I don’t know about you, but I read fiction for the characters and the adventure those characters go through. Like most readers, I want vivid heroes who draw me into their situations and, often when I don’t get into the main character, I put the book aside. But how do writers create those attention-grabbing heroes?
Here’s what some of my favorite writing experts have to say.
I love reading stories that feature intriguing characters and I hope these tips will help you when you write your next tale. Also, if you’ve found the suggestions useful, I hope you’ll consider checking out the resources quoted in this article for further study.
Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English teachers, so it was no surprise when she chose to pursue both careers. Recently, her novel Other Than became a double finalist in the 2018 Prism Contest in the Historical/ Steampunk and Best First Book Categories.
My neighbors are blowing stuff up in the cul-de-sac while my dog cowers under a chair, so that can only mean one thing: it’s July, and conference time is almost here. As the fireworks settle down and the picnic leftovers run out, romance writers everywhere are preparing (aka getting mani/pedis) to head to the annual national conference hosted by Romance Writers of America.
I’ve attended five RWA national conferences: as a wide-eyed newbie in 2013, a chapter president in 2014 and 2015, and a Golden Heart ® finalist in 2016 and 2017. Now, as I get ready to attend my sixth “Nationals” this year, with my shiny new PAN pin on my badge, I thought it would be a great time to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
I know. Articles about how to prepare for conferences abound. They spring up on the internet this time of year like mattress sales (what is it about patriotic holidays and selling mattresses, anyway?). So why should you keep reading this one? Well, remember how agents and editors are always saying they want “the same, but different?” This is kind of like that. I’m going to take five traditional pieces of conference advice, and add a little something different, my own little spin, collected over the five years I’ve attended Nationals.
I’m an extrovert at heart, so this isn’t a problem for me. But if talking to strangers gives you hives, don’t be afraid to use the introverts’ tried and true method of talking to strangers: the internet. Engage in social media while at the conference. Use hashtags like #RWA18 and #RITAGH to post about the conference and share fun pics or nuggets of workshop gold. And maybe you will run across fellow introverts tweeting via the same hashtags and can strike up a conversation that way (and perhaps turn that into an in-person convo at the bar?).
There you have it! If you are headed to Denver, I hope to see you. Look for me at the bar, I’ll have a wine glass in my hand, and there’s a decent chance it will be filled with water.
Award-winning author Melonie Johnson—aka #thewritinglush—is a two-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist who loves dark coffee, cheap wine, and expensive beer. And margaritas. And mimosas. And mules. Basically any cocktail that starts with the letter m. She met her future husband in that most romantic of places—the mall—when they were teenagers working in stores across the hall from each other. Today, they live happily ever after in the magical land midway between Chicago and Milwaukee with two redhead daughters, a dog that’s more like a small horse, and a trio of hermit crabs. After earning her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago, Melonie taught high school English and Theatre in the northern Chicago suburbs for several year. Now she writes smart and funny contemporary romance and moonlights as an audiobook narrator under the pseudonym, Evelyn Eibhlin. Watch for her contemporary romance debut, THE SOMETIMES IN LOVE series, coming summer 2019 from St. Martin’s Press. Melonie is represented by Pamela Harty of the Knight Agency. A Star Wars junkie and Shakespeare groupie who quotes both Yoda and the Bard with equal aplomb, you can visit her at at her website and find her on Twitter and Instagram at @MelonieJohnson.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
Spirit Shattered by Tessa McFionn
Kinky Briefs Cinque by Seelie Kay
The President’s Wife by Seelie Kay
Forged Souls of Amathus: Saxton by Jevenna Willow
Growing up the only time I saw people like me on television was when I was at my grandmother’s house watching telenovelas or when there was a housekeeper/nanny/criminal on some other program. Literary pickings were even slimmer. There were no characters who looked, sounded, and acted like me or my loved ones. At least not ones written well and without stereotypes.
When I decided to become a writer I struggled to decide what kind of characters I would create. I wanted to tell stories about Latinx people, like me, but I also saw that all the characters in the stories I read were not people like me. I started writing stories about characters like the ones I saw in other books and secretly withered away inside.
For many years my family would tell me, “When are you going to write a story about us?” and I would reply, “Maybe one day.” Then I would go back to reading Twitter posts and blogs about the need for diversity in publishing, nod my head in agreement, but continue to write the same types of stories. Taking up the mantle seemed like such a daunting task and something better suited for more established and experienced authors.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was wrong.
At a Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Luncheon I had the incredible luck of scoring a seat at my writing idol’s table and we discussed writing. She asked me what I was working on. I told her I was currently taking a break from writing, because I just didn’t feel motivated. She asked me if I had any ideas that I felt excited about and I hesitated to answer. Eventually I told her that I’d always wanted to write a series based off a large and animated Puerto Rican family like mine. Her response was, “That’s awesome. Why haven’t you written it yet?” I tried to explain that I didn’t think it would work and how I thought it was something better left for other (already represented) authors. She grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Listen to me. Nobody is better equipped to write those stories than you. Your stories need to be heard, so write them.”
I sat there in a sort of dumbfounded shock and thought to myself, “Is she right? Should I be writing these stories? Can I handle the pressure?” I thought about my life. About how I was forced to use my Barbies to act out stories as a kid, because I couldn’t find any about people like me anywhere else. I thought about how I have always been a proud Latina, even when others tried to discourage me from being one. I realized that I wasn’t doing myself or potential readers justice. There are people out there hungry for diverse stories and I can provide some.
I immediately went back to my hotel room and started plotting. I haven’t gotten as far as I’ve wanted. As you fellow writers know, life often gets in the way of our best laid plans. However, I can finally say that for the first time in a long time, I am excited to write. I look forward to finally giving my family and others like us a story with real representation to enjoy.
When she was in the first grade Natalie Caña was given an assignment: write a few sentences about the old lady who lived in the shoe. Four pages later (front and back) in which she wrote a whole new version of the story, it became clear to her mother that she was a writer. However the type of writer she was remained unclear, so she tried a little bit of everything. She wrote plays, screenplays, poems, song lyrics, news stories, and even produced some television. It wasn’t until she picked up her first romance novel, that everything was revealed (clouds parted and angels sang). She was a romance writer. Now she writes contemporary romances that allow her incorporate her witty sense of humor (it’s impossible to quiet) and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her.
I spent nine years getting ready to birth a book. I would have preferred it take nine months, but everyone’s publishing journey is different. I like to think I gained some wisdom after surviving my debut launch. Wisdom I will share with all of you.
A good friend of mine debuted her first novel in March. She was busy planning for the big day. Blog posts. A party. Popping champagne. I think I startled her when I told her she wouldn’t have a launch day, she’d have a launch year. Yep! Once that novel goes live on Amazon, you will be banging the promotional drum for the rest of your life, or at least one year. We place pressure on ourselves for “the day” and we need some hoopla, but authors need to be connecting with readers and increasing discoverability for months, not days.
The publishing world has changed dramatically since I first put pen to paper. Thousands of books are placed on Amazon every year. Some authors don’t need to work on discoverability because everyone knows their name and is waiting breathlessly for their next novel. The rest of us have to build our reach organically. Is it work? Yes? Can it be fun? Most of the time.
How do you get readers to know you have a book in the digital world? First, you have to know who your readers are and where they hang out. I write Christian
fiction. I make a point to be on Christian blogs a couple of times a month. I will also guest on podcasts about writing topics or topics that connect me to readers. I survived breast cancer and I talk about that aspect of my life since it intersects with launching my debut novel. Readers may not be able to relate to writing a book, but they probably know someone who battled cancer.
I didn’t know any podcasters when I signed my first contract. I met podcasters at writing conferences and on Christian publishing loops. Opportunities abound in writing communities.
Have you visited your local libraries? Not to check out books, but to ask them to buy your books. Repeat after me, “The reference librarian is my friend.” Libraries don’t return books to your publisher. When they buy a book, it’s sold for life, or until it’s placed in the Friends of the Library sale. Walk into your local library and introduce yourself. This is your homework for the week. Hand the librarian a sell sheet and politely ask them to purchase your book. Would your book sell well in a different region of the country? Call a few libraries in that geographic area.
Also, visit local bookstores. Even those “Big Name” stores. You are a local author and customer. If you won’t ask them to carry your book, send a relative. My mom is one of my best marketers.
Don’t sweat your launch day. Enjoy the experience and be proactive every month to reach your readership. That first year will fly by.
Barbara M. Britton lives in Southeast Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. Barb writes romantic adventures for teens and adults in the Christian fiction and Mainstream markets. She is published in Biblical fiction and enjoys bringing little known Bible characters to light in her Tribes of Israel series. Barb is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. Barb has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
The Substitute Wife by CiCi Cordelia
Love, Unexpected by Virginia McCullough
Fangs & Fins (Blood, Bloom, & Water Book One) by Amy McNulty
Succubus Lips (Succubus Sirens Book One) by Lina Jubilee
Movie directors and cinematographers work with Image Systems to deliver a story and character that entertain and offer meaning.
For those of us writing novels, creative nonfiction, memoir, and short stories, working with an “image system” can “deepen” or improve crucial aspects such as Point of View, characterization, momentum, and theme. Some writers also use an image system as a plotting tool.
Image System tip 2: Create better and more accurate distance and visual perspectives, as well as sound and smell perspectives.
Image System tip 3: Contrasting textures signal emotions.
Image System tip 4: Interior versus exterior—create momentum.
Image system tip 5: Objects matter in every story and help you sell.
Christine DeSmet is a writing coach and instructor with University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. She also teaches an online course in novel writing. A past Golden Heart winner and finalist (3 times), her books include three in the Fudge Shop Mystery Series (Penguin Random House) set in Door County, Wis., and the re-issued light romantic mystery novellas When Rudolph Was Kidnapped and Misbehavin’ in Moonstone (Writers Exchange Publishing).
Asking and answering “why?” brings layers to the story. It helps us dig deeper into our characters’ motivations and perspectives. It shows how the past impacts the present. It helps us understand a character’s choices, actions, motivations. It brings meaning to a physical object.
“Why” allows us to cut a beloved sentence or scene. It leads to those “ah-ha!” moments, the surprising moments when you discover something new, unusual, or shocking about your character. In turn, you now have the perfect environment to create a moment that’s completely unexpected.
Recently, a writer friend had me read part of her manuscript. She wrote, “If I leave now, I’ll be home by three o’clock.”
This sentence stood out because I didn’t understand why it was there. What purpose does it serve? Why is getting home by three o’clock important to the story? (She never answered that within her novel.) When I asked her, she said it really didn’t have any importance. She cut it! Do you have sentences like that?
MIT professor and award-winning author, Laura Harrington, said that every word you write in your novel must have muscle. If a scene serves several purposes, even better. Always pay attention to your whys?!
Me Before You author Jojo Moyes once told me that she never regretted anything she cut, only the things she didn’t cut. Think about it: Why is this scene important?
To help you with your writing, I’ve created a WHY list of questions. Good luck!
Liza Wiemer is an award-winning educator with over twenty-five years of teaching experience. Hello?, her debut realistic contemporary YA novel, is set in Door County, Wisconsin and was published by Spencer Hill Press, NY. It was named a Goodreads Best Young Adult Novel and was on Milwaukee County Bestseller’s List for four weeks. Paste Magazine called it “one the most original novels of the year.” In addition, Liza has had two adult non-fiction books published through Random House and Gefen Publishing. Several of her short stories were included in the New York Times bestselling Small Miracles series. A die-hard Packer fan and graduate of UW-Madison, she’s married with two sons. Find her on Twitter: @lizawiemer.
I was once asked what success meant. I remember struggling for an answer because I’d never given the definition of success much thought before. Back then, I was in customer support for a software company, so I equated success to a day of answered calls. However, that wasn’t what the asker was looking for. The person asking the question went on to explain that there was no right answer to the definition of success because what I define as success, another person might not.
His words have stayed with me through the years, and as I started my new career as an author, I found myself facing a similar question. What is success to an author? As an industry-collective thought, the answer seems to revolve around landing a traditional publishing deal. By doing so, an author has “made it” as a published author. But was that a definition of success which would satisfy me?
When I first started researching how to become published in 2012, the wheels of change had been slowly turning for years, thanks to the inception of Amazon’s self-publishing platform in 2007. That change had opened doors for many aspiring authors, who had taken a self-publishing route.
I read how, with an upload of a file, an aspiring author could instantly reach readers. I remember spending hours researching article after article about the pros and cons of self-publishing and just wishing someone would come out and say which was the right thing for me to do. There was no article with the magic answer, and the more I researched, the more I began to understand that the answer lay in the reason why I wanted to publish my books. I just wanted to share the stories that had so entertained me during their creation.
With the digital age in full swing and rising projections of readers switching to devices, I took the plunge and went the self-publishing route. January 2013, I uploaded my first book, quickly followed by a second in March and a third in April. Did I consider myself successful? Let’s look at the numbers:
No, I wasn’t very successful, but I was persistent and kept researching and learning about the market, my target audience, and my options. October 2013, everything changed when I altered my pricing strategy and my covers. I suddenly had over 2,000 downloads of Hope(less), the first book in my Judgement Series (the second book I published). I was finally reaching readers and sharing my stories.
Today, I write full-time, out earning what I’ve made in any of my previous careers. Although I do consider that a level of success, my income still doesn’t define my success. It didn’t in previous careers so why should it now?
The original reason I started writing and why I continue to write, remains my definition of success. To share the stories in my head. To give all my imaginary friends a voice. To be read. To date I’ve sold over 300,000 books and given away over 500,000 series starters.
Success can be measured in so many different ways. What’s your measure of success?
by: Melissa Haag
Melissa Haag lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. An avid reader she spent many hours curled in a comfortable chair flipping pages in her teens. She began writing a few years ago when some ideas just refused to be ignored any longer.