Writing tips and bearded men in one blog—just go with it. To make a fictional story come alive, writers need to create meaningful and memorable characters. The best characters, bearded or otherwise, are the ones that make the readers feel emotion while they read. If a protagonist is well-written, readers will want them to overcome conflict. They will feel heartbreak at a character’s misfortune. Readers will turn pages in hopes their beloved protagonist wins in the end. Unless, or course, the reader doesn’t like the protagonist.
Characters need a variety of traits. A character who is courageous and humorous could also be obnoxious and selfish. Antagonists shouldn’t be perfect, just like everyone else. Tony Stark saves the world and is likable, but he is a bit egotistical, too. However, egotistical people may not see a big ego as a flaw. Creating characters with a mixture of different traits allows readers to decide for themselves if they like a character or not.
Hunk, Babe, Troll
Creating a great character takes a lot more effort than describing what they look like. For example, “the older man with a beard” could describe many guys, including the band ZZ Top and Santa. To add a little fun to this informational blog, here’s a history lesson that involves older men with beards. The answers will be at the end of the blog.
Men with Beards
See if you can name all the bearded men. Getting all of them correct would be amazing. A score of five, six, or seven is impressive. Two to four correct answers is probably average. One correct answer is bad.
Writing that is done well takes a lot of hard work. Many people underestimate what a good writer can do to make a story come alive, sway opinions, or make a company look good. It is a craft. It takes time, effort, and multiple revisions for writers to get an article, essay, or story from an idea to a finished product. Yet, many writers get paid .01 per word for their effort. This article would be worth $4.29.
A. President Rutherford B. Hayes
B. Edmund Gwenn (Santa from the original movie Miracle on 34th Street)
C. Bram Stoker, author of Dracula
D. President Ulysses S. Grant
E. John Harvey Kellogg inventor of Corn Flakes and other breakfast cereals
F. John C. Fremont, American explorer
G. Buffalo Bill Cody, American scout and showman
H. President James A. Garfield
Credits for photos: Hayes – biography.com; Grant – quotesgram.com; the rest – Pinterest
I love wolves. They are my favorite animal and are pretty amazing when you take the time to learn about them. Unfortunately, they have received a bad rap for centuries. Fairy tales, other literature, and movies portray them as bloodthirsty killers. The creation of werewolves didn’t help their cause either.
Years ago, I wrote a story that would make wolves the good guys for once and educate people on some wolf facts. The story is too long to be a picture book and too short to be a book, so it has stayed in my laptop. Target stores is hosting a short story contest through Wattpad, looking for modern-day stories that involve a fairy tale or myth. It is perfect for my story, so I submitted it.
Since my following on Wattpad is small and only votes will push the story to the next level, it doesn’t stand a chance right now. If you would like to help me give wolves the voice they deserve, check out Wolves Don’t Play Dress Up. If you think it’s deserving, give it a vote. Thanks so much!
When I first starting my writing endeavor over nine years ago, it was exciting, and I had a blast creating and learning. I bought and read the book, The Business of Writing for Children by Aaron Shepard, and it sent me on my way. The author suggested joining a writing group, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), which I did, and finding critique groups to bounce around ideas and share material with other writers. I did that as well, and it was a great piece of advice. It was the best step I took to improve my writing, meet great people, and have lasting friendships with people who support what I do.
Ways to Improve Writing Skills
I’ve been to many conferences and lectures to hear authors, agents, and writers’ advice on how to improve my writing. I’ve also paid to have agents critique my manuscripts at these events. All of these steps have improved my writing tremendously—or so I believe. I’ve always learned something from any writing event I’ve attended. If you do the research, you can find free and low-cost events as well as big conferences.
So Where Are the Big Bucks?
Good question. I went into writing knowing children’s authors overall don’t make much. I’ve actually spent more money than I’ve ever earned from book sales. I’ve bought more of my own books and given away for promotion than I can count. I don’t write just for the money because I have yet to see any. If anyone has tips on this, I’d like to hear them.
The Joys of Getting Published
I had my first book, Pirates Off the Deep End, published in 2013 by Short on Time Books, a small publisher. I was beyond thrilled to see my work escape the jammed-packed folders of my computer and sit on a shelf with a beautiful, glossy cover. I still am thrilled. Although I don’t have a huge following or really even a small following, many people have enjoyed my books, and it makes me happy. Good reviews make me even happier.
That’s the bottom line for me—writing makes me happy, and I want my writing to make others happy as well. If you’ve read this far, you’re now going to get the best advice I have to offer.
The Old Man, Boy, and Donkey
If you don’t know the Aesop’s fable with the old man, boy, and donkey about trying to please everyone, it’s worth reading. It ends with the old man and boy carrying the donkey over a bridge because someone shamed them into it. The donkey fell off the bridge. Use its moral in your writing, too. Getting a critique is great, but you can often wind up with contrasting opinions: too much detail vs. not enough; too much dialogue vs. not enough; etc.– you get the picture. You can change your manuscript back and forth forever, and not everyone that reads it will be satisfied. At some point, stop changing it when YOU’RE happy with it.
The “It Takes Over 100 Query Letters” Rule
I’ve read time and time again if authors haven’t sent out at least 100 query letters to agents for a single manuscript, they haven’t given it a chance. I would agree with that statement. Persistence is the key to getting published, but it can be frustrating.
For instance, I write children’s books specifically geared for boys but the majority of agents seem to be women. Thus, my dilemma is I have to “sell” manuscripts to women that have humor meant for little boys. Little boys and women don’t have the same taste in “funny.” Let’s do the math:
Subject + Boys’ Reaction – Agent’s Reaction = Accept/Reject
Alien blue fart bubble Laughs hysterically Grimaces No thank you.
Alien ninja skills Laughs hysterically Moans Doesn’t reply
I think I could send 10,000 query letters, and Aliens at Camp will reside in my computer. I’ve read it several times and laughed out loud. It makes ME happy. All I can do is keep trying to find that one agent who shares the same sense of humor and wants a wacky boy’s book. In the meantime, I keep writing because I enjoy it.
Bottom line, I can’t lose sight of the fact that writing is fun for me, and when bad critiques, agent rejections, and non-existent sales get me down, I need to take a step back and rewind. My favorite quote came from a very wise man, Captain Jack Sparrow, and it applies here. “The problem is not the problem; the problem is your attitude about the problem.”
The object of the game Guess Who is for two players to guess which of the 24 characters their opponent has selected and visa versa. The first one to guess right wins. Players narrow down the field of “suspects” one question at a time such as “are they male or female” and “do they have brown hair.” After several rounds, many of the “suspects” are still standing because they all fit the same descriptions. The bottom line, physical descriptions given in great detail are wonderful for a police sketch artist but not for characters in a fictional story.
Physical Attributes Just Scratch the Surface
A character’s hobbies, habits, gestures, likes and dislikes will give a reader a more in-depth look than a running list of physical descriptions. In The Troubled Souls of Goldie Rich: The Zombie Next Door, my young adult/safe for middle grade adventure, the main character is 14-year-old Goldie Jean Rich.
Goldie’s physical attributes are petite, curly hair and young-looking. The rest I’ve left up to the reader’s imagination because it is not an integral part of the story. It doesn’t matter if Goldie is a blonde or redhead nor does it have any bearing on this story if she is of Hawaiian descent or Italian. The same goes for her best friend, the eccentric and fun-loving Rita, and their classmates, Jonny and Blake, who hang around the girls because they have crushes on them. Goldie is also adopted and may/may not look like the rest of her family. That’s up to the reader.
Characters Need Problems, and Goldie Has Her Share
The problems a character has and the way they handle them add to their personality. Entering high school is scary and exciting. Shy Goldie is anxious to be a freshman because of how she sees herself. She confides in Rita “I’m going to look like an eight-year-old when I start high school in three months” to which Rita replies, “Get over it, Goldie. You look at least nine.”
Gema, Goldie’s adult sister, is watching her over summer break while their parents are on vacation. The sisters butt heads constantly. After catching Goldie reading a book about voodoo, Gema asks her sister if she plans to make a voodoo doll in her image. Goldie fumes silently, “Obviously, she (Gema) didn’t know me that well. I couldn’t sew, make crafts, and I didn’t fare well with pointy objects. My last experience with a serrated knife left a permanent scar on my hand from the three stitches I received at the emergency room.”
Goldie’s teenage attitude sneaks out here and there. When she and Rita are plotting to hide a video camera in Gema’s house, Goldie has the situation under control. “Gema has all this stuff already, and I know exactly where she keeps it. It’s in her art studio that I’m not supposed to go into, locked up in a file cabinet that I’m not allowed to look in. But I know where the key is hidden, so we won’t need to pick the lock.” She added, “It didn’t hurt that gadgets and computers had become a hobby of mine since I’d joined the computer club at school. It wasn’t as geeky as it sounded. Or maybe it was. At least, I was putting the knowledge to good use now.”
Habits, Hobbies and Gestures Make a Character
Goldie blushes constantly, especially when she’s around her crush Blake. But, as usual in teenage drama, the guy she doesn’t like, Jonny, is the one who shows interest in her.
The tennis court seems to be the only place Goldie isn’t a walking disaster. She falls down more than a bowling pin and is in double trouble when she doesn’t have her glasses on. “I jumped backwards and stumbled over my own feet. My cellphone flew out of my hand and zoomed through the air. It smashed into my flimsy, green aluminum lamp, knocked it off my nightstand, and it crashed to the ground.”
She is a horror movie addict, watching everything and anything scary—especially zombies. With a big bowl of buttery popcorn, her little dog, Chanel, on one side and Rita on the other, she’s a happy girl. When the zombies are in real life and not on the TV screen, however, Goldie doesn’t find them as fun, but it’s exciting for the reader.
Goldie has a definite personality, which I hope readers find likable, and her image will vary from one reader’s imagination to another. I keep in mind something I read a long time ago that fiction writers shouldn’t force their opinions about the characters on the reader. Lay it all out there, and let the readers decide.
If you like mysteries, a short, fast-paced read, dogs, and, of course, magical zombies, give The Troubled Souls of Goldie Rich: The Zombie Next Door a try.
Protagonists in books are supposed to go through some kind of change from the beginning of their adventure to the end. Usually, they learn or grow through their experience, accomplish a goal, or attain both. In fiction writing, the character’s transformation makes up the plot.
For most of the crew of the Fleurie Jean in Pirates Off the Deep End and subsequent books in the Pirates Off series, their main goal in every book is to complete a task, which is usually delegated by a ghost pirate and is non-negotiable. The crew, Tommy, Connor, Dillon, and their captain, Hoody, always gain a valuable lesson from each quest. The fifth crew member, Cosette, changes in a different way.
Cosette and Her Pirate Boyfriend
Captain Jacques Mignard was a terrible boyfriend for Cosette back in the 1800s, and he didn’t improve after he turned into a ghost. Because he double-crossed Volange, a powerful sea witch, she turned Cosette into a ship’s wooden figurehead, a curse that was in place for over a hundred years. Mignard was unable to reverse the witch’s spell when he became a ghost, and he couldn’t find anyone who could.
Cosette went from the front of a ship in France to a restaurant’s wall in New England when the days of wooden ships had past. She hung there in limbo for a long time until Connor and Tommy sawed her off. To fast forward, they cut a deal with Captain Mignard, which involved taking Cosette, the figurehead, to Volange to have the spell reversed.
Read the Fine Print on Any Contract
Tommy is clever, or so he thought. However, Volange had hundreds of years’ more experience in making deals than the 12 year old. After Mignard’s original deal with the sea witch went sour, Tommy bargained with Volange so she’d bring Cosette back to life. She held to her word, and Cosette was freed of her figurehead state and made a living, breathing—dog. A Brittany spaniel. However, if Tommy didn’t make good on his part of the bargain, Volange vowed she’d reverse Cosette’s living status and turn her into a figurehead for eternity.
Spoiler Alert : Cosette Changes Once Again
Tommy and the rest of the crew go to Scotland to fulfill the bargain with Volange. Tommy’s ever-present mentor, Francois l’ Olonnais even provides “help” by recruiting a Scottish ghost pirate, Captain Red Boots, to guide them. Boots refreshes the boys’ memories that pirates can’t be trusted, and they learn the value of brotherhood, selflessness, and the fine art of negotiation. Cosette learns that she can trust the Klopts with her life, which she gets back with their persistence, and that the world has changed a lot since the 1800s.
Characters have to grow and change to make a story interesting. From figurehead to canine companion to person, Cosette wins the Pirates Off character prize for going through the most changes. Dealing with the Klopts on a daily basis, however, should be a prize in itself. Read about Cosette and the crew’s latest adventure in Pirates Off the Mark.
It’s official–Dagger & Brimstone: Town from Hell, a young adult horror/supernatural book, is available on Amazon and making the rounds on Bewitching Book Tours. Visit the tour and sign up to win a $10 Amazon gift card.
Some of the stops feature interviews and a sample from the book. The trailer for Town from Hell, which is on YouTube, was the subject of my previous blog on ‘How To Make a Low Budget Book Trailer.’
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