Anne R. Allen informs us on her blog about four newbie writer mistakes that can derail a great book idea. Thanks for your information on that, Anne.
You’ve got a fantastic idea for a novel. It’s been hanging around for quite a while, knocking inside your noggin. The idea keeps saying, “Let me out! Release me! Put me in a book!”
Maybe there’s a scene in your head that plays like a video, with every detail of the setting right there, as if it’s on a screen. You know those characters. They’re like real people to you.
But you’ve never had the time to write it all down.
Now you do.
So here you are, finally banging out that scene. And another. And pretty soon you’ve written 10,000, maybe 15,000 words of brilliant, deathless prose. It almost wrote itself. Wow. That was almost too easy.
It IS brilliant, isn’t it?
Well, maybe not. Maybe what’s on the page isn’t quite as good it seemed when you were in the zone.
In fact, it could be terrible. What if you have no talent for writing at all? Maybe you should be in the living room doing that kitten jigsaw puzzle with Grandma instead. How do you know if you’re any good?
You’ll have to ask somebody knowledgeable. Like a published author.
And this — this is when you fall down the rabbit hole.
Thanks so much for this very educational and supportive article on your blog Blonde Write More, on how to survive deleting characters. So far I haven’t had to do that yet – but I admit, I had to kill one of mine which nearly broke my heart.
Writing the death of a much-loved character can be demanding and can leave you emotionally wiped out.
Did you know that there is another literary situation which can be just as challenging and one which can cast a nasty gloom over your writing life – deleting a character from your story.
I am not talking about deleting a random minor character; a fictional person who you created one day after too much coffee and inserted into the middle of your novel, just to beef it out (technical literary term) and then deleted them the following day after realising your stupidity. *Sigh*
No. I am talking about those major changes to a draft which result in you deciding to get rid of a key character.
I guarantee this fictional person will have been with you since the start of your story and someone who you have history with. You and this character will have been through some stuff; your rocky first draft, that dreadful second draft which no one liked, your third draft where you felt all hope was lost and the fourth draft which resulted in you wondering why the hell you had ever taken up writing.
You and this character will have shared story in-jokes. They will have been there for you during the bad times. You know them inside out and they are like a good friend.
Today I was thinking about checking out my ‘Council Of Twelve’ characters a bit more carefully and more in detail. But where to start? (I’m not necessarily talking about the names). I have twelve amazing personalities. But one blog post about the characteristics of a dozen very unique natures would end up in me still typing next Thursday and you reading until Christmas. I tried to limit the number of my Council of Twelve members to the original four. and had to re-phrase my question: “What character has which character?” Who is Raphael, how is he? How different is he from, let’s say, Gabriel. What are their characteristics based on?
The last question was quite easy to answer, considering I’m a woman… The Zodiac signs!
Yeah – great!
The four oldest members of ‘The Council Of Twelve’ were not born, they were created. Therefore, they don’t have a Zodiac sign.
With a huge sigh, I left the Astrology up to the stars and tried to find out my own characteristics. How can I write about other characters if I don’t even understand my types of characteristics in a professional way?
And there, the first giggles started already. I started at the basics… how did personality, characteristics, and psychology even develop? Where did I start? I’m telling you, I had a good time starting with Hippocrates and his four-temperament-theory.
The four temperament theory is a proto-psychological theory which suggests that there are four fundamental personality types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Most formulations include the possibility of mixtures among the types where an individual’s personality types overlap, and they share two or more temperaments. The Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) described the four temperaments as part of the ancient medical concept of humorism that four bodily fluids affect human personality traits and behaviors. Modern medical science does not define a fixed relationship between internal secretions and personality, although some psychological personality type systems use categories similar to the Greek temperaments. (Source, Wikipedia)
After the history of Hippocrates and the blood-related psychology didn’t take me anywhere, I checked out different personality tests, which all ended up completely confusing. One tells me I’m an extrovert, the other tells me I’m an introvert, one tells me I’m an overcareful personality, while the other informs me that I should try to connect people. Otherwise, I could ‘end up in loneliness.’ I was about everything in between, from a hermit to a party-girl. I didn’t believe the one or other.
Then I read about the Meyers-Briggs Types. According to Meyers-Briggs, there are 16 personality types. I found that quite interesting and read a bit more about it. It seems in a way explainable and after studying the type indicator, which you can find here:
I took the free test because I was curious. I had considered myself an INFP Personality and turned out to be an INTP type, “The Thinker.” I was quite close, though.
In case you are curious, here is the personality type page I did the test on. It also shows you the type indicator and tells you exactly what the letters behind every personality means. – CONTINUE TO THE PERSONALITY TEST PAGE
Then I got one step further: since I am definitely not one of the founding members of ‘The Council Of Twelve,’ I do have a Zodiac sign. How well are the description of my Zodiac sign match the description of my ‘Meyer’s-Briggs’ personality test result? Let’s find out:
Not likely to place much value on traditional goals such as popularity and security
Spend a lot of time inside your own mind
Strong ability to analyze problems, identify patterns, and come up with logical explanations
Highly value intelligence and knowledge
Love new ideas and become very excited over abstractions and theories
The Capricorn woman might not be very confident, extrovert, and bold. Seduction and sexiness aren’t her favorite techniques. But she is very graceful, polished and well mannered. Capricorn nature is never overly emotional and dramatic. She will remain practical, emotionally stable, and sensible, even in the most sensitive situations. She is great at learning from mistakes. Unlike many women, she is open to constructive criticism. (Sorry, when it comes to me, that sentence is totally wrong. I just left it in the description because it made me laugh loudly.)
The Capricorn woman in marriage often keeps her own desires and needs behind for the happiness of the family. She is smart, hardworking, and capable of achieving the toughest goals in life. She also has a huge appetite for physical love and lust.
Capricorn females are often so fearful of the future that they become worriers before time. Small tensions and anxieties can make them gloomy, depressed, and pessimistic.
Now, according to these personality studies of myself (HAHA), there are, indeed, a few conformities which I had marked with colored text. These similarities might be a coincidence, or there is indeed something about Zodiac signs.
All this taught me that no personality test is going to tell me I can’t be grumpy when I’m in a bad mood, even though I’m the most balanced character on Earth.
It also taught me, that this particular analysis of myself has taken me about four and a half hours. If I have to analyze each of ‘The Council Of Twelve’ characters this way, you won’t be able to read another book in the series before Easter 2032!
I figure I will continue building my characters the way I’m used to and won’t try to make them more detailed that Hippocrates told me to. LOL
But if you had taken the Meyer-Briggs test please, let us know the results in the comments. I thought it a lot of fun.
On ‘The Legends of Windermere’ blog, written by Charles Yallowitz, I found this excellent blog post about bad boys and how they really are used. Thanks for the great post, which I think to me is quite helpful, Charles.
A while back, somebody suggested I write a few posts on the ‘Bad Boy’ concept. I agreed thinking it shouldn’t be too hard. Now, I’m sitting here trying to figure out what I was thinking. Seriously, this feels like it’s outside of my ballpark because ‘Bad Boy’s in my mind don’t really appear outside of romances and dramas. Then again, I’m using a very narrow definition. Let me try to enhance it by some stream of consciousness writing.
Don is a very gifted author who is generously sharing his experience and wisdom with all of us. Thank you so much, Don Massenzio!
As I look at my writing notebook (you should consider carrying one), I see the dozens of story, setting and character ideas that I have collected and I’m both inspired and anxious.
There are many ideas that I want to turn into stories. It’s hard to write one at a time. At any given time I have a book and some kind of serial or short story going at the same time. This is tough with a 50 hour per seek day job and 45 weeks of travel per year, but I somehow manage to squeeze in some writing.
As I looked at these ideas, I began thinking about where the ideas that I’ve recorded come from. It though that telling you some of my sources might help you look at some idea generation possibilities you might not have thought of.
Last year, sometime in October, I published a hilarious story, written by Merlin Fraser. I named it “On a different note” and the ones who read it had a good laugh with Merlin’s humor.
With this guest post, Merlin shows us that he’s not ‘only’ a great writer, and has his well known, a bit rough humor; but he is also a talented author of great sensitivity and treasures his memories with a warm heart and a trace of sadness many of us would not have expected.
I wanted to share this side of Merlin with you and I’m sure you will read his guest post and find it as valuable and admirable as I do.
“And now for something completely different,” to coin a phrase, I pinched it from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in case you were wondering where you heard the expression before.
I’m sure you tire of my exploits with trees so a change of tack is required as I explore some of the many characters I have met during my country upbringing.
Journeying back to the 1950’s I think this character reflects a slightly cruel streak in our past due to a complete lack of understanding as to the causes of what is now considered a mental illness.
Bernie was a gentle soul never known to harm anything or anyone but to all he was cruelly known as the village idiot and to my everlasting shame I have to confess that as a kid I was no better than the rest.
To this day I have no idea what the problem was within Bernie’s brain, as I remember he was looked after an old lady at the far end of the village but as to their relationship, I have no idea. To her great credit, Bernie was always clean well fed and fairly well dressed in hand-me-downs’, presumably donated from other villagers.
Bernie would do odd jobs, take letters to the post box, that sort of thing and could always be relied on to hold one end of a long skipping rope for the girls or go in goal for a friendly football kick about. Although I suspect today’s parents would have a different view of a Bernie in the midst of their offspring and would probably demand his removal from the community, however, as I said Bernie was absolutely harmless.
For a while, he did the daily village paper rounds, until one dark stormy winter’s day all the daily papers were found thrown inside the door of the village church. With hindsight, I think that in that thunderstorm Bernie just got scared, panicked and ran home. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that was the end of the only paying job he ever had.
After that, the paper delivering job fell upon us kids, and we took it in turns to bugger it up as best we could but in a crafty way so as not to raise too much suspicion or acquire a thick ear. Whether this was a childish attempt to get Bernie his job back or just a piece of rebellion I cannot say, but in my case probably the latter. However, whichever kid had the duty Bernie was always a constant companion chattering away and pointing at anything and everything that caught his eye. Except on Sundays, his guardian always insisted Bernie went with her to church.
Not very far away from our village there was a large agricultural college and quite a few of the students had their own transport, mainly vintage motorbikes but there was the odd Ex Army Land Rover that could, somehow or another, manage to hold about ten students, more depending up the season or how drunk they were.
Back then, any such college was way beyond the means of the average family and the agricultural college more so and it seemed to be populated by the children of the landed gentry or well to do Farmers. In other words, ‘Privileged OIKS,’ who because of their often-rowdy behaviour would get banned from more and more pubs and have to travel further and further afield to get a drink. They used to invade our village pub on a regular basis. Now our pub landlord was a genial host, far more tolerant than many and more than happy to take their money, and it is the subject of money that brings me back to Bernie.
Most days, thanks to his never-failing routine depending on the time of day you could always find Bernie. If there were cows or horses in the fields close by that’s where he would be feeding them handfuls of grass stroking and talking to them.
As kids it took us ages to win the confidence of big animals, Bernie, on the other hand, was always surrounded by them. Even little birds would take food from his hands. While if it were me the little sods would sit on the ground about twenty feet away with their head cocked at that jaunty angle and that look in their beady eye that said, “you have got to be joking!”
On sunny summer evenings Bernie had a favourite seat on a wall across from the pub, he never went in unless he had found or was given an empty bottle and then he could reclaim the three pence deposit. From his perch, Bernie had a grandstand view of the pub and as he sat there in his own little world, he would sit swinging his legs and waving at all who came and went.
On the occasions when the invading hoards came from the college, some would try to engage Bernie in conversation, which was impossible. If he wanted something he would ask or more often just point, he talked, more often than not any response to your reply was never connected. Therefore, we learnt to simply listen and smile in understanding.
However, one Sunday evening there was much hilarity outside the pub close to Bernie’s wall and Bernie seemed to be in the centre of the action. To Alan, my best pal, and me it looked like the college students were picking on or making fun of him and we went to investigate. What exactly we intended to do was unclear since there was about twenty of them and only two of us and at that time there was a considerable age and size difference. Thankfully, it never came to that because as we got closer, we discovered that there was some sort of game going on and by the happy look on Bernie’s face, he was winning.
To explain the game, I have to take you back to pre-decimal British coinage, I won’t bore you with the confusing facts as to why there was 240 pennies in a pound or 12 pence in a shilling but the size of the coins of the day played a significant part in the game.
Therefore, a sixpenny piece was half the size of a shilling piece. A shilling was half the size of a two-shilling piece and there was another coin, which was called half a crown that was slightly bigger than a two-shilling piece and worth six pence more.
I’m already confused, and I grew up with this crazy system, but fear not it’s not critical because the game here is based upon size and as you can see from the above description size relates to value, all very logical, however, I doubt Bernie had any notion of logic.
The students seemed to be taking it in turns to challenge Bernie by showing him two coins of different sizes and demanding he chose one. Bernie always took the smaller coin and therefore the one of lesser value, this was the cause of the hilarity and so the game went on until the students tired of the game, they sweetly called ‘idiot baiting’ and returned to the pub to throw beer and darts at one another.
Allan and I tried as best we could to explain to Bernie the error of his decisions, even showing him the difference in size from the collection of coins he had won by playing the same game between Allan and me, Bernie just frowned and shook his head.
We gave up, well I did, Allan had one more question, “Bernie why can’t you understand?”
Bernie emptied his pockets and at a rough guess he had at least two pounds in loose change, by kids standards a King’s ransom in those days, he looked at us and said, ”If Bernie take big coin they don’t play with Bernie no more !”
I learnt a valuable lesson that day and I suspect Allan did too.
What happened to Bernie?
Sad to say I have no idea after I joined the Navy in the early ’60s my family moved away from the village. When I eventually went back for a visit a few years later he was gone. The old woman who looked after him had died and I suspect the local authorities moved in and sent him off to an institution somewhere.
Nowadays in the mad rush and tear of modern living, I often think of those far off days, it was a far gentler time, the pace of life was far slower, and I can’t help thinking the world is a sadder place without the Bernie’s and the gentle humanity of a close community.
Since then many of you know that I use OneNote as a writer’s tool, not only to take notes, but to actively use it to take information, writing notes, reminders, and lists with me.
Since I am a big fan of OneNote, I also use it to create my character sheets.
Writing a series as the one I do now makes it necessary to keep track of my recurring and new characters and what better way is there to keep my characters as close to me as possible at all times than to use OneNotes?
Now, changing from my former desktop to my current laptop has lost me my entire OneNote. It almost broke my heart, until I realized that I did have one local copy on an external memory device. This means I got my brains together when I made a OneNote data backup. Unfortunately, this was an older version of all my notes. Big chunks of the writing notes were missing, and the character sheets were more or less on the basic character drafts.
Nobody can say I’m not learning from my mistakes and this disaster taught me a few things:
1. save your writer’s notes on a current device
2. make sure the data isn’t only on the cloud but also on the device
3. keep your character sheets as current as possible at all times
Point three has caused me sleepless nights. I realized that I occasionally took notes on the characters wherever I was and on whatever piece of paper I found, but rarely updated the character sheets with new developments.
In a series as of mine, there are definitely a number of characters, the planned returning ones and new ones that come up with the story of new books. When I started my series I had fourteen returning characters on the ‘Good’ side and at least eight characters on the ‘Bad’ side to begin with, and no matter how good I am, I cannot memorize every single small development each of these characters took with the progress of the series.
That means, right now, I’m busy searching my finished manuscripts and drafts for the developments that I had not written down in the character sheets.
I’m therefore spending some of my time reading, taking notes and updating character sheets, with the defined resolution to keep my character sheets up-to-date from now on! It is a lot of work, but I know it’s worth it.
After all, I want my books to be comprehensible and with no obvious character flaws.
While I wrote this blog post, I was asking myself if I’m the only one working like this? Am I complicated? Does that make sense? And how are other authors developing character sheets? Where do other authors keep them? If you can give me some advice, I’d be grateful to hear it in the comments. Thank you!
Neil Gaiman is right. Writing is easy – and it’s hard.
We writers have a story in our head, and we want it written. That’s what we love doing; the book is what we want to accomplish.
But there is so much more. The characters, the plot, the genre, the word count, the editing, the cover, the formatting, the copyright, the beta reading, the hope and the fears.
Many of us, I figure, have the same fears that I have: Is the story as good as I hope it will be? Could I have done better? What does the reader want? What do the readers say? How are the reviews going to be? Is the book the way I wanted it to be? Are my characters the way I imagined them? There are so many more questions my fear, right now, won’t release.
In many ways, our passion is easy: just a keyboard (or a piece of paper and a pen), and we’re on it. But still, it is hard work. Do we think about everything we learned? Is the story the way we had it in our head?
And the writing is only one part. The ones of us who planned to go the self-publishing way, our work only start started with the publishing date. The networking, the marketing, getting the word and the book out there.
I think I’m not the only one who would love to write, just write and write and write… but then, I want my stories to be read too. And when it comes to that, I need to get all this work done.
That’s the hard part for me. (Apart of all fears and nightmares, of course).
So, yes. Neil Gaiman is right. Writing is easy – and it’s hard.
Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman, (born Neil Richard Gaiman 10 November 1960) is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre, and films.
His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. He has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals.
He is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work, The Graveyard Book (2008). In 2013, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was voted Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards. (Source: Wikipedia)
From a very young age, I have been fascinated by owls. I love owls, as do many other people I meet. According to psychologists, these birds are sympathetic to us for having an ‘almost human face.’ Let’s see if they’re right:
And this isn’t a hint that Johnny Depp looks like an owl. I just picked someone most of us know. Two eyes, a nose, and a mustache. Compared to other birds owls have both eyes on the front of their head instead of the side. But this isn’t the subject of this blog post.
As I said, I’m fascinated by owls. There are many mysterious facts about them:
An owls’ eyes are immobile; they cannot ‘roll their eyes’ or move the eyeballs. They can focus on pray. But then, they can turn their heads about 270 degrees.
Their ears are asymmetric; one ear sits higher on the head than the other. Since they have excellent hearing, this way they can hear sound in different dimensions.
Lager owls eat small ones. And an owl can eat up to 1,000 mice a year. They swallow them entirely: tail, fur, feet – everything. Later they choke up what their body can’t digest. Occasionally these pellets can be found on the ground in the woods.
The smallest owl on Earth is the Elf Owl, which is 5 – 6 inches tall and weighs about 1 ½ ounces. The largest North American owl, in appearance, is the Great Gray Owl, which is up to 32 inches tall.
Superstitious people in certain parts of the world still believe owls are death omens. In wide parts of Europe owls have been killed by the hundreds because, in particular, farmers believed, owls are a bad sign of destruction. Until in the early 70’s these stupid people nailed owls to their sheds with their wings spread and left them to hang to die and believed this way they could protect their crop, animals, and house from disaster, accident and natural force.
For a very long time, owls have been a symbol of scholarliness and wisdom. It seems the origin of this habit goes back to the Ancient Greeks: In Greek mythology, a little owl (Athene noctua) traditionally represents or accompanies Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom, or Minerva, her syncretic incarnation in Roman mythology. Because of such association, the bird — often referred to as the “owl of Athena” or the “owl of Minerva” — has been used as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, perspicacity and erudition throughout the Western world. (Source Wikipedia)
To me, they have a trace of magic about them.
The series of books I am currently writing is classified between paranormal romance and fantasy, and there is some magic involved. For a while now I have considered adding an owl to one of the stories. But I cannot place it.
No matter how much I think and try, no matter how fascinated I am by owls, that particular owl has no room in these books. It would feel like an alien within those stories. I even considered to build a story around the owl to add it, but it doesn’t make sense at all. It seems owls are not foreseen to be in this book series.
I then thought I might write another story about an owl. But I admit, I didn’t see a plot that does not make a children’s book. At this point, I never considered writing a children’s book. So, what am I doing with my owl?
Does anyone have an idea? And did anyone of you authors out there have an idea for a character and found out that it doesn’t fit into the book you’re writing? What did you do? How did it make you feel? I’d be happy to read from you in my comments.