Writing Tip of the Week: Crafting Character Emotions

Emotions.  We all have them and use them.  Whether positive or negative emotions, human beings utilize these traits to convey a wide range of feelings to others.  As real people, we have a lifetime to analyze, discover, and change our emotional responses to situations caused by internal and external forces.  

With fictional characters, however, this becomes more of a challenge.  You only have a certain number of script pages or novel chapters to provide the audience with fully realized and dimensional characters with whom they will share the story’s journey.  But how do you tap into the emotional center of a fictional being? How do you make them relatable, empathetic, and capable of change?

Let’s talk about it.

Why Emotions?

Emotions help ground your characters in reality and make them relatable to the audience.  If a viewer or reader finds emotional traits within the main character that connect them to the hero on a deeper level, this leads to the story having more resonance for the audience.  

Most mainstream entertainment uses broad and general emotions to connect with the majority of viewers or readers.  From wanting to belong to finding the courage within to fight injustice, relatable emotional hooks connect audiences to your characters and to the story.

It’s important to remember, too, that a well-rounded character has a combination of positive and negative emotional traits.  The positive should outweigh the negative in a protagonist, but since real people have both types, giving your main character a few negative emotional characteristics will help make them more realistic.

When developing your characters, make a list of emotional traits you feel they would possess at the start of the story and how that list will change after the story ends.  Do they go from being fearful and timid to courageous?  Do they go from being cocky and self-assured to humble and respectful?  The events of the story should serve the character’s emotional journey as well.

So, how do we see these types of emotions in action?

Look Inside Yourself

You have emotions and feelings, both positive and negative.  As I stated at the beginning, we all do.  As you create your main character, even if they are 100% different from you, you can still put yourself in their shoes and ask: How would I handle the situation?  This is a great starting point to orient yourself in the character’s shoes (since you will be spending a lot of time with them) and helps make them relatable.  Emotions are universal, but how we deal with them varies from person to person.

Would your main character react the same way you would to bad news?  If so, use that.  If not, dig deep into yourself and see what emotions this character could use to cope and deal with the bad news they have heard.  Even if it’s the opposite of how you would react, you can still justify their emotional response by looking within.

Study People You Know

The holiday season is upon us, and with that – this year more than last – comes interactions with family, friends, and strangers.  Observe people in stressful situations.  How do they react?  How do they cope?  Do they irrationally express their emotions, or rationally work to resolve the problem?

When traveling, make notes on how people respond and react to travel delays, masking rules, and other restrictions.  Why are they acting like that?  Put yourself in their shoes.  How would you react?  How would your main character react?  

Public spaces are a great place to mine emotional responses that can only aid you in your creative writing endeavors.  The mall, Target, or the grocery store can also deliver the emotional goods when the holidays are upon us.

Family and friends are filled with stories.  Use their stories to explore how they dealt with a problem or an issue.  Family and friends are a great resource for research, and you can bet someone at the table will say, “If it were me, I would have…” in response to what was just told to the group.  Make a mental note or write the differences in emotional responses down.  All of it is great fodder for character creation and development.

Read, Watch, Listen

Maybe your main character is a politician, a celebrity, a police officer, or a billionaire.  The nice thing is that there are plenty of autobiographies, biographies, documentaries, and even podcasts that delve into the lives and mentalities of these types of people.  A politician thinks and plans out their life differently than other professions.  A celebrity’s personal life is public, which can cause a lot of emotional stress that regular people don’t have to deal with.  

By doing research, you can find out how these individuals work through failures, successes, being in the public eye, media scrutiny, etc., and get to the real emotions behind it.  All of this research helps to make your main character more relatable and empathetic to the audience. YouTube is a treasure trove of free interviews, specials, and documentaries about all kinds of people. 

And if your villain is a serial killer, you have thousands of podcasts and documentaries to choose from that delve into the psyche of these individuals.  What makes serial killers, politicians, and billionaires tick?  Are there any emotional similarities between them?

Don’t Rely on Fiction for Reference

There are billions of real people who can be viewed as references for emotional arcs within your fictional world.  Real people can deliver true emotional depth and empathy, giving your characters a great level of dimension.  

While most of us love fiction, it’s wise not to use fictional characters as reference points for emotional character development.  It’s tempting to make your characters like Tony Stark or Jack Torrance, but then you aren’t bringing anything fresh or new to the emotional table.  Creating cookie-cutter characters makes them dull and uninteresting.  Borrowing traits from Bruce Wayne or Elle Woods is lazy writing.  

Work to develop emotional arcs for your character that don’t allow your audience to predict the outcome.  This leads to greater interest in the characters, the story, and a greater connection emotionally.

Multi-dimensional characters give audiences the best way to escape into the fictional world in front of them.  By creating a relatable main character filled with depth and real growth, audiences are more likely to enjoy the journey and appreciate the pay-offs by the story’s end.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part Five

Last week, I talked about getting feedback, finalizing your manuscript, and getting it ready to publish. In this final post about the process of publishing Midnight House, I wanted to touch on the indie publishing process, marketing, and other aspects of getting your manuscript out in a professional form.

Let’s get started!

To Self-Publish, or Not to Self-Publish…

Your hard work has paid off. You have written, edited, and copyrighted your manuscript and are ready to move to the next step: publication. Here, you can go one of two ways: traditional publishers or independent publishing.

If you go the traditional route, you’ll want to craft an eye-catching query letter that hooks the reader, and hopefully, you get a request for your manuscript to be sent for review.  

If you go the independent publishing route, you are in control of the publishing process.  

I went independent for several reasons with The Field and Midnight House:

  • The novels are professionally published in both eBook and paperback form for sale and distribution;
  • The books are sold in the same online marketplaces as traditionally published works (Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, etc.);
  • I have the same access to social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, personal website) as other authors.

Now, the downside, of course, is that it does cost money to self-publish. I recommend you do your research and find a publishing company that fits your needs and your budget. Many have packages for just eBooks or for an eBook/paperback bundle.  

I cannot stress this enough: Make sure if you invest the money to self-publish that you have a plan in place to pay yourself back via your 9 to 5 or other income. Being an independent author is great, but don’t expect to make Stephen King money with your first novel.

Author Dan Brown had written three novels before the DaVinci Code. After that hit big, the other three became bestsellers.

Be patient, keep writing, and don’t get discouraged.

Sometimes You Should Judge a Book By Its Cover…Especially If It’s Yours

If you do decide to self-publish, many publishing companies offer in-house cover art services. If you wish to seek out your own cover artist that fits your stylistic needs, I recommend checking out my post on the topic, Finding a Cover Artist.

It’s a Team Effort, But You’re Coach

Once you’ve taken the leap to publish independently, keep in mind that you are the boss. You are in control and give final approval to every aspect of the publishing process. It’s essential to be engaged, respond quickly to any questions the publisher may have, and don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions before and during the process. This is a financial investment on your part, so making sure things are exactly as you want them to be is critical.

I highly recommend keeping all correspondence upbeat and positive with everyone you are working with throughout the process. As Team Coach, you set the tone, and you have to make sure all parties involved stay focused and motivated to create a great final product. If you have issues with something, inquire nicely—no need to be an egomaniac or a jerk. Everyone has the same goal: to get your novel professionally published and out to the world.

When each step is complete, take the time to email those who helped you and thank them for their hard work and assistance. A little professional courtesy can go a long way, especially if you plan to use the same cover artist or publisher again in the future.

Have I Got a Novel for You!

Marketing starts with you. You control the message. You control what people initially know about your book. You are the point-person when it comes to getting the word out. 

Utilize your social media and let people know you have a novel coming out soon (I recommend you start putting the word out six weeks before the book comes out). Post the cover. Post the blurb from the back of the book. Work on generating interest among people you know who can help get the word out to others.

But you don’t have to stop there.

If you desire, you can work with a marketing firm that specializes in independent publishers. They can help you craft a press release for your book and get copies in the hands of book reviewers who can help get the word out about your novel. A marketing firm can target a specific market and demographic for your book to reach the right people who can help sell your book.

This, too, costs money, so budget accordingly.

The key here is to get your book in front of as many eyes and ears as possible. When the book is released, there will be buzz about your book online, with reviewers, and hopefully, you can snag an interview or two to talk about your book.

Writing a novel, a non-fiction book, a screenplay, a play, and any other creative work takes time. It truly is a marathon that requires hard work, dedication, professionalism, focus, and energy to get to the final stage of the product’s release. I’m very proud of my independent publishing team’s work on The Field and Midnight House. And when you get that box of paperbacks in the mail and open it and see a book’s cover with your name on it, it really is a thrill.

I hope this five-part series was helpful to you and will help you on your publishing journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment, and I will get back to you.

Happy writing, and happy publishing!

GET YOUR COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part Four

Last week, I talked about the drafting and editing process I went through while writing Midnight House.  Needless to say, this part of the process takes time and should be taken seriously by anyone with an eye for publishing their novel.  The more professional you take the process, the better the result. 

This week, I wanted to talk about getting feedback, finalizing your manuscript, and getting it ready to publish.

An Objective Outsider

Your manuscript is complete.  You’ve done multiple drafts.  You have painstakingly gone through each sentence, paragraph, and chapter to make sure they help tell the story you want to tell.  Now it’s time to let someone else read your work.

But who?

Finding a feedback partner is crucial to getting effective and objective feedback on your work.  Ideally, this should be someone familiar with your work, someone you trust to give you honest and constructive feedback, and hopefully a non-family member.  

I was fortunate enough to have a former co-worker become my feedback partner for Midnight House.  He was one of the first people to buy The Field, and he really enjoyed the book and the characters.  When I asked him to be my feedback partner for book two, he was more than happy to help.

If you have a few people in mind who haven’t read anything of yours, put some feelers out and see if they would be willing to read the first few chapters and give you feedback.  If one gets back to you with the constructive criticism you need to make the book better, you should consider offering them payment to read the whole manuscript.

Yes.  You should pay someone for their time when it comes to reading your manuscript.  This helps to ensure they won’t put it off, and it gives them an incentive to get back to you with their feedback.  

You also want to make sure that you give them specific things to focus on so they have a goal in mind as they begin to read.  Do you want them to focus on the main character’s story arc?  Do you want them to check for story continuity?  Is the book too graphic?  Is there anything that could be cut that slows down the pace of the story?  Giving your feedback partner something to actively be on the lookout for will help them stay engaged.

Once they have finished, schedule a phone call, Zoom meeting, or face-to-face (if available in your area), and let them speak first.  If they have questions about things that were unclear, make a note of them.  What did they like?  What didn’t they like?  What stood out to them?  What wasn’t effective?  Make sure you take notes and also ask them for any notes they may have written down as they were reading.

All of this is valuable information.

Remember, they are not attacking you or your work.  They have the same goal as you: to make the manuscript stronger.  Take their notes and feedback and – if you agree with what they had to say – apply them to a new draft of the manuscript.  If you want (and I recommend), make the changes, then ask them to reread it.

All of this will aid in making your final draft stronger and more engaging to future readers.

Editing on a Budget

The good news: Editing services exist.  The bad news: They can be rather pricey for an indie author on a budget.  Some charge between $7 and $10 a page, which can be pretty expensive if you have a 500-page manuscript.  

If you can do this, great.  If you can’t, consider alternatives.  I use Grammarly, which can help you with spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and other writing aspects to help improve your manuscript.  It’s about $150 a year, and I have found it to be an invaluable tool in my writing process.

I copy and paste one chapter into the program and work through it slowly to make sure that what I want to say and how I want to say it is still in my voice, but that mechanical issues are resolved to make the writing clearer and more professional.

You can do this at any phase in the drafting process, but I did it between feedback drafts on Midnight House.  It’s amazing how much we overlook when we are invested in the story.  I highly recommend Grammarly as a writing tool.

Ready?  Set?  Publish?

Once you are satisfied with what you’ve written, your feedback partner has assisted with giving you notes to make the manuscript better, and you’ve done some fine-tuning to the entire work as a whole, it’s time to consider next steps.

I know I’m in a place where it’s time to move on when the story begins to fade from my mind.  If I exhausted all story possibilities, my brain began to move on to other ideas and projects.  This is a good thing.  It means that you have done all you can for your story.  You have given it all the attention it needed to be the best it can be.

It’s time to finalize things.  If you are 100% satisfied with your manuscript, save it with “_FinalDraft” after the title.  

Then, I would strongly urge you to get it copyrighted through the U.S. Copyright Office.  It’s about $65, but you will have an official Copyright registration number, and your manuscript will be protected.

Your manuscript is done, finalized, and copyrighted.  So, let’s get it on the road to publication.  And next week, in the final post of this series, we’ll talk about the indie publishing process, marketing, and other aspects of getting your manuscript out in a professional form.

See you next week!

GET YOUR COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part Three

Last week, I talked about my seemingly haphazard writing process.  While I admit that this is how I generally operate, that is only in the beginning.  When it comes to the actual task of writing, I take the job very seriously.  It may take some time for me to sit down in front of the computer and begin the process, but I know – especially when it comes to my novels – that I am writing as professional as possible.  

During the initial phases, it’s okay to be a little loose with your grammar, spelling, syntax, etc.  But once you get past the rough/first draft phase, it’s time to hunker down and do the needed work to produce a professional product.

Let’s talk about the drafting process.

Don’t Try and Dodge the (First) Draft!

Rough drafts and first drafts are always pretty rough reads.  But that’s a good thing.  Why?  Because you are now able to visually read your story on the page and see exactly what works, what doesn’t, where to add, where to cut, and where things actually work the first time.  

You can’t edit what hasn’t been written, and this is now your chance to read through the draft and notate where things need to be changed, added, etc.  

With Midnight House, this was my tactic.  And the first draft was short, character arcs didn’t finish, the current opening didn’t exist, and there were missing elements that I knew had to be added ASAP.

And all of this takes time.  And it should take time. It’s all part of the process.

I also tend to write multiple drafts of chapters/scenes then merge the strongest parts of these versions together.  This, of course, can cause continuity issues if things aren’t fixed during the revision process. If Character A drives a Ford Mustang at the beginning of the story, you want to make sure they don’t suddenly drive a Dodge Charger later on because you wrote them driving a different car in a previous draft.

The urge will be strong to stop reading and start rewriting as you go, but be strong and keep reading and making notes about what you want to fix.  That way, you have a clear picture of the entire story as it’s currently assembled.

Once you’ve done this, you can now take that trusty editing sledgehammer and demolish the pieces of your draft don’t work and rebuild them with stronger, more effective structures.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Writing a novel, a play, a screenplay, or a poem takes time.  It takes patience.  You won’t nail it 100% after your first rewrite, second, or even your sixth.  With your story now fleshed out and in a tangible, malleable space, your creative brain is now firing on all cylinders 24/7, fixing plot holes, revising dialogue, enhancing description, and making you a better writer.

Once I’m into a story, I keep it top of mind.  I work through the narrative in my head, figuring out issues and potential story problems.  Figuring out new twists and ideas to enhance the suspense, the excitement, the humor.  I have actually been on a walk at work and realized a significant plot hole existed and rushed back inside to email myself a potential fix to the problem.

Make sure that when you do begin a new draft, you date the draft in the filename to know that you’re working on the most current version.  I didn’t do this on The Field, and it was a headache trying to track down the most recent version. Don’t be like me.  Do something like The Field_DraftThree_02062018.  Then each day you revise, you Save As… and change the date.  

Take Your Time, and Take Some Time

As you complete each draft, give yourself some breathing room away from your story. Don’t worry; your brain won’t let you forget about it.  This gives you some distance and objectivity regarding your story and will help you make harder decisions easier when editing.  Sometimes it can be hard to let go of a favorite line of dialogue or a chapter that you love, even if it’s not working in a newer draft.  

Giving yourself a week or two between rewrites can help refresh your mind and allow your brain to subconsciously identify story issues in the previous draft.  Again, I’ve had this happen where I’m taking a break between drafts and realize that a chapter falls flat and needs to be cut.  

Keeps notes on any changes, cuts, or additions you want to make, but don’t go back to start a new draft until you feel you have to dive back in.

The Writer Wears Many Hats

Once you are secure in what you have written and have a strong story containing all you want the reader to experience, it’s time to think like an editor.  Yes, you want to pass your manuscript off to someone you trust to edit and give feedback, but you should be the first person who takes the initial pass as the manuscript’s editor.

You know what you want to say.  You know what story you want to tell.  The tone.  The themes.  The characters and their characterizations.  Who better to go through and ensure that all of those things are 100% how they are intended to be?  You are that person.

This is a systematic process.  Take it one sentence at a time.  Set small daily goals at first.  Read through. Does everything in this paragraph make sense?  Does it serve a purpose in the story?  Does it deliver information about character or plot?  Does each chapter move the story forward?  Are there moments where things lag?  Why? What’s the problem?  How can it be fixed?  Can that section be cut to tighten things up?  

Remember, you are Editor now, not Writer.  Your role here is to make sure things are clear for the reader as you want them to be.  If you feel new content needs to be added, make a note of it and keep going.  

I would like to also note that during this stage, cutting stuff is fine.  Adding new stuff should wait until after this editing process is complete.  That way, you know if what you think you need to add is redundant or even necessary as you progress through the story.

Midnight House has many characters involved in a lot of activities, so this was a great process to use multiple times to focus on each character.  This ensured that their arcs were solid, that their interactions with other characters and story arcs worked, and continuity in their characterizations and dialogue (especially if parts of merged drafts were used) were consistent.

You’ve done it!  Your hard work has paid off, and you now have a solid manuscript with a great story and characters.  Congratulations!

Now it’s time to give your story to a new set of trusted eyes and get their feedback, input, and editing suggestions.

Next week, we’ll talk about getting feedback, finalizing your manuscript, and getting it ready to publish.  

See you next week!

GET YOUR COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part Two

Last week, I talked about the beginning stages of developing Midnight House into the second book in The Field series. This week, I wanted to talk a little more about pre-writing, how I write, and a little about my drafting process.

What’s It All About?

Every book, every film, every TV series, documentary, and play are about something. Whether the issues presented are profound or topical, these themes are a way to help the writer structure a sense of meaning into the story. All writers want to tell a story about characters going through things they want to discuss with the reader/viewer. These themes can be expressed directly or indirectly, but they are an essential part of crafting a narrative.

For Midnight House, I knew I wanted to continue with Daniel’s story from the first book, so I researched the lasting effects of childhood trauma and its impact on the victim and their families. Needless to say, this was rather grim research, but I found the elements I was looking for to use in the story.

With Kyle, I wanted to explore high school sports but more specifically, sports hazing. This also sent me down a dark road that helped inform Kyle’s arc throughout the story.

This research helped me to nail down these thematic elements to ensure a truth to them while also allowing me to take creative license in how the characters dealt with these specific issues.

While there are many other themes explored in Midnight House, these two overarching story elements help the main characters change and evolve throughout the story.

Be Prepared

When you apply for a job, there are many steps people do to get ready. Most people don’t just jump online and start applying; there is work to be done before the hunt begins:

  • Research into available jobs one qualifies for.
  • Writing a cover letter.
  • Crafting a resume.
  • Committing people to be personal references or write letters of recommendations.

These steps can take time, and while you may be itching to apply for jobs, taking the time to get the prep work out the way will help you in the long run.

Writing a novel is a lot like this. You want to be prepared. You want to know where the story is going, have a sense of where the characters’ arcs are headed, and know what the story is about. Jumping in headfirst into writing a novel can be an exercise in futility; you probably will run out of steam pretty fast once you realize that you don’t have a plan.

This doesn’t mean you need to plan out every chapter, but you need to sit down and figure out the basics: beginning, middle, end; big story moments; relationships between characters; know your protagonist and antagonist and why they are in opposition. Now you have a basic roadmap to work from. You can change things and alter the route as you go, but giving your story a direction gives yourself a key to completion.

With Midnight House, I sat down with a legal pad and started to map out all these items listed above. It took time, but I needed to get the ideas on paper, figure out sequencing, figure out what story elements should go where, and work on how Daniel’s and Kyle’s stories would intersect throughout the novel.

Organizing Chaos

Last week, I talked about how I have story notes and ideas on my phone, on a legal pad, and on my laptop. Once I had a clearer picture of how the story would unfold, I took the notes from my legal pad and phone and added them to the Word doc on my computer. At this point, the goal was to get them on the computer to be saved; I wasn’t worried about the order they were being added in.

Not yet.

That was the next step. I started a new Word doc and started the painstaking process of going through the notes and putting them into a rough sequence in the new document. Midnight House happens over several days, so I was able to decide what events would happen on what days to help make a more organized – if still rough – outline.  

Now I could see the story taking shape. I could see what ideas worked and which ones didn’t in service of the story and characters. 

Organizing your notes like this will help you see your story in its rudimentary stages and show you how much more work is to be done to flesh out the story. Read through these organized notes and if an idea comes as you read, add it where you feel it belongs in the story.

Let Your Story Loose in Your Brain

When I’m working on a story, I let it invade my brain 24/7. If I’m on a walk or a run, I’m working out the story. If I’m reading or relaxing, I’m working on the story. If I’m asleep, my brain works on the story. You may not be sitting with a pad and pen or in front of a computer, but these moments of creative thinking allowing your conscious and subconscious mind to work on the story are part of the process.  

Make sure when something pops up that gets you excited to write it down and add it to the rough outline when you can.

I used this technique throughout the writing process for Midnight House. I would often find myself stuck on a story element, or maybe even a scene between two characters, and I would allow my brain to process through as many possible outcomes as possible. When the right decisions kicked in, and the ideas started to flow, I knew I had the missing piece to help me move the chapter and story forward.

This is all part of the process and a needed part at that.

My Writing Process

I’ll let you in on a little secret: as a writer, I lack discipline. I don’t write every day. I don’t set hard and fast goals for myself. I often will choose to watch a movie or a TV show instead of writing. I sometimes get anxious and overwhelmed at the thought of writing something as big as a novel.

And, yet, I’ve written two. So, how did that happen?

When it comes to writing, I take a filmmaking approach. Films are shot out of sequence and reassembled in the editing bay once the shooting has wrapped. I write the stuff I want to write when I want to write it. If I feel inspired to write the final chapters of the story, I’ll work on those. If I want to take time to focus on chapters about one character, I write those. Maybe there’s an emotional scene that I know will be a challenge to write, so I only work on that for that day.  

Each element is saved in its own file on the computer, labeled, and dated, so I know what it is. And slowly but surely, the files, pages, and story begin to grow and emerge into a cohesive narrative.

All of these chapters will be rewritten later on, some will be cut entirely, and others will get moved around. But they do get written.

If you already have a writing process that works for you, keep it. Every author has a unique way, place, and time when they write. The key is to get the work done. Even if it takes longer than outsiders think it should. I believe that crafting a quality story that you’re proud of is far more important than rushing the process.

Find what works for you and try it for a while. If you want to be more productive, make the necessary changes. For example, for my next book, I will plan a more rigid writing schedule so I can get a draft done faster.  

Baby Steps

As I said above, I don’t always set hard and fast goals for my writing time, and there’s a reason I don’t: I tend to psych myself out. I will be at work and decide to write 10,000 words over the weekend. Then, I get home, and Saturday morning arrives, and I’ve overwhelmed myself with a goal that I’m not sure I can meet.

Don’t do this to yourself. Make a small choice: “I’m going to work on the chapter at the junkyard Saturday.” Done. Now that’s all you have to work on. If you decide to keep writing or realize there’s a chapter related to this later on that you want to write, keep going.  

If you know your story, your characters, and your themes, and a rough outline (thanks to your notes), you have the necessary information you need to start writing your story.

Take your time, and you’ll get there.

Remember, No One Likes Their First Draft

There’s a reason why it’s called a First Draft. It’s usually filled with chapters that go on too long. Characters that ooze BORING on the page. Dialogue that doesn’t flow or sound real. Plot points that just don’t work or go nowhere.

And we all have to accept this, deal with this, and make it better.

Every published book you have on your bookshelf or have seen in a bookstore or on Amazon began with a crappy first draft. It’s inevitable. But, here’s the neat part about that first draft: It exists.

That’s right. You can’t fix and edit and improve upon nothing, and that lackluster first draft is now an opportunity for you to elevate and bring to light a better story than the one drafted before you.

Next week, I’ll dive into what I do to make my initial draft better, how I get it ready to send to my editor and feedback partner, and how I deal with notes, and deciding when the book is done.

See you next week!

GET YOUR COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part One

I learned a lot about the writing process while writing my first novel, The Field, but learned even more from writing Midnight House.  Over the next several weeks, I want to share my writing process, the publishing process, and the marketing process to help you succeed in publishing your book as an indie author.

The Idea

While working on The Field, I initially had no intention of turning it into a series.  After all, if I was going to publish the book myself, maybe one book was enough—something to check off my list of things I’ve always wanted to do.

And then, I let a few people read it.

It wasn’t the published version, but those who read it liked it and offered their notes.  When I met Kathleen, who became my editor, she read it and encouraged me to turn it into a series.  

So, I started to think about how I could do that, and a few years before The Field was a published novel, I began to work out possible story ideas for a second novel.

I knew that I wanted the characters to be older, but I was unsure of the second book’s storyline.  But I wrote down several ideas.  Like all brainstorming/pre-writing sessions, some of it was worth keeping, but most were ridiculous and would eventually be left in the dust.

The big question I had for myself was if I should continue the story from the first book or do a standalone with the characters doing something unrelated to the first story.

I wanted to do something with Kyle that was sports-related, which ended up happening, but Daniel at the early phases had no real place or direction in the story.  He was a school newspaper reporter.  He was in ASB.  He was this, that, and the other thing, but he didn’t feel grounded in the story.  

Early Development

That’s when I decided to dig deeper into the minds of my two main characters.  Who were they before the events of The Field?  How did those events change them not just externally but internally?  

Doing a deep dive into who your characters are, what makes them tick, and how traumatic events can impact them going forward can help you shape more dimensional and grounded characters.  So, as I sketched out Daniel and Kyle after the first book, I discovered things that would give Daniel and Kyle stronger story arcs in the second book and give the other characters material to work off of.  

I had to decide how old they would be in the second book, which would inform what they were able to do and not do in terms of their ages, and I also started to brainstorm ideas for new characters they would encounter in their new story.  I also had to decide who from the first novel would carry-over to book two and what they would be up to at that point.

Now that I started to flesh out character arcs, I developed story ideas that would be interesting and provide the needed elements of action-adventure that are key elements of the series.  This is where things get fun for any writer since, at this stage, anything and everything is a possibility.  I chose Redding locations where I felt different action pieces could take place and worked through various scenarios.  Some over-the-top, some less so.

All the while, I’m thinking of how the main characters, other characters, the overall story, and these action moments will all come together in a clear and compelling narrative. 

But I was nowhere near that stage yet.

Notes, Notes, and More Notes

Part of the early brainstorming and development process is writing down your ideas.  All ideas.  I have my Notes app on my phone filled with snippets of dialogue or scenes that I thought of while I was at work.  A legal pad by my bed in case an idea strikes me at 3AM.  And a file on my laptop for ideas so I can type furiously as the ideas flow.  

I’m a writer that has a hard time just sitting and waiting for ideas to come.  I usually am doing something when they hit me, so having a way to jot down ideas on the go is much better than saying to yourself, “This is a great idea. Can’t wait to get home and write it down!” (SPOILER ALERT: The idea will probably be gone by then.)

Dozens of Note app files.  Lots of legal pad pages.  More than one Word document (I started breaking ideas into separate files by character).  Somewhere in all these places was a complete story.  Now I had to start taking these ideas, these fragments, these notes, and crafting them into a narrative.

Next week, I’ll take you through the outline process and the first draft’s early stages.  See you then!

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Writing Tip #6: Editing for Story Economy

The majority of films that come out on Blu-ray or DVD include deleted scenes that obviously were cut out of the final film.  Most of the time when you watch these scenes, you immediately can see why they were left out. Maybe they offered up redundant information.  Maybe they didn’t move the story forward.  Maybe the tone of the scene didn’t fit with the rest of the film’s narrative structure. 

When it comes to writing a novel, a screenplay, or any other narrative, story economy is a key part of the editing process.  To me, story economy is essentially cutting out any chapters, sequences, or moments that don’t a) move the story forward, b) tell the reader something of value they need to know for later, c) tie directly into the main narrative, or d) throw off the story’s pacing.

It’s important as a writer to put everything out on the page during your rough drafts and even multiple drafts after that.  But then really start to dig deeper into the story you have created and what you have presented on the page.  Is everything you wrote important and vital to telling this particular story? 

Probably not.

Look, I understand 100% that your novel, your script, or your play are like a delicate flower to you. You want to nourish it, help it grow, make it into something that is loved and cherished by you and others.  But in order for that flower to grow, the weeds around it have got to go!

I went through this process when writing my novel, The Field.  In fact, I cut a lot of weeds out when I got into hardcore editing for the sake of the story.  It didn’t matter if I loved the chapter, if I felt the chapter was well-written or creatively compelling.  If it didn’t do one of the four criteria I mentioned above, it was gone.

Story economy helps keep readers engaged by ensuring the pacing of the main story keeps building momentum.  It’s okay to break away from the main plot, as long as the secondary story – or B-story – ties in with the main narrative in some way over the course of the narrative. The last thing you need is for a reader to start asking “Is there a point to this storyline?” as they are reading your book or script.

So, as you begin to read through and fine tune your manuscript, ask yourself:

  • Does this chapter or scene move the story forward?
  • Does this chapter or scene tell the reader something of value they need to know for later?
  • Does this chapter or scene tie directly into the main narrative?
  • Does this chapter or scene throw off the story’s pacing?

By doing this you can help tighten your story and bring the main conflict and key elements into focus for both yourself and your readers.