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Writing 101: Four W’s for Character Development

There are two drivers for novels; character and plot. Character-driven stories are those where the character’s actions and reactions drive the story forward and fuel turning points and happenings. Plot driven stories are where the focus is on the actual incidents and happenings that propel the story forward.  Creating dynamic characters using a basic practice is what we are focusing on with this article.Goal, Motivation & Conflict

The Four W’s

When it comes to fleshing out character, one of the basic ways to do it (and I still think it’s the best way) is to nut out the four W’s of that character. For a very good resource on character development, try Debra Dixon’s book on the craft of writing, Goal, Motivation & Conflict – it holds the best instructions and explanations for creating your characters. It’s well worth the investment!

Who?

Who is your character? Deciding on a name is often like sticking a note to a corkboard with a pin, it anchors the important information in place. Once you have a name, think of a descriptor that accurately portrays the traits and/or roles of this character. For example:   John McClane from Die Hard could be described as your rogue cop. William Wallace from Braveheart could be described as your determined warrior. Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada could be described as your disdainful autocrat. I’m going to create a character for the purpose of this post. His name is…Max. Max Brooks. Max Brooks, protective father.

What?

What does this character really want? World Peace? The antidote to the poison they’ve been injected with? That job promotion? A secure home for his/her child? Mr. Right? What objective is your character working toward? I usually break down the ‘what’ of a character even further into two categories – want and need.

  • Want:  The clear objective that your character defines on their own. Sometimes this is also called an external goal. It’s something tangible, and like any form of goal-setting in the ‘real’ world, there is success when the objective is reached, or failure if the objective is lost. It can be self-serving (job promotion/antidote), or self-sacrificing (world peace/safe home for family) – either way, it’s something that the character can get – or not.
  • Need: The deeper yearning that drives your character. Maybe it’s complicated, like finally getting the approval from your mother, or simple; proving your independence to yourself. Either way, these are emotional, subjective needs that will signal growth and development for your character if/when these needs are met.  You can have multiple wants and needs, but for today, I’m going to use just one. So, using my character Max as an example: Max wants: the antidote to a poison he’s been injected with. Max needs: To provide a safe, secure home life for his son

Why?

Why does your character want what s/he wants? This is the part that creates the most fun for me as a writer. This is where you create a backstory for your character, and where you give your character the motivation for their actions and reactions. Again, answering this question for both internal (subjective) and external (objective) goals creates believable motivation for those goals. It’s also where we channel Tom Jones – Why, Why, Why, Delilah…? Again, using our hero: Max wants an antidote to the poison – why? To save his own life. Why? His wife is dead, and he’s the only living relative for his son, Chad. He needs to be there for Chad. Why? Because he never had a father figure, growing up. His mother struggled to provide a safe roof over their heads, they ended up living on the street for a while, and he saw things, experienced things that he doesn’t want his son to see or experience. He wants to see his son grow into a healthy adult. He needs to save his own life, and in doing so he saves his son’s life.

See? It’s kind of like twenty questions, only you get to make up the answers. By continually asking why you create a more compelling, in-depth character.

Why not?

There has to be some problem or issue, some roadblock that prevents your character from getting what they want – otherwise your novel is a dead-boring read. If the outcome is a foregone conclusion, why bother reading the rest of the story. Boy meets girl, and they live happily ever after – zzzzzzz. Where’s the excitement? The tension? What makes the reader sit up at night and wonder – oh, heck, what’s going to happen next? Will they or won’t they? What is the complication, the conflict your character faces that stops them from achieving their goal? Again, conflict on an external (objective) and an internal (subjective) level adds not only dimension to your character, but suspense for the reader. Our hero, Max, can’t get the antidote because the person who injected him with the poison has it, and has now disappeared. Yikes! By not getting the antidote and saving his own life, his inner need to provide a safe, secure home for his son will not be met. He’ll die…or will he?

We’ve also introduced high stakes – life or death… but we’ll cover stakes (and how to raise them) in a later post.

So, in a nutshell:

Who is your character, what does s/he want, why does s/he want that, and why doesn’t s/he achieve that right now?

Four Ws

We’ll be covering these elements in greater detail over the coming weeks. In the meantime, good luck and get writing!

Book Titles – A.K.A. The Kevin Bacon Book Effect

How do you come up with a book title?

Well, as an author – I don’t. When I write my books, I use a ‘working title’ – so that I can refer to it as something instead of just ‘Book X’. It’s a little like naming a baby – and many writers will tell you they consider their various writing projects as just that – their babies, and they’ll take just as much care and effort as they would with naming a child.

I’ll spend some time trying to think up a title that is relevant to the story, that could possibly be seen in the bookstore and not cause me considerable embarrassment – and then I bin all those and try to look at my book as a publisher would – a book that will hopefully attract readers. Once the book is completed I send it to my editor.

The usual response is: Love the book, but we’ll need to change the title.

Ugh.

There could be a number of reasons for this outcome. There may be another book coming out within a close period of time with the same or similar title…or there may be something that’s considered ‘sensitive’ in the title…or, it might be really hard to get a cover that would suit THAT title…or the title I had could quite simply suck.

Most publishers will have an idea of what would appeal to a reader – or what could repel them. I know of one that has a list of key words of what could/should be used to encourage sales – and what should not appear on a cover. And that’s the basis of a title – something that brilliantly, effortlessly encapsulates the tone and feel of your story, that will make readers pause, perhaps pick the book up off the shelf (or more than likely, click on the thumbnail cover image) to read more, and then to hopefully (fingers crossed, praying fervently) buy.

Then there are those book titles that you wish you’d thought of, that bring forth an immediate reaction – perhaps it reminds you of an experience, or it may contain one of those mysterious key words that make you reach for the wallet as you heed that novel’s siren call.

Recently, I’ve had such an experience – and it was based purely on the TITLE. I’m a sucker for 80’s movies and T.V. shows – The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Magnum P.I., and (of course) MacGyver. I remember watching all of these, dancing to the soundtracks (I kid you not, I had the themes for both Magnum P.I. and MacGyver on cassette tape, and no, I’m not THAT old.)

I particularly remember singing into hairbrushes and choreographing dance moves with my sisters along to the songs from the movie Footloose. Uh-huh. You know what I’m talking about. Kevin Bacon. Who hasn’t parodied that scene with the disjointed bopping along a hall wearing earphones, regardless if it was intentional or you were just uncool and uncoordinated (mind you, the fact that Kevin Bacon did it implies an inherent cool factor).

HOFAHcoverSo when I saw the title for this book come up, I had to have it. Yes. I want a book, purely based on the title. Because it made me remember great times with my sisters, sizzling hot summers, rocking tunes, fun movies, and if I grab this book, it’s like grabbing on to those memories. And Kevin Bacon (although I’m not allowed to grab on to Mr. Bacon). I call it The Kevin Bacon Book Effect. I’m making a buying decision based purely upon the fact that Kevin Bacon made me do it. And here’s the kicker – it’s not even released yet, but I can pre-order – and so can you!

Will Kevin Bacon make you do it, too?

For those who haven’t seen the movie, or fans who have and like to get their Bacon bits, enjoy:

 

For those who enjoy the music, and maybe some hot superheroes, too, enjoy:

 

Tell me: what is your FAVE Kevin Bacon movie/show/moment?

Writing A Book Is Like Soccer

I do not play soccer. In my family, that’s not just unusual, it’s almost a crime, and spawns many a long conversation on the supposed merits of the game at family gatherings.

There is something about the thrill of the game, the smell of the fresh air, the warmth of the sun on my head that I’m just not really enamoured with. Maybe because it’s a winter sport and I’m freezing my tush off watching kids run around a muddy pitch – then have to wash muddy clothes. Or maybe because ‘they’ schedule games close enough to sparrow’s fart on a Saturday morning when most folks would prefer to be reading the paper over a leisurely breakfast. Maybe.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to the game, or any sport. I think team sports are important, fitness is important, developing coordination skills is important. I enjoy watching my kids’ efforts, I enjoy cheering them on, regardless of who scores, and I love that they develop resilience. I occasionally kick a ball around, an activity that is both enjoyable and satisfyingly destructive if the wrong window gets in the way. But perhaps because I attend so many games and watch them with an enquiring eye, I’ve learned something.

Soccer is not so different from writing a book.

Why do people play any game? It comes down to the thrill of the competition, of pitting oneself against the odds to triumph, and the satisfaction of knowing you rule the soccer pitch, if only for one Saturday morning. There are the obvious benefits – fitness, hand-eye coordination, and the in-your-face fist pump when you score that goal (we’ll call this external motivation).

Then there are the less obvious benefits, the communication one learns and shares with playing in a team, working together, learning to offer assistance and accept aid, as well as the confidence and satisfaction one gets from being active. There is the joy of winning and the crushing disappointment of losing. We’ll call this internal motivation.

There may be other factors at play, also – your opposing team member may be the bully or ‘ace’ student at school and you finally have a chance to show them what’s what… Or maybe you do this because your father is a massive Bend It Like Beckham fan and you don’t want to disappoint him, or your friend does it, and it’s a way to get out of the house and hang with your mates, thus avoiding chores… either way, this motivation contributes to backstory, and having a compelling and relevant backstory makes any book interesting to read. Just like soccer, though, when information emerges over the course of a season, so too must backstory be threaded through the course of a novel, and not in one info dump (otherwise you’re that kid – or parent – on the sideline that everyone avoids talking to).

In a game of soccer, you have two opposing forces (teams). In writing a book, you generally have at least two opposing forces (a protagonist and an antagonist, or for a romance, your hero and heroine may be your opposing forces).

Either way, that’s conflict.

Each side has a clear objective. In soccer, the objective is to score a goal, and hopefully prevent the other team from scoring a goal. In writing, your character/s must have a clear goal, and in a good, compelling story, those goals will also be counter-productive.

When you have counter-productive goals that work directly against each other, that’s GOOD, STRONG conflict.

In reaching your clearly stated objective in soccer, you may run into another player (literally). In writing, your character must run into obstacles. For a number of reasons:

• Nobody wants to watch a boring, one-sided game, and nobody wants to read a boring, obvious book.

• When you really have to struggle to achieve that goal, victory so much sweeter and exhilarating.

• The more your character struggles, the more your sideline supporters (readers) cheer on that character.

• The more your character blocks or is blocked by an opponent, the more tense the game becomes.

In a soccer game, the ball is kicked back and forth, changing direction with a calculated strike or a careless bump. Just like the soccer ball, your plot bounces from one direction to another, based on the actions of your characters. Without this constant movement, or plot direction, the game is over, and spectators go home.

This constant movement of the ball creates tension in the spectator as well as the player – will they score this time? Will it get near the goal posts? Will that kid with the bleeding nose stop the ball with his face again?  In writing, the to-ing and fro-ing creates tension in the reader, as well as the character. And just like in a story, when one goal is scored, either by one team or the other, it raises the stakes – will the other team come back and equal the score, or possibly win? What is going to happen next? How will this game end?

And as with any book, in soccer there are peaks and lulls. Tension ramps up before a goal – and regardless of the resulting mini-climax, there is always the decline in tension, only to be ramped up again at the next goal opportunity, and then the next. Also, tension ramps up with any clash or conflict, until the ball is kicked out of that tussle and the immediate conflict is over – until the next time.

The entire team are your supporting characters, each acting independently, with consequences for each action. Each character has virtues and flaws, and these traits can contribute to conflict between characters on the same team – he’s a ball hog and won’t pass, or she doesn’t want to get hurt and won’t fully commit to a hustle. If you’re lucky, they’ll eventually get their act together and work cohesively in accomplishing that goal. And if you’re not lucky – well, I guess you’re not writing a Happy Ever After.

Your Goalie can be your hero – and your villain, depending on your perspective. If s/he is on your team, and they block a goal – Hero! If you’re on the other team – villain, and vice versa when the roles are reversed. Each team/character has an entrenched view that is constantly under challenge, and with each practice, each opportunity to develop that skill, there is character growth. Each team member has an opponent – this creates balance on the field, and good, strong competition. Just as your hero must have that opponent that challenges him/her.

And like soccer, it isn’t over until that whistle blows – there is always the chance that things can get better – or worse.

And when the game is over, hopefully those supporters will happily come back for your next book.

Pitching a Homer – Or How to Pitch Your Novel

Okay, I’m lousy at baseball-speak, but the basis for this article is how to pitch to an editor or agent – in a conference scenario.

We are in the peak conference season – at least for romance writers. RWAmerica hold their annual conference in late July, RWAustralia hold their conference mid-August, and RWNew Zealand hold their annual conference mid-late August.

And at each conference there is the opportunity for brave souls to present their treasured work to an agent or editor, in the hopes that said agent/editor will recognise the gem for what it is, and whip out a chequebook and a fill-in-the-blanks contract.

Well, okay, maybe that’s more my fantasy than fact, but that’s what we writers hope for, yes? That the agent/editor love the pitch enough to ask for a partial manuscript – or a full (!) – and then read it and love it and want it.

When I first heard of pitching at conferences, it reminded me of a party where some kid (still so traumatised can’t remember his name) walked in on me in the bathroom at the grand old age of 5, and then called all the kids attending the party to come and gawk. And laugh. Ex-crooooootiating humiliation. And that’s how I viewed pitching. Present your treasure and hope they won’t laugh you out of the ballpark.

I did realise the benefit in pitching, though. If the agent/editor does request your work, your submission is slightly fast-tracked. While it’s not like having a police escort, with flashing lights and sirens heralding the arrival of your manuscript on to the agent/editor’s lap – it’s more the overtaking lane approach. Your work will be read, more than likely sooner rather than later, and if you phrase your cover letter properly, you’ll have a frame of reference – they’ve met you, and might remember you. Maybe. But this isn’t about the submission. This is about what happens BEFORE the submission.

When I decided to pitch my first novel, I researched, well, how to pitch a novel. And couldn’t really find that much practical, useful information. What am I supposed to do or say? Present them with a box of chocolates and tell the editor/agent how much I LOVE their work and how I want to work with them? Answer: No. Not even close.

Think of pitching like a job interview – yes, another ex-crooooootiating experience. You are approaching an industry professional, and you’re talking about your business, which you hope to make their business.

Some job interview tips work well for the pitch situation:

Be presentable.

Yes, all us writers are charmingly eccentric in our own special, creative way, but we do want to be taken as a serious business proposition, so make that good first impression. There is truth to the point that it’s the material that counts, but you really want the editor to be focused on the story you’re sharing with them, and not be distracted by the tufts of hair you forgot to brush, or the jewellery that flashes and jingles with each movement you make, or that the crystal you use for deodorant has… failed.

Be prepared.

Know your book. Most editors and agents request only pitches on works that are completed. This is to show that you can actually finish the work, and that it’s not just one of fifteen partial manuscripts you have tucked in your drawer. So, if it’s not finished, then at least know how it’s going to end up. Focus on the Four W’s: Who, What, Why and Why not?
Who are your characters? What does s/he want? Why does s/he want THAT? Why doesn’t s/he have it/get it?

Don’t lose the plot.

Not only will you need to know the bare bones of your story, but you’ll need to tell them some of the key turning points of the plot, the black moment, the climax and the resolution. What is the conflict? Particularly, can this conflict be sustained throughout the book? You need to know your plot inside out and upside down, so that you can explain it to the editor/agent – nobody else knows it better than you. If you’re looking for a novel pitching template, you can find a rough outline of one here.

Theme

Sometimes editors and agents might ask – ‘what is the theme of your novel’. Obviously it pays to have this answer ready. The theme of your story is the moral lesson that underpins your plot. It might be revenge, forgiveness, good vs evil, coming of age, etc. It’s like a smelting process for your book, boiling it down, reducing the elements until you have the pure essence of your book.

Have a backup.

We all have an attack of the nerves. Even though you’ve rehearsed it until your friends/family/partner/children/pet dog have learned to hide from you on sight, sometimes the reassurance of having your notes on cards can be all the backup you need to deliver a home run. Even if you never refer to them, it’s handy to have them with you. Just in case – but list it in point form. Don’t read your entire pitch from the card to the editor/agent.

Present with confidence.

For most of us, this will be our first meeting with our preferred editor/agent, so it’s important to make that good impression. Smile and greet your ‘pitchee’, and shake his/her hand. Either clasp your hands in your lap, or on the table (or around your little stack of reminder notecards), so that you don’t fidget. Sit on your hands, if you have to. Make eye contact – this is essential to form a connection and a memory of the event for the pitchee. Conduct yourself with confidence – even if it’s just an act and you’re shaking and feel like you’re going to throw up, present yourself with confidence. You’re looking good, you’re a professional meeting another industry professional. You know your story inside at out. You’ll be fine. There’s plenty of time to collapse and puke after the pitch.

And whatever you do, don’t imagine him/her naked.

Archetypal Characters of Fairy Tales

What is it that we love about a fairy tale?

Disney PrincessesIs it the universal elements in the story structure – good vs evil, hero saving heroine (or vice versa)? Is it the archetypal characters that draw us in? Is it the heroic actions of ordinary people – like Beauty sacrificing her freedom with the Beast? Is it the ideal that one person can make a stand against stronger forces, and win – like Snow White versus the Evil Stepmother Queen? Or is it the pure romanticism of personal risk to save others – like the Prince from Rapunzel?

Or is it the gowns and shoes? Cinderella, we love you!

EnamouredWhen I told my close friends and writing partners that my next release, Enamoured, was a romantic suspense with fairy tale elements, I attracted a lot of questions.

Where you on drugs when you wrote it? What did you use to blackmail/bribe the publisher? Did you seriously think it through? The answers: No, nothing and not even a little bit.

I think there is something so iconic about a fairy tale that it transcends genre boundaries. (Yes, that’s me justifying my juvenile dream of writing a fairy tale with sexual tension and murder, but it sounds better the first way). Then there is the fashion.

My daughters use the term ‘girly-girl’ – and depending on the tone used this can be a positive, neutral or negative term. I, personally, would not consider myself a girly-girl. I like wearing shorts, jeans and sneakers. I’m likely to run away from a bottle of nail polish rather than use it, and I preferred to rumble and tackle than to dress up dolls (but that’s because I never had a Barbie. Deprived, I know)  – until we start talking about fairy tales. When that happens, I turn into a pile of pink fairy-floss mush. With sparkles, thank you. I even giggle.

Maybe it’s because Prince Charming is so unbelievably, out-of-this-world handsome, or because Cinderella can really rock her frock – and (gasp) those SHOES!!! The Frog Prince’s princess doesn’t just play with a tattered tennis ball, no, her ball is GOLD, and nobody does great hair like Rapunzel.

The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and HeroinesOkay, I know this makes me sound very superficial, but it’s more than that (otherwise I’d be just plain old superficial). These characters play clearly defined roles. One book, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines, by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders, outlines them beautifully (as a writer, you need this book on your resource shelf – do yourself a favour and buy it).

Prince Charming is (I guess rather obviously) The Charmer; charismatic, appealing, fascinating, although would rather not talk about touchy-feely stuff, likes to get by on his personality and wit.

Cinderella, on the other hand, is The Waif. She’s ethereal, adaptive and doesn’t complain, but endures a situation until she’s saved.

The princess from the Frog Prince would be The Free Spirit. She’s a handful, but charmingly so. Zany, high-spirited, and more than a little impulsive, she finds herself stuck in many a tricky situation.

Rapunzel would also be The Waif, waiting for her knight to rescue her from the tower.

Enamoured

All of these characters are so well-known to us that each time we read them, in whatever guise, unconsciously we accept them, like familiar friends. Despite the fairy-tale endings, though, these characters do face tests. They must overcome trials, resolve deep personal flaws, and change and develop into better, stronger, faster (oh, oops, that’s the Six-Million Dollar Man – totally another blogpost!) people by the end of their story. Not unlike a romantic suspense – or…any other story, for that matter. Because archetypes are the recurring personalities that people our stories from the Dawn of Storytelling.

Tell me: who is your favourite fairy-tale heroine? Leave a comment to go into the draw to win a copy of my new romantic suspense novella with fairy tale elements, Enamoured.

Most Romantic Songs Ever!

I’m going to be honest. I had grand plans of publishing a Top 10 list of Most Romantic Songs Ever – but I couldn’t sit through listening to all of them in one hit. So we’re going with the Top 5 – and then you can tell me your favourite songs!

5. Truly, Madly, Deeply – by Savage Garden. truly madly deeply

This was an awesome Aussie band, and I still sniffle over the fact that these guys aren’t making music together anymore, because they were AWESOME!!! But anyway, back to the song. Love it. Not too schmaltzy, just enough.

4. From This Moment On – Shania Twain. Shania Twain From This Moment

Oh, speaking of schmaltz. I don’t think I can go to a wedding without hearing this song. It’s one of those over-played, could-be-irritating, but just stops short because it really is so lovely kind of songs. Or else I’ve had enough to drink by that stage of the wedding that it makes sense to get teary over how ‘beeeeyooooootiful’ the song is, the dancing couple are, and the flowers. Beeeeeyoooootiful flowers. Sniff. Oh, and we learned that Shania Twain looks beautiful all covered up. (The amount of shawls I went through only to finally discover I look nothing like Shania Twain all rugged up).

3. Everything I Do, I Do It For You – Bryan Adams Bryan Adams

Well, Bryan Adams had to feature in this post somewhere – Heaven, Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman, All for Love, Run to You, Summer of ’69 – er, sorry, I get carried away with the legend that is Mr Adams. But, this is about romantic songs, and I know that when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves hit the cinemas, my girlfriends and I swoooooooned over this song. It’s the reason I actually like Kevin Costner in a movie – despite the minor hiccup of having a Robin Hood with an American accent. Minor detail, really.

2. I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston. Whitney-Houston-I-Will-Always-Love-You

I know, controversial, another Kevin Costner association – that seriously wasn’t my intention. This is the song that you just have to belt out into a hairbrush – and your partner will just have to love you for it. Okay, maybe wearing earplugs – but I seriously believe that if you can sing this in front of your darling, and they still want to talk to you, then it’s the REAL THING.

Just before I announce MY number 1 Best Romantic Song Ever! I wanted to say – there wasn’t enough room to put Foreigner, Air Supply, Chicago, REO Speedwagon, Phil Collins, Elton John, Elvis, etc. I will agree, they have ro-MAN-tic songs that are croonworthy, so tell me all about it in the comments!

Now:

1. Just the Way You Are – Bruno Mars Bruno-Mars-Just-The-Way-You-Are-2-575x387 

Okay, this is really one for the girls, but guys – here’s a secret handshake from me to you: play this for your darling, and you’ll have a great Valentine’s Day – because it will make her feel special, and then you’ll feel special…

Moonlit EncountersTo celebrate Valentine’s Day, TWC Press is offering the Kindle version for Moonlit Encounters for sale at 99c!

But you could win a copy of the book by leaving a comment – what is YOUR Best Romantic Song Ever?

Goal Setting Tips for Success

Smart GoalsSo many people contacted me about my ‘GMC for Success’ post asking about setting goals, I thought I’d write another article on the subject.  One tool for personal development is the act of setting goals. Whether it’s setting career objectives, or business targets, or setting personal goals for fitness and weight loss, we all do it. Whether we actually achieve those goals is dependent upon how we set ourselves up – for failure or success.

What is a goal?

The definition of a goal is: the achievement or result to which effort is directed or aimed; A defined area, basket, cage, line, etc, toward which players of various games and sports will attempt to kick, throw, hit, etc, to score a point or points.

Why Use Goal Setting?

Goal setting is a way to clarify what it is exactly that you want.  It’s hard to take that first step in any direction if you don’t know the destination.  Setting goals is also a motivational way of ‘thinking’ your way to success (I know, sounds a bit wankerish, but bear with me).  Visualising yourself, in where you want to be, doing what you want to do, is a great way to give hope and drive to achieve your goals. It’s also a way to create a strategy in order to meet your objective.

How to Set Goals:

One fantastic tool for taking steps forward to your own defined success is using the S.M.A.R.T. Goal theory. It’s been so helpful for me in the past, and it can be a springboard to more efficient time management.

So, what are S.M.A.R.T. Goals? S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound, and all are aspects that will help tighten your goal, and give you the direction you’ll need to achieve it. I’ll explain each point, and I’ll use personal goal-setting and writing goals for examples. Please note: these goals are not my own, merely examples.

Specific: Stating general goals is a great way to set yourself up for failure, or at least a minimal effort requirement. By being specific, you are clearly stating what it is you want, by when, and how.  Giving yourself details and deadlines gives you a benchmark to aim toward.

Eg; Weight Loss: I want to lose weight. Well, how much weight? And when do you want to lose it by? Having an open-ended goal means you may never achieve it.

Eg; Writing I want to write a book. Well, how long is the book? Is it a novella? A category length book? A single title book? What kind of book – romance, self-help? When do you want to finish it – July? The 12th of Never? How are you going to achieve this? Two thousands words a day? Ten pages per week?

Measurable: Giving your goals a measure will help you ascertain whether you’ve achieved it or not. Stating it in measurable terms will give you deadlines, and a way of monitoring your progress.

Eg; Weight Loss: How much weight do you want to lose by when?

Eg; Writing: What project, or how many words do you want to write by when?

Achievable: Your goal has to be something you can actually do. It’s no use setting a goal for something that is impossible – this is a recipe for failure, and just darned depressing.  Notice I use the word impossible – something might be highly improbable, but can still be achievable if you are willing and able to put in the work to achieve it. Also, achievable means something that YOU can do – and not reliant on some other party in order to achieve that goal. For example, if you’re wanting to go the path of traditional publishing, and have an established publisher buy, print and distribute your book, then your goal wouldn’t be: I want to publish a book. The publisher will need to action most of that. Your goal could instead be: I want to write a book. That is completely within your control, and YOU make that happen. So achievable = something YOU have control over. Once it’s outside of your control, and requires external forces to align and action, then your achievability factor drops significantly.

Eg; Weight Loss: I want to lose half my body weight – well, that can not only be impossible for some of us, but possibly dangerous. Or wanting to lose a massive amount of weight overnight – it’s not going to happen. I want to get fit – this is totally achievable.

Eg; Writing: I want to write a bestseller overnight. Yeah, well, join the club. Talk to any consistent bestselling author, and ten-to-one they’ve been writing for a while, and are not an overnight success.  I want to write my best possible book – totally achievable.

Realistic: This harks back to the previous point – if it’s not realistic, it’s not achievable. This is a great point to challenge yourself on. YOU decide what is realistic. YOU can control how much time, effort and enthusiasm you can dedicate to reaching this goal.

Eg; Weight Loss: I want to lose a massive amount of weight overnight – this is simply not realistic. I want to lose 8kgs in 3 months – depending on the effort and time and enthusiasm you commit to this goal, it is entirely achievable.

Eg; Writing: I want to write a single title book in 2 weeks. Well, if you’re willing to forego sleeping, eating, and engaging with family and friends… no, I still don’t think it’s a realistic goal. I want to write a 100,000 word single title book in 9 months – with time, effort and enthusiasm, this is possible, therefore realistic and achievable.

Time-Bound: Putting a time limit on your goal is the final measure of whether you’ve achieved your goal or not. Having an open-ended goal means you may never achieve what you want. Losing weight – well, whenever that happens. The same with writing a book – give yourself the 12th of Never to do it, and you’ll never do it.

S.MA.R.T. Goals:

Eg; Weight Loss I want to lose 8 kgs in 3 months by going to the gym four times a week.

Eg; Writing I want to write a 100,000 word single title romantic suspense book by October 30th this year by writing 1,000 words a day during the working week.

These goals are specific – what do you want to accomplish? When do you want to accomplish it by? How are you going to achieve it?

They are measurable – by the end of 3 months, did you lose 8kgs – yes or no? By October 31st, did you complete your 100,000 word single title romantic suspense book – yes or no?

They are achievable – these goals are dependent upon your time, effort and enthusiasm, and need nobody other than yourself to complete, no influence from outside of your control. You CAN do it!

They are realistic – these are completely do-able, they are not impossible and totally achievable.

They are time-bound – there is a deadline by which you can tell if you have succeeded.  At the deadline, did you achieve your goal: yes or no?

Go ahead and write your S.M.A.R.T. Goals. If you’re brave enough, let me know what your goals are! One brave soul will win a S.M.A.R.T. Goal pack – a notebook and pen to jot down your career, personal and artistic goals!

New Year Resolutions – Using GMC for Sucess

Okay, put your hand up if you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution, and then promptly forgotten it, only to realise in a blind panic in November that you’ve done nothing you’d planned to do in January…

Yeah, I see you.

List Person

I’m a list person. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll agree. They may even use the ‘anal-retentive’ or ‘obsessed’ phrases in conjunction with this statement. I’ll just leave it ‘list person’. I like making lists for a very good reason – if I don’t, I’ll forget something. Okay, I’ll forget a lot of things, for example; the milk, or paying bills, the release date of my new book, a guest blog post, or ordering the swag of author goodies… the list could go on (pun completely intended). I mean, even Santa has a list. Two, actually.

I also set my goals – writing, lifestyle – no portion of my life is safe from this exercise.  The pleasure I get from crossing an achieved goal off my list makes me wonder if I might have a problem, but I’m not ready for therapy, yet. But I know at this time of year, we all do some sort of life-affirming nod toward organising a better life for ourselves over the next year, and while listing what we want to do may seem easy, delivering on that promise to ourselves is something we sometimes struggle with. (I’m using the royal ‘we’, here, folks.)

Here’s a trivial factoid: People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t.

So, instead of blabbing on about my customary S.M.A.R.T. Goal-Setting session, I’ve decided I’m going to try a different angle, by using a writing tool – G.M.C., and using it for Life Strategies.

Must Buy!

Must Buy!

Goal, Motivation and Conflict is an insightful book written by Debra Dixon – a very, very smart lady with a knack for explaining the basic building blocks for creating great characters and great fiction. If possible, I now have an even deeper appreciation for Han Solo. If you’re interested in writing, regardless of the genre, then this is a book you must have.

In essence: Goal – what does your character want? Motivation – why does your character want it? Conflict – why doesn’t your character have/get it?

Or, as I call it, the What, Why and Why Not?

Again, I can’t stress what an awesome resource this book is, and I’ll go more in-depth about it another day, but for now, how can we use the GMC writer’s tool for life strategies?

Well…

Goal: What is it that you want? To lose weight? To spend more time with friends and family? To quit smoking? To get out of debt? Identify your own specific goal, and make it specific. For more tips on setting goals, read my article on S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting.

Motivation: Why do you want what you want? This is possibly one of the most important aspects of writing – why does the character want that job/artefact/guy/gal/treasure/evidence? How has their experience and core values interlinked to set up a desire? Motivation is a reflexion of the complex moral fibre, so identifying your motivation is a good way of ensuring your goal is in keeping with your own moral values – if it’s not, or if it contradicts your own core value system, then you will naturally resist accomplishing it. For example: Do you want to lose weight to look good? Or to be fit and keep up with the kids? Or for your own self-assurance? Identifying why this goal is important to you will help it ‘click’, or resonate, and will strengthen your resolve, particularly when you reach a hurdle. This is what will drive you through the tough times, knowing why it is so important to achieve that goal.

Conflict: Why not? What is standing in your way to achieving your goal? For example, if losing weight is your goal, but your partner keeps stocking the cupboard with naughty munchies, this creates conflict for you. If you want to stop smoking, but always find yourself surrounded by those seductive cigarettes in other people’s hands, that’s going to create conflict. So is shopping if you’re trying to get out of debt. Identifying the conflicts, those ‘hiccups’ that naturally oppose and prevent you from attaining your goal, will give you some insight into your own character – will help you identify potential weaknesses, or areas that require just a little focus, or a little tweaking, to resolve that conflict. Figuring out why you can’t get/do what you want is part of the way to reaching your goal. Knowing what you’re facing, and planning a way around it, past it or through it is in itself a success.

And yes, here comes that old chestnut: Failing to plan = planning to fail. Get some insight into what makes you tick with your personal goals, and get strategizing to insure success.

penSo, get out your notebooks, and jot down your own G.M.C. for 2013 – and good luck!

How to Handle Rejection, Reviewers and Trolls

The business of writing, I’ve learned, can be character building. Not just for the hero and heroine in the story I’m writing, but also for me, the writer.

During my ‘start-up’ years, when I was entering writing contests and getting feedback from judges, I learned that there are some people who will respond well to your work – and some who just won’t ‘get it’. On the rare occasion, there will even be a few who downright hate it. But here’s the thing – contests are conducted in the spirit of anonymity. The judge doesn’t know it’s YOU they are reading, so they are responding to the work in front of them, not you as a person. They’re critiquing the work, not you.

Toughen up and get over it.

Rejection…

Then, as I graduated to finishing an actual story and submitted it to publishers, I learned again that the publishing world does not revolve around moi (I know, I was shocked, too).  My first book (that I thought was just awesome) got rejected. Actually, I believe I’ve gotten the fastest rejection from that N.Y. publisher for an Aussie writer – ever.

I remember tearing open that tiny little envelope, heart-pounding, to read the “thank you for submitting your work, but…” line.  I even tried to cry, then gave up because it felt forced. They hadn’t liked it enough to want to offer a contract. That’s okay.  I mean, I was still breathing. The world was still turning. The sun was still shining, damn it. So, I guess life goes on.

I also realised that publishing is a business, they’re making a business decision. A publisher needs some sort of guarantee (however tepid) that the book they commission will sell, and sell well.  They know what has worked in the past, what hasn’t, what they are willing to take a risk on – and what they’re not willing to take a risk on. So, business decision, not personal. So don’t take it personally. It’s that particular project they’re rejecting, not you.

Please note: manuscript may not have been so awesome…

Toughen up and get over it.

Negative Reviews…

When I did finally sell my first novel to a publisher, I was ecstatic. And then the reviews came in. Much like a writing contest, there were some reviewers who responded well, others who just didn’t ‘get it’, and a few who downright hated it.

I will admit some of the not-so positive reviews can be hard to take, especially if you actually respect, admire and even like said reviewer. During my working years as an export agent, there was a saying in our department that has become a little mantra for me: Love it, leave it or fix it.

So I employed this attitude to reviews. I could either love it (hey, not so hard when they’re positive!), leave it – press delete, especially if it’s attacking more than the writing, like…me, personally. Or fix it. Yes, seriously, fix it. I found (duck head) that some of those reviewers may have actually had a point. That buried in the “I’m not adoring you right now” blurb, there was a little kernel that I could use to develop and improve my craft.

I’ve also learned that you will never please everyone, all of the time. Life is balanced, you have to have the negative with the positive, the good with the bad, the Yin with the Yang.

Internet Trolls…

My mother used to always say, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. She used to also say “treat others like you want to be treated”. These days, though, there are a rising number of incidents online that show this message has somehow been lost with a minority group.

A troll is a mythical creature, mean, ugly, hiding under a bridge to try to stop others from progressing forward on their journey (think Three Billy Goats Gruff), and it seems the internet version is not so far from that mythical beast.

With the recent cases of Charlotte Dawson and Robbie Farah in Australia (two personalities I have a lot of respect for, they’ve worked darn hard for their success), as well as a close writer friend, the culture of trolling has been spotlighted.

Trolls are people who will say the nastiest of things in order to get a reaction – kind of like a bully. But these special bullies are anonymous, and feel not only capable, but compelled to make comments from a protective distance that is meant to undermine, hurt and possibly even defame their target. Note – they won’t say it to your face, or within physical reach. A troll is also similar to a two-year-old (sorry, no disrespect intended to the two-year-olds!) in that their opinion is the only one they’re interested in. You can’t reason or use logic on a troll, they ignore it in their strategy of inflaming and getting what they want – attention.

Kate Cuthbert, recently-appointed editor for Harlequin Escape and long-time reviewer, stated at the 2012 Romance Writers Association Conference (AU) to any writer dealing with negative comment: “Do not engage. Just…don’t. And if you’re thinking of doing it – don’t.” I happen to agree.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion (this is pretty much the essence of any blog!), but I think it reveals more of a person in the way they express that opinion. As the recipient of the opinion, you can choose to respect it, disregard it, or ignore it completely. Bearing in mind that the sole aim of a troll is to either get attention, or cause maximum damage, the only way that can be achieved is by actually giving them attention. When dealing with a troll, take a leaf out of the legend. Be that third Billy Goat Gruff, and push the troll off the bridge. Block them. Delete them. Move on.

Tips on Handling Rejection, Reviews and Internet Trolls

1. Do not respond. No matter how tempting it is to tell that editor that they’ve missed the point, here is what you really meant, or that reviewer that no, your character is really deep, they just glossed over the carefully woven backstory, or the internet troll that they really are rude, wrong, and ridiculous – don’t. Just don’t. You can’t retain your dignity when wrestling with muck.

2. Toughen up. There will be some folks out there who may not like what you do. There will be somethings that are said that will hurt. You can choose to dwell on it, or get over it. Get over it.

3. Respect a difference in opinion. You love your book, that reviewer didn’t. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, or you are right, or vice versa, merely that you have a different opinion. Books can never be viewed objectively. It’s a subjective material, to be interpreted and received differently from person to person, based on experience and attitudes.

4. Block and Delete. When faced with negative attacks (note: this is different to a negative review!), stop the person from getting to you again, and delete the comment. Don’t give it any attention, as that can quickly become toxic.

5. Commiserate. If all else fails, have a glass of wine, some chocolate, and laugh/cry about it with the friends who realise your true worth, and support you. Let them help you put it into perspective.

And whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls!