Tips on Writing Believable Characters

Hello all,

I’m talking about how to construct a believable character on the latest Inkwell Council blog post. Check out the manuscript analysis here.

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2017! The Year of the Manzanos!

As the holidays approach and I sit down to write my last blog post of 2016, I’m reminded of just how erratic my year has been. Politics were the pits, tons of celebrity favorites died, and a general malaise settled over the world. Things were not looking so shiny. We took some personal hits this year as well. My Uncle Bobby died after a long and grueling battle with cancer. My son was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorder, which has really kicked up recently and has us struggling to find the answers. My husband and I had our own respective health issues, one that landed me in the hospital having a small, but not fun, surgical procedure. I ended my publishing contract with no book to show for it.

But there was light toward the end, at least with my career. There was Pitch to Publication, two short story publications, and an Editor’s Choice Award. And there was the prospect of next year on the horizon. Next year, when I start to query The Order of the Key again, in hopes of finding an agent who will love it. And next year when I embark on two new projects that aren’t exactly about my writing, but have some interplay with that career.

Allow me to introduce you to my two new projects. Or should I say OUR two new projects.

geektastic-bannerGeektastic: My son, Logan, wanted to be a YouTube sensation. My husband, Ismael, missed doing reviews. My sister-in-law, Megan, wanted to start a BookTube review channel, but didn’t know where to begin. I wanted a way to show off how damn random we all are, and wanted to have a place to openly be meta about geeky things.

This is what lead to Geektastic. We put our minds together, and decided to create a YouTube channel/blog where we could openly discuss all of the wonderful things that make being a geek so kickass…and so that we could offer an alternative to adults. Fun, kid-filled YouTube channel with gaming, toys and memorabilia, that speaks about some more sophisticated television, books and movies, but in a way that’s totally family friendly.

We’re still working on our first video, but it will be available in January. In the meantime, you can view our website and go follow us on our social media links, because we want you along on our adventure. Check it out at www.geektastic-manzanos.com.

inkwell34434The Inkwell Council: After leaving my work at Fantasy Works Publishing behind me, I was told by one of the writers there that they would miss my editing work. I am also constantly asked by my close circle of writer friends to read their stories, to help polish them up. I came to realize, I could help new writers. Maybe not with entire manuscripts, but I could read their first three chapters, and offer suggestions. It wasn’t about money. It was about giving back to a writing community that gave to me.

A discussion with Ismael revealed he missed writer’s workshops. Last to join was Megan, who was trying to make a living doing freelance edits, but didn’t have enough exposure and wasn’t sure how to build a client list. Moving forward together, we created The Inkwell Council, a manuscript editing service with specific rules. Basically, if you have no writer’s critique group, and you want someone to polish up the first three chapters of your Fantasy manuscript (we could only do one genre we could all agree on) we’ll be there for you. For rules and specifics of our program, please visit us at http://www.theinkwellcouncil.com/. Submissions officially open in January. Please also follow us on social media, which is linked on the website.

Add these two amazing projects to querying The Order of the Key, writing a new short story, and brainstorming on three other novels, and there is a busy year ahead. And the best part of it, is I will get to work with a big chunk of my family, whom I adore.

So, what’s new with your year? Anything exciting to look forward to? New projects? Let me know in the comments.

Either way, here’s to you and yours in the new year. May 2017 be a bright, shining light, leading as far away from 2016 as possible. 😉 Happy Holidays!

Critical Mass

Chalkboard that says "Perfection is Stagnation"

We all need someone to check our work.  When we’re in school, it’s our teachers.  When we grow up, it’s our colleagues, our bosses, our significant other.  But a career in writing can be a very solitary venture.  Who cares if you write your book? Nobody but you. Not really.  They might love and support your writing, but tomorrow, if you called them and told them you had given up writing for the adventurous world of papier mache art, they may be confused, they may be disappointed, but they will NOT be the person sitting up in bed at 3 am waiting for the characters in their head to be quiet. That would be you. You are the only person who can motivate yourself to keep going.

So…solitary.  But it doesn’t have to be lonely.

When babies first learn to play, they don’t learn to play together.  They play side-by-side. Two different stories, two different imaginings, next to each other. They get older and they start discussing each other’s worlds. “Your castle is the biggest castle ever!” or “That picture is ugly!” Yeah, there’s one of those in every class. I know because I encounter one in every workshop.

When we learn to write, we need to learn to do it alongside other writers. And that is what a writing workshop is about.

A writing workshop is an exhilarating experience and kind of a terrifying one. It’s more like your child’s first day at daycare. You bring this creation of yours into a place where you no longer have sole control over it.  You’re still in charge, but your creation may now have outside influences.  When you distribute your story to the other participants in a workshop, you’re handing it off to trusted colleagues for an honest critique.  And many others will be entrusting you with their creations in return. So it’s very important that you create an environment of trust and respect.  Take criticisms with poise and, when necessary, restraint. Take some time, then turn an honest eye to your work.

When reading for others, read through the piece in front of you with a careful eye.  Consider plot, theme, characterizations, language and dialogue.  Look for things you don’t like, things that don’t work for you, things you love, that stick with you. Always consider the positive and negative.  If you don’t like the piece, search out that solid turn of phrase, that one character you enjoyed.  Praise that, then get to the nitty gritty. If you loved the piece, dig deep and find something that might still need a correction.  Is the prose a little too flowery? Is one character a tad weak? Don’t make something up. The writer will know. But really work on helping the writer improve the work in some way.

Most importantly, respect the work.  Read carefully. Know the characters.  Know the important plot points. Calling a main character by the wrong name shows that you haven’t read the story closely enough. When you critique, don’t act like you’ve been forced to read something, even if it’s something you wouldn’t normally read.  You are doing a service to another writer while simultaneously broadening your horizons. If you have a negative criticism, try to deliver it softly, without the edge of superiority or disgust. This isn’t a case of “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all”. You have to say negative things or your critique will wind up being pretty useless.  It’s about how you couch your response.

Everyone was a first time writer at some time in their career.  Everyone has produced a piece of utter crap once.  So lend a hand.  Be kind, respectful, and nurturing to the talent of others.

If you aren’t you end up being that kid in the daycare that kicks over everyone else’s castles.  Nobody wants to play with that guy.