Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Developing character motivation that draw the reader in

Understanding your characters’ motivation is key to developing strong characters.

 

dragonsOne of my favorite examples comes from one of my favorite childhood books, Princess Cimorene from “Dealing with Dragons.” She feels trapped in her life as a princess and is about to married off to a ridiculous prince, so she volunteers to be a “captive” princess for a dragon and ends up having all sorts of adventures while fending off knights who keep trying to “rescue” her.

Character motivation is the driving force behind what characters do and the choices they make. Motivations are based on needs. These are deep-seated needs that affect every aspect of their lives and psyches. They may be internal (psychological or existential) or external (survival).

Motivation spurs the character (and story) to keep moving, growing, and developing over time. Whatever need they have needs to be fulfilled, and making choices or taking action helps get them closer to that fulfillment. The steps the character takes to fulfill a need become major and minor plot points.

Motivation also makes a character more relatable. Every human has needs. Even though our individual needs vary, we all understand that desire to seek for something else, move forward, or find a better situation. Starting with a universal need helps reach a wide range of readers. That motivation can then be tailored to the character and story and narrowed down into something unique without losing reader interest.

Motivation provides characterization. It tells the reader something important about that character, such as how they were raised/treated, what cultural norms shaped their morals or values, what expectations they have for themselves or others, etc. Motivation also reveals important truths about character roles and how they fit in to the story.

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Every character needs a motivation, even side characters and antagonists. Side characters don’t need to be developed as deeply, and may only have a general need or motivation, but having something that drives them makes them more realistic. Antagonists act in frustrating or despicable ways for a reason. They are also trying to fulfill a motivation, often a self-serving or misguided one, but they must have a goal that directs their character arc in order to be realistic and engaging.

Motivations must be realistic. That doesn’t mean their end goal is realistic, but it has to be something a reader can believe the character is truly motivated by. Illogical, weak, or lazy motivations make characters aggravating and unrelatable. Motivations can easily be deluded, irrational, misguided, or even malicious. It’s important that the motivation comes from a base need that readers can understand, even if they don’t agree with or like it.

Goals and motivations are not the same thing. Motivation can lead to goals and steps that need to be taken. Goals are the end result, the fulfillment of a motivation. Motivation is what drives the character to keep moving toward a goal even when it’s incredibly difficult.

Characters can have multiple, and even conflicting, motivations. Humans are not rational creatures most of the time. We want things that keep us from reaching other goals all the time. We want things we know we can’t have. We self-sabotage. We want two things that can’t coexist together. Don’t shy away from making your character complex…within reason.

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Posted in creative writing, writing, writing thoughts

Improving work-life balance

work-1627703_1920Writers work in a variety of situations: work from home full time, work outside the home and work from home part home, work full time outside the home and fit in writing on lunch breaks and down time, and on and on. Achieving a work-life balance that works is often a challenge.

When talking about work-life balance, there are four “life quadrants” to consider: work, family, friends, and self. Work-life balance doesn’t mean all four of these are in equal balance. Work-life balance also isn’t static, but should be fluid over time to accommodate changing situations. Everyone’s personal work-life balance will be different.

Below are some tips and resources for achieving better work-life balance. Please share any additional tips that have helped you!

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SELF

  1. Take care of yourself! If you aren’t caring for yourself, every other area of your life is impacted negatively.
  2. Schedule one activity per week that is just for you, whether it’s doing something on your own or going out with friends.
  3. Make others aware of your plans or schedule so they expect it and can adjust accordingly.
  4. Know when to stop or say no. This includes work commitments and family/friends activities. Simplify your life by prioritizing which activities are important and which are beyond your current capabilities.
  5. Exercise and/or meditate. Both are stress reducers and don’t have to take up hours of your day to provide health benefits. Both work to reduce stress by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms everything down in the moment and long term as you develop a consistent routine.
  6. Develop strong time-management skills.
    1. Plan your entire week ahead of time.
    2. Set time limits for chores, writing etc.
    3. Keep an activity log for a few days, tracking every 15-30 minutes. Review at the end of the day and cut out whatever is unnecessary or time wasting.
    4. Reevaluate your goals so they are realistic.
    5. Utilize auto-ship/delivery/pickup services when possible.
    6. Choose easy-to-make meals and have kids or partners help prepare them when possible.
  7. Limit time-wasting activities and people. Rank daily activities based on priorities. Trim what wastes time.
  8. Participate in community engagement activities such a group discussions and book clubs at HGW and local activities and events in your area.
  9. Create a designated quiet space. This space should be a space where you can take a mental break. Make it uncluttered and free of work materials or reminders. Find a space with lots of light, one that is comfortable, has plants possibly, and is calming.
  10. Take short breaks throughout the day to get in some steps, go outside, or do something that allows you to clear your head.
  11. Change your life structure to matches your time to your responsibilities. Delegate or split tasks when possible, enlist help from services or friends, or cut out activities or responsibilities that are not necessary.
  12. Redistribute responsibilities, focus on what you specialize in, what time commitments make sense, and what you value most.

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WORK

  1. Let go of perfectionism, especially on a first draft. Let yourself work free of critique so you can work faster. Save the editing and re-writes for later.
  2. Limit distractions while working. Turn off your phone, internet, etc. and focus only on your work for a specific amount of time. Then take a break and clear you mind.
  3. Take pleasure in your work. Keep a list near your computer reminding you why you enjoy writing.
  4. Overlap instead of multi-tasking. Accept that some family activities do not require your full attention and can double as work time, such as waiting in the lobby for a child’s dance class to end.
  5. Set boundaries and stick to them. Know how much time you have to devote to different areas and makes others aware of your commitments so they don’t feel ignored and can help you accomplish your goals.
  6. Have a physical schedule of deadlines and projects that is posted where you and family members can see. It serves as a reminder to you and to family members of why you are busy or can’t spend as much time in other pursuits at the moment.

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FAMILY

  1. Unplug and take time for your family. Tell others about your goal to stay unplugged for a specific amount of time so they can help remind you.
  2. Choose specific family activities that need you to be fully present for – such as a child’s sporting event or school program, and leave work behind.
  3. Schedule dedicated time with family each day or week. Don’t allow other distractions. Bonding time makes you more productive and relaxed at work.
  4. Make time for sit-down breakfast to start the day on a positive note.
  5. Family dinners are good for kids because they help them have better relationships with parents, which reduces parental stress.
  6. Get kids involved with necessary chores and have fun doing them together. Turn on some music or make a game of it.
  7. Involve the kids/family in exercise time or meditation. Children need quiet time or time to work out excess energy just as much as adults do!
  8. Check in with your kids/family every so often to see how you’re doing and express your needs to them. Work-life balance is often a group effort and works much better when the whole family is invested in improvement.
  9. Develop rituals to start/stop work and mentally and emotionally prepare yourself to be present in other activities. Set aside 20 minutes before wrapping up work to tie up all loose ends and clear your mind for family time.

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FRIENDS

  1. Make time to spend with friends, but set realistic goals based on your current commitments.
  2. Write out an “ideal” time with friends, such as dinner or a movie, and write out an alternative plan for busy weeks, such as 30 minutes for coffee. Adjust on a weekly basis for what fits best for that week, but don’t skip seeing friends regularly.
  3. Involve friends in exercise activities, such as walk or fitness class.
  4. Include friends in work related activities, such as a reading club or trip to the bookstore for a reading or author event.
  5. Take short breaks during the day to text or chat with friends.

An important thing to remember when working to improve work-life balance is that we all go through different seasons where some things simply must take priority while others are pushed aside. It doesn’t mean you’re failing at one aspect or another. It means you are aware of your limitations and are taking action to manage your responsibilities.

Posted in marketing

Creating a Marketing Plan: Part 1

Creating a marketing plan that’s doable is tough.

Where do you start?

Time

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How much time per day/week are you willing to put into marketing? Be realistic. If you only have an hour per week, build your plan around that. A lot can be accomplished in a small amount of time.

If you have more time, keeping a list or schedule can help you use it more efficiently. Using whatever amount of time you have in the most effective way is important.

Money

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Set a firm budget for your marketing efforts and be realistic about what you can afford.

There are a lot of free marketing options, so don’t feel like you have to have a big budget. If you have a small budget, there are many author friendly marketing options that are as little as $5 and can have a good impact.

Effort

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What can you do on your own and what do you need help with? No one can do everything on their own, so admit what your strengths and weaknesses are and go from there. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help when you need. Authors are great about helping each other.


Now let’s take the next step…

Who is your audience?

Who do you want to target in your marketing efforts? You need to be as specific as possible so you can narrow down your marketing pool. Targeted marketing is more effective than blanket tactics.

What avenues do you most want to pursue?

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In-person, online, blogs/reviewers, social media, etc. What are you comfortable with and what types social interactions do you enjoy participating in?

If in-person events aren’t your style, focus on online marketing like Facebook parties, Twitter chats, etc. If you enjoy meeting readers face to face, school talks or bookstore book signings might be where you want to focus.

What is your goal?

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Aside from hitting the NYT bestseller list 😉 

Study your competition. What’s working for them? What’s not working? Look especially at creative ways other authors are marketing their books. Finding unique tactics will make your book stand out.

Marketing is tough, but making a plan that fits into your life, budget, and schedule will make it more manageable.

WPR Header ImageTo listen to the full podcast on Creating A Marketing Plan That’s Actually Doable, check out the Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast Part 1 and Part 2.

Posted in writing

Deadlines, Summer, and Catching Up

I like having a routine, a schedule. I don’t get things done without one.

Summer usually decreases my productivity significantly. Not just writing, but cleaning, weeding, organizing, etc. The kids are home, projects around the house and yard on going on, trips are taken, a million random things need done and distract you from your original tasks, and on and on.

79420-calendardeadlineI need deadlines.

Some people don’t work well under pressure. For me, it’s the only way I get anything done sometimes. Those deadlines might be more vague like, the kids get home by 3 o’clock. I need to finish this chapter by then and get the dishes in the dishwasher. Or they might be more concrete, like when my publisher wants edits back by a certain date.

The first half of this year we were selling and buying a house and moving. That pretty much takes up all your time. I didn’t get much writing done and release dates I had a vague imagining of drifted past unnoticed. Then summer hit. We’ve been out of town more then we’ve been in town it feels like. I had extra classes I was teaching and the kids had activities and my husband was super busy at work.

The writing I did was sandwiched in between other things and done late at night when my husband was out of town and I was too chicken to go to bed by myself. I worked on half-finished projects from last year that had been abandoned or never started, but I was scattered and distracted easily.

Blogfest Banner 28 DaysOne of the projects I wanted to get back to was The Ghost Host, but I was having a hard time focusing on it. When my good friend Apryl Baker put out the call for her annual YA/NA Blogfest this August/September (GOING ON NOW!!) my first thought was to feature something already finished. Less stress on me, right? Sure, but also a heck of a lot less projects getting wrapped up.

Even though I still had about 25% of The Ghost Host to write, not to mention revisions and editing, I signed up the Ghost Host as my featured story and told myself that whatever day Apryl gave me, that would be the pre-order release date. With as hectic as things have been lately, I knew I was taking a risk, but guess what? IT WORKED.

Echo The Ghost Host NEWAfter getting the date of Sept 2nd from Apryl, I got to work and finished the last quarter of the book in about two weeks. It’s off to beta readers now and it looks like I’ll make my pre-order date of Sept 2nd and release date of October 6th, 2015. Thanks to my awesomely talented photographer sister Kassondra Sturtevant (Mystereah Photogrpahy), I also have a new cover model and was able to finish the cover art. You can get a sneak peek of THE GHOST HOST on the YA/NA Blogfest Sept 2nd.

I’ve always known that I work better under deadlines, but I guess I’ve just been lazy about actually setting them and making myself stick to them. I have a lot to catch up on, so that’s going to change. In the hopes of being more productive, I’m going to push myself a little harder. Readers have been asking me when on earth I’m planning to release Wicked Revenge and even though I’m not going to make an October release because I already have two other books releasing that month (The Ghost Host and The Only Shark In The Sea), I am now determined to have Wicked Revenge out before Christmas.

The third Escaping Fate (Oracle Lost) has also been requested and I’m setting a firm time to have it ready by March 2016.

Somewhere in there the fourth Date Shark book (Shark In Troubled Waters) will also come out, but that one’s up to my publisher.

Torino Dreams Coming SoonSince Torino Dreams is a standalone and I only need to make a few small revisions to that one, I’m going to start prepping for an early February 2016 release.

Memory’s Edge needs a sequel and I want to release them close together, so my plan is to set a deadline of having the first draft of the sequel to beta readers by the beginning of March and to release these two in April and May 2016.

Clearly, I have a lot of work to do, but setting deadlines is going to force me to stop wasting time on Facebook and get some writing done. Wish me luck!