How I Accidentally Became an Indie Author Series – Developing The Idea By Birthing Characters

Last week we talked about finding inspiration for writing and developing a general idea for your book. This week we’ll take a deeper look into developing the idea into something more tangible. Without further ado, here is step two (at least, the way I write):

Step Two: Developing The Idea By Birthing Characters

I used to just dive right in and start writing, and for the most part, is still do, but I have learned over time that the story flows a little better and requires fewer major rewrites if I do some basic planning. Now, I tend to think about how my character got into the predicament/catastrophe/position he/she is in. What would I do? What does the character think, see, feel, hear, etc.?

It’s important to note you should consider those questions at every stage of writing your story. Your character might change with the circumstances, or she might stay steadfast. It’s up to you, but make sure your choices make sense for your story and your character.

How do you know if your character is doing something, well, out-of-character? You get to know your character first. You should know him/her as well as you know yourself because, really, you are the characters.

For my own work, I usually have a clear picture of what my main and supporting characters look like, so I jot it down. Then I begin to develop other parts like personality, character traits, quirks, likes and dislikes—I might not use them all, but they’re available for quick reference if I want to. And that’s important when writing. No one wants to stop the flow of an idea to try to remember little details such as what color did I say her eyes were? It seems trivial, but readers will notice. If you don’t know your character, it shows.

I recently found a list on The Novel Factory, a website that offers structured writing “rules” and suggestions. I love their page The Ultimate Character Questionnaire. It lists over 150 questions you can ask yourself about your character (not all of which you necessarily need, but it’s great reference material.)

I recommend, as a minimum, to have the following details hammered out for your main character and primary supporting characters (pulled from the questionnaire):

  • Basic Questions
    • Name (first, last, nickname?)
    • Date of birth/age
  • Appearance
    • Height/weight
    • Hair/skin/eye color
    • Ethnicity/race
    • Distinguishing features (tattoos, scars, etc.)
    • Clothing style
    • Mannerisms/quirks
    • Disabilities
  • Personality
    • Catchphrases
    • Optimist or pessimist
    • Introvert or extrovert
    • Habits
    • Strongest traits
    • Weakest traits
    • Friendship qualities
    • Response to conflict/stress
  • Past and Future
    • Backstory ideas (birthplace, childhood incidents)
    • Social status (rich, poor, etc.)
    • Family situation (neglect, positive environment)
    • Memories
  • Love Interest
    • What is their love language (affectionate, standoffish)
    • Sexual orientation
  • Other Details
    • Work, education, hobbies
    • Favorite things
    • Possessions of importance
    • Spirituality
    • Values
    • Daily life (allergies, eating habits, home life)

It’s a long list, but it can easily grow! Having a thorough understanding of your character will go a long way toward helping your story flow, and it will tap into your reader’s emotions. Here is an example from my own work. Conor Hudson is one of my popular characters, probably because she is highly relatable. Most people liked her, despite a few moments of frustration and annoyance. And let’s face it, there isn’t a single person in our lives we haven’t wanted to shake silly once or twice, right?

For Conor, my character map looked a bit like this:

  • Basic Questions
    • Conor Hudson
    • 14-18 through course of the book
  • Appearance
    • Shorter than average, average weight
    • Brown hair and eyes, pale skin
    • Caucasian, Irish descent
    • Minimalist clothing style
  • Personality
    • Somewhat pessimistic
    • Introvert
    • Reads a lot
    • Highly intelligent, gifted
    • Afraid to step outside of her safety zone
    • Steadfast friend
    • Tends to avoid conflict, but grows in time
  • Past and Future
    • Born in Colorado, parents killed in a car accident
    • Middle-class life in Savannah, lives with grandmother
    • Loving grandmother plays a significant part in her life, positive
    • Remembers the night vividly her parents died
  • Love Interest
    • Wants love but is fearful, nervous
    • Interested in boys
  • Other Details
    • Westmore Academy, a private school for gifted
    • Religious, not outwardly mentioned in the book but implied through her thoughts about her parents
    • Values honesty and loyalty

These are only a few traits, and if you read The Yellow Note, you know there are many more!

Homework for this week: Spend some time getting to know your characters. Think about your story idea and what your main character thinks about it. Who are they? What do they see, think, smell, hear… Then check out the linked website for character development questions and work on your main character! If you feel like it, work on some supporting characters, too!

Next week we’ll take a look at developing your idea through World Development!


How I Accidentally Became An Indie Author Series – The Idea

One day I wrote a book. I had no idea what to do with it when I finished, but I was searching for an outlet, something to help me work through depression and anxiety, something that would develop a new, healthy habit—something better than worrying and stressing, so I just wrote another one. When that book was finished, I found a site called Wattpad and posted it to see what people thought. Turns out, the teens loved it!

What now? I decided I should try to publish it, but traditional publishing intimidated the snot out of me. I sent a few queries but heard nothing, which is a big downer even though I knew that didn’t mean my book sucked. Still, for someone battling depression, I needed a better way. Enter the world of independent publishing.

When I look back over my journey, I see a lot of mistakes I could have easily avoided if I had spent a little time following other Indie authors, reading their blogs, and researching marketing strategy. I spent a lot of money I should have saved, but in all, it has been a positive experience. I am by no means a hugely successful Indie author, but I feel it coming—someday. For now, I’m happy with my small following, and I strive to make them proud of the work I give them. Perhaps eventually my group will grow, but I’m in no rush.

After all, a goal is meant to be long-term, right? That said, I have met many other Indie authors who have all experienced the same headaches that come with going rogue. But there is also a lot of joy in running your business your way.

The upcoming blog series is geared toward the newbie-newbies, those who want to write and have dabbled with the idea of independent publishing, but don’t really know where to start. I’ve met a ton of people on social media who aspire to write, and they all ask the same thing. How do you do it?

First things first, you need to write a book.

Scary, I know. I look at some of my earlier work and cringe, and I know in coming years I’ll look at what I wrote today and cringe again (I’ll probably cringe after I post this blog and read it tomorrow.) It’s an evolution, but if you get a feel for your own technique and writing style right up front, it’s so much easier. I want this blog series to be conversational, personal enough for readers to comment and discuss their own hurdles, fears, accomplishments—whatever! So, I’ll begin with how I write, the things I do, and how you should completely ignore anything anyone says you HAVE to do. It’s your book. It’s your imagination. You do you your own way. Here’s how I do… me.

Step One: The Idea

This blog, the first in the How I Accidentally Became an Indie Author Series, will focus on the idea for a book. Of the many frequently asked questions I receive, this is the most asked: How on earth do you come up with some of the stuff you write?

Short answer, I have an extremely vivid imagination. But there is another way! Ask any author, and they’ll admit to writing something inspired by real events, song lyrics, a movie, another book—anything and everything you can see, hear, smell, touch, taste.

Let me give you a few examples from my own work.

The Love Project: This book is currently on Wattpad in a super rough draft format. Basically, it’s about a girl who refuses to believe love is a real thing. She’s seen it burn too many people she cares about and essentially writes it off as a made up emotion to avoid breaking her own heart. The entire book was inspired by Shawn Mendes’ song, “If This is What It Takes.” The MC, Wesley, meets her match in Oliver, the British guy she’s paired with for a psychology project who insists he will make her fall for him before the semester is over.

The Cupcake Criminals: Also in rough draft on Wattpad, this story is about a neurotic woman who can’t seem to win for losing. In a moment of desperation, she kidnaps a cupcake delivery van driver, steals his van, and runs amuck all over town. This story was inspired by a sticker on the back of a Krispy Kreme donut van that said, “No cash on board, just fresh donuts.” Well, I thought, I’d happily steal a donut truck just for the donuts.

That’s just two examples, but there are many more. My point is, you don’t necessarily have to sit around and think about what to write for hours at a time. Who has time for that? Look at the world around you. When you see something that makes you pause, like a bumper sticker, think a little longer about it. When I saw that sticker, I thought, what would stealing the donut truck entail? How would I do it? How would I act? What would push me to do something so silly? What would my friends do or say? How would I resolve that accident? How can I work a solid love interest in that scenario?

Once those details were solidified in my mind, I had a good idea for a book!

Another example, one that I pulled from personal experience, is The Text Message. This story is the fourth in a series called The Secret Author Series. When I was young, I lived in a small town where most people knew one another. When a teenage girl (who I happened to know) was murdered, it rocked the little town. That incident had a huge impact on me, and years later I thought about it and how it affected people. From that, the character Emily, whose brother was killed in a robbery gone wrong, was born. I dare say it’s one of my most heart-wrenching novels, but it also allowed me to let go of a lot of feelings I had about that incident. Cheap therapy, that’s what I call it.

Characters often end up looking a lot like people we know or knew, but we rarely think about how closely related to life ideas for novels can be, even fantasy novels. Your characters need something to drive them, a reason to do what you make them do. That all begins with the idea.

So, if you’re following this blog and you’re ready to start your journey, here’s your homework (oh, did I forget to mention there was homework?)

I challenge you to make a list of five viable story ideas. Think about events that shaped your life, funny things you’ve heard, song lyrics you love, or something you saw in your daily travels that made you pause for a moment. Choose your favorite, and think about how, what, when, where, and why? Hold on to that list and check back with me in a week for the next blog post!