Saturday, March 31, 2018

How I Create Characters

I was asked what the number one source is for my character inspiration ... and I realized it's kind of a cool process for me that I want to share with you guys.
I've never really thought about what inspires character creation in particular until that question came up. That's when I realized that it always starts with a setting. Always! A setting or a "what if" often strikes me first and the main characters always pop into my head after that. Faces, genders, their roles in the story ... a few basics like that. There are just given people that apparently have to accompany my ideas. 

I honestly have no idea how creating characters works for most people? But very rarely do I have to intentionally sit down and create a character because I have a huge hole. (Exception: Hayes Delaney in Behind the Act.)

It's really kind of neat to me that my brain associates the mood of a setting with a potential storyline. I think it's from there that the main character is born because their goals and arc have to fit the mood of the plot for there to be an actual plot ... When a main character's arc is a struggle, that's when I know the story really isn't ready to be written.

If you think about it, that odd spontaneous process is really rather cool. We judge people by their appearances all the time even though we shouldn't. Their mannerisms, attire, voice, smell ... everything points you to picturing them one way (sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly). I guess what my brain does is exactly the opposite of that for creating characters.

I take mostly mental notes on people I see around me for reference ... but when a particular idea captures my mind, I generate a character that seems to fit based on my experience. Try as I might (I've found from personal experience), it's almost impossible to tweak the "rough draft" of that character if you will. I develop them, sure, but I get stuck on their hair color, personality, etc. pretty quickly. Changing those details just seems unnatural! At least for the main characters.

Of course, I don't generate thirty characters when I see a castle postcard. All my other little side characters appear once I've planned the story some and begin writing. Sometimes I can envision them beforehand? But not usually. I wouldn't say they all write themselves per se, but some do!

So when people compliment me on my characters, I don't really know what to say. I do work on making sure they're unique (not too cookie cutter), distinct from one another, and important to the story. But other than that? Everything kind of just happens and gets revised ... Not that it isn't hard work; it  just seems like half the work is automatic.

At least that's the way it worked for Martin Hospitality, Andora's Folly, and Behind the Act. I really, really need it to happen that way for Martin Crossroads when I begin writing it again April 1st. I think the lack of new characters in it, since it's a sequel, has been one of my major roadblocks.

I know what I'll be working on until I begin writing it again tomorrow. ;)

And in light of characters and it being Easter weekend and everything ... can we just take a moment to appreciate God's creativity in making people and how amazing it is that He died to save his world of protagonists-turned-antagonists? I mean ... wouldn't you die to save your characters even if they made bad choices? Even your villains?
Am I super crazy? How does your brain generate characters? Have an amazing Easter weekend and I'll see you in April!

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Perks of Google Docs

My last post was on why hire an editor. When I edit, I've found that my favorite program to use is Google Docs. The good news is that while it's my editing tool extraordinaire, there are ways it can be beneficial for the writer as well!
In order to use Google Docs, all you have to have is a Google account since it's a Google app. For me, that came with signing up for a Gmail account since it's also under Google.

I don't even remember how I first stumbled upon Google Docs ... maybe through a friend using it. But it is the most helpful thing ever. It's basically just Google's version of Word, but it has several features that set it apart in my mind.
In days gone by I'd write all my ideas and then the draft of the manuscript itself in Word (not that I was finishing drafts in those days). So I have dozens of fragmented drafts saved to my computer. When I started writing in Google Docs, I wrote chapters in individual docs. I'm not sure why that seemed less extravagant than doing it that way in Word, but I really like having things separate for my early drafts.

Since I share my first draft with at least one friend, I love that I can just click share and input their email. Sending an email is basically the function, but because it's in-house, I know I'm not going to forget or put it off. No attachments they have to download or anything ... just opening up my shared file in Google Docs.

Though I'm only sending my writing to people I trust, accidents happen. I can prevent accidents through Google Docs. When I share a file, I can choose the person's level access: editing, suggesting, or view only. I always give people suggesting access. That way any changes they make display as suggestions instead of actually changing the document. So if they bump a wrong key or a cat walks on the keyboard the integrity of the document is not at stake.

Those comments and suggestions are the best part. Suggestions you just accept or decline and the change is implemented or dismissed. Comments are just that--little comment boxes with messages and input or what have you. If this is sounding similar to Word's track changes feature, it is. But the main difference is Google Docs is interactive, meaning I don't have to wait to share a Word attachment and wait to get it back completely edited. I get emails as people leave comments and I can open the doc and interact with the comments which will then generate them an email. That kind of interaction really keeps the process moving much faster and smoother as I share my drafts with alpha and beta readers. And it's so much fun to have a dozen people interacting with each other about your book ... it kind of becomes a virtual book club.
You can probably see why this is my preferred method as an editor.

Again, getting answers to my questions and uncertainties in the middle of editing is so much more useful than having to shoot clients email after email to hear back on preferences and such. Google Docs keeps all correspondence in-house and thus saves time. It's pretty useless for me to suggest all these minor changes if they're going to be irrelevant in the end. In Google Docs, I find things like that out sooner rather than later and can fine tune my editing to the client as I go.

I also feel like I get to know people better when I use Google Docs. Again, because the interaction is simpler, I get a lot more of it when people decide to use Google Docs with me. They'll explain themselves, discuss plot holes, clarify things ... all of which help me do my job better.

Using Google Docs also means I'm often given more time on a manuscript because the client can get to work editing on the beginning even as I'm still working on the middle or end. Letting the stages of receiving and applying the edit overlap condenses the timeline overall, but also takes some pressure off me if I need to take a little longer. I waste less time even if I take a day off because the client has access.

So in the end, I vastly prefer Google Docs even though Word's track changes is the only other thing I've tried. It's the next best thing to marking a hard copy with a red pen.
Honestly whether writing or editing, I can only think of a few downsides.

Most people don't write in Google Docs, so to be able to use it they're often copying things over and I think there are some minor things like emdashes and such that don't always copy correctly? To me that's a fairly minor con considering all the pros as I'll catch that kind of thing in an edit.

Also, Google Docs requires internet. This is rarely an issue for me, but it's a little easier to be handicapped for that reason. This also means that when I'm editing a manuscript that's a single file, it can take a minute or so for it to load the entire thing.  (This is one reason I share my manuscript as a file per chapter.) It's worth it, though, because it's more searchable as a single document.

That's literally all the negativity I can think of! Have you tried Google Docs?
Yes, I am aware that this post is two days late. My week exploded (and I had a manuscript to finish in Google Docs), so there ya go. :P What programs and apps do you use for writing and editing? Do you like Google Docs?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why Hire an Editor

I've been thinking more about indie books of late. And I've been having more people give me book recommendations with a disclaimer: it needs to be edited ... but the story's really good! So how important is it to hire a professional editor before you publish your book?
It's non-optional! I know indie authors don't get an editor as part of a publishing contract. And I know indie authors also have a tight budget for each book. There are some things you can do yourself,  but I always hire out cover design (because the cover has to be good to sell), interior formatting (because I haven't learned it yet), and editing. If I'm telling you that as a freelance editor ... then you should I know I mean business. ;)

The reason I always always hire an editor is because she's. not. me. That's basically what it comes down to! I want someone who's gifted with editing and can read my final draft so that I feel confidant that it's had a final polish.

One danger of self-editing is that inconsistencies can be created while trying to solve problems. It could be as simple as misspelling someone's name or as important as using the wrong name and confusing your readers. But let's establish right now--there is no such thing as an insignificant error. Errors are errors and they lessen the quality of your book! That's why I want eyes I trust (I use Kelsey Bryant). Honestly the task I give her is really just a final proofread, which some people charge less for.

For the other things like getting feedback on character development, pacing, confusing sentences, plot holes ... I use alpha and beta readers. I have a pool of six people I use for alpha reading, depending on who's available and who would be interested in my particular story. This is for a critique on the first draft. For betas I usually open up a form and take about 15 friends to read through a later draft that I can then ready for Kelsey.

This is invaluable and where the bulk of my editing comes in. But I'm not comfortable just having online friends read it, because most of them are readers and writers, not editors. There is a difference, and it shows in a final manuscript. And again, I need one person to give it a last read through.

Why don't I do it myself? 1) Because I'm really done with the book by this point xD I've edited and re-edited and I really don't have the time or energy to read all the way through it. 2) Being my own work, I'm going to read it the way I mean for it to come off, not necessarily the way it will come off to other people--readers. So there's that.

I think the main reason people don't hire editors is because, unlike me, they'd rather spend the time than the money. I totally understand that! And this post is not saying that every published book without a professional edit is bad. Yet I would say that there is a noticeable difference, at least to me as an editor. If your readers can see that difference, your book isn't going to do as well.

So the struggle of finding a cheap editor! If someone's offering you a comprehensive edit for free, you should be wary because they deserve compensation for the hard work that editing is! Yes, you get to read a book. But editing is so much more than that.

Thankfully, there are quite a few writers who also offer editing services for less. To be completely honest here, I'm not sure every one of them should. It seems like a popular thing to do, and I can't imagine that all of them are actually skilled editors. But I digress ... :P

Do not pay $2,000 to have your novel edited. There comes a point where I don't think it is worth your money. But instead of throwing up your hands and deciding to do it yourself, see if you can find a relatively inexpensive editor who will do the job well.

Hiring someone is scary. But the easiest way to avoid paying a bad egg is to hire off the recommendations of friends. That's how I found Kelsey, and I'll be using her to the end of my days, I expect.

And yes, I'm an editor, and the cheapest one I know ... but this is not a post just to promote what I do (although I'd love to have you). It's a post to promote the importance of editors because they're really quite cool and underrated.
OK, so now I'm curious!! Do you hire an editor before you publish? Who do you use? Do you offer beta reading or editing services? Definitely feel free to drop links!

Also, this has nothing to do with editing xD ... but I have some super cute magnetic bookmarks available in my Etsy shop now!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sage by Jamie Foley

What better way to christen my blog into its second year than by sharing a book review? This is something a few of you asked for more of on the blog survey. Plus, this is such a great book!

Ancient elementals awaken, fracturing a dying world to its core.

Teravyn Aetherswift returns to the land of the living, but everything seems unfamiliar… including her little brother. Zekk offers help, but can an alluring Lynx be trusted?

Sorvashti finally has everything she ever wanted, so the last thing she wants to do is run after traitors. But she won’t leave Jet’s side—unless the horrifying truth about his mother tears them apart.

Darien is sick of being used and lied to. But if he stands up for what’s right, he’ll pay the price with his life… or the lives of those he loves.

It's available for purchase here:
Never ever has the third book in a trilogy been my favorite. EVER. They're always too political for me and so busy tying up all the loose threads that they're not quite as interesting. But this one?? It honestly makes the whole series even more worth reading.

(You can find my reviews to the prequel Viper, first book Sentinel, and the second book Arbiter by clicking on the titles.)

Quite honestly this book was written very tightly--that is super professionally. I didn't have a whole lot to do as her final editor. Plus, Jamie has a way with words. Such precision and word pictures. She's the queen of plot twists and family ties and amazing connections. Everything's so tight-knit and well thought through, I just love it!!

If you haven't been introduced to the world of Alani yet, you really are missing out. This YA dystopian series introduces a unique flare with its elements and inherent power that is strengthened by the presence of the creator inside. (The biblical parallels, you guys! o_o) There are more shippable couples than you can imagine and so. much. action.

The character development also gets a 10/10 for me! The arcs of characters that are somewhat immature at the beginning come so far and it's really so beautiful!

I hope that was a somewhat coherent review because really I'm just in awe of Jamie and so proud to 
call her my first writer friend and mentor! This book (and entire series) receives a full 5 stars from me! :) You can read my Goodreads review from several months back here.
Jamie Foley loves strategy games, home-grown berries, and Texas winters. She’s terrified of plot holes and red wasps.

Her husband is her manly cowboy astronaut muse. They live between Austin, TX and their family cattle ranch, where their hyperactive spawnling and wolfpack can run free.

Find her here:
What blog tour is complete without a giveaway?! :D

Enter to win a digital $10 Amazon gift card (3 winners) by signing up for Jamie’s newsletter via this form.
Why on earth have you not read this series yet?? o.O I don't consider the general style or plot my cup of tea and I still can't put them down!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Why Linkups Are a Good Idea (Vlog Challenge #8)

I left myself only a few days to spare, but I finally filmed my video for the eighth Very Awesome Vlog Challenge that Ivy Rose hosts. I'm so glad these are back!

Before I link to my video, let's talk about link-ups.

Ivy's video challenge is link-up, which means she has something embedded in her blog so that people who decide to participate in an event (in this case, record a video answering preset questions) can add their link simply by clicking.

I've yet to create my own link-up anything, but they're a fantastic idea! Beyond just encouraging someone to leave a comment on a blog post or interact on social media, the person behind the idea of the link-up has created a specific interactive project that requires the person to actually engage in order to participate.

Of course, you can't force someone to participate. But link-ups are a great way to highlight other people, get to know one another better, and try new things. All without having to leave home or spend money! Plus, you're not committed to coming back, even though most link-ups have recurring editions.

You should definitely try out Ivy Rose's link-up because vlogs are also really really fun. (And she asks great questions.)

(and yes, I was supposed to say "bye" at the end, but I hit stop too soon :P)
What are some fun link-ups you've seen or have participated in? I'd like to do one twice a year maybe, but I have yet to find the perfect idea. Maybe I should do the next signature challenge as a linkup? I'd love to hear your suggestions!!

Also!! Speaking of involved, fun things, all the way through the end of March you can submit questions to a whole group of authors (including me) in this blog post. We'll answer them in April! :)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why We Don't (or Shouldn't) Outgrow Junior Fiction

I've started to read more junior fiction again, and I've been really pleasantly surprised. Even though it's often marketed for children 12 and under, it's a safer bet that I'll enjoy a JF book than almost any other of late.

When reflecting upon some of my favorite books of last year and thinking about starting a book club for 9 to 12-year-olds, I realized just how great junior fiction is. We should never ever be too old for it! It often grapples with big issues but retains an innocence because of the childlike POV that comes with young characters.

Some JF books I've enjoyed are The Mysterious Benedict Society, Navigating Early, Listening for Lions, The Great Good Summer, A Series of Unfortunate Events (#1-13), and probably two dozen others I'm forgetting. All of these have been more recent gems for me (like, within the last two years), except for Unfortunate Events. I grew up on those. ;)

Even though it still makes perfect sense to write with a target audience in mind (in this case, children 12 and under), I think one mark of a truly good book is its ability to be enjoyed by all ages. This is one reason series like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia are so popular.

I've been shocked, honestly, at how good JF is. I'm sure there are bad eggs as with all genres. And sometimes it doesn't quite seem like it would actually suit such a young child. They're just so true, though. That's why we don't outgrow junior fiction. I think Jesus had a pretty good point in Matthew 18 when He told His disciples to have faith like a child. There's something that we lose as adults. The innocence, blissful ignorance, lack of self-consciousness, and the simplicity of life. It's a perspective that we can't quite get back.

Except by reading junior fiction, as I have discovered. ;) That's why we shouldn't outgrow it.

The neat thing is, they're not fluffy books. All of the ones I mentioned above are so good because they're children dealing with really difficult adult things. But they're still children! So their very approach, despite how much the circumstances force them to grow up, is so very different than anything other books can offer.

And it's beautiful.
What junior fiction books have you enjoyed? Do you still read JF?