Tag Archives: novel writing tips

Tracking Character Motivations with a Free Spreadsheet

1 Feb

It’s no secret that I’m currently revising a manuscript. I’ve been talking about revising a lot lately and giving glimpses into what my revision process looks like. I’m currently on my third draft of a multi-POV sci-fi novel, and I am still smoothing out my character motivations. (What can I say? It can be tricky! Especially when you change something in chapter 3 and it causes a domino effect for the next thirty chapters.) In fact, character motivations can get trickier the more you revise. Why? Because you have to remember the exact decision each character made and why in this particular version. Obviously, you might see where lines start to blur. No one expects you to remember every little detail of every manuscript you’ve ever written, but readers do expect consistent, believable characters. And it’s your job as the writer to deliver.

One way I track the motivations of my characters is an Excel spreadsheet. 

If you follow me elsewhere, you might have seen me upload the photo of my Excel spreadsheet, which actually led me to today’s topic. I received a lot of messages asking for more information and tips on motivations, so I thought I would dive deep into this topic today. 

Motivations are important. So. Incredibly. Important. Without motivation, characters will come across as bland and unbelievable, which, quite frankly, makes them hard to follow or care about. There’s a lot to consider when choosing any particular character’s motivation. (Did I mention that ALL of your characters need a driving force? It isn’t just your protagonist, though your protagonist’s will probably matter the most since they are, well, you know, the protagonist.) Mostly, I find there’s a misconception that the bigger the motivation, the more important the story will feel to the reader. But it’s really the opposite. The more personal the motivation, the better. Why? Because the reader is more likely to empathize with personal stakes rather than worldly stakes. Which one do you care about more: A main character who must save the world or a main character who must save their little sister while the world is ending?

Typically, readers are drawn to characters who have personal stakes driving their motivation, even if the overall arc is huge (like saving the world). A great example is Katniss Everdeen. While she is the heroine at the center of a dystopian novel – and saving her country could’ve been the driving force – her true motivation was keeping her little sister safe. Without having a sister to save, Katniss wouldn’t have volunteered. (We know this as fact, because she had been in many lotteries before, and hadn’t volunteered before her sister was chosen.) Without a sister, Katniss wouldn’t be Katniss. Which is why what happens to her sister is so devastating. This sister-led motivation also creates a solid foundation for the reader to see why saving the “world” matters so much. (Why save a world if you don’t care about anyone in it?) Personal motivation will resonant more; therefore, allowing worldly stakes to have a solid platform. So let’s talk about those stakes. 

Your characters’ motivations should be challenged at all times. This is mostly referred to as “raising the stakes”. 

Ex. What does Katniss have to sacrifice in order to save her sister? What does saving her sister do to others around her? How does that affect Katniss’s future decisions? When does it change her decisions and motivation?

In addition to paying attention to your characters’ motivations (and upping those stakes), it’s important that your characters (especially your protagonist), change. At the end of the book, your characters should not be the same people we met on the first page. If they are the exact same person with the same feelings and motivations, then what actually happened in 300 pages? 

By creating a spreadsheet, you are forcing yourself to answer hard questions: “Did my character change in this scene? Did those changes push them forward or hold them back? Did it affect the story at all?” Spoiler alert: you should be answering YES to each of these questions, from chapter one allllll the way to the end.  

Typically, when I start writing a novel, I know where I’m going to begin and end. It rarely changes for me. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever started a book when I didn’t know the ending (or have a really close idea to what my ending would be). Why? Because the beginning tells me who the character started as, whereas the ending tells me where the character ends. The middle is going to be my character arc (herein referred to as the “rainbow”). If I don’t know where that rainbow is going, I will struggle to form all those colors that makes the story colorful, let alone form an ending that’s a believable treasure chest of gold. 

The spreadsheet helps me most out in the middle. I’ve found the middle is a place where a lot of writers struggle. In fact, the place I always get stuck at is about 65%. And when I get stuck, I love to work backward. This is where my motivational spreadsheet becomes super helpful. I can see where I want my characters end and compare it to where I got stuck. Then, I can ask myself, “What has to happen to these characters to get them here?” Once I start brainstorming, I can fill those motivations in. 

A spreadsheet is additionally helpful if you have multiple POVs or characters (ex. if you are struggling to track minor characters or the villain’s motivations), especially if Character A and B know something that Character C has yet to learn. In the end, I track the following: Chapter number/title, Chapter Summary, Character A, Character B, etc. (Typically listed in the order of importance.) I put the POV note in the chapter number. I also sum up what Character C is thinking/doing even if they don’t physically appear in a particular scene. That way, I am forcing each character to have their own presence, even in the “white noise” of their nonexistence in a scene. 

I highly encourage you to try this out if you are struggling with motivation, pushing stakes, and/or filling in that ugly middle. I gravitated toward this method because I’m an INTJ. I thrive with tasks dependent on logic. (Which is also why writing can be so hard sometimes.) Characters, as we all know, aren’t always logical, and yet they need to make logical sense to the reader. This single truth can feel like a huge contradiction to fledgling writers, when it isn’t. Not really. In reality, readers need to understand your character, even in your character’s most illogical moments. They need to believe that your characters illogical moments made sense to your character. Ex. Let’s say Character A loves Character B, and Character B has been kidnapped. Character A has a chance to save them, but only a 2% chance. And if they took that 2% chance, there’s a 98% chance they’ll both die. And yet, there’s no other chances coming their way. Logically, Character A should probably save themselves and hope for another chance. But we’re reading about heros! Character A is going to take that 2% chance, with all odds against them. Your reader should get that. They should feel how emotions have driven their decision-making. 

That’s what a spreadsheet is for. It’s forcing you, the writer, to give us those reasons, and making sure you’ve made those reasons clear in your story. 

Download your free Excel spreadsheet here. 

How do you track your character motivations? 

Also, what else do you want help with? I love to hear from you! In fact, it helps me help you more when I hear from you. I heard a lot from a lot of you all in my latest newsletter. (Whaaaaat? Shannon, you have a newsletter? I do! It releases once a quarter, and I always include more writing tips, sneak peeks at my work, and an exclusive surprise giveaway. Subscribe here.

My blog posts happen the first Saturday of every month, so check back in on Saturday, March 7. 

~SAT

Trying to Write as a Pantser

16 Jan

I’m a pantser for the first time.

What’s a pantser? Someone who writes a book with no plan, as opposed to a plotter, who, you know, plots.

Normally, I plot like crazy. I have plots for my plots. (Also known as subplots.) And though I almost always deviate from my original plans, I always have a plan. But lately, I was feeling a little bogged down by all that planning. I yearned for adventure. For mystery. For absolute chaos. Like a road trip with no destination ahead. Just me and the road and whatever will happen.

So, I decided my first book of 2017 would be written in perfect pantser style, full speed ahead.

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would crash and burn. In fact, I expected to. But that wasn’t the case. Let me explain the differences by comparing my normal plotter ways and my current pantser adventure.

The Idea

Plotter: Disclaimer: Almost all of my books start off as a dream, and this one was no different. After I have a dream I think might be worthy of a book, I sit on the floor with a million notebooks and just write down scenes and ideas that come to me. Throughout the next few weeks (or even months), I expand on the characters and world until they blend together and I have a solid plot, character list, and timeline. Sometimes, I even write an entire screenplay, dialogue and all, before I actually write Chapter One.

Pantser: I had a dream, cracked my knuckles, and sat down at my computer.

plotter

Beginning to Write

Plotter: I start in Chapter One after reading Chapter One’s notes thoroughly, and then I repeat with Chapter Two and Chapter Three and so on.

Pantser: Literally, the day I had the dream, I sat down at my computer and wrote down what I saw. I didn’t even know the general theme or my protagonist’s name, or even if she was the protagonist. But she quickly fleshed out into the full-fledged botanist she is today. The world she was in quickly followed. Fun fact: the dream I had wasn’t Chapter One, which is where I usually start. Instead, it turned out to be a mixture of Chapter Two and Chapter Four. (For now.) panster

The Rest of the Adventure

Plotter: I always know where I’m going and what will probably happen. Even if something changes, it doesn’t affect the story too much. I can still stay on course. (Basically, my GPS will reroute me no matter where I go.)

Pantser: I can’t stay on course, because there is no course. Even more confusing, there is no world to navigate anyway. This current project of mine is a YA sci-fi, but I’m letting my world build itself. That is honestly the strangest part for me. Normally, I have an entire system of rules and ideas to constrain my characters to, but not this time. This time, I’m letting the book let me know what it needs to do before I figure out where the boundaries go. We’re very much off-roading in unknown terrain, but I haven’t popped a tire yet. And if I do, I can create a spare out of thin air…because you know, no rules. I’ll make laws up later. And while this might sound reckless, I’ve been keeping a list of boundaries that come up in the text as I go, and it seems as solid as anything else I could’ve created by plotting.

In the end, being a pantser or a plotter doesn’t feel that much different, but this risk helped me fall back in love with the thrill of writing. I’m writing around the same pace as usual, but I do feel like I’m enjoying it more. I already know I’m going to have to rewrite a ton, but I do that when I plot, too, so that doesn’t feel like a huge loss to me. In fact, if I were being honest—if this works out—I kind of like this pantser thing. It feels more vulnerable (and more likely for things to go terribly, horribly wrong), but that vulnerability makes it feel more authentic, too. Like the characters are definitely more in charge.

Recently, for instance, I realized my villain is probably not who I thought it was going to be. And I’m still unsure about where the next chapters are going, but I definitely know the ending. (Or I think I do. Ha.) And I’m kind of enjoying my hesitation and fear and absolute joy when it works out.

Perhaps, this pantser mode worked for this particular book and wouldn’t for others, but I’m glad I decided to try it out. I’m having a lot fun, and I believe the project is forming together beautifully. If I had to guess, I would say a writer could do either one and be successful with it. And it definitely can’t hurt to try. In fact, it helped me.

Now to go write a scene I know nothing about.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Feeling Down About Writing? Here’s How To Write Again!

2 Jan

Recently, I felt down about writing. When I sat at the computer, the words didn’t flow, and when I walked away, the urge to try again was gone. I struggled and searched for the reason I was struggling and continued to struggle again. Honestly, my “down” period was caused by the holidays, and let’s be honest, 2016 was one hot mess. But now that we’re into 2017—and many of us are typing at full speed ahead to meet our New Year’s resolutions—there’s bound to be a time when you feel down again.

How can you feel better about writing when you aren’t feeling so great?

Well, there are plenty of ways. In fact, there are so many ways, I asked my fellow Clean Teen Publishing authors to share their secrets to get back on the keyboard.

1. Listen to Music

Music is a really big way for me to get back into writing. Certain songs or arrangements feel suited to different characters or situations, and that usually gets the words flowing with some regularity again. – Molly Bilinski, debut author of Lady of Sherwood (April, 2017)

When I’m struggling to write, or inspiration has left me, I always return to the old reliable; music. I go on the hunt for new music and spend time finding songs that match the mood and tone of my WIP. There is nothing more therapeutic then finding a song and suddenly having clarity. – Susan Harris, best-selling author of Skin and Bones 

2. Play!

Whenever I’m down, I find that it’s usually because I’m taking everything too seriously and I’m too busy “adulting” to appreciate the fun in life. I need to get back to that “kid” space where anything goes and nothing is crushingly important. You’re just playing to play, having fun and going where it takes you – Jennifer Derrick, author of Avenging Fate

I always encourage writer friends to find another creative outlet. As creative spirits, writing is not all we can or should do. Create something else, craft, sew, crochet, whatever, but cultivate that creative spirit in another way. We can channel our inspiration in so many ways. – Lila Felix, author of Lightning Forgotten

3. Remind Yourself Why You Write

I reread something that I’m really proud of writing, usually something from at least a couple years ago. Sometimes remembering how great that felt can spring new ideas to mind. And sometimes it just reminds you that you have survived bad times before, and were still able to write something amazing. – Kendra Sanders, author of Dating An Alien Pop Star

“The moment you quit is the moment you fail.” I’ve been living by this mantra since September 1, 2010, the day I started writing the first novel I ever finished. Since then, I’ve had my fair share of discouraging moments, but I can honestly say I’ve never seriously considered quitting. Because if I quit, I fail. I’ve got too many stories to tell to let that happen. – Tamara Grantham, award-winning author of Dreamthief

So what’s my advice?

Along with all of these wonderful writers, I think stepping away, listening to music, reading your favorite book, or visiting your favorite café can help clear your mind of whatever’s holding you back. Sometimes, it just takes time, and I have to remind myself that writing is not a race—that my mental and physical health is important, too. Sounds simple, but it isn’t.

I always joke that I’m a Triple A personality. I’m constantly working, and if you catch me during a rare moment off, I’m probably thinking about working. (I could really use a hobby outside of reading and writing, but alas, I love them so much.) For me, visiting Barnes & Noble or a library and just surrounding myself with books can calm my soul. In the end though, one thought always finds its way back to me.

Be sure to visit all the awesome Clean Teen authors who made this post possible, and of course, good luck getting back on the keyboard.

It might be difficult. It might feel impossible today. But every day is the start of something new and wonderful, and every novel starts with one word.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Weaknesses in Writing

26 Dec

Writers always have room for improvement. Even if you’re a New York Times Best Seller, you are growing every single day, and knowing what aspects to work on can definitely help your career.

How do you know what to concentrate on?

Be honest with yourself.

Most writers know what their weaknesses are. Maybe it’s those pesky fighting scenes (or kissing scenes). Maybe creating villains is really difficult for you, or world-building takes wayyyyyy too long (like five years too long).

We probably know where we need extra help, because it takes us more time than usual to overcome that particular obstacle…and that’s okay!

Understanding your weaknesses as a writer will help you overcome them and learn from them. So, here are some tips to figure them out, work with them, and beat them.

1. Make Lists!

While you’re writing, you’ll come across those tricky areas and struggle. Take note of where and how and why you struggle during particular times. Also take note of how you figured out the issues eventually. By forcing yourself to step away and reevaluate it, you’ll see more patterns, and you’ll be able to research or study that particular area until you no longer struggle as much. Want an example? I LOVE my side characters, sometimes a little too much, and while I can explore side characters, I often let them overshadow my main characters during the first draft. In the current book I’m working on, I have a note to tone down those subplots. That way, I don’t get out of control again. (And if I do, I have notes on how to fix it when I’m editing.)

Another list I love to keep outlines my crutch words. This includes words I use WAY too often and words I often misspell or just need to look out for in general. Crutch is actually one of my misspellings. I always use clutch instead. Why? I have no idea, but I know that I need to search for clutch and crutch every time I’m editing. I also search for all those pesky, repetitive expressions like smile, nod, frown, smirk, laugh, etc. There’s nothing better than finding out you used the word smile six times on one page and deleting them ALL before anyone else reads your Crest commercial…er, I mean, book.

writerweaknesses2. Read, Research, Practice!

If you’re anything like me, you might struggle with romantic scenes. (Seriously, I feel like a Peeping Tom every time I write a romantic scene. It really ruins everything for me, which is probably why most of my novels have very little romance in them. But moving on…) I know this about myself. I know to take my time on these scenes, and I realize I’ll edit them a hundred times over. But one thing that I find that fixes my issues more than anything else is reading. By reading, I will see how authors evoke emotions I struggle to explain. Whenever I come across a romantic scene in a book I’m reading, I definitely pay more attention than usual. I might even take notes on how and why it was a successful scene, so that I can consider how to utilize those tools in the future. This is where research and practice comes into play. Once you start realizing what works for you and others, you can try out your new skills on short stories or individual scenes. By writing and rewriting those areas you struggle in, you will start to feel more confident and comfortable over time. (Plus, we could always use another excuse to read.)

3. Remember One Thing!

Weaknesses do not make you a bad writer. Everyone has them. Yes, even J.K. Rowling. Maybe you have a bad habit of dream sequences or too many flashbacks or your villain falls flat every time. That’s okay! As long as you understand that these are issues, you can fix them. Look at it this way, isn’t it better to know about them, and be honest about them, than be oblivious or ignore the issue at hand? Writing is a journey. Some scenes will work perfectly; others might need more work. Take your time. Embrace the challenges, and prove to yourself that you can overcome them.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs What It’s Like To Co-Author With Your Mother

4 Apr

Intro:

Recently, I had a blast working with young adult author Bronte Huskins and her mother, Sarah Newton. Together, they wrote the novel, Never Mind My Thigh Gap, a story about a young girl joining a model competition to overcome her insecurities while finding friends along the way. (I love this novel, by the way.) When they offered to write an article about their co-authorship, I invited them on here immediately. I hope you’ll enjoy their story as much as I do.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in guest articles are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect my own. To show authenticity of the featured writer, articles are posted as provided (a.k.a. I do not edit them). However, the format may have changed.

What It’s Like To Co-Author With Your Mother by Bronte Huskins

The question, “So, what was it like to work with your mum?” gets asked a lot, with the expectation of the answer being, “It was very challenging” or, “It was so difficult and at times I wanted to rip her head off!” But the answer, the real answer, couldn’t be more opposite. Writing a novel with my mum taught me a lot about my writing and actually made me a better writer.

Working with my mum on a novel we are both passionate about was actually a really enjoyable experience. There was never a time where I got so frustrated that I had plotted how I would kill her in her sleep that night. Of course it was hard work; writing a novel is certainly the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I think that having my mum there writing it with me actually helped keep my sanity in check. She understood my frustration when the characters were being a bit too moany and cried with me as we wrote the ending. It’s an experience I’m glad I could share with her.

0 (1)The one thing I was surprised about was how much I learnt from co-authoring Never Mind My Thigh Gap. My mum showed me what my strengths and weaknesses were and how to play with them and use them to my best advantage. She taught me that I was great at characterisation, conversation and description, but not so good with the nitty gritty, in-between stuff, which she turned out to be good at. She made me a better writer and we just worked together as co-authors.

We managed to get a rhythm going pretty early on in the process; I wrote the main text and my mum would edit it and write Oscar’s point of view. This involved a lot of sending the book backwards and forwards, and doing it again we realised that it would’ve been a whole lot easier just to send my mum the whole thing once I had written the first draft. We know that now but despite this, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a learning experience and was a real bonding experience. I can’t imagine writing a novel without her anymore.

My tips on co-authoring with or without your mother.

Start with a plan

The main tip I would give to anyone who co-authors is come up with a plan of action beforehand. Writing this novel could’ve easily turned into a disaster, but we planned the outline of the story before actually writing it. Even though the story did change as we went on, having the first outline was extremely helpful.

Learn to compromise

I would also advise that you learn how to compromise; the trouble with co-authoring is that it’s not just your book, you have to share your baby with someone else. Whilst it does take some of the pressure off, it does also mean that you have to combine your ideas with someone else, and not all of them make the cut.

Be honest

First with yourself and then with the other person. Often the other person may say or do something that you instantly have a negative reaction to. Stop first and think about what they are saying, could it be true, even if a little bit? I remember once my mum saying I use too many words and my first reaction was to scream at her, but she was right – I do and when I got over myself and listened to her, the book was better. Also I felt completely at ease being honest with her and not hurting her feelings. I never held anything back as I didn’t want there to be any tension between us.

Know your strengths

Part of this process helped us both get really clear what our strengths are. I am very good at character development and speech, my mum showing the reader what is happening and the emotional impact of the story. When we realised what we were both great at, it allowed us to settle in to our respective parts.

I know it’s not for everyone, but I found and still find co-authoring with my mum a great experience.

Bio:

0 (1) (1)I am an 18-year-old student at Bath Spa University currently studying Creative Writing and Publishing. My first book ” Never Mind my Thigh Gap” is based on my own experience of entering a model competition to get over my body image issues. I write about ordinary, everyday heroines who are more likely to don a new lipstick than a suit of armour. I want my heroines to be real and relatable, acting like a teenager does in real life; unsure, scatty and indecisive.  With my writing I want to inspire young girls who feel they don’t fit into society’s norm to be comforted by the down-to-earth related characters in our books and realise, in their own way they are heroines too.

Want to be a guest blogger? Now is the time to submit. I would love to have you on! I am accepting original posts that focus on reading and writing. Pictures, links, and a bio are encouraged. You do not have to be published. If you qualify, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com.

~SAT

Writing Tips: Character Profiles

12 Jul

Lots of announcements today before I share my thoughts on creating character profiles:

ShannonAThompson.com hit 17,000 followers! This is truly amazing, and I cannot believe that we’re continuing to grow. I started this little blog without any expectations, but if I had started it with expectations – I’m positive you have surpassed even my wildest dreams. Thank you for your continued support!

Other than that, I partook in an interview with Lit Chic. You can read what I think the hardest part about writing is, but I also have a shout out for all of my readers 😀 So click here to read the entire interview.

And if you are just now checking in and you’re curious about The Timely Death Trilogy, you’re in luck:

Hines and Bigham’s Literary Tryst reviewed Seconds Before Sunrise (book 2) – Mindy says, “If you are a Young Adult fan and love a book that can make you feel like you are part of the story and part of a different world you have to read this trilogy. I know I love it!” But I have to share her favorite part of book 2. This excerpt happens when Eric is talking to his guard about Jessica and deciding if he should tell her the truth.

“I don’t know how she’d take all of this at once, especially without proof.”

“So, transform in front of her.”

“And give her a heart attack?” I couldn’t imagine her reaction. “No, thank you.”

“At most, she’d faint.”

Read her favorite romantic moment as well as the entire review by clicking here.

If you haven’t read book 1, My Library in the Making reviewed Minutes Before Sunset this week, stating, “One of the top reasons why I enjoyed this book was all the conspiracies.” But you can read the full review, including her favorite quote and favorite scene by clicking here.

Hope you check out Minutes Before Sunset and Seconds Before Sunrise! Your growing support is the ink in my typewriter. Without you, my words would be invisible.

Now, onto today’s post (thank you for sticking with me!)

Writing Tips: Character Profiles 

A few weeks ago, I wrote The Beginning of my Writing Process, in which I revealed many details about how I first start off creating a novel. In the comments, I found a fantastic question about building character profiles, so today – this post is dedicated to Taking on a World of Words. I’ll be discussing three key elements I focus on when building a character profile – something I do BEFORE I write a novel – and I will be using Sophia Gray, the protagonist of my upcoming novel, Take Me Tomorrow, as an example. If you are interested in reading my dystopian book, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com for an ARC.

1. The Basics

I suggest covering these first when taking down notes because you don’t want to overwhelm yourself by trying to cover a vast amount of complicated information first. So – even though I know the complicated stuff first – I always begin taking my notes with the basics. This includes a small physical description, strong personality traits, and background. This is sort of like taking your driver’s license and adding your personality to it. If you like using pictures for inspiration, then grab some from Pinterest, and build from there. (And never be afraid to change things as long as you take note and edit it in your final draft.) Here’s an example of something you might come up with:

SEG

I don’t normally create photos such as that, but I wanted to show what can be done. Below you’ll find some information from my notes about Take Me Tomorrow. (I had to cut a lot of it to avoid spoilers, but this shows my organization process)

“Sophia (16) Sophia Elizabeth Gray

Physical: always wears her mother’s necklace, curly, brown hair, barely 5 foot, three small scars on her neck from Lily’s black cat, Saga. But she also has scars on her arms and legs from the forest.

Personality: loves running, close relationship with her father and Lyn, a stubborn heart. Prefers sweaters and jeans over dresses and heels.

Background: Born in Albany Region, moved to Topeka Region when she was seven, currently lives with her father, Lyn, and Falo.”

2. Timelines

Create a past, present, and future timelines. This is where things begin to get complicated, but don’t fret. Start simple – with everything you know – and make sure nothing contradicts anything else. From there, I would suggest figuring out things you don’t know (when did your protagonist meet their best friend?) Don’t forget: if you write it on your timeline that doesn’t mean you have to write it in the book, but it is safe to know everything and anything you can think of. I would even go as far as saying you should create separate timelines for each character while also creating one large timeline that shows overlaps between characters. Below is a VERY small example of Sophia’s past timeline. This includes the top five major events that happen before the novel ever takes place.

timeline3. Cover Everything 

I mean it. I know it sounds like a lot of work – and it is – but it will save you a lot of trouble in the end.  I create so many maps it’s ridiculous. I even have a “height’s map” which shows what characters would look like standing next to one another. Another example of a character map I had for Take Me Tomorrow is a map with every character’s home (past and present), and routes that they took from home to school to work (basically, anywhere they walked.)

Basically, you can never have too many notes. If you want to graph out the neighbor’s life who is never mentioned, then do it. In fact, you know the years that I picture Take Me Tomorrow to be in, but the actual years are never mentioned in the novel. Most of all, have fun! Never forget to have fun.

~SAT

goodr

Writing Tips: Details: Vehicles

16 Jan

Last month was my best month in sales yet. Minutes Before Sunset continues to grow, and I want to thank everyone for their encouraging support, especially as we get closer to the release of Seconds Before Sunrise this March. I am very happy, and I must thank you all for that – thank you!

Another thank you goes out to Red Sand Reviewz for reading Minutes Before Sunset. “The summary alone had me hooked. Once I started reading it, I just couldn’t put it down. It has a unique storyline with plot twists and it beats a few stereotypes.” Find out what their only disappointment was in book 1 of The Timely Death trilogy by reading the rest of the review here.

And lastly, I asked everyone on my Facebook Author Page if you all would enjoy a monthly review of entertainment – like movies, music, and books – that I come across. Due to your input, these posts are now in the plan for once a month, and I will hopefully have my first one at the end of January.

Now, today’s topic. 

I’m starting a series of tips called “Writing Tips: Details: _____.” It will focus on things like how to choose a character’s wardrobe, bedroom style, and other favorite things in order to enhance their believability. This one is my first one, and considering I’ve been talking about cars a lot, I thought I would start off with vehicles – how to pick them and what to keep in mind while choosing them.

I think picking cars is a lot like picking names as well as many other things. The time period matters, the background matters, but you can still have fun with it, and it is ultimately up to the story. As long as you consider the character as the main chooser – and don’t choose a car simply because it’s your favorite car – I think you’re safe. I’m going to be using three examples from Minutes Before Sunset with individual reasoning for why I picked these cars. (The pictures are close examples, not exact, because years change over time, and one idea I talk about it being timeless.)

1. Eric Welborn (Shoman) – old Dodge Charger, black, two-door coupe

I know. I know. It’s only the backside, but the license plate is too funny! I have the link to the full picture below.

I know. I know. It’s only the backside, but the license plate is too funny! I have the link to the full picture below.

Originally, Eric drove a 2009, black Charger. The reasoning  – at first – was simple (and that is where I made a mistake). I wanted him to have a nice car, considering his father’s income, but I didn’t think his father would splurge beyond that for his son. When choosing the year, I picked a 2009, because that was the year I ended the trilogy, and my first plan was that he would have the latest model. But then I realized the same thing I realized when I discussed using technology in books – it becomes outdated really fast. That’s when I reconsidered the year of his car and realized that he also loves history. His personality directed a love for older cars. In that realization, I had to accept another change: his father spent more money on him. This came down to their relationship, which is explained in Minutes Before Sunset, so I can’t get more into it without a spoiler. But I made the personal decision not to focus on the exact year but rather the coupe style – that way, the car would last a decade after the book was published. I know the photo above is only the backside, but I thought the license plate was too funny to not share. If you’re curious, it’s a 1970 Dodge Charger 2-door coupe, RHD and you can see the full picture here.

2. Teresa Young (Camille) – old, silver BMW

This was the closest one I could find.

This was the closest one I could find.

More of Teresa’s background will be explained in Seconds Before Sunrise, but – so far – readers know she is a “half-breed.” She’s half-Light, half-Dark, and she was raised by the Dark. She is also Eric’s guard. When I reflected on this, I thought she might also have a nice car, something that Eric’s father would get her, but then I realized Camille was not the type to accept it. She wouldn’t even like it. She’s proud of being Eric’s guard, but she also wants to be herself, so her car had to reflect her independence, even if it seemed like more independence than she actually had. It also had to be unlike Eric’s car for another reason entirely – no one can know she is his guard. The world simply believes they are family friends. If the Welborn’s bought her a nice car, it would bring too much attention to their already suspicious relationship. It was another reason as to why she needed something that didn’t cause any unnecessary attention. That being said, Camille, herself, was insistent on a BMW, so that’s where I let the character ultimately pick (and what better way to celebrate her independence?). If I had to pick the closest car she would have today, it would be a 2004, BMW 3-Series with 80,000+ miles on it.

3. Robb McLain – Chevrolet Suburban, blue, a few years old 

This is a 2007, Chevy Suburban LTZ

This is a 2007, Chevy Suburban LTZ

One of Jessica Taylor’s best friends, Robb McLain is the social guy. He’s never alone, and he’s always driving someone around town, so I knew he needed a big vehicle, but his social life was not the main reason I picked this car for him. I had to think about who bought the car – his parents – and I remembered something my own father told me about choosing a 97’ Tahoe for my brother when he was Robb’s age, “I put as much metal around him as possible. I would put him in a tank if I could. It’s how I protect him.” As I thought of this, I could see Robb’s parents nodding. They agreed, and I knew I needed something like the 97’ Tahoe my brother drove at the time. Eventually, the Suburban settled down on my imagination’s driveway, and Robb was driving away soon enough.

Just in case you’re curious, I drive a manual - a Mazda, RX-8 named “Roxy."

Just in case you’re curious, I drive a manual – a Mazda, RX-8 named “Roxy.”

As you can see, there are a lot of things one has to consider when picking vehicles out for characters. Who bought the car? Who’s driving the car? What will the car be used for? Does the car work for the personality, setting, and economic background? And – most of all – did it feel right to your character when you picked it out? 

What about you? What kind of cars have you picked for a characters to drive around in? Were there any questions or hesitations you had when car shopping?

~SAT

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