Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making Your Characters Come Alive

What makes a book one you are unable to put down? Why do you identify with some characters right away and others leave you cold? It's the characters. They become your companions as you travel through the book. You see their lives as they unfold before you. Each sentence cementing your opinion of them. Some characters are the kind you would like to bring home with you and introduce to your family. While others are ones you might never want to meet, but their lives are so vibrant you can't stop thinking about them. Many times readers connect with the villains in a story and even though the character might be repugnant to them, the readers can't stop reading about this character.

Examples of this kind of character can be seen in the Harry Potter books. Harry Potter as a character becomes someone you can't stop reading about and about whose life you feel strongly. His opposite, Voldemort is a mean and vicious villain. But each of these characters' lives becomes a thread you must hold onto until the book is finished.

To use an example of one of my own characters, Carolyn Samuels in my young adult novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor is someone who most readers connect with and whose story they want to follow. Many of the reviews say the reader couldn't put this book down. The same is true for the mean girl, Jennifer Taylor in the same novel, whose story intersects with Carolyn's. Many readers identify with Jennifer. She is a very complicated character whose mean streak has a reason.

How do you create such a character? What does a writer need to do to fashion characters like these? I think the one thing that a reader will be attracted to is a truthful portrayal of the character. To do this you as a writer must know your character even before you write one word on your page. Knowing what is most important to this character and what they will do to get it gives the writer a way to create a strong plot line. Make your readers feel something for your character right away on the first page. In other words, hook them with your first paragraph. Surround your character with people and/or animals who will reflect the kind of person your character is. With a strong and charismatic character and a well organized plot line yours will be one of the books that people say they can't put down.

What happens when you have created strong characters and have a good plot line is the story will write itself. The best time is when the characters start to interact and you have no idea what they will say. Yet there it is on the page. Your characters have written the story and you have transcribed it. The best parts of my novel were written this way. If while you are writing a character seems to want to shine a little more, let it. Don't try to fence in your characters. They need room to grow and expand and the best characters show growth by the end of the book.

Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help. When she is paired for a math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain. With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky junior quarterback, Brad her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. When Jennifer is the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to spend the night to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?

Find If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor as an ebook or in print:

Muse Bookstore:

Barnes and Noble

Barbara Ehrentreu Bio:

Barbara, a retired teacher with a Masters degree in Reading and Writing K-12 and seventeen years of teaching experience lives with her family in Stamford, Connecticut. She has been editing for 4RVPublishing for several years. When she received her Masters degree she began writing seriously. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor is Barbara’s first YA novel published by MuseItUp Publishing. It won 2nd place in Preditors and Editors Best Young Adult Novel of 2011. In addition she has a story in the anthology: Lavender Dreams and three poems in Prompted: An International Collection of Poems and five poems in Beyond the Dark Room: An International Collection of Transformational Poetry.  Several of her poems have been published in online magazines. Her blog, Barbara’s Meanderings,, is networked on both Facebook and Blog Catalog. She hosts Red River Writers Live Tales from the Pages on Blog Talk Radio every 4th Thursday. In addition, her children's story, “The Trouble with Follow the Leader” and an adult story, “Out on a Ledge” are published online She has written book reviews for and several of her reviews have been on Acewriters and Celebrity CafĂ©. She is a member of SCBWI. Writing is her life!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting the Most Out of Writing

I started writing when I was in high school.  Back then, I had stars in my eyes and a misconception about the publishing world.  I had teachers tell me I was good and encouraged me to keep doing it.  I enjoyed it; I had fun.

I never submitted anything back in those days.  I remember going to the library and looking up agents in a huge book, which I can't remember the name of right now.  The Internet was still new and young and not a place I turned to daily for information.  I had grand ideas in my head, but I never followed through.  I never actually sent a query letter.

When I got to college, I still attempted to write.  It was difficult to write for enjoyment since most of my time was spent studying and writing term papers.  I still enjoyed writing, but it was a different kind.  I took fiction classes, and that's when I got my first dose of reality.

There was a particular professor that, for whatever reason, tore students down and forced them get out of the writing game.  Some of my other classmates speculated it was because she viewed us as competition and was trying to weed us out.  Whatever her motivation, she totally shook my confidence.  I didn't give up completely, though, I continued to take other writing classes, only to have other professors tell me they couldn't fairly grade the genre I wrote in.  I wrote fantasy while the professor was a literary writer.

I was crushed, hurt, and angry--mainly angry.  I didn't care if I never wrote again.  When I got a job at an environmental consulting firm, I met back up with a friend I knew from college.  She encouraged me to start writing again and to submit my stuff to publishers.  I was leery, but I did it.  And I got things accepted.

The road wasn't always easy, though.  To this day I continue to get bombarded with rejections and my confidence gets shaken.  I question my ability to write and I wonder why I waste my time.  Looking back, my professors really weren't trying to be mean, they were trying to be honest.  The world of publishing is a harsh place.  It chews you up and spits you out.  If you're not ready for that, it will destroy you.  Heck, even if you are ready for it, it still takes its toll.

Everyone tells you to prepare for the slew of rejections that will come your way because they will come your way.  But even if you know that, it doesn't always make things easier.  They say to persevere and continue trying, which is really good advice, and you should, but you also need to know when to take a break. 

No one told me it was all right to take a step back and take a break.  I figured I had to keep cranking out stories, hoping one of them would eventually land me on the bestseller list.  I burned out, got angry again, and didn't care if I never wrote again.  Writing stopped being fun.  It turned into a stress and worry.  It should never come to that.

It's okay to step back every once in a while and regroup.  For your mental health and stability, I would recommend taking at least a week, if not more.  Go outside, hang out with friends, veg in front of the TV, read a book.  Do anything but write.  I know it's hard, I know it makes you feel guilty, but sometimes it has to be done.  I find myself revived and re-energized after these breaks, and it helps me do revisions with fresh eyes.  Besides, sometimes it's just nice to get away.  Even your imaginary friends need a vacation once in a while.

Pembroke Sinclair has had several short stories published.  Her story, “Sohei,” was named one of the Best Stories of 2008 by The Cynic Online Magazine.  She has novellas and a short story collection available from Musa Publishing and eTreasures Publishing.  Her two novels, Coming from Nowhere (adult, sci fi) and Life After the Undead (YA, horror), are available from eTreasures Publishing, as well as Death to the Undead (YA, sequel to Life After the Undead), which is forthcoming.  Life After the Undead was a Top Ten Finisher in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll in the YA category and the cover art category.

As Jessica Robinson, from March 2008 to January 2011, she wrote scientific articles for Western Farmer-Stockman.  Her nonfiction book, Life Lessons from Slasher Films, is available from Scarecrow Publishing (an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield).

Jessica/Pembroke received her Master’s in English, and she is a freelance content editor for Musa Publishing, as well as a former content and line editor for eTreasures Publishing.  You can read her blog here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yay, A Goof!

I'm a member of Critique Circle, a site where writers of all ages post stories for critique and feedback. Some of our writers are as young as ten years old, and I've been blessed to see these younguns take the role of young guns in the writing world.

I've also seen many young people start out on their path to being writers only to come to a screeching halt when they look back at their own work and decide they aren't happy with the project they started four years ago. They lock right p, and hit a wall. Not another word comes from their fingertips because now, all of a sudden, they are afraid of making more mistakes.

I'm here to let you all off the hook: It's okay to make mistakes. You are a writer. Writers make mistakes. We make typos, leave plot holes, write shallow characters, misuse commas, abuse adverbs and make real messes of all our work. The only reason it doesn't make the shelf that way is because WE GET TO GO BACK AND FIX OUR WORK. It's called editing. It's called revision.

In life, we're taught not to make mistakes. We only get one chance at a first impression. We only have one senior prom. We get on chance at our big break, and if we mess that up we're screwed forever.

Good thing it's not that way in writing. The important thing, people, is to get the story written. Mistakes and all. This is your one chance to revel in plot holes and perfect heroes who are invulnerable and speak like they are trying not to swallow a large lump of Jello in their mouth. Because you can go back and fix it.

So here, it's official. *Waves Moses Stick* I hereby bless you to make huge goofs and dance around like a fiend. Rejoice in being imperfect. Just get the story written. Let the world share in this gift you have as a storyteller.

Because we get to go back later and fix it.

Coming soon to Print: Becoming NADIA, Best Thriller award winner of the EPIC eBook Award.
* * * *
There's only one thing that pretty, popular TV reporter Nadia Velasquez is missing: her memory from before the explosion that killed everyone else in the room, including the President of Nigeria. But from the moment she meets FBI agent Jon Daniels, all hell breaks loose. Friends turn into deadly enemies overnight, and no one can be truly trusted.

When Jon and Nadia investigate further, they discover the living terror that is the truth behind Nadia's existence, a truth that could mean the death of millions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Getting into your character's Shoes. Deep POV

Presented by Lady Rosalie Skinner
Hi, I am the Australian author of the epic science fiction and fantasy series the Chronicles of Caleath.  published by Museitup Publishing as eight ebooks. Book Five is now available. 

As I go through my next novel for release in the series, UNDERGROUND: The Day of the Sun, I am concentrating on correcting any POV errors, as well as redundancies, echoes and any superfluous prose.

To write in Deep Character POV you need to be inside your character's head. Here are a few exercises and tips on how to achieve bringing your reader, hopefully, into the Fantasy world you have created.

 How to stay in your character’s head.

 A useful analogy is to think of a cameraman filming a scene. Since many of us see our stories played out like movies in our heads as we write, this should make sense. To begin the shoot our camera angle would be using a wide lens  to give an overview for the audience. 

Once established the camera closes in. Zooming into focus we now view our character's and begin to create empathy with them. As the scene progresses the camera records a rise in tension, conflict or establishes how the main character is feeling.
The camera, the vision we witness through the lens, is only able to convey what is SEEN or what the character believes. The camera cannot tell what other characters are thinking. Neither can the main character when using this POV. If a camera cannot SEE a thought, neither can the character. To suddenly read minds is to change POV and will distance the reader. 

Another useful idea is that if a artist cannot DRAW the information, it is telling, not showing. A little harder to grasp, but give it some thought. Can you see Anger? He was angry. Is telling. His fist clenched, his brow lowered, he cast an angry glare toward the broken mirror. You can draw clenched fists, lowered brow, an angry glare. Just a tip to remember.

It is important when writing from your character’s POV to only reveal the thoughts and reactions of your character experiences. Actions and emotions of other characters can be described as if seen by the main character, but they must be interpreted through the main character’s eyes. More on this later.

The advantage over the camera is the author can share the main character’s emotions, while witnessing the scene. Their anxiety, happiness, pain or anticipation are available for the author to share.

 The tools for doing this are probably best learnt and understood through participation, rather than reading notes. So, let’s begin.

 Getting into our Character’s shoes…

 The aim of this exercise is to describe in a hundred words (or less), the simple act of putting on a pair of shoes, boots or trainers, from our character’s viewpoint.

Try to visualize and describe the shoe, the foot…

Give the reader an idea of how the character feels, are they about to begin a journey, go on a date? Is our character refreshed, exhausted, anticipating a big night, an interview, meeting someone?

What does our character smell? Taste? Hopefully nothing too bad, being shoes and feet but in a fantasy world where bathing is scarce. Hmm… doesn’t bare thinking about… or does it?

Describe the texture of the shoe, the skin of the feet, stockings, socks as our character experiences them.

 Thinking about our exercise let’s look at what not to do…

 Gerald hoped no one would notice his boots needed cleaning. He wondered if the day old socks would do another outing. Taking a deep breath, he smelt them. The odor made him recoil. He decided he needed a new pair.

 The words that distance us from Gerald’s POV are hoped, wondered, would, smelt, made, decided.

The same information written from Gerald’s POV without the distance might go…

 Gerald rubbed mud from the toe of his boot. With luck no one would notice the scuffed leather or mud stained soles. He dragged day old socks over freshly washed feet, sniffing as tell tale odors insulted his nose. Recoiling, he tossed them aside and grabbed a new pair from the drawer.

 We can improve on this example too. What do you suggest? Want to share your ideas?

Post your examples in the comments if you would like feedback. Use this example or one of your own.

 Deep and meaningful.

The psychologists tell us that when we talk face to face with someone, we only assimilate 10% of our information from what they say. The other 90% comes from tone of speech, body language, nuances and innuendo. If you watch ‘Lie to Me’ you will see how the science of body language has enabled the characters in this show to almost read minds. To use their level of information when writing would mean each conversation could evolve into a three page essay. We need to be concise and succinct while informing our readers as much as possible.

 These examples demonstrate the importance of giving your character a chance to share what they interpret. Back to Gerald…

 “Hello Sweetie,” she said. “ I have something to tell you.”

 “Hello Sweetie.” Gerald turned at the sound of her voice. She drew herself to her full height. Arms folded, foot tapping, she glared down her nose. “I have something to tell you.”

“Hello Sweetie.” She slid across the bench and draped an arm across his shoulders. Gerald recoiled. Enveloped in a cloud of her whiskey breath, he dared not breathe lest his blood alcohol level exceeded legal limits. He leaned away but a determined squeeze warned him against ignoring her. A glance into clear, focused eyes betrayed the largess of alcohol. “I have something to tell you.” Clear, crisp words, spoken sotto voce suggested urgent need. Once uttered, her shoulders slumped, arm slithered free and she stumbled toward the door.

“Hello Sweetie.” The sound of her voice grated. Gerald turned. Her manicured hand lifted in an artificial wave. She walked across the room, a catwalk strut, designed to turn heads. Gerald braced as she ‘air kissed’ both cheeks in greeting. “I have something to tell you.” She glanced toward the full length window. Gerald followed her gaze to where her reflection preened in glorious clarity. Forgotten, he relaxed. 

 That was fun and we only just begun to delve into some of the senses Gerald interpreted from each scene. These might be a bit clunky, but we have avoided; Gerald thought, realized, saw,  or knew. Or, ‘she seemed’, or  ‘as if she’ . Although not really jumping out of the character’s POV, there are often times we can avoid using these distancing words and phrases. As always we have avoided using 'was', 'had', 'were', and those pesky 'telling' words.

 Remember; try to include all five senses as you work.
 Take a simple line of dialogue and see what you can do with how your character reacts to the words and their delivery. Post them in the comments if you are prepared to share.

Thanks for dropping in. 

This exercise was posted on the Museitup Blog back in July 2011.It's never a waste of time redoing useful exercises. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Keeping up with Writing Assignments


By  YA Author Andrea Buginsky

It’s official…Labor Day Weekend is over, and school is back in session. Whether today is your first day of school, or you’ve been back for a few weeks now, you know what’s coming: papers, homework, and more papers. You just had a glorious three-month vacation from papers you had to write, and were able to spend all that time on projects you wanted to write. But there’s no reason why you can’t blend the have-to writing with the want-to.

First, get yourself a scheduler. It can be as simple as a wall calendar to one of those fancy weekly planners, your choice. Utilize it properly by writing down all of your assignments and their due dates, test dates, and social obligations. Now you can see clearly what work must be done when, and when you have a free day or two to work on your own projects.

Second, talk to your teachers about your writing. Let them know it’s serious to you, and something you count on doing on a regular basis. Ask if there’s a way you can use some of your own writing as part of your writing assignments instead of having your teacher assign something you might not be as interested in. There’s a chance you’ll be told no, but imagine if you’re told yes.

Third, get busy. If you have writing assignments for school that have nothing to do with your own projects, make sure you take the proper time to work on them to the best of your ability. It will be great practice for the future when you may be working for a newspaper or magazine to make extra money, and won’t always have your choice of topics to write about. At this time, you’ll also have strict deadlines you’ll have to adhere to. The more practice you have with that now, they better you’ll be when it comes to working these jobs in the future.

So grab your calendar, get started on your projects, and don’t slack off in the new school year. Good luck!


Andrea Buginsky is a freelance writer and author. “The Chosen” was her first book, and was followed by “My Open Heart,” an autobiography about growing up with heart disease. “Nature’s Unbalance” is the second story in THE CHOSEN series. Andrea plans to write more in the series. She’s already done with the first draft of book 3 and has a concept for book 4. You can find Andrea on her website, Andi’s Realm. Her books are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.