Writing Tips

Writing Tips: Character Flaws

Last week I talked about liking your characters and how if you care what happens to them, your readers will care also. This week, we need to talk about the things you don’t like about your characters. Their flaws that make them real.

Think of yourself. You have good qualities and qualities you wish you could change. Same with your significant other, your best friend, and your kids. We all have characteristics that make us who we are, good and not so good.

Why do your characters have to have traits that are less than desirable? Why should they have a flaw? Or a few?

None of us are perfect. No matter how much we’d like to be, we have flaws. Giving your characters flaws makes them feel more real. And if they’re real, they’re relatable. The key is finding the right flaw so your characters stay on the right side of the line between relatable and too stupid to live.

So what’s the right flaw?

What do you think about the alpha male who has a soft spot for his mom?

Or the kick-ass tattoo artist with a blind cat at home.

Or you could go with a billionaire who anonymously donates to a children’s center.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

What are the defining elements of your character? Is he a cocky asshole? Or a quiet guy who keeps to himself? Or is she a confident new business owner? Or uneasy about where her life is going because she just got fired?

With each of these characters, balance their strength with a weakness. The cocky asshole had an abusive dad and volunteers at a homeless shelter for women and children to help the kids learn not all men are bad. The guy who keeps to himself is a rock star in private and sings to thousands of people. The new business owner is a disorganized mess. And the woman who just got fired plays roller hockey on the weekends with a name like Punky Bruiser.

The most effective character flaws are not really flaws. They feel like flaws to the main character, but they’re really just new layers to the character that helps make them who they are. Do you see how each of the traits were toned down by the opposite trait? How something that might make them hard to relate to is offset by something that makes them very approachable. Or how someone who seems very down to earth is given a complexity by something they’re hiding.

Think of your favorite characters. What about them did you love? What made you connect with them? Share in the comments below!

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Writing Tips: Crafting Characters

I haven’t gotten any new questions in my mailbox, so I’m back with some more advice for aspiring writers.

Today let’s talk about crafting characters. In romance, characters drive the story. If readers don’t care about your characters, the story is no good, no matter how good it is.

What you have to do is figure out how to make readers care about your characters. Want to know how I do it?

I care about my characters!

It’s simple, right? But how much I love my characters comes through. Every single one I’ve written has had a piece of me. Maybe not a similarity to me, but definitely a piece of my heart. I spend months, years, with these people. They live inside my head. I’m the only one they talk to. It’s up to me to tell their stories.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but you have to care about your characters to make your readers care. Which means you have to find characters, stories, people you want to write about.

Do you have a friend that you wish could find The One? Does your kid have a teacher you think is sweet? Maybe one of your grandkids has a coach that you think would be a great hero.

Find someone who inspires you. Yeah, someone in your world. No, I’m not telling you to write the story of a person you actually know, but to get yourself started, use someone you know to inspire you.

Puffy & PreciousI’ve written characters based on men I saw in church (Davoli brothers Matt, Mark, and John from Paradise Park), a guy at the gym (Graham from Puffy & Precious), and even my best friend (Charlie from Fluffy & Fabulous).

Once I get a feel for who they might be, who my inspiration is, I go looking for a picture. Pinterest is a great resource because it’s free, and I use the photos for my use only so it’s legal.

With my picture and my inspiration in hand, I start to figure out who my characters are. What they want, what they’re looking for, who they’d fit well with. I go through a character interview to learn more about them. I ask about their background, how they grew up, who their family is, what they studied in school, what they drive, where they live, what scares them, what inspires them, what they’re proud of, what they’re embarrassed by. I dig deep and get into who each character really is. I need to know what makes them tick, and what ticks them off.

Because at the end of the day, a book will be boring without some kind of conflict.

By the time I’m done with my interview, we’re good friends!

Which makes it a whole lot easier for me to care what happens to them.

If you’re writing a book that has a character driven story, make sure you know your characters better than you know yourself. They can’t have any secrets from you, and you have to want them to find their happily ever after. Otherwise, your readers won’t want them to find it either.

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

Writing Tips: Finding Time

Time is such a valuable commodity. We all have the same amount. None of us gets more hours in the day, unless you have one of those cool necklaces Hermione had. If you do, can you send me one?

So assuming you’re an ordinary person without magical powers, you have the same 24 hours I do. Most days it doesn’t feel like enough. Especially when I’m on a deadline and anxious to get a few more things done before the school bus gets home. Or before the kids wake up. Or before my favorite show comes on.

We have to have priorities, right?

If you’re adding writing in as one more thing to do in your day, you’re probably wondering where you can find the time to write.

Here’s the secret… you don’t need much!

Yes, a book is not something you can finish in a day. It’s going to take you a while. But you don’t have to kill yourself to make it happen.

Personally, I like to write in thirty minute blocks, or longer. But this is my full time job, so I have all day. If you’re looking for some time, you can find it in small places.

Can you get up thirty minutes earlier? Trust me, I hate this suggestion. It’s one I balked at for years and years and years. I’m not a morning person. At all. But I decided over the summer that I was going to do it because I wanted to. Because I wanted more time to dedicate to my work. I’m not as tired as I thought I would be, and I’m getting more done.

What about at night? Can you stay up a little later? Again, same rules apply. You don’t need much time, and if you think this could work for you, turn off the TV (my big issue with it because I never did) and write.

What about, you’re going to laugh, in the bathroom? Let’s face it, we all have longer breaks in the bathroom at one time or another through the day. Can you write on your phone? Not a whole book, but for five minutes? You won’t get much done, and you’ll take a really long time to finish a book if you only do this, but it’ll add up. Just make sure you don’t lose track of time!

Waiting, for anything. Just like above, there are going to be times in your day when you’re just waiting. Doctor’s offices, grocery lines, carpool, commute, anything. Can you, again, pull out your phone for a few minutes and write a hundred words or so?

Can you write on your lunch break? Some people can’t, but if you have access to a computer during your lunch break and your company will allow you to do something non-work related, write for thirty minutes. You’ll be shocked how much you can get done in that amount of time.

Try it!

I think the best thing is to give yourself a week or two and try a few different options. Try getting up early or staying up later for a week. Try sitting in your car on your lunch break with a notebook or a tablet and writing. Try five minute bathroom breaks. See what works for you, then keep doing it.

For me, I have to have a schedule. When I first get up, I check my email so I know there isn’t anything sitting there waiting for me to answer it. After the kids are on the bus, I start writing. I write until lunch, and then get back to it afterward. But if I need to do something during the day, like a doctor’s appointment, I like to schedule it in the morning so I don’t mess up my flow. Figure out what works for you and start writing!

What tips do you have for finding time to write?

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Writing Tips: Find Your Niche

Welcome back for another tip for you as a writer!

I want to talk today about your niche. It’s common in business to look for a niche. A small section of a market you can serve. You want to be able to set yourself apart so people can find you.

Writing isn’t much different.

I write contemporary romance. That’s not very specific. There’s well over 100,000 contemporary romances available for sale.

I write small town contemporary romance. That’s not much better.

I write small town contemporary BBW romance. We’re getting a little better.

When I tell people what I write, I tell them I write small town contemporary romance based on ordinary people you’ll want to be friends with doing extraordinary things for love that will give you hope.

That’s kind of a mouthful, but it gets the point across.

When you write a book, you need to be able to tell people what you do quickly. You’d be surprised how many people lose interest when you say you are an author. They insist they don’t read, so you need to hook them before they assume your book isn’t for them.

Which goes back to your niche.

What books do you love? What books grab you? What books have you walked away from knowing they changed your life?

Harry Potter, all of them, were books that changed me. But I knew I didn’t want to craft an entire world.

Emily Giffin was one of my favorite authors when I was younger. There was something about the emotions and the way she drew me into a story that I loved.

Jill Shalvis is a favorite now. She’s basically my idol for romance novels. I taught myself what a good small town contemporary romance novel was by reading Jill Shalvis. I knew that was what I wanted to do.

The only problem was my niche was really a mansion. There’s nothing tiny about it, but I found my niche when I started writing about women I could relate to. Women who were overweight. Women who wanted love and friendship and cupcakes. Women I wanted to be friends with.

BBW romance is still a huge niche. But like I told a friend recently, if you go too small, you won’t have enough readers.

How do you find this though? How do you know when you’ve gone small enough? Or not small enough?

Unfortunately, I think you just have to keep trying.

Write a book. Write some more books. Never stop writing. Advertise, promote, and tell everyone you know. The right readers will find you. When you start to see that happening, you’ll know you’re in the right niche. That it’s the right size for you to be found.

Here’s my warning… Don’t go into a niche that you can’t get out of. You might love to write single dad romances, but you might not want to write them forever. Or food romances or military romances or any other different kind. It might be a niche that’s popular now, or that you like, but make sure it’s something you’ll still want to write if the popularity diminishes. Or in ten years. Maybe you won’t know, but at least think about it before you jump in.

If you want to write, at the end of the day, write. You will find your readers. They will find you. But make it easier on both of you by finding a niche that you love, and it’ll come across in your writing.

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Writing Tips: Make Friends

I haven’t gotten any new questions, so I’m talking about writing again today! I hope that’s okay with you!

A few weeks ago, I was at the Romance Writers of America national conference. Every summer, about 2000 romance novelists and industry professionals get together for workshops, networking, and awards. It’s a whirlwind of four days that always leaves me inspired and ready for more. I love it!

One of my absolute favorite parts about nationals is seeing friends I don’t live near. One of my good friends lives in California, so we see each other once a year. We roomed together this year and it was so nice to have someone to digest the workshops with, go to dinner with, hang out with.

Which brings me to my point.

Find friends!

Writing is a very solitary endeavor. You write your stories. You come up with all the ideas. You do the marketing and the planning and all the work. Sure, you might hire people eventually, but the day-to-day is all on you.

And it gets damn lonely!

I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America) so I could meet other romance authors. I joined my local chapter in Western New York to I could meet romance authors near me. My friend in California (ironically, also named Mary) became my friend at one of the conferences, which I went to to meet more authors.

Having friends who are writers means you’ll have someone to text when you hit your goal for the day. And someone to call when you get nominated for an award or publish a book. And someone to commiserate with when things don’t go as planned.

I meet my writer friends for lunch to work out plot issues. We read each other’s manuscripts to see what works and what doesn’t. We trade texts to stay up to date on progress.

Yes, other friends are great, but writers understand each other. It’s a world unlike many others. And having people who get it is so very important.

So get out there! Find some people. You can never have too many friends!

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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