Sequel Struggles

It hasn’t even been a month since I published The Purple Door District, and I’m already feeling the dreaded sequel struggle. You know the feeling. You finish book one in a trilogy or series. Ideas blossom in your head for the next story. Your characters weave their tales and are ready to continue their journeys. You sit down to write.

Nothing.

Yes, this is going to be one of those raw blog posts where I talk about my struggles and then still try to provide some advice thanks to the help of other incredible writers.

Right now, I’m trying not to throw my computer at the wall because I’m so frustrated with the book.  I managed to write part of the story during NaNo, but now I feel stuck. One reason is because I’m intimidated by book one! I’ve received a lot of really good feedback, and while I know I can still make changes, I don’t want to write a sequel that’s subpar. Not only that, I’m not working with the same exact cast. New characters are popping in left and right, and they’re making the story that much more detailed and difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, the second book was meant to be more detailed and have bigger stakes, as it should, but I didn’t think it would cause me quite this much stress and fear.

I reached out to an incredible romance writer named Eliza David who sent me one of her blog posts about writing a sequel. You can check it out here. She provides some incredible tips such as taking notes of your characters from the first book, and also allowing characters (and conflict) to grow. Check it out!

As I’ve worked on my sequel, I’ve learned a few things that I thought I’d share as well. If you have tips, let me know!

  • Character Bios: Make sure you have character bios and descriptions from the first book and keep adding to them for the second book so you don’t have to keep researching and remembering who has what eyes or hair.
  • Talk it Out: I spent part of the day talking to my co-creator about book two. She had a bunch of valuable advice, and you can do the same with a fellow writer, especially one who has read your book. Outline the next story for them to see if it makes sense and if your book is going to hold your readers’ attention as much as the first.
  • Read Your First Book: This might seem obvious, but I didn’t really think about it when I started in on the sequel. I’d spent so much time editing PDD 1, I thought I wouldn’t have to read it again. Boy, was I wrong. I think it’ll help me stay in the groove of working with some of the same characters once I review it.
  • Outline: Outline your sequel to see if it makes sense in the world of book one. And if you have another book after the sequel, try to outline that book as well so you know where number two needs to end. Granted, this is more for the plotters rather than the pantsers, but I think it’s beneficial to both.
  • Allow Yourself to Feel Frustrated: Seriously, writing a sequel is scary and hard, so if you get frustrated, it’s completely normal. Allow yourself to feel (kick, scream, and cry if you need to), then get back to work. It’s better than keeping it all in.
  • Remember First Drafts Suck: Don’t get intimidated by your edited writing in book one. It started off as rough and unpolished as the sequel. The most important thing is to get the words on paper. You can clean it up later.

Believe me when I say you’re not alone in your dread of writing a sequel. Do what feels right for you, and look up suggestions for how to get through blocks and over hurdles.

My biggest suggestion is try to find a way to embrace your book and not be afraid of it. Because if you’re afraid what could happen, the only person who will ever know the story is you.

Write it.

You can do it!

The Joys and Woes of Writing

About a week ago, I reached out to #writingcommunity on twitter and asked people what was the best and worst thing about being a writer. The answers were mixed, but there was definitely a theme that I could relate with. (You can find the original thread here).

Best Thing About Being a Writer

  • Getting lost in the world I’ve created
  • Watching my characters deal with the world and events I throw at them.
  • Meeting other writers and hanging out with them
  • Creating worlds and characters and watching them develop
  • Living vicariously through a character
  • Writing is magic and creativity is joy
  • Having people who “get” you
  • Feeling like this is exactly what I’m meant to do in life.

Worst Thing About Being a Writer

  • Separating honest feedback from the trolls
  • Being asked, “How much do you earn from your writing” or “How many books have you published?”
  • Having to do so much of the process alone
  • Writing is solitary
  • Feeling I have no idea what I’m doing and wanting to give up
  • Fearing that my story is terrible
  • No immediate rewards, payments, or feedback
  • Feeling isolated and unmotivated
  • Fearing Failure
  • Isolating
  • Fearing Failure
  • Isolating

I think you can notice a theme with the “worst” thing. For many, writing is an isolating craft. You create characters and a world from your head, put it all down on paper, huddle with a computer and a notepad to develop your story…it’s hard not to feel alone. At the same time, we fear what happens when we offer our work to people through way of editing or publishing. Will they provide honest feedback? Will they hate it? Will they review it at all? How dare we bare our soul to the world?

It’s often said that we are our own worst critics, and I think we can see that in the list above. We’re so afraid of failure and how our story isn’t good enough. We beat ourselves down, thinking we can never amount to the other authors out there. It’s a heartbreaking feeling, and it sometimes keeps writers from putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Some people stop all together because of that insurmountable feeling that they’re not good enough.

But, on the flip side, look at all the amazing things that come out of writing. When you meet other creative minds, it’s wonderful to develop a community where you can support each other. As I write this, I’m with The Rainbow Room of The Writers’ Rooms, an LGBT writing group. I’ve met incredible people through the Rooms, through twitter, instagram, facebook, etc. There’s a community out there for you, you just have to find the right one. If anything, start with #writingcommunity on twitter.

Writing also allows you to let your creative juices flow into the creation of worlds, characters, magic systems, alien races, and more. How amazing is that? You get to develop this thing that you can call your very own! I often read books to escape reality and stresses of the day. Writing (usually) lets me do the same thing, provided I’m not ready to throw the book out the window. That’s special, and you should feel proud of the things you develop. Yes, first drafts suck. Yes, we all need and editor. But in the end, you take nothing and make something incredible; be proud!

Writing, as with all things, can have its drawbacks, but if we focus only on the negative, then we miss the good things that come with it. So to those of you struggling and wondering if you’re good enough or if you’re the only one who feels alone…there are others out there who feel exactly the same way. You aren’t alone. And I hope you find the courage to pick up that pen or open up that laptop and share your story with the world. Because you deserve to be heard.

Character Development (Part 1)

Character Development:

Image
(My character Dridona from an earlier series drawn by Spenser T Nottage)

 

 

 

When starting a story, everyone has a different way of developing characters. Some writers just jump right into the tale and see what happens whereas others write character sheets or biographies. I’m going to discuss a couple of ways that I, and friends, develop characters. Hopefully this will help some of you new writers or even some experienced writers who need further guidance.

Learn as You Write:

For the first series I worked on (note picture above), I really had no guidance for my characters. I may have created two paragraph character sheets, but otherwise, I just let them do what they wanted to do. This may sound strange to non-writers, but sometimes the characters just write themselves. You may have an idea of how a character will act, but once you start writing about him and letting him interact with other characters, you may realize that this person is completely different than what you had originally expected.

The more you write about the character, the more you get familiar with him or her. Sometimes I write short stories involving the character to see how she’ll act in certain situations. My favorite way to explore the character though is through roleplaying with friends. I’ll start an IM story and ask my friend if I can throw in one of my characters. As we write together, it forces me to explore how this character is going to see the world, feel, and think. It really helps me see if I know my character. Doing this also enables you to see if some of your characters are way too similar. Right now I have two characters, Elmaris and Kep, who seem too much like each other. What I may do is write a quick scene with just the two characters together and see how they act around one another. If I can’t differentiate between them, then I know I need to change one of them…or else merge them into one character.

Now, even if you create a biography or character sheets, that doesn’t mean that your characters are not going to change. Characters grow as you write about them, so don’t be afraid to write more with the characters even if you think you have them completed.

Biography Sheets:

For my first series, I just learned as I wrote. With my current series, I decided to take a different approach and wrote biography sheets. Some of you may ask, what’s the difference between a biography sheet and a character sheet? Really nothing, but for me, a biography sheet is more heavily “story” oriented whereas character sheets are more “logistics” based. I’ll explain what I mean in both sections.

My biography sheet is pretty simplistic. It just has the basic information describing a character to help me stay consistent during the story, but it also has the biography of everything that has happened in this character’s life.

Format:
Character Name:
Character Appearance:
Biography:
Magic/Special Facts:

Like I said, simplistic. I use maybe two sentences to describe the appearance, but that’s it. The biography can be anywhere from 1 page to 5 pages, depending on how detailed or important my character is. I also like to include “avatars” of the character. I pick actors that I think would work well and throw a picture in there to help me remember what my character looks like.

The benefits of writing a biography is that you know exactly what your character has been through. Some of the questions you may ask yourself are: Where was she born? Who is her family? What was her childhood like? What’s her adulthood like? What important things have happened to her? And so on and so forth. It’s good to know where your character came from so you know how she should act. So, if a character might have almost drowned when she was a kid and developed a fear of water, you don’t want her happily splashing around in a stream. If anything, the biographies help with character consistency.

Character Sheets:

There are plenty of character sheets out there that you can use to construct your cast, but for the sake of this blog, I’ll share one that I’m currently using. A.E. MacKellar shared this with me as we started writing our characters for our joint book. I’ve modified some of it to prevent SPOILERS from happening, but this is an example of what you can use to help you develop your characters in a more logistic fashion:

Character’s Full name:
Reason/Name Meaning:
Nickname:
Reason for Nickname:
Age:
Birth Date:
Birth Place:
Current Address:
Education:
Occupation:
Past Occupation(s):
Theme Song:

                                      PHYSICAL APPEARANCE:

Eye color:
Glasses or contacts:
Weight
Height:
Type of body/build:
Shape of face:
Distinguishing Marks:
Predominant Marks:
Hair color:
Hair Type:
Character’s typical hairstyle:
Are they healthy:
If not, why not:
Physical disabilities:
Tattoos:
Portrayed by:

                                               FAMILY:

Spouse:
Relationship with him/her:
Children:
Relationship with them:
Family:
Mother:
Relationship with her:
Father:
Relationship with him:
Siblings:
Birth order:
Relationship with each:
Most important childhood event:
Why:

                                           PERSONALITY:
Character’s greatest fear:
What is the worst thing that could happen to them:
A Single event that would throw life in complete turmoil:
Why:
Depressive or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder):
Mental Illness:
Priorities:
Philosophy:
Greatest strength in personality:
Greatest weakness in personality:
How character reacts in a crisis:
How character faces problems:
Kinds of problems character usually runs into:
How character reacts to NEW problems:
Temper:
Phobias:
Best friend:
Worst enemy:

                                             HABITS/LIFESTYLE:
Daredevil or cautious:
Smokes:
When and how much:
Drinks:
When and how much:
Allergies:
Health Issues:
Habits/Quirks:
Hobbies:
How character spends a rainy day:
MISC:
Character’s favorite color:
Character’s least favorite color:
Favorite Music:
Least favorite Music:
Favorite Food:
Use of expletives:
Can character defend self:
Can character use firearms:
Can character handle knives:
Criminal Record:
Space for Extra Notes:

Looking at it, the list can appear a bit daunting, and at first, it may be hard to discern what information is really needed versus what’s just extra fodder that you might be able to use down the road. The great thing about character sheets, though, is you can keep track of the character’s appearance. You know his family and what events influenced his life. You know simple things like if he drinks or smokes. What I also find exciting is how you develop particular quirks that your character does. For example, maybe Ray runs his hands through his hair when he’s stressed. Perhaps Melody bites her nails or starts to count during trying situations. Even including that a character is allergic to milk can be interesting because it adds something unique about him or her.

The character sheets keep all of your information in one place, too. You can add to it as you write, or refer to it to make sure you remember eye color or hair color. You may think that it’s easy to recall physical things like that, but once you have 10+ characters, it may be difficult to remember who has auburn versus red versus mahogany hair, etc.

This enables you to see how characters feel about each other a well, which I think is important. I like to know who my protagonist considers her best friend or worst enemy. It makes building relationships around different characters that much easier for you.

Conclusion:

Character development takes a lot of time, and if you really want to create a well-rounded character, it’s important to take steps to finding what sort of path is best for you. Do you wish to learn as you write? Do you want to focus on a biography? Do you want to write a detailed character sheet. Or, do you want to do as I do and combine everything together?

Frankly, I don’t think you can ever truly know your character until you write about her. Some characters I have spent days developing and tweaking only to begin writing and realizing she’s not the character I had intended to create. You want to be consistent with your character’s actions, yes, but also don’t want her to do something that may be contrary to her character just because you ‘think’ she should act this way.

Writing about characters is very personal. These are people that you have created, people you must mold into something unique and beautiful. In the end, remember to give your character the time and patience she deserves because you want to create someone readers can relate to as well.

I think that will be all for now. I do have some other things I would like to discuss about character development, primarily the do’s and don’t’s, but I’ll save that for another entry. For those of you who still aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few other tips:

Don’t know where to begin? Here are a few other exercises you can try.

Write a biography or character sheet about yourself:
What would you want people to know about you if someone had to write a book about you? What features define you and what parts of your history were important in your development? What people were important in your life? This should be easier to do since you yourself are a character in this world.

Write a Scene:
Don’t know anything about your character? Try writing a scene, like I suggested. Grab a character that you want to create and throw him into an environment. Toss random events at him or different kinds of people. See how he’ll react and what feels “right” for the character. You might learn a lot more from 2 pages of writing than from trying to write a biography.

Purpose:
Ask yourself, what is this character’s purpose? Is he a protagonist or an antagonist? Is he a main character or a minor character? Do you want him to represent a “good” friend or a “funny” friend. Once you realize the purpose, you can start to build off of that character. If he’s evil, maybe bad things happened in his childhood that made him that way. On the flipside, maybe bad events made the character want to be good and make the world better so no one else would have to suffer as he did. Find a starting point and branch out from there.

As always, if you think of things you would like me to write about, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to write a response.