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I am not a fan of drama. However, against my better judgement, I took the advice Les Edgerton gives in Hooked and rented Thelma & Louise in order to learn about how to create a “proper” inciting incident and the resulting escalating conflicts.

I wish I could say the movie pleasantly surprised me, but it didn’t. It was exactly as I figured it would be. Yes, it has a powerful ending. Yes, the real inciting incident isn’t what most people think it is. No, I didn’t find the story riveting or the conflict keeping me glued to the screen, though I did watch the whole movie out of respect for the cast, crew and Les (and to get my $3.50’s worth).

I can say that I learned something from the movie, though it’s not exactly what Les probably meant to be learned. In the case of Thelma & Louise, and most other dramas I’ve read/watched, the inciting incident is the first in a string of bad decisions in which each bad decision is decidedly worse than the last. If you truly care about the characters, this would indeed be conflict for the reader as well as the characters. If… and that’s a big if.

Life is drama. I don’t need to see it played out on the big screen or read about it in a book. For me, simply being human in an unpleasant situation is not enough. Therefore, characters like Thelma or Louise only irritate me. They make bad decision after bad decision, never stopping to consider the consequences or the other characters in their lives. That is not entertainment. That is a train wreck.

The problem for writers arises in trying to create characters readers will connect with. Escalating conflict isn’t enough. If your reader doesn’t care about what happens to your character, then she may be cheering for the character’s demise by the end of the book. (I was by Season 5 Episode 22 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

So what’s a writer to do? Here are 6 links that can help you create characters your readers will fall in love with:

  1. T is for Terrific: 4 Ways to Create Minor Characters
  2. 5 Questions About Characters’ Desires
  3. Checklist of 17 Character Qualities
  4. Holy Rusted Metal, Batman, I’m A Sidekick!
  5. How We Write Wednesdays: Making Characters Realistic–YOUR Way
  6. Let your MC succeed while they’re failing – the power of reward

What do you think? Does a chain of bad decisions make a great story or do you need to fall in love with the characters first?

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I sometimes wonder how other writers develop their books. Do they plan it all out from the beginning so nothing’s a surprise? Do they “fly by the seat of their pants” and just begin writing? Do they write in bits and pieces, then somehow put it all together like a puzzle? There could be as many ways to write a book as there are people who write them. I, myself, have at least two ways I develop my books: the fiction way and the nonfiction way.

Because my nonfiction writing is a whole lot more organic (something between piecing a puzzle together and just sitting down to write from the beginning), I’m going to focus on the seven steps I use to put together a fiction book from the first glimmering of an idea to sending the guts off to the POD (print-on-demand).

  1. Come up with a general idea — I know this seems rather obvious, but it’s really the first place you have to start with any writing project. Sometimes I find that I have to narrow, or even expand upon, the original idea as the process goes along, but I still have to start somewhere. I often start out using free idea mapping software like mind42.
  2. Map the plot line — You can use the same plotting method for short stories and novels, though you do need to remember that the rising action in a novel will be much longer. I like to use a plot line to get me started. By the time I’ve filled out the entire plot line, I’ve pretty much envisioned the entire story in my mind. For me, the process is like watching a favorite movie that I have complete creative control over. I’ve used James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure extensively for planning.
  3. Get started — At this point I feel comfortable enough to actually begin writing. I have an idea where the story is going, but the characters still sometimes do surprising things I hadn’t planned. It’s also the longest and, sometimes, most frustrating part of the process. As I write each scene I do my best to describe it entirely, putting in a lot more detail than it warrants. My reasoning is that it’s a lot easier for me to cut than to add. Along with writing the story, I also format its appearance. It’s easier to catch widows and orphans and know what the ending page count will be if you set up the formatting at the beginning.
  4. The 4 R’s — You’ve heard of the 3 R’s: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Let me introduce you to Reading, Re-working, Re-reading and Re-writing. If writing the first draft seems difficult, the editing process can feel impossible. I have a simple solution. I read through the first draft making only minor editorial marks for spelling, typos, punctuation and quick notes about parts that feel awkward. I don’t do a lot of editing the during the first read because I want to make sure the overall story flows. I then go back chapter by chapter and re-work anything that was awkward. Finally I give it a second, more thorough read, making longer notations about changes and additions that need to be made to give the story more depth. After I complete the needed changes I move on.
  5. Fresh eyes — This is a term I picked up working at NWMSU’s weekly newspaper, but it’s just as important in self-publishing. When you’ve finished the 4 R’s it’s time to let someone else read your work. The more eyes that read it, the more mistakes will be caught before you send it to the printer. I can’t stress this enough. Let an editor, your family, your friends, even the family dog read it. Okay, maybe not the dog, but you get my point.
  6. The 4 R’s — That’s right. Once you’re buddies have read it, it’s back to the computer to fix what they’ve found. But don’t despair. You’re almost finished.
  7. And print — Finally! All you need to do now is send it to the printer. I use Lulu.com, though I’ve heard a lot of good things about CreateSpace. Once your book is ready to upload to the POD of your choice, it’s just a matter of following their instructions.

Self-publishing can seem overwhelming at first, but if you follow these steps I think you’ll find your path just a little smoother on The Road to Writing.

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Okay, so I maybe putting the cart before the horse, but I believe in getting a head start when I can. I’m only about half finished with my second book (first draft!) and I’ve been considering cover art. Why? Because you only get about 8 seconds to entice a prospective reader to take the time to read the blurb about what’s inside the cover.

Well, as this post’s title indicates, I’m not an artist. (I can draw a mean stick figure, but that’s about as far as it gets. :D) I did design the cover for my first book using a photo from the drive-thru window of the Northwest Missouri Regional Credit Union where I work and Photoshop to create a rainbow. I also designed the text for the cover. However, being as it was a Bible study I felt the artwork was appropriate in its simplicity. With this second book being a fantasy, though, I thought maybe I should see if I could hire a real artist to design the cover.

I went to Lulu.com first because they “supposedly” have professionals who do cover designs. Here’s my problem: each Lulu sponsored designer stated that they would design my cover for a fee, but I would have to submit all the images I wanted to be incorporated in the cover. Huh? I have to give you the images? Isn’t that your job? That’s the whole reason I’m looking for a designer. I can’t draw to save my life (and forget asking my artist brother because cover art “ain’t his thing” :P) and I want a really great professional cover.

I’m still looking for a good artist with reasonable fees, but in the meantime I’m trying to find ways to use my Photoshop and the skills I learned at Rush Printing as a desktop publisher to create a cover I can be proud of. I guess you could say I’m looking for the shallows in want of a bridge on The Road to Writing.

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Hello, fine readers!  Just a short post to ask a question.  I’ve been reading that a few authors post first drafts of books as they write them and the first chapters of their books that have been published.  So, here’s my question: do you think posting first drafts and final first chapters is a good idea?

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We have the flu at our house, so this will be just a short post (and probably a bit scattered in its organization, so I apologize).  I hope to write more on the subject at a later date.  Perhaps by then I’ll have tried all the techniques suggested in the following links and will be able to give you a heads up on what’s worked best for me.

To begin, a lot of first time Independent Authors may think using a print ad will help sell their book.  Not so, says Morris Rosenthal.  Think about when you last purchased a book.  Did you buy it because you saw a great print ad that convinced you to buy it?  Not too likely.  You probably bought it either because you got a peek at what was inside or you heard a great review either by someone you know or another online customer (assuming you bought it somewhere like Amazon).

Going along with that is an article by Sam Henrie that gives tips on how to best market your book.  He says that authors shouldn’t focus on brick-and-mortar stores, but rather on online stores like Amazon and on online marketing.  At the very end of his article he states that every author should have a web site, which will help sell the books.  Some suggest publishing completely online.

On that, Morris Rosenthal says in his article “Book Marketing — Reasearch Competing Title Sales And How To Market Books Online”, “You can’t give the whole book away for free and not expect it to affect sales.”  I’ve been considering putting a chapter or two for potential readers on my web site (which I have yet to build :P).   We’ll see how that works for me.  According to Rosenthal, his sales jumped 200% when he put only the first three chapters of his book Start Your Own Computer Business: The Unembellished Guide on his site.

As for actual strategies on how to market a book online, I’ve discovered a wonderful free eBook called Plug Your Book by Steve Weber.  Weber says, “A single strategy won’t work, but a combined effort will produce results, and the effect will be cumulative.”  I plan on doing as he suggests and reading through the book entirely, then attacking each strategy in turn.  I’ll be keeping track of my progress on a calendar, as he also suggests, and plan on updating all of you as well.

Well, my “short post” wasn’t as short as I had planned, but sometimes that’s the way it goes on The (long) Road to Writing.

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