Tag Archives: authors

Authors Answer 143 – The First Book Advance

Writing books is a job. Most authors do it with the hope that they can become a full time author, and be able to support themselves on the income they receive. But that first advance is a big milestone in any author’s career. This week’s question comes from our very own C E Aylett.

I would also like to take a moment and thank Beth Aman for her contributions in the past year. She’s going to college, and will be concentrating on that. Good luck, Beth!

Question 143 – What would you/did you spend your first book advance on?

Linda G. Hill

I would spend my advance getting myself out of debt. …wait, how much are we talking? More than $30,000? I’ll probably go out for coffee.

Cyrus Keith

Probably a car. I’ve never had a car that I didn’t have to spend dark, cold evenings in my driveway effecting repairs to get to work the next morning. Even my best cars needed the Desperation Treatment at least once. At least I’m a halfway decent backyard mechanic.

D. T. Nova

I’m not sure what, but I’m sure that whatever special thing I spent part of it on right away wouldn’t cost a very large portion of it.

Paul B. Spence

Cookies? What does anyone spend any money on? Bills? Food? Books? Whatever? I’m not sure that I see an advance as anything other than a paycheck.

Jean Davis

I splurged on a comfortable writing chair. Not that my advance covered the whole purchase, but it did go towards it. I figured if I was finally going to be serious about this writing thing, I should have a chair that I wanted to sit in, one that felt like a reward for years of toiling over words and would motivate me to continue to do so.

Gregory S. Close

Any book advance I receive, if I ever am so fortunate, would go in the bank to pay the bills like any other income. If we’re talking a ridiculous sort of advance, where the money spilleth over… well, then I’d like to do something nice for the family – maybe a remodel of the house, or something really exciting like saving for my daughter’s college.

Eric Wood

I would spend it on a vacation. Naturally, while on vacation I would be looking for more writing inspiration – new characters, new settings, new plot twists, etc. It’s always fun to people watch and it provides ample opportunity to find people to put in a book.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

It really depends on the size of the advance – the average of which I am woefully uneducated in – but after some thought on the topic, I think I’d go with a couple of new gadgets, specifically a new phone and laptop. My current laptop is huge, heavy, and bulky, and is getting old enough that it’s starting to act up in some really annoying ways, which makes things like writing, for example, rather annoying. My phone is way too old, gets way too hot, and I actually recently dropped it and shattered the screen, so…yeah. It’d be nice to have a new one of those right now!

H. Anthe Davis

I’m a saving kinda person, so I’m sure I would deposit any large check immediately and bask in the increase of my overall savings account. Money is fodder for more projects, though, so I imagine I’d at least mentally dedicate part of it to cover art payments and other acts of brand upkeep. Oh, and maybe get some sushi.

C E Aylett

Depends how big it is. If a small advance probably clear the household bills! If anything was left over, take the kids to Disney in Paris.

If it was a big advance, I’d invest in some sort of property and rent it out so I would always have an income to support my writing, no matter what twists and turns came up in my career. I’d still take the kids to Disney, though.

Jay Dee Archer

I have a feeling this will be a common answer. I’ll pay bills. I think for any kind of income, a lot of it will go toward anything that is obligatory. Bills. If it’s a large advance, bills would be paid for quickly, but I’d probably save most of the money. And if it were a ridiculously large advance, I’d go on a trip and buy a car. Or buy a car and go on a trip. Not at the same time, of course! A road trip would be nice, but my wife and I want to travel overseas.

How about you?

If you’re an author, what would or did you use your first advance on? Let us know in the comments section below.

Authors Answer 142 – Becoming Famous

The vast majority of authors never become famous. They never have a bestseller. They are pretty much unknown. But many authors dream of making it big, becoming one of those authors who is a household name. But how would we handle that newfound fame?

Question 142 – How do you think you would handle fame if your books become as popular as authors like Stephen King?

C E Aylett

I’m a pretty sociable person so I’d probably be far too open for my own good! I’d also like to think I’d keep my feet on the ground and just keep on being me, with perks.

H. Anthe Davis

Authors are hardly rock stars, so I wouldn’t think the pressure of fame would be excessive. There would likely be convention appearances and book signings, so my antisocial little self might have trouble maintaining a pleasant face, but I’ve manned a sales booth before and it wasn’t so bad. All such things end in their time, just have to be nice and wait them out. I think the worst parts for me would be to have a spotlight and a deadline — fan-made or publisher-made. I don’t like to be pushed. Also I’d probably have to drop out of my Day Job, which would mean losing ruminating time and getting way too wrapped up in my own head… Of course, I’m hardly writing the Great American Novel, so I wouldn’t have a problem writing follow-ups in the same vein as my first popular work. So I think it would be a combination of gratifying and annoying, and make me a surly recluse when I’m not publisher-mandated to put on a smile and sell.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

It’s hard to say, honestly, because you can never really know how you’re going to react in any situation until you’ve been in it. I’d like to think that I’d react well. Being able to support my family with my writing – and subsequently spend more time focusing on my writing as well – is a dream of mine, so I think that I’d be extremely happy, at least to a certain degree.

At the same time, there are definitely downsides that I’m not sure I would deal with all that well. From my tiny, practically insignificant experience with “fame” through my YouTube channel, I’ve learned that having people claim to love and admire you can actually sometimes be very hard on the head in a number of ways. Additionally, growing larger and larger means you end up with more and more expected of you, and that kind of pressure can become like a crushing weight that exacerbates things like anxiety and depression.

So, I guess, without really knowing exactly how I would react, I expect that I’d probably be very happy, but also very stressed.

Eric Wood

If I became as famous as Stephen King (or JK Rowling, even) I would live it up. I would support causes that were important to me (like fighting cancer and making sure the world has access to clean water). I would also make sure I and my family were comfortable and without too many needs. I would do some book tours, too. Perhaps from my RV as I traveled Canada and the US. Because, as long as you aren’t the one driving, you can write while you’re on the road!

Gregory S. Close

If I achieve the sort of mega-success enjoyed by the likes of Stephen King, fame would be a small price to pay for the chance to write full time and make millions of dollars doing it. Unlike some other types of fame, authorial fame still allows for some privacy and anonymity. For example, it’s not like paparazzi are bugging King that much. Regardless, having the financial freedom to write, spend quality time with family, and travel without worrying about allotted vacation time would be worth any added scrutiny. I would also love to support a worthwhile charity in a meaningful way.

Jean Davis

If only one could be so fortunate. I suppose I would make requisite public appearances and attempt to be helpful to other writers who are not yet as popular. I’d spend the rest of my time attempting to write the next great book while under the pressure of people waiting anxiously for it and pray that it doesn’t suck as bad as I think it does.

Beth Aman

Well there’s two answers to this question. The first is that it would be AMAZING to be as popular as Stephen King, because that would mean I’d actually be able to support myself as a writer! (Isn’t that every writer’s dream?) The second is that I’m not sure I’d like being that famous. Sure, it would be amazing to meet people who had enjoyed my work, go to author signings, talk to young writers, etc… but I might go a little crazy being that popular. Hopefully I’d just use my resources to keep writing good stories and keep inspiring others, but I have no idea actually.

Paul B. Spence

Well, I suppose I’d make sure I had some say over who played in the movies… maybe have a look at the scripts, too. Really, I’m not even sure how to answer such a question. I’d quit my day job and write all the time, I suppose.

D. T. Nova

I really don’t know. Of course I’d be glad to have my writing so widely read, but I think I would be overwhelmed by too much publicity. At least at first.

Jay Dee Archer

It’s hard to say. I’ve never been the focus of more than a few hundred people, and that’s on YouTube. I’d probably enjoy the travel, going to book signings, conventions, and being able to afford my own personal travel much more. I like hotels for some reason. Speaking in front of groups used to be an issue for me, but not so much anymore. And if I sold the rights of my books to a movie studio or TV studio, I’d want to be involved in it. I wouldn’t want them to change the story very much.

But, you know, authors tend to not be in the spotlight very much. Even the big, famous authors most likely have a private life, and don’t really have a celebrity status. I’m fine with that.

How about you?

If you’re an author, how do you think you’d handle becoming famous? Let us know in the comments below.

Authors Answer 141 – Choosing a Title

How can something so simple-looking be so difficult? The title may only be a few words, but it’s very important, especially if it’s to be memorable and eye-catching. A book could go through several titles before the final one is chosen. How do we choose our titles?

Question 141 – How do you come up with the title of your stories?

Gregory S. Close

Things that I think are important in a chapter/story/novel title:  double-meanings, turns of phrase, foreshadowing, and (if at all possible) a pun.  For example, one chapter in In Siege of Daylight is called Storms and Wards.  The title is literal, in that there is a storm involved, and magic (wards).  But there’s a bit of double meaning here, because there’s also a bit of conversation about conflict and politics, and the conversation is between a Master Bard and our hero, an Apprentice Bard (his ward, in a sense, kind of like Robin to Batman, but less grim and with more singing).

Other chapters have a lot more symbolism and/or foreshadowing, some a lot less, but I like to slip it in there when I can.

Cyrus Keith

Sometimes out of the clear blue skies, a phrase drops on me like an anaconda and won’t let go (“Hush Little Baby,” “The Next Fool But One“). Sometimes, I look at the overall theme of the story, and the title is a reference to that (“Becoming NADIA‘”, “The Long, Hard Ride to Midnight“). I keep a spreadsheet for title ideas, and one for story ideas. Sometimes I match them up, and sometimes they just kind of stay on their own.

Linda G. Hill

Titles are the hardest thing for me. They are borne of brain-numbing torture most of the time. Only twice has a title come to me easily. In the first case, the title was the inspiration for my first novel – Trixie in a Box (yet unpublished), and the second is a memoir I’m working on about my life as a hearing woman mothering a Deaf son, which will be entitled Don’t Talk with Your Hands Full!

D. T. Nova

I just think about it until I have a title that both means something important to the theme and also sounds good to me, with a tendency toward simple titles.

Paul B. Spence

Painfully. This is really the only part I struggle with. I usually try to name them something that will evoke a certain emotion from the reader, which still somehow relates to the story without giving the plot away. The working title is rarely the one I end up using.

C E Aylett

At some point in the writing process, several drafts down. Most often, anyway. Something will just crop up from the story that hits me as appropriate. Or something connected to the theme.

Beth Aman

I don’t usually stress too much about this.  Sometimes I find a cool line somewhere later in the book, or a cool concept.  I like it to be somewhat related to the plot, but also sometime that conveys what type of story it’s going to be.  I dunno. They just appear.

Jean Davis

My titles seem to just happen. I found that if I need to have a title, it’s a torture session and everything I come up with will be awful. I’ve had a title before I started writing once. Most often they hit me while writing, when a word, theme, or phrase catches my attention. Otherwise, the file is the name of the MC until the first round of edits, which is the other point that title ideas tend to hit me.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

So far my naming conventions have been extremely straightforward. I tend to simply describe a key aspect of the story. In “Nowhere to Hide“, for instance, the main characters are constantly finding that they can’t hide from the looming horror no matter how hard they try. “The Other World” is literally about an “other world”, and early in it’s life it was called “Parallels“, because it was about a parallel world. A short story that I wrote for a competition was called “Pool of Diamonds” because the key scene has the main character kneeling in a puddle, surrounded by diamonds. In retrospect, describing my “method” this way sounds terribly lacking in creativity, but I feel the straightforward approach has worked for the works I’ve written so far.

H. Anthe Davis

I am a title-hoarder.  I have a file in my story folder that just collects title ideas — little words and phrases that pop into my head or that I hear somewhere, like in a song, that stick with me and gestate an idea in my mind.  When I’m titling novels or chapters, I reference that list to see what best fits.  If nothing does, I look at the overall theme of the novel: what sort of mood or philosophy am I most leaning toward in it?  My first book, The Light of Kerrindryr, got that (possibly hampering) title because the main character is conflicted in his understanding of the Light, which he worships.  Is he truly following the Light he knew back home (in Kerrindryr), or is this some different, twisted version of the Light he’s succumbed to in his travels abroad?  This isn’t ever explicitly stated, but it’s a conflict in him throughout the book, and so it became the title.  Other titles in the series have referenced key events or important objects (The Splintered Eye for an event/creature, The Living Throne for an object/….creature, etc).  I also try to make sure that the covers resonate with the title, because I’m picky like that.

Eric Wood

First, I’ll come up with a working title, usually based on the plan I have in my head. Then I start writing. If the title still matches the piece, I keep it. Otherwise, I’ll retitle it to be a creative interpretation of the story or blog post. I try to keep it mysterious, yet comprehensible enough so readers have an idea of what to expect. Like good lingerie, something needs to be left to the imagination.

Jay Dee Archer

This is definitely one of the most difficult parts of writing for me. The story, characters, and setting are easy by comparison. I go through several titles, usually. But sometimes one sticks out that I feel I really need to use. For my Ariadne series, the web serial is called Journey to Ariadne because it chronicles the preparation and journey to the planet Ariadne. The first novel is likely to be titled The Knights of Ariadne, and it has a double meaning. The family name of one of the colony’s main families is Knight. But also, it can mean warriors. As for the series about the old man traveling through the solar system, I have no title ideas yet. And a fantasy series I have planned is tentatively called The Fractured Lands, but that may change.

Quite often, the title will come early on, but I won’t always stick with it. It can be an inspiration for the story, though. There could also be something in the story as I write it that becomes the title.

How about you?

If you’re an author, how do you choose a title for your books? Let us know in the comments section below.

Authors Answer 140 – Developing Plot

You need characters and setting for a story, but what would it be without a plot? Not much of anything. The plot may be one of the most complex parts of writing. A good plot isn’t predictable and straightforward. There may be multiple story lines running through the plot, but they all lead to one conclusion. So, how do we develop our plots?

Question 140 – How do you develop the plot of your stories?

Eric Wood

To develop a plot I sketch it out much like an artist would. An artist might draw out the art piece in pencil with very light strokes that are easily covered. I sketch out the plot of my stories with short words, a few descriptions, and random ideas to that come to me. It’s when I sit down to write the story in full that I then fill in details and move the story along from beginning to middle to end.

H. Anthe Davis

Plot? What plot? Okay, so I do have plot, even though at base it’s ‘a couple people plunge into adventures to stop a threat against everything’ — standard fantasy schtick. However, I think of ‘saving the world’ as more the end-goal, and all the plot movement is about what the individual characters want, how those wants impact other characters’ needs and ambitions, and how these conflicts turn and twist the story as the characters fight their way toward their end goal. All of my characters have their own little arc — not always very large — which is both based on and also gives them their personality. It may have nothing to do with the main plot but it’s something that drives them, and because of that it influences and potentially bends the main plot in unpredictable ways. I always want to make sure that as the writer, I’m not railroading the characters into certain actions — but it’s okay if the characters themselves are acting on each other to force actions because of their personal motivations. Obviously my stuff is very character-driven.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I’m honestly not quite sure how to answer this question, because actively “developing” a plot isn’t really my style, to be blunt. For better or worse, my writing method has most been, “picture cool scene in head –> write scene –> try to come up with logical reason for that scene to exist”. It’s probably not the most professional approach to writing, but so far it’s been what works for me, and amazingly my plots have manage to work themselves out into coherent stories that my readers seem to be enjoying!

Jean Davis

I usually start writing with an opening scene in mind and just see what happens. Occasionally I’ll know where I want the story to end, most of the time I don’t. Most of my first drafts move along like: if this happens, they need to B to get to C and hmm, to get to D they need to do this thing, etc. So I guess I’d say it’s an organic plot process. There’s a good deal of me looking off into space throughout the day while I run through the next step of the plot in my head before I sit down to write the next scene.

Beth Aman

HAHAHA, what’s a plot? Am I supposed to have one of those? Usually I just start writing and let the plot unfold as I write. (This is called being a “pantser” – ie you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ as you write.) I really flesh out my plot and have it all start to make sense when I do draft #2, and each successive draft makes more and more sense plot-wise, with adding in smaller plot arcs, micro-tensions, and foreshadowing. It’s like the first draft is me going around making a bunch of dots on the page, and the second draft is connecting the dots to make a picture. For actually coming up with the plot, I take my ideas and then ask ‘what could go wrong here?’ or ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen?’ or sometimes, ‘what’s unexpected?’ Then I let my imagination go wild, and try to make it all make sense at the end. (I wish I was a plotter. I really do. It would make life so much simpler.)

C E Aylett

No set formula. Sometimes, especially if I’ve researched a character particularly well, I’ll just write what comes to me and often it works out roughly to be right — the plot stems from the character. Sometimes, and this happens with the stories that come from dreams or something I heard on the news, I have a major twist or an ending in mind, something that the story pivots on. I then write out a first draft, see where I’m at by the end and how the story arc runs. If needs be, the beginning will be rewritten to accommodate a strong arc.

Paul B. Spence

I decide where to begin. I think of something interesting in the future of the characters to write toward. I fill the space with character development and side-stories.

D. T. Nova

Same as with characters, elements of the plot can be inspired by anything, and once the idea is there it’s mostly down to seeing how it fits together. I go through so many ideas and don’t think its entirely conscious how I decide which ones belong in the same story.

Linda G. Hill

“What if …?” It’s a question I’m always asking in my head, and it often ends up being a story.

Cyrus Keith

Plots come from everything from dreams to sudden revelations, to lessons learned, to random over-hearing “what if…” from across the room. Sometimes, the plot comes after the title. I love plays on words, and sometimes I get a great title idea. For instance, a thriller with a title like “Hush Little Baby” generates so many delicious ideas. That’s my current WIP.

Gregory S. Close

My plotting goes something like this: Come up with the basic story elements, flesh out the world-building and character-building as necessary to begin writing, maybe do a story outline, then start writing. Plot has to be consistent and fun and maybe a little bit complicated here and there, but it should move forward through the eyes/experience of the characters and in context of the world. It has to make sense. The bad guy is taking over the world!! Why? The magic sword has been discovered! Where was it? Why? Who put it there? I adjust plot just like I adjust character and world-building – if the driving story element turns out to be stupid, inconsistent, or otherwise doesn’t work – I change it. My last step in plotting is, after the final draft, go back and add the moments, clues, snippets of dialogue and foreshadowing etc that will glue it all together into a seamless story.

Jay Dee Archer

I start off with the idea, then develop a general direction I want the story to go in. I know how I want to finish the story, and work toward that goal. I start off quite general. I’ll write out the major plot points, then flesh them out. I plan out what I want to do for each chapter, outlining them. I pay attention to what each major character should be doing at the time, even if they aren’t in a chapter or scene. I need to know how each story line is going, and where they intersect. Once I’ve figured out the plot, I start writing. But the plotting isn’t finished. While I write, new ideas pop in my head, and sometimes it takes a new direction. When I finish writing my first draft, I go back to make sure I’ve got all the plot points in that I wanted, and make sure they work. I check that there are no loose ends. And of course, I make sure there’s a bit of foreshadowing in there. I also refer back to all of my character and setting notes to make sure everything is consistent. In the end, I should have a nice, cohesive story.

How about you?

If you’re an author, how do you develop your plot? Let us know in the comments section below.

Authors Answer 139 – Developing Setting

Last week, we talked about characters. But now they need a place. A well-rounded book has a setting. A good setting can create the atmosphere, whether it’s a real place or imagined. Real places are already established for the author, but they have to know it well. Imagined places require world building, and that can be a complex process. How do our authors tackle setting?

Question 139 – How do you develop the setting of your stories?

Gregory S. Close

I develop setting the same way that I develop characters, by establishing a history, economics, rules, laws, mores, religions, geography, species etcetera and then strictly adhering to that until I need to ignore it, modify it, or do whatever else serves the story best. There were a lot of things for In Siege of Daylight that shifted or changed altogether as the story came together, but having the solid foundation at the beginning allowed me the framework to be flexible when needed. Also, thinking thoroughly through things like economics and trade really add some realism and nuance to your cultures and countries.

Growing up, I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. A LOT. This can be dangerous, because it can lock you in the stereotypes of RPG races and countries, but the mechanics of world-building really do come in handy when applied properly. Early version of the world of In Siege of Daylight were a campaign setting, and by fleshing out the world with adventures, characters and storylines that evolved unexpectedly it really helped develop the mythology and depth of the world.

For my science fiction setting of Greyspace, its a pretty similar method. I did a lot of research into space travel, emerging bio-tech, military tech, submarines (similar to spacecraft in terms of crew composition and psychology, and then a lot of different stuff on mythology and folklore for the magic elements. Again, a lot changed, but getting that solid footing for your world allows the leverage to pivot when you need to.

Cyrus Keith

Setting is dictated by the story line. On my first published novel, I set out to write a high-tech-hard sci-fi story. But the story line just refused to support it. There’s just so much going on all at once, the story would have been lost in the fog of all the gizmos and gadgets. My current WIP is set in a large city, because it features urban homeless people. As with characters, the specifics come about as the story develops. I don’t waste time on sketches and world-building because it changes as things come together, and I abhor “info dumps” that come with highly-developed worlds that authors are only too eager to show off.

Linda G. Hill

I have a hard time imagining settings, so I use real places to inspire me. Sometimes I name them (Kingston, Ontario, Canada is the main inspiration for the setting of my novel The Magician’s Curse), and sometimes I just observe and describe without making mention of where they are. I love to travel, and do so a lot just for the sake of my novels. In fact, I’m thinking about going to Edmonton in the coming months because the West Edmonton Mall is one of my settings. Maybe we can meet for coffee again, Jay Dee!

D. T. Nova

For the most part I’ve had setting made to fit the plot and characters, and not really standing out otherwise. I’ve been trying to change that and have more interesting settings.

Paul B. Spence

Usually in giant brainstorming sessions. It grows in leaps and bounds, and the options for stories to tell grows exponentially. I have a lot of basic information compiled from over the years.

C E Aylett

Um, same answer as last week? Research. Lots of it. Setting and character can be quite closely connected in the ways they connect and contrast. I have a class on how to build character from setting on Skillshare.

Beth Aman

Sometimes I just write them. Sometimes I’ll kinda prep ahead of time by drawing certain places or objects, or by making lists of sounds and smells of places. Then when I go to write them, I try to remember that settings should use all five senses, and that they should add to the general mood/ feeling of the scene. Often times, I have a lot of work to do in the editing process, because I’ll be so caught up in writing the story that I forget to fully flesh-out the setting. It’s a multi-step process, and I’m always going back and working on it.

Jean Davis

In my first draft, settings are generally utilitarian, whatever is needed to make the scene happen. Most of my focus is on dialogue and action. There might be a couple distinctive characteristics to help me solidify what I see in my head while I’m writing. If the characters end up there more than once, I’ll probably add more details in that first draft and pull it all together with a more polished description during the first major edit.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

A large chunk of my writing, thus far, has been based within the real world, and so I’ve gone about my setting development by simply describing places I’ve actually been. “Nowhere to Hide“, for instance, has the characters moving about in a zombie-infested version of modern-day Earth, so without actually naming specific places, I simply had my characters move around in towns and areas I’ve actually been and worked from there. The beginning of “The Other World: Book One” is similar; the high school I describe is based on the college I actually went to, and the town Tori lives in is based on the town where I grew up. Moving outside of the real world is more difficult of course, which I learned with the rest of “The Other World: Book One“. I find it difficult to to “make up” settings, so I tend to stick to my “real world” method, while adding in “fantastic” elements. Such as, for instance, the scene in which Tori first realizes she’s in a parallel universe: the setting is a simple field with a small cabin, but when she looks up, the stars above come in a variety of shining colors.

H. Anthe Davis

I’ve spent almost two decades developing just one setting, so it’s hard to say how that gestated (beside a bunch of notes in a high school journal that I just started adding onto infinitely). However, I’ve been developing a new setting on the side for a few years, in dribs and drabs, so… I guess it just starts with a core idea or problem to solve (for instance, make a world where zombies/undead are reanimated by ‘tainted’ water) then spin off of it to find the logic and culture that gets wrapped around the concept. Like…what is it about the water that does this reanimation? (It’s a goddess-of-undeath’s blood.) How did it get that way? (Enemies of the locals killed her, it’s her revenge.) Who were the enemies and who are the locals? (Enemies from overseas, locals etc etc…) What conflicts does this produce? What story seeds does it create? How many of those seeds can grow into the background-jungle of the main story, to add complexity to the world and themes but not entirely impinge upon the plot? Then, after I deal with most of those questions, I start researching and image-browsing for stuff that aesthetically suits the idea in my head, to build the visual facade of the setting over the bones of the stories it contains.

Eric Wood

When I start to write a story, the setting comes to me in pieces while I write, much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I know what the final image will look like, but the details fit themselves in during the writing process. Most of my stories take place during modern times in a fictional location. Then I just make up the rest as I go along.

Jay Dee Archer

I enjoy writing stories on other worlds, both science fiction and fantasy. I do a lot of world building. For my Ariadne setting, I started out with the concept, and then I drew a world map. After that, I drew another map with 16 sheets of paper. I created mountains, rivers, seas, oceans, ice caps, and climate zones. I then created countries and cities, expanding the colony organically. I focused on a handful of places that are important for the first book. Although I haven’t done so yet, I plan on drawing city maps and any maps of important locations. You see, I love maps, and they help me visualise places much more vividly and with consistency.

How about you?

If you’re an author, how do you develop setting? Let us know in the comments below.

Authors Answer 138 – Developing Characters

Characters are central to a story. They need to be well-developed and believable to be considered good characters in a serious story. It’s important to make sure their behaviour is consistent. We’re going back to basics this month, talking about the development of stories. This week, it’s characters.

Question 138 – How do you develop the characters of your stories?

H. Anthe Davis

Jeez, I don’t know… I’m five books into a series, so at this point when I introduce a new character, I usually I have a vague idea of what I need from them (antagonist or ally? from which faction? which gender, which skills?), and then I spin details off of that base, trying not to duplicate traits from other characters. Then I write them into scenes with other established characters and figure out how they interact, and either expand upon them if it’s an interesting dynamic, or keep them sidelined/backgrounded if that’s all they’re good for. As for my main characters… Hell, I don’t know that either, since I first made some of them over twenty years ago. I guess it’s just basic traits + personal quirks + character interactions + developing history and psychology as I go along, until they start to feel like real people.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

To be honest, I base most of my characters on real people I know, and sometimes on TV/movie characters that I’ve watched for years and feel I know practically as well as a real person in my life. From there I base the progression of the characters on how I imagine their real-life counterpart would actually react to the situations I come up with for them. Obviously it’s all conjecture, as I couldn’t possibly know how anyone would actually react to something like zombies or being transported to an alternate universe, but it helps me develop my characters by picturing the events happening in real life and running with how my imagination views things playing out among the people involved.

Jean Davis

As a tried and true pantser, I start writing a male or female of whatever age is fitting to the story and figure out who they are along the way. I like to get to know them in context rather than on a character sheet beforehand. Though, I did try that once. It was too restrictive. I ended up picking a couple characteristics from the whole sheet and just running with that. He became a pretty cool and loyal supporting character.

Beth Aman

In my opinion, characters are composed of details. So I build characters by assembling details, sometimes from my imagination and sometimes from real people (generally strangers, not friends). Every human is a jigsaw of details – nervous habits, catch-phrases, dressing choices, speech patterns, favorite books, topics they talk about again and again, etc. My favorite characters are the ones that feel like real people because they have things that make them them. So that’s what I strive to do with my own characters.

C E Aylett

Research. Lots of it. I research where they come from, read blogs if I can find them of where they live or grew up to find local knowledge and build a picture from there. I also use character questionnaires to really dig deeper. There’s other tricks, too, but those are the main ones.

Paul B. Spence

My characters grow organically. Main characters get backstories written before I begin. Others get what I come up with on the fly. It is usually just a matter of asking who is right to see this story through, and going from there.

D. T. Nova

Not very deliberately. The original concept can be sparked from anywhere, and once a character exists in my head they have a life of their own. Characters created for one simple reason turn out to have depths I didn’t know, or adopt attributes that I had thought belong to someone else. I run scenarios through my head and pay attention to what never changes, and that includes situations I don’t have a reason to write.

Linda G. Hill

My characters often come to me. In my recent release, The Magician’s Curse, a ghost showed up at the door. I have no idea where she came from, but she told me who she was, and ended up being a favourite of some of my beta readers. It’s like that for just about every main or secondary character in my stories. Sometimes they’re inspired by an accent (Stewie’s, from Family Guy for example), sometimes a speech pattern (don’t got no example for that), and sometimes it’s a physical trait in someone I’ve seen in real life. In my current work-in-progress I have a character with a nose so sharp it could cut a cheesecake. I saw him at the mall and thought that immediately.

Cyrus Keith

I’ll be honest, I start with a vague, general sketch, and let the characters just kind of develop themselves as the story progresses. Sometimes, I’ll get a “whoa, that’s awesome!” kind of revelation halfway through, and then I have to go all the way back to the beginning of the story and edit those qualities in. That way, the story and the characters grow together. Besides, I’m way too lazy to generate complex character tables.

Gregory S. Close

I create a thorough backstory for all of my major characters, and try to get at least the basics in for supporting characters. Then, as the story unfolds, the characters reveal interesting bits about themselves that I incorporate into the narrative. Sometimes little of the original background remains, sometimes a lot. The important thing is to be true to the “voice” of the character – don’t try to force it.

Jay Dee Archer

I get pretty detailed about my characters before I even start writing. The main characters all get a biography. Not only do I write out their life history, I make note of their appearance, personality, major life milestones, age, birthplace, political stance, hobbies, strengths, weaknesses, and more. For dialogue, I want to make sure I have their mannerisms down. This needs to be consistent. They need to sound like they’re all different characters. That’s a major problem for some authors. They create characters that all sound the same. For minor characters, they’re developed as I write, mostly. But sometimes, for both major and minor characters, they take on a life of their own. They go a little different direction that I first intended, but this usually works out and makes them more realistic.

How about you?

If you’re an author, how do you develop your characters? Let us know in the comments section below.

Authors Answer 137 – Unusual Writing Inspirations

Authors’ ideas don’t just pop in their minds from nowhere. Something has to inspire them. It could be a person, a scene, an event, a song, anything. Many of these inspirations are quite ordinary. But sometimes, they can be pretty strange.

Question 137 – What was one of the most unusual writing inspirations that sparked a story idea?

H. Anthe Davis

A couple years ago, I wrote a rather large short story (short novella?) based on an idea of very boring vampires. Urban vampire fantasy is always so seduction/violence/whatever-based, and I just don’t like it…but I played several years of Vampire: The Masquerade with friends, so had ideas of other ways to write it. Which is how I ended up with a story about a vampire accountant who finds himself rescued from a vampire-on-vampire conflict over his just-destroyed clan’s wealth and resources by a glam Jewish vampire-hunter and her werewolf musician boyfriend. I really should edit and post it some day.

Paul B. Spence

Er… I’m sorry, that’s classified. I suppose that my more recent inspirations have been songs, for the most part. Sometimes dreams. Sometimes I’m just driving down the road and hear the scenes in my head. Strange, I know. I used to tell myself stories as a child, before I could read. The Remnant is based in part on a childhood story over forty years old at this point. I was a strange and disturbed child.

Jean Davis

Well, it’s not all that unusual, I suppose, but it’s been a long time coming, so I’m going with it. About twenty-five years ago, I ended up in a discussion about where god might come from while serving a customer a drink in the restaurant where I worked at the time. I’ve been mulling those ideas around ever since, and they served as inspiration for The Last God, which was just released this month.

D. T. Nova

I wrote a short-short based on an unusual search term from my blog.

Beth Aman

This one is quite funny. I was on an international flight​, tired and bored, when I looked across the aisle and saw a most peculiar man. He was dressed in a black suit that looked to be about a hundred years old, and the man himself looked to be at least a hundred and twenty. He wore a top hat and carried an old briefcase and a cane,​ and he had a long, hooked nose. He instantly became a character, and his briefcase became a method of smuggling magical artifacts. He​ was the beginning of a new novel, which is my current WIP.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I get a lot of writing inspiration from other peoples’ media (books, video games, movies, TV shows) and also from the insanity that is my dreams, all of which is fairly standard practice, I’d say. However, one of my current works in progress was inspired by a deep, relentless hatred for one of the upper-management bosses at my last job. I’m pretty sure literally everyone else on the crew hated this guy with a passion. Well one day he did something to me specifically that just enraged me beyond the telling of it, and the next thing I knew I was three chapters deep into my second zombie novel, purely because I wanted an excuse to have him torn limb from limb in prose form. A little psychotic? Perhaps. But aren’t all writers at least a little insane?

Elizabeth Rhodes

Still not uncommon? Fair enough. I once saw a design someone made of a fantasy dress with armor and raven feathers. It got me thinking of what kind of royalty or nobility would wear such a dress, which led to creating the culture of an entire fantasy civilization. All from a dress.

C E Aylett

A home made postcard on a website. The picture was of six different locks of hair and on it was written: After they fall asleep, I cut the hair from the kids I babysit. All the people in the website’s forum were saying how creepy it was and I wanted to make it un-creepy, that it was more a cry of loneliness than anything else. It produced one of my strongest pieces, though also one of my saddest and maybe even most controversial. And people who critiqued it all said it was creepy, so that was a massive fail in that sense, though the story is really strong. Oh, didn’t I say the other week I couldn’t think of a writing failure? There you go. There’s one: I failed to un-creep the creepy. But it taught me a massive lesson in setting narrative tone. I still haven’t found anywhere that will publish it, even though it often gets serious consideration.

The postcard also inspired me to write a poem about a woman who was grieving the loss of a child, but that stays in the drawer along with the rest of my poems.

Gregory S. Close

I get a lot of ideas from history and non-fiction, but the inspiration for Greyspace was pretty fun, unintentional and off-the-wall. I was in an online Science Fiction writers workshop/class with the full intent of revising and publishing an old story about the fun and consequences of relativistic travel and leap-frogging technology, but the instructor told us that he wanted to see three writing ideas. So, I added the idea I fully intended to develop, a second idea about nano-bots, and the third, which I just threw in there so I could submit it on time, was basically a joke about spaceships that couldn’t achieve Faster Than Light travel through scientific methods, but instead had to rely on a sorcerer to get them through Hyperspace. “What if instead of Scotty in the Engine Room, you had Merlin.” And that ended up being the idea we both liked the most.

Eric Wood

I wrote a story about my childhood stuffed animal (which I still have, by the way). Though the little boy in story wasn’t me. Perhaps his imagination was. Barnaby and his boy were in the grocery store with Mom and got lost. While there they took a trip around the world.

Jay Dee Archer

I have a children’s book idea that began as a single sentence that my daughter said about two years ago. It has to do with dinosaurs, everyday life, and a child’s creative imagination. Maybe it’s not a very unusual inspiration, but