Q&A with Mark Shamlian, author of The Legend of SqueezeboxSqueeze

Our next book of the week is The Legend of SqueezeboxSqueeze, which we published a few months ago. You can purchase it here in the Written Dreams store, and visit the author and illustrator, Mark Shamlian, at his website.

In this interview, Mark offers his insights on character design and what it’s like to be both an author and illustrator.

About The Legend of SqueezeboxSqueeze

Will Cheng Lee ever be the same after he’s taken on a wild, miraculous, earth-shaking adventure by the unlikeliest musical superhero?

Cheng Lee, former inventor, physics professor and one-time pioneer in quantum-mechanics owns an accordion shop in London, England where he works as an instrument repairman. His business is failing, his beloved wife has passed, and he may soon be evicted. Now old and broke, all seems futile for Cheng.

One morning a small package arrives, launching the shopkeeper on a crazy, magical journey. It’s not all easy, though, and Cheng faces some hard decisions. When a constable knocks on the shop’s door, his world turns upside down. He’ll need more than luck to get out of this precarious situation.

Along the way, Cheng, his apprentice, and a group of magical, musical cohorts learn the meaning of loyalty, faith, heroism, and the power of believing. But what will this new perspective do to Cheng Lee?

About Mark Shamlian

Mark Shamlian is a freelance illustrator, portrait painter and designer. He resides in a semi-rural area outside of Boston with his wife, Gina. With his debut novel, The Legend of SqueezeboxSqueeze, he combines his love for illustration, music, and writing. When not engaged in the creative process, he lives an unremarkable life, enriched by various hobbies, humans, and animals.

The Interview

Q: What was it like to illustrate the characters you wrote about? Difficult? Easy?

A: Some of the characters I fleshed out visually before writing the book. A couple of years prior to writing my book, I and two other partners, composer Andrea Green and Paul Green (based in London), worked on developing a children’s character-based platform for music education and entertainment. I created visuals of the characters and helped in the development of their personalities and stories.

I happened to have a dream in the midst of a flu episode. In this dream, some of the characters that we had developed, plus a number of new ones, appeared to me in a fairly vivid adventure. Over the course of the next couple of nights in a semi-awake, fever state, I filled in many of the gaps in the arc of the tale. 

The original shopkeeper in our Mr. Rogers-like education program was an old world Italian character. But in my dream, he was an elderly Chinese man with a background in physics. The accordion hero character in my book has superpower abilities. He can fly with the aid of his accordion/jetpack device. Other characters unique to the book are the old sage, Ling, the crotchety landlord/banker, Mr. Banks, the mob enforcer, Big Ernie Smalls, Archie’s parents, Chairman Hou, the courtroom characters, Eunice Tuttle, Shirley Dunnfor, Judge Higginbottom, Thaddeus Swaggert III, Lady Ima Werthaton, Count Avery Schilling, plus a host of other minor figures. 

It was fairly easy to illustrate the new characters as they were presented in vivid detail in my dreams and imagination. 

Q: Why set SqueezeboxSqueeze in England versus the United States?

A: In our related entertainment project, the music characters resided in a London music store. This was Paul’s idea, I believe (he is English). As my mother was British, I liked the idea and wanted to retain it in the book.

Q: Are you writing any sequels to The Legend of SqueezeboxSqueeze?

A: I have ideas for two sequels outlined. At this point, I would like to see if this tale goes anywhere. I genuinely think the characters should live on and I believe the world needs a musical superhero. Let’s see. 

Q: What do you do in your free time when not writing or illustrating?

A: These days, I freelance as a designer/illustrator. Although my education background was fine arts (MFA, painting, Boston University), I spent most of my life in the commercial design field: stores, museums, trade show exhibits, visitor centers, corporate events, displays, etc. It paid the bills. I rarely paint these days except for the interior and exterior of my house. I miss it. Other than that, I enjoy playing music. I’ve been in bands my whole life, mostly as a drummer. I was raised in a musical family and studied piano, trombone, oboe, flute, and percussion. 

Recently, I started playing again with some older guys like myself, and may be ready to go public again soon. No more bar gigs, though, which wrap up at 2am—that ship has sailed. 

Most of the time, I’m happy to hang out with my wife at our home in central Massachusetts, tending to our gardens, enjoying nature and the company of family and friends. Things are pretty low-key these days, which is fine. 

Q: Who is your favorite character and why in The Legend of SqueezeboxSqueeze?

A: It has to be the elderly humble shopkeeper, Cheng Lee. I think he has a great redemption story in SqueezeboxSqueeze. He also reminds me of my late father. My dad was a professional musician (London Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra) who was also a big-hearted, humble man. He reached the height of his profession from the depths of poverty. He never forgot his roots and gave back in the form of free lessons and instrument repair for young musicians of little means. I never heard him utter a negative word about anyone or say anything boastful. With his great talent and the looks of Cary Grant, he could have been excused for being a little arrogant. While in the London Symphony, a famous director at the time begged him to do a screen test. He refused. He just wanted to remain in the background as an orchestral musician. That was his passion.

Q: What advice would you give to other author-illustrators when creating their own books?

A: A lot of it is common sense. First, be very selective regarding which specific passages in a book to illustrate. These often tend to announce themselves, I believe. They may be pivotal points emotionally, unique points of action, or important junctures in plot development. Some scenes are just visually poetic and “ask” to be illustrated, at least in my experience. 

Be aware of maintaining a very consistent style in the overall body of illustrations.  I’ve found that the tendency is to hurry, which sometimes compromises the final results. By placing many illustrations together in close proximity, it’s easier to spot significant differences in style that need to be reconciled. Maybe these differences are in level of detail, line-weight, background treatment, etc. I would suggest from the outset, to have the “look” of your work be consistent. If you use a digital tablet (like me), remember which Photoshop pens you use from illustration to illustration. Remember percentages of grays in shadows and backgrounds if you are working in black and white. Keep a consistent (and limited) color palette when working in color. This will unify things. If you establish these details from the beginning, you won’t have to go back and rework pictures. At least, not as much. 

Also, remember, if you work digitally, to work in appropriate dpi resolution. That is, maintain around 300 dots per inch resolution for the final physical size of the illustration on the page. This is required by printers for a clean output when your book goes to print. 

Lastly, if you have repeated images of characters, make sure they are consistent in all views. You may have to draw a character from as many views as possible before you embark on series of illustrations. Try and really nail down who your characters are visually. It’s easier said than done, though. You don’t want the look of a character to evolve over the course of a book, unless it’s a shape-shifter. 

Interview with Flo Parfitt, author of Sara’s Sacrifice

This week’s book of the week is the newly-released Sara’s Sacrifice by Flo Parfitt! We are happy to present a short interview with Flo about her novel, which is available to order here.

About Sara’s Sacrifice

What would you sacrifice to have your voice heard?

For over 50 years, women sacrificed home, family, wealth and much more for the right to vote. Sara was one of the unsung heroes of the early 20th Century who sacrificed everything for her daughter’s voice.She paid the price for you to be heard today.

The Interview

Q: Women of many different countries and time periods have made great historical achievements–why did you choose the United States suffragette movement as your focus? What about that era draws you?

A: There have been several movies and documentaries featuring the suffragette movement in England and they are very good, but little is said about the women here. It is important that we understand the sacrifices of women here and know why it is imperative for our voices to be heard.

Q: Sara’s Sacrifice is not only about the suffragette movement, but about Sara’s personal life, too, as familial, romantic, and friendship drama helps shape the narrative. Why did you choose to include these other elements as strongly as you did?

A: Personally, I don’t believe that history tells the whole story. In school we read about wars and the men involved in politics. I believe true history is about the people and how those wars and events of history affected them personally. I particularly wanted to focus on women, those unsung heroes.

Q: Who are your personal women heroes and why? Did they play a part in Sara’s Sacrifice either literally or in your writing process, and if so, how?

A: My grandmother had to quit school at the age of 12 when her mother died. There were two younger brothers and a baby sister to be tended to and a farm to run. She wanted to be a teacher but never got the opportunity. She married a farmer who was seriously injured in a farm accident. They moved to the city where she took a job and was the primary breadwinner while raising a family at a time when women’s place was still at home. She was never political, but I always looked up to her. It was because of her that I developed a strong belief in the power of women in all walks of life.

Q: Sara’s Sacrifice is the first in a series–can you tell us a bit about what you have planned for your future novels, with Melissa and Ella?

A: I never intended to write Sara’s story. It wrote itself. Every time I sat at my computer, I just knew what would happen next. I lived Sara. I was Sara. In doing historical research, I ran across many things in the coming eras and of course that involved the “greatest generation.” This was my grandmother’s generation. It isn’t her story, although that would have been a good story in itself, but it was a story of survival and endurance. Who would better experience it than Sara’s daughter Ella?

So, Ella Endures will be my next release. Melissa who is Ella’s granddaughter brings back to life shades of my own life and involvement in the Civil rights cause, war protests, and the feminist movement. This is not my story, but it is an era I lived in. It is a composite of people I knew. Melissa’s March for me is personal. The march brings us to the corollaries of today’s world; the world we now live in.

Q: Where is your favorite place to write?

A: Depends on my mood. I will write anywhere but mostly I sit at my computer away from all distractions in my office. Not even a radio to distract me.

Q: What is your method for researching your novels, especially writing historical fiction?

A: My first resource is my computer (Google and Wikipedia), but I never trust just one resource. I double and sometimes triple check facts. I like going to the Wisconsin Historical Society site, as well as other historical sites, libraries, and museums. Often I will watch video documentaries and sometimes fictional movies of an era such as “Pearl Harbor” and “Saving Private Ryan” They for the most part follow facts but they also display the human emotion.

Q: What is your favorite genre to read, and who are some of your favorite authors or books?

A: I mix up my reading a lot. I love mysteries especially those with forensics or legalities. John Grisham fits the bill. I love historic novels and one of my favorites is Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. The most recent favorite book is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It reminds me of another similar book I loved: Educated by Tara Westover. I love some of the oldies, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and my all-time favorite was Heidi, my childhood gem that I still love today.

Q: Who is the support team for your writing? Family, friends, editors, writing group, etc.

A: I have no shortage of fans among family and friends. My biggest support team is a small group of writers calling themselves Authors and Allies. We critique each other’s work and can be brutal in a supportive way. The group offers suggestions and ideas and are all great friends and promoters of each other’s work,

Q: Do you have any advice for new or young authors, especially women?

A: Look for ideas no one has explored, or choose a different way to explore an old idea. There are a ton of books out there and it can be difficult for even the best writers to be recognized. If it is your passion and you are willing to make it a priority in your life, pursue it. If it is your hobby, enjoy it for what it is. For everyone, but women in particular, don’t give up too soon. I did. After three rejections I decided I was not good enough and gave it up. I realized many years later most of the famous authors today had twenty or thirty rejections before someone took them on. Embrace every rejection, it is one step closer to success.

Interview with Charles DuPuy, author of Say The Word

This week, we had the pleasure of interviewing Charles DuPuy about his new release, Say the Word. The novel is currently available to purchase here on the Written Dreams website. Come learn a little more about his heart-pounding, tear-jerking mystery as Charles shares his process with us!

About Say The Word

When physician assistant Jim Booker “saves” the life of a Mafia don’s son, the young man’s father makes him a solemn promise. Jim remembers it when he runs into an intolerable situation at Serenity, a substance abuse treatment facility in Maine.

The resulting consequences of the don’s actions threaten to land Jim in prison for the rest of his life. He struggles to come up with something, anything that will clear his name. He is helped along the way by Brianna, a counselor who works with Jim at Serenity. They join forces to try and get the tenacious state police detective off their backs, but they’ll face numerous obstacles along the way as Jim tries to prove his innocence.

The Interview

Q: What made you want to write a physician’s assistant type character for Say the Word?
A: I was a physician assistant in Maine for many years. I drew on my experience at a substance abuse treatment program for the background to Say the Word.

Q: What is your connection to Maine?
A: I moved to Maine after becoming a physician assistant in 1983. My first exposure to Maine was as a camp counselor while in college. I have hunted, fished, camped and hiked throughout the state, and enjoyed fishing for lobsters and digging clams. Maine is larger than all the other New England states put together, and it’s chock full of things to do and places to go.

Q: Any words of advice on how to cope for people who have dark demons like abuse or addiction in their lives?
It’s a waste of time and money to offer advice to people who are addicted to one or more substances. They need to reach the point in their lives where the only direction to go is up, and they’re willing to go in that direction. Without their willingness to change, any effort to help them is a waste of time, sad to say.

As for people who have suffered abuse, be it physical, sexual or psychological, a willingness to get past it is key. The most important thing they need to understand is that the abuse was not their fault. Many abused people blame themselves for what happened. That is what keeps them suffering.

Q: Why mystery? Did you find it, or did it find you?
I’ve always loved a good mystery, so writing them came naturally to me. Keeping my readers wondering what’s going to happen next is very satisfying to me. It’s the spark that keeps me writing.

Q: Words of advice to an aspiring young author?
Read everything that interests you, write daily in a diary or a journal, and explore everything in your world. Keep doing it until you know who you are and what you want to say. Then write, write, write until most of what you write satisfies you. Don’t expect everything you write to satisfy you. That’s why good writers edit and rewrite.

Q: Who do you enjoy reading?
I read to learn and to be entertained, so I read a wide range of stuff. Naturally, mysteries grab me the most. It’s likely that Edgar Allan Poe got me started, and Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway and William Golding caught my eye. Contemporary writers include Lee Child, Dan Brown, Stuart Woods, James W. Hall, Dean Koontz, and yes, Stephen King, a fellow-Mainer. I’m constantly on the lookout for new blood, pun intended!

Interview with Seth Vorhees, author of Immune: Rise of the Inflicted

Written Dreams’ book of the week is currently Immune by Seth Vorhees, since it is a fantastic read that will be available soon. You can pre-order Immune here, and we expect to release the novel within the next few weeks. Seth answered a few questions about his novel for us below, so if you’re looking for your next sci-fi fix, check it out!

About Immune

After a deadly virus infects the global population, it throws all of the world’s inhabitants into two classes: the inflicted and the immune. Wyatt Tuck, a member of the immune, finds himself inside a nightmarish onslaught of deadly feuds and riots. Losing his home and family brings him into the paths of other immune—his niece Layla, Easton, and coworker Mitch Burkly—and the opposing inflicted, such as Helen Olsen.
At Camp Belt, an internment camp for the immune, Helen is promoted to Commander. She makes a shocking discovery about the two warring classes and must rise to action. Will she choose to battle the rising forces created from the charred ash of the world’s dead society? Or does she dare hope to unite a darkened world so it can rise again into the light?

About Seth Voorhees

Seth Voorhees lives in the majestic Black Hills of South Dakota. He studied at Black Hills State University, with an emphasis in sociology and physiology. He’s worked in the mental health field for ten years, specializing in adolescents with co-occurring disorders. Besides writing, he enjoys fishing, reading, and studying history.

The Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Immune?
A: The inspiration is actually a complicated answer, since I have never been an author that gets one idea and goes off of it. My stories are typically always a combination of several smaller ideas. In the story, those who are blood type A+ are immune from the virus (A+ is mine, by the way). Years ago, during the rise of the swine flu, fear gripped the country. I went for a walk, and during the walk, I had a thought: What if everyone in town perished from the swine flu but me, and the reason was my blood type? This thought spurred into other ideas and plots, all of which fell to the wayside and did not make it into the book.

Years later, I wanted to write a zombie novel. However, I wanted it to be different than the rest (there are already a hundred different zombie stories, so I wanted it to be original). This was when The Walking Dead was at its hype, and thus it became an inspiration. During the process of writing Immune, I remembered that thought all those years ago about immunity being based on blood type. It’s a combination of these two ideas that created Immune. The majority of my stories follow this process.

Q: Writers use a lot of different types of major events in post-apocalyptic fiction. Why did you choose a virus to destroy the world?
A: Immune started based on the premise of the two groups: those affected and those not. I focused more on segregation and discrimination, and so the destroying the world factor came later as I continued to write the story. I have never been an “outline” person. It’s never clear what’s going to happen next, because I just write and let the story create itself. I find it more enjoyable for me that way, and I don’t believe I’d enjoy writing if I looked at it as a science experiment.

Q: Which character do you relate to the most in Immune?
A: The character I most relate to is Wyatt, since Wyatt is loosely based on me. This is evident by his career in the mental health field, since I have done the same for years. The other similarities are being a recovering alcoholic and living a life on a spiritual plane—this conflict of attempting to live on a spiritual path while immersed in chaos is a common element.

Q: Which authors do you read in your free time?
A: I read every day, and I have dozens. However, there are only a few authors that I have read multiple stories from them because of their writing style. Those are Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Paul Tremblay, Dean Koontz, and Jennifer Mcmahon.

The Truth About Writing Your First Novel

Writing takes a lot of determination, patience, and hard work. A lot of people who aren’t in the publishing industry don’t realize this, so if you want to be a professional writer, realize it’s going to take a lot of time. To begin with, you need to spend a lot of time reading. Reading about the craft, reading novels in the genre you want to write in, reading books that are outside of your target genre. Read everything!

Next, you’ll want to write a short outline to give you a map of the beginning, middle, and end of your story. For some people, it’s difficult to write a 20 page outline. The type of outline I suggest for new writers are much simpler for writing a novel. Here’s an example:

Chapter 1: write 2 sentences about the main action to take place in Chapter 1 and 1 sentence about which character will be introduced.

Chapter 2: write 2 sentences about the main action to take place in Chapter 2 and 1 sentence about which character will be introduced.

And so on until you get to Chapter 20, or the end. Some simple outlines might have up to 60 chapters. Ultimately, that’s up to you and your editor.

Next, after you’ve written this very brief outline–your novel path, if you will–write one of the scenes. It doesn’t have to be the scene from chapter 1. Write whatever comes to mind. Figuring out where the scenes go can come later, if need be. The point is to write. Write when you’re in different moods–happy, sad, angry, overwhelmed. All of these emotions need to get out and onto the page. Don’t be afraid.

You’ll want to decide which point of view you feel most comfortable writing in–1st person, 3rd person, or another viewpoint. If you don’t understand viewpoints, read what other successful writers say about writing in the viewpoints of their choosing. Then, make a decision.

Write every day for at least 1 hour, if you can. Write 100 words, 1000 words, or 10, 000 words–whatever your schedule allows for. Be consistent–writing at the same time every day, six days a week. Take 1 day off to rest and brainstorm.

If you’re writing a fiction novel, you’ll need to write between 60,000 -90,000 words. Don’t get discouraged if it takes 1 year or more to write your first novel. Writing takes time to do.

And the most important thing to remember, don’t revise now. Just write your first draft until you get it done. You’ll have lots of time to review and revise, add new chapters, new characters, and different plot twists later.

Good luck and happy writing!

Interview with The Adventures of Peter Gray author, Nathan Hopp

This week’s featured Written Dreams’ novel is The Adventures of Peter Gray by Nathan Hopp, which we published last year. You can purchase it here in our store or here in our e-store.

About The Adventures of Peter Gray

The cover of The Adventures of Peter Gray by Nathan Hopp.

The Adventures of Peter Gray follows a young orphaned wolf coming of age in the alleys of New York City. Peter’s mischievous, happy-go-lucky attitude gets him in trouble as he divides his time between running from bullies and annoying the local baker. When he meets James Lawton, a human boy, Peter discovers what true friendship can be. Together, Peter, James, and other Newsie friends venture on the city’s cobblestones. Soon Peter learns his Newsie friends are in a tough situation. As he watches how it unfolds for the Newsies, Peter realizes that something is missing in his life. He questions the happiness an adoptive family can bring him. Will he accept the circumstances placed in front of him, or will he keep running from the truth?

About Nathan

A Green Bay native, Nathan Hopp inherited his love for literature from his mother and for sci-fi/fantasy from his father. A graduate of Preble High School’s 2015 class, Nathan’s interest in books as a child grew into writing, eventually leading him to try his hand at short stories, vignettes, and longer pieces. Hopp is an English major at UW-Eau Claire and spends his free time running a book review blog, Reader’s Boulevard.

We had a chance to ask Nathan about his recent release. Enjoy!

The Interview

Q: The Adventures of Peter Gray’s protagonist, Peter, is an anthropomorphic wolf rather than just an ordinary human. What inspired this choice, or how did you get interested in creating characters like that?

A: Peter Gray did indeed start off as a regular human character at first, but I felt I wanted to give him more of a memorable appearance, and circumstances that made his story unique. I’d always been a fan of anthropomorphism in fiction due to the endless thematic possibilities, and when I pictured him as a wolf interacting with a human boy, I thought it sounded interesting to write out.

Q: Why is the theme of friendship so important to both you and the novel?

A: Growing up introverted, I often felt alone like Peter did during my school years, and took pride in the friendships I did manage to form. To me, you cannot function in this world without someone to talk to or speak to face-to-face, and in this divided, almost hostile world, I felt it was important to highlight that friendships can be so powerful, that they can transcend through prejudice.

Q: Why did you choose New York in the late 1800s as your setting? Were there any other settings you considered?

A: At first, I didn’t know what time period worked best to put Peter’s story in. I was tied between the 1880s and early 1900s, until I remembered the Disney movie “Newsies.” As I researched the event and the year it took place in, I couldn’t stop myself from seeing Peter Gray and Kid Blink working together during such a historic event.

Q: What has been your experience as a new young writer? What challenges have come your way?

A: As a young writer, there’s been amazement, but also quite a few trials, most of which involve marketing. I’ve learned that in order to become a successful writer, you have to push your work out and get readers engaged with what you’re writing. They won’t just magically find your books, so you need to get the word out!

Q: You’ve spoken before about your pride in being an author with autism. How has living with autism changed your experience as an author?

A: I’ve written a blog post about it, but the best way I can summarize it is that writing has helped me become a better conversationalist, and vice-versa. If I wanted to improve dialogue, storytelling and character, I needed to interact with people. And having autism has helped me acknowledge that entertainment is fluid, and everyone has different ways to express themselves.

Q: Do you like to write in a similar setting to this novel? Or else, what is your favorite setting to write in?

A: I have so many settings I’ve written in, some of which are Peter Gray’s fantasy settings, and other times they’re dystopian or futuristic space, but I can’t think of one specific setting that is my favorite. However, I can say that whenever I write a story set in the same universe of one of my works, it feels like returning to a familiar place and meeting old friends you haven’t talked to in a while. 

Q: What does your writing routine look like? Do classes impact this routine?

A: Due to my job and classes, I try to focus every chance I have on writing. Sometimes I cram it during breaks or between classes, but having a tight schedule can give me motivation to write. After all, I can edit it later. 

Q: Who are your favorite fictional characters?

A: That is a difficult choice. If I had to nitpick, I would have to choose Jay Gatsby from “The Great Gatsby”, Vito Corleone from “The Godfather”, and two comic book favorites: Batman and Deadpool. Explaining why would require paragraphs for each of them, so I won’t go into it now.

Interview with D.M. Herrmann, author of INNISFREE

The author of this week’s featured book, INNISFREE, is D.M. Herrmann. D.M. Herrmann is a retired soldier, having spent twenty years in the US Army. He has authored three fiction novels under the pseudonym Evan Michael Martin. He lives in Wisconsin.

We had a chance to ask him a few questions about INNISFREE this week–check it out, and remember that INNISFREE is now available for purchase at writtendreams.com! 🙂

Q: What motivated you to write INNISFREE?
A: I’ve always enjoyed post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories, and so I thought it would be fun to write one.

Q: Did you base John Henry off of anyone particular that you know?
A: No one in particular. Like many of my characters, he is a composite.

Q: How similar are John Henry’s military experiences to your own life experiences?
A: Pretty close. We both retired from the Army and moved back to WI. The location is near where I served as an Army recruiter, so the area and culture were a reflection of that.

Q: Have you ever visited a cabin in the woods, and if so, where did you go and what did you do?
A: My uncle owned one for many years in Northern Wisconsin, not far from where this story takes place. We went fishing and just enjoyed the fresh air. It was a rustic cabin in that it had no plumbing, and the cookstove was an old fashioned wood cook stove.

Thanks for sharing! We hope you enjoyed this mini-interview, and that you will also enjoy INNISFREE as well!

Learning your craft

Every author wants to improve their craft. Here’s a few tips on what to do.

Write a lot. Write on a schedule. Write different things, different forms, different stories. One editor used to say to set a goal of writing one short story a week. If you do that, at the end of the year you’ll have 52 short stories you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

If it’s early in your arc as a writer, by the end of the first year, none of those 52 stories are likely to sell, but during that year you will have learned a lot about the art and craft of writing. And probably learned a lot about yourself as a writer.

Keep with that schedule, and at the end of the second year, you’ll have written over one hundred stories. By this point, you may have produced a few stories that have a good chance of selling and learned more about writing than you’ll ever learn in any sort of writing program.

Read a lot. Read different genres, different formats, by different authors. If you write mystery, read romance. If you write humorous, read serious stories. Pick apart the story, analyze the characters, their actions, their emotions. Are they realistic?

And most of all, don’t stress the small stuff. Writing should be fun, fulfilling, and something you enjoy doing. If you’re struggling with a story, set it aside and start something new.

Creating Characters that Live and Breathe on the Page

Why do we need to describe our characters? Because we do not want them running around invisible and naked within the pages of our story. We need strong multi-dimensional characters that readers can empathize with. As humans, we are not one-sided stick people. It is our desire to create characters in our own image, so why not make them all diverse individuals.

 

Ways to create and build your characters:

  • Personality: Review their personality traits: what has influenced their personality? Cultural factors, psychological factors, biological or genetic factors, or environmental factors? How did they grow up? Giving characters specific personality traits will help build their backstory.

 

  • Appearance: Describe what they look like and the clothes they wear: what is a unique piece of clothing that is specific to them, but not to the to other characters? Do they wear a hat, specific jewelry, different shoes? This will make them look unique on the page.

 

  • Dialogue: Some dialogue phrases can be specific to only one character. Of course, you’ll have dialogue to move the plot forward, but certain phrases can be used to express character’s opinions and show how they respond to stress.

 

  • Dialogue Tags: A dialogue tag is a physical response used before or after dialogue. It helps show body language. This is very important in creating characters. It helps add emotion to the pages. A dialogue tag does not need to be used on every line of dialogue but layered in gently with body descriptions readers can see.

 

  • Thoughts: If sharing thoughts with readers, this is a way to show their innermost feelings without the characters sharing their true thoughts with the rest of the world. Are they scared? Lonely? Do they have to put on a mask every time they are with other characters. If so, why?

 

  • Flaws: No one is perfect, and characters aren’t either. What are some of their flaws? Physical, emotional, psychological. This is another way to help build backstory.

 

  • Motivation: What makes them tick? What is their passion?

 

Exercise: Think about someone you love. Now, think about their strengths and weaknesses, phrases they always say, ways they can make you laugh or cry. Now, write down 4 unique things about that person and be sure to include one of each of the following—personality trait, physical trait, dialogue phrase, and a dialogue tag.

 

Remember, strong characters can carry a strong plot. Strong characters can carry a weak plot, but weak characters cannot carry any plot.

 

Copyright (C) 2018 by Written Dreams, LLC.