authors, creativity, Editing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

7 keys to creating unforgettable characters

Along with making sure your book has all the element s of a great story, you also need to make sure your characters are interesting, consistent and an element of your book that draws readers in and keeps them interested. Good characters or poor ones will often determine whether your readers stay with you to the end of the journey or get off at the first stop. If readers lose interest in your characters, they usually lose interest in the story.

So how do you develop memorable characters? Here are some ideas to keep in mind as you write

Create a history for your main characters

The Davinci Code is one example of a book that has all the elements of good characters..

Past experiences help make us who we are and explain many of the decisions we make. So even if you don’t reveal everything about the lives of your characters in your story, it is still very helpful to write a biography to use as a guide for your writing. Identify key events in their lives and key people who influenced them. Answer questions like where did they live, where did they go to school and what jobs did they have. Who helped them along the way? Who hurt them? Knowing these things about your character will ensure you have them act consistently and help you understand what drives them. If you don’t understand a character, your readers won’t either.

Make sure your characters act consistently

Inconsistency in your characters will confuse your readers and make them lose interest. Once you develop a character in a certain way, readers are expecting that character to behave in accordance with his or her personality and motivations as you have revealed them. If that character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, your readers will notice. Be consistent in even the small things, such as hair color, to big things, like the character’s manner of speaking.

Avoid stereotypes

Shrek is not the stereotypical ogre, which is one of the reasons readers are drawn to him.

A good story surprises the reader and rewards them for reading. Sometimes that happens with a plot twist, but it can also happen with what I call a character twist. One of my favorite examples is the children’s book, Shrek. Even though Shrek is an ogre, he is actually kind and helpful. He is not the stereotypical ogre roaming the forest wreaking havoc in people’s lives.  Make sure there is something unexpected about your characters, but that it aligns with the biography you wrote for them and they act true to themselves throughout the story.

Develop secondary characters that are interesting  

Sidekicks can be some of the most likeable and interesting characters in the story. In some cases, readers can like them as much as the main characters.  They can help or hinder the main characters. They can provide comic relief or threats.  The key is to make sure they move the story along and not just there to take up space on the page. Here again, you may want to consider writing a biography of the character before writing he or she into the story.

Reveal your characters as the story unfolds

Often times, because we love our characters so much we want our readers to know everything about them right away.  So there is a temptation to tell the reader everything about our main character right at the start. We want to give a full physical description, tell the life story, and reveal the innermost thoughts of a character as soon as he or she is introduced. But that can create a very lopsided story and get bog down the reader in too many details.  Introduce your characters, but let your reader get to know them better as the story unfolds just like they would do in a relationship in real life. It will make your book much better.

Have an antagonist

Life has struggles and sometimes we don’t really learn who a person is until we see them in a conflict. In some cases, challenges can come from nature, but usually the most common and interesting struggles are with other people. Good versus evil is the oldest story line there is, but it still works. So make sure as you unfold what the main character is driving towards, it is clear who is creating resistance

Use all the senses

One of the ways you can keep a reader interested in your characters is engage all the senses as you reveal them. Sight is the most obvious sense to use because you can describe what the character looks like or what they are wearing, but don’t neglect the other senses of sound, taste, touch, and smell. Aroma can tell us something about a character. For example, you don’t need to tell the reader your character smokes. Instead, you could say the jacket he wore had a hint of cigarette smoke. It still conveys the idea that this person likely is a smoker, but it does it in a more interesting way.

Hopefully, you have found these suggestions helpful. If you have other keys you would like to share, please use the comment section to provide your tips.

Author Solutions, authors, Editing, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

4 different types of editing every aspiring author needs to understand.

There are no one-draft wonders in book publishing. Every book, including children’s books, can benefit from the keen eye and experience of an editor, but not all editing is the same. There are different types of editorial services based on the need of the manuscript. Understanding these differences can be very beneficial as you work with your editor to make your book as good as it can be.

Knowing the differences in editing services can help you make good decisions about what is needed to make your book even better.

Knowing the differences in editing services can help you make good decisions about what is needed to make your book even better.

In a previous post titled, Six tips for finding the right editor for your book, I outlined some ideas on how to find the best editor for your book, but in this post I want to identify and explain the different type of editing you might need for your book.


Copyediting, which is sometime also called line editing, applies a professional polish to a book. The editor reviews your work, fixing any errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Depending on the definition, copyediting may also include editing of syntax, word choice, tightening of sentences, and the application of style, such as The Chicago Manual of Style.

Some editors distinguish copyediting and line editing and consider them two separate edits. Copyediting is often the lighter, grammar-only edit, and line editing is a more detailed look at each sentence’s meaning.

Every book, including children’s books, can benefit from the keen eye and experience of an editor, but not all editing is the same.

Line Editing

Line editing is often used interchangeably with the term copyediting. However, when it is distinguished from copyediting, it refers to a unique edit that falls between copyediting and developmental editing.  With line editing, the editor looks at your book line by line and analyzes each sentence. The editor considers word choice and the power and meaning of a sentence. The editor considers syntax and whether a sentence needs to be trimmed or tightened.

Developmental Editing

The developmental editor looks deeply at the organization and strength of a book. The editor considers everything from pacing to characters, point of view, tense, plot, subplots, and dialogue. Weak links are exposed and questioned. The editor scrutinizes order, flow, and consistency. He or she asks questions such as: Is this the right number of chapters? Are the chapters and paragraphs in the right order? Are there any places in the book where the pacing lags? Is there a hole in the information or story presented? Are the characters likable? Developmental editing considers all the aspects of a manuscript that make the book more readable and enjoyable.


Proofreading is also often used interchangeably with copyediting. The goal is the same: find any mistakes related to grammar, spelling and punctuation. However, proofreading is usually performed on the final layout of the book to make sure it is error-free before it goes to print. Chances are most errors have already been caught in the earlier stages of editing, but this final check gives you one last time to make your book as good as it can be.

Author Solutions, authors, Editing, writing

Can outlining make your writing even better? Here are 3 methods to use and find out.

I have to admit I was not a fan of outlining and have heard multiple debates among writers about whether an outline is needed. Some see it as essential before they start the writing process. Others see it as too restrictive and something that limits creativity. I probably would have fallen more in the latter category, but over the last few years, I have come to really see the value of establishing an outline before writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing. 

Having a good outline is like having a good map. GPS on our phones has made maps old school, but not that long ago, having a map was critical before embarking on a journey. For me an outline simply serves as a map. It establishes where you are starting and what your final destination will be and some of the key milestones you will pass on your journey. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a slightly different route once you begin your journey or add a stop or two. It just simply gives you a path to follow as you write. Too often, first time authors, write to get down on paper the essence of what they want to say, but don’t make it easy for others to follow along. An outline can help avoid that problem.

Three options for you to create an outline.  Over the years, three different methods for outlining have become the predominant options for authors. There is no ranking of one, two and three. Rather, they present choices for you to find which method works best for you. The following list will touch on the basics of popular methods.

Classic Outline

This classic outline includes Roman numerals, letters, and numbers for headings and subheadings. It is the most highly organized form of outlining and relies heavily on sequential thinking. It is often uses most for nonfiction works. The goal of the classical outline is to create a blueprint that effectively divides main ideas and subordinating ones, while at the same time coordinating ideas into a cohesive whole. Most of us learned this method in school at some point

Summary Outline

In a summary outline, you start by sequentially listing plot events. Then write a short summary of each chapter. Clearly define goals for each chapter and discuss the characters, settings, and chapter timelines. This kind of outline is linear in nature. It can be used in conjunction with a classic outline to create an even more detailed blueprint for your book. It is also most often used for a fiction book.


This form of outlining is popular because it allows for constant reorganization of ideas. It is a great technique for when you

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

want to get all your ideas down and then begin to play with options for how the book or story could flow.  You can use index cards or sticky notes and write down all the key events or points you want to make. Then on a wall or table, begin to layout the order you want the ideas or events to appear. This method is really helpful if you are a visual person and need to see the flow. It also helps you see where you may have holes in the story or a weak transition.

Have you used a outline when you write? If so, what method? Have you found it helpful. Use the comment section to let me know what you think.

Author Solutions, Editing, self publishing, writing

4 great tips for first time writers

Once again, I am going to draw from the experience of Kathy Ide to encourage and educate. In this video clip, which is featured on The Author Learning Center, Kathy shares some important tips for those who have not published before. The interview is less than three minutes long and definitely worth watching if you are working on your first book.

Lots of great information to help you with writing, publishing and marketing.

Lots of great information to help you with writing, publishing and marketing.

The tips are best said by Kathy, but here are the key points she makes.

Passion for your idea needs to be your motivation. Once you start the work of writing, it can be easy to forget the passion you had for your idea at the start, but don’t. Remember what compelled you to want to write.

It is a long road from the idea to finished book. This is not a new idea, but it is good to be reminded of it.

Tenacity is needed to write and re-write. Like the tip before, this is a reminder that you need to stick with it to get to your goal and impact readers with your writing.

Don’t give up. Remember there are people out there who will want to read what you have to say.

Author Solutions, Editing, Indie book publishing, writing

5 helpful things aspiring writers can learn from our dog, Charlie

Eight years ago we brought a chocolate lab into our home who answers to the name of Charlie and I find him to be a most interesting and delightful animal. As I was observing him a few days ago, I realized there were a number of habits which he has that would actually be beneficial to writers.

Have a routine

Watching Charlie's routine is a a reminder of the habits writers need to develop to get to their goals.

Watching Charlie’s routine is a reminder of the habits writers need to develop to get to their goals.

One of the keys to accomplishing your goals is setting a time on the calendar to write and keeping it like an appointment. Charlie has times like that. Every morning, he expects me to take him out about the same time and feed him about the same time. I don’t know if we have trained him or he has actually conditioned us, but the most important thing is he is committed to the same activities each day at almost the same time without fail. Aspiring authors who try to fit in writing around their other activities almost never get to their goal.

Aspiring authors who try to fit in writing around their other activities almost never get to their goal.

Be naturally curious

We can walk the same path. We can sit in the same room. We can follow the same schedule, but Charlie will always take time to take in a new smell or find a new toy or pause to watch the actions of a child he does not recognize. Writers should do the same. Pause to take in new information and sense experiences because you never know how it might help your writing have greater depth and interest.

Be observant of the things around you

This is similar to being naturally curious, but one thing I have seen is Charlie always notices a sound or smell or animal or person that is different from what he normally sees. Writers would benefit from the same attention to observation. From those new sensations and inputs, you may find inspiration for a more robust description of a scene or an approach to dialogue or something else to improve your story or writing.

Find a favorite spot to write and you will be more productive.

Find a favorite spot to write and you will be more productive.

Find a favorite spot

I have written about this quite often. My personal experience and conversations with other writers have confirmed that where you write can impact what you write. Some people need complete quiet. Others need the stimulus of a public space. It really doesn’t matter where you write, as long as you know the place where you write best. As for Charlie, he has certain places, often where the sun is coming through the window, where he likes to hang out. Not sure how productive he is in those spots, because he tends to nap there, but the principle is the important thing to remember in this case.

It really doesn’t matter where you write, as long as you know the place where you write best.

Celebrate the accomplishment of the day

Writing and rewriting is a long journey with stops of self-doubt along the way so it is easy to give up, but don’t.  Learn to celebrate the accomplishments of the day. Even if you just write a couple of pages or change the dialogue in a scene, focus on that.  Charlie is happy if all he gets to do in a day is run and chase sticks. He gets excited by what he got done that day. Writers can learn from that.

So if you have been stuck or laid aside your manuscript, hopefully Charlie’s routine will inspire you to get back at it and accomplish your goal.

authors, Editing, Indie book publishing, iuniverse, Publishing, self publishing, writing

Lisa Genova: From self-published author to being thanked on Oscar night.

Still Alice book cover

Still Alice started as self-published book and look where it ended up.

If you have read this blog before, you know I have mentioned Lisa Genova in previous posts.  She is a gifted author in her own right, but her own story is amazing. Recently Kevin Gray wrote about her journey on the Archway Publishing blog. I thought it was a great summation of the path she has traveled from being a first-time, self-published author to having Oscar winner, Julianne Moore, thank Lisa in her acceptance speech. As I have said many times when I speak to writers groups and at publishing conferences; “changes in publishing doesn’t mean everyone will be successful, but it means everyone has the opportunity to be successful”.  I can think of no better example of what that can mean for authors, than Lisa. Enjoy.

Still Alice” author Lisa Genova is living a dream. The night before the 87th Academy Awards, she posted a picture on her Facebook page all smiles, standing next to an ebullient Julianne Moore at a party hosted by Sony Entertainment. It’s an unusual setting for a Harvard-educated neuroscientist, to be sure, but perhaps an equally unlikely place to find a self-published author.

Long before Hollywood parties, celebrity meet and greets or a seat at the Academy Awards; Genova queried publishing’s gatekeepers, seeking a publisher for her novel, “Still Alice.” Agents and publishers alike told the unknown author the audience for a book about Alzheimer’s disease was too small. One agent even cautioned Genova that self-publishing her story would “kill her career.”

Despite that warning, Genova took the plunge and the book in 2007.

Fueled by her dedication to researching dementia and other neurological disorders, Genova tirelessly spread the word about her newly self-published work. Her diligence, and a little bit of luck, resulted in hitting the jackpot: a review in one of America’s top newspapers – The Boston Globe.

Beverley Beckham’s expectations for “Still Alice” were meager, but Alice’s story captured her: “It had arrived in the mail a week before; I’d promised to take a look and that’s all I was doing – just looking–but I couldn’t put it down,” Beckham wrote in her May 16, 2008 review for the Globe. Beckham led her piece with a ringing endorsement: “After I read ‘Still Alice’ I wanted to stand up and tell a train full of strangers, ‘You have to get this book.’

This blog post first appeared in the Archway Publishing blog.

This blog post first appeared in the Archway Publishing blog.

Fast forward to early 2009 – shortly after Beckham’s piece – a literary agent took another look and agreed to shop the novel and several publishers expressed interest. Simon & Schuster, owner of Archway Publishing, came to terms with Genova to acquire “Still Alice,” and to rerelease it through its Pocket Books imprint. Upon its 2009 rerelease, the book debuted high on the New York Times Bestseller List, where it would stay for more than 40 weeks.

In the ensuing years, Genova’s released two more bestsellers: “Left Neglected” and “Love Anthony,” becoming to novels about neurological disorders what John Grisham’s become to legal thrillers. The rise of Lisa Genova and “Still Alice” from self-publishing to silver screen feature film is not typical. Luck was part of the winning equation, but Genova did so much more to advance her book.

  • She wrote about a specific topic about which she had vast knowledge and a deep personal passion.
  • Despite warnings that her book’s appeal was too narrow, she developed and filled previously unrealized niche.
  • She believed in her work, ignored negativity, and took the self-publishing plunge rather than letting her manuscript gather dust on the shelf.
  • She was relentless. She networked, she spread the word. She convinced a reviewer from a prestigious outlet to glance at her book.

First and foremost though, Genova wrote an exceptional book; a book that is bringing attention and changing perceptions about a devastating condition.

And anyone who reads it will never, ever forget Alice.

Author Solutions, Editing, Indie book publishing, iuniverse, Publishing, self publishing, writing

3 ways you can use your life experience to help write a great story

You have probably heard the old adage, “write what you know”.  That is great advice for any aspiring author. However, I think too many writers believe those words only apply to factual knowledge when they should actually serve as encouragement to draw on all your sensual experiences for writing. In other words, don’t neglect your remembrance of smells and touch and emotions and particular sounds and dialect. As a writer, you have a vast resource of experiences to draw from to make your writing as good as it can be. Here are three ways you can tap experiences from your past.

Draw from places you have been. Too many writers try to describe locations and scenes that they have never visited. That usually creates a flat or incorrect description of a setting. When you are establishing a scene, take the time to draw upon what you remember from a particular location with all your senses. Use that to bring the scene to life for the reader. Also, be careful if you are writing about a city or geography where you have never traveled. Making up a setting for a fantasy novel is fine, but I would not recommend describing a location from someone else’s description.

Use dialogue and physical description to convey emotion instead of telling the reader how the character feels. Too often first-time writers tell readers what a character is experiencing emotionally, which is not the best way to draw the reader into the life of the character. Writing in that way reads more like a newspaper than a novel. Instead, use dialogue to unveil what the character is feeling or thinking.

One of the best examples I know of personally is the book Still Alice written by Lisa Genova.  This book, which was first self-published by iUniverse, is now a Simon and Schuster title and a major motion picture starring Julianne Moore. The first time I heard Lisa talk about writing the book she explained that she had actually taken acting classes to develop her craft of writing dialogue. It definitely worked. The book, which takes you through the experience of a woman with early onset memory loss, masterfully draws you into what Alice is experiencing. I could not put it down.

…think about all the experiences of your life as a place to look for inspiration. Smells you remember as a child. Time spent with crazy relatives. Car rides with the family.

Visit your past to find things to use today.  When you think about writing, you should think about all the experiences of your life as a place to look for inspiration. Smells you remember as a child. Time spent with crazy relatives. Car rides with the family. Any or all of those may be resources you can draw from to make your writing more interesting.  One author who used her past as motivation for writing a whole book is Virginia Castleman. Virginia self-published her book Strays with Archway Publishing and then was picked up by Simon and Schuster.  In the video below, she talks about how drawing from her childhood challenges gave her the inspiration to write the book.