Caleb Walton is a Science Fiction Writer who believes God works miracles through the written word and massive amounts of caffeine. Writing is the purest form of communication, and his passion is to use stories to stretch the imagination and reach deep into the human heart. He is the host of Genre Chat Podcast for Serious Writer Inc., and has been a guest blogger for Almost An Author, one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest. Caleb is also a contributing author for “When God Calls the Heart to Love,” a 30 day devotional based on the award winning television series “When Calls the Heart.” He is currently working on his debut Sci-Fi novel, the Mind Storm.
1. How do I write good characters?
The character is the person in the story that has the most to lose.
No one wants to read a about the apocalypse from the perspective of a character who’s safely hidden in a bunker with plenty of food and never encounters any problems.
Something has to go wrong in their life in order for the reader to want to keep reading. We want to avoid conflict in our own lives, but we HAVE to have it in our novels.
If you’re idea starts with a character, make sure you make them realistic and make sure the right things (or most of the time the worst things) happen to them.
If your idea starts with an event or setting, create a character in the middle of a conflict.
If your story is about the old west, your character could be a school teacher who’s the daughter of the town’s marshal and falls in love with a bank robber.
Immediately you have conflict.
If your story is about a crew traveling to Mars, create a character who gets stuck on the surface alone after the ship is destroyed.
Always keep your character in the center of the conflict.
Do I need an antagonist and a protagonist?
But the antagonist doesn’t have to be a human. Not always.
The antagonist: the force that’s working against the main character’s objective.
It’s not a simple good guy/bad guy thing.
In the example I gave about the western, the antagonist could be the town’s marshal, because his goal would be to apprehend the man his daughter loves.
In the sci-fi example, the antagonist could be the harshness of the Martian desserts.
An antagonist doesn’t always have to be a person.
The most common antagonistic situations are:
Protagonist vs. man (classic bad-guy)
Protagonist vs. nature (harsh environment)
Protagonist vs. him/herself (internal struggle)
Protagonist vs. society (1984, but it’s important to have one or more “faces” of the society. I.E. President Snow in the Hunger Games or the Head Elder in the Giver)
2. Which POV should I use?
Simple answer, whichever makes the story better.
Try each of them; they all have their pros and cons.
First person, Intimate connection The narrator will use the pronouns “I,” “me,” “my,” and “myself,” and describe the supporting characters and their actions from his/her own perspective.
Past Tense –
I placed my hands over the fire, and the heat warmed my skin.
Present Tense – modern usage.
I place my hands over the fire, and feel the heat scorch my skin.
Pro: Draws reader further in. Con: Can only write from the protag’s perspective.
Third Person, Limited – most common
The story is still told from the perspective of the main character in each scene, but uses the point of view character’s name and the pronouns “he,” or “she.”
John placed his hands over the fire, and felt the heat on his skin.
It is important to remember that the narrator’s knowledge is limited to the thoughts and feelings of the point of view character.
Pro: Can write from more character with line-chapter break Con: Reader is more dethatched.
*There are more, but these are the most common
3. Should I outline or make up the story as I go?
Some writer’s HAVE to outline. Some writer’s CAN’T be successful if they outline. Some writer’s are a mix-up, like me. Try it both ways and see which one works best. Either way, have an end goal in mind and know something about the story.
4. How do I tell my character’s back story?
Sparingly. Back story is important because it reveals important things about the character, but it can bog the reader down and turn them away if revealed improperly. Reveal it in conversation, or internal dialog.
If the back story is an important event in their past, tell it in a pro-log.
Don’t bog the reader down with pages and pages of back story, especially in the beginning.
A good rule of thumb is not to include major back story within the first forty pages.
5. Where should I start?
Once you have a character and a basic idea of where your story is going, the most important step is to actually start writing.
Where to start? What is the inciting incident in your story?
The inciting incident is the event that takes place that changes the status quo for your character.
What goes wrong in their life that starts them on their inner or physical journey? That’s always a good place to start.
Don’t spend weeks and weeks trying to perfect your beginning, because this will most likely evolve some on it’s own as the story progresses and you get to know your character better.
Creativity is inconvenient. When we get in the middle of a project and here comes a great new idea. What do we do with it? Make it a part of the current project or start a new one? Brew & Ink discuss where to stick our new ideas. Then Steven Faletti shares The Thief and the Gateway, a new flash fiction from Midnight Showing victim’s point of view. After that fun story, vote on the title for MB Mooney‘s flash fiction in two weeks.
In this episode:
Creative people get new ideas. Why is that inconvenient?
Eva Marie Everson is a multiple-award winning author and speaker who hails from the picturesque Southern town of Sylvania, Georgia. She is president of Word Weavers International, director of Florida Christian Writers Conference, Managing Editor at Firefly Southern Fiction, and enjoys coaching new authors through her company, Pen in Hand. She is an avid photographer who enjoys turning her photos into inspiring memes for you to share (with proper attribution). Eva Marie and her husband make their home in Central Florida. They are the parents of three fabulous children who have blessed them with the world’s greatest grandchildren.
Caleb: I know you’re current project is set in the 70’s. When you’re writing something set in the past, how do you keep track of the differences in the time periods and keep yourself in the right mindset?
Eva Marie: For one thing, in the 70’s I was a young woman. So I do think back to “this is what we wore,” and “this is what we did.” One of the things I do when I’m writing this particular novel is I listen only to 1970’s music. Because the thing with music is that it will take you back to a time and a place. I’m also watching shows like “Mary Tyler Moore” or “The Bob Newhart Show.” Any show that was popular back in the 70s that was currently the 70’s. The same thing when I write books set in the 50’s or the 40’s, I listen to that music. That puts me there. Then I do a lot of research online. I read a lot of old newspapers that you can find on line, you know, things like that.
One thing I definitely found in interviewing older people is that by and large we really haven’t changed that much. They had the same temptations that we have today. They made the same mistakes that we do today. The only difference is, let’s say for example, if you were a young couple back in the 1940’s and you found yourself expecting a child before you got married, you got married. In those days, that was understood.
Caleb: That really put a lot more constraint on not necessarily the choices that the the characters make, but on the reaction from those choices – the effect it has on the people around them.
Eva Marie: Also there were things that were socially acceptable in those days that are maybe not necessarily so much today. For example we didn’t know in the 1940’s and the 1950’s, and even in the 1960’s, the effects of cigarettes. And so everybody smoked. That was just kind of a common thing.
But even things like when you flew somewhere, you got dressed up. Men and woman got dressed up to fly somewhere. What’s interesting is that I did my own little experiment. Used to, when I would fly I would wear a pair of jeans, a nice top, sneakers, because you’re doing a lot of walking. I started dressing to get on a plane, and what surprised me was the difference in the way I was treated, not only in the airport but once I got on the plain. It’s like all of a sudden they were looking at me differently. I think there’s something to be said for that.
Caleb: Do you have any advice for anyone new to the industry?
Eva Marie: Join Word Weavers! That’s the first thing. We’ve got over 900 writers now, and many of them are multiple published, award winning names that you would recognize, and they started at Word Weavers.
Author, speaker, licensed counselor, and life coach, Tina has won over twenty-eight writing awards. She is passionate about guiding people across the threshold of healing to access life’s potential and has over twenty years of teaching experience. Two of her writing workshops are available through Serious Writer Academy. Tina is the publisher of Inkspirations Online, a writers’ devotional and mentors four chapters of Word Weavers International. Beautiful Warrior, her upcoming book on women’s esteem, is scheduled to release with New Hope Publishers in July of 2019. For the latest on Beautiful Warrior, or to connect with her as a speaker, coach, or manuscript therapist, visit tinayeager.com.
Click here to check out Tina’s latest release: Beautiful Warrior
Caleb: How has your experience in counseling helped you in character development?
Tina: Characters should be as realistic as possible, so they should be as human as possible. The more you know about the mindset of a real person, and how someone is constructed … it’s going to give your characters a more three-dimensional quality that captures the imagination and the heart of your reader, and immerses them in the story.
Caleb: What is the first step you take in getting to know your character?
Tina: I’m a daydreamer. I’m an organic writer. I like to just go with what appears in my mind as that character. You can use a tool like a personality test if you really want to go in to thinking about things like are they an extrovert or an introvert? Think about not just their personality but their backstory. How does that play into what’s going to happen with that character, and daydream that character into existence before you put them onto the page. That will keep you from info-dumping on the first page of your novel. You might want to flush all that out, but don’t do that for the reader, or the reader will be board. Know your character well enough to paint them, and then write them.
Caleb: How simple/complex should a character’s psychological struggle be?
Tina: I would err on the side on complex than on the side of too simple. Someone has to have enough layers of complexity in order to be realistic.
Caleb: What is the difference between an internal struggle and an external struggle?
Tina: An internal struggle is the character discovering who they really are, something that is an issue within them that is a conflict they’re trying to resolve. Whether that is a mental conflict, a conflict with their emotions or a conflict overcoming a wound, or a trauma, or a lie, or a fear in their past that was created. They are changing as the story goes along. The external conflicts are the forces that are coming against your hero from the outside, whether it’s a decision or a circumstance or an antagonist. That’s the external conflict.
Caleb: As complex as human motivations are, how do you choose which internal conflict drives the character through the story.
Tina: It depends on your story and it depends on your character. You shouldn’t just pick [an internal struggle] and say, “Oh here’s a popular, trendy thing!” You should pick something that is appropriate to the story and appropriate to you as a writer.
Caleb: How do you properly portray a character with a mental illness or trauma?
Tina: Please do your research if you are going to put a character into your story that has mental health issues, because you will have readers who experience those mental health issues and it will be insulting to them if you get it wrong. Please do your research, and please do not stereotype anyone with a mental illness. Make sure you’ve put enough depth into your character so they will be relatable, and realistic and that they have qualities that the reader admires.
Cristel is “Saving the world from bad writing, one project at a time, all while drinking copious amounts of coffee.” Cristel is part of the Serious Writer team, lending her editing expertise to writers at conferences and online. Mentoring and coaching authors through the editing and proposal process is what makes her shine. She is also a member of The Christian Pen and owner of The Editing House, where she edits manuscripts and other projects for the Christian industry. Managing editor for Decapolis Publishing in Lansing, Michigan for 7 years. Editing reviewer for CBA for 5 years. Editing for Elk Lake Publishing for 4 years. Deep POV edit is her specialty.
Does everyone need to hire an editor for their work?
Well I hope that everybody who’s listening or watching loves coffee. Because I actually spend my Saturdays over at Starbucks and there are actually three other authors that are there on Saturdays doing writing. We’ve had some wonderful chats, and every single one of them are indie authors and they all will pay for the editing because they know that there are errors in their babies. They realize their focus is just the writing. They want to tell a story, and they want to tell a good story, but they may not necessarily be good at some of the grammar, and some of the specifics that make it easier for a reader to understand what they’re saying. Even before you submit for a proposal, make sure it goes through a professional editor.
Where should the editing process begin?
I think that the last few clients that I’ve worked with have been writing long enough that they actually get people that are good readers that are friends of theirs that they call beta readers. They will send it out and have a friend of theirs read it and make sure that there are no questions in their minds. Beta readers are kind of the first line of editing, and it’s usually just a friend that loves to read. If an editor gets something that’s already gone through that process, it makes my job a whole lot easier. The less amount of time I have to work on a project, the cheaper it is for the author to get the job out there.
I think that the one thing that I enjoy doing the most is actually working with authors as I’m working on their book. I usually make a phone call as soon as I take a job, and I ask some very detailed questions. One of the ones that a lot of people don’t know how to answer initially is “when you’re reader is done with your book, what do you want them to feel like? What are the takeaways that you want them to have?” I’m honored to walk alongside an author in “birthing their baby.”
What are your pet peeves as an editor?
I think the hardest thing is people who are just extra wordy and they don’t need to be. I think people just want to read how you would have a conversation with someone. I think just telling people what’s in your heart and doing it in a conversational style makes it so much easier.
Basically words that we repeat a lot like, “that, and, of, very.” I just got done editing one where every other sentence was an exclamation point. The more exclamations, the more question marks and the more ellipses that you use, the less powerful they are.
What are some things new writers should know before going into the editing process?
We (as editors) are the watch guards of what you want your reader to read and come away with. So if I can make sure that I know the knowledge you want the reader to have at the end of the book, or the feeling that you want them to come away with, I can be that watch guard. I think probably the hardest part for a new author is having an editor ask them to go places they don’t want to go. Especially with a brand new author, I end up kind of holding their hand as we walk through. There’s a thing called a substantive edit. A substantive edit is where I literally dig deep into your story. Does the timeframe match? Are the words that you use correct for the time period? I have to walk hand in hand with an author and ask those kinds of questions.
What are some things writers should remember when submitting to publishers?
Always if you’re going to submit to a publisher, the very first thing that you need to do is you need to download a copy of their style sheet. Their style sheet will tell you how they want the document set up. Most style sheets will also tell you what the word count needs to be for each of their genres. If you submit based on their style sheet, you can pretty much be assured that they will at least read it. They will at least get started with it.
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to an aspiring author?
Don’t be afraid, and don’t be discouraged when an editor changes something. Don’t be afraid of the editor’s marks and changes. All they’re trying to do is make it better. Don’t feel threatened by it.