possibly why most people don't make the effort.

With characters, you simply have no choice but to understand and appreciate their journey. This is probably one of the biggest lessons I've learned from writing and probably one that I apply to my everyday life. Actually, when I first started to write as a teenager, I remember that as one of the key reasons why the whole process appealed to me. I felt there wasn't enough understanding of other people and that through characters, we could all open our eyes a little wider and perhaps show some compassion as opposed to ignorance.

Fast forward to years later and I think this lesson is even more relevant than ever. When we look at our world today, we definitely see a strong disconnect, a lot of judgment and even more so, a vast divide. One of the beautiful things about the characters I write about is that they come from many different backgrounds and experiences and I make great efforts to show how this relates to their current situations.

Interesting enough, real life isn't that much different if we take the time to investigate.

Friday, September 7, 2018

I just published my first book! πŸ˜„What do I do next? πŸ™€

I've had a lot of people approach me after publishing their first book because they're unsure of what to do next. This is because authors spend so much time working on the actual novel, deciding on the cover and so many more things that once it is out, they sometimes feel a bit uncertain of how to proceed.

When you're new to the industry, it can be a bit stressful trying to figure out what is and isn't a good idea.  I would be cautious of any site that guarantees more followers or gives you over the top promises (at a price) to promote your book. I've personally never paid for any of these services however, I have had them approach me repeatedly over the last few years. I also would avoid giving books away in exchange for reviews because even though people may agree to help you out, in my experience, many don't follow through. I also wouldn't recommend you pay a large amount of money....well, for anything, really. There are lots of free resources that I would try out first and see how it goes. And speaking of which, here is my list:

1. Press release. Don't know how to write one? Look it up online. Who do you send it to? Everyone you're inclined to contact. I would definitely send it to your own, local media, all free newspapers and places that deal with writers or the arts. You may or may not get a lot of bites but regardless, you're showing off your new book and you never know who's paying attention.

2. Social media. I think that is a given. I personally am having a love affair with Twitter, however, I also use and enjoy Facebook, G+, Instagram, and Linkedin. Make sure you post regularly, reply to comments, shares etc and be consistent.

3. Create a website. It can be super professional but there are also a lot of free sites out there you can try out. It simply gives people a way to find you online.

4. Try to get your books into libraries especially the one in your area.

5. Join Goodreads. Not only can you add your books you can also share what you're reading too.

6. Get reviews. This is often easier said than done but it definitely helps you out.

7. Work with other authors. Sometimes you can exchange books to write a review for each other. Of course, you can always be creative and think of other cool ways to help promote one another.

8. Videos. Youtube, about your book so people can learn about it. I would also recommend writing a blog. This gives people a chance to learn what your book and about you too.

Of course, these are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I also know that some people like to introduce their book in library events, book launches and more. It really depends on the kind of book you have and what inspires you!

The one thing I spend money on is having bookmarks made. I include images of all my covers as well as my website and social media. This is a terrific way to connect with new readers and who doesn't love a free bookmark?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

How to make to make your book stand out on social media πŸ’»

Sometimes you have to be very creative when coming up with ways to promote your book. Depending on the subject matter, your resources and the expected audience, you might want to consider various methods to capture some attention. Although the media is probably the best way to get noticed, it's sometimes easier said than done. Taking out ads, purchasing bookmarks (although I find this a great form of marketing) and giving away books in hopes of getting reviews can get very expensive.

The beauty of social media is that it's free. Sure, you can pay extra for ads but that isn't necessary and if you do choose to do so, it's actually quite inexpensive. However, for today, let's focus on the free stuff and I will throw a few ideas at you on ways to show off your book!

First of all, I'm not an expert. I'm just giving you advice from my own experience as an author. Most of what I do is just experimenting and seeing what works. Here are a few things I do:

- Share images of the cover with quotes from the book. This quote could be a jarring comment made by a character, a line that stands out or even a portion of the synopsis. Essentially, you want to give the reader an idea of what they are in for if they get your book. πŸ˜‰

- Share an image of a review. This shows potential readers what other people are saying about your book.

- Share a blog or YouTube video where you talk about your book. Sometimes people want to learn a little bit more and why your book stands out.

- Share some images of your most recent newspaper articles (as well as the links) discussing the book.

- Take pictures of your books in various settings; someone reading it, you holding a copy, an animal staring at it with interest....use your imagination. This is great for Instagram users.

- Answer people's questions. If you are being asked where to buy your book etc, address it in a post.

- Announce when your books are in local libraries, bookstores etc. If you can, take a picture too.

- If you have a book signing, an upcoming interview etc, make sure to highlight this on your social media and create an excitement about the event.

This is really just a few ideas off the top of my head. Again, I'm not an expert but I know sometimes people are new to social media or publishing and aren't sure what to do. Also, make sure to reply to people who take the time to comment on or share your posts. And last but not least, if you don't have time to be consistent, try to schedule your social media. You can find tools online to do this and Facebook allows you to do it right on your page.

But most important, talk to people, not at them. Social media should be fun and be cool! 😎

Monday, September 3, 2018

Why you should take criticism with a grain of salt πŸ™‰

Criticism. We hate that word especially when it's used against us. It feels like an attack. It feels like a kick in the gut. It feels like a put-down. But is it?

To a degree, it is our egos that get involved. After all, is it really any of your business what other people think of you and regardless, why do their opinions matter in the first place? Why do we care?

For writers (or really, any artists) criticism can be taken very personally. I know because I've been one of those overly sensitive artists who has dealt with insults about my writing. The truth is that it certainly gets easier as time goes on and you learn to not take it as personally because, at the end of the day, it's just someone's opinion. Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to appreciate or understand the message you are attempting to send through your work. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do, criticism is just a part of life.

I always feel bad when people tell me they want to start a book but they seem apprehensive because they're already doubting themselves and their abilities. Sometimes it is that self-criticism that is even more dangerous than the kind other people dish out to us. After all, in order for their words to affect us, first we must believe them; so wouldn't that mean that a part of us must carry some self-doubt?

Think about it.

Why Contradictions are Cool! 😎

Contradictions are fun! There's nothing more interesting than a character with vast contradictions in their personality because it's completely unexpected and catches the reader (or viewer, if it's something on television) off guard.  And isn't that what we want? To be surprised?

I tend to use contradictions and quirks a lot in my writing because I feel it adds a little something extra to the characters. Although to tell you the truth,  I don't overthink it either because it comes along quite naturally. Each character tends to have their own unique personalities that encompass some interesting contradictions.

As an example, Diego Silva is a very dapper and sophisticated character so it would surprise people to know that when attacking someone, his weapon of chose is a baseball bat. In fact, if you follow along in this particular series, you will see Diego bring out the baseball bat on at least one occasion per book. πŸ™„Definitely not something you would expect.

Another example would be Paige NoΓ«l-Hernandez who is considered one of the best assassins in the world - but she also likes to meditate and talk about self-help. Probably not what you would expect but it's sort of a neat contradiction.

To me, this helps make characters seem more alive, fun and interesting. And let's face it, we all have our own contradictions that make us unique. What are yours?

Do you need a website? πŸ’»

If you're an author, I definitely recommend you have a website. In fact, if you're a creative of any kind and want to get your work 'out there', I strongly suggest you have a website so people can find you.

The beauty of a website is that it is the one place where people can learn all about you; your work, the latest news, how to connect to your social media, how to sign up for your newsletter etc. It really depends what you wish to put on your site however, the bottom line is that you need all your information put together in one place.

I'm definitely not an expert on websites. In fact, my first website was put together by a friend and it was free. Since that time, I've moved on to get a domain name and a site that I threw together myself. It's not elaborate but it works. It's simple and contains information on my books, interviews, articles I've written and a little bit about me. Again, nothing fancy but it serves the purpose.

I think it's also important to note that websites should be clear and simple. People go to sites to find out basic information and if you're an author, that could be to find a list of your books, learn who you are, check out your interviews and social media. If they go to your site and find it cluttered, confusing or lacks the information they want, chances are they won't stick around for long.

If you aren't super techy and a little intimidated by creating your own website, I would recommend you do a Google search to learn about the best approach for you.

What is a 3 dimensional character and why do we need them? πŸ€”

I was recently watching a show where a young actress was showing her outrage. The interesting thing is that her expression was the same as when she was upset, when she was happy, when she was...nothing...😏The point is that her acting wasn't very three dimensional. It fell flat.

Sometimes characters in books can also fall flat so it's our job as writers to make sure that this doesn't happen. There should be depth to characters, they should show a vast array of emotions and reactions and most of all, we should be able to see their many layers. Just like real people (hopefully) characters have to have a complexity because that is, after all, human nature. Sometimes we don't even understand ourselves and characters are pretty much the same way. That's all part of the human struggle and it's necessary for growth whether it's your own life or a character's development, it matters.

I certainly make great efforts to show the many sides of each of my characters. For example, as much as Jorge Hernandez (the protagonist in my recent books) is generally a very tough, alpha males, who can be abrupt, direct and occasionally cruel, he also has a soft side when with family and especially his wife. Along with all of this, he has much inner turmoil stemming from his childhood, his fears of being a bad father and about his future. For this reason, when asked to describe his character, I find it a bit difficult because there's no simple answer. Then again, when describing most people that I know, I run into the same problem.

Characters should grow throughout a book and if they are part of a series, throughout the series as well. It actually is fun to see where they will go and what will happen. Kind of like real life. Well, sometimes.

Why authors should challenge themselves πŸ€“

Let's face it, it's easy to fall into the comfort zone and not want to get back up again. It's our nature as humans to want to feel comfortable, to feel in control; but is it good for us?

I think we both know the answer to that question.

As a writer, I've traveled out of my comfort zone many times. Sometimes it is topics that make me uneasy, other times it is something like self-promotion or social media that has made me anxious. Of course, this is normal. When we aren't familiar with something, we become nervous, fearing that we will make fools of ourselves or do or say something wrong. When in reality, we are simply on a learning curve and this is important. Not only does it help with your end goals as a writer, it also builds your confidence.

One of the biggest challenges I've had as a writer is doing interviews. The first few times I've done them, I actually felt a bit dumbfound and not always sure what to say. I've actually had one journalist bite my head off because I wasn't giving her a 'good quote'. In my defense, I didn't exactly have media training and was attempting to answer my questions as best I could.

Since that time, I've also jumped into the whole world of YouTube videos. It wasn't something I was super excited about in the beginning but in the end, I have to say it was one of the best ideas I've had since I started writing. I don't say that because I have a massive following or because I think I'm terrific on camera but because it helped me build my confidence, which in turn, helped me with my interviewing skills and generally talk about my writing.

I've also dealt with writing topics that have challenged me. Believe it or not, I've never been in a cartel, never sold drugs, never been in politics, never been an assassin, never been a vampire or a rock star and yet, these are all topics that I write about. Not only have I done the research, I've paid attention to the world around me; the news, documentaries, films, webinars, books...there are many sources of information out there and many trails away from just the facts to more personal experiences. We have to put ourselves in many shoes when writing and give it fair consideration and that sometimes is a challenge in itself.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Why do I do YouTube videos? πŸ“Ή

If you are a writer and have a new book coming out, should you do a YouTube video? What if you are a more seasoned author, should you dip your toes into the world of YouTube or run the other way?

Actually, many people choose to run the other way because it is a bit scary. Recording a video (and even worse, later playing it back to watch yourself) isn't always an experience that people look forward to trying. Having said that, it's usually not that bad and sometimes it can actually be a huge confidence booster.

I started to do YouTube videos a couple of years ago and it was with some reluctance. To be honest, I was terrified. I wasn't exactly excited about watching myself talking on video. It reminded me of those days of public speaking in high school that made me want to hide under my desk, however, I recognized that it was important in my overall goals and so with so reluctance, I gave it a shot. I now have over 80 videos on my channel.

The beauty of recording a video is that you don't have to post it. You can simply take the time to get comfortable with speaking to a camera, explaining your topic in a satisfactory manner (notes help) and of course, you have to stop finding fault with your appearance. These are probably the three things that make most people hesitant. We live in such an overproduced world when it comes to both 'reality' television and even YouTube videos that we often forget that we don't have to look, sound or be perfect in order to record a video. In fact, if you sound, look and seem too perfect, it actually might make you slightly less relatable to your audience.

Having said that, make some effort. Don't roll out of bed, not comb your hair and rambling on for 20 minutes without making a point either. You should lean more toward showing the best of you than the ill-prepared, sloppy version of yourself. It might give the impression that you don't really care and if you don't, why should anyone else?

So why did I start doing YouTube videos? I wanted my audience and potential audience to learn about me. I didn't want to be the anonymous face behind the books or the mysterious author that no one knows. I wanted people to learn where I was coming from, why I was writing about the topics I chose, to explain my books to people who wanted to get more of a sense what they were about and as time went on, it also gave me an opportunity to answer some of my most asked questions from either new authors or people interested in writing.

Most important of all, I believe that YouTube videos are about connection. For me, it was important to connect with people especially those who are interested in my writing. I don't do them because I want to be an internet star or because I want to gather tons of followers, I simply have them available as another option for readers to learn about me, my books and my thoughts as a writer. The beauty of YouTube is that you never know who is watching.