How do I bring characters to life?

Most characters in When Colour Became Grey are based on real people. They may not be based on people I know personally, but they are based on people that exist. Some characters are built on fictional characters from tv shows or movies, or a mash-up of several people, but I don’t ever use the same visual traits of a given person and their name. I doubt anyone would be able to pinpoint who any of my characters are based on and I prefer to keep it that way.

[Don’t use a real person that exists and use their name as well (in fiction). This opens you up to possible legal issues, especially if you display the person in a bad light and it’s recognizable who you’re talking about! I would also advise against copying fictional characters like for like. You can use other people’s work to get inspiration, but don’t flat-out copy-paste it.]

For me to be able to give life to a character I need to visualize them, especially their face. If I can’t draw inspiration from anyone I know, I will google faces or names. It’s a great way to also get inspiration; seeing a face can trigger your imagination and make you create a character you may not even have thought of before.

That is how I visually choose a character. Their behavior or personality trait is not based on that same person. If I see a face I don’t know, it’s easy to assign them character traits. For people I know it’s harder to dissociate their real personality from the one I want to create for the book. So I often spend time with the characters outside of my book to get to know them.

I can still keep writing in the book, but I will leave the reactions and intensity of the characters to a minimum until I have fleshed them out. And when I can’t write (I’m commuting, cleaning, etc.), I “spend time” with the characters. I imagine what they’re like at home when they’re alone, when they are stressed or scared, how they react when they’re angry or challenged. I also imagine how they would interact with other characters of my book; if you look at yourself, you don’t always act the same depending on who you’re speaking with and I try to recreate that dynamic with my characters.

I might be the one giving them life in the beginning, but they develop a life of their own. Wherever I want the story to go and however I want the characters to interact, is not always up to me. Sometimes I have decided what will happen in the book in a scene, but I realize it doesn’t fit the personality of the character. And then I need to adjust the story to fit the characters.

By doing this, the story often improves because it doesn’t go as I had planned it, and often when you plan a story it can be too linear, too perfect, too predictable and boring. It makes the characters also come to life and not be two-dimensional. They are part of the story and should have their space in the story, not just be part of the decor and ready to nudge the plot on, as and when needed in the direction you want it to go.

If you think of the story you want to tell, not only from the main character’s point of view, but also from other character’s point of view, you may see an angle that could be interesting to explore. How are your characters reacting throughout the story and why? Does it fit with the story itself? If the main character is evolving over the course of the story, are the side-characters also evolving? Does a dramatic occurrence such as a death only influence the main character, or does it spill over into other characters?

How many drafts does it take to publish a book?

That depends (I feel like I say that often…) on the type of book you write, how long it is, how you write, etc.

The way I write drafts is probably not exactly how other authors write. I get the impression that other authors write one draft all the way through to the end, and then amend that first draft until they get the final version of the book.

I write in my first draft until I change a major aspect of the story, then move to draft two. So I save drafts as I go along. To visually explain how I write, it’s like knitting a scarf with patterns and colour changes; when I realize I don’t like what I’ve knitted, I undo parts of it and start again, add different colours or change the patterns. But I’m not knitting it all the way through and then undoing my work.

Once I’ve gotten all the way to the end, the majority of the work has already been done and I concentrate on editing and polishing the story. This type of writing drafts works for me because I have a rough idea of where I want to end up, but a lot of the details are unknown and only come to me as I write. So if I write half the story and realize I want to change something major a quarter in, I can’t make myself keep writing to finish the story, because I’ve already decided to change something earlier on. And as I rewrite and rework the story, more things change, sometimes even the ending!

For When Colour Became Grey I had 13 drafts before I had written all the way to the end. Then I polished it for another couple of drafts, and gave it to the editor. The version I handed to the editor was about 130.000 words, and the published version is at just over 100.000 words. So I also added a couple of drafts here.

So far I’m on draft three of the sequel and I don’t think I’ll need as many drafts as for the first book of the When Colour Became Grey series. In the first book I had to do world building and think about what the tone and focus of the book series should be. I’m finding writing the sequel in a way easier because I have a base I can build on, and I have a much clearer idea of where I want book two to go, although I’m still early in the book and things have a way of changing unexpectedly…

Afterword to my readers

If there are any subjects you would like me to write about in this blog, please feel free to comment here or comment/message me on my facebook author page. 🙂

How to create your book cover

I worked with a professional cover designer to create my book cover and I highly recommend if you can afford it, to use a professional.

The cover is the visual that will sell your book. If you don’t have a good cover, it will be hard to attract readers. It’s the first impression you make on them. Your book cover will determine if a reader picks up your book and reads the blurb. It’s a powerful marketing tool and you should not underestimate it.

When I started working with the cover designer, I had drawn a sketch of what I was looking for, but I was not married to the sketch I had drawn. My cover designer had made hundreds of book covers, so I trusted he knew what he was doing. I described the book and what I wanted to communicate with the cover. In his first draft, he had completely changed my sketch and made it much better than I ever could, because he had captured the atmosphere and feeling I wanted for the cover.

The most important thing for me, was that I communicated the tone of the book and the overall story, so readers could get a taste of what awaited them. I wanted to not only have a good cover, but also one that once you had read the book, you could look at again, and understand the cover better. So when you design yours, think of what your story is in one picture. What is the atmosphere in the book? Is it a romantic story? Is it a horror story? How is the story written? Is it full of puns and jokes, or is something else? Can you include something hidden, that only someone who has read the story will understand?

While I had read on several blogs, that a mat cover was better than a gloss and looked more professional, I decided to go with the gloss. I had ordered an author copy with a mat cover, but the moment you touched it, you fingers left traces on the book and within just a few minutes it looked dirty and smeared. Most books may be in mat cover, but since I’m publishing through Amazon as a self-published author, I cannot guarantee the quality of the printer and I found the gloss cover was a better choice.

Updating your book after publication

Normally when you update the content of your book, you need to update the edition so you don’t confuse readers. Some updates on the content can be done without changing the edition, like correcting for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors [depending on who you publish with, this can be easily done.]. This is because it doesn’t change anything fundamentally in the story and improves the quality of the book. I would however caution you to not publish and then check for spelling or grammatical mistakes. You should aim to publish a completed and finished version of your book.

It happens that a typo appears that you didn’t catch before, but once your book is published, you should assume you’re done with that piece of work. Otherwise your mind will be thinking that you can always change it, and you will not be as thorough in your review before publishing it. And again, if you spend time reviewing and correcting errors in an already published book, that is time that you don’t spend on your next book or another creative project.

What if you’ve published your book, and you get a professional review that suggests changing some major aspects in the story, or polish specific things such as character development, world building, pacing; should you rework your book?

This is up for you to decide.

If you feel the professional is right and there are actually improvements you could make beyond “typo corrections”, then you may want to rework the book. You can take it off the market and relaunch it once you’ve done the changes. I would stick to the rule above to then change the edition just to avoid reader confusion.

There is nothing that says you have to do what the professional reviewer says. If you disagree with what they’ve highlighted as needing improvement, then that’s ok as well. It’s your book after all, and you should trust your instincts. What someone thinks of your book or art is subjective and you need to accept that not everyone will like it. Some criticism may be fair (fair as in constructive criticism that you can take on board) and some is simply derogatory and useless that you can (and should!) brush off.

Why I’m writing a series and not a stand-alone book

When Colour Became Grey is the first book in the series but in the beginning it was supposed to be a stand-alone book.

[To my lovely readers, I’m working on the sequel, but it will take me a little while still before I’m finished. I’m trying to write it ‘quickly’ but it’s still a longer process and takes time. I’ll update you when I approach the end.]

When I started, it was much more of a ‘simple’ romantic fantasy story. But as I started writing it out, I realized I didn’t want to write another book of a human falling in love with a vampire and then the vampire telling her what to do until she realizes her true power and she takes over as the leader. The story didn’t want to be that (because yes, you as an author are writing it, but the story also has a life of its own and sometimes it takes over and I have no choice but to cede control).

As the story advanced I realized there was too much material and the story was getting too big for a stand-alone book. So I planned two. And then even that became too restrictive. Currently I’m planning the series to be three, maybe four books. But this can change.

My goal is not to write a set amount of books in the When Colour Became Grey series. Otherwise I would either stretch the story or condense it to fit a certain number of books, and I need to have the freedom to let the overall story play out at its own pace and in its own volume. I have a broad idea of where the series will go, although the ultimate ending is not clear in my head, and a lot of the finer details are either not worked out yet, or I’ve left them purposefully open for me to figure out further down the line.

I’ve seen an author advising aspiring authors to write series to build a following and a fan base. While I can understand that if you write several books within a series it’s easier to engage with your readers and create a following, I’m against the idea of planning a series simply for that reason. Because if your goal is to write whatever readers want to read, then you should research what the most bought genre is and simply write in that genre, and publish books at quick intervals. And if you’re able to do this, hats off to you. But I can’t make my head think inside a given box and at the same time write something original. I think you should leave yourself the creative freedom to write a stand-alone, or a series. If you force yourself to do a series, you might end up with books that are just dragging out the ending and you could end up losing the trust of your readers. There are many examples of movie sequels that have done just that.

When to finish & publish your book

In previous posts I’ve talked about not caving into pressure to finish a book before it’s finished just to adhere to an arbitrary timeline to get the book published. Your book will most certainly take more time than you initially planned or anticipated, and you need to give yourself that additional time to polish the story.

But there is also a risk of continuously fiddling with your story and never publishing it because it’s never perfect. I’ve had to learn that it will never be perfect. You will always want to change that word, or this sentence, or tie up this scene a bit better… you can always find an excuse to continue editing your story until you get sick of the story and decide it’s all garbage and not publish it at all.

Ask yourself why you’re reluctant to finish your book; is it because you feel the story is not quite there yet, or is it because you’re doubting yourself and you’re afraid it’s not good enough? After editing When Colour Became Grey with my hired editor (i.e. a person with an external look at the story), I felt the story was nearing its final version. I re-read the story half a dozen times top to bottom in the space of a few weeks. I wanted to make sure it was absolutely final and ready to be published.

But when you tell yourself this is now the last time you’re checking the book before publishing it, you start getting nervous and you change more things. It’s very easy to be sucked into self-doubt and rewrite dialogue, outcomes of scenes, reactions of characters, polish until you think the story is terrible and you don’t want to publish it anymore.

At some point you need to trust that you’ve done the best that you could, and let it go. The more time you spend fiddling with the book, the less time you spend on writing another book. There is a balance between perfecting your book as much as possible, and not letting yourself be crippled by fear. Of course you will see errors you’ve done post publishing, but you also need to give yourself the opportunity to write other stories and books, to evolve and change style, write in other genres. When you’ve reviewed your book a dozen times and you only interchange words that essentially are synonyms, it’s time to publish your book. Trust your gut, and not your self-doubt, and take the plunge.

Why I chose to self-publish

When I had finished When Colour Became Grey, I at first tried to get it published the traditional way. I emailed the book to a few publishing houses but after about 6 months of silence (they all warn of long delays for their replies…), I received negative responses. However, they all emphasized the fact that these decisions were very subjective, and what one publisher rejected, could be considered a jewel with another publisher.

Since I had to wait between 3-6 months for their response each time, I didn’t want to try other publishing houses and have to wait again to possibly be rejected. So I started researching how to self-publish. While it was very overwhelming, I liked the idea of being in charge and managing the process by myself.

So I signed up onto Reedsy.com where I looked for an editor, and found one I really liked. Next, I also decided to hire someone for the book cover design through Reedsy.

By then I had spent already a big chunk of money, so I decided I wouldn’t hire a marketing person or other people that offered various services to help you launch or manage your book. I uploaded my book onto Amazon’s publishing website called KDP and out it went.

I’m glad I decided to self-publish because I could choose who I wanted as my editor, how I wanted to publish, what kind of formats, how to promote my book etc. Of course this means that you not only have to write a book, but also do all the heavy lifting afterwards to get it launched and market it. But it teaches you about the industry, it makes you think about your target audience and you view yourself as a business and not just an author. You have responsibilities and you’re your own boss.

One of the things I would say to authors considering self-publishing is that you will have to accept you will make mistakes. It’s a trial-and-error process to find what works for you. Things will take longer than you think, and you have to do a lot more than you think. You have to write descriptions, catch-phrases, resumes and blurbs for your book of different lengths depending on where you want to publish. You have to categorize your book, think of adwords, where to advertize, how much budget to use for marketing. You need to format the inside of your book and register an ISBN for your book (only for print). You also need to check in regularly on your sales and update your strategy depending on what works and what doesn’t.

Why you’re never too young to start writing

You may be told you’re too young to write, the argument being you haven’t lived enough so how can you possibly capture the essence of life and pour it into a book that’s meaningful and engaging?

I started at a very young, and when I read what I’ve written back then, most of it is complete garbage. It’s infantile, naive, too quickly paced, too easy, too… too young! But I would never discourage anyone from starting at a young age, nor do I regret starting at a young age. While you may not find anything you’ve written in previous years useful (and conclude it was a waste of time), you still wrote. You thought about plot and characters. You took the time to think about why you want to write and what kind of story you want to write. You let your imagination run free. Maybe you even thought about your competition and read books in your genre to understand what makes a great novel. You’re never too young to start pursuing something you’re interested in, whether it’s writing, acting, directing film, sports or something else.

Even if what you’ve written in your early years turns out to be useless, it is still good practice and you force yourself to establish a routine. It takes a lot of dedication and time to pursue something, and there is no perfect age to start at.

Another important aspect that I realize now, is that when you’re young you have a lot more time available. Even with school, homework and extra-curricular activities, you have a lot of time to explore a creative path. Furthermore, the fact that you live with family means you don’t have expenses to pay for. You don’t have to get a job to pay your rent and food, so you’re freed from obligations you have as an adult.

Writing a book can teach you a lot of valuable skills. It requires not only creativity, but also focus, perseverance, establishing and adhering to a routine, excellent level of grammar & language skills, communication skills, thinking outside the box, research, attention to details, sense or commercialization and entrepreneurship, and many other skills… All qualities that can be useful in many aspects of life. So I would always encourage anyone to write, regardless of age.

Why I visualize most things from my fantasy worlds

After starting a new story, when part of the story is somewhat fleshed out, when I have a few characters, a few important locations that will occur throughout the story, I visualize it. Not only in my head, but in pictures and drawings.

For characters I always have a picture of their faces. It may be a random person, or a fusion of several people, but I like to visualize them. It makes it easier for me to spend time with them and learn how they interact with others, what drives them, why they are the way they are. Some are based on real people, or I draw a sketch of their face, but I always have an image of some sort for all main characters.

I draw out the building plans of places that are recurring in the story like an apartment or a police precinct. This is to help me understand where the characters live and interact with others. If you write a crime story and the detective catches his colleague behaving suspiciously, it implies that he/she can see the other person from their desk. It doesn’t work if in another scene you describe he/she tucked away in a corner and discreetly drinking whisky from a flask.

I found that if I have it visually available, it allows me to be consistent, and also gives me freedom to describe the same place throughout the book instead of giving a detailed description at the beginning of the book when the police officer walks into the precinct in the morning. It can also give you more meat for your story; maybe you need that officer to switch desk because he/she can’t observe the suspicious colleague from their corner, so maybe another cop is fired from the police force and the main character is switching desk and can now observe the suspicious colleague. You can even give the fired cop a greater role and have them interact somehow in the story with the suspicious colleague, or the main character. You can communicate the tension of the story also in the description of a place, and by visualizing your characters you can give them ticks and facial expressions that may be otherwise difficult to imagine or left out completely.

How to find the motivation to write

If someone tells me they would love to write a book but they don’t have the time, then I know it’s a daydream and they don’t really want to write one. Because you can always find the time, it’s the motivation that is lacking.

I’m not saying that everyone can spare 10 hours a day writing, or that everyone has the capacity to spare the same amount of time. For a lot of people the idea of writing a book is like the dream to quit your job, buy a boat and then spend the rest of your days sailing the seas and oceans. It’s a fantasy, but nothing that will become reality.

There is no ‘snap your finger’ solution and your book is written for you. The motivation for writing a book comes from setting time aside, sitting down and writing. Even if you sit in front of your computer and you can’t find the words, at least you’re trying [I’ve written a post earlier on how to overcome writer’s block].

Maybe you don’t have a lot of time, but if you can dedicate half an hour over the course of your day to write, well that’s better than nothing! Writing a book takes a long time and many, many drafts. But nothing will happen if you always make excuses and put it off. I’m too tired, my head hurts, the kids are impossible… Some days you will lose the battle; sometimes something does come up and you can’t set the time aside to write. But it’s very easy to say you’ll take a short break, and then it’s summer, you’re going on holidays, then school starts again, it’s someone’s birthday, then Christmas, then New Year’s, then spring cleaning, you move or you start a new job… There is always an excuse and that is where your dedication to the craft will be tested.

The simple truth is you need to put in the hours, put in the effort, and write words on a blank page. And since you’re doing this without getting paid (at least in the beginning) and it takes a long time to see a finished product, it requires even more self-control and dedication to see it through. It can be very frustrating at times. I remember days where I sat for hours in front of my laptop, trying to focus and think of the next chapter, and after hours of pacing in front of the screen, re-reading the last sentences I wrote, reading my ideas and imagining the scene in front of me, I’ve written one single sentence. It’s easy to feel defeated and give up, but that one sentence is one more sentence than you had yesterday and one sentence closer to the end. So you keep going. One sentence at a time.

So what’s the magic formula to find the motivation to write? Sitting down and writing words on a blank page, and keep at it until the book is finished.