Before getting into our main topic about building great characters, we took a voicemail call from Frank. Frank’s question boiled down to:
“Why are you giving away your self-publishing tricks and secrets? What’s in it for you?”
And that’s an interesting question — one we asked ourselves as recently as Self Publishing Podcast episode 9. The full answer is long, illustrative, and thought-provoking, but here are a few of the reasons we podcast about what works for us in self publishing:
- Thinking and talking about this stuff all the time gives us great ideas about how to improve our writing, our marketing, our process, and our funnels.
- Being in “the writing headspace” helps us to write better because we’re constantly thinking of ourselves as writers.
- We meet new people, learn new things, and make new connections… such as when we met Ed Robertson and talked about how to understand Amazon’s algorithms, and our upcoming (July 26th) episode with guest Evo Terra.
- We reach a ton of new people, make new friends, and generally build our platforms.
- We come to think of writing in new ways… like when I (who in episode 8 said I didn’t understand how two writers could ever write a book together) announced that Sean and I were going to write a book together in episode 9.
- This is a mastermind group for us. Everyone should have a mastermind group. Ours is simply public.
- This is all moot because there are no secrets. These are things we’re trying, and plenty don’t work. We’re on this journey together, and we know we’ll learn from you as you learn from us.
And ultimately, it all boils down to doing great writing anyway. All the “secrets” in the world won’t help a shitty product.
Developing great characters
After that discussion, we got down to our main topic, all about developing characters.
Characters drive your story. Even if you’re writing nonfiction, it helps to think of yourself as a character in your own nonfiction story… and to use that “fiction-like element” in your nonfiction.
Here are a few of the things we think about creating characters, out of order and with no respect paid here in print to whose tips they are:
- Take shortcuts to creating characters by giving them a “foundation.” This could mean borrowing traits from real people or borrowing people in full. (Johnny admits to starting with real people — and going so far as to use their real names in the first draft.)
- As your story progresses, your characters will outgrow the foundation you laid for them. They stop being the people you borrowed from life, and become unrecognizable. (NOTE: if you use Johnny’s trick, be damn sure to change their names at this point.)
- You can write a ton, trying to get “fluent” with the characters and the story, and just plan to cut out all of the “throat clearing” you did in print simply to get to know the characters. (Tipsters here include Tarantino and Hemmingway.)
- Remember that characters are not “good” or “evil.” Good evil characters sometimes do good things. Good nice characters sometimes do bad things.
- Try to see your characters, within the story, from other characters’ points of view. They will appear different through different lenses.
What are your tips and ideas on character development? Leave them below in the comments!