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If you write fiction, then creating characters is a must-learn skill. Today I talk to Jen Blood about creating memorable characters.
In the intro, I mention the new Draft2Digital Universal Book Links, Amazon launch KU in Japan, Apple launch an Instagram account for iBooks and I discuss lessons learned from the Forbes Richest Author List.
The corporate sponsorship for this show pays for hosting and transcription. This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Jen Blood is the author of the bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries and a phenomenal editor at AdianEditing.com. Her first non-fiction book, The 5 Day Fiction Fix: Creating complex characters, is out now.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- On Jen's new book about creating complex characters.
- On what constitutes a character and ways to make readers care about characters.
- The way that interaction with secondary characters informs readers about the central character.
- How Jen prepares to write her own fictional characters and the dividing line between what readers need to know and what they don't.
- Tips for describing a character if you're writing from first person point of view.
- On character arcs and how important they are.
- Realistic character motivation and approaching big subjects from a very individual point of view.
- How to make our writing more emotional while being appropriate for your genre and your characters.
- Some definitions of character types and what secondary characters are there for.
- The most common mistake writers make with character.
You can find Jen at AdianEditing.com and JenBlood.com and on Twitter @jenblood
Transcript of Interview with Jen Blood
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today, I'm here with Jen Blood. Hi, Jen!
Jen: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: It's great to have you back on the show. Just a little introduction:
Jen is the author of the best selling Erin Solomon Mysteries and a phenomenal editor at adianediting.com. And Jen is my editor, so we're always happy to talk to her. Her first nonfiction book, “The 5-Day Fiction Fix: Creating Complex Characters” is out now. And that's what we're talking about today. You've been busy.
Jen: I've been very busy, yes, absolutely, but in a good way. It's all stuff that I love. And it's really, actually, very exciting to move into the nonfiction. That's been a lot of fun.
Joanna: Yeah, that's really important. We might have time to come back to that. But I have so many questions on this. So what I wanted to start with is, obviously, you're an editor. You're an author. You see this whole thing from every perspective.
Why choose to start with a book on character out of all the things you could have picked on writing? Why is it so important to start with character?
Jen: Well, it's a really good question, actually. But I think that, fundamentally, that's what kind of draws people into a story. As people, we want to make that human connection.
And once you make that connection, then you've gone a very long way in actually selling your story if you can make a human connection with your readers. And so I really think that character is kind of the foundation of what makes a good story. So it seemed like the best place to kind of start.
Joanna: Yeah, and it's funny, I was thinking about it too. And also, you're a dog lover, aren't you?
Joanna: People actually care more about animals than they often do about humans.
The word character doesn't necessarily just mean human, does it? What are the other types of characters that we'll, you know, be looking at?
Jen: I really do think that it can be anything. You look at Tom Robbins did in his weird fiction that I used to love in my late teens and early 20s. I think one of the characters was a soup can and just all of this sort of bizarre stuff.
I'm working on a series now that's about search and rescue dogs. And certainly, there are human characters in there. But the dogs also have a lot of character as well. It's really whatever you choose to focus on, the person, object, whatever. You have to have those characteristics that draw people in.
Joanna: Okay, so being more practical, how do we make people care about the character, especially in a world with Kindle downloads where you've only got a couple of pages, where people make a decision whether to read or not?
What are the different types of ways we can make people care about our characters?
Jen: It's actually a lot harder to make people care about the characters in the first couple of pages. It's almost like you have to have a good sense of who the character is and sort of demonstrate through action what, who that character is and what they're doing.
I think you'd used the example at one point of the “save the cat” moment. It's that thing where there's an active, demonstrable way that your character is interacting with the world around them in a way where people are going to say, “Wow, all right, this is somebody that I want to learn more about.”
You don't start the story off with this necessarily. I know there are some famous books that have done that, but I'm not a big fan. You don't start off with, when I was five and duh, duh, duh, and this happened, and blah, blah, blah. But again, I know some people do.
In action- or plot-driven fiction, that's not typically the best way to go about things. But if you can start with an action moment but then have the character interacting in the world in a way that is going to make people stand up and take notice, that's really a great way to kind of draw them in.
And then from there, then you can develop the character and show some other ways that they interact with the world and change and grow over time.
Joanna: For example, we don't start with “Jen got up and brushed her teeth.”
We start with Jen in a snowstorm rescuing a dog that's fallen down a cave or something.
Joanna: I can see you doing that. And that demonstrates character through action.
Joanna: And that also…I was thinking about this, because your books spark lots of things for me.
It also works with the “show, don't tell,” right? We don't say opening chapter, Jen is a dog lover. We show Jen rescuing the dog in the storm.
Joanna: What are some other things around the “show, don't tell” around character?
Jen: Some of the other stuff is bringing in secondary characters and the way that they interact with those characters. It's about dialogue. It really is always about action.
There's a limited amount, I think, of back story that people actually need to know over the course of the story. And it really is bringing in those active moments, and, again, it's the interaction. It's how people are in the world.
I always bring it back to sort of being organic with your story and thinking about the way we actually view the world in real life. So when we are getting to know someone, we're not privy to their thoughts. We don't hear their inner dialogue. The way that we get to know someone in actual life is by what they do and the things that they say and the things that they do and the way that they behave.
Applying that to the story I think is really the best way to ensure that your readers are having that organic experience that echoes life but in an obviously much more exciting way a lot of the time.
Joanna: And that kind of feeds into the different faces that we put on. So if you meet a character with their mother, they're going to behave differently than if they're with their husband or wife.
Jen: Right, yeah.
Joanna: Or with a best friend or like me onscreen, you and me now onscreen in a professional way. This is a different us than it would be over some drinks if we were best mates downtown type of thing.
Jen: Right, yeah.
Joanna: Can you do that through the interactions with the secondary characters like you said?
Jen: It really demonstrates that the author genuinely knows who this character is if they can gauge how the character is going to relate to people, depending on their station in life and the relationship between them and everything else. And I think that that ultimately is exactly how we really get to know these characters is by watching that play out.
Joanna: And then a question for you as an author and an editor, how do you prepare to write with your characters? I know some people have their sort of you should know what their parents did for a living, and you should know what political party they are, and you should know all this stuff about what school they went to, blah, blah, blah.
Do you do more discovery writing?
Jen: I actually am a big fan, just because I love characters so much, so it's very fun for me. That's kind of how I get into the story initially, even though I write plot-driven fiction.
For a plot-driven fiction, I think it's pretty character-centric. And so I love that, first, getting to know the characters. I usually do a lot of work upfront.
And then as I'm going along, sometimes, I'll feel like I'm losing my way. And a lot of times, it's because I don't understand where the character is coming from. And so I find that a lot of times, if I can go back and kind of look at the character and figure out what's going on with them, then that helps me moving forward.
For me, personally, I do a lot of work. I want to know everything about them.
But then it's drawing that line, because readers don't need to know and they don't want to know everything about who your character is and what they did when they were five and how they felt at seven when their fish died. It's figuring out how to walk that line.
And a lot of times, the author knowing that information kind of informs the narratives so that you get that sense and the reader really understands where the character is coming from. But you as the author don't need to spell all of that out for them.
Joanna: I guess I'm more of a “just in time” writer, certainly more than you are. I was thinking about Morgan Sierra and Jake. We've seen Morgan's house in Crypt of Bone, for example, we go to Morgan's house. And I know where Morgan lives. I've been to that street, like I have that in my head. She's my main character, that's why.
But Jake, who's the main secondary character, as you know, obviously because you're my editor, but for people listening. Jake, I don't know where he lives. I still don't know where he lives. And I don't think it's important. Like what's important is that he was in the military. He's South African. There's things about him that are important. But to me, where he lives or what his home life is like doesn't really matter. So that's acceptable, isn't it?
You only need to know for the story.
Jen: Absolutely. I think it's totally about style.
I think as with so much of writing, I'm always reluctant to say, “This is the way that you have to do it. And there's only one right way. And if you don't do it this way, then you're a failure, and you're going to die alone.” So that's bad. Yeah, it's whatever works for you.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. So there is no right way.
I wanted to ask about tips for describing a character, so their physical aspects, that don't involve mirrors.
Jen: Oh yeah, that's really hard. It is very hard. If it's first person, then it's virtually impossible to…
Joanna: First person point of view, for people listening.
Joanna: So if you write in first person point of view, you kind of have to look in a mirror.
Jen: Right, yes, it's hard. The key is finding a couple of distinctive things and relating them with respect to what's going on around. So for example, my character Erin Solomon is short. She's 5'2″, and she's a redhead. And so it's very easy to get that in there, because she's always talking to people who are taller than her.
It's very easy to, over the course of a scene, have that perspective come in there. So she'll say something disparaging about the fact that she doesn't even reach his shoulder or whatever. And so I think that we don't really need to know every aspect of what these characters look like. It's a sketch.
If you can find a couple of trademark things, and so like Morgan's eyes or something I always think of. She got those eyes.
Joanna: Slash, yeah.
Jen: Yeah. You work with those trademarks, and readers are going to fill in the blanks. They don't need to know exactly the measurements and everything else.
Joanna: I wonder if that's a genre thing as well, though, because I don't write chick lit. But I have read some. And certainly, if there's much more about fashion, for example, some authors might describe a lot more about what people are wearing in terms of labels, because that's the type of genre.
Whereas, you and I writing thrillers, often the type of gun or getaway car, it might be more appropriate. I certainly never really think about what people are wearing, unless it's important for the plot. So Morgan and Jake go to Iran, and Morgan does wear the chador and keeps her weapons under.
Jen: Yeah, sure, exactly. There are different conventions with all of the different genres. In romance they're much more interested in exactly the physical, what they look like and what the guy looks like and what color his eyes are and what color his hair is and how it waves or whatever.
Joanna: We're clearly not writing the right genre for that. But I think, especially with erotica, for example, I think describing that physicality is probably more important than that. Okay, so let's talk about character arc.
First of all, what is a character arc? And how can you do it for, say, a standalone or a series?
Jen: I think that people have a misconception about character arc. Actually, one of the most common definitions is that there's a marked change, like the Wikipedia definition is like they become a different sort of person by the end of the novel, which I don't agree with.
I think that if you look at a lot of novels, the characters don't become a different sort of person by the end of the novel. There may be deepening of their experience or their understanding. But to me, character arc is simply the inner journey that the character experiences over the course of the novel.
And so that opens things up a lot, because I think, certainly, especially in genre fiction, you don't see this drastic change in these long-term series where the character starts out one way and then by the end has this big revelation and changes his life and whatever.
I think it's all about understanding where your character is coming from and allowing for that experience to deepen over time. For example, in the Erin Solomon series, Erin starts out as someone who's very obsessed with this particular mystery that she's bent on solving at all costs. And over the course of the five novels, she ultimately comes to a place where that is still a key aspect of her life. But she's more concerned with the others around her.
Ultimately, there are times when she walks away from it to save the people that she loves and that sort of thing. So it's that kind of evolution over time and kind of shift over time.
But then you can have things like Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels where, Jack Reacher kind of starts off as a loner who has willingly chosen this life of drifting and crime solving and all of that. At the end of every novel he makes a conscious choice to remain that. And so he's making that conscious choice not to change, not to make that big shift.
Joanna: Yeah, and again, his books are kind of Lone Ranger style model. And similarly, well, your Erin Solomon pentalogy, five books, has an arc. Whereas, I feel like my ARKANE series is more episodic in terms of like solve a mystery within, and then the mystery is solved, and then there's another mystery, and it kind of works more like that.
I think it's great that you say that you don't believe it should be that change. I think that must come from screenwriting or from literary fiction, for example.
Jen: I think so. Look at the journey that Jake has been on over the years and stuff and the journey that Morgan's been on. I think they definitely have a fairly profound inner journey that they go on over time.
Joanna: I guess when you've got one book, when it's a standalone, you have to force that much more. Risen Gods, my dark fantasy one, there is much more of a change. You have to change because you have to save the world over the course of time.
Let's get to character motivation, because as part of my research for my next book, End of Days, I thought I would watch the Arnie movie, End of Days.
And I don't know if people remember this, because it came out in like the late '90's. And there were some really awful motivations for some of the actions that went on. And I was just sitting and going, “What? Why do that? Like that's ridiculous.”
When it comes to what a character wants, which is a very important part of a plot, and motivation, how can we make things realistic in terms of character?
Jen: It's hard, because most of us aren't in a situation where we have to choose things like saving the world. So it's hard to imagine us necessarily being motivated to do the things that our characters do a lot of the time.
I used to act when I was in high school. I was all about like method acting and all of this stuff when I read Stanislavski when I was fifteen and I was like “This is what I want to do,” and duh, duh, duh, and I'm going to sit in a bathtub of ice and whatever.
But I always think of method writing, instead of method acting, where you kind of get inside your character's skin. You start really thinking about, okay, what possibly could motivate them to need to do whatever it is that they need to do, whether it's save the world or solve the mystery or whatever it is.
I think that it's a lot of that, and then it's also about recognizing that the more detailed that you get, the more convoluted it's going to sound. And so if you can give like a basic sketch of who the character is.
Joanna: Well, I think it's interesting. One of the stronger things about The End of Days, and I think it's a common thing we all use, is that his family is the thing that drives his emotion and the same in both of our books. When there's family involved or a child, something threatens a child, your own children or another child, the children in jeopardy thing, or your dog. Some readers will not read a book where an animal is harmed, but they don't care how many people you kill, right?
Joanna: So I think if you tap into what people care about, that can be the reason, that is the main reason.
Jen: I think you're right. I think that's exactly right is that once you do that and your readers can empathize with that, because they certainly are in the same boat.
Most people, if their family is in danger, then they'll do anything. And that's also a great way to get your readers to care about your characters is when they go out on a limb to save their family or to save whoever they care about.
Joanna: I was also thinking about the bigger issue of theme and the big backgrounds that people have. And I don't even know how I got to it, but I've just downloaded Sophie's Choice by William Styron, which, of course, is about Nazi Germany and a woman's choice at a very specific level. I don't think it's a spoiler to say between her children, not in the situation that they're in.
So you don't write a book about the Nazis and evil, the evil of that. You write a book specifically about one woman and her children, which brings everything down to the level of character.
Jen: Absolutely. That to me is the most compelling way to tell any story is to bring it to the level of these individual characters.
And so whether it's The Mist of Avalon or any of these books, or Clan of the Cave Bear or something where you don't necessarily expect to love the setting or the time period or whatever. But you fall so in love with the characters. And then you learn all of these things and become completely drawn into this world that the author has pulled you into. But it really is through the lens of the character.
Joanna: Oh my goodness. In my head, I've got Jondalar. Was he the Neanderthal? Was he the homo sapiens? I can't remember. But he was the love interest, right?
Jen: Right, yeah.
Joanna: I must have been about 15 when the Clan of the Cavebear.
Jen: I know. I was actually talking to my aunt this morning. We were talking about character and stuff, and that's what got in my head. And I know, I think I was 16 or 17 when I read it, so yeah.
Joanna: Well, it's interesting. And we all have superpowers as writers, and we all have weak points.
Joanna: And I think setting for me is a superpower. I'm pretty good at setting because I've been to a lot of places, and I love setting. But I'm not very good at emotion. And so I've been trying to really think about how to make my writing more emotional. And that has to do with character, doesn't it?
What do you think in terms of how do you make your writing more emotional around character?
Jen: It's so hard, because it's so easy to overdo. I really think that. It really takes kind of a light stroke.
I also think, again, it depends on genre, and it depends on audience. Like for your books, if you went too deeply into the emotion, then I think that you would lose a lot of readers, certainly for the ARKANE Series.
Joanna: Everybody's crying.
Jen: Yes, exactly.
Joanna: No explosions.
Jen: It all comes back to being true to the character and understanding. So if your character isn't an emotional character, then it's really hard to infuse the writing with emotion unless you put them in heightened circumstances with people who are more emotional or who trigger them in some way.
If Morgan, for example, in your books is in a situation where she is with family or there's something along those lines, then she's going to be more emotional. There's going to be more at stake there.
Whereas, with a lot of like Twilight, for example, and the audience that you have there and the vampires and Bella, whoever they are… I have read it, the first one. It wouldn't make sense for her to be unemotional and all of that.
I think that the first step is understanding who you're writing for and who your character is. And then I think, a lot of times, the emotion kind of flows from that.
Joanna: I've been thinking a lot about longevity as an author and writing in different genres. We're at this point in the indie world where people are prolific. People are writing lots of books.
I look at prolific writers like Enid Blyton, for example, Agatha Christie, some of these people who've written hundreds of books, Nora Roberts, even Stephen King to a point, Stephen King, who I love. And you like his books too, right?
Jen: Oh yeah.
Joanna: If Stephen King has written 45 books, name them. And you won't be able to. You'll be able to name which ones come to your mind.
Jen; Right, yeah and so like The Shining.
Joanna: The Shining. The Shining also would be a top one for me and The Stand and It. I was looking at It again actually, because it's so big. But also it's kind of told in flashback, and it's a group of friends.
I was trying to think, why is this book so memorable? And it's not actually because of the evil clown. It's because of the friends who tackle evil together, so this group of friends. And Stephen King is so memorable, I think, because of his characters.
Jen: Oh, absolutely, yeah.
Joanna: Because he writes pretty bad endings. I mean, even It is not… When the monster is revealed, it's not that big a deal. But what's interesting is that the relationships between the friends.
So is the heightening emotion just the deepening the character in the world?
Jen: I think that it definitely is. When I think emotion, I immediately go to that like emotional sort of amplified place, and I'm from New England, and we don't like that sort of thing.
Joanna: I'm English. We don't do that either.
Jen: I think that it is. It's about the character resonating and being authentic. A character that has a rich inner life and the reader kind of tapping into that. And so I think that's it, as much as anything, really.
Joanna: Yeah, or kind of that revelation of a truth, the weepy. The one that gets me is The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.
Jen: Oh, sure, yeah. Yeah.
Joanna: I mean that's a killer. That one really is, isn't it?
These emotional truths.
Jen: There are authors who do it so well. It's getting to that emotional truth. And when you can do that and tap into something that is going to resonate with readers, then that ultimately is what the emotion is all about.
I think the other thing about emotion is that, I can't remember who said it to me, but it's almost like when the character is crying, then it doesn't allow for the reader to cry. And so if the character is so overwrought and lost in the emotion, then the reader, it strikes that chord where they're not okay with experiencing their own emotions, because they're too concerned about the character who's out of control.
And so if you can do those emotions in a way where you are kind of letting the reader almost experience those emotions for the character in a way, then I think a lot of times, that's more powerful than if your character is breaking down and sobbing.
Joanna: And that's also back to the “show, don't tell.” It's not like I'm really angry, and I want to save my daughter.
Jen: Yes, exactly.
Joanna: I do this screenwriting thing, and that's what they call ‘on the nose dialogue'. I am angry. No, you never write I am angry. You have to show that anger. I think that's right.
Okay, so coming back to some other questions.
Let's talk about protagonist, antagonist. Can you define what those are?
Jen: The protagonist is typically the central character. They usually have some kind of positive motivation or a goal that is admirable in some way.
The antagonist is typically the central character who stands in the way of the protagonist achieving his or her goal. So that's it in a nutshell between the two.
Joanna: What do people get wrong with these two, because then people go,”Oh, what about Dexter? Or what about in House of Cards, Frank Underwood?” these kind of anti-heroes or negative protagonists versus a good antagonist.
Are they good and bad? Are there rules in other ways?
Jen: You know what's really interesting is that I just read an article about the rise of prequels. For example, in Star Wars, the prequels, and they describe how Darth Vader became the horrible baddie that he is. And it talks about the fact that it kind of defeats the purpose because you get to know the character so much in those prequels. And then he's a bad guy.
Whatever it is that happened to them in those early years, there's not really anything that can explain how they then became crazed mass murderer people. The author was talking about the fact that, a lot of times, it's better to leave that motivation murky for an antagonist.
You look at people like Dexter who, in a different narrative, would definitely be a bad guy. But we understand his motivation, even though his thinking is a little skewed with the murdering the bad guys in really heinous ways.
Joanna: We still root for him. So he's still the protagonist. The protagonist is just the main person that we're following in the story.
Jen: Yeah, and we do have a better understanding where they're coming from. I think that a lot of times, if you go with an antagonist, it's good to understand who they are. It's good to develop some quirks and develop that character.
But if you go too far into the realm of motivation and back story, then a lot of times, it kind of pulls the plug on just how effective they are as villains. So like Hannibal Lecter.
Joanna: Yeah, the other books didn't really work, did they?
Jen: Yeah, but you look at quintessential Silence of the Lambs and everything, and he is the villain. Or you look at Othello and Iago in Othello, and that's been a debate for centuries as to what Iago's motivation actually was.
I think with protagonists, you really need to understand who they are. You need to understand where they're coming from, what they want, and why they want it.
With antagonists, if you can create a compelling psychological profile and create that rich character through that and make it clear what it is that they want, then I think, a lot of times, that's actually enough to make a really phenomenal antagonist.
Joanna: Yeah, that's good. I'm glad you say that, because I need to have an explanation for the bad guy, and I like for it to be quite good. But I must say, with End of Days, it's kind of obvious what they want.
Jen: Yeah. Sure.
Joanna: And someone has to stop it. But that's big, thriller type motivation. And I was thinking also that the antagonist, again, doesn't have to be human, often a monster, like in It. It is a monster, alien monster. Although, there's other antagonist characters along the way. Or nature, right? There can be a man against nature story. The antagonist can be the world, yeah, that type of thing.
Okay, so I know we're running long but a very exciting topic. What about other characters? For example, I really like the Jonathan Maberry Joe Ledger series, which has got a team. And I see the benefit of having a team of characters who you return to.
ARKANE is a very small team. And I feel like, if I was doing it again, which I may obviously do, I would design a bigger team, because then there's more possibilities. You have quite a lot of secondary characters in Erin Solomon.
What are the secondary characters there for? And what are the types of secondary characters?
Jen: If you're thinking of it in like movie terms, they're the supporting cast. They help to develop your main character. They certainly help to develop the plot and keep things moving.
I think that the key to secondary characters is really, actually knowing who they are and allowing them to have goals and motives themselves over the course of the story. Certainly, in the Erin Solomon series, Erin's mom is in there, and she's got her own baggage, and it's huge. Basically, by the end, there are a team of people who are working together.
If your main character isn't in a particular chapter or whatever, if you can have a compelling subplot with secondary characters, then that's one more reason for readers to keep coming back to hear about who these people are.
And for me, a lot times, the secondary characters take on a life of their own. So the new series that I'm working on is a spinoff of the Erin Solomon series, with a search and rescue dog handler. And it just felt like there was more to that character that I hadn't explored yet.
It's going back to that show versus tell thing where you are showing your readers exactly how your character interacts with the world. If you have someone who's not terribly likable, but they're hilarious with their best friend, and their best friend comes in, that's automatically a way that you can start to kind of empathize with the character and find something that's redeemable about them. Or they're phenomenal with their niece or their dog or whatever. I think that secondary characters, they make a narrative so much richer.
Joanna: And just from a purely technical perspective, if one person is alone in a setting, your writing will be just blocks of text as narrative or an internal thought, because there's no dialogue, unless you're talking to yourself, which isn't dialogue.
Joanna: Purely from a technical point of view, you have to populate the world with these characters. That is something to think about. What do you think about the kind of archetypes, for example, I have Ben, who's like the father Ben, who's a sort of mentor figure, sort of Yoda, Obi-Wan type of figure? And I didn't really think about it when I was writing that first book.
Do you think these archetype characters just emerge anyway? Or should we design them?
Jen: I think they do. You know, I think that they do. I mean I certainly don't go into a novel saying this is going to be this thing, and it's going to serve this role and duh, duh, duh.
Joanna: Some people do though, don't they?
Jen: Yeah, certainly there are people who are more analytical about it and who do that. And that's fine if they want to do that. But I don't think that it's necessary for you to assign those roles when you start and say this person is going to serve this particular role.
I do think it's interesting that, ultimately, it does boil down to them falling into those archetypes. I think that's always an interesting thing.
Joanna: And we should also say, and this is not a marketing thing today, but what you're doing with the spinoff characters will drive people who have read the Erin Solomon series and enjoyed it will likely carry on to a new series that features the same character.
Jen: Yeah, I think that that's definitely that's a big plus.
Actually, I was watching…I don't remember if it was an interview with you or someone else, but it was something CJ Lyons said at some point where she was talking about, just the fact that if she could start over again, what she would do from the start is…
Joanna: Is link them all together.
Jen: Yes, link them all.
Joanna: And the romance authors are the people who do this amazingly well. Like they'll come up with a family, or Marie Force has this Gansett Island or Bella Andre has these families. So they have a lot of siblings, and then there's the cousins.
You can just have an event, like a wedding, and a whole load of people turn up. And then you can follow these people. And someone says, “Why don't you do that with thrillers?” And I'm like, “Yeah, but everybody died.”
But that does come back to the team thing, I guess. And actually, this is what I'm planning for the next three kind of things that I'm going to do. They will spin off. And I did link two of my series together with Day of the Vikings, I have Blake and Morgan.
I think that's a big tip to people is use your secondary characters in spinoff stuff.
Joanna: Especially if they're interesting.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it's a great source.
Joanna: Fantastic, right. We're so almost out of time., Okay, we'll do one more question.
You see so much as an editor. What are the biggest things that people get wrong about character?
Jen: You know, it's funny. You would think that it would be that they didn't develop the character enough, but I think character development is almost innate for writers a lot of the time. That's where they start, because writing is a really technical thing, and so it's hard to figure out all of the technical aspects. But anybody can write a character profile or can start with one.
What I find is that writers will come in, and they'll know so much about their character. And they're so enthusiastic about who that character is. But they just dump everything in the first chapter.
I think that really, the thing that I see time and again, where they may start out perfectly with this big great action sequence, and then it just stops on the second page. And suddenly, we're in a flashback to when they were five, and they stepped on a butterfly and everything changed. I think that's the biggest thing.
It comes down to really asking yourself how much the reader really needs to know to be drawn into the story and then trusting that if you give them a little bit and spread it over time. That's going to be so much more effective than trying to give them all of the back story in that first chapter or first couple of chapters.
Joanna: Absolutely, that's fantastic. Okay, so your book is the 5-Day Fiction Fix: Creating Complex Characters. And where can people find your book and your Erin Solomon series and your everything else?
Jen: Okay, well, they can find the book on pretty much all of the online outlets, so Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Kobo and Apple and all of them. It's there. And then they can find out about Erin Solomon and my fiction at jenblood.com. And my nonfiction, they can find that as well. And all of my mysteries are available on all of the outlets as well. And my editing business and some of my nonfiction and also an editing sheet and all kinds of stuff, you can find it adianediting.com.
Joanna: Fantastic, well, thanks so much for your time, Jen. That was great.
Jen: All right, thank you so much.
Tonya Moore says
I’m definitely a supporter of the notion of story as a journey that a character experiences. Although a lot of my stories deal with a transformation of some kind, I don’t necessarily think that a character must change drastically from the beginning to the end of a story. I think that invariably, there will be a change of some sort but this can be very subtle. I often wonder whether changes that a character goes through are necessary to the story or simply a sign that there has been some change in the writer throughout the course of telling the story.
The most remarkable thing in literature and in our writings is ourselves! All recommendations on the letter are often subjective, everyone likes different tricks. I tend to think that when you write independently, it is important to follow only your own recommendations. If you do not think that your character should change from the beginning of the story, then you do not need to do this. Of course, we can all learn from someone or take someone as an example. I’ve read a million stories about writers who were not recognized in life. But now they are idols of literature. It is unlikely that a beginner will write his https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(novel) although who knows? I constantly sent my first articles for review at https://writingpaper.org/. There are always professionals who will help you. But it’s important not to lose personality in the crowd. I believe that any unusual letter metric is the best that can be with us!
JA Andrews says
Joanna, I bought your box set this morning, so there’s my little nudge sending you toward the USA Bestseller list. You deserve it!
Great podcast, as always. Listening to you is what keeps my mind off the fact that I’m exercising. Yesterday I even did an extra couple of minutes on the bike since you weren’t done talking! 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Thank you 🙂
I’m doing a bit of binge reading and o love this transcript as I am picking up some great tips that I will definitely integrate. Her book is on my wish list 🙂