May 302017
 
4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems

by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller

Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name was……..

While most of you are busy guessing who this mystery writer is, let me tell you that the aforementioned lines are the start of my fantasy fiction book on writers (if I ever write one). The reason I call it fantasy fiction is because every established as well as aspiring writer knows that writing is not a piece of cake. One has to face lots of hardships, phases of self doubt, fear of failure and the proverbial ‘writer’s block’ to write a few pages, let alone a complete novel.

Though there are problems aplenty that plague an author’s mind, most writers have to deal with similar hurdles, and luckily, there are ways to cross these hurdles. Today, I am going to address 4 common problems of creative writing that cripple a writer’s mind and how they can be resolved by using unconventional tools. Before you roll your eyes and dismiss this piece as just another run of the mill article on writing advice, check out how writer’s can find solutions to their troubles in most unexpected ways:          

Problem 1: The idea well has dried up
Solution: Mind mapping – a Pandora’s box of ideas

Generally, a writer’s block can be classified into two types: one where you are unable to write what you are thinking and the other where you are stuck in a story with no idea of how to proceed further. If you are suffering from the latter case of writer’s block, then mind mapping might be the tool that could save you and your story.

Many times, a writer starts to write when he or she gets an exciting idea, but soon hits a roadblock when the idea well dries up. Every time I get stuck in my story, I use the technique of mind mapping, which is basically just allowing your mind to run wild with imagination.

For those who are unaware of mind mapping, it is an ideation technique where people start with the central idea and explore all its possibilities in the form of pictures, images, numbers, etc. All you need is a paper, a set of different colored pens and an open mind that will help you explore your central idea and connect it with other sub ideas through logical flow of thoughts. In short, mind mapping sparks creativity in the mind that is struck by a drought of ideas.

This is just a very basic example of mind mapping that I have used to show how one can explore different genres and plots through a one line central idea.  

Problem 2: Character depth is superficial   
Solution: Flashcards – get your characters’ traits and backstories on finger tips

Imagine this. After hours of doodling and brainstorming, a writer hits the keyboard as soon as he finds an exciting idea to write about. With hours of hard work over the next few days, the pages of his unfinished novel start to fill, but he finds that something is not quite right. After pondering over it, he concludes that his characters lack depth and their traits seem to overlap with one another. Every fiction writer has gone through this phase where they are dissatisfied with their one dimensional characters who are hampering the effect of storytelling.

I was recently re-introduced to the magic of flashcards. During my schooling years, I relied heavily on flashcards to memorize math formulas and develop my vocabulary. I have found flashcards to be extremely useful in developing living, breathing characters. Before I start the writing process, I assign a flashcard for each of my primary characters and make a note of their respective traits / backstories on other sides of flashcards. It helps me get under the skin of the character and understand the emotions behind the motives that drive their actions. There are many websites that can help you with creating flashcards. To give you an idea about how flashcards will work for characterization, here’s a screenshot of a flashcard that I created from Cram.com:

Front side:

Back side:

                           Image Courtesy: Cram  

Problem 3: Can’t put your thoughts into words
Solution: Thought Journal – a platform that lifts the pressure off your writing

As writers, we all strive for perfection. We want our writing to be on par with the best in the business. But, there are times when words fail us and no matter how much we try, those perfect words that create literary magic evade us. I have seen writers struggling to express their thoughts in words and I have experienced it first hand as well. When I thought about it, I felt that it is the pressure to deliver our best that hampers our efforts to put pen on paper. One simple way that I devised to lift the pressure off my writing is to start a thought journal. There are plenty of online spaces like Journalate.com where you can go and pour your thoughts in the form of words without the pressure of giving your best. Once you have written what you had in mind, you can always chop and change later, and create literary magic through a web of words. And the best thing about these online journals is that they keep your entries secret i.e. no one can view it other than you.     

Problem 4: Bitten by the procrastination bug
Solution: NaNoWriMo – Sometimes deadlines can inspire great work  

I have wanted to write this piece for way too long, but have been putting it off for a while now. I love writing and would be more than happy to share my techniques of overcoming writing trouble. Then what was stopping me? Ah yes! The curse of procrastination.

Nothing affects a writer’s work more than the procrastination bug. And one way to stop procrastinating is setting a deadline. It was only after I set a deadline of writing this article within this week that I was able to get on with my writing.

One of my friends introduced me to this great platform called NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month), which is a perfect cure for procrastination. By setting a deadline of one month to write a novel from scratch, NaNoWriMo inspires thousands of writers from across the world to shed procrastination and turn their ideas into books. One can form their own writing circle and inspire one another to write their book in a month. NaNoWriMo spreads the flow of infectious creative energy that is hard for any serious writer to discard.  

There are many more ways to resolve the writing problems listed above, but trying something new can be fun and exciting. So I request all the fellow writers to try a few of these tools, if not all, and let me know it they worked for you too. Let’s beat the demons that keep us from writing our masterpiece, fulfill our destinies and have fun while we are at it!

Ethan’s Bio

Ethan Miller is an online ESL tutor. Apart from his passion for teaching, he loves to write and is currently working on his first book. When he is not teaching or working on his book, Miller loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can follow Miller on Twitter and check out his blog.

 Posted by on May 30, 2017
May 162016
 

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like us, they’ve seen people brought back again and again, so why do they think this time is any different?

DeathWhen death means nothing, it has no power over the audience.  There’s less to fear for those characters we love so much.  Note I say less to fear, not nothing.  There truly are worse things than death, such as mental and emotional damage that one never gets over.  The point is that even physically invulnerable characters can be hurt in other ways, so we can’t say that there’s “nothing” for them to fear.

Still, when I see people beating the stuffing out of each other but being fine afterward, and this happens so many times, then I just shrug as the action sequence continues while waiting for it to end.  It’s funny how much effort is spent on these when they’re dramatically empty.

If you write books, I recommend avoiding this route.  When you kill someone, kill them.  Don’t bring them back unless it’s as undead or something else is really wrong with them now.

Or you can bring just one of them back.  Once you make a habit of it, death means nothing.

And when death means nothing, what’s the point of killing them in the first place?

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 Posted by on May 16, 2016
Sep 162015
 

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose).

Please note that I tried not to be snarky and mean but that this proved too difficult, so I just let it ride.  Sorry!

1. “He lives within his twisted imagination.”

“Twisted imagination” is like starting a story with “It was a dark and stormy night.” It’s not funny or original and tells me you’re trying too hard.  You’re also not telling me where you actually live or are from, which is a mistake. Such characterizations should be avoided altogether, regardless of what you’re describing.   On that note, you’re supposed to be describing yourself, not something else like your imagination and its supposed merits.

The fix: “He’s a fantasy author who grew up in X and now lives in Y with a wife, two sons, and a cat.”  Note that I’m not describing the cat as being somehow extraordinary, i.e, “a cat who likes to dress in maid’s outfits and imperiously demand love.”  That kind of junk is a sign of an amateur.

2. “His career started with hours of caffeine injections and Computer Game X.”

More trying too hard.  The injections part isn’t funny, original, or imaginative. Just be direct about playing a lot of computer games but only mention it if it has something to do with your writing, and draw the link between them.

Fix: “His career started with a love of role-playing computer games that inspired a desire to play all the characters, not just one, and craft the story, too, so he became a novelist.”

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3. “His book has been read by a handful of people and loved by each.”

The author is trying to be cute. I rolled my eyes.  If no one’s read your book, don’t tell me that, even to act like you’re making fun of your amateur status.  Besides, this tells me nothing about you.  Stick to the subject.

Fix: nix it.

4. “She has broken five bones and can dislocate her shoulders on purpose.”

Keep all details in your bio relevant, or basic info, unless it is truly interesting.  This is not (any fool can break a bone, or five). The shoulder dislocation is rarer but slightly gross and a rather distracting detail.  It would only be worth mentioning if it had something to do with the story being sold and your ability to tell it.  This doesn’t belong in a bio unless there’s an “interesting factoids” section, but even then, that’s only good for your website (beneath your actual bio), not anywhere else.

Fix: delete.

5. “He has two daughters who alternately imagine themselves as Crazy and Wordy Thing #1 Here, Crazy and Wordy Thing #2 Here, and Crazy and Wordy Thing #3 Here.”

Sigh. Maybe your daughters have a better imagination than you – or a better sense of what to put in their bios, like “My dad thinks he’s funny but isn’t.” Repeat after me: my bio is not the place to show that I think I have an imagination.  And don’t use purple prose anywhere.

Fix: delete.

Coda

There’s a piece of advice that I disagree with – that a bio is a great place to show personality.  It’s actually not.  Just tell us who you are without the bologna. If you can’t even do that, your writing probably isn’t much better.

So what’s my author bio look like? Well, the work-in-progress is right here. Note how I stick to the point (me) without trying to be cute, funny, or clever.  The details I have to reveal hopefully make me interesting, but even if not, at least I haven’t made a dork of myself.

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
 Posted by on September 16, 2015
Jul 092015
 

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here.

Biased Feedback

A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here:

A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, but she actually said almost nothing about my album, which she mostly used as an excuse to mock the whole genre, only 1 of 10 comments being about my disc. She went out of her way to be rude, even searching the web for an unflattering, informal picture of me in rehearsal to accompany the review instead of using the promo shot I’d sent, and then mocking the photo. All of this revealed her bias, which meant her opinion had little value due to lack of objectivity.

In another example, regarding a novel of mine, a trusted friend complained about the descriptions being too long. It really got on her nerves; she went on and on about it. Picking up on this, I asked if she didn’t like descriptions as a general rule, and she admitted this was true and that she generally skips right over those paragraphs. “Aha!” I thought. But still, she had a point, and I took a good look at my descriptions and shortened them. They were long. The point is that, despite her bias, she still had good feedback.

Try not to discount biased feedback altogether because those people sometimes have a good point anyway, but not always.

Not Your Target Audience

When feedback comes from someone other than your target audience, you need to consider how much of a point they have. My mother doesn’t listen to heavy metal and thinks some of my lyrics are mean, but they’re nothing like Slayer lyrics, for example. I take her opinion for what it’s worth – if I want people outside the genre to listen to those songs, maybe I should keep that in mind.

Another example is when someone doesn’t “get” your work. Usually, fault there lies with the creator, as it’s our job to help the audience understand, but the audience also needs to absorb what they experience. We have to figure out when we need to fix something or leave it alone.

For example, I recently submitted a fantasy story to a fantasy story contest, so the judges were the target audience. Or were they? The story was literary, too, meaning philosophical and not an adventure yarn, for example (many things in the story were actually representative of something, not literal). While fantasy fans can certainly process and enjoy such a story, these judges clearly couldn’t, based on their feedback, which suggested many changes that basically said to me, “We have no idea what this story is about”; if they did understand, they’d never have made those suggestions. The story was over their heads. They weren’t the target audience. My mistake wasn’t the story itself, but submitting it to that contest. A literary contest would’ve been better.

This didn’t mean that their feedback was useless, however. It helped me evaluate the content of the story and, by contrast, my simpler ones.

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Feedback that is Wrong

It’s tempting to think that all feedback that hurt your feelings is wrong, but that’s too convenient. However, sometimes people are actually wrong. Take this example:

Someone once told me my story had “a bunch of run on sentences”. A run on sentence is basically two sentences without the period in between. For example, “I’m hungry we ate” should be “I’m hungry. We ate.” Or “I’m hungry; we ate.” I haven’t written a run on sentence since grade school, and sure enough, not one run on sentence existed in the story (I checked). He was wrong, but was there something to learn from this?

Maybe. Many people improperly use words and phrases, like “run on sentence”. I thought, “Maybe he means some sentences are too long for him.” I looked and decided to shorten a few, though I’d never have considered them genuinely “long” (I can do a lot longer). Some readers are less sophisticated than others and can’t handle length or complexity even if those sentences are grammatically correct. Casting for a wider net, I simplified. I could’ve left them alone, but changing them didn’t hurt anything whereas leaving them might bother some people.

The point here is to not discard bad feedback but figure out what it can tell you.

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Feedback that Includes Suggested Solutions (Which Are Wrong)

Oftentimes, people notice a problem and suggest a solution that isn’t a good one. As the creator, you know your intent and they don’t, so their solution may not suit your goal.

Here’s a good example: a reader took an allegory of mine literally and wanted me to say where the story took place and what else was happening in the world. Well, it took place in a forest that represented the unknown. Changing it to be Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C., for example, would have stopped it from representing anything.

Sometimes a reader wants to know something, too and complains that you didn’t tell them, but that doesn’t mean you give it to them. Sometimes they aren’t supposed to know. Stories have cliffhangers or unknown resolutions at times, and lyrics are sometimes ambiguous so people can decide for themselves what they mean. Their “upset” is okay.

Resist caving in to pressure!

Feedback that Includes Assignment of Motive

People can really cross the line with feedback at times. Sometimes they’ll assign motives to you and then criticize you for having them (when you don’t). Either that or they’ll say you don’t care about some fundamental aspect of your artwork when you do. Generally, they smear your character in some way, often going for the ego. It should be largely ignored if it happens to you. And you may want to not only stop asking for feedback from them, but reconsider your relationship.

I see this most often with reviews by strangers, where you’d think they’d be more professional and avoid personal comments, but nowadays many amateurs blog about their opinion and don’t rise above this.

An example is something like, “Ellefson’s trying to be the fastest guitarist in the world but should keep his ego in check, because he’s not.” Or “Ellefson wants to be the next J. R. R. Tolkien.” Each assertion is fabricated (I care about neither). So is, “These lyrics aren’t good because you doesn’t care about writing them.”

People shouldn’t be theorizing about your motivations or personal characteristics. It’s unprofessional for some and just obnoxious for anyone.

Sometimes they’ll make up the circumstances in which your artwork was created without knowing what actually happened, then criticize you for that invented situation. For example, “Ellefson played all the instruments on the album (he’s obviously a control freak).” In that case, they don’t know the real reason(s), or care.

This kind of feedback is painful and trying to ignore it altogether can be difficult. It’s tempting to think about it, but there’s little reason to because there’s nothing to gain, no insight hidden in the meanness, and no change to make. If that person had anything valuable to say, they would’ve done it without the attitude. Whatever glimmer of usefulness might be found in there is not worth the pain of examination.

Coda

Regardless of what kind of feedback you receive, always remember that everyone’s got an opinion and no one is necessarily “right”. This is one reason to get as many opinions as you can from a wide variety of people. It helps keep everything – good and bad – in perspective.

And don’t let it stop you from doing what you love!

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
 Posted by on July 9, 2015
Jul 092015
 

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples.

Defining Helpful Feedback

First we should define what useful feedback is and looks like.  Generally it is specific enough that we can take action to correct it (assuming it’s on target).  By contrast, vague feedback leaves us unsure what someone meant or how to address the issue.

Bad FeedbackBetter Feedback
I don’t like character JohnJohn is mean to other characters. If he’s trying to be funny, I was just put off instead.
I don’t like these lyricsThese lyrics are negative and depressing, but I otherwise liked the song. Maybe you can write about a more positive subject than addiction.
I didn’t like story endingThe story ends abruptly and I felt it was a letdown after the big build up. Maybe you can make that scene longer?
It doesn’t sound goodThe music is good but the mix is muddy and it’s a “wall of sound” where the texture never thins out before getting fuller again later. That’s fatiguing on my ears.
This isn’t written wellSome of the sentences seem a little long and hard to follow. Other times it felt stilted.

The “best feedback” improves on “better feedback” above by actually citing sentences, or in music, giving a timestamp (“at 1:03 it sounds out of tune”).

Constructive Feedback

This has been explained pretty well here (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_constructive_feedback) so I’ll just quote this. “Constructive feedback is letting people know in a helpful way how they are doing, and how their performance is being perceived. Constructive feedback can be positive (letting someone know they’re doing well), negative (letting people know about ways in which they could do better), or neutral (just an objective observation or analysis). “There are two main elements that make feedback (particularly negative feedback) constructive.

  1. The content of the feedback: Constructive feedback is specific, behavior or issue-focused (rather than a value judgment about the individual), based on what is observable (rather than assuming anything about the person’s attitude or motivation), and includes some specific direction on how to make improvements if some are needed.
  2. Most important, how the feedback is delivered. To be constructive, feedback should not be delivered in a manner that provokes resentment, resistance, defensiveness, hurt feelings, shame or a sense of failure. It means not backing the person into a corner with attacks. Honest doesn’t mean tactless. This is where emotional intelligence really makes a difference.”
Destructive Feedback

This is the easiest to give and get.  “That sucks”, “this is stupid”, and “I hate that” are basics.  It usually lack specifics, offers no suggestions for how something can be improved, and uses rude words or ones with negative connotations.  It is often meant to hurt the other person and can include unwarranted, personal attacks.  The recipient usually feels defensive.

Feedback That Doesn’t Tell You Anything

Whether they mean well or not, sometimes people give useless feedback, often because it’s completely lacking in specifics. It depends on who you ask, as a fellow author is more likely to think about the things you do and give better feedback, for example.  You might have to ask for details but still not get anything useful.  It comes with the territory.  Some people won’t care.  Some can’t articulate what they mean.  And some don’t want to hurt your feelings.

To me, the worst thing is vague criticism that makes you second guess yourself and also be unable to fix the problem.  And then you might publish/release it, warts and all, because no one told you what others might be thinking.  It’s like letting your friend go out in public wearing something that makes them look ridiculous. I suspect people are afraid of the “kill the messenger” thing, expecting you to be upset with them for negative comments, so they keep their own neck off the chopping block.

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Types of Feedback
Mechanics

This is the easiest feedback to get, and most people can give meaningful help.  For authors, this includes grammar, spelling, and punctuation; college grads are more likely to help with grammar.  For musicians, it includes execution, meaning whether the performance is in time and on tune.

Substance

For authors, this includes plot points, theme, and overall feel of a story or its meaning.  For musicians, this means the feel and character of a song, lyrics or the band and what it stands for.  Whether things make sense applies to both. This sort of feedback is more interpretive.  This is an area where people are more likely to give non-specific feedback, such as “I like it.”  People who aren’t in your field (non-authors or musicians) often feel they aren’t qualified to comment on this and won’t, even admitting to this when asked.  I’ve heard some guitarists tell me that they can’t play half as well as me so who are they to criticize?  They’re still a listener of music (and of that genre) and can give this sort of feedback, so I don’t agree with that.

Part 2

Part 2 includes sections on biased feedback, when feedback is not from your target audience, wrong feedback, and feedback that includes bad suggestions or assigns motives to you.

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
 Posted by on July 9, 2015
May 212015
 

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been rejected, just that opening material, but lately I’ve done some research that turns up some interesting info about this that I thought to share.

Imbalance of Power

To submit a novel, it must be completely written and edited. This can take a year, easy, depending on you and your life. And yet an agent will reject a book in 5-10 seconds, based on the opening paragraph and even first sentence. Or less, if they decide they’re tired of lead characters described as an “average girl,” for example, and your query says this. It’s hardly “fair.” A year of blood, sweat, and tears, and they give 10 seconds. That’s an imbalance of power.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Mindset

I’ve recently listened to over a dozen webinars from agents and published authors, even publishers, all admitting ruefully/reluctantly, that they do indeed look for a reason to reject you. Why? Just to get through their “slush pile.”

And it’s no wonder. One agent said many agents receive between 15,000-30,000 queries a year! That’s 40-80 a day. I guess if they give most of us 1 minute, they can be done in an hour. That mindset is basically negative. And I think it’s the opposite of how the rest of the world thinks when picking up a book. They’re optimistic, looking to give something a chance.

Agents are overexposed through sheer volume and I think it’s understandable that they draw a hard line, but is that good for anyone, including them?

The time it takes to craft a good query and summary, which are only for them, is significant, and I personally don’t like spending that time given this mindset.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Truly Exceptional

Agents say that your book can’t be just good, or even great, but must be “truly exceptional,” or something similar, to even get read, agented, or sold to publisher. Well, what does that mean?

And if a regular reader starts evaluating a book in a store or on Amazon and thinks it’s great, do they actually say to themselves, “Well, this is great, but I was looking for truly exceptional, so I’m not buying this!”

Agents readily admit that books that go on to be bestsellers are rejected all the time. Maybe this has something to do with how apt they are to reject one?

One agent said it’s well known in the traditional publishing industry that 7% of books account for something like 87% of sales, which means the vast majority of those books (93%) don’t sell – when agents and publishers, but not readers, thought they were “truly exceptional.” What does it mean when the agents and publishers are basically wrong 93% of the time? Is there a correlation between their mindset when reading queries (how little time they give one, for example) and this result? I wish I had a job where I got it wrong that often and still got paid.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Art of World Building Banner

 

Rejections

No one likes a rejection, or even no response at all, but what bothers me most about this is that you never know why (out of my hundreds, I literally have one reason given to me). The ignorance causes second guessing. Was it the query? The summary? Opening chapter? And which part of all of this? Main character not compelling enough, fast enough? Didn’t like an opening sentence? Premise no good? Hook not hooky enough? You were in a bad mood? It was Tuesday?

What if the query and summary were “truly exceptional” but something about the opening pages wasn’t, and, not knowing this, I leave the pages alone but change the query or summary – for the worse? Counterproductive, to say the least.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Loss of Rights

There’s always been a risk with traditional publishers that you lose all sorts of rights, including choosing your title, cover, and even having major rewrites forced on you. In the past, authors gave this up partly because they had no choice, but this isn’t true today when self-publishing is an option.

Another risk is that your book is summarily dropped, possibly within a month of publication, if it doesn’t perform well. So much effort by the author can result in very little support from a publisher. On the other hand, a self-published book is out there as long as you want it to be. And you control everything.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

The Burden of Proof, er, Promotion

A major reason to go with a traditional publisher is the marketing they’ll do for you, when this is a field they know all about and you probably don’t. Well, publishers increasingly expect authors to do most if not all of that themselves. This eliminates much of their appeal. Self-promotion is something all authors must/should do anyway, but I always thought I’d be supplementing their efforts, not replacing them.

If I’m to go it alone, I’d rather know that in advance and step up my efforts, having that in my plan for self-publishing.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

The Shrinking Advances

Another reason to go with a traditional publisher is that much-desired advance, but from what I’ve read these are so small nowadays as to be no enticement, really, especially if you have a decent day job. Sure, some get lucky, but the odds aren’t in anyone’s favor. An advance isn’t likely to change anything significant and this is no longer a draw of publishers, if it ever was.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Epilogue

It increasingly seems like traditional publishers and agents aren’t offering much that authors can’t do themselves and without fruitless effort, losing rights, or taking risks. I was initially surprised by some what I’ve learned this year and wrote about here, but their positions make sense for them.

But not for some authors.

Even as the lure of traditional publishers fades, self-publishing continues to lose its stigma and be a more attractive option. We don’t have to spend precious time on queries and the whole agent business, and I find it more rewarding to research my industry instead, becoming more able to proactively manage my burgeoning career. The freedom to do what I want – and when – is a grand thing. And I now have the luxury of knowing for certain that every book I write will get published, get full support from my publisher (me), and be around forever!

+ a billion for me

If you have tips or comments, feel free to add them below or email me.

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
May 012015
 

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues:

  1. Not knowing what you want to write; i.e., you don’t have an idea (“idea block”)
  2. Knowing what you want to write but being unable to (an actual “writing block”)

Writer’s block and idea block have different solutions and causes.

Idea Block

Sometimes “writer’s block” is really an issue of having nothing to say, not that you can’t find the words to say it.  What appears to be a writing issue is an idea one.  If you don’t have an idea, you have nothing to articulate, which is why you may find words hard to come by.

If you don’t have an idea, I recommend not sitting down in front of a blank screen, which many find intimidating.  It’s arguably better to brainstorm and let your mind wander, and if the blank screen inhibits that, walk away.  If you’re okay with the blank screen, then having a file of story ideas or notes – as opposed to the momentous manuscript file – takes the pressure off and lets you write stuff that doesn’t have to work, or where the actual writing is irrelevant because it won’t appear in the story.

Other times, we have some ideas but just not enough of them, or they aren’t thought out enough and we don’t realize it until trying to articulate them.  Again what appears to be a problem with words is really an idea issue.

Sometimes we’re indecisive about what should happen in the story, from whether to include or mention something like back story, or whether a character will/would do something or not.  Other times, we have several ideas for what should happen and can’t decide which one to pursue.  These are characterization, story structure, or plotting issues.  If you can’t decide, you can’t write it.  Recognize that these are the real issues and make a decision about what should happen and why.

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Writing Block

To me, real writer’s block is when you know what you want to say but are struggling with the actual words to do it. No matter how you try, phrases don’t seem to work together, everything is awkward, or the lines you write just don’t inspire you.

Not being in the mood can cause it, as can fussing over wording too much and wanting to get it perfect the first time.  Common wisdom suggests just blurting it out and getting it “on paper”, then improving the writing later.

Grammar can actually be a cause, too, if your sentences are not really fitting together or you are using misplaced modifiers, for example.  It pays to be a student of English and have this aspect of writing firmly under control so you can focus on what your words convey.

If you know how something (a person, or room) in your story looks but can’t decide how to write it, or even if you should include it now, that’s also writer’s block.  One solution is experience, whether gained via writing or learning more about the craft of storytelling.  For example, most consider it a mistake to start your story with description.  If you understand why and why not, you can make faster decisions and not get stuck, or “blocked” by indecision.

Sometimes you really just don’t “have it” and need to come back later.  For this, I sometimes practice writing opening sentences to stories or scenes in my head, where they are easily discarded.

Epilogue

Understanding the difference between idea block and writer’s block can help you overcome whichever one is causing your lack of progress. Sometimes people beat themselves up over writer’s block, telling themselves they aren’t a good writer, when that isn’t even the issue, so be nice to yourself and just figure out what the problem really is, then solve it.

Happy writing!

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
May 012015
 

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, but they don’t have answer for that. It begs the question – if they don’t know why I would want it, why are they amazed I don’t? Stuff like that makes me feel sarcastic, and one day I improvised this rant about it (and thought it was funny at the time), so I decided to share my sarcastic answer, which goes like this…

Why would I want that?  What am I supposed to, drive twenty minutes to the nearest one, find it there, and gaze lovingly at it, and then drive home?  Is this what you’re imagining:

English: Pringles chips (sour cream and onion ...

Pringles chips (sour cream and onion flavor) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I excitedly drive to the book store and find my book on a shelf.  It’s easy to find, what with the golden glow emanating from its cover, bathing my face in holy light.  With a gasp of delight, I reach for it with trembling hand, eyes wide in anticipation.  My fingers close around the binding, a thrilling jolt startling me.  I pull the book to me and lovingly gaze at the cover.  I open it, the crisp pages emitting a crinkling sound like the most delicious of Pringles.  Now I’m hungry, but the rapture I feel fills the void of dark despair that has long dogged me, and I no longer experience mortal pains.  I pull the tome to my chest, embracing it wholeheartedly.

And with a smile, I begin to spin, and spin, and spin, gazing up at the ceiling as if I can see the crystal clear sky right through it, for in truth, my eyes no longer see the physical world, enraptured as I am by divinity.  I just keep spinning – even long after I lose my balance and stumble into the bookshelf.  It teeters, totters, and then with a mighty crash, it falls backward, dumping book after heavy book onto the poor schleps on the other side.  It strikes the book case behind it and it, too, topples over, crushing and maiming still more people.  The bookcases, they fall like dominoes around the room, smashing the hopes and dreams of anyone in their path, leaving a ruin of broken and battered humanity in their wake.

And all the while, I continue to spin, unmindful of the destruction I have wrought, seeing nothing of the pools of deep red blood collecting around my twirling feet, or the frantic attempts to lift the weight off victims, or distraught bystanders.  The angry accusations of witnesses pass me by unnoticed.  The screams and groans of the victims I hear not, for only the heavenly singing of angels can reach me now.

Even the sirens of the ambulances, police, and firefighters with their Jaws of Life, cannot pierce the rapture enveloping me.  The cameras from local TV reporters capture the bizarre sight of a blissfully spinning author in the midst of carnage so awful that even the rescuers are overcome with despair.  Weeping abounds.  Many will need counseling and suffer PTSD for long, terrible years.  But not me.

Even when the police Taser me, hit me with a stun gun, and crush my limbs with batons, I twirl onward, until at last I am tackled to the bloody floor.  They pump me full of thorazine and attempt to put me in a straightjacket, for they have determined that I have indeed gone mad.  Yet they cannot pry my glowing book from my clutches to bind me.

I’m carted off to the psych ward, where I spend my days in continuous rapture, unmindful that I regularly soil myself, have bed sores, and haven’t once noticed the sponge baths and inappropriate contact from my caregivers.  The other patients see my starry gaze day after day and implore the nurses to let them have the same drugs they’ve given me, to no avail.

The nurses say, “Oh no dear, he’s on no medication.  He’s been like this ever since he found his book on a bookstore shelf.  He’ll likely stay this way until he dies.  His mind, heart, and soul have already left.”

Finally the day comes when I have wasted away, but even then, they cannot pry the book from my cold, dead hands, forcing them to bury me with it.  They close the casket at my funeral, for no one can stand the creepy grin I still wear.  Finally I am lowered into the ground, six feet under, and there I lay for all eternity, the maggots, bugs, and rats crawling all over my decomposing flesh, the golden glow of my novel bathing us all in eerie light.

You’d think I’d never seen the damn thing before.

Art of World Building Banner

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
Feb 212015
 

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online

As Adventurer

Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions?

History

How many adventures has he gone on?  Veteran?  Newbie?  What has he learned from doing it before?

Training

Has he been trained in any special techniques?  By who?  Did he finish that training or skip out for some reason?  Will that come back to haunt him?

As (Knight for Example)

Relevant Skills

Deeds/Specific Accomplishments

Did he rescue anyone?  Free a village?  Kill an evil wizard?  End/start a battle or war?  Find treasure?  Recover something valuable (and did he keep it or return it?)?

Trips & Missions

What missions has he done and how did they go (disaster, success, lots of friends died, welcomed as hero after)?  Was he paid for them?  Hired?  A volunteer?  Who went with him?  Who didn’t return?  Was that his fault?

Equipment

Magical Items

What does he have and how did he come by them?  Did he steal, buy, or find them?  Were they a gift?  Are they weapons, armor, or something else?

Weapons

Armor

Clothing

Include formal clothing.  What quality and condition is his clothing?  How old/new?

Accessories

Steeds

Does he have a horse, dragon, or another steed he has bonded with? Describe it here.

Combat

Training

Where did he receive his training and from whom?  What kind was it?  What weapons or defenses?  Does he employ these?  Has he mastered what he was taught or does he get rusty?

On Steeds

What can he ride and how well?  This means in battle or otherwise fighting.

Special Attacks & Defenses

Is there anything unique about his fighting?

Formal

Tournaments & Contests

Does he compete?  How well does he do?  Is he a champion?  Perpetual loser?

Challenges & Duels

Has he ever been in a duel?  To the death?  What happened to the other person?  What led to it?

The Supernatural

Magic

Can he perform magic?  How well? How did he learn?  Was their schooling or a mentor?  How well does he control this?

Relations with Magic Users

How does he get along with those who do magic?  Is he jealous?  Fearful?  Trusting?

Places

Does this character avoid supernatural places or become curious?  Where has he visited or plan to?  Why?

Public Places and Occasions

Does he join in or keep to himself?  What about during a festival?

Adventurers’ Quarters

Where does he prefer to stay when traveling, and why?

Epilogue

Hopefully this extensive template will give you some ideas for filling out your characters.

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
Feb 212015
 

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF.

Personal Life

General History

Family & Upbringing

This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, reputation), and family jobs (is there a family business?).  More is below under “Relationships”.

Schooling

How far did they get and what did they study?  What kind of student (honor roll, flunking stuff, misfit, class clown, skipping classes, a drop out)?  Did they continue beyond mandatory schooling (like college) and why?  Did they know what they wanted or stumble into it?  Are they in debt from school?

Languages

What does he speak, read, write, and understand?  At what skill level does he have his native language and others?  What does he think of it when someone speaks another language around him (irritated?)?

Skills & Abilities

General

Is he good at anything and does that skill have value, or is it useless?  How long has he been good at it?  How did he learn (natural or taught)?  Does he know he’s good at it?  Is he glad or wish he wasn’t?  Did it make people jealous?  If so, how did he deal with that?

Profession

What does he do or hope to do?  Is he doing something other than what he wants?  How did he end up doing this?  Is he happy, indifferent, or upset about it?  How well does he do it?  Is there a difference between how well he thinks he does and others think?

Special

List anything special, unique, or unusual here, including things like disabilities or rare talents and abilities.

Limitations

Does he know his limits?  How did/will he find out?  What are they?

Art of World Building Banner

Relationships

Friends

Does he have friends?  How many?  For how long?  Do they truly know him or is he a loner despite the appearance of having friends?  Is there anything they don’t know?  Anything he wishes they knew or didn’t know?  Can he count on them?  Has he ever turned to them in despair and if so, how did they react?  Is he too damaged/hurt to trust anyone?

Enemies

Does he create enemies?  Why?  Do some people hate him and it’s not his fault (jealousy, for example)?  Has he defeated any enemies?  Does he fear them?  Do they fear him?  Will he ultimately destroy them or they him?  What is his fate on this?

Lovers

Is he married?  Divorced?  Living with someone?  At what age did he lose his virginity?  Has he experienced sexual trauma (rape, molestation) as victim or perpetrator, and how has this affected him?  Is he promiscuous?  Has he ever used a prostitute (would he?)?  What is his reputation?  Is he a great/bad/selfish lover?  Does he break hearts or get his broken?  Does he typically end it or get dumped?

Children

Does he have any children?  Does he know that?  How old?  Gender?  Problems with them?  Does he get along with them and their other parent and family?

Family

What impact have they had on him?  How many parents and siblings?  Alive or dead?

Relations with the Species

If there are other species, how does he get along with them?

Humans
Elves
Dwarves
Dragons
Ogres
Hobbits

Relations with Armed Forces

Do you knights, local guards, or other armed forces?  If so, does admire them or dislike them?  Has he had run-ins with any?  Has he been in jail?  A wanted man?

Local Guards
Knights

Part 3 focuses more on building a fantasy character, though it may apply to anyone who goes on “adventures”.

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
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