- The stupid guy who accidentally saves everyone. This guy is just the best. He’s not quite suave or functional, but he has an adroit way of being in just the right place at the right time, and saving the universe from certain doom. There is something immensely pleasing in an accidental hero.
- The unconscious ingenue. This is the girl who has become beautiful, and she hasn’t quite noticed it yet. She’s the late-bloomer; she figures out she’s pretty after the boys all chase her, but there’s a delicious space of time that occurs right after her transformation, when men pursue her, and she is quite unaware of the devastation she causes by rejecting them without any embarrassment.
- The voluble child. This is usually the part of a boy, (but Mary, in The Secret Garden, plays this part) and he is usually the loveliest character in the whole piece. Gavroche is this character, as is Moth from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labors Lost. The boy is willing to speak truth when no one else is, and shows up everyone’s folly. This is the kid who points to the Emperor and says that he’s totally in the buff.
- The secretly innocent whore. This is also a charming part. Eponine is this–the sexually experienced child. You have to write this carefully, so as not to create an offensively insensitive caricature of a woman, but the dichotomy of innocence and raw, ugly, unprotected experience is very real, and can be exceedingly poignant. The reader wants to jump through the page and rescue her.
- The well-meaning jerk. This is the guy with the heart of gold who has bad friends, or who has never really been parented well. He is often popular, but doesn’t think about the repercussions of his popularity on others. A nice, grounded woman generally wakes him up from his uncouthness. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is this guy. He makes a fantastic romantic hero, because he can change his ways so easily, and that kind of character transformation is deeply satisfying to the reader.
First, remember that RIGHT NOW is the only time you really have; even if you tell yourself that you will finish your book at a later date, you have no real way of knowing if that time will be as busy and stressful as life is right now. You aren’t there; you can’t predict what will happen in the future. All you have is right now.
Secondly, remember that you can only write (depending on how quickly you type) about three words right at once. Unless you’re a pecker-typer, then you can write one. The point is, pressuring yourself to write ALL THE WORDS at once is unrealistic, and literally impossible.
Now that you have remembered these two things (you only have NOW, and you can only write a few words NOW), take advantage of spare moments.
We all end up standing and waiting far more than we would like. Lines at appointments, being on hold on the phone, waiting in a meeting for the last person to arrive, or standing and waiting for your cab/bus/ride, when put all together, compose hundreds of minutes over the course of a week.
Take back this time. You would be absolutely shocked at how many words you can write when you only think about doing three or four words. Writer’s block generally only strikes authors who are thinking about the last page; think about not only this page, but this very paragraph, and even more than that, this very phrase, and the words will come to you.
Write on your phone. Write on a folded bit of paper you carry in your pocket (I’ve done this). Write in a small diary. Use the wasted bits of time in your life TODAY to write down only a FEW words at a time, and I promise that your novel will march to a satisfactory conclusion.
Then you can write your next book.
We all want to be seen; we want to be understood. To be seen, and to see in the eyes and thoughts of others a reflection of who we are, and of how we feel in our hearts, is a core need.
As readers look for a book to read, they are often looking for a reflection of themselves. They want to see, written down, a vivid picture of how they feel, and of what they want. They want you, as the author, to understand them, to empathize with them, and to cater to their interests and feelings.
This is why genre is important; genre allows readers to choose out a particular kind of emotional reading experience they want to have, and to not be forced to sort through millions of unclassified books to find what they need.
Genres, and the categories within genres, are exquisitely nuanced towards the readers’ needs. Excellent cover art is essential, because it conveys to the reader a clear sense of what, exactly, the book is going to do for them, emotionally.
To get at your reader’s hearts, and at their wallets, you must think of them as tender and honorable children. You must serve your readers the way you would serve good children, and make their experience of reading and enjoying the story as seamless and magical as possible. Imagine to yourself that you are arranging a cozy Christmas morning for two small children. Picture to yourself the details you would see to before you brought the kids in to see the tree, the presents, and the wonderful lights.
Be sentimental, and be real. The readers will know, and they will begin to feel about your stories the way small children feel towards Christmas morning. Emotion moves most purchasing decisions. Get at the readers’ emotions by being exactly the self-reflection that they want and need.
Everyone has some secret well of sorrow in their hearts; every person has some awful disappointment, some terrible hurt or wrong that sticks with them, and forms a permanent grounding against their enjoyment of life.
Too often, as writers, we try to stay away from real, internal pain. We want to write adventures, or we want to write something far away from what we have.
Grief, the true, deep wellspring of reality in our hearts, is like a fabric that ties us all together.
Access genuine grief within your characters, and you will find immediate access to your reader’s heart.
Harry Potter longs for his parents. Harry’s bittersweet and aching need for the stability and love of his mother and father form an exquisite backdrop to the entirety of the plot. Reading Harry Potter feels like home to so many people, because the series itself is based within an overwhelming desire for home. All humans can relate to this desire; the series has a very broad appeal.
Star Trek (original series) is openly founded on one very clearly delineated feeling; the desire to escape the known, grief-filled universe, and to find out, to explore, and to conquer new and not-yet-grief-saturated things. This, also, is a nearly universal emotional experience, and leads to a very broad and deep appeal. We long to escape the familiar (because so much of it is anchored with pain), and to gain something that exists nearly anywhere else.
The Lord of the Rings is a superior story to The Hobbit because the trilogy is formed primarily of deep grief experiences. The Hobbit is a light adventure; The Lord of the Rings is a chain of exquisitely rendered pain. Aragorn is a displaced and forgotten king; Frodo is left behind by Bilbo, and then outgrows the Shire; Sam is displaced by Smeagol, and by the Ring; Gandalf is faced with both the waning of magic, and far greater responsibility. The characters lose so much of what they wanted, and are changed in ways that make them partially incapable of enjoying what they have.
Writing in this way, with grief, has a cost to you, the author. It requires you to be fully present. It means that you have to engage the story seriously; you cannot afford to be frivolous, or treat your characters with disrespect. To write with grief, you must honor your characters’ pain.
Snape is one of the most satisfying characters in contemporary literature; he is composed almost entirely of disappointment and grief.
Study grief, and learn to write grief, and you will gain the innermost loyalty of your readers.
When you are writing a book, you form a montage of pictures in your mind, like reverse memories. You look forward to how things will be when your book is finished.
If you are worried about selling your book, and you’re afraid that no one will like the book, you might picture yourself anxiously examining the sales chart on your e-book retailer of choice, or staring obsessively at your inbox, if you’re chasing a traditional publisher.
The pictures you make now determine the success of your book later.
If you think of desperate pictures now, you are likely to write and design a book that appeals to the wrong market, because your subconscious is going to find a way to make that picture come true, and the way to get the picture of failure to manifest in reality is to write a bad novel.
- Hijack your brain. Make pictures of the kind of success you actually want. Imagine yourself getting that offer in the inbox of your email. Imagine yourself looking with pride and satisfaction at the massive spikes on your sales dashboard. When you create an expectation rooted in images and emotional experiences, your mind and soul will work to make those pictures come true.
- Stop talking to people who are afraid. Fear and doubt are infectious; other people who are negative will drown you in negative conjectures, and in doubt. Pretend that you have a weakened immune system, and that every negative thought you hear about is a germ. Now protect yourself!
- Follow your heart. I don’t mean by singing in the forest, and dancing with the small butterflies. I mean, listen to the very small voice that lives between your ventricles. Your heart, or your gut, or your emotional center, knows what is going to get you what you ultimately want. Do what your heart says. Sometimes you have a leak, and what your heart says is to fix up the leak, but skipping the foundation for success will not lead to success. Be patient; think of the long game. Ask yourself truly what your next step is, and then listen to your heart.
The magic formula for writing successful independent novels is as follows:
- Write within an established genre, preferably in a desirable niche.
- Write several books, preferably in a series.
- Have excellent interior formatting.
- Write a compelling blurb for each book.
- Have better covers than anyone in the history of writing.
- Release books steadily, and endlessly, if possible.
The biggest problem, for almost all authors everywhere, seems to be the part where they sit down and write a book.
I am stunned and appalled when I read people asking for advice on author forums; they say that they aren’t selling any books, and that they don’t know what to do. Then, later on, they reveal that they finished their first novel six months ago, and they’re thinking about starting a sequel next year.
To me, this is like opening a brick-and-mortar store, and offering one very lovingly-fashioned coffee cup. The coffee cup is white, and it sits in the middle of a table, in the center of the store. Imagine yourself, as the newbie-author, standing behind a cash register, and keeping your eyes fixed anxiously on the big window at the front of your store. You watch the people hurrying past, and you ask yourself, why? Why aren’t the people streaming into your store, and eagerly purchasing that single coffee cup on the table? You are prepared for the sale of the first cup, because you have endless iterations of the same cup stuffed into boxes in the back room.
You walk over to the coffee cup, and you polish it carefully. You move it from one corner of the table to the other. You turn it upside down. You call your mother, and ask her if she will please purchase your coffee cup.
Finally, in desperation, and feeling that the world has come to an absolute low of economic depravity, you pick up the lonely coffee cup, walk to the front door of your store, and begin to thrust the cup at strangers.
“Here!” you say, desperation and depression battling in your voice. “Take this wonderful coffee cup!” you practically shout, trying to put it into people’s hands.
People begin to edge away from you, and from your store. They glance at you with irritated eyes, and you slump down on the sidewalk, weeping gently.
Write more books, people.
So two years ago I did the National Novel Writing Month for the second time. (I didn’t do it last year, because I was already partway through writing a novel, and was writing more than 50k in a month.)
The first novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo was a charming fairy tale/soup kitchen crossover, which I am currently editing into a complete novel.
The second year, I wrote a 50k word saga about a woman who transformed into a dragon.
I really liked this dragon book, but it had a sort of hitch–the first half of the book had no magic, and the second half was all magic. I thought it was rough.
I shared the book with a friend, and he thought the world was amazing. He wanted to make a series out of the book.
After several long talks, and some frustration, I was able to tease out that the plot was a mixture of three stories; one was a fantasy series I’d been planning since I was a child, one was the actual dragon story I had written down, and the last was another idea that I’d started working on three years ago.
Somehow, during the heat and motion of NaNoWriMo, these three projects had melted together in my story.
It took some time, but I sorted out the different elements from each of the three worlds, and got them fixed down where they belonged. Now I have the original fantasy series well underway, and the three-year-old idea has been put into a series-long outline. I’m still planning out seven of the individual books, but I have the titles, and the basic shape of the overall plot.
That leaves me with the manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo, which I am saving for a rainy day. I think the dragon-woman story is great, but it needs some outlining, and I want to finish the first two series before I touch it; I feel as though, if I were to work on the dragon-woman series now, I would end up writing in many of the other fantasy elements again. Better to get them all nailed down in their own books, so they can’t go wandering around by themselves again.
I doubt I’ll use NaNoWriMo this year, because I’m on a much more rigorous schedule now, and I’ve got my books planned out for some time, but it was an amazing way to get started on writing, and I loved how my books twisted and turned throughout the month.
Here’s to your writing; may your plotting be clear and your typing (or handwriting) enjoyable!