Friday, 27 June 2014

Writing multi-level characters

When I look around my house I see many different themes. I can never make up my mind which theme I prefer over the others and thus I live in an eclectically decorated home. I've accepted that I have multiple tastes so now I buy items that resonate with me and they always find a place in my home.

I love the bright colours of Spanish influence which feature in my bathroom and bedrooms - brightly coloured and patterned bed lined, candles in wrought iron holders, lilac walls, blue walls. The Spanish influence is something that I can't explain, I've never been there but I believe I have Spanish blood somewhere along the line and it comes through in my taste of décor.

I also love the monochrome look featured in my living room, a love I picked up from watching black and white movies as a child. for me the monochrome Hollywood represents chasing dreams.

I also love the animals prints that are splashed all over my home - zebra prints on the walls, zebra patterned winter blanket, elephant and rhino statuettes, fake ferns in cast iron pots and urns. This theme connects me to nature.

And I also love the beach look that is scattered in my bedrooms and living rooms - the oar that is weather beaten and belonged to my late father-in-law, the shells I collected from the beach, the white blinds and all white walls. The beach look is a way of connecting with the present. I look out over the water and imagine that one day I will be looking at another horizon, but not today.

When it comes to renovating around my house, I'm at a constant war with themes and I tell myself that I should pick just one. But I simply can't, and there a reason for this.

Each of these themes represents a separate part of my journey as a person.

Many writers will create a character profile before they begin writing. It's a long list of likes, dislikes, star sign, job, family, hobbies, schooling etc. Okay, there are some things that won't change unless they are pivotal to the plot such as hair colour, eye colour, height. When writing, we should consider giving our characters multiple layers to their personalities. A character's likes and dislikes, they way they do things daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, the way they throw caution to the wind one minute and then race to catch it the next. The way a character can hold a grudge for one act and then forgive the same act at a later stage.

I've read some novels where a character only behaves a certain way and only that way. They only drink the one type of drink. They only wear the one type of clothing. Granted, there are some people like this in the real world, but mostly people change and evolve and revert and shift. People are like the weather - they can change quickly and then change back just as quickly. We are not androids, though there are times when I wish I could just switch off and lock myself in a closet.

Writers can run the risk of creating cardboard characters or even cliché characters if they ignore normal human behaviour. Our friends and family will always surprise us, sometimes disappoint us, at times upset us, and how we react is just as varied as how they react. and this makes for better conflict amongst the characters, and where there is conflict, there is conflict resolution.

Moods do affect how people behave. If we're tired or stressed, we'll do things that others might consider "out of character". But sometimes "out of character" is actually true character unveiled. We often put on masks in public or at our jobs, we often adapt our behaviours in social groups to fit in. But there are times when we are provoked into revealing our true self or our dream self.

I like the concept of dream self - this is the one where you ask your character "if you had 6 months to live what would you do?"

Unveiling hidden traits can move a plot along, it can become part of the character's journey, and it is often the insightful moment - the part that without it there would be no story.

If you're having trouble adding extra layers to your character, consider the three act structure.

Act I - put your characters in a tree
Act II - set the tree on fire
Act III - get them out of the tree.

This approach can be used when developing your character. How will they react at each of these stages and which is the true self, which is the hidden self, which is the dream self, and which self did they like better? Will they revert back to old self, will they change? These are not issues exclusive to characters in novels, people face this real issue daily, and that is why I encourage writing multi-layered characters - to connect with your reader.

Unless the stoic approach to character writing is pivotal to your plot, I'd say give creating multi-layered characters a go.

Good luck with your writing!


D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.

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Twitter    !/DLRichardson1

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The yellow brick road to writer success

Just like Dorothy had her entourage of the Tinman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion to accompany her along the yellow brick road, I’ve realised that I also need these three companions to accompany me on my writing journey. I just didn’t know I needed them for psychological reasons.

The Tinman – the literary agent.
A literary agent pitches work to publishers, sometimes movie production companies, and sometimes to foreign publishers. This person needs to fall in love with the book because they have to be prepared to work hard for nil money upfront. They have to convince a publisher to invest money and time into an author, who is quite often unknown. An agent has connections that many writers simply don’t. And while we know that some publishers accept submissions direct from writers, just as many don’t.

The Scarecrow – the publisher. 
A publisher edits, produces, and distributes work to the wider audience. The publisher is the business end of the process. Their job is to sell books and make money for everyone involved. It costs money to print books and freight them into bookstores and then wait months for the sales to hit their bank accounts. A publisher has the power to get books into hundreds of stores that many writers simply don’t. Even with the surge of self-published books in the marketplace, a writer will produce a better quality product having gone through the editing process with a publisher.

The Cowardly Lion – the publicist.
The publicist has the courage to pick up that phone and cold call newspapers, magazines, TV shows, books stores, schools, libraries, writers festivals, writers centres, the guy down the road who has a cafe/nursery that attracts hundreds of visitors on a weekend...pretty much anywhere there are people that might benefit from seeing living proof that authors exist. A publicist has the pull to get media attention that many writers simply don’t. The publicist also has the compassion and strength to nurture and encourage said writer to go out in front of that crowd and wow them.

As I writer, I know I need a Tinman, a Scarecrow, and a Cowardly Lion by my side, but until the other day it never occurred to me that there was a psychological reason behind this need. Agents, publicists, and publishers are management types. Writers are the Dorothy’s of Oz. We are the creative types. This uncomfortable merging of writing and managing became very clear to me when my husband tried to convince me to take my books to a local market and set up shop. I was reluctant to jump onto this idea. He was becoming irate that I wasn’t listening to him. No matter how many reasons I provided – I don’t have a shade cover or tables, I don’t have time, I’m trying to do something bigger than the local markets – he wouldn’t accept my reasons. As I walked away to cover my tears frustration, it hit me that I was afraid to throw myself OUT THERE, even though I know and he knows and the whole world knows that OUT THERE is where me and my books need to be.

But putting me and my books OUT THERE means I’m opening myself up to another level of rejection that I had not yet considered until I pressed my fingers against my eyelids to quell the rising tears:

There are two levels of rejection:

1.       The primary level of rejection

2.       The secondary level of rejection

The Primary Level of rejection:
As a writer I have conditioned myself to accept rejection from agents and publishers. It’s part of the job. “Accept that rejection is part of the job.” It’s what I tell anyone who decides to become a writer. This rejection is what I call the primary level of rejection. Each time the doubt creeps in that if I was good enough I would already have an agent, and a publicist, and a publisher, I manage to convince myself that it’s a matter of wrong place/wrong time for me. So I keep writing and submitting, and writing and submitting, waiting for the day when it’s no longer a matter of wrong place/wrong time, but right place/right time.

The Secondary Level of Rejection:
When I feel myself being pushed into the secondary level of rejection that comes from managing my own affairs, it’s no wonder I’m a little reticent. The secondary level is where I attempt to book my own school visits, book signings, market stalls, appearances at libraries or writer’s festivals...etc. This is the sort of job a publicist does. They love it. They’re good at it. They can cold call ten people before they’ve finished their second cup of coffee. But who can afford a publicist? Certainly not an author with two novels contracted to a small press publisher and one novel that is self published.

I am supposed to take on this role myself. More and more writer’s blogs tell me so.

“All authors need to take matters into their own hands and participate in self-promotion,” claims

“In this era when most writers are expected to do everything but run the printing presses, self-promotion is so accepted that we hardly give it a second thought,” writes Tony Perretott in an article for the NY Times.

Yet, I’ve always believed, and still do that creative genius dies the moment said creative genius steps into the management arena. There’s a reason actors have agents, musicians have producers, singers have songwriters, and politicians have advisors. Yin has its yang and so too should creativity be separated from “the management side of things”.

Times have changed for artists who are expected to step down from the screen or out from behind the computer. Yet, despite the fact that writers are evolving into promotion machines, we are, and always will be the Dorothy’s of the writing world. Dorothy found herself lost in a dream and might have stayed there had she not had a diverse team to help reach her goal of getting home. She might have gotten home by herself, eventually. Or she might still be kicking evil monkey butt with a pair of ruby slippers. She may even have decided she’d be better off staying in the poppy field. The point is that I feel a successful artistic career is best forged from a team effort. A great example is Matthew Reilly, who self published his first book, not to get into the business of self publishing, but to attract the attention of a mainstream publisher.
I have accepted that the secondary level of rejection is a challenge I must now overcome. I have to deal with the no-shows, the low sales, and the low attendance rates as part of my writer’s apprenticeship, and I have accepted that I, along with every other author, must subject myself to this rite of passage; it’s what builds resilience and sets apart those who succeed from those who don’t. And I have also accepted that self-promotion is part of this new evolving job of a writer. This is why I will continue to do whatever it takes to produce books and promote them so that they end up in the hands of the reader.

I am just conscious that too much delving into “the management side of things” not only detracts from “the creativity side of things”, but it can breed a level of overconfidence which causes writers to believe that they don’t need a Tinman, a Scarecrow, or a Cowardly Lion by their side. And that just isn’t the case.


D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.



Twitter   !/DLRichardson1