As an instructor, I find myself sometimes watching interactions between students and/or instructors. I think people should always work to assume the best motivation. Like most humans, I fail to do this more often than I’d like to admit, but it also brings to mind something authors must do.
If you want a character to be compelling, you have to make that character’s motivation clear. This is exponentially more important when the character is very different than the reader. The more a reader can relate to a character, the more forgiveness a reader might have. I think some people might debate this, but I stand by the comment.
Establishing believability and connecting to readers is critical. I’ve read plenty of books that weren’t exactly wonderful, but I could stick with it because I was invested in the character. I’ve read books that were honestly well crafted, but I couldn’t stand them because the characters weren’t interesting at all.
For me, that all starts with a clear idea on what that character wants.
Now how does one demonstrate that? We’re supposed to show and not tell. Sure, it might work for Naruto to keep saying, “I’m going to be the greatest Hokage one day!” But while that was a dream, and there were times that motivation helped, his real motivation was bonds. The role of Hokage was a means to an end. So say it as he might, watch how Naruto reacts when someone is treated unfairly or disrespected. Watch how he reacts to any threat to those he loves.
So the technique I’m going to share with you today is establishing motivation by conflict or complication. Try taking something tat is desirable to the normal person, then set it as an obstacle to your character’s main goal. Maybe your character wants to be a millionaire. He wants the associate position and the paycheck that comes with it. One might establish the conflict as that of his wife and family who miss him. It’d be a horrid sinful thing to do, but if that guy were to divorce his wife to keep the job, you’d know his priorities in an instant. Yes, you’d hate him, but you’d understand him better and form expectations for him.
On a happier note, take that same situation, only this time, the guy walks into his office to learn he’s earned the big promotion. They’ll need extra time from him. They have plans to send him to an exotic country with a massive expense account to bring in new clients. The sky’s the limit. One day, he might make full partner. In that moment, all he can think about is how much he’ll miss his wife. He turns to promotion down, even getting fired because he won’t back down. Again, you see his priorities clearly.
So the trick is to take the character’s main goal and set it against another goal most average people would value. We do this in life. I talk about it all the time. People tell me they want to be a writer, but they can’t find the time. I can appreciate the ambition, but there’s probably something else they’re doing. It’s more important than writing if they won’t set it aside to get writing done. Again, I’m not advocating cruelty to loved ones, but maybe not so many video games. Maybe give up a single hour of sleep a night.
When you see a person sacrificing for what they love, you see the love.
Try this out with your characters and see how it affects your story.
I’m very close to finishing the First Draft of Discovered. While I can’t quite put the call out for alpha readers now, I thought I could at least take a moment to introduce you to a character I’m very happy about.
Daniel is an orphan who’s experienced the harsher side of the system. He’s captivated by stories where boys like him turn out to be heroes or princes, but he knows better. He knows no one who thinks like him could be very heroic.
Here are the particulars of Daniel I can share:
Height: 63 inches – 5’3”
Weight: 90 pounds
Build: Lanky. Very thin. He’s homeless and underfed.
Skin Tone: Tan
Voice Quality: Quiet.
Hair Color: brown
Hair Length: Long
Hair Style: Messy. Dirty.
Eye Color: blue
Eye Shape: oval.
Face Shape: Dimond with a square jaw.
I feel like other information would be too spolierific, so I redacted it. This is the information I use when writing a first draft. I use a character sheet containing this information and more to apply realistic detail to a character in the fist draft. I’m a discovery writer at heart, and I want get the plot moving. I consider it a failing. I account for this in the first draft, where I pointedly go in and add description and look for opportunities to use those to not just show what a character looks like, but how a character thinks.
I think Daniel is wonderful in a lot of ways. He has every excuse to be evil, but he wants so desperately to be good. That dynamic next to other characters really works in my opinion.
I hope this gets you excited to volunteer as an alpha reader for Discovered when I’m ready (man would I love to be ready next week)! We’ll see if I can make that happen. I have two and a half chapters of additional content to write (scenes I realized I needed after reading the previous draft). Once those are done and tidied up, I’ll put out the call.
Earlier, I talked about the importance of just banging out your story to get the whole story done, and that is critical. If you’re someone who’s finished writing a novel, I’m of the opinion that you’re already in a certain rare area.
But, if you’re like me, and you’re invested in getting that story out into the world, that finished draft is only a draft.
Now is the time to start looking at that puppy. But here’s the oddest thing. As a teacher, I see students do this. They want to agonize over every word they type, as I mentioned in that post. Then, when it comes time to revise, they want to stare at that paper, hoping the mistakes jump up and volunteer themselves.
My time in the military wasn’t an action movie by any standards. But, one usually gets some combat training. Without going into too much detail, my point is simple. You tend to hit targets you aim at.
What does this mean? Well, instead of looking at your manuscript one time, trying to find every error, you should look at your book many times, each for a distinctly different type of mistake.
This is why I do a minimum of six drafts (and that number gets up to 14 depending on how you count a draft). Each time I do a set of revisions, I’m looking for very specific things. It’s much easier to look for a specific issue like lack of description or talking heads than it is to look at a chapter and trying to do it all. In fact, I don’t know that anyone can do it. If you’re an author who asserts you can, I’d honestly be interested to hear about your methodology. Regardless of how many drafts an author may do, I promise it isn’t one.
I can’t stand editing. I feel foolish for some of the mistakes I make. I’m frustrated when I feel like I haven’t developed in a particular area the way I wish I would. But I take solace knowing I’m making the story better. I’ve actually articulated my drafts by title, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained what I do in each draft, so to give you an idea on how many drafts I really do and how I use this technique, I’m going to elaborate on that.
The discovery draft has only one goal: Finish the manuscript. Get it done. Get it typed. If I am struggling to remember something or I know I’m going to need to do something, I’ll leave a note for myself. I’ll be typing and then do something like this (GO BACK AND ELABORATE ON THIS), or (CHECK THE NUMBERS TO MAKE SURE THEY LINE UP!)
All caps in writing isn’t something I do often, so using them as notes to myself, I know I’ll notice.
Once I finish that, I take a break. When I come back, I start my first draft. The first thing I do is go and check for those notes. Whatever I tell myself to do, I go and do it. I’m obedient that way. Then, I go back and read the chapter, looking for areas that lack description. One way I do this is to look for talking heads. Another way I do it is to look for action verbs. Those usually provide great spots for useful adjectives or sense activation. I sometimes have to add chapters or change POV, so I do that. But I don’t do it all at once per chapter. I review the notes. Then I look for description. Then I check to see if the POV lines up.
Then it’s time for another break. The first draft is done. I have to send it off to the Alpha Readers. While I wait, I work on another project to keep my mind fresh. Once I get the feedback, usually about a month later, I apply their notes. I do this by chapter. I apply the notes. Then I look again at description (because I feel this is a weakness of mine) and the visuals of the story.
Then I take another break, sending the book off to Sara for developmental edits. About here, I feel pretty good about the story as a whole. I work on something else during the month (give or take) Sara has it, and jump at it when I get it back. I apply her notes by chapter. Then I start looking at the structure and word usage. Can I trip that down? Can I replace “said” with a descriptive beat.
Then the book is off to beta readers. Rinse and repeat. I apply that feedback. Once I apply the feedback for the chapter, I look again at the word usage and start hunting down adverbs to replace with more clear action verbs.
Then the book is back over to Sara for line edits. Even that has a process. I don’t look for “all the mechanical issues.” I look at punctuation (rule by rule). I look at grammar. And all this is after I review the manuscript for Sara’s notes. Then I read it out loud. If I find another error, I finish the chapter, but then I go back and do it again. I do this until I can read the chapter out loud all the way through without finding an error.
This might seem daunting. Based on my observation of my students and other people, it certainly seems anti-productive. But it actually isn’t. Staring at your book for hours at a time just leaves you with strained eyes and errors you can’t believe you missed. This way is actually much faster. I say again, it’s. much. faster. For starters, each time you finish a look, you feel like you’re moving and accomplishing more, so you’re more motivated and willing to look again. Also, it’s more effective, so you’re not caught off guard by those mistakes you glazed over.
Give it a try and see how your beta or gamma readers (I don’t use gamma readers, but some do) feel about the book when you’re done.
To answer what might be the first question you have, the first reason you probably haven’t finished your book is the fact that you haven’t started your book.
The most common question I get is, “What does one have to do to write a book?” The answer sounds rude or condescending, but it’s just simple truth. You have to write. You have to put aside time every day to sit down and work on your book. If you never do that, then it’s academic. You can’t ever finish a thing you didn’t start.
So that means I can talk about the “other” reason.
The simple explanation: When you’re writing your book. Don’t. Stop. I remember talking to my brother, I’m not sure if I finished my first manuscript or not, but he mentioned trying to write a book, and he said he wrote one sentence over and over again. That’s when it dawned on me.
One reason why I’m able to crank out novels is because I’m relentless. I don’t stop to edit. I don’t stop to think about how the book works. When it’s time to draft (write the actual story), I just let my fingers fly, and I’ve learned just how hard that is for some people to do.
Now, as I teach journalism, I see the same issue. I’ve sat, my heart breaking, as I watched students write a few words. Then they’d stop and look up how to write something or see if a term should be abbreviated. Then they’ll type a few more words or a sentence and then manipulate it for a painful amount of time.
The motivation of someone wanting their writing to have a high quality product is understandable, but here is the most valuable advice I can give a person aside from, “write.” That advice is, “Draft now; edit later!”
If you agonize over a sentence or a scene, you’ll never finish. You need to let go. Trust the Force! I’ll admit this thought is hard for some to understand. It’s equally hard for me to understand why people can’t just pound out the words, but it happens.
I promise, there is a time to edit. There is a time to look at your story and mold it into its greatest potential, but that time doesn’t come until you have a completed (start to finish) draft.
If you can cultivate this habit, I promise you’ll finish novel after novel.
Every now and then, one of the students at the Defense Information School where I teach will approach me to write a feature about my writing. I typically get the same sorts of questions, and one of the more common ones is about where I get the ideas for my stories.
I have to admit that this is a very hard question for me to answer. You see, I have ideas all the time. I’m more baffled when people tell me they have trouble coming up with ideas. That gave me the idea (see what I mean?) to do this blog you’re reading.
For me, ideas are very natural. Even when I was trying to think about what I was going to blog about today (I spent about five minutes thinking), I was more considering options than I was trying to think of just one.
Idea Generation Method 1: Let your life inspire you. This is probably my primary method. I have a very active imagination, so when I see something, I sometimes take it to a fantastic degree, and that leads me to a story idea. Bob Drifter came to me while watching my dad and his dog interact. There are some other childhood trauma things I won’t get too far into, but I’ll only touch on them by saying there were people who left my life, and I had trouble dealing with it, so I created this world where souls were passed on. This isn’t remotely Biblical, and I acknowledge that as a Christian. However, it was a lovely thought for a 17-year-old who wanted to feel more connected to the people around him. I really loved the idea that people can leave pieces of themselves to other people they’re close to, and, in a way, we do.
I’m struggling between going into where the ideas for all my books came as examples of this process and offering other methods. I’m actually articulating this so you see how my mind works as well. So the happy medium is to give you another example of letting life inspire you before moving on to other techniques.
Stealing Freedom came to mind when some riots were happening a few years back. The details are fuzzy in my memory, but what I remember is a person drove a car into a crowd. There was a lot of debate about protesting and how people respond. I worried that people would start to discuss “limiting” free speech for the “protection” of others. I had a mental picture of a little girl wearing a shock collar. Then I thought about one of my sisters being that girl’s mother. “She’d burn the world down before she let that happen,” I thought to myself. And there it was, the opening chapter to a new story.
The method (if I try to explain it) is to look at something happening in the world around you and then try to add fantastical elements to it. You can try it now. Look at one thing that happened to you today and then apply some strange or even just ridiculous element to it. Then start trying to come up with ways to rationalize that element. This will form a situation if not a full blown story.
This is easily my primary method for coming up with ideas, but there are others I’ve either heard others talk about or offered to others.
Idea Generation Method 2: Combine and Twist: What are your two favorite books? If you were going to write fan fiction and try to combine these worlds, how would you do it? If you can follow this line of thought, you’re halfway to coming up with an original story. All you need to do then is come up with your twist. Ask yourself what you can do to put a new spin on the two worlds or magic systems. Because almost all of my stories were used with the above technique, I can’t point out any one of my own stories. Neither can I name a Combine and Twist story I’ve seen off the top of my head. So we’ll have to come up with something together.
I love Dragonriders of Pern and Wheel of Time. What if owning a dragon gave you powers, but your will was always at odds with the will of your dragon? (I actually love this idea, but I promise I have enough books to write). Let’s go with this a bit further. Say we live in a world where dragons exist, and a select group of people could mentally connect with those dragons. However, if one took over a dragon contrary to one’s will, they’d have to constantly maintain control of the bond lest the dragon take over the human’s mind. That gives me an idea for a main character. What if my main character had the idea to find and bond a dragon who actually agreed with his line of thinking. How much more powerful would both become if they worked together rather than engage in a perpetual mental battle for access to the powers the dragons provide? If you like that idea, feel free to write it. Just give me a nod in your acknowledgments page (and maybe buy and recommend a guy’s books?).
Idea Generation Method 3: Fix A Broken Story: What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen or book you’ve read? Why was it bad? I’m actually currently reading the worst book I’ve ever read (I feel obligated to finish it). Now, I have that opinion of this book because I’m at a loss as to how I would even go about fixing it (it’s that bad). But, this is a great way to come up with ideas. I actually do have a personal example of this. You see, I don’t really like YA fiction. I think that there are some very overdone aspects of it that just make it predictable and unrealistic. When I had a life inspiration moment for Repressed (people were debating the right to let others legally immigrate), I knew that Kaitlyn (originally from Caught) would be perfect for that situation. However, Kaitlyn only fits two of the list of things YA characters have. She was (she’s 19 now as I’m writing the end of Oneiros) young, and she’s a compelling character. I didn’t like the stories of the young girl who meets a dangerous boy and falls in love trying to change him. That’s putting it mildly. I’m not at all against people meeting and falling in love. I’m not at all against young people of either gender wanting to find love. What I hate is what I see as the glorification of toxic relationships.
So that’s the part I changed. Instead of a girl meets bad boy plot, I had a young girl who was driven to a different goal. Can YA be about young people learning about themselves rather than falling in love with the worst possible person? The plot and writing of Repressed was easy after that.
So those are three things you might try if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, but I leave you with a different challenge. Is it possible you don’t actually struggle coming up with one idea? When I talk to students, the struggle they have is that they’re waiting for that “perfect” idea. I don’t have that problem at all. My recommendation more than how to find ideas is this: Once you find an idea, write that book. It doesn’t have to be the greatest book ever. It doesn’t even have to be that good an idea. What doing this does is train you to ideate and then create. This way, when you do have that one great idea, you’re already practiced at writing and developing it. Don’t get stuck. Don’t wind up never writing anything because you’re chasing after a better idea. It’s a fool’s errand. I sincerely hope each idea you have is better than your last one, but that doesn’t actually mean the first idea was bad. So have ideas and then write them. Practice that positive habit, and you’ll find a whole bunch of books you’ve written ready to evaluate when you’re done.
I’m happy to report that I’ve finished the outline for Discovered, the conclusion of the Oneiros Log and the story which began in Caught.
COVID has caused me to have to adjust how I operate. I was counting on conventions to earn the money I needed to get Betrayed a developmental edit, but no conventions in my life (at least so far) means no sales. The good news is the finances are (apparently) back on track for my normal budgeting. That means I can resume saving for edits. That will happen in time, but it will take time (about five months at most). That’s not the timeline I wanted to work with, but we live in the world we live in.
Rather than freeze completely, I’m able to work on other projects that I can have ready for when the world (God willing) gets back to normal. I typically bounce from one project to another. In a perfect world, I would have had Betrayed edited by now, so I would do the next draft on that while I let Discovered simmer. Since that isn’t an option, I’ve decided to get caught up in other projects, namely, Images of Truth. I was working on this discovery draft and set it aside to work on Sojourn in Captivity, which is essentially a prequel to Images. It really bugged me to have a draft 118,000 words written but not finished. So I’m going to take the chance to get that draft done.
Now, Images of Truth is huge! So I might not finish that draft before I start working on Discovered’s discover draft. I promised that I’d get Oneiros done, and I mean to do it. I’ll work on Images until June 1, then get cranking on Discovered.
The moment I save or earn enough to get Betrayed to Sara for a developmental edit, I will, and I will let you know. Maybe what I get out of this is getting Images closer to ready as well. If (and it’s a big if) I get that discovery draft of Images done, I’ll do another pass on The 1,200, which is scheduled to be the book I release after I’m done with Oneiros.
I wanted to post this to show you all that I am working hard to get this saga done and into your (very patient) hands. I’m also doing my best to keep the creative projects going so there I don’t get stuck in the midst of this trial.
I’m glad I hit this benchmark, and I appreciate all the support you’ve shown from the beginning to now and, hopefully, the future.
Something that slows down or even completely stops an aspiring writer is the idea that the book is finished when he or she completes the draft. I see it with my students. They spend far too much time trying to make the first draft their last draft.
That’s an unfortunate misconception that only serves to devastate someone. I’m not saying it never happened to me. The first thing I ever wrote, I proudly presented it to a few friend’s and even a published author. I wanted them to lavish me with praise and compliments. That’s just not how it went.
My friend pointed out all of these plot holes, and the author I showed it to just told me why it didn’t work. I was absolutely devastated. I had just spent about a month typing some thousands of words, and the story wasn’t any good.
What saved me in that moment was my sheer stubborn nature. All my youth spent having to do something over and over again until it was right instilled in me the determination to keep at something until it’s done. I’ll admit, that same youth put me in a mindset to completely hate having to do something again. I still do. The thing I learned, and the thing I want others to know, is that the first draft is only a draft.
If your stuck because, “I just can’t get this chapter right,” rewrite your definition of “right.” A first draft should have the general plot and major character events in an order that makes a pretty good amount of sense. I overemphasize this statement. JUST. KEEP. WRITING. First of all, there is no such thing as a perfect story. Someone is going to find a plot hole you didn’t think of. Someone is going to find some copyediting error you didn’t even know existed. For the first draft, don’t even worry about it. Write to get the story out. Hunger for people to point out the holes. Crave criticism.
Now those are things that are still against my nature. “I love this story! I couldn’t bear it if someone didn’t like it!” Do yourself a favor: Never publish that book or show it to anyone. Someone is going to hate your book. It’s the world, and the people in the world will find things they don’t like. Use that feedback to make the book better. By all means, stand behind decisions you make, but do so knowing what some readers might think of those decisions.
The Journals of Bob Drifter was my first book. I have six reviews that are two stars or lower between Amazon and Goodreads. That mans six people just flat didn’t like my book. It hurts to think that. I really want people to enjoy my book. However, if I really did let that stop me from publishing, I would have missed out on the 50 four-star-or-higher reviews. At least 50 people loved the book! That’s the nature of entertainment. (I have 63 reviews for Bob between its two editions and the review from Amazon and Goodreads.) However, the final draft of that book looks very different from what I originally wrote. The order of the book was very different. Some of the decisions were different (particularly with Richard). The criticism from editors and beta readers truly helped shape the novel into what it became, and I still love it.
Every single one of my titles has the same story from that point of view. Sure, when I get criticism, I feel defensive. Who wouldn’t? But a published author has to push through the fear of criticism and see it for what it is, a valuable tool to get better.
When I sit down to write my discovery draft, I have zero regard for anything. I just pound the story out. Sometimes I leave little letters to myself. However, nothing keeps me from finishing the draft. Nothing stops me from getting the story out.
You can’t revise an incomplete story. Anyone who tells you otherwise has figured out something I’ve personally never seen. I’ve heard the same from Brandon Sanderson and James Patterson. I do know that Sanderson had written about 13 books before an agent he’d been soliciting flat told him, “I’m trying to get this book where it needs to be,” or something to that effect. Sanderson said he didn’t want to revise and that he’d prefer to just move on to another book. He eventually came to understand the value of revision.
I type this bit of advice to convince aspiring authors to forget about what people may think or say about your first draft. Just get it written. Embrace the feedback. Don’t ever stop drafting until you’re done with that draft. Then, and only then, you can revise, and revise, and revise.
Don’t be afraid. Some people might not like your story. There might be many more times the number of people who love it. Sure, there is a universe where everyone who reads your work hates it, but it’s statistically unlikely. But in my days of doing conventions and talking to aspiring writers, I continue to hear the same set-back. I just keep going back to rewrite it. Sure, rewrite it after it’s complete. But if you never finish the book because you’re revising it, realize that you’ll never finish your book because you’ll never be done revising it.
I’m making my way through my TBR pile, and I noticed something in a book that drew my attention. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s probably not a good thing. I’ll keep things vague because there’s enough bad pub out there regarding books, and I’m not in any way trying to bash anyone. However, we can look at what some people do and make notes.
We have a main character who has a sidekick. This sidekick is loyal and steadfast. My argument is this character might have reached the point to where that steadfastness is not only hard to believe, but has become boring because no matter what the main character puts that sidekick through, the character simply keeps being this amazingly helpful, understanding person.
While I’ve recently come to believe that conflict in stories is a must, and I think authors should find as many opportunities for conflict as possible, I’m not in any way saying there needs to be some sort of fight scene or argument in every scene. Sometimes you need tension. Sometimes you need support. The thing is though, no one can be stalwart and reliable 100 percent of the time.
From a human perspective, even lifelong friends get frustrated with one another. My brother-and-I are such close friends and so well regarded, that family members have on occasion asked one of us what we wanted and then bought it for the other. When I go shopping, I just buy something I really want and give it to him. That doesn’t mean we’ve never fought. From that same perspective, friendships are tested through adversity. The point in live isn’t to always agree and support each other. Support is a thing, but support doesn’t always imply, helping or (more importantly) rolling with whatever the MC wants.
From a writer’s perspective, any author should be seriously worried when character reactions or actions become predictable. Predictable characters are boring, and boring characters lead to unread books.
Disagree? Let’s take a look at some of the most famous “friends” in fiction or entertainment:
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Didn’t we all see Civil War? I mean, the movie made metaphorical-astro-bucks in theaters. Wasn’t that story (in movies and comics) all about putting allies at odds? That sort of conflict takes this analogy a little farther than I want though. What about the most loyal sidekick ever?
Samwise Gamgee: The guy tagged along with Frodo through everything. Some may Sam is the actual protagonist of the story. while I think he was the hero, he wasn’t the protagonist. The protagonist in any story is the one who has a clear goal and encounters obstacles. The main goal of Lord of the Rings? Destroy the ring. Yes, Sam just wanted to protect his friend, but it’s not as neat as those wearing fond remembrance glasses think. For starters, Sam didn’t hear about the tale and shout, “Frodo can’t go unless I do!” In fact, he was caught eavesdropping and ordered to follow Frodo. The very beginning of their journey wasn’t based on friendship and support; it was based on Sam being yanked into this mess because of being nosey.
Yes, Sam was stalwart through perhaps 95% of the whole story, but there was rising conflict and an eventual clash of wills and break-up. Sure it was short lived, but Sam and Frodo argued about Gollum, which ended in Sam saying he can’t support this path. Yes, he returned, but that return as all the more heroic because the audience understood and believed how frustrating it would be.
So writers, I’m not saying the friends or sidekicks of the story need to argue at every page or end up on opposite sides of the conflict, but no one real or fictitious, can walk in the shadow of an MC and not encore some of the emotional strain, turmoil, and resentment the MC encounters.
Writers should be aware of what the MC is putting that sidekick through, and respect that those challenges have a toll on that friend. Every Robin ever has had some major conflict with Batman. Sometimes it was a conflict to earn a place beside him, and sometimes it was a more literal conflict. No one liked Jason Todd until he came back and tried took on Batman.
There’s another side. There are characters who get boring for the opposite reason. They almost never seem willing to support or help out that MC. Mat Cauthon was a very hot and cold character for me. I frankly resented him sometimes for how quickly he was ready to abandon Rand and how stubborn he was about pretty much doing anything. I understand part of this was an aspect of his arc and his fatal flaw, but he infuriated me, and there were times when I just wasn’t interested in him because I didn’t want to read another ten pages about how he wanted to avoid the situation. That said, I absolutely bawled when he mentioned a certain prank from way back in Eye of the World (I’d really appreciate anyone who remembers what that animal was by the way. I can’t seem to recall it. Might be time to read that series again.) Mat ended up working for me because he inevitably was loyal. He fought it every step of the way, but he did come through in the end.
Consider this as you write. Tension and conflict, even between the closest characters, can make that relationship stronger.
I’m writing this post on my phone because for some reason, my computer has decided it hates WordPress. I’d rather post something as opposed to not. I think it’s important I post on schedule, so here I am, but I do ask for some leinency for lack of pictures and any other errors.
A while back, I posted about chracter sliders. I mentioned that characters need to grow, but today I want to warn against characters who only have a high value in one category.
I don’t think charaters like this work. If you have a character who is amazingly competent, it won’t matter if he’s unsympathetic or not proactive.
Some may argue characters have to be symoasympat, and I like those characters, but sympathy alone isn’t enough.
I wanted to try and explain this with a character study, but I simply can’t think of a character who only has one high-value characteristic. I’m honestly atill thinking, and I can’t name one.
So let’s assume you all agree with me that characters need to be sympathetic; what else should they be? Well, that’s the luxury of choice.
A proactive character would, I think, inspire characters and motivate readers to keep trying. This would be a character like Naruto.
A competent character would challenge the reader. He would force the reader to keep up while simultaneously frustrating readers with his tendency to not act. Doctor Strange is a good example here. He’s totally motivated by selfish reasons. By choosing to take action and help defend Earth, the reader is satisfied and excited by his involvement in the fight.
Why are two mandatory?
Well, let’s again assume most feeling characters just be proactive.
If he doesn’t do anything, the reader will lose interest, feeling as though the character won’t ever answer the call to action
If the reader is also incompetent, the reader will put the story down because even if that character decided to take action, he’d probably fail.
My point is a character can’t just be sympathetic, proactive, OR competent. There needs to be a second element to create tension during the rising action and satisfaction during the climax.
What are your thoughts? Can you name any one-dimensional characters?
The main reason I wanted to do a 2nd edition was to gain more control over the price and make it easier for people to purchase. I also wanted to be able to have electronic e-sales. Making this decision allowed me to do another editorial pass. In truth, I did three.
By my count, that means I’ve done about 41 total passes on this book. This isn’t to say I’ve rewritten it, I’m proud to say I only did about three “full” revisions. These were drafts where I changed or rearranged content. The rest were proofreading drafts, and that’s where I want to focus my attention.
There’s this term, minimum viable product. I’ll be honest, I hate that term. To me, it connotes, “get it printed as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about the quality.” Perhaps I take that term too far, but I’ve read work completed under that banner, and to be frank, it never works out well. The typos and issues pull me out of the story and away from the plot.
However, the other side of that coin is even worse. You see, at some point, you have to let it go. This is why I hold so firmly to my process. It’s the balance I’ve found between ensuring the best product I can get to my readers while ensuring I actually release something.
Too many people ever finish a book or never publish it because they want it to be perfect. Here’s the brutal truth: You’ll never be perfect. Of the 41 times I’ve read Bob Drifter, I’ve never failed to find a rather significant number of issues. It’s simply going to happen when one writes 133,000 words. Now, this version is FAR cleaner than the last, and it should be. I’ve been told that the industry standard for “number of errors” in a book is 3% (author and editor friends, I’d appreciate confirmation of this). That means I could theoretically have more than 3,900 typos in Bob drifter, and I’d still be “within standard.”
I never counted, but even after paying my editor to do a pass on the book, I found an embarrassing number of grammar errors and typos. I even noticed a minor continuity issue. (It appears Richard used to own a house that changed color. I fixed that.) I assure you, my editor did a fine job. I promise I gave my best effort the other 40 times I went over the book. The simple fact of the matter is the book will never be “perfect.” I have to give you readers the best, high-quality product I can in a timely manner. That means taking a breath, and letting the story get out into the world at some point.
I don’t in any way agree with the philosophy of “just get the product out.” Those who disagree with me are welcome to, and you can even comment if you wish. This is simply my opinion on a common topic of discussion in the industry.
What I do support is the idea that you have to, at some point, release a book.
What I recommend:
Develop a plan, and hold to it. I’ve mentioned my plan a few times in a few different blogs, but because I can’t think of any one to refer you to, I’ll just go over it.
Discovery draft: get the story written.
First draft: Fill in holes. Flesh out the plot. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This usually takes me between 3-7 “passes.”)
Alpha draft: Get alpha readers’ feedback. Take information under advisement and address concerns. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This time it usually takes me 2-5 “passes.”)
Editorial draft: Sara gets her hands on the product and provides her developmental edits. I take those recommendations into consideration and make appropriate changes. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (The remainder of these “read-throughs” usually take between 1-3 passes.)
Beta draft: Send the draft out to the target audience. Apply their feedback. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.
Copyediting draft: This one goes back to Sara. She looks at the structure and grammar. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.
Proofreading draft: The last draft before I send it to publish. Simply read out loud until I can’t find an error.
Proof draft: When I get my proof (digital or physical), I read it out loud, making any changes I catch. I don’t repeat the process, I simply correct what I catch.
Is this too much for you? That’s OK, you can’t minimize. I wouldn’t be angry at someone who doesn’t do “read out loud” passes until the copyediting draft.
Arguments against my way: “What do you pay an editor for?”
I’m glad you ask. I pay Sara to catch what I miss. The more errors I blatantly ignore or don’t bother to look for, the more likely she is to miss something. I’m sure Sara would much rather I send her my best than if I send her a group of random fragments for her to polish into a book. If I did that to her, I may as well give her credit as a co-author. She’s the editor, but I’m the writer. It’s my job to give her my best product, and her job to make it better.
However, once I finish my process, I let the book go. I haven’t even looked at Sojourn, even though it’s not even scheduled to be turned in until later this winter. I followed my process, and I trust it. I’m sure people will note errors, and I’ll note them and offer my thanks to any who tell me about them, but I did my best with the time I gave myself to develop the story.
This is the process that works for me. You can use it, use your own, or use mine to develop something new. The point is, give your best effort. Don’t expect your editors to take your “least” efforts and make it stand out, but don’t edit a 30,000-word story 30,000 times and take years to release what should come out in a matter of months. (I’m delaying my releases because of a marketing and momentum plan, but those products will be finished well before my “deadlines.”)
A note: Please don’t feel insulted. Perhaps you have a different definition of “minimum viable product.” I’m happy to hear it, though I’ll probably still disagree, it doesn’t make you wrong any more than it makes me right. Like I said, find what works for you. The point is, give your products the love you want your readers to give those products, but remember they can’t love the books at all if you never publish.
What I hope is this post motivates you to publish that book you’ve edited 40 times. Get that story out in the world because you worked hard on it. If you’ve just finished the first draft of a product, do the story a favor and give it a few passes to make sure it’s the best it can be. Perhaps if they called it “most timely viable product,” I’d be more willing to accept it, but that’s not the case.
I hope this motivates you either way. I’m very eager to hear editors’ and authors’ opinions on this matter.