MY CHARACTER LEFT ME


MY CHARACTER LEFT ME

By Natalie Bright

Writing an entire novel is the most wonderful, soul-changing, frustrating, dreaded task you’ll ever tackle. In fact, I once said that I’d never writer a book. My articles and short stories were enough for me.

Several years ago I started a lovely historical story with a 16 year old protagonist targeted to YA market. The suggestion was made that I consider dropping her age to 12 or 13. I rewrote it, and now I have two 7,000+ word manuscripts. I never finished either. Both versions seem wrong, leaving me uninspired and frustrated. Where did my main character go? Will she ever emerge again?

Write.

SHE’S BACK…

These past several months, this character has been nagging me a lot. She still holds much mystery for me and I must know more about her and the time of her life. The historical period continues to hold much intrigue. I see her as a young girl, on the verge of being woman. I see her being involved in a forbidden love, so a 13 year old is not going to work. YES! I SEE her and she’s getting clearer every day. As to her exact age, I haven’t a clue. Both versions are a muddle in my head.

Note to self: Don’t question the why. I have a beginning and I have an ending. I need to make a list of possible conflict that she must overcome. I will write the scenes in my head, no matter the order. Make it to the end. With the help of my WordsmithSix group, we’ll make it tidy and tight.

Write more.

CRITIQUE THAT MAY STEER YOU WRONG

I’m not saying that it was a waste of my time to rewrite the book with a younger protagonist. Maybe it will help me see the main character and her journey more clearly. At this point, who am I trying to please? The answer: me.

Take writing advice with a grain of salt. In the end you’re the author and only you can make the final decision. Absolutely, make that scary leap and let other people read your work before you publish. I know that you’ve dug to the depths of your soul and sweated over your pages for months and months, perhaps years.

Step back. Listen carefully to your trusted beta readers. Consider all of the possibilities, but in the end you have the final say.

LET’S BEGIN AGAIN

I’m starting over. For the third pass I’ll use elements from both versions. My gut is telling me this story has potential. Hopefully, I can find the heart of the story and it will emerge from the mess I’ve made. This will be a great project for NaNoMo in November, and I’m going to reach the end this time. Phew. I feel so much better about this. Thanks for listening, WordsmithSix!

Just.

Keep.

Writing.

 

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LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS…Or They May Abandon You Forever


LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS…

      Or They May Abandon You Forever

By Natalie Bright

My novel about a 14 year old boy set in the Texas frontier is a typical coming of age story, which involves him finishing the job of delivering a wagon load of goods after his father died. Ben has a run in with outlaws, is shot by a Comanche arrow, gets lost in the wilderness; just your typical Wild West adventure. The young Comanche brave would not leave me alone. The only thing I could do to get that kid out of my mind was to write key scenes in his viewpoint. I realized I liked him and instead of being my antagonist, the story changed. I inserted Roving Wolf’s scenes where they belonged in the already finished book. I now have two protagonists who become friends.

LESSON LEARNED

Here’s what I learned from that experience: you don’t have to write an entire book chapter by chapter in that exact order. For some of us, Point A to Point B is not how our mind works when it comes to creative fiction.

Don’t be afraid to explore those flashes of imagery in your brain. It might be a piece of dialogue. Maybe it’s a minor character that keeps nagging you about a scene you left them out of. It might be a place that flashes in your mind, and then poof, it’s gone again. You know someone was there and something happened, and you have to write it before you learn why that place is important. For me, it’s like an explosion in my head. The imagery of that character is so alive. Sometimes it’s a conversation that seems so vibrant and real, it can’t be ignored.

TALKING CHARACTERS

Some writers say that their characters never talk to them, and usually it shows in their stories. Their characters are flat, lifeless, with no personality. When you take the time to dig into your character’s head and heart, then their personality will become real. When they are real to you, they’ll be real to your readers.

DIG DEEP: HERE’S HOW

If your book is in 3rd person, rewrite several scenes in 1st person POV. Free write, in your character’s POV, about their childhood, favorite things or people, life experiences, greatest fears. The deeper you dig, their motives, desires, angst will become clearer. That protagonist will begin to tell you even more (truth!). I know, it’s a creepy, strange and glorious experience, so I wouldn’t mention it to your non-writerly friends. I promise, one of your characters will pop into your mind out of and tell you something wonderful. Keep in mind, that the majority of the things you learn about your protagonist and antagonist during this process will not make it into your manuscript. When you’re character is faced with a conflict, you’ll know exactly how he or she will react and that’s what endears them to your readers. We learn more and more as the story progresses.

Don’t be afraid to give your characters the attention they deserve. Allow them to tell you their secrets. Just make sure you’re taking notes.

Book Authors and Sales Tax


Book Authors and Sales Tax

By Natalie Bright

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Members of the Texas High Plains Writers enjoyed an informative talk by accountant Dan Brown with ———at the May meeting in Amarillo.

One of the questions that we talked about, which we didn’t have time to fully discuss, involved collecting and paying sales tax for your book sales. Below I’ve listed a few blogs and websites with great information which will help clarify this very confusing issue.

SALES TAX

Ø Note that if you’re selling your self-published book through a dealer at a trade show, or an Internet retail entity such as Amazon.com or bn.com or a publishing service acting as a retail entity (such as Blurb or Lulu.com), the retail entity making the sale is responsible for collecting sales tax. “Sales Tax Facts for Book Authors” at publishing.about.com

Ø You may think that you are paying the appropriate sales tax because you pay the tax to the printing company when you purchase the book. But that tax is only for your purchase price, not the actual selling price. So unless you sell the book at your cost, you will have a sales tax obligation. “Sales Tax Responsibility for Authors” at writeyourlife.net

Ø Reimbursement for books sold through Amazon is considered a royalty and is not subject to sales tax. However, if you sell books through your website, at a book signing, or after a public speaking engagement, sales tax should be included if those books are sold within your state. “Sales Tax Responsibility for Authors” at writeyourlife.net

Ø There are exceptions: 1. selling to someone other than the end user. Generally, states only tax sales on the final user, so if you are selling your books to a bookstore or retail store for resale, you do not charge them sales tax. [NOTE: Most retail outlets expect the ability to add a 50-60% markup above your price. If you quote them a price too high, they may not be able to carry your book in their store.]

2. Selling to a nonprofit organization. In some states, nonprofit organizations are able to obtain sales tax exemption. These organizations should provide you a copy of their sales tax exemption certificate from their state.
3. Selling to out-of-state customers. Usually, you must collect sales tax from customers that live in your state.
Ø The best thing about publishing your own book through Amazon Author Central is that you are not the seller of record. This means you are not responsible for collecting the sales tax on the books you publish. Blog.taxjar.com

Ø Nexus is having a presence in the state which indicates which state you should be submitting sales tax to. Your “nexus” is the state in which you reside and do your business, however every state is different.

Ø Let’s say you’re selling your own book and you spend the summer selling your book at festivals across five states. Some states consider making a single sale in the state to create sales tax “nexus”, while others do not. Many festivals, book stores, etc. will have a bookseller on hand to sell your books for you. This generally includes collecting the sales tax. In that case, you would be off the hook for collecting sales tax. blog.taxjar.com

SELLING BOOKS

Being an indie book author these days can be daunting, but take a deep breath and consider the big picture. The opportunities for reaching readers today is truly amazing. Take off your creative cap and slip into your owner/entrepreneur mode.

Here’s a few more things to consider:

  • · If there is a hosting retail store at the book festival you have a booth at, absolutely take advantage of their ability to handle your books for sale. Be aware that they probably have a zillion things to do for the event. You can be persistent yet professional, but make absolutely sure your books have been ordered. I know of authors who have shown up to events to find they have no books to sign because the order was never placed. Do you leave or should you stay and hand out swag? It’s a horrible situation.
  • · Every state is different. In Oklahoma for example, a representative of the Oklahoma state taxing authority might collect tax there at the book festival. A form will be provided for you to complete and sign.
  • · I sell books at my cost to clubs and organizations because I figure it’s the least I can do after they’ve fed me, paid a speakers fee, and then sat through my talk. I consider the invitation to be a great opportunity to build connections with readers. This kind of networking is invaluable, plus I don’t have to collect sales tax.
  • · Seek out sponsorships for your books. There might be nonprofit organizations that will purchase a case of books for special events. Suggest that your book would make a great table decoration with one at each place setting. Ask for a copy of their tax exemption certificate and attach it to the invoice that you’ve prepared for them.

I hope this helps you. Business is done. Go write now, y’all!

A NAME


A NAME

By Natalie Bright

Stuck. On a name.

Actually, I don’t know his name which is why I can’t write the story.

Drat!

All of the components are there: setting, beginning, middle, and in my opinion, a brilliant ending. The story plays out in my head in vivid color, but what is his name? I have no idea.

As writers, we understand the importance of a great name. Fictional character names can inspire countless generations (Superman, DC Comics) and generate millions in promotional material (Charles Schulz’s Snoopy). We love those serendipity moments when a character’s name arrives like a gift out of thin air. Author David Morrell spoke at a writer’s conference about being extremely frustrated and stuck on a name for his character. His wife encouraged him to take a break and handed him a locally grown apple. The name of the apple variety was “Rambo”.

My character is quiet, yet very strong, and determined for all of his twelve years of experience. He’s not shy, but he’s not the life of the party either. He works hard and he loves horses. I can see him clearly. What in the heck is his name?!!

CHARACTER NAME RESOURCES

  1. School Yearbooks. I start with my son’s Jr. High yearbook. This is a modern story and there’s no better way to know what kids are being named than to glance at names in today’s world.
  2. Google It. Next I go to the life-changing resource that is Google (how did we survive before?). I’ve searched baby name sites for several days and jot down a page of possibles.
  3. Consult your Names Notebook. Whenever I meet someone with an unusual name, I make a note on my phone or whatever scrap of paper I can find, and then add it to my Names Notebook. Sometimes in conversation someone will tell me that their family has unique names, and they’ll jot them down for me. Also in my notebook are names of family members gleaned from Ancestry.com. Thanks to my Uncle’s genealogy work, it’s become a great source for ideas.
  4. Pinterest has some interesting links for names lists, like most popular, most unusual, most underused, ancient names, etc. You can find some of these on my Board “I Write” under @natbright on pinterest.com
  5. Still writing with character named ‘boy’. The search continues…

Where do you turn for inspiration and ideas to name your characters?

 

 

Characterization Part 5



Characterization Part 5

By Natalie Bright

 

I’m reviewing my notes from past conferences and blogging about characterization. Please feel free to comment on any tips you’ve learned on developing believable and likable characters. The past few blogs have been a hodge-podge on all concepts of developing characters. We’re digging deeper again this week, because really, you just can’t know enough about your characters.

Have you completed a character questionnaire yet? There are tons of great examples on the web.

Keep Digging Deeper

What is the one unique component of literature that humans enjoy? The key that all writers strive for? The take-away that readers can take pleasure in?

The answer: emotion.

We can read a story and find joy or fear. We can laugh out loud at the antics of a main character, or we can weep for concern at their plight. The power of the written word is an amazing thing.

As a writer, we must dig deeper. You have your character’s profile and you know their attitudes. As Steven James said, “What are your characters passionate about, desire, most ashamed about, afraid to pursue? Now give them what they want the most and snatch it away. Dangle her heart’s desire in front of her and never let her have it.”

Finding Emotion

We’re just human, with human emotions and life experiences. Real life events of experiencing or observing provides the basis from which our characters emerge.

How can your character respond to death unless you draw upon your experiences in being at someone’s bedside when they passed? How can your character experience love lost unless you weep as you write it? How can you write about the power of indifference without drawing upon your own past? Even if you haven’t experienced the emotion, then you can probably find someone who has.

Authors can’t be sissy’s about this. We have to go there. We have to revisit those painful experiences again and convey them to our readers through the fictional characters we create. I’m not saying it has to be the exact same experience, but you can apply the emotions you’ve felt to fictional situations. As your heroine meets those challenges and overcomes the obstacles, this becomes the character arc.

Developing the Character Arc

Character arc is defined as the emotional problems through which the protagonist (and antagonist and sometimes secondary characters) must face to achieve their goal. 

As bestselling author Steven James points out, “At the heart of every story is tension, and tension is that unmet desire which includes both external and internal.” As your character tries to achieve that desire and overcomes the antagonist, they change, they grow, they become better for their experiences. You must dig past the surface elements of your story and determine the why

Some of the most common arcs are: going from emotionally dead to being emotionally alive, learn to accept other’s faults, overcome a fear, learn to take risks, overcome guilt, learn to accept his own faults; and the list can go on and on. These are most obvious in movie screenplays where characters struggle with some emotional dilemma that is resolved at the end regardless of the action going on around them.

More Conflict Please

In order to dig deeper, Jodi Thomas suggests all dialogue reflect some type of conflict. “It’s not necessarily a conflict between the two characters speaking. One could be having internal conflict while they’re saying something else,” Thomas says.

Author Jennifer Talty explained that, “conflict is the fuel that starts your story. The internal motivation of your character is the fuel that drives your story.” 

As the core conflict between the protag and antag increases, the internal emotional conflict escalates and becomes your character’s arc.

For more information, Goal Motivation Conflict by Deb Dixon is an excellent addition for your writer’s reference library.

Have fun and keep writing!

Nat

 

Characterization Part 4



Characterization Part 4

By Natalie Bright

 

Characters with Attitude

Based on previous blogs, you now know the history of your characters. You also know what makes them tick emotionally.  It’s great that you know so much about your characters, but you can’t use it in your novel. Do not bore the reader to death with too much back story.

When I lunch with writer friends or meet with my critique group, we have in-depth conversations about our character’s motivations. We question their motives because characters should ‘stay in character’ for the entire novel. I’m reading a book now where the main character steals money from a classmate and plans a trip with a fake passport. I’m totally bummed. I really liked this character and now I don’t. To me this action seemed out of character for the person I thought she was. (But it doesn’t really matter because I’m not the author, and ultimately we can write our story the way we want to.)

As you write, you will only reveal a small amount of the history you’ve created.  Knowing that background is crucial for it will shape how they act and speak. Their personality and attitude will come through as they face the conflict in your plot. You will reveal your character through dialogue, their actions, and how they respond to conflict.

If the main character is only nine, remember his ideas will be shaped by the experiences he had in those nine years. He hasn’t lived a lifetime yet.

Profiling

Put some serious thought and effort into profiling your characters. Identify specific strengths and weaknesses. If you believe they’re real, readers will believe your characters are real too and will care about their story. For example, author and teacher, DeWanna Pace, pointed out that in most main stream action/adventure stories the strengths of the hero overcomes the strengths of the villain. In the case of romances, the strengths of the hero and heroine combine to overcome the conflict in the plot line. You’ve got to know their strengths and weakness in order to intertwine these traits into the plot.

Heroes have Flaws / Villains have Reaons.

Develop a detailed profile for each of your main characters.

For the protagonist, assign three likable traits and one bad trait. These can be internal or external, emotional or physical. Having bright red hair can be a good or bad trait, for example, depending on the circumstances you’ve set-up for your character. Your main character may whine and complain constantly, but please, give your readers something to like about her. Otherwise, we could care less how her story ends.

For the antagonistassign three bad traits and one redeeming quality. Give your villain one good trait that makes him likable. Maybe he has a deep love for his mother. Perhaps your antagonist is worldly and extremely beautiful, but evil to the core.

Interview your characters to determine their motivations. You can do this through a structured exercise or by free writing. Start writing in first person from your characters head, and see what they can tell you. Phyliss Miranda uses this method and highlights the traits as they are revealed in the manuscript, which helps her make sure she doesn’t repeat the same information.

I attended a workshop given by a romance author who creates astrological signs for her hero and heroine. The conflicts and commonalities are determined by a star chart, and then she fills in the setting and plot line to construct their journey to find love. Also, there is David Freeman’s “Diamond Technique”, basic Metaprograms test, or “The Hero’s Journey” concept of plotting.  

Character development continues next Monday. Stay tuned!

Characterization Part II


Characterization Part II
by N. Bright

I’m going back through my conference notes to provide you with a hodge-podge of all things on character development over the next several weeks. (I might add that in a past job I used short-hand every day, so I’m a diligent note-taker. In today’s world his useless skill is next to impossible to forget.)

Creating Ancestors

It was a larger-than-life character who came to me in a dream which caused me to become obsessed with learning everything I could about characterization. As pointed out by a few writer friends, I wrote her adventures but had never given this character a past.

The idea for a young girl who lived on the Texas frontier appeared in my head so vibrant and alive, I couldn’t shake her. Her adventures began as little snippets of scenes in no particular order. As I began thinking about her life, she’d have to be a little independent and more worldly than most kids her age. Her father is a U.S. Marshall so he’d be gone a lot. Her mother is of Mexican descent from a sheepherding family. She loves books, thanks to an Aunt, so her vocabulary would be above average and well-developed. I can imagine she was riding horses at a very young age along with fishing and exploring and doing chores; all of the things necessary for survival on the frontier. All of these things come together to create what I hope to be a unique and memorable character.

Just like real people, your characters must have a past life filled with family, friends, joys, and loss; all of the things that shape their motivation and personality. This gives your characters dimension and believability.

Character History

Most writers I know are curious and fascinated by human nature and their motives. This should be a fun process for you. As you develop your characters past, consider where they grew up, why they moved there and where their families came from.

My grandmother told me about traveling by wagon with her parents to Texas from Oklahoma. That was only three generations away; not that long ago. That independent, can-do spirit remains in the people here, much like those before us who came to this barren place to build towns and raise families in the middle of nowhere. Our buildings and communities are not that old, as compared to places in the eastern United States. I get aggravated at the way we seem to so readily tear down the old to build new in this part of the country. I guess we’re still in pioneer mode.

Kids in this area play video games just like big city kids. My kids and their friends watch movies, read books, and love their iPhones, too.  On the other hand, families here have space; to ride 4-wheelers in sandy river beds, fish and ski on area lakes, and the mountain ski slopes are only half-a-days drive away. As an FYI, not everyone in Texas owns a horse, however, I think my kids are a little more “out-doorsman” than urban kids, but probably not as much as kids from Alaska might be.

Your characters are no different. There is much to think about when considering the many influences that shaped their behavior.

Keep writing and have fun creating a past life for your characters!