Writing Likable Characters

We all want our readers to be invested in our stories. When a reader invests in your story, they are investing in a continued journey with you as a writer. Besides having someone thoroughly enjoy the work that you put so much effort into, having an invested reader can lead to great opportunities such as representation and publication if you’re seeking a more traditional means of publishing, or a loyal fan-base and more clout on social media if you’ve chosen to go with self-publication. Either way, only good things can come for you and your book if you have invested readers. 

But what is the key to success to capturing the hearts of readers? One of the easiest ways to get a reader completely on board with your book is to create likable and relatable characters. Think of all the books that you personally like – how many of them can you honestly say you like them for reasons other than the characters? Sure, the Harry Potter series is cool and JK Rowling outdid herself when she created the wizarding world, but if you stripped all the magic away, you’d be left with only the characters. And that was truly the heart of the books. It was Harry, Hermoine, and Ron that stole our hearts and made us want to keep reading. You can try to counter argue, but deep down you know it’s true. Take any story of any genre and strip away the fantastical settings, the plot twists, the romances, etc. and you’ll see that it’s the characters that are always at the heart of all our beloved books. 

But what is it about certain main characters that resonate with us and make us feel invested in their stories? All these beloved main characters and side characters that we love to discuss at length with friends, cosplay at events, or make fanart for; the one thing that they all have in common is their likability and relatability. So how do you go about creating characters that people like and want to follow?

Here are some tips:

Vulnerability– giving your character a vulnerability is one of the easiest ways to get your character to resonate with readers. This vulnerability can either be a physical one like a handicap or an emotional one. Either way, seeing a character struggle with their own weaknesses, hopes, limitations, or fears is always a way to get readers to see themselves in a character. 

Backstory– kind of lining up a bit with the vulnerability point is backstory. Introducing a why for the character’s actions or thoughts is always a way to make them seem relatable. And looking to their backstory is a good place to start. This is particularly helpful if you want to write an antagonist that is well-rounded and not just a straight up A-hole. Sometimes some of the best villains have some of the saddest or complicated backstories. Take the most recent Joker film. This is a perfect example of a well-rounded villain. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a bad guy, but getting to see his origins definitely helps us better understand his motivations. And in doing so we end up feeling bad for him – something that ends up making him more relatable in our eyes.  

Failure– letting your main character fail isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can definitely help the relatability of a character. We’ve all faced failure within our own lives. We all love an underdog story with the odds stacked against them. Let your character fail and make a courageous comeback. Their resilience will speak volumes with readers because we’ve all been there. 

Morals– most for the heroes of our stories making them be nice helps a bit. We want to think of characters as being generally nice. Characters that show kindness, generosity, or selflessness are generally seen as “good” and you want your characters to be good. No one likes a character that will kick a puppy and laugh. Of course, steer clear of making them a goodie-two-shoes. Some character flaws do make them more “human.” Also, don’t be afraid of giving your villains some morals too. Just because you have a supervillain who wants to destroy the world doesn’t mean that they can’t have a moment of selflessness. How many times do we end up liking villains after they end up redeeming themselves by showing a selfless side to them? Think Shadow Weaver’s sacrifice of herself to save Adora and Catra in Netflix’s She-ra. Personally, I shed a tear at that.

Humor– whether they’re self-deprecating, snarky, or just plain silly, giving your characters some sort of sense of humor makes them relatable to readers. We all love to laugh. It’s the next universal language besides love. So, it only stands to reason that readers would gravitate towards characters that have a funny side to them. And so long as their humor is true to the character’s personality, it will resonate with audiences.

Self-Awareness– let’s face it, flawed characters are the best characters. But the key to a good flawed character is that they’ve got enough self-awareness to be able to say sorry once in a while for their shortcomings. Giving your characters, particularly your heroes and heroines, a moment of “yeah I know I’m an A-hole sometimes but I’m trying” can definitely help readers cut them some slack for some of their more morally questionable actions. 

Fear and Pain– having a character be motivated by their fear or their pain can definitely make them relatable to readers. How many of us in our everyday lives are motivated to action by pain and fear? That 20-page college paper we’ve all written the night before it’s due was definitely written on pure motivation from fear of failure and a painful lack of sleep. Having characters move through plot points based off their fear and pain will definitely make them relatable. After all, nothing is more human in this life than feeling pain and fear, which is why our characters must feel these things too. 

The Importance of Good Cover Art

Ever heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” In reality, that’s actually what readers do. If the cover art is not eye-catching enough on a shelf full of books, it’s likely they’ll pick up something that is. Unsure where to start? Check out the bestselling covers in the genre you’re pursuing. What are the similarities between them? Ex. are they text-based? Only have one object as a focal point? Is the author name small or massive? All of these seem like small details, but it unconsciously helps the reader determine a lot about the book based on first glance.

How? All of the bestselling books have a simple cover with one or two things based on the story as the focal point. The author’s name is large, sometimes larger than the title, but that only works if you have a massive fanbase that literally buys the book simply because your name is on it.

Things to keep in mind while shopping or considering custom art for your book:

  • what covers are currently trending in my genre?
  • what objects or scene can be used to portray the story?
  • what colors and textures are being used on popular covers?

Another excellent thing to keep in mind is doing a bit of checking into the artist you’ll be commissioning. They’ll likely promote the cover to their followers, which does lead to more exposure and sales.

With a bit of research into current trends, you’ll be able to acquire the appropriate cover for your book whether it’s text-based or features the main character.

Why You Still Need an Editor After Multiple Books #2

A question that often comes up for seasoned authors: “do I still need an editor? I have x number of books under my belt now. Surely I can self-edit to save money and time.

Famous authors like J.K. Rowling, R.A. Salvatore, Stephen King, etc. still use their editors. Why? They’ve written multiple books and have been writing for years. Shouldn’t they be self-sufficient by now?

Writing a book and editing a book is not the same thing. That’s why an extensive process has been created for publishing. Yes, your work will definitely improve over the years if you continue honing your skills and pay attention to some of the things your editors suggest. There will still be mistakes that another pair of eyes need to catch.

You may be thinking at this point of the article that “It’s okay. I’ll have my best friend or family member read over it and it’ll provide a professional result.” This is often not the case. Even someone who reads books extensively or has an actual college degree in English won’t be able to catch all of the mistakes. Degrees are a piece of paper awarded to someone who completes courses. It doesn’t show their experience or dedication to the work.

Normally, there are three stages to editing: Structural/Developmental, Line Editing, Copy Editing. Laid out like that, it looks easy, but it’s far from simple. A manuscript is normally read through and edited a minimum of five times. Professionals who have studied current genres, story structures, sentence structures, etc. are worth having edit your story and getting it to a traditional publishing level, whether you are attempting that route or self-publishing. Readers expect professionalism and will stop reading after finding mistakes in the book.

But that’s okay. I’ve already established a reader base.” It’s extremely easy to lose readers once they realize your future books are not up to par with the others. The more books you release, the better they are expected to become. Not the opposite.

Continued from
Why You Shouldn’t Withdraw Your Submission Early

To be continued in a later blog post called
Why You Should Keep Improving Your Skills

Writing a Fight Scene

Let’s face it. Writing can sometimes be a struggle for us all. But the one thing that is perhaps the most difficult to write are fight scenes. They’re high-stakes, and very intense confrontations between characters, so if done wrong, they will end up reading very, very badly.

When we think of fight scenes, we probably envision them similarly to how they are in movies – fast-paced and engaging moments that leave the audience thinking “wow.” Of course, watching a fight scene in a movie is so much more different to writing one, as a film allows the audience to take on a passive role as everything they need to know is visually being handed to them. As a writer, your job is to help the reader take on an active role in reading, by giving them written cues to help them visualize it in their minds’ eye. Obviously, this is much harder to do than visually feeding it to your audience.

If you’ve been writing a story that includes a fight scene, or scenes, and you’re finding yourself struggling, then here are a couple tips that I’ve discovered about writing fight scenes through trial and error:

Tip #1: The fight scene(s) should always move the story forward

In general, writing any scene should be as a means of moving the story forward. However, this is particularly true for a fight scene. Don’t include a fight scene into your story – even if it’s really well-written – just to put it in there. The easiest way to tell if your story is propelled by your fight scene? Delete the fight. If your story reads fine without the fight and it still makes sense, then your fight scene doesn’t move the story forward and you did well to delete it. Now if the fight was some kind of transition or if the story feels like its missing a key element, then your fight is integral to moving your story forward and you can paste it back in. 

Tip #2: Fights are meant to improve or add to characterization

If fight scenes are only focused on the brute force and physicality of the action, then they can become a bit boring to read. What a fight scene needs to do is also provide a portal through which to explore your characters and gain more insight into them. Some of the things to think about when writing your characters’ fight is:

Why does the character choose to fight?

How does this choice reinforce who they are as a character?

How does this fight affect both their drive towards accomplishing their internal/external goals as a character?

Is this fight getting them closer to accomplishing their task or further away from accomplishing their task?

What are the stakes for the characters who are fighting? In other words, what do they each stand to gain or lose depending on the fight’s outcome?

What kind of a fighter is your character? Not all characters can or will have the highly trained hand-to-hand combat skills of a Navy SEAL in a fight, so what physical or mental abilities do they possess in a fight? What mistakes are they prone to making in a fight? Are they a hot-head or a master strategist? Basically, their fighting skills, or lack there of, can give your reader a glimpse into their characterization. 

Tip #3: Fight scenes shouldn’t be slowing down the overall pacing of your story

In movies and other visual media, fight scenes happen rather quickly. However, in literature, they can drag on – especially if they’re not written well. And that can interrupt the flow of your story.  The reason why fight scenes can often make the flow of your story seem slow and heavy, is because the writer has to write out all the details that the reader needs to be able to visualize the scene in their head. Therefore, you can keep the following in mind in order to create as tight of a fight scene as possible, so as not to bore your readers:

Use shorter sentences since they are easiest to read and help to keep up the speed of your story.

Mix in dialogue with the action. You don’t want to have just a huge block of text detailing out what is happening. By breaking it up with dialogue you not only are cutting down the long descriptions of what is happening, but you’re also adding to the action through verbal exchanges. Don’t underestimate the power of dialogue when building a scene.

Don’t focus too much on introspection. While the inner workings of a character’s mind often helps to flesh out your character within the realm of the story, a fight scene isn’t necessarily the time or place to focus on what they’re thinking. A character’s introspection will happen before the fight and after – not during.

Keep it short. Unless you’re discussing an epic battle of Tolkien proportions, then a fight shouldn’t go on for pages. If it’s a fight between individuals, keep it short.

Tip #4: Don’t forget about the four other senses

When writing a fight scene, don’t just focus on the sight portion of what your character is seeing. One of the best ways to engage your readers while describing a fight scene is to hit them with all the other senses like hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Using all five senses together can really elevate your writing. It’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind for writing in general. While sight might be the easiest and most obvious way of describing things, don’t discount the power of the other senses.

Tip #5: Edit

Perhaps the best fight scene you could have written is the one that was thoroughly edited. Again, another tip for writing in general, but it really does help when it comes to writing a fight scene. You won’t get the fight scene right the first time, so you just need to keep editing it until it gets there. Some things to keep in mind when editing a fight scene are:

Don’t give your reader a blow-by-blow description. Once you have your initial draft, when you’re going through editing be sure you delete all the non-essential details that will only weigh it down.

Forget the flowery language. Keep it short and neat and delete the extra words you don’t need. They will only drag the pacing down.

Consolidation is key. Besides the language, make sure that your characters are consolidated as well. Too many characters in one fight scene can just get confusing for the reader. And confusion leads to frustration which leads to the story being put down. Don’t let that happen to you.

Happy writing everyone!

Gothic Poetry

I like to write gothic poetry. Gothic poetry has a fascinating history, thanks to the writings of Tennyson and Thomas Gray. If you are a lover of the dark side, and enjoy music such as Inkubus Succubus and romantic poetic musings, then I hope this post inspires you to pen dark verse of your own.

Once I walked home past a cemetery on a  magical cold winter night. The chilling glow of the streetlight over the tombstones woke the muse in me. I went home and wrote a poem about what I saw that night.

Surround yourself in an environment that inspires you to write dark verse. I live in a city well-known for its dark spooky history. I visit my favorite cemetery, Mount Olivet, carrying a thermos, a journal, and my pen. Graveyard tours are offered in my hometown. Put away the laptop or phone for an hour or two. Grab a journal, a quill pen, and latte-and go!

Now, once you are comfortably seated in a cemetery, sipping your latte, open your senses to the environment. Hear the bird songs, the creaking tree boughs, see the crows – crows are always hanging around in a cemetery. I think it has something to do with them being messengers of the dead–if you believe in that. Write down your verses. Therefore, it’s great to use a journal rather than a tablet. You can be messier and more creative. It frees up your creative expression.

Observe the way the crows perch on tombstones, how old the tombstones are. I once found an abandoned bird’s nest in a cemetery. Notice the age of the trees, colorful leaves, or flowers at the foot of a grave. A moth flitting over the ground, birds pecking for seeds, crows screeching from the treetops. A crow nest lives in the cemetery in my neighborhood. The nest has been there a long time.

Once, I strolled through Mount Olivet. An apple tree grows inside and outside of the cemetery. A fallen apple lay on the ground. Dead carpenter ants rested on the apple- except for one carpenter ant that crawled over the rotted apple. It churned my stomach. I left.

The Titanic victims are buried there. A word of caution: remain grounded and centered while you are there. Take what you like and leave the bad energy behind.

The quiet of a cemetery can be relaxing. They are not dangerous places, but people should still use common sense. If you do want to write there, go during the day. Safety trumps all. Don’t disturb the graves or take anything that doesn’t belong to you.

This may hopefully lead you to create a poetry chapbook!