Hooray! You have a story to tell! Now you need to figure out how to tell it!
If you’re writing nonfiction, your challenge this week is easy.
1. Choose one of the following four options for how you want the reader to view you in relation to themselves:
A. Authority figure (like a doctor or teacher; formal end of the spectrum)
B. Guide (like a coach or workshop leader)
C. Regular person with advice (like, well, a regular person with advice)
D. Reflection of themselves (they can see themselves in your experiences and empathize with what you’re saying; informal end of the spectrum)
Write down your choice at the top of your outline from last week.
2. Just below your relationship choice, write down three words that describe how you want to sound to your reader (funny, authoritative, friendly, mature, sympathetic, profound, etc.).
3. Decide if you are going to write in first person (using words like I, me, we, etc. to speak directly to the reader) or third person (not doing that).
4. Write a short introduction to your book (300 to 500 words). Tell the reader what you’re going to tell them in the rest of the book, how it will benefit them, and why they should read it. Don’t try to write in a certain style or try to sound the way you decided you want to sound. Just write.
5. Show the introduction to three people who will be honest with you. Ask them to read it and write down three words to describe the tone. Then give them the list of four author-reader relationships and ask them which one they feel describes your introduction.
6. If your test readers felt you wrote in the way you want to sound, good job! You’re done for this week! Go back through your outline and see if you need to add/change anything.
7. If the tone of what you wrote doesn’t match the tone of what you intended to write, you have two options. It may be that your narrative voice just isn’t the same as the voice you want to use. Since it’s generally a bad idea to try to sound like someone besides yourself, consider changing the intended tone of your book to match the way you actually sound. Your writing will come far more naturally that way.
If you’re dead-set on fitting into a certain tone, try re-writing your introduction to adjust. If you’re on the more formal end of the spectrum (authority figure) and you want to sound less formal, take out jargon and terms that have to be defined. Use slang. Be candid. Share personal experiences and stories. Focus less on explaining details and more on bonding with the reader’s emotions. Try using first-person narrative instead of third-person.
If you’re on the informal end of the spectrum (reflection) and you want to sound more formal, don’t be afraid to state your thoughts with authority. Take a stand and declare what you want to say! Remove slang. If you do share a personal story, explain its significance to the reader instead of just relying on its emotional impact.
Once you’ve rewritten the intro, repeat step four with three new people. Repeat as necessary.
7. Having trouble determining the tone of your book’s narration? Share your questions and concerns in the comments, and I’ll help you out!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: Three Shakespearean sonnets
Your main character, or protagonist, is one of the most crucial elements of your book. If your main character isn’t well-developed, you’re going to have trouble making him/her do what you want, and readers will have a hard time getting invested in your story. So it’s important to make sure you know your character’s personality, habits, and back-story before you write a single word. You don’t have to know everything about them; you just need a solid foundation.
Chances are, you already know quite a bit about your main character. That’s great! Use the rest of this post to help you flesh out areas that might be a little thin at the moment. If you only have a general idea of your main character (based on the basic story outline you made during the first week), these questions will help you create a more three-dimensional individual to follow through your plot.
This is a re-post of a set of character development questions I created a while back, drawing from other lists I’ve seen and my own experiences in writing and editing. (It doesn’t take as long as it looks, I promise!) You don’t need to answer every single question, but if you find yourself skipping over entire sections, spend some time this week developing that area of your main character’s life.
Section One: Basic Information
1) Full Name:
6) Eye color:
7) Hair color:
Section Two: Appearance:
1) How long is their hair? How do they wear it?
2) How do they stand when having a conversation?
3) How do they stand when in front of an authority figure?
4) How do they walk?
5) What do they wear on an everyday basis?
6) What do they wear on special occasions?
7) Do they slouch when they sit?
8) Do they make eye contact when speaking to people?
9) Are they overweight? Underweight? Do they look like a runner? A bodybuilder? (Note: Please be realistic here. If you aren’t sure if your character’s build is believable, find an athlete or a nutritionist and ask them.)
10) What does their skin look like? (color, texture, etc.)
11) Do they have tattoos? Birthmarks? Scars? Freckles? Varicose veins? Sunburns? Any other noticeable skin markings?
12) Do they wear glasses? Hearing aids? Braces? Any other physical aids?
13) Do they do any habitual gestures? (grinding teeth, popping knuckles, etc.)
14) Do they occupy a small space, a medium space, or a large space? (This is drawn from the Laban system of movement analysis and helps determine how comfortable the character is in their environment. Small space movers keep their limbs tucked close to their torso, whereas large space movers swing their arms and take big steps, etc.)
1) Do they have an accent? From where?
2) Do they speak clearly? Do they mumble? How fast do they speak?
4) What part of their body do they speak from most of the time? (Chest voices are deep and resonant, nose voices sound nasally, head voices are high-pitched and airy, etc.)
5) Do they smoke or drink or do anything else that affects their voice?
6) What slang or shorthand do they use when speaking?
1) Do they wear perfume/cologne? What kind?
2) Do they have any particular scent from their shampoo or soap?
3) Do they have a certain scent because of where they work (e.g. a mechanic who smells like motor oil)?
4) Do they have body odor?
Section Three: Background
1) Where were they born? What was it like to live there?
2) What was their family like? Any brothers and sisters? Were they close to any other relatives?
3) Are they married? Do they have children? Pets?
4) Where do they live now? What is it like to live there?
5) What is their income? (You don’t need an exact number; high, low, or average will do.) What do they do for a living?
6) What religion, if any, did they practice as a child? What religion, if any, do they practice now? How devout are they?
7) Do they speak more than one language? Where did they learn?
8) How much education have they received? Is this common where they come from? What have they studied?
9) Have they traveled? To where?
10) Do they have any secrets? What are they?
Section Four: Preferences
1) Who is their favorite family member?
2) Do they like where they live? Where would they rather live?
3) Do they like where they work? Where would they rather work?
4) Do they like what they do for a living? What would they rather do? What was their career goal as a child?
5) Are they happy with their income? With their education?
6) Do they like their current family? What do they wish would change about each immediate family member?
7) Where would they like to visit?
8) What do they like to eat?
9) What do they do for fun?
10) What do they wish they knew how to do?
11) Do they favor a larger or smaller government? What are their other political opinions?
12) What annoys them? What scares them?
13) What gives them joy?
14) What is a small thing that they enjoy doing each day? (e.g. drinking coffee in the morning, reading the paper, waving at the neighbors)
15) If their home was burning down, what would they grab first? Second?
16) Do they shun anyone, or think certain people are weird?
17) Are they shunned/thought weird by anyone?
18) Who are their friends?
19) What is their favorite kind of humor? What makes them laugh?
Section Five: Emotion
1) Do they accept criticism well?
2) If someone insulted them in public, what would they do?
3) If someone insulted them in private, what would they do?
4) If someone physically attacked them, what would they do?
5) Do they think they are better / more useful to society than anyone? Do they think they are lesser / less useful to society than anyone? Who?
6) What problems do they have in their life or work that are not common to people outside of that walk of life? (e.g. accountants dealing with tax season)
7) Do they see the glass as half full or half empty?
8) How would their colleagues describe them?
9) How do they describe themselves?
Section 6: Other
1) Do they use anything outdated, such as a slide rule or typewriter? Why?
2) What do they keep in their pockets? What goes in which pocket? (Note: I really like this question. It helps you decide what your character needs to have on hand at all times.)
3) What sorts of preferences do they have that only apply to people in their walk of life, such as a teacher preferring chalkboards or whiteboards or an engineer preferring a particular brand of calculator? How strong are these preferences? Do they argue about them with anyone?
Section 7: The Most Important Part
Character details are meaningless to the reader unless they exist for a reason, so go back through and figure out the “why” of everything you wrote down. Of course, not all of your answers are going to have strong reasons; if they don’t, you don’t need to include them in your story. They’re good for you to know, and you may find a place where they fit perfectly into the narrative, but they aren’t crucial information for the reader’s understanding of the character.
You want your “why” answers to be related to an external or physical influence of some sort. Your character may use an outdated computer because they’re fond of it, but that is an internal motivation. Why are they fond of it? Because it was a gift from their deceased father? Because they wrote their first bestseller on it? Because they can’t figure out how to use newer computers? Your answer greatly changes the nature of the fondness, and can be a great tool for deepening your character’s personality.
Whew! That was a lot of work, but once you get into writing your book, you’ll be glad you did it! Next week we’ll discuss how to create secondary characters to support, oppose, and complement your main character!
Have questions or concerns? Share them in the comments to receive help!
*This Week’s Word Count*
(Don’t worry; you’ll catch up with the nonfiction writers soon!)