Author Interview with Charity Ayres

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Charity Ayres, an author featured in Dragons and Heroines.


1. How long have you been writing?

I honestly don’t remember the first time I wrote a story. Maybe in grade school? I know that I was working on my first novel in high school. I never finished it, but I worked on it for almost three years before entering the Navy. It was a vampire novel.

2. What comes first, the plot or characters?

The egg. Wait, the chicken? I don’t think there’s ever a true “first” other than the inclination to write. Sometimes, you catch an odd bit of conversation while standing in line at a coffee shop that triggers an entire character dialogue in your head. Other times, you’re taking a Geology class and realize that you could create a story where a random element horribly influences people. My characters tend to drive the story, but it doesn’t mean that the story wasn’t already lurking in the background, waiting to gobble them up. Writing is about that perfect cocktail of mayhem and connectivity between character and story.

3. How do you handle writer’s block?

When I teach Creative Writing or Writing Workshops, I always tell my students this: There is no such thing as Writer’s Block. There is such a thing as Procrastinator’s Block, and you have to decide to get over it. Writing can be hard work. Every time you sit down, you will not have the perfect writing session; sometimes, you have to push through and just write whatever comes out. That’s what first drafts are for. Get the story down, even if it means you spend the first ten, twenty, or sixty minutes of a session writing about everything in your head. Eventually, you will get what you need from writing so long as you just write through it.

4. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

Oh, I love finding my titles. Sometimes they come from a great one-liner a character says, and sometimes I want something that’s going to hint about what’s to come. If you’ve ever read or studied poetry, you know that the title is part of the prose. Stories are the same way. Titles are meaningful and give your reader a taste of sweetness to lure them in.

5. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

I was amazed that writing novels got easier. The first one was like rubbing my brain with sandpaper. It was agonizing, but I learned so much about myself, especially what not to do in my writing. I equate it to running: once you do a big run, the others seem a little easier by comparison. Then, you go out and do it again.

6. How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

I have to admit that every day is a different idea. My brain constantly picks up odd bits of fluff and swirls them around before putting them down and moving on to the next. My brain is very magpie-like. Today I was thinking about the Loch Ness monster as a dragon. Not just any dragon, though, the origin of life on this and other planets. What would the world look like with that approach? Why is the creature in hiding, and is it the only one? If so, how did it happen? That’s a story that could be fun to write.

7. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

I read so many different genres and write whatever strikes my interest, so this is hard. I love Stephen King’s earlier works. Piers Anthony is phenomenal. Though, thinking about it, Marion Zimmer Bradley was one of my influences. I was heartbroken when she passed away. She was one of the first authors I submitted a story to. Even though she didn’t take it, she wrote me feedback that I was too stupid to take at the time. Beyond them, I could give you a near-endless list.

8. What was your dream job when you were younger?

Writing has always been my dream job. I have always been a voracious reader, and the thought that I could one day do that as a profession? What could be better than that? To live in a realm of my choosing as the hero or heroine so I could save the day and then and do it all over again the next day. It’s like living a million lifetimes or the truest form of immortality.

9. What is the best part of your day?

After the first sip (or gallon) of coffee hits me, and I’ve had one of a million “how to kill and hide the body” discussions, the best part of my day is when I can stop and enjoy a story. I make sure to read every day, and I do writing sprints with fellow authors almost every night. The best moments for me are the quiet reprieve of stepping into a different world and wiggling my toes in the sands of someone’s imagination. Sometimes it’s my own characters and their penchant for sarcastic quips, or maybe it’s following a trail of clues in historical fiction, or perhaps it’s a short story that makes me want to turn on all of the lights. Whatever it is, I’m there for it. All of it.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and my website.

First Five Pages Checklist

The first five pages of your book are so important. As aspiring authors, we are well aware of their significance. And we place so much time and emphasis on getting them right. While we probably have a fair idea of what to do and not do in our first five pages, here is a quick recap of things to keep in mind when looking at the start of your novel.

Important questions to ask yourself:

Does the first line engage your reader?

Is your main character properly introduced?

Has the POV and narration style been made clear to the reader?

Does your reader get a good feel for the world – i.e. have you set the status quo?

Have you established your main character’s deepest desire?

Is there an inciting incident?

The most important thing to avoid at the beginning of your novel:

The information dump. 

Your reader is only starting to get to know your main character and within these pages, so you don’t want to overwhelm them with backstory or world building information so early on. Remember, you’ve got a minimum of 80,000 words to work with, you can take your time introducing the important background information. 

How to Critique & Edit Your Own Work

First off, understand that the first draft of what you are going to write is most definitely going to cause you to cringe and want to burn it on sight. I would not recommend this since editing it is fairly easy, and there’s no reason to give your neighbors a heart attack with squealing smoke alarms. You will have times when your writing flows as easily as a beautiful river. You will face times when you have to force the writing out. There will be filler words such as “that,” grammar issues, lack of descriptive imagery, characters so shallow you want to cry.

The first step is to just breathe. Once your first draft is completely finished, set it aside. Lock it away if you have to. Don’t look at it for at least a couple of weeks. Give yourself time to catch up on reading, watching movies, and schedule that spa day. You can work on another project, even if it’s the sequel to the first draft you just finished. Whatever you do, do not look at the first draft until two weeks has passed. That’s fourteen days for those that are stubborn. You know who you are.

The second step is to read your draft as though you were someone else. It should be fairly easy now that you’ve set it aside for the past two weeks. Be brutal. Reading from another perspective gives you the opportunity to find the plot holes more easily, the shallow characters who were never mentioned again, and more. Take your time reading it over.

The third step is the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences (average long sentence length should not exceed 25 words), your homonyms(to/too/two) are correctly used, etc. Grammar is essential to making your story readable and enjoyable to readers.

The fourth step is checking the tense throughout the story. This means the past tense, present tense, future tense. If your wording is off, it will be difficult to read and will give readers different ideas than what you’re portraying.

The fifth step is to read the entire story out loud. This can be tiresome, but if you can’t get through the entire draft in a breeze, neither can your readers. If the sentences feel awkward to say, this means they are awkward to read. Definitely go through this step repeatedly until all of those errors are fixed. Normally it’s something that can be resolved by switching a couple of words around or deleting a word.

The sixth step is to read the entire draft with all of the steps above in mind. Fix any lingering issues you see. Make sure to use the spell checker in whatever program you are using to write in.

Hopefully by this time, you have found and edited everything. A word of warning: just when you think everything is perfect and you hit publish, you’ll find errors you overlooked. Don’t panic, don’t pull the book off the shelves in horror. Calmly document all of the errors, update the document, and upload the updated version. There may be a limitless amount of times you have to do this, so just accept your fate.

In conclusion, that is at least five times you need to read your first draft in order to edit it. If you just exclaimed negatively over that fact, this line of work is not for you. If you don’t want to take the time to read over your own work several times, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it?

Tips to Stay Motivated

Coming into November there are probably a fair few of us who are giving NaNoWriMo a shot. Whether it’s your first time participating or you’re a seasoned vet, there will always be the problem of motivation that arises at some point throughout the month. It’s a natural part of the writing process to reach a certain point where the words don’t flow as easily and you’re finding yourself grasping at straws. When this happens during NaNoWriMo, it’s easy to throw in the towel and give up. But if you want to try to push through and stay motivated here are some tips to pushing yourself to write when you’re not feeling it – they can even be used outside of the sacred writing month of November as well!

Tip 1: Establish a Routine

Getting into a habit and sticking to it is the best way to combat any feelings of burnout. Whether it’s your home office, an outdoor café, your living room sofa, pick a place you’re most comfortable in and make it a habit. You can allot yourself as little as 20 minutes a day, but make sure you squeeze it in. You’ll find that the simple act of making a routine helps you write something, even if it’s not your best work. The key is just getting it out on paper. The editing comes later. Personally, I’ve also found that trying to fit in your writing in the morning works best because as the day wears on you will end up finding more excuses and distractions to draw you away from your writing. I know that’s not what the night owls want to hear but try giving morning writing a chance. It might surprise you.

Tip 2: Get Rid of Distractions

When I write during the week, I usually have a timer that I set for 20-40 minutes – depending on how early I managed to wake up. However, I always place it on the opposite side of the room, face down and notifications off, so I don’t get distracted. If it’s next to me on the table I’ll fall down the rabbit hole of scrolling through social media. If you know that you can’t write without looking at your phone, leave your phone in another room or on the opposite side of the room. If you get distracted checking work emails on your laptop then forgo the laptop and write using pen and paper. If you get distracted doing research for your story then perhaps try plotting ahead of your writing session that way the research is already done and you can just write. This time, however long or short, should be solely focused on producing words. Everything else can wait. And if you know what your weaknesses are in terms of distractions, try eliminating them ahead of time so you can have a productive writing session. 

Tip 3: Daily Goals

Giving yourself a daily word goal helps to keep you on track. Even if it’s something small like 500 words, it’s still something that can serve as a motivator to keep going. If you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily like thinking word count, then maybe make your goal something like finishing a certain scene you’ve been working on or writing another character’s perspective. So long as you have something that you are striving for on a daily basis you can battle against the distractions and writer’s block.

Hope these tips were helpful and good luck this November!

Questions to Ask When Pairing Characters

Let’s be honest, even when the main plot of a story isn’t romance, it still will often be included as a subplot to the story. Similar to the questions you’d ask when world building or developing individual characters, asking certain things of your character pairings is a good way to further develop your couples and make them realistic and believable to the reader. These are the types of questions that can be helpful to figure out how good a match your characters are. Of course, not all these questions need to be answered in the story itself, but it’s good information to have in order to better understand your characters. 


Questions to ask about your character pairings:

What do they like about each other?
What do they not like about each other?

How did they meet?

How long have they known one another?

How open are they about their love?

Is their attraction superficial or very deep?

What do they share in common?

Who initiated the relationship?

How do other characters view their relationship?

How much does their relationship affect he story?

Are they casual or serious in their relationship? 

Are they happy in their relationship?

How much time do they spend together?