6 Tips and Tricks for Strong Character Development

Strong, Developed Fictional Characters from a Manga

I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue against the idea that characters can make or break a story. In most cases, if not all, they are our guide through a story. More importantly, sometimes the story is their story. Regardless, your characters need to be compelling, or at the very least realistic in some manner. Now, when I say realistic, I don’t mean they have to be human, but they need to have depth. Much like ogres, your characters need to be like onions; they have many layers. Now, “how,” you may ask, “does a character get so onion-like?” Never fear, here are some tips and tricks to consider when developing your little onions… er, characters:

Give your character a birthday

This might be obvious, but a character’s age is extremely important. A character who is 20 is going to act significantly different than one who is 30, and that is even truer if we are looking at one person. Their growth from 20 to 30 is going to change them. Even one year can change a person drastically, so knowing where they started is important to understand their journey.

It is also worth considering the time they were born in. Someone who was born in the 70’s may have significantly different values than one who was born in the 80’s, and they are also going to interact with people differently depending on when the other person was born. Age isn’t just a number when it comes to your character’s development.

Check your character’s horoscope

Once you give your character a birthday, check out their horoscope. Whether you believe in horoscopes or not, doesn’t matter. You can pick out a lot of characteristics based on their horoscope sign that you might not have considered previously. Plus, if you make the character’s birthday apparent to the reader, the reader may believe in horoscopes. If you develop a character that at least somewhat embodies that star sign, it may make all the difference in the world to that reader. Consider star signs and horoscopes as more reference material for your character development.

Take some personality quizzes

When I say take some personality quizzes, I don’t mean some shallow Buzzfeed quizzes (though they are good for some trivial details for characters), I am talking about the Myers-Briggs test on 16personalities (I am a turbulent INFJ). Quizzes like these give in-depth information on your personality, such as your strengths, weaknesses, how you may function in certain careers, what your ideal relationship would look like, and how you might interact with your children.

All this information is perfect for developing your characters. Take the quiz as if you were the character. It will put your character in a variety of situations, and it forces you to decide how your character would react. At the end of the quiz, you’ll get to see what your character’s personality type is, as well as a wealth of information about that personality type that you can then apply to your character. If you use the 16personalities quiz, you can also see who else shares a personality type with your character (including fictional people). This can be a great wealth of information, and it is free!

Develop the side characters/supporting characters

Again, this may be a no-brainer, but it is worth repeating: your side characters and supporting cast are just as important as your main character. Give your main character someone to interact with. The decisions of your side cast will affect how your main character develops. Develop the side cast, too, and they can help pack your work with a great emotional punch.

For example: Is the main character’s mother kind? Is she a bit overprotective? Does your character love their mother? How do they react when she’s around? If the mother is a character, develop the mother, and that will give some insight into your character’s life and their personality. Same goes for any side character. The actions of the people around your main character are going to help develop your main character, so develop those people.

Give your main character a range of emotions

Having a lead character that is always depressed or is always happy isn’t that realistic. Giving your characters highs and lows makes that character more realistic. Think about people you have met or have seen on TV. There are people who have extremely rough lives, but who are still happy. There are people who have grand, enriching lives who go through depressive episodes. We need to see the lows and the highs. We need to see them when they are jealous, angry, etc.

Giving your character a wealth of emotions helps the reader understand what your character values, what their limits are, and helps ground them. Giving them a wealth of emotions also helps develop an emotional connection to your character. If we know what life was like when they were happy, then we can see how far they have fallen. If we know what life was like when they were sad, then we can see how hard they have worked to get where they are now. It makes the reader believe in your character. Give the character some chances to show a wide range of emotion. If you’d like to pack an emotional punch, check out my tips and tricks on how to do that.

Try roleplaying with your character

If you have ever been into anime or into fantasy stuff, you have probably heard of roleplaying, OCs, Mary-Sues, Gary-Stus, fandom, etc. If you haven’t heard of these things, let me explain:

  • OC = Original Character, or a character that does not exist in a pre-existing universe. For example, Johnny Pumpernickle is not a character in Harry Potter, but he is a character I have created to exist in that universe.
  • Mary-Sues and Gary-Stus are insulting names attributed to OCs or characters. The name infers that an OC is not unique, may be stereotypical, and is not interesting overall.
  • Fandom is a culmination of fans around a form of media. For example, there is the Harry Potter fandom, the Naruto fandom, the Post Malone fandom, etc.
  • Finally, roleplaying, in the context of OCs, means to meet up with others who have also created OCs for a specific fandom/universe, and going back and forth creating threads of stories, fanfictions, etc. For example, I am roleplaying as Johnny Pumpernickle. My friend is roleplaying as Turtle Jenkins. Both characters live within the Harry Potter universe. I am going to create a situation where Johnny Pumpernickle may meet Turtle Jenkins at Hogwarts. It may look something like this:

Me: Johnny Pumpernickle is walking down a corridor at Hogwarts. Sweat is beading on his brow as he rushes past the various classrooms, awkwardly clutching a variety of large tomes to his chest. He is conscious of other students watching him, but the stress of not knowing where he is going overpowers the social anxiety that always lingers at the back of his mind.

My friend: Turtle Jenkins is standing just outside of his class, listening to his peers talk about what they are going to do later in their respective house commons. Turtle is about to suggest they sneak out when he sees a blurred figure rounding the corridor. He focuses his attention on the figure and finds it to be what he can only assume is a 1st year, sweaty and obviously panicking. He mumbles to his peers to get their attention and nod in the student’s general direction.

from there, we would go back and forth until we felt we had completed whatever story we wanted to create, and that would be the end of our roleplaying session.

Try joining some roleplay groups in fandoms that you enjoy. There are roleplay groups on Facebook, tumblr, Reddit, etc. Find one, pick a fandom you know about, and then jump in and roleplay with some people. There are also OC critique groups where you can give a background summary of your OC and people will critique them. The roleplay community is typically super open, and you may just make some good connections through it. Give it a try. Who knows? When you publish your book, these friends you made may start a fandom around your work.

So, what do you think? Is there anything on the list you disagree with? Anything else you can suggest that might help other writers? Comment below and let me know.

Lissy

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Finding Inspiration and Why It Won’t Help You

Why Inspiration Won’t Help You

Inspiration is the worst. It’s there one moment, but gone before you can even finish the first chapter that came from the inspiration to begin with. Inspiration is a great thing, but it is too unreliable to get your book finished. You should never wait for writing inspiration, just write. The hardest part is getting start, so if you just start writing, usually things will work themselves out. You’ll find a good rhythm and be much more productive in the long run.

However, I understand that inspiration is helpful. Inspiration is the lifeblood of creativity, after all. So, here is how to keep that inspiration alive:

Read books in the genre you’re writing in

Chances are, something you’ve read sparked your inspiration for your new story. What better way to keep that writing inspiration alive than with more reading? Read books in the same genre you’re writing in. Maybe a character or scene will spark that creativity you’re struggling to keep alive. If nothing else, reading is a productive way to spend your time when you’re having trouble writing.

Take care of any unfinished chores

Sitting in front of blank page, struggling to come up with a reason to write is not productive. Get up, go do something else. Finish that load of laundry on the couch, sweep up that pile of rubbish in the living room, and clean the shower. The reason you’re struggling to find your inspiration might be that you have other pressing matters nagging in your subconscious. Go ahead and finish up those unfinished household projects. Then, come back with a clear head and get to writing.

Take a walk

Go fix yourself a cup of coffee, eat some cereal, or, seriously, just go take a walk. Not only will your chores keep your brain from finding that wonderful writing inspiration, but your basic needs for food, exercise, and entertainment will, too. If you’re having trouble concentrating, ask yourself some of these basic questions:

  • Are you hungry?
  • Are you thirsty?
  • When’s the last time you went outside?
  • When’s the last time you read something you enjoyed?
  • Have you watched anything fun in the last couple of days?
  • Did you sleep well?

Depending on your answers, you may need to take a break and take care of yourself for a while. You are important. Without you, your story wouldn’t exist, so take care of yourself, and your inspiration will find you soon after.

Check out artwork and photography

Check out depictions of fantasy scenes. Look at beautiful paintings of landscapes. Take a gander at some war photographs. Whatever you are writing about, look at artwork or photographs inline with what you’re writing about. If you’re writing about a long journey, beautiful landscape paintings or images could help spark that inspiration. If you’re writing about ghosts and ghouls, photos of dilapidated homes or structures might get those creative juices flowing. Creativity breeds creativity, so check out someone else’s creative endeavors.

Finally, creativity breeds creativity

Like I said before, creativity breeds creativity. You can’t always rely on writing inspiration to strike before you start writing. Sometimes it’s best to start writing and let the inspiration find you. Take that first step, start writing, and the words will eventually flow.

Believe in yourself, not in this fantastical thing we call inspiration.

Lissy

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How to Be a Bad Writer, Then How to Get Better

A book that reads, "Words of a troubled mind," probably something a bad writer wrote.

What is a bad writer?

Not someone who isn’t sure where to put a comma, not someone who isn’t sure what the difference is between “effect” and “affect,” and not someone who writes in run-on sentences. No, none of these things mean that someone is a bad writer. No, no, in fact, it is something much simpler than that. You are bad writer if you don’t write.

I became a bad writer.

It has been approximately three months since I have sat down and worked on any project. Ultimately, I ceased to be a writer, which makes me the worst writer of all. A writer who says they are a writer, but doesn’t write, is nothing more than a liar. So, not only am I not a writer, I am a liar.

I used every excuse in the book to not write. I had just moved, so my office wasn’t set up. My notebook was hidden away in a box somewhere and not easily accessible. I couldn’t bring myself to write in an imperfect environment. I was tired from work. A new YouTube video was published, and I needed to watch it. Clothes needed to be folded in the laundry room. I had every excuse not to write, so I didn’t write. While any of these very well could be a decent reason not to write for one day, there is ultimately no excuse to have ceased writing for three months.

So, today, I am going to list out how to be a good writer, and these will, hopefully, be my start back towards being a better writer:

You should try to write at least once a day

Life inevitably will get in the way. That is just how life is: intrusive and completely ignorant to your goals and plans. However, if you go ahead and start making it a routine, there is a much greater chance that if you do have to miss a day for one of life’s plots, you won’t fall of the bandwagon.

Make it public

Get a writing partner, join NaNoWriMo in November, find someone else who has a creative project at work or school and setup a weekly meet-up where you share your ideas, what you’ve created, etc. The more people you have around you that know your goals, the more likely you will be to complete them. Think of it like positive peer pressure.

If you just can’t bring yourself to write one day, read

Reading will help with your writing. It can expose you to new styles, expand your vocabulary, and help solidify some of those basic grammar rules you may have forgotten from middle school. More importantly, reading can help re-inspire you. So, if you just can’t bring yourself to write one day, for whatever reason, read. It’s the next best thing for you and your writing.

Just accept that you aren’t going to be a perfect writer

Ultimately, no matter what I do, I will never be a perfect writer. I will always make mistakes, my first drafts will never come out the way I want them to, and I will occasionally miss writing days. That is okay, but I can’t let the prospect of failure stop me from writing. I have only truly failed when I have stopped writing.

So keep writing and keep dreaming. Let’s grow together and be better writers.

Lissy

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1 Piece of Advice for Any Struggling Writer

Advice for Writers

A writer emailed me with a request,

“Hello, I’m an aspiring writer and I was wondering if you have a piece of writing advice for getting through rough patches. “

I’m still not sure if I gave her anything useful, but I wanted to share my response here, in case anyone else needs the reminder. I know I do.

Remember why you started

My best advice would be to remember why you started writing in the first place. You have to remember that it wasn’t always a job, but just something you loved to do because you could. It wasn’t always a job, or something strenuous, or tiring. It was, at one time, something you just loved to do. You can’t forget that, even when it does feel very much like a job, and maybe it really is a job. Writing was, and will always be, an extension of yourself. Enjoy it for what it is, not for what will come out of it (that’s just a bonus).

Perhaps it’s not even that writing has become a chore, or that you are fed up with it. Perhaps you’ve tried and tried and tried again, but you aren’t seeing the results you hoped for. Maybe you are just tired of rejections. Again, remember why you started writing. You probably didn’t start to get rich. Maybe you were hoping to get fame. Ultimately, though it was because you had a story you wanted to tell, so you told it the best way you knew how, by writing it down. Keep writing. Share stories because your stories are worth sharing. Remember why you started writing, and keep doing it.

If you have requests, questions, concerns, or just need to talk to someone, you can always email me through my About and Contact page. I’m always up to talk shop or just to cheer you on.

Thanks for reading.

Lissy

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What “Death Mark” on the Nintendo Switch taught me about writing

What is Death Mark?

Nintendo Switch's Death Mark

Death Mark is described on the Nintendo store page as an adventure game, which it very much is. You play as a man with amnesia who finds himself drawn to a mansion he doesn’t recognize, with a mark, described as a dog bite, on your wrist. You don’t know how you got it, why you got it, how to get rid of it, or even who you are, but you do know that the answer is hidden somewhere in this mansion, and that is where our story begins.

Now, my opinions on Death Mark are pretty neutral. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it. The Nintendo Switch title is pretty run-of-the-mill Japanese, adventure game. It’s text heavy, which isn’t a problem, usually, but the story really drags at points. The whole amnesia thing is pretty played out for me, but the horror is definitely present and well-done. So, it falls into my, “happy I played it, but probably won’t play again” pile. However, even if it wasn’t the best thing ever, there can still be a lot to learn about writing from this title, and here is what I learned:

Just because you can describe everything, doesn’t mean you always should

Death Mark, as I said before, is extremely text-heavy. Again, this isn’t unexpected of the genre, but, even so, the story just drags on and on. As a writer, just because your medium is based on words and the reader’s imagination, doesn’t mean you have to describe every minute detail. Concise descriptions can be just as powerful, if not more so, for a reader, and it allows the reader to fill in the blanks. If it doesn’t move the plot along, I would seriously question if it is necessary.

Horror can, and should, be subtle

The horror elements in Death Mark, I have to say, are excellent. There is a mechanic in the game where you have to point your flashlight around the room to reveal various things you can interact with. Often times I would be searching for something in a room, only to reveal a ghostly figure standing in the corner of the room. It never made a sound, not even when I exposed it. Even so, just knowing these silent figures could be haunting any corner of the room was enough to make me jump. The horror was pretty much all mental at that point. I was questioning myself, questioning how long it had been there, wondering how long it would wait to strike, etc. Just the presence of an unknown entity can be haunting, and not knowing if, or when, they may strike is even more so. It’s all about subtlety.

Amnesia is super played out

This could totally just be a “me” thing. I am super into anime, manga, J-RPGs, and the like, and I feel like this is more common in those mediums than any other: amnesiac main characters. I get it. It adds mystery. The person we are supposed to be relying on in the story is instantly unreliable, knows just as much as we do, and now we have to go exploring for the truth. I really hate this in most things and Death Mark is no exception.

I feel like it is a cop-out for a number of reasons, but the main one being that the main character almost always ends up being underdeveloped and the key to the entire mystery. So, I ultimately end up not learning very much about our main character, and the major reveal is typically super predictable. Now, I say all this, not to say that it can’t be done wonderfully, and I am sure there are plenty of examples out there where it is executed in an interesting way, but I feel that it is very easy to take the easy way out with amnesiac main character.

Characters can, and sometimes should, fail

Death Mark has the element of choice. During key points in the story, the character will be presented with options. Some options will lead to death, others will keep you alive for a while longer. I frequently fall into the trap of piling plot armor on my characters to the point they are untouchable. This is not something that happens to us in real life. Sure, there are such things as luck, chance, etc. However, don’t let that be an excuse. Your characters need to fail to grow, and sometimes they need to fail so hard that the consequences alter them permanently. This is how life works. Give them options, and make sure they make some bad choices.

People die, so if it is called for, don’t be afraid to kill your darlings

Sure, maybe you can’t or shouldn’t kill your main character. However, if the plot calls for it, don’t be afraid to kill people off. Death Mark is full of death. Depending on the decisions you make, you can kill everyone, or save everyone. Often times, I felt the death endings were more interesting than when everyone survived. I don’t know what that says about me. However, I do know that if I find it interesting, it is probably interesting to others. Just because you love a character, doesn’t mean you should keep them alive. Now, don’t just go killing every character all willy-nilly. Do try to keep in mind that this is something that happens in life. Would it also make sense in your story?

So that was Death Mark. Have you played Death Mark? If you have, what did you think of it? If you haven’t, will you now? What do you think of this list? Let me know, and comment below.

Lissy

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How to Deal with Hate Comments in Marketing and Writing

You Amongst the Hate Comments

So, I have been playing around with various ad managers out their (Facebook, Instagram, etc), to try and get more feedback on my blog, as well as just get more eyes on it. I tend to see pretty far reach, high impressions, a reasonable amount of clicks, but not very much engagement with either the ads or the blog post linked to the ad. So, I tried to go a bit more informal with my ad copy and just straight up asked people if they would be willing to check out something I wrote.

Well, I got what I wanted. I received a comment not long after I started my campaign. The comment was poking fun at my ad copy and how if that was any indication of my writing ability, they most certainly would mind reading anything else I wrote. It was the sickest of burns, to be perfectly honest, and had it been directed at anyone else, I probably would have laughed. However, because it was pointed at me, it felt like the worst possible thing to be said. I wouldn’t call it a hate comment, personally, but I could see how others might see it as one. Now, in that vulnerable state, there were many things I could have done, but I think I did what was probably best, and I want to share that process with you today:

Step away for a bit

I had a notification on my phone about the comment. I read the comment, felt horrible, then closed my phone, and did other things. Did the comment go away? Of course, not. Was I still feeling horrible? Of course, but it would have only gotten worse if I sat there and stared at it. When faced with negative or harsh criticism, it’s very easy to dwell and lash out. When you encounter it for the first time, I implore you to shut it off and walk away. Now, I wouldn’t suggest this in every situation where you face criticism because, ultimately, it isn’t productive, but when you first see it, you’re feeling vulnerable, and those emotions are guiding your action, it’s definitely best to just look away. We can look at it again once you’ve had time to process.

Do not delete the comment or respond negatively

Your first instinct is probably going to be to delete the comment, which is totally understandable. You are on social media. People will read this comment. You don’t want to fan the flame by leaving it there, but in reality, by deleting it, you may just do the one thing you are trying to avoid. They won’t be notified when their comment is deleted, but if they are following your post, they will notice their comment is gone when they check again. You will just be giving them more ammo.

It’s the same thing when responding. Don’t give them anything to work with. If you can’t respond with kindness, then just don’t respond. It is easier said than done when you are in the moment. However, you have to remember that you are on social media. People have opinions, and they can express them however they choose, even if it hurts your feelings. If you respond negatively, it will make you look bad, not the person you are responding to.

Consider, is it really a hate comment?

It is very easy to say every criticism is a hate comment. However, that is not only counter-productive, but just not true. Just because it rubs you wrong doesn’t mean it’s a hate comment. Just because the comment isn’t in agreement with your own opinions doesn’t mean it is a hate comment. Just because it is pointing out flaws in your work doesn’t mean it is a hate comment. Can critical comments be harsh? Sure, but that does not make them hate comments. When you have taken some time away from the comment, try and ask yourself, “is this really a hate comment?”

If you can, respond with kindness

I think most people comment negatively on ads because they don’t think the person putting out the ad is an actual person. I felt that this time around. So, I responded by thanking them for their honesty and ended it there. As of writing this, I haven’t received a response. Maybe I have only enticed the person to respond negatively again; maybe they will appreciate that I responded and took their words into consideration; maybe they didn’t care one way or another, and I am just wasting my time dwelling on something so insignificant. Either way, I have not made myself the bad guy. So, if you feel compelled to respond, I recommend you respond kindly, above all else.C

If you find criticism to be too stressful, don’t market your work

This is the internet. You want people to read your work. You want to get published. You want to get better as a writer, then you have to be open to criticism. It sucks, but that’s the nature of the beast. You will be faced with hate, hate disguised as criticism, and criticism you feel is hate. You will experience it all, and, of course, it won’t all be bad. There will be good times. You will receive praise, but you should never go in thinking that the world is going to be kind to you. It probably won’t be, but it’s all in how you handle it that matters.

Everyone, stay safe, be as kind as you can be, but please keep writing.

-Lissy

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Entering a Writing Competition

I entered a writing competition.

Writing competitions aren’t that different from submitting your work for general publication, but it just feels different. I feel like there is more at stake (though it could be that I had to pay a submission fee, which I have also never done before), and I feel that if I fail to win or place that it will just prove all of those insecure, internal voices right. Ultimately, though, if I ever plan to do anything more with my writing than just publishing one piece a year, I need to start taking chances, dipping my toes in bigger pools, and putting myself in more uncomfortable situations.

So here I am, I have entered a writing competition, and I am scared to death. The process itself wasn’t very difficult. I did the same thing I have done anytime I have submitted anything to anyone, expect I had to put in my credit card info, which felt really weird and wrong. Ultimately though, I shouldn’t be as worried as I am right now. At this point, though, you are probably wondering why this matters to you:

You are probably nervous, too

And I am here to tell you that it is 100% okay. You are not alone when it comes to that feeling. You are probably also telling yourself, “Why am I entering these writing competitions? I am not a good writer. I can’t do it. The judges would make fun of me,” and probably many other things. I am also thinking that way, but whether you are doing this for the first time or the thirtieth time, you will always feel that twinge of nervousness getting prepared.

That’s okay. Ultimately, though, you can’t let it get to you. You can’t let that fear stop you from putting yourself out there and reaching your dreams. If you enter the writing competition and you don’t win, at least you can say you tried. You can always regroup, rewrite, and submit again. The more lures you throw out there, the more likely you are to catch a fish (of course you should probably pick some decent bait, aka edit your work before you just start throwing it out there cause quality is king). So get to baiting, and throw those lures out there. I will be doing the same.

Once I hear back on my results from this writing competition, I will, of course, keep everyone updated. Regardless, though, thank you so much for reading. Have you entered any competitions? Are you interested in doing so? Let me know, and comment below.

-Lissy

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What “Terrace House” taught me about writing

Terrace House, if you haven’t heard of it, is a Japanese reality show for people who don’t like reality shows. When I first heard of the show, it was through a friend at work. They described it as six strangers, three men and three women, who live in a house together to seek out romance with each other. It sounded like a dramatic time sink, and I said as such. However, my friend assured it me it was so much more than that. So, I started watching it, and she was right.

Terrace House is focused on romance, but it goes so much deeper than that. Each person in the group has the goal of leaving the show in a relationship, but they also come in with goals for their lives. Some want to be models, others want to be pilots, chefs, hockey players, designers, etc. These strangers come together, forge friendships, and they cheer each other on. They take their new friend’s goals as seriously as their own. Often times they will have one-on-one sit downs where they will discuss, in-depth, how close they are to their goals, what they may be doing wrong, etc. There is drama, but it is a minor part of the show.

If there is drama, they almost always face the drama head-on. They discuss it constructively and will usually come away from the situation closer than they were before. It is really refreshing to see when we are often times surrounded by drama, pettiness, cattiness, etc. Now, you may be asking, what does a Japanese reality show have to do with writing? Well, here were some of my takeaways while watching the show:

Drama doesn’t have to be the focus

I feel, depending on the genre, that drama is typically the focus. Whether it be drama within a relationship, drama between family, drama in life, etc, I have found, after watching Terrace House that drama doesn’t always have to be the focus for it to be entertaining. Watching them sit around chatting about their day, watching them cheer at their friend’s concert. or watching them set up dinner and birthday decorations is often times just as fun as the drama, if not more so. Life is full of drama. Having a little reprieve is refreshing, and I think that can come through in literature, as well.

Romance isn’t all passion

Sure, romance novels with Fabio on the cover have their place in the world, but real romance isn’t always so passionate. It’s good to remember that small things can be just as romantic as large gestures, and it’s also worth remembering that just because there is a large gesture doesn’t mean the person is going to enjoy or love it. There is a major scene in Opening New Doors, this season of Terrace House, where someone has been courting a woman for a while. He has kissed her, taken her out on romantic dates, got her roses, and finally asked her to be his girlfriend. She said “no.” On the other hand, another romance took place. The guy went to dinner with the girl a few times, he went to her hockey games, and there really wasn’t anything past platonic time spent together. He asked her out, and she said, “yes.” Those small, friendly moments are just as romantic, if not more so, than the large, dramatic gestures.

There are rational people in the world

I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but there are people in this world that don’t just storm off at the first sign of conflict. There are people who are willing to sit down and talk things out in a constructive manner. There are people who can reflect on themselves and their actions and apologize when they know they have done wrong. Of course, there are people out there (myself, included) who haven’t reacted to things as appropriately as they should have. However, I’d like to think there are more rational people in the world than irrational. Not every disagreement has to end in a screaming match or in tears. It could simply lead to deeper character development or a new relationship to explore between two characters.

The characters are everything

Reading this post back to myself, I almost feel crazy. I ask myself, if there is no drama, no large romantic gestures, no arguments, what is there to enjoy? What is going to keep the readers reading? I don’t think I would enjoy a book without some of these elements, but then I think of Terrace House. While yes, it doesn’t have a ton of drama, the romantic gestures aren’t always grand, and there aren’t people fighting in the middle of the living room every night, there doesn’t have to be. The people are just so unique, they all have dreams, ambitions, and goals. They have lives outside of the show that you get to hear about daily. I feel like I am watching my friends or family, and I am cheering them on all the way. The characters, they are the main reason I keep watching. Good characters can make up for a lot. That is probably the most important thing to take away from all of this.

Have you seen Terrace House? What do you think? If you haven’t, are you interested? Let me know, and comment below!

Lissy

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Want to traditionally publish a fiction novel? Here are 10 things you need to know.

Here is a list of things every writer should consider/do/attempt when going for traditional publication:

The book needs to be finished before you start thinking about publication.
With memoirs and some non-fiction, you don’t necessarily have to have the book completed before you start querying. This is not the case at all with fiction. You have to have a finished, edited manuscript before you start querying for publication. Get that novel done.

Don’t post your work online.
I made this mistake, and I see many others make this mistake. If you want to send your work out to agents and traditional publishers, don’t post it online! It is considered previously published if you do so, and this includes on your own blog, etc. Granted, every publisher and agent have their own opinion as to what “previously published” means, but I find it best to avoid posting it all together. Want critiques? It is best to go through private channels (i.e. email, beta groups with a private setting, etc.). Better yet, just pass around physical copies to people you know. *Edit* Of course, as my dear friend Ann pointed out in the comment section, there is a chance you can remedy this mistake. You can edit. Edit your work to the point where there is little connecting the two pieces, thus, you have created something new. I have done this with a lot of older pieces. It works especially well when recycling works. Keep this in mind if you find a lot of your work fits into the “previously published” category. However, also keep in mind, this isn’t always a sure fix. Don’t rely too much on recycling. It’s always best just to keep the work off the web from the start.

Read the submission guidelines thoroughly.
The number one reason for rejection is because people did not read the submission guidelines. Don’t make this careless mistake when it is so easily avoided. Most people assume that if they follow the standard manuscript format, they’re in the clear, but every publisher works differently. Don’t assume the standard can just be passed around everywhere. Just read the guidelines.

Most publishers require a writer to be represented.
Publishers feel a writer needs to have representation to be considered for publication, which protects them as well as you. Think of agents as the gatekeepers to the publishers. If you can impress an agent, then a publisher will be more likely to take you on. Find agents, submit to them, then they will help you submit to publishers. Remember, agents think like publishers. Agents aren’t going to take on just anybody, and they have rules just like publishers, so read the submission guidelines and you may save yourself from a rejection.

Simultaneous submissions – to do it, or not to do it.
Simultaneous submission – a submission which has been sent to multiple organizations at the same time. There aren’t many publications (of the novel variety) that accept simultaneous submissions. It sucks, but they do it so they’re not wasting time on a manuscript that could be picked up any minute. Think of it this way. Let’s say I send you a manuscript for publication consideration. You’re in the middle of it and you think it is hella sweet. This is quite possibly the best manuscript you have ever read in your life (this may be a bit exaggerated, but work with me here), and right before you can tell me how much you love it, I send you this email:
Sorry, not sorry, I signed a contract with someone else. Peace.
Yeah, not cool. I know it sucks waiting around for, quite possibly, a rejection when you could be submitting to other places and increasing your chances, but there is a reason they do it. Don’t burn bridges by not following the rules.

Don’t lie about simultaneously submitting a manuscript, or its status as being previously published.
The worst thing you can do is lie (other than not following the submission guidelines, but we’ve already talked about that). It only takes a second for a publisher to find out if you’re lying. A quick google search of your manuscript, boom, there is your story posted for all the world to see. Those are potential customers they are missing out on because you’re just giving the work away for free. Why would someone pay for something they can get for free? Not a publisher or an agent. Don’t get yourself stuck by lying about simultaneously submitting.

It can take months before you hear back. Don’t pester. Be patient.
With the rapid advancement of technology, publishers have become more accessible to a much wider base of writers than when most submissions were solely through the mail. This means they’re getting mass amounts of submissions daily and sifting through that slush pile takes a long time, especially when they must find something worth publishing. Unfortunately, unless your name is Stephen King, your manuscript will be somewhere in that slush pile. Don’t be offended, Stephen King was in the slush pile at one point. JK Rowling, too. Many great writers have been rejected and trudged through the slush pile. Just wait it out. Most publishers will give you a general wait period in their submission guidelines, as well as a time you can inquire about your manuscript if you haven’t heard back — just one more reason to read the submission guidelines.

Sometimes, you just won’t hear back.
The way things are now, with such a large slush pile, you may never hear back. If you’ve inquired on your query and they’ve rejected your work, at least you heard back. If you wrote them and they still haven’t responded, just move on. There’s no point in dwelling on it.

If you are rejected, do not argue with the publisher/agent.
Just move on. There have been way too many horror stories involving writers fighting with publishers over being rejected. They took the time to reject you. They don’t even have to do that. It sounds strange, but you should be thankful they took the time to reject you. Don’t become one of those horror stories that gets passed around.

You read the guidelines, but you still aren’t sure if everything is right.
Give the publisher or agent a call. It can’t hurt. If anything, they will probably be happier you did. Not many people take the time to contact them about their guidelines. You aren’t wasting their time, trying to elevator pitch them over the phone/email, and you are saving them the trouble of rejecting you over small, stupid things. This could also help with your query letter, when filling that out.

So, are you trying your hand at traditional publication? Have you been successful? Have you experienced any of these things? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading.

Lissy

6 tips on writing query letters/cover letters for fiction novels

A Bad Cover Letter / Query Letter

If you’ve been looking to traditionally publish a novel, chances are you have heard the terms “query letter,” and/or “cover letter.” In case you haven’t, though, these two things are what you will typically send to either an agent or publisher to introduce your novel. You may ask yourself, “Why send a letter talking about my novel when I can just send the whole manuscript?” Well, here’s the thing: Imagine your job is to read manuscripts and judge whether or not your company is going to publish said manuscripts. Which is more efficient:

Receive thousands of manuscripts and read them to completion.

or

Get thousands of short, one page synopses and judge from those.

If it were my job, I definitely would go with the one page synopsis, and that is what a query or cover letter is. I have also found, after following some agent twitter accounts, that agents/publishers feel that individuals who are unable to write a succinct, exciting cover/query letter, typically, aren’t able to write decent novels. I don’t know how true that is, but that is definitely worth thinking about when you go to write your query letter. This is your one chance, so don’t waste it. After lots of pow-wows with published authors, and my own research/experiences, here are six tips on writing query letters:

You don’t like form letters, neither do they.

It’s, apparently, rare to receive a cover letter that isn’t the run-of-the-mill, “Dear Editors of Really Cool Books Publishing Company, LLC;” Agents and publishers seem to have grown accustom to this and find that opening as a sure sign they are either receiving a copy-paste form letter, or the person sending it didn’t take an extra few seconds to see who the editors actually are. I highly recommend you do some research, and see if there are specific editors/agents/people you can reference in the letter.

Of course, sometimes this information isn’t readily available, but if it is, make sure you take a moment to seek it out. It will show that you are making an effort in your cover letter, and that probably means you made the extra effort in your novel, too. Plus, if you’ve ever received a rejection letter, it’s pretty annoying to get a standard, copy-paste rejection. It probably feels the same on the agent/publisher end when they get query letters.

Don’t go overboard with the creativity.

Yes, you’re an artist. Yes, you’re probably up against a ton of stiff competition. Even so, you don’t want to stand out in a bad way. There are some standards when it comes to query letter formatting: 12-point font, Arial or Times New Roman font, black text color, your contact information, single-spaced at the top of the page, agent/publisher contact information under that, also single-spaced, left justified text overall, one page, boom. That’s pretty standard, and there are reasons this is the standard. The font choices tend to be the easiest to read, black text is easier to read on white paper, etc. Your creativity should be focused on the content of your query letter, not on the format.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS read their guidelines first.

Do not. DO. NOT. ever assume a publisher is going to follow the same standard as the last fifty you queried. There are standard formats, but there will always be someone who has a preference. Don’t get tossed out because of something as insignificant as font size or style. Always assume this new publisher/agent is going to want something different. Even if all fifty want the same thing, don’t assume that until you’ve read their guidelines. I cannot emphasize this enough.

Read them. There is a reason they have them, and while you may think it is silly or insignificant, you will only be hurting yourself in the long run if you don’t follow them. Of course, if something seems unclear, contact the person/group you are querying. Most places do provide some kind of email/phone number for queries other than publication. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so call, email, tweet, whatever. Make sure you are meeting all of their requirements. It can only help your chances.

It’s actually good to have a pre-written cover letter ready.

This may seem a bit contradictory to my first tip, but hear me out. It’s one thing to have a template, it’s another to have something you just copy and paste and send out to every single publisher you come across. I highly recommend creating a template for yourself, so you have something to go off of when you write your cover letters. They say the hardest part is starting, so if you have something you have already started on, it should be much easier to get done, and get it done right. This piece of advice actually came from one of my professors who was teaching us how to write personal statements. I actually feel personal statements are a lot like query letters. Don’t know what a personal statement is? I got you:

Write it like a personal statement.

What is a personal statement? It’s a statement about you. Your who, what, when, where, and how, in a paragraph or a page. It’s like your elevator pitch, but longer. What is an elevator pitch? For the sake of publishing, it’s like seeing your dream agent in an elevator, and you only have until the next floor to let them know why they should take you on and help publish your novel. You want to show them you’re a competent author and that you can tell a story with skill and creativity.

Most personal statements are actually narrative-based, which fits right in with what a query letter is. You want to think of this as your personal statement into the publishing world. However, instead of being all about you, this is all about your novel. If you have a personal statement that you used to get into a job or an education program, pull it out and have a look. If you don’t have one, there is someone out there who does. Get one from a friend, read some online that were successful, and pretend that statement is about your book, as opposed to yourself.

Read other query letters, or read the back cover of some books.

There are loads of blogs out there from agents and publishers with successful and unsuccessful query letters (one of my faves is Query Shark). Check them out. Read what worked and what didn’t work. I would also recommend going to a book store, find whatever genre your novel fits in, and read some of the back covers or the inner-sleeves. You know those book descriptions on Goodreads? Read some of those, too.

Those were written to sell the book to consumers. Your agent/publisher is your first consumer. You want them to think they can sell this book, so read some book descriptions in books that you love or that are successful in your genre. Take notes on what they are doing, and take that back to your own query letter. Sell your book.

There you have it, my six tips and tricks on writing query letters. What do you think? Was this useful? Have you written any query letters? Please feel free to share your own tips, tricks, and experiences. Comment below, and let me know.

Thanks for reading.

Lissy

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