The Character Interview: Getting to know your characters

It is important to get to know your characters BEFORE you begin writing your novel. The more familiar you are with them, the better you will be able to bring them to life.

One method of developing your character is to do a character interview. You ask your character questions and answer back as if you are that character. This gives you a chance to explore some of their background from their point of view.

It is really a fun exercise. You can pretend to be the police interviewing your bad guy, a therapist interviewing a patient, interview them for a magazine – as if they are a celebrity or maybe about one of their hobbies.  It is a technique with lots of room to play and adapt to your specific needs.

Using this type of free flowing encounter can help you generate a lot of information about the character in a short period of time.

I have always done this exercise being both the interviewer and interviewee. But you can always have someone else ask you questions, and you respond as if you are that character. This means your word choice, manner, and attitude must be as if you really were that character. You should think like they do, speak like they do, be that character.

One of the benefits of having someone else involved is you are not stymied by playing both roles. Plus different minds think differently, and you are likely to get totally different material that you wouldn’t come up with on your own.

That said, I still have done this exercise most often by myself. Since I wrote a trilogy, I actually only did it for the first book, Summoned. The key is to ask open-ended questions so your character has to elaborate beyond a simple “yes” or “no.”  So instead of asking, “Were you scared when you were kidnapped?” ask “What was going through your head at the moment you were grabbed?”

And I would certainly stay away from the mundane questions about how tall someone is or what their favorite food is. The first one you should already know and the second most likely will not help you in developing your plot or improving the scenes in your novel.

Try to concentrate on questions that will benefit you and help you write the story. There are countless websites that give you list of questions to ask, but I say aim for 10 to 12 quality questions. Stick with questions that ask the what, why, how and who f your character. You are looking for your character’s goals and motivations. (For some good questions to get you started, check out this website.)

Sample questions might include: What is your goal? Why is that your goal? Why can’t you reach your goal? What’s stopping you? What is it that you have never told anyone else?

The character interview can help you get to know your characters on a new level. With it, you can create original, fresh, new characters. And by knowing them better, you can more completely write about them. But the important thing is to have fun with it.

Publish your novels in a boxed set

box setIf you have written a trilogy or series of novels – even if they are only in ebook form – you might consider offering them as a box set. The convenience of a box set is that your reader can get a collection of your short stories or trilogy together, usually at a discounted price. Last week, I released The Elemental trilogy as a box set. While putting it together, I learned a few things that I thought I would pass along.

Pricing

Readers are going to expect some sort of price discount if they buy a box set. But the price you set for your book – and your box set – is of course a personal one. Here are a few things I noted when looking into offering a box set.

Short Stories – often I saw three or four boxed together, and the price was equivalent to getting one free. So four short stories that sell for 99 cents each would be bundled together and sold for $2.99.

Series/Trilogy – Here is where I saw the biggest range of pricing. You would see three books offered for anywhere from $4.99 to $7.99 when the books separately cost about $2.99 or $3.99. I even saw an eight book series offered for $9.99 – that’s only $1.25 a book! I am sure readers would find that a great deal.

Each of my novels sells for $2.99 individually. I decided to go with $5.99 for the set which is almost a $3 savings for readers.

Cover Art

box set optionI would say that most authors had artwork that looked like a box set – sort of 3D looking such as mine above – where you have a front and then see the spines of the other books. Or if you have a four book set, you could lay them out like the set by Kristen James on the right.

Smashwords would not accept a 3D image so had to create this one to be in their Premier catalog

Smashwords would not accept a 3D image so had to create this one to be in their Premier catalog

By looking at the sample chapters on Amazon, I noted about half of the authors include the individual book covers as part of the e-book. I choose to do this for mine. After the box set title page and table of contents, you see the cover for Summoned and then its title page and other front matter just as if you had bought the book individually. When Summoned ends, you have the cover for Quietus and its title page and front matter and of course the same when you reach Destiny.

Book Description

Again, here I saw different things – anywhere from a simple list of the books included in the box set to a complete description of each book. I think you need to include the book descriptions here as readers may not know anything about the stories in the set.

Now with Smashwords you only get 400 characters for the short description (you get 4000 characters on the long description) so you will either only be able to list the books or need to come up with a one or two sentence blurb for the whole trilogy or a short sales pitch if you are combining unrelated short stories.

Formatting

One thing I think is essential in a box set is that you need to have a table of contents. You want to make it easy for your readers to get to the second book without having to scroll through the first if they have already read that book. I would say about half the books I looked at included a clickable table of contents.

Here is how my box set goes.

Box set title page

Table of Contents – the three books and About the Author

Book 1 cover

Book 1 title page/copyright/dedication

Book 1 content

Book 2 cover

Book 2 title page/copyright

Book2 content

Book 3 cover

Book 3 title page/copyright

Book 3 content

About the Author

If you like adding table of contents for each of your novels, you could add one after the title page for each novel.

Overall, I think offering a box set provides a great option for your readers even if you only decide to knock off a little off the price verses offering the books individually.

“Can we have a dog, mom, please?”

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Bella at 8 weeks

It was early in January almost three years ago when we decided to adopt a cute black puppy whom we named Bella. Our dog Mandy had died two years before – right after Christmas, and we had been talking about getting a puppy in the summer. Our neighbor rescues dogs and one of them had a litter of puppies and well, you know how hard it is to resist cute little puppies.

My daughter was two months shy of her second birthday when we adopted Bella, and several people said we were crazy for taking in a puppy and planning to tackle potty training all at the same time, but we didn’t listen to them. We had already fallen in love with Bella.

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Bella at 11 months old

Bella was a mutt. He mother was about 40 pounds, and we think she may have had some black lab in her. Bella was a good puppy, and the kids loved her. She did normal puppy things such as trying to chew on their toys, and of course, she got big very fast which meant that in her excitable puppy antics, it was easy to accidently knock down Lexi. Our three cats were certainly not thrilled with our new addition.

An allergy test in October would change everything. Lexi turned out to be severely allergic to both cats and dogs. It was a tough decision to get rid of all our beloved pets but a necessary one for Lexi’s health. (If you don’t believe me check out her photo on my post about getting rid of the pets.)

Now it has been two years since we found a new home for Bella. She went to a nice retired couple who could give her the amount of attention and exercise that she needed. It couldn’t be a better match. She left us two days after Christmas. It was hard on the kids, but they soon adjusted to life without pets and we saw an immediate improvement in Lexi with the animals gone.

But Bella is not forgotten.

“I want Bella back,” Lexi says. She repeats this every few weeks.

But Jase understands that she isn’t coming back. When we found her a new home, it was forever. But that doesn’t stop him from wanting another dog.

“We can take Lexi to the pet store and see if she is still allergic,” he suggested the other day as she petted a dog outside his school.

And while we have conquered a lot of her allergies using NAET, I am not sure adding a dog to the family is the right decision at this time. Lexi does fine petting dogs or visiting homes with dogs, but that is not the same thing as living with them. So for now, I will just have to get used to hearing the kids plead for a dog and hoping that one day we can have one again.

Today’s Featured Author: Lisa Gordon

Today, I am happy to feature Lisa Gordon, author of A Sealed Fate, on my blog.

Lisa Gordon: Was my writing career part of fate or freewill?  

When I left school I didn’t have my career all marked out in the route planner, I didn’t have a life compass – all I had was an abiding belief that things would work out as they were meant to. I studied law, then economics, then I took a serious left turn and became an astrologer, but nothing really clicked for me. I bumbled along with this belief as my comfort blanket until one day crisis hit – I turned 30! Suddenly I realized that I was nowhere, my belief that all would work out magically without any major planning on my behalf had lead me a merry dance; and while all my friends seemed to have it all sussed career wise and family wise, my life was a basket case. It really made me question my beliefs and wonder if there really IS a plan or a destiny for us all, or whether it’s all down to free choice and our own strategic planning.

This question about whether fate or freewill govern our life became the guiding theme of my novel, A Sealed Fate.

At school writing was actually my weakest subject and it was not until I was seventeen that my English teacher, Mrs Worth, noticed that I had talent and gave me some really good advice; advice I still follow today. A great teacher really can make a difference and Mrs Worth was one of those gifted teachers who made a difference to so many of our lives. However, I never considered writing as a career choice until at 30, during my little crisis, I had a psychic reading where the psychic told me that I must write as it was what she saw for me. I have always been an avid emailer and pen-friend – as we used to call it in the 80’s, you never hear that word anymore do you – so I certainly fancied giving it a go. As an only child I spent most of my time by myself and so developing characters in my imagination and creating a fantasy world was second nature.

Growing up in Johannesburg was truly an amazing experience which I will always treasure. It is a city of bright colors, vibrant people, stark contrasts and extremes: extreme wealth, extreme poverty, extreme emotions, extreme thunderstorms, often extreme violence and yet every minute I lived there I felt alive. As I sit here in safe and picturesque England I long to leave this sterility and head for the chaos of Africa where somehow every minute means so much more. Perhaps my image of my homeland is very much my metaphor for life: that at the extremes of existence one is truly living and experiencing this thing we call life to the full. I have tried in my novel to capture the vibrancy of life in all it’s colour, the thrill of living, and the peak experience we have at life’s extremes.

I am incurably inquisitive and very observant and I use my attention to detail to create vivid images which will transport the reader to the very heart of my story – making the reader put down the book thinking, “I’ve been there! I know those people!”

The strange twists and turns of my own life and my own constant querying over whether I had a destiny or a fate inspired the theme of my novel. It’s important to realize that life is a great mystery and that is part of the fun; you never know when things are going to change and when the best part of your life is going to begin. Writing a book was something I never expected to try and yet it is now my greatest love and my greatest achievement. I have written two more books which I hope to publish in the near future and as all authors know writing is a huge adventure which never ends.

Excerpt from A Sealed Fate 

There it was, exactly where she had found it three days ago, shining magnificently. For days now it had beckoned her, as if it was as eager as she was to go for a drive. In Valda’s mind, cars assumed personalities and emotions and this particular one appeared to be her perfect match. Wasting no time, she opened the door carefully and eased herself into the low, sleek, lightweight roadster. She sensually ran her hands over the steering wheel, gently toyed with the gear lever, savouring every moment of foreplay with her 605-horsepower friend.

After a few more indulgent minutes, she eased the keys into the ignition, turned it over and – wow – the insanely powerful engine sprang to life. Still not sure what to do next, she sat quietly while the monocoque chassis gently vibrated.

Racing clutches can be testy and this particular one was one of the testiest – Valda stalled three times before successfully pulling off. Her new car was akin to an Olympic sprinter itching to get out of the blocks. With so much grit coming out of the engine, the residential streets of Jumeirah were hardly the right arena for this calibre of vehicle’s virgin journey, but Valda was undeterred. Even on the main roads, her GT stayed well within itself, with only the rare opportunity of reaching 30 per cent of its top speed. No matter what, it was an orgasmic experience and she relished each moment.

Tuesday night and the keys and envelope were once again in her jacket pocket. She was certain the Sheikh would be there, although it had dawned on her that he may avoid her, just in case she did return the car keys and refuse his new offer. The date on the plane tickets was fast approaching.

Book Description

A Sealed Fate“One often meets his destiny in the path he takes to avoid it.”

To escape the pain of failed relationships and careers, both Valda and Larissa take themselves to Dubai seeking not only success, but a reason and purpose in life. Valda does indeed find success and to her astonishment love, but all is threatened when she is introduced to a billionaire Sheikh. Her clandestine relationship with the Sheikh, propels her into a murky web of deceit, and she turns to Larissa for help. As an astrologer, Larissa predicts that Valda and the Sheikh s destinies were sealed from the moment of their first meeting; however, she keeps the dire fate that she reads in the charts a secret. Valda knows she is in deep, the Sheikh is an omniscient character and not an inch of Dubai seems shielded from his glare. Someone has her back however as she receives cryptic warning messages posted to her. Life as the Sheikh’s personal courier is filled with perils – will it be he or the law who end this relationship. Together, Valda and Larissa take a gamble in a game of cosmic Russian Roulette where the stakes are their lives and their adversary, Fate itself.

This pacey, thriller has a spiritual theme which bravely merges genres and embraces with sensitivity personal relationships underlying the theme of choice versus chance. Upbeat and contemporary in style, A Sealed Fate features an eclectic mix of characters awash with local colour.

Author Bio

Lisa GordonAn only child to a single Mum, Lisa was born and brought up in Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite a lifelong ambition to act, she enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand to do a BCom Law. She later moved to UK, where she achieved a BSc Industrial Economics Hons Degree from Warwick. Still wanting to be a star – her Mum encouraged her to study ‘The Stars’ and Lisa became an Astrologer. Lisa worked on hospital radio for many year, before becomming a regular Astrology guest on BBC local radio. As an Astrologer Lisa was always asked by her clients to make black and white definitive predictions about their futures: this made Lisa ponder the role of fate in our lives and how much freewill we really had. Hence the plot for her philosophical thriller, ‘A Sealed Fate’ was born. Choice versus chance – which prevails?
Lisa wrote her book while also writing the ACA Chartered Accountants exams. She hopes to become a successful writer, not an accountant! Lisa is grateful to the wonderful support of both strangers and friends and their inspiration. Lisa is also grateful for having a ‘power-house’ Mum; who is her biggest supporter and best buddie.

You can purchase A Sealed Fate on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Developing a realistic antagonist

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I have begun working on a new novel. Luckily for me, I began developing the premises for this novel a few years ago. But one area that I didn’t really work on is the antagonist.

The antagonist, the person that will try to thwart your hero and provide conflict for your story, is one of the most important characters to develop. Most authors spend a majority of their time developing the main character. The same amount of time and effort should be devoted to creating a realistic antagonist.

To make your antagonist believable and not just some movie-type bad guy, you will need to develop recognizable personality traits and a well-developed background. You want your reader to empathize or at least understand where your antagonist is coming from. Your antagonist needs clearly established motives.

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Ben Dar – the antagonist from SUMMONED (or at least the photo I used in the book trailer.)

Now typically when one thinks of the antagonist of a story – especially a fantasy novel – one thinks of the person as being a bad person – perhaps even evil. You, as the author, need to understand how they came to be like they are. Everyone has a reason for what they do. No one is evil just to be evil. It can be their quest for power, revenge, or even a mental disorder but there needs to be something the drives this character. We are the culmination of our environment, our genetics, our past, and our choices. You need to know these things about your antagonist though all of them may never actually appear in your story. (Check out this list of motivations for antagonists.)

To help create a well-rounded antagonist, consider giving him some redeeming qualities. And by this I mean something other than he likes puppies. Almost no one is evil all the time. And remember that sometimes the bad guy wins. Not every instance does the hero of the story need to thwart the villain.

Of course, your antagonist does not have to be a bad person. It can easily be someone whose ideas don’t mesh with your protagonist. It could be a business partner who wants to have a successful business no matter what the cost. Your hero may also want the business to succeed but needs to be a man of integrity. These two characters are far from enemies, but their different needs pull them in opposing directions.

And your antagonist may not be one person but a group or even just an obstacle to overcome such as the fear of speaking in front of an audience. But you simply don’t have a story without an obstacle, conflict or bad guy so be sure to create a strong antagonist, and you will have a better, more believable story.

Announcing the release of THE ELEMENTAL trilogy box set

Now that I have completed The Elemental trilogy, I am offering the complete set – Summoned, Quietus and Destiny – in one money saving offer.

box setBuy the whole trilogy for $5.99 (that’s almost a $3 savings from buying them individually).

Amazon     Barnes and Noble       Kobo Store       Smashwords

Summoned:

Lina was born with the power to start fires with a mere thought – a trait which died out long ago. She had no plans to leave her beloved homeland. Then gypsies kidnap her and take her to a foreign land. There a strong urge compels her to travel north.

On her journey, she reluctantly uses her innate Elemental powers as she battles mystical creatures that have not existed for 800 years. When she discovers the shocking truth behind the calling, it will change her life in ways she could never imagine.

Quietus:

In the shadow of Ben Dar fortress, Lina learned she was the center of a thousand-year-old prophecy claiming the rebirth of the Elementals – an ancient race dedicated to caring for the Land.

Now Lina and those with traces of Elemental power train in the mountains of South Point in the hopes that they can defeat this unknown danger to the Land. Will her powers be enough to stop the destruction of her homeland?

Destiny: 

Destroying Quietus should have stopped the destruction to the Land. But it hadn’t. Slowly, the barren areas continue to grow destroying everything in their path. None of Lina’s Elemental powers can repair the damage while the Land remains contaminated by magic.
But there is an ancient scepter created by a Learner that may lift this magical barrier. Before Lina can claim it, the scepter is stolen. Now Lina and Val must race to find the scepter and end the destruction to the Land once and for all.