Cardboard Characters


Cardboard Characters

Natalie Bright

One of the most difficult tasks for a writer is to create fictional characters that seem real and believable to the reader. I love books in which characters seem to jump off the page and ones that remains in my head long after the book is closed.

Much Like Cardboard

Are your characters more like cardboard; stiff, emotionless, without personality? They have names and faces, but they are just on the surface of your story and nothing more. The solution: dig deeper into your character’s motivation.

As an author, you must torture your characters. It is impossible to reveal deep character feelings and personalities without applying deep, intense pressure. The ways in which they react to that pressue reveals their temperament and psyche.

Using Character Profiles

Complete character profiles on both your protagonist and your antagonist. There are many great example forms available online.

Don’t stop at the name. Create a birthdate, a history of where they were born, family description, dominate characteristics, weaknesses, and physical limitations. Create historical events for your character that might have happened in their life such as school’s name, college, children’s names, etc.

Write A Letter

Many of my author friends write a letter in first person POV from their character. Don’t think; just free write. Let them reveal their secrets, desires, fears, self-image.

This trick worked great for me on the story I am working on now. My main characters are a young mule-skinner and a Comanche brave. I am alternating chapters between their points of view. I want to show the contrast between how very different their worlds are, yet they are both sixteen-year-old boys. They each wrote me a letter about their different worlds. One holds a great hatred for his father, and the other resents the physical limitations he has to live with. Now I have something to build upon and add the conflict. At this point, writing is more fun than work.

Keep moving forward and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

 

What Is A Novel?


What Is A Novel?

Natalie Bright

NOVEL Defined:

A novel is a fictional exploration of a universal truth as viewed by the author consisting of narrative prose, a theme, a setting, and a plot.

A novel has a protagonist: readers must relate and care about someone in the story. One character that rises above the frey and accomplishes his or her goal against all odds.

The purpose of your novel: elicit EMOTION in the reader. Escape and entertain. Go for the reader’s heartstrings.

Readers remember images even when they are reading written words. Your job as a writer is to create vivid pictures, or images, in the readers’ mind.

WORDS WITH POTENTAIL


WORDS WITH POTENTAIL

Natalie Bright

At last week’s critique meeting, we listened to a story that had been written many years ago. Even though this writer has improved greatly, it was solid—very entertaining and horrifying—we loved it! The potential is even greater based on the feedback. Written as a short story, it’s going to be part of an anthology. I think this author is on the right track by compiling several of her strongest short stories together in one publication. ( I can hardly wait to buy that book, Nandy Ekle!)
Whatever your work in progress might be, whatever fire is burning in your gut at this very minute, whatever idea deserves your attention, those words can become something entirely different in the future. Keep your mind open to the opportunities. For heaven’s sake, don’t delete it! Even bad writing has potential. You can’t edit a blank page. (Wish I had all of those stories and poems I wrote in college. I tossed that journal years ago.)
After I found my way back to writing, a story I wrote about a cowboy called Cecil was accepted in an anthology published by TCU Press almost 13 years later. There is no way I could have known that I would meet a ranch hand with the same name! Meeting the real-life, horse-riding cowboy named Cecil just added more depth and color to my short story. It needed work and it needed a critique from WordsmithSix peeps, for sure. The story became better because of my experiences a decade later. With the help of my critique group, that short story became good enough for publication.
You may be at a point in your writing when it seems rejection is a clear message to give up your dreams of becoming a published author. The very first words by David Morrell, creator of Rambo, keeps echoing through my brain after I heard his talk at an Oklahoma conference,

“Don’t question the why.”

I share this because I have spent, actually wasted, too many years questioning the why. And now I’m asking myself, why for different reasons. Why didn’t I finish that book? I’m staring at a stack of sticky notes and marked up articles for blog ideas, so why didn’t I write them? There’s no way that I could have known back in 1999 that I’d need material in 2017 for two blogs and three orgnizational newsletters. I would have never imagined that I’d have a talented critique group who could boost my confidence and my words. The struggle to write never ceases. Now I’m faced with a part-time day job that will probably go back to full-time soon, and I’ll be frustratingly juggling writing time. What crazy life is this? Opps, there I go again—questioning the why.

The story is in us. The story picked us. We can’t possibly know why. I have to keep reminding myself to stop stressing and find joy in the process.

“Every story I’ve written was written because I had to write it. Writing stories is like breathing for me, it is my life.”
RAY BRADBURY

Find Natalie’s blogs and articles here:
Blogging every Monday about writing life at wordsmithsix.com
Blogging every Friday about the Texas Panhandle at “Prairie Purview”. Read her blogs at nataliebright.com or on the Amazon Author page.
Sign up for here for the newsletter: nataliebright.com
Natalie is editor of “The Window”, the official newsletter of one of the oldest writing organizations in the country, Texas High Plains Writers, org. 1920 in Amarillo, Texas. Here’s the link. panhandleprowriters.org.

Writing Brains & Scrivener


Writing Brains & Scrivener

Natalie Bright

Scrivener software totally gets my writing brain. The more I work in this software, the more I’m amazed at all it can do.

For example, this morning the opening scene for the second book of my Texas Frontier Series popped in my head. BAM! There it was. I am almost 10,000 words into the first draft and the opening chapter I’ve already written is absolutely wrong. Does this ever happen to you? I kept replaying the new scene in my head, over and over until I could get to the keyboard.

Here’s where Scrivener makes your life easy: Within the file that you designate as chapter, you can add a new text file. The chapters will autromatically renumber when you compile the final document. No renumbering pages or worrying about chapter numbers. No cutting and pasting to shift the work. I have a seperate text file for each scene and these scenes can be moved easily around within the manuscript document. That first scene may not be the opeing by the time I reach 30,000 words. No problem. The ‘scene’ file can be shifted to any order within the project file.

For more explaination, here’s the link to watch a great video from the creator of Scrivener:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdwnHo23Ub8

I also recommend the online class, LearnScrivenerFast.com

Stay tuned for more tidbits about this powerful writing tool. Are you using Scrivener? What has been your experience with Scrivener?

Responses to My Amazon Question


Responses to My Amazon Question

Natalie Bright

In last week’s post, I blogged about concerns I had with the sales report for my new nonfiction picture book series, RESCUE ANIMALS. I have been promoting this book like crazy on a local level and was concerned with the reportedly 10 sales. All four books were enrolled into KDP Select, but the number of free downloads is not available on the reports. Here is what I posted on the Amazon Community Board:

“Specifically regarding ASIN: B01M0K6F6G FLASH, The True Story of a Rescue Horse. I have been promoting this eBook heavily in our local area. With just two events I reached close to 1000 people in the first month of release. At one school of 700, we know of at least 300 kids who had FLASH on their phones before they went home that day. I can count at least 50+ friends and family who ordered it as well. Total sales for that time period according to Amazon: TEN. In the meantime I’ve suspended all promo ads and local events, until I can figure out what is going on with my account. Maybe I missed something on the banking information or the pricing page? Can anyone think of something I might have set-up wrong? Thanks in advance for your time and expertise.”

I have since learned that Amazon had a major crash during the week I released FLASH. That might explain some of the reporting issues. Also below are the responses to the Community Forum question above, which is an open forum where KDP authors post their questions and concerns. Rather than joing the storm of accusations about how Amazon is ripping authors off, my first concern was that it might be a problem on my part. As I noted in the previous blog post, the sales ranking for FLASH made it to #5 under the sub-category Children’s eBooks/nonfiction/Farms and Ranch, but still only 10 total sales.

To date, I’ve had four responses to my question:

Amazon Community Forum Response #1:
The grade range for the book is P-5. I don’t know any kids 10 and under who have credit card privileges to shop at will online without parental approval (or parents thereof who would appreciate their kids coming home from school with purchases urged during a school-sponsored marketing pitch—what were you doing checking their phones?). Perhaps 300 small children downloaded the sample to appease the adults applying pressure. Unless friends and family can produce receipts for their purchases, they may also be being polite for the sake of appeasement.
If your Prior Months’ Royalties reports and Payments table show you’re owed money that you haven’t received, there may be a problem with your banking or tax information.

If they say you’ve gotten only 10 sales… you’ve gotten only 10 sales. The sales rank of nearly 1.3 million is consistent with that level of activity.

Response #2 & #3 from the same person:
Quando vai sair os pagamentos de janeiro e fevereiro ? Which translates to: When you are going out payments in January and February?
Hoje já é 18 de fevereiro – Today is February 18th.

Response #4
On the Reports Tab, what do the ORDERS total for that time period?
It is the blue line.

Response #1 was surprising and way out of left field. I’m not going to spark a debate in the forum, but I do want to address that here, specifically to make the point that I did not check kids phones. The point I was trying to make was that the promotion was concentrated to our local area because the horse is well known. The editor and horses’ owner is a music teacher, and everyone at her school, including the kids, parents and her coworkers, are very excited about this book. Each kid got bookmark. The kids probably showed their phone to their music teacher because they were excited and wanted her to see that they had the story. I’m assuming that some of those families have Amazon Prime memberships and hopefully took advantage of the free download.

My two boys were allowed to purchase things online with their phones by middle school age. It was part of their allowance for chores. They had a set amount each month and could purchase music on iTunes. (They did not want the Kindle App, although I really pushed it.) I thought it was a good way for them to learn money management and how to stick to a budget. If they went over budget, they had to do extra work for that month. Strange to me how a question about book pricing set-up shifted to parenting. Such is the world we live in today.

The Amazon Giant we Love

There is a book published on Amazon every five minutes. That’s great news for readers. Obviously, there will be glitches on a world wide scale. It is amazing that we can publish our work with ease and find the books we need, with delivery in a few days.

And then there was this food for thought about Amazon ranking:

According to John Skalzi: “a) if you don’t know how it works, you don’t know why you rank as you do, at any particular time, b) it’s foolish to be invested in a ranking whose mechanism is unknown to you, c) outside of Amazon, the ranking has no relevance.” Authors love validation and those rankings in subdivision categories is basically a “participation ribbon” as Mr. Skalzi explains. whatever.scalzi.com

“Every second you take to worry about your author ranking is every moment you’re not spending writing a book or promoting a book.” Jim Kukrel, sellmorebooksshow.com

In conclusion: I really believe the future is eBooks and as this evovles over the word wide stage there will be a great need for new and original content. As for FLASH, the numbers are the numbers and they’re not changing…just keep writing.

flash-true-story-cover_low

Brick and Mortar versus the Electronic Age


Brick and Mortar versus the Electronic Age

Natalie Bright

 

I wandered into a used bookstore one evening. The atmosphere, sights, and smells were everything you’d expect—glorious. The owner obviously loved his books and had an impressive inventory. He mentioned that he had over 1,000 more books in the back waiting to be shelved. I shook his hand and handed him a few of my bookmarks. While digging in my purse to find a business card, I had meant to say, “My picture book series about rescue animals are eBooks now, but I will have print books sometime this year. Do you host events for authors?”

I never got past the word “eBooks” because he interrupted me with an emotional rant. “I can’t do anything with an eBook. How do I put an eBook in my store? Don’t you love books? I love books. My customers love books. They want something they can hold them in their hands…” and on it went.

My reply was less than professional because I didn’t really think it through. I said, “I want my bookmarks back,” and then I grabbed them and he held tighter and we had a little tug-o-war with a few people staring, wide eyed and aghast. He said, “They’re mine. I’m not giving them back.” It all ended with a few laughs, hugs because this is Texas after all, and then he showed me the Texana section.

Honestly, I am a professional book hoarder. We added a wall of shelves when we moved specifically to hold my dad’s Time Life Series collection. My uncle tells me that he’s leaving me his book collection someday, and I will gladly make space. My heart flutters with joy when I see a pile of used books; stained pages and tattered covers just waiting to be rediscovered. I will never stop buying print books.

Unfortunately, not all the world is as devoted as the bookstore owner and I. The revelation struck me about five years ago. My part-time office help was complaining about her mother who kept insisting she read a Nicholas Spark book. This straight A student confronted mountains of text books and she didn’t want anything else added to her reading list. So her mother said, “Take my eReader. You’ll really love this story.”

My office helper did in fact love the story, and got an eReader of her own. She became a voracious reader, consuming three to four literary novels a week. We had wonderful talks about authors and their stories. There was me lugging my precious book club hardbacks around, stacking them on the floor around my house and office. There was her on the other hand, with her snazzy eReader in a decorative cover, slipping it in a backpack and taking hundreds of books with her wherever she went.

My teenagers have learned to love books because they’re surrounded at home, but their friends tell me they “don’t like books”. Those same kids are ‘reading’ and sharing tons of memes, blogs, poems, clever bits of prose. As writers, we understand words are words, and that someone wrote those words no matter the form. Perhaps a new generation is discovering the joys of reading but on their own terms.

The Future is Now

Way back in 2010, as an Indi Author, I lugged cases of books to events, visited bookstores, and mailed flyers to school librarians trying to get my name out there. In 2016 I launched a new photo-illustrated picture book series about rescue animals, only to have a lot of mom’s tell me, “We want a print version, too.” With limited funds, I’m learning a new software program so that I can duplicate the stories in a format that will be acceptable. Then there’s the money I’ll need to print a high-quality colored book, which I will worry about later. For now, I just want to learn the software.

Apparently, people still love holding picture books, but families are more mobile, too. They live in efficiency apartments or neat homes where they don’t want the clutter of books. The business of books and publishing is topsy-turvy, frustrating, ulcer inducing, and the worst migraine headache you can imagine. The good news about being a writer today is that there is a world out there needing original, quality content.

A World Full of Readers

I truly believe that more people are ‘reading’ now than ever before. Their focus is on a screen.

My eReader is bursting and yet I’ll probably buy two more .99 cent special promotion books before the day is done. I will do everything I can to support brick and mortar stores, too. I will tirelessly volunteer and attend events at libraries because there is no better place to introduce kids to the joys of reading. I will promote other authors and their books. But, I’m not giving up my electronic reader. There is no going back.

The only way is forward.

 

What’s that Smell?


What’s that Smell?

Natalie Bright

Using the five senses to draw readers into your fictional world is probably something you’ve heard before.

THE SMELLS OF CHRISTMAS

What better time of year brings back more memories than the holidays? Last week the owner of our local Mexican food restaurant shared the memories of his grandmother’s kitchen. She lived in a small house, and kept plastic over the windows for added insulation against the cold winter wind. The smells from her tiny kitchen were overwhelming when he stepped inside. Flour tortillas, sizzling beef, cinnamon, sugar and hot chili peppers. As he described the scene it was almost like I was there. I really miss my grandmother’s kitchen too.

HIGH SCHOOL TIME WARP

About a month ago I was reminded how powerful the five senses can create emotion. I walked into my son’s high school band hall. BAM! It was as if I’d been transported through time.

The sensory overload swept me away. The dusty smell from feet taking countless steps on a carpeted floor. The scent of sweat, with 100+ bodies in one room. A few notes from a trumpet. The solid clank of a locker door. A scale of notes by a clarinet. The constant, unending chatter of young voices.

My heart beat a little faster and my throat closed. My eyes actually misted over. I froze. In my mind’s eye I was back there; the Dimmitt High School band hall. The faces of the Bobcat marching band floated through my mind. If we could only go back to those moments for one day. Would you? I certainly would. I would revisit every sight and sound and horrible smell, and I’d go armed with a notebook this time. I’d write it all down to keep that moment forever ingrained into my memory.

A band director snapped me out of my time warp. “Can I help you?” he asked.

I just stood there, gripping three cases of goldfish snacks. “They go around the corner. First door to the left,” he said.

My journey down memory lane was done. Reality crashed around me.

EMOTION IS A POWERFUL THING

There was one other time when a smell overwhelmed me with emotion. My father has been dead almost fifteen years. He owned a welding shop and I hung out there most every day. Several years ago, I toured a huge plant in New Mexico that made natural gas circulating systems as part of a work related field trip. The entire back portion of the plant was a welding room. I walked through the plastic stipes covering the door into a personal meltdown. The smell of heated metal was overwhelming. My eyes filled with tears and it was all I could do to not sob uncontrollably. My father had suffered a long, slow battle with cancer. He had died at home and the visual image of paramedics carrying his body out of the house will forever haunt me. I have no idea what our tour guide said. We took a slow walk through the space and I honestly did not know if I would be able to hold it together.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS

How powerful our emotions can be when something triggers those memories. Think about how this kind of sensory overload might be for your characters. Create a history for them and then bring them crashing back into reality. The memories can be good, or sometimes that smell might recall something horrific.

KICKING THINGS UP A NOTCH

A children’s author, in describing her process, explained that she makes one final pass of her manuscript to add sensory images. Wish I could remember who said that and give credit, but it was one of those invaluable tidbits I picked up at a writer’s conference. At the point her story is solid, she adds even more sight, sounds, and smells which bumps everything up a notch. The reader can’t help but be immersed even more into that fictional world.

May the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday inspire you!

Merry Christmas!

Nataliebright.com

TWEETS AND HASHTAGS


TWEETS AND HASHTAGS

By Natalie Bright

Twitter is the birthplace of the hashtag. Jack Dorsey (@jack) sent the first tweet on March 21, 2006:

“just setting up my twttr”

Dorsey and his business associates were searching for a way to text on their cell phones, and the word “Twitter” defined exactly what they hoped to achieve.

Twitter has since evolved into an invaluable social media tool for communication and information sharing. The hashtag, pound sign (#) followed by short subject links, has become a way to organize that information.

Today Twitter boasts 200 million users with 140 million daily tweets. It’s an active social media gathering place.

For writers, you can include your tweet as part of the community or group conversation by using hashtags. Your tweet will the become a part of the online chat and is now a searchable link.

For example, tag you might tag posts with:

#writinglife

#kidlit (the genre you write)

#readromance (to link to readers or your genre)

#books

#mystery

#crimefiction

For researchers, discover and follow specific subjects, and find information you need by searching hashtags specific to your needs or genre.

I see a lot of hashtags with broad appeal that are popular and trending, but why not boost your tweets on a local level? Within your city, state, or a tri-state area, you can connect with new fans of your work by using specific hashtags. Spark a conversation, or perhaps build relationships that can turn into a business venture down the line. Do this by using hashtags for local public places, the city names, or topics specific to your book.

To learn more about which hashtags are currently trending and are the most popular, go the hashtags.org and where they also offer analytics for your business.

One of the consistently popular hasgtags on the list: #DWTS and yes, I am a fan. I enjoy watching Dancing with the Stars and reading everybody’s tweets during commercial breaks.

Social media doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be fun work and a great way to build your writing platform.

Tweet me @natNKB – what are some of your favorite hashtags?

Advice for Writers from Michael Blake!


Advice for Writers from Michael Blake!

By Natalie Bright

In May 2015, Michael Blake, best known as the author of Dances with Wolves, died. I didn’t hear about it until much later, and now, over a year after his death, I finally found my notes from a talk he gave in Amarillo in 2009. While in the area, he talked to the Panhandle Professional Writers, did a presentation at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, and also attended an event at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Dances with Wolves sold over 3.5 million copies, and was translated into 15 languages. The 1990 film, which Kevin Costner directed and starred in, won seven Oscars including Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Mr. Blake also won the WGA Award and Golden Globes for his script.

Mr. Blake shared with Amarillo writers a heartfelt and grippingly honest reflection of his successes and rejections as he toiled within the L.A. movie crowd. After becoming engrossed in Indian history, his long-time friend Kevin Costner, encouraged him to write a novel rather than a screenplay. Mr. Blake told us that he struggled with the ending. The L.A. atmosphere did not lend itself to the inspiration he craved. He decided to move to Arizona where he lived in his car, worked as a dishwasher and completed his book.

Based on my notes from his talk to the PPW group in Amarillo, I thought you might like to know his advice for writers. Following, are some of Mr. Blake’s best quotes that resonated with me personally.

§ “Writers are driven to create something from our heart and soul. This is in direct conflict with the agent, producers, and editor’s side of the business,” and for this reason he encouraged us to not be afraid of rejection.

§ “No matter what, keep writing at a level that people will want to read, and keep reading.”

§ “American Indians knew things about the world that we had forgotten. Modern life has moved us away from life on earth. We need balance between earth and our existence.” This belief inspired him to write a story.

§ “Inspire with your writing.”

§ “It’s all about finishing. Power through and get it done.”

§ “Writing must convey feeling. Be different and devastating in terms of feeling.”

§ “Make every conceivable effort to put good words on paper.”

§ “Stay at it!” says Michael Blake. “If you remember only one thing from my talk, this is the thing I want you to take away—never give up.”

“Be devastating in terms of feeling”—I love that! If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, Dances with Wolves, I highly recommend this great story set in the American West. As a writer, I feel extremely blessed to have been present for such an inspiring talk from a true visionary and gifted man.

R.I.P. Michael Blake. Thank you for sharing your passion with the world.

IF YOU’RE A NOBODY~Now Is the Time to Develop a Social Media Platform


IF YOU’RE A NOBODY~

         Now Is the Time to Develop a Social Media Platform

Natalie Bright

Where are you going with your writing? What do you want to achieve in the next year? The next five years?

If you let rejection, lack of cash, family obligations, day job, or whatever excuse distract you from your goals, that’s okay. Writing can be very therapeutic.

However, if you know without a doubt, deep down in your gut, that you will be a successful, published author. You will finish a book and publish it one day through whatever method or opportunity comes your way, then now’s the time to work on your online presence.

This year, one of my goals is to absorb an understanding about social media. Every interview I’ve read and every podcast I’ve listened to has revealed some surprising facts. Authors with sales through the roof have a good grasp on their social media (or in some cases, they hire somebody who does it for them). They set aside time to spend on social media, and they know what works best to reach their target market of readers.

Predictions are that three times as many people will be reading books on their mobile devices in the coming years. It’s been almost a decade since the eBook craze began in the U.S. and then onto England and parts of Europe. Today, the sales for eBooks and iBooks are just beginning to gain world wide appeal.

ESTABLISH A PRESENCE

So where should you be? Twitter? Instagram? Google+? Facebook? Amazon Author Pages? All of the above? Trying to determine this AFTER your book is published is too late. Guess where children’s book authors are finding success in sales and fan interaction? Statistics don’t lie, and several authors swear by Pinterest for selling their indie-published kid lit.

Another indie author swears by Twitter, which generates three times the sales as his other social media posts. Incidentally, I held out from Instagram as long as I could, but now it’s my absolute favorite go to place for following book stores, author news, and the western culture.

One thing about successful authors; they tend to be very statistically and data savvy. Having an understanding of where your sales come from, how each of these sites differ, and what they can do for you as a published author is just good business sense.

LEARN IN DOING

I started posting articles on my website about sites, people, and life in general several years ago. One day the comments reached a frenzy. My blog had gone viral! Not.

In reality my site had been hacked with comments relating to Viagra and Rolex. I deleted thousands and thousands of comments, and blocked the comment option. I learned that there was nothing I could do but delete that site and pay for a redesign. She couldn’t cut and paste because of the risk of transferring the spam virus. So to save money, I retyped all of the content from my blog. Thank goodness I wasn’t up against a hard writing deadline.

The next time stats showed hits in the thousands it actually was a blog post that went viral! Lesson learned.

I could go on and on about the weird things relating to my social media experiences, but you get my point. As with any “job” there is a learning curve. If you’re a newbie writer looking up from the trenches, this is the most fun and less stressed place to be. If you mess up or post something stupid, only a few friends will know. You can laugh about it later over marguerites.

I’ve always believed that doing is learning. Learning is doing. So take a leap. You’ll find tons of information out there to get you started. One of my favorite podcasts is thecreativepenn.com with Joanna Penn.

And for info about a freelance career check out makingalivingwriting.com

This is a great time to be a writer!

Nataliebright.com